Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Beyond the Number

This morning I greeted many agents at 7:30. I was ready to greet  them. We began testing promptly at 8:30 and some agents worked right until buses were dismissed. In the fall when you get your child's score back I need you to remember that the number does not define your child. Take a look at their growth percentile and see how much progress he or she has made. Your child is not just that number either but that is a much better number to look at.

Today I watched almost every agent work their hardest I have ever seen them work. I observed most students making graphic organizers for 2 open responses. I watched as students tirelessly checked their work over before handing it in. 

So your children are hard working students who try their best. Your children have empathy for others as those that finished early were respectful of others who were still working. They showed the value of strength and true friendship today that will hopefully last long after they leave their agent head quarters.

I am so proud of our students. So ask your agent how it went today and remind him or her of the amazing traits they all have that make our classroom a better place to be in. And when you get that score back in the fall . . . no matter what it is . . . remember your child is not defined by that number. They rose above any number today!

I will see the students tomorrow to do it all over again!

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Truth Will Set You Free

Our class has been listening to Rob Buyea’s story, The Perfect Score. I had timed the reading of this story alongside our MCAS. I had never read this book before, but its lessons are powerful and have caused some in depth discussions in our classroom.

The students in this book were pressured by the school to perform amazingly on their state tests, causing them to devise a cheating plan to relieve stress. There were students who were aware of this plan but were not thinking of cheating. This led to a rich conversation on the notion of a bystander. If you are aware something bad is happening (and involves your friends) are you guilty by association? Students were honest and their answers were split between yes and no. Some were afraid to rat on their friends while others felt they should not get roped into their friend’s actions. What a great dinner table discussion to have!

Another great discussion happened today. We talked about how “the truth will set you free.” Students discussed what this meant and how telling the truth is a great relief. They recognized the characters in the book were carrying a heavy burden, but telling the truth would lift that. We related this lesson to yesterday’s art class. There were many actions in art class that caused me to make some decisions that went against my pedagogical grain. Sometimes, as educators, we have to do things we do not like or even want to do. After the actions of many students yesterday our classroom has changed shape.

Independence, passion for learning, curiosity about our world, and creating/respecting community are things I pride myself on, providing a foundation in our classroom home. I try everything to get students to work well as a community even if it means changing how I love to teach. Ask my now 26-year-old 3rd graders. They will tell you all about how we went back to log cabin school! We sat in rows. I took everything I personally bought away from them. I remember the tears one student had over how hard using the crank pencil sharpener was. The common cliché still rings true: You do not realize what you have until it was gone. They had to work together to earn things back, debating over what privilege they wanted to be returned. Something similar happened last year and our class had a Great Debate. These students learned to appreciate what they have, the importance of prioritizing, and valuable debate skills. I often still wonder if I did the right thing, but in my heart I know I did. We all became better people because of that.

If your student did not talk to you about art class yesterday, I hope he or she will today. The truth will set them free.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Building Confidence Through Struggle

I want to thank my students and parent volunteer for a math lesson today that was so powerful for us all as a community. I jumped up and told them today was one of my favorite days with them, and they looked at me like I had ten heads. They were persevering through problem solving, writing out work, getting the wrong answers, and going back to the drawing board. So why would this be amazing? Students saw the value of writing out their work, explaining their thinking, and having math conversations.  

Math is often a subject people say they are not good at or they do not have a math mind. Let me tell you a secret. There is NO SUCH THING as having a math mind. What we need to develop are mathematical practices to help us struggle through the challenging problems. Today students used several of those practices to solve complex, real- world volume problems.

What we discovered was everyone understood what volume was and how to apply it to problem solving. However, taking the time to persevere through problem solving was a hurdle. Not every answer comes quickly. What we deduced over math class was multiplication or addition calculations and place value errors held them back from getting the right answer.

If students came to me with no work it was difficult to see their mistakes. They learned if they came up with their work together we could see where the breakdown was. Student confidence was built through struggling. We did not finish all the word problems. We did not get all the right answers. There were no tears. I believed in all my students. We did do the following:
  • Made sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  •   Reasoned abstractly and quantitatively.
  •  Constructed viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  •  Modeled with mathematics
  •  Used appropriate tools strategically.
  •  Attended to precision.

And it was beautiful to watch! One student summed it all up. "When something frustrates you it feels so good to get it right!"

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Google Calendar is like Two Beautiful Worlds Colliding

Calendar Man - Students have a lot to manage in their daily lives  no matter how old they are.

After school activities, family responsibilities, and school assignments are just a few examples students have shared that they have to juggle.

A classroom Google Calendar was created for assignments, events, school spirit days, and other important information. This link was shared on our parent portal. The calendar is updated in real time from any device and is a great way for parents to help support their child. However, isn’t it the child I want to help learn management skills?

I had shared the classroom calendar link with students in an email at the beginning of the year, but then we never discussed it again. Recently, a student happened to ask me if we had any more reading letters due this year because she went two weeks ahead and saw no assignment. She did not know how to move from February to March.

In a teachable moment I shared the parent portal link with students via an email and had them open the site. Then I asked them to click on the classroom calendar link. At the bottom right hand corner of the calendar was a blue plus sign. Like magic, when students clicked the plus sign our classroom calendar opened right on their personal calendar. Lots of OOOOS and AHHHS were heard around the room.

As a class we learned to navigate through the calendar, add an event, and discover some settings. The calendar is something I use every day, but was new to most 5th grade students. By linking my classroom calendar to their individual calendars I have now put the responsibility back in the student’s hands. Several were already discussing adding birthdays and activities while others wanted to explore what future events we had going on in our classroom.

Lessons learned:
  •  It is important to continually discuss things as the year moves forward.
  •  Students need to be linked to a classroom calendar to begin to learn or hone time management skills. They also get excited about upcoming events and feel more in the know, which builds confidence.
  • We, as educators, are already updating the calendar and adding things to it. It is an efficient and effective communication tool. Make the transition to share it with students and parents! You will not regret it. In 2015 when I began sharing the calendar with parents, one mother said, “It's like two beautiful worlds colliding.” This year I decided to make that world collide for students. And it sure is beautiful! I am just not sure what took me so long to realize that. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

The New Student in our Classroom: Google Home

The Google Home reminds me of a new student in a classroom. Students are not sure where it fits into our classroom culture yet. Some are shy around it and hesitant to ask the Googler of the Day to use it while others find a place for it in their hearts.

After several days of having access to the Google Home I realized a few things.

Students need to think about the words they are using when asking questions. If the question is worded in a way that the Google Home is not ready for, students will get an unexpected answer that the Google Home cannot help them. Sometimes saying it in simple terms gets a better answer. This makes me wonder about the future of AI and how we will interact with robots.

Students are figuring out when is a good time to use the Google Home. Similar to choosing a just right snack time or a good time to go to the bathroom, students are learning when to use Google Home. Students are discovering asking the Google Home a question while others are giving directions might not be the best time. Also if students realized when they have access to the school Chromebooks they do not need to use the Google Home. They have answers at their fingertips. Students also have empathy for those around them when using the Google Home. 

Students are taking responsibility for their actions and building community around the Google Home. Students remind each other how to turn off/on the microphone and unplug the Google Home after each use. One student realized she did not do this and admitted to not following our class Google Home RUP. Therefore she said she would skip being Googler of the Day on her next turn. They are choosing fair consequences!

Students are using the Google Home in various content areas. Students have asked about measurement conversions for a math problem, spelling of words, book reviews, definitions of vocabulary, and examples of concepts. They are curious to know more and see the Google Home as a tool to support learning. I loved learning who the state of matter Bose Einstein was named after and how plasma is formed. Our science book mentions three states of matter, but we know there are more out there. The Google Home extends our learning.

There is an increased use in Google Home even though we do not use it every day. Students used it once the first day and twice the second day. They are now using it up to four times a day on any given day. There are also days we never take it out of its box.

I am curious to see how the Google Home becomes part of our classroom culture as we forge ahead on this journey.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Our Reading Corner Had a Mid-life Crisis

Our reading corner had a mid-life crisis, and students entered this morning to find caution tape blocking the entrance to our beloved space. Yesterday after school students left our cubby area a mess; cardboard boxes to be used for a Spanish project sprawled all over the floor. Since it was not my mess to clean up I left it there. When my custodian texted me to see if I wanted him to throw the cardboard out I simply replied no.

Standing in the Party Store I had an idea that would become a natural consequence. I asked if they had caution tape, and I was directed to the Over the Hill section of the store. There I saw it. Bold, bright yellow tape that read Mid-Life Crisis Zone.

Bursting out laughing, I decided to make my purchase. I am probably close to half way through my teaching career, so it is only fitting that the reading corner I have had since 2000 is now having a mid-life crisis. I came in early and sectioned off our reading corner that also happens to be the entrance to our cubby area. Then I waited for the students to arrive.

The first student that came in walked towards the cubby area and stopped dead in his tracks. A second classmate came in and began asking him how to get in. They both were trying to figure it out when a third classmate suggested they go back to their seats with their backpacks. Neatly placing their bags on the floor students began their morning work.

As the rest of the class trickled in they quickly figured out where to head but were confused about why there was caution style tape in the classroom. One student figured it out! She exclaimed, “Look! We left it a mess yesterday and no one picked it up.” Then the questions began and kept coming throughout the day.

Q. How will we take our lunch count?
A. I will call what is offered for lunch, and you will raise your hand. Our lunch ordering board is in the reading corner, and we cannot access it right now.

Q. Maybe this is for Breakout EDU! Is it?
A. No it is not for an activity.

Q. How do I get a Band-Aid?
A. You will have to walk to the nurse and ask for one since our Band-Aids are currently in a mug in the reading corner.

Q. We need more tissues. Can I get another box from the bathroom?
A. You will have to head to the office to get another box from there.

Q. I need to fill up my water bottle. Where do I go?
A.  I think you should visit the cafeteria and use the water filtration system.

Q. What will we do for read aloud?
A. We will sit at our seats, and unfortunately I cannot read The Perfect Score. Instead we are going to read an amazing picture book by Josh Funk and do a writing activity. Also, since our Chromebooks are in the bathroom that is off the cubby area we cannot do our regularly scheduled reading stations.

Q. I want the second book in this series I am reading. How do I get it?
A. You will have to wait until Monday as that book is in the reading corner. I would be happy to give you other book suggestions based on what we do have access to. She ended up with The Day the Mustache Took Over and realized there are many bookshelves to explore in our library.

Q. What if I need to heat up my snack in the microwave?
A. Unfortunately there is no microwave we have access to at the moment, but there is extra snacks in the nurses’ office.

I never had to explain why our reading corner had a mid life crisis, and the students learned the consequences of it being closed. Though our regular conveniences were interrupted, we found other ways of doing things. This not only teaches flexible thinking and adaptability but also the fact that if you leave a mess it is your job to pick it up - not someone else’s.

Q. What are we going to do at the end of the day? We need the cardboard.
A. At the end of our day we will reflect on the reading corner’s mid-life crisis and work together to clean up the mess.

I sent the photos of the caution taped reading corner to my mother and she responded, “Are you kidding me, who left that mess?” I am sure a lot of you see a mess in your home and ask yourself the same thing. Who left the mess is a great question, as it was certainly not everyone in here. However, everyone in here has left a mess before somewhere. We all learned some valuable lessons about leaving messes during the mid-life crisis of the reading corner.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hey Google Why Was Day One Such a Challenge?

Placing the Google Home on the table reminded me of when a hush falls over the crowd during a championship sporting event. Eyes were wide, and there was a slight buzz in the air. Slowly I removed the box cover and shared the information booklets inside with students. I told them I know it would be hard not to plug it in and use it immediately, but we had to read the materials first.

The class and I went over the directions, aware that we had covered our bases. The Home App was downloaded, and we plugged in the Google Home. The colorful lights spun so everything was working, or so we thought. We figured out how to turn the mic on and off. We also discovered we need to unplug the Google Home after using it. What happened next was an unexpected lesson on how to deal with things with the technology does not work the way you expect when you plug it in.

I opened up the application on my phone to sync with the Google Home. I read every message that popped up to the class, though looking back on this I should have put my phone under the document camera for all students to see. We decided on privacy settings as a group, not opting to send data to Google. Then we had to come up with a physical location for the device.

The locations in the drop down menu did not fit where we were. Choices ranged from kitchen to bedroom to dining room. Students were questioning why classroom was not an option. I heard, “Hey Google, classroom is a location for a Google Home.” Trying to stifle my laugh I asked what a good choice would be since we could choose our own. Students settled on Secret Agent HQ.

I explained to students the Google Home and the iPhone had to be on the same wifi for the devices to talk to each other. This was done, and we waited for what felt like an eternity to them. Then the dreaded Uh-Oh something went wrong with connecting your devices message popped up. We decided to try again with the same result.

I could have gotten mad at the devices, but that would have not solved our problem. Students shared stories of themselves or adults who got angry at technology and recognized this does not offer a solution. I decided to model how I seek solutions when things do not work.

I use Google! I explained I was going to look up the error message to see what solutions were offered. If that did not work I would look into connectivity issues. While I was Googling students were tasked with writing two questions they could ask the Google Home.

After some time I was able to figure out a solution and got it working. It turns out the wifi being used was blocking devices from connecting to each other. We changed the settings and POOF! We had a Google Home that heard us! Testing it out, I asked why students do not always follow directions. They could not believe I would start with that and several assumed there would be no answer. However, the Google Home came back with a website and information about processing. The student who had asked earlier if it gives us the source now had her question answered.

Students gathered around the table and came up to each ask a question. I thought it was important for each child to have a chance to practice using Google Home during the initial trial. Students asked it to tell them a riddle or joke. Someone asked Google to make her a sandwich. That response got some laughs! One student inquired, “Why are butterflies symmetrical?” Another asked about the opening weekend revenue for a Spiderman movie and others asked sports related questions. Students did need a reminder to start with OK Google or Hey Google!

The first student to talk stumped the Google Home by asking for a yearly income price comparison of Disney and Universal. This led to a whole conversation about word choice. Should it have been Disney World? Universal Studios? Orlando? How specific do we need to be? Time will tell but it ties directly into teaching students about key words when searching on the World Wide Web.

Despite some of the road blocks that happened on day one, we are all curious to see where this journey takes us. This week we will start our Googler of the Day room job and collecting thoughts about if the Google Home should have classroom as an option on it location menu choices.