Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Supermarket Sweep was a Success!

It is very rewarding to see a service learning project from start to finish! Students have been donating cans and bottles all year to raise money to purchase food for Our Daily Bread, the local food pantry. Today several students met me at Hannaford’s Market to spend our money.  In May and June, we had an anonymous donor match all donations that came in. With the generosity of our classroom community and a donation made by Hannaford’s our students spent $425.99 on goods for the pantry! Students were armed with an assigned section of the store. One group purchased non-perishable items for breakfast or lunch. Another group spent time in the paper good and cleaning aisle. A third group was able to purchase items from the health and beauty section.  The discussions in the market about the best bargain or what items to buy from fifth graders were wonderful to listen to. They were using their math skills in a real-world application. The car is packed and tomorrow we will have our voyage to the pantry. This partnership has benefitted many students and their families, who continue to volunteer at the pantry long after they have left our classroom walls. Thanks to those who joined us today for an enriching experience!

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Simple Task: #Rubegoldermachines

This year our class went on a Rube Goldberg adventure. We were shown https://goo.gl/Wv24i to get us thinking about what Rube Goldberg machines were. The only direction we were given was to design a model using classroom materials. Five groups of 5th graders created their own machines. A Rube Goldberg Machines does many complicated things to do a simple task. They are a chain reaction with a goal. We learned in order to market a product it has to succeed more than once. You want your successes to be more than your failures during the testing phase. It is a great teaching tool to teach kids about cause and effect and how every action has a reaction. We realized you might have to change your model in order to make it work. Students said they worked to find ways to fix problems. It takes a long time so do not give up! When asked if they would do this again 100% of the students raised their hands. Rube Goldberg Machines taught students design process thinking. However, they learned BIGGER things like working with others, that it is okay to fail, see things in different ways, perseverance, listen to all ideas, keep an open mind, and always stay positive to changes and group members. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cliffhangers, Hamilton, and Revolution: Ending the SS Year on a High Note

Yesterday as I was trying to figure out how to teach the remainder of the social studies curriculum I had in a few short weeks it dawned on me that I did not have to stand up and teach it. Students would not want to be reading out of our history text for the remainder of the year during social studies lessons. I wanted to bring the American Revolution and Constitution alive! I decided I needed to create an experience that students would remember because I remember learning nothing about this time period in elementary school. I put the binder of lessons away and began to ponder how I could put the students in the driver’s seat. This would be a culmination of our voyage into student-centered learning. Then an idea popped into my head, which I shared with the students before they left school. I told them I was excited for social studies tomorrow.  I followed this with one word, Hamilton. I was asked if this was a person? A place? A musical? A play? I answered nothing but told them they would see tomorrow. Leaving a cliffhanger is a great way to end the day.

I do not want to write directions, as there should be none. Students need to direct themselves. I want to plant the seed tomorrow and see what happens. So here is my plan, which I am sharing with the world. Students are going to read and watch Guns and Ships from the musical, Hamilton (we are connecting to popular culture this way).  Then we are going to take a look in our book to see what made America into this great country. Students are going to choose something they want to learn more about (either by themselves or with a buddy/buddies). They will be responsible for reading the text and writing a song for our class musical, Revolution. Students will learn from each other. I have no idea who will choose what. I am not sure what they will write. I just hope they are engaged, empowered, and excited to learn about history. I cannot wait to see their performances! Lin-Manuel Miranda started with an idea and look where it took him!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Voyage into Design Process Thinking: Bridge Building Begins!

One of the rites of passage to middle school in our school is the class bridge building project. We have started discussing bridges, watching a documentary on the history of bridges and understanding bridge principles. Students will be using design process thinking in order to build a model of their bridge. We started with a question, thinking about how much sand a student built bridge could hold. Delving into research is the next step. We will be spending a significant amount of time researching bridges and engineer concepts behind bridge building in order to understand what our models will need. Tomorrow we have an engineer coming to discuss how he designs bridges. We will also tweet out to our global audience, asking questions to real live experts.

Students will start with building a straw tower that needs to hold a softball in order to show their understanding of bridge concepts. We will also work with paper as a tool to learn bridge concepts. Vocabulary such as tension and compression will be explored. We will learn about mechanical issues such as buckling and snapping. Students will study different kinds of bridges and trusses. This background knowledge will be used to design a bridge which will be tested before we leave in June.

This is such an amazing way to wrap up our voyage into design process thinking!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Chasing Our Red Rubber Ball Ends with a Screencast!

At the beginning of the year we started our Rules of the Red Rubber Ball project. Last year it was something I rushed to have the kids finish as the end of the year crept up on me. This year I was determined to not go that route as I felt it was an important piece of the work we do. This project integrates content areas (reading, writing, technology) with a deep level of thinking that asks students to reflect on their passions to figure out what dream they could chase. This year our project brought Kevin Carroll into our classroom to discuss his ideas with students, which was a HUGE motivator to finish this project and our agents to work even harder. He inspired us to look inside ourselves. In his book, The Rules of the Red Rubber Ball, he reminds us we have 86,400 seconds every day for new opportunities. His rules provide the foundation for us to make the most of those seconds. I hope our agents continue to follow their dreams, remember to play, and try new things in those 86,400 seconds. I will keep on learning and changing things to meet the needs of learners.

In the spirit of following my red rubber ball the students and I created the first ever agent screencast of our thinking about: what we are chasing, how we can make the most of each day, how we can avoid negativity, and advice for others to follow their red rubber ball.

Enjoy! We hope you keep following your red rubber ball no matter how old you are!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Dear Future Self: Building Relationships and Community with Students

Creating a community of learners and building relationships with students is vital for student success. As humans we need to feel cared for, valued, and appreciated for what we bring to the table. I often say you are a member of the agent force for a lifetime or as long you will have me, and I always stay true to my word. I get midnight texts from college students I had in the third grade asking for help on calculus homework. Students seek me out as seniors in high school as a college coach, as one agent told me “You promised you would be there for me no matter what, and I need help with this college process.” Middle and high school students volunteer at homework club for service hours. I feel very lucky to have formed these bonds with students. Trust, mutual respect, and honesty are strong values in these relationships. One of my most cherished evenings with my students and their families is one I have to wait years for, literally.

Your student is coming home today with an assignment in which I ask him or her to write a letter to himself or herself at 18 years old. Their letters asks them to think about their strengths, weaknesses, future life, and fads. It also asks them to think about how the world might change when they are seniors in high school and to reflect on tools their parents have given them. These letters will be sealed in a time capsule to be opened the first weekend of May in 2023. Parents are also invited to write a letter to their agent as well as put in photos or other items that represent 2016. These nights are inspiring, filled with lots of laughter. Honestly when I do them it feels like we never left our community. I look forward to seeing many of you in 2023 (no matter where life takes us). 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Middle School Movers and Shakers

Today the students crafted a list of questions to send over to QMS.  The guidance department will be coming over to visit and discuss life at QMS. I wanted to share their questions with you so you could see what our agents are thinking.

How many periods do you have?

What does the homework situation look like?

How many students are in each class?

Are certain math classes eligible for sixth graders?

How do you get picked for teams? 

How many projects do we get in month? 

How do you handle bullying?

How much time do we have in between classes?

Will we have most of the same kids on our team that are in our 5th grade class?

What do we do if we get lost?

Can you still get honors or high honors?

Will we be able to do work on our Mansfield Google Drive account next year? (They know they will not be using the ones we used this year). 

How long is each period?

What field trips do we go on?

Are there class presidents?

Can we take our phones out?

What is academic support block?

What is detention and how do you get it?

Are all of the clubs after school? 

What kind of clubs are there?

How many special events do we have?

What kinds of specials do we have? 

What do we do during ASB?

What do you look for in student of the month?

How do the standing desks work?

Do you have desks for lefties?

How do we know who are teachers are?

How long is lunch?

Does the cost of lunch change?

After looking at the list I told the agents I see students who want to be leaders. I see agents who want to be high achievers. Students are motivated to learn and take risks. I listened to students who have diverse interests. Students enjoy using technology as a tool to enhance their learning. Students want to better manage their time and organize themselves so they are prepared for their role as a middle school student.  Part of my role is building relationships with my students to lay the foundation for them to be successful in the transition. I hope each agent is leaving here different then when they walked through the door in September. They are bright eyed and ready to head across the street!