This is a challenging week to hold the attention of elementary students. We try to capitalize on their energy and excitement. This week, our director of technology integration organized a design challenge where students, given a limited number of supplies including straws, popsicle sticks, three feet of masking tape, a sheet of paper, and index cards, had to build a structure for Wilbur the pig that would survive the huff and puff of the big bad wolf.
Students, who worked in teams of four to five, spent the early moments of the challenge designing structures independently. Then they shared their ideas and decided which design elements they would incorporate into the team design. Then in the remaining minutes, the team built and tested their structures. They tested against the wind force of a hair dryer. Finally, fourth-grade students were called up to test their structures against the Big Bad Wolf which was no longer a hair dryer but a high powered fan.
At the conclusion of the challenge, students were asked to reflect on their experiences. We used FlipGrid to capture their thinking. They were asked, "what went well?", "what would you do differently if you had the opportunity to repeat the task?" and "did you enjoy designing with your team?"
My big take-aways;
Check out the pics below. You can see the joy.
Today I began to feel the holiday rush in full force. If there is one thing I'm frustrated by this year, it is my schedule. I complain about all the pull-outs all the time. However, I'm not sure I have complained about "No Teach Tuesday." This is what I've coined our new Tuesday schedule. Again, I know that decisions have been made with the best of intentions. Still, I hate the results. On Tuesdays, the kids come in beginning at 9:00 AM. By the time they've checked in and our school has read morning announcements and had the school-wide Pledge of Allegiance, it is 9:25. I get to teach until 11:55 when my students head off to a weekly social skills class that is a combination of Second Step, an anti-bullying program, and PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). Meanwhile, the fourth-grade team meets for our data block. This data block was instituted a few years back in the interest of giving teachers time to look at assessment data and plan for interventions, etc. It was a good idea then. The students then go to recess and lunch and return to class at 1:30. At 1:45 fourteen of my 22 students head off to chorus. It would be great if the students who remained were ones who needed extra support or additional time to meet classroom standards but for the most part, that isn't the case. The students return at 2:30 and head directly to technology where they remain for the rest of the day.
Today was Wednesday. Wednesday is a great day. I have an hour and a half more teaching time on Wednesdays. It makes a difference. But, not today. Today the tech teacher asked to work with my students for an extra half hour. She wanted to finish up a project with them. I would have felt terrible saying no. Then, my students spent a half hour Christmas shopping at the holiday shop. In the end, it was another hour of teaching time lost.
Here is the thing. I have quite a list to accomplish before the holidays too. There is this opinion piece that really should be done by now. Yet, it lingers on. I want to finish our class novel before the holiday break and there are a few math games and a routine that I'd love to introduce in addition to our regular math lessons. I can't believe I have only 6.5 days before winter break.
And of course, there is the big rush in my personal life. I have just over a week to make the Christmas magic happen. There are still gifts to buy, a couple of jam-packed weekends that will include my daughter's performance in the Nutcracker, a day long track meet in Boston, and two Sundays spent driving to and from field hockey practices and games.
Despite all the mayhem, my students have been hard working and surprisingly focused. I guess we'll just take it one day at a time. The holidays should be magical and stress free for kids. I'm going to keep my stress in check. I'm going to try to chill out and not get so caught up in the big rush. I'm going to focus on the joy. It is a choice.
There has been trouble percolating in my classroom. We're not talking big time trouble. But it is trouble. I have a sweet girl who is having a REALLY hard time finding her way socially. I don't see what goes on behind the scenes so the trouble could actually be a lot more concerning than I even know. What I do know is that I have a little girl in my room who tries to strongarm her friends into doing what she wants. She is demanding. She'll insist that friends play with her, that friends partner with her, that friends not play with other friends. When her friends protest, she threatens to tell on them. For some strange reason, her friends typically bend to her will.
This is not new behavior. In fact, it has been fairly well documented as early as kindergarten. She just isn't kind. It really makes me wonder why. This little lady has many strengths. Her academics are strong and she is adorable! Usually, when I've seen kids treat their peers poorly it is because they don't feel good about themselves. Sometimes kids who are mean struggle academically. Sometimes they come from broken homes. Sometimes, the adults at home are neglectful or unkind to them. None of this seems to be the case for this little girl.
Trust me when I tell you, I've addressed the little issues as they've come up. I've given her some tips to ensure that she's not accidentally offending her friends and I have given her some strategies for working through difficulties. Her mom has acknowledged that this is an area that needs some attention. She states that they've have been working on this at home too.
At least five students have personally come to me hurt by this classmate. It is getting to be a lot. I'd love for this drama to cease. Actually, it has come to a head. My student has really hurt a student in another classroom and now my principal is involved. She has launched a bullying investigation. It is warranted but it also makes my heart hurt.
I can't imagine what it will feel like to be my student, confronted by all the allegations. I can't imagine what it will feel like to be her mom either. While I know that neither should be blindsided, I can't help but feel terrible for the both of them. I'm not sure what I'll do to help this child move forward. I know there have been teachers who have come before me who have attempted to coach this kiddo toward positive peer relationships. No one wants to be a mean girl. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do to love this child up but I'll definitely need to start planning and strategizing. I'd love for these elementary struggles to be a small hiccup that she'll one day forget when she reflects on her childhood. I don't want these troubles to define this child moving forward. I'll do what I can to help her.
Boy is it easy to get trapped in your own snow globe. The classroom, any time of year, is a busy place. As a teacher, I feel that I am always BEHIND. There is always work that can be done. I always need to dedicated more time to planning, more time to designing assessments, more time to analyzing student work, and more time getting organized for the thing that is up next. Sometimes I feel like my classroom and the world I move in is my own personal snow globe where visibility is not 100%. Left in my own storm, it is hard to see new ideas or to appreciate the good going on inside the globe.
Tonight I stepped out for a couple of hours to grab dinner with a colleague who teaches fourth grade in another elementary school in my district. I don't know why we don't make it a point to get out together more often. I feel more positive and energized every time we spend time together. Don't get me wrong, I do hear that "you don't measure up, Brigham" voice as I listen to her creative approaches and innovative ideas for inspiring student learning. However, I do my best to shut down that voice and focus on her positive energy. It is absolutely life-giving to hear a fresh perspective and a new take on the day to day teaching and learning that unfolds in the fourth-grade classroom. Now, this is not to say that this teacher is all rainbows and unicorns. She isn't. She is real. When we get together we definitely laugh at just how ridiculous our day to day jobs can be. We giggle over the unbelievable things our "clients" do and say. We commiserate over the struggles and troubleshoot where we can.
Mostly, it is just good to know that someone else, who is a lot like me, is plodding along, doing her best in flurry of ten-year-old insanity. It is good to share energy. It is GREAT to know I'm not alone. Teachers should socialize, commiserate, and collaborate more. I know we'd all be happier if we did. I'm pretty sure our students would benefit too. We should all step out of our own snow globes with greater frequency. While the classroom across town isn't much different than the one in my snow globe, it sure helps to hear about teaching and learning outside my globe.
I have a dentist appointment after school so I'll be rushing out of school. I'm wondering if I'm getting sick. I'm wondering because something funky is going on with my throat. My voice is scratchy and is fading in and out. I'm actually wondering if I should even be going to the dentist. If I were the hygenist, I certainly wouldn't want to stick my hands in my mouth. Getting sick is miserable no matter who you are but I feel like it is especially miserable when you are a teacher. Multi-tasking all day is exhausting, especially as the holidays draw near. However, staying high-energy when you feel terrible is really tough.
I have what should prove to be an amazing math conference coming up at the end of the week. In my mind, being out for my own health is really never an option. I loath writing sub plans. I never want to leave knowing that there is a chance that my students could have a crap day. So, when I have to leave plans, I make sure they're thoughtful and thorough. Writing them is zero fun. I do my best to not get sick. Honestly, the only time I'm out sick these days is when my own kids are very sick. They're 14 and 15 now so when they have a bug or a cold that necessitates a day off, they're usually able to stay home on their own. Anyway, I'm not missing that conference and I'm not taking tomorrow off. There is no way I'm writing three days worth of sub plans.
I've decided to not get sick. There is no time for it. I'm not missing school and I'm not missing my math conference. I'm not getting sick.
My job really is awesome. Tonight I spent three hours editing pen pal letters. I should explain. My fourth-graders are pen pals with senior citizens, organized through the senior center, in the town where I teach. They keep their identities anonymous, using pen names, until the end of the year when we have a luncheon and the the writers meet one another. I know, stinking cute, right? I love being a part of this experience. I love everything about it...except quite possibly, editing the pen pal letters that my students write. It took me three hours to get through 22 letter this evening. However, only two letters in, I stumbled upon a little gem that kept me giggling all night long.
Here is the truth: I generally do not read the letters sent to my students. They arrive in special envelopes and they are given directly to the students. The seniors are carefully selected so I've never worried about content before. I'm not really worried about content tonight...but maybe I should be after reading this opening.
Holy crap! Please tell that my student meant to insert the word PIES! I mean, it is still kind of a weird statement (I love whoopie pies) but it is SO much better than the alternative. I shared this with a few friends and colleagues tonight and boy did we have a good laugh.
My job really is that awesome. I can't imagine any other profession where you come home at the end of the day with stories as good as teachers' stories. On any given day, the students can make you crazy but they sure do make you laugh too!
Today was a good day. Today, a few things happened that shouldn't have surprised me. I was surprised though...pleasantly surprised. I shouldn't be surprised when decisions are made that put kids first and when everyone steps up and does their jobs. I'm likely the problem. I'm getting cynical and crusty in my old age. It is not that I expect the worst. I'm just usually prepared for anything. If I'm going to be disappointed, I'd prefer not to be surprised too.
I wasn't disappointed today.
I was teaching math. The students were gathered around the SmartBoard for the whole class instruction portion of our lesson. That's when our district's new behaviorist came into the room to observe one of my students. She didn't interrupt my teaching. Instead, she waited until I had sent the kids off to work and then approached me to ask some questions. Despite the fact that she hadn't yet met my student, she'd read his IEP and safety plan and her questions were 100% appropriate and thoughtful. She had clearly done her homework. This boy really is thriving right now. She could have received that information from me, turned on her heel, and headed out to tend to more pressing cases. She didn't. She continued to observe and question. She was doing her job. I found her to be impressive. This was a positive change for our district. The last behaviorist was entirely ineffective.
As I finished up with the behaviorist I noticed that the ELL teacher was standing at my door with one of my students who she sees a few times a week. This kid is a very smart boy. He has been in the country for approximately four years. You would never guess this. His spoken English is automatic, grammatically correct, and confident. He has grade level math skills. He is struggling with his reading. His greatest difficulty is with accuracy. When he comes upon a word he doesn't immediately know, he very often inserts any word with the same initial sound. So, the word "communities" is read as "countries." This student has tremendous listening comprehension. Yet, he is unwilling to stop and struggle even when the text doesn't make sense. The ELL teacher wanted to share this observation of his reading behavior with me and wanted me to participate in the conversation with the student. This doesn't always happen. I get it, it is hard for specialists and classroom teachers to find the time to confer with one another. However, this specialist brought me into the circle today so that we could work together to best help a student. This is what should happen all the time.
Meanwhile, in the classroom, the academic tutor and one to one aide worked the room ensuring that every child was getting the support he or she needed. I was tied up for ten to fifteen minutes yet the students remained engaged in their math task and were productively working. This wasn't a surprise. These two women show up every day and work hard for our students.
Finally, we've been dealing with a sticky situation with a one to one aide. At the beginning of the school year, a different aide serviced a child in my room. She is a veteran aide with a gigantic heart. She adores the student to whom she is assigned. A month and a half into the school year she began to suffer with debilitating back pain. She was in agony and her pain compromised her ability to effectively do her job. For example, she could not work with this student on the floor and could not supervise her on the stairs. After suffering for some time, she took a leave from school. She is slated to return, after being out of school since the second week of October. I have many concerns about her return. I worry first about her mobility and safety at school. I wonder about how effectively she'll do her job. I wonder how long she'll be able to sustain her position or if the pain will return requiring another leave. I worry about the student's ability to adapt to change again and if we'll see a set back as she transitions to another change in staff. In the end, I hoped that we would consider the needs of the student first. Today my principal let me know that the district will place the returning aide in a classroom support role where she can work with small groups of students while safely seated. Her mobility and potential effectiveness in her previous role will be evaluated. again at Christmastime. I know she'll be heartbroken and I feel so badly about that but I am so happy that my principal and Director of Special Ed. are putting the student first even though it is tricky business.
Honestly, today was a day filled with happy surprises. Kids were put first all day long. Everyone showed up and worked hard for our students. Decisions were made in the best interest of the kids. Today was an excellent day.
I fell upon a doozie of a post tonight. Sometimes I think that there are math angels working for Twitter and they generously throw the exact stuff I need to read into my Twitter feed. Tonight, I read this post, "No More Mathematical Matchmaking: the Return of the Inaba Place Value Puzzles" by Jenna Laib (@JennaLaib) It was the perfect follow up to a couple of Mark Chubb's posts I've read recently. I tweeted precisely this idea.
There is a teacher in my building who has said things that have been critical of the way my co-teacher and I "do" inclusion. Reading Mark Chubb's posts validated everything I feel and believe about inclusion and what it should look like. If you've read his posts but can't quite picture what it looks like in a real classroom then read Jenna Leib's post because she illustrates her inclusion practice and use of a low-ceiling/high-floor task to meet the needs of all learners.
Being fairly progressive and feeling judged by your colleagues is a tough nut to swallow. Pile on some, "the superintendent and principal prefer that inclusion is done the way I do it" sentiment and you become susceptible to self-trash-talk where the end result is your self-esteem spiraling down the toilet.
What I'd like to do:
I swear this is the last time I'm going to gloat about my red splat. Seriously.
Generally, I begin the week with a Number Talk from Shery Parish's Number Talks book (@NumberTalks). We focus on one strategy and work on progressively difficult problems as the week unfolds. Fridays are "FUN FRIDAY" which obviously means we do fraction work in place of our standard sense-making routine! I use the resources at www.fractiontalks.com or "Fraction SPLATS" at Steve Wyborney's site, www.stevewyborney.com.
There was NO WAY I could wait to share the red splat with my students till Friday. This was, OPEN UP YOUR MATH LESSON ON THE MONDAY MORNING AFTER THANKSGIVING material! When I told the students that we received a response from Steve the excitement in the room was palpable. When I posted his response on our SmartBoard and the students learned about their access to EXCLUSIVE slides with a RED splat they nearly lost their minds.
I decided that we'd try to solve the first "puzzle" only that morning as I anticipated that it would challenge my students.
TRUTH: It was hard for many of my kids. The language in the clue was complex and required that they process multiple ideas simultaneously. I think it was the personalized note at the beginning of the slideshow that had my students so determined to figure out what was under the red splat. They read the clue COUNTLESS times in order to make sense of the problem (without my prompting!) They experimented with a lot of different strategies. Most were strategies they'd developed when we worked on regular spalt and fraction splat puzzles. Many used guess and check to settle on an answer. No one frustrated, even after MANY failed attempts.
Steve made the math really personal for my students today. In their minds, an internet celebrity designed a math experience just for them. They saw it for the gift that it was and they treated the experience as such! Many students were able to walk away with a correct solution after lots of time to work and many failed attempts. Even those who did not come away with an effective solution, worked hard to make sense of the work of their peers when it was shared out.
I wish I could recreate that sense of agency, excitement, determination to make sense, and to succeed every day. Today was a gift. Thanks again Steve Wyborney!
A few days ago, I blogged about my experience using Steve Wyborney's math routines with my fourth graders. His "SPLAT" presentations and newer "Esti-Mysteries" are amazing free resources generously shared on Twitter. My students have loved this activities. On the day before Thanksgiving my students wrote to Steve and thanked him for his work sharing a bit about what they find enjoyable and why they are grateful. If this sounds familiar to you it is because I've already blogged about this in a previous post. Anyhow, I took photos of a few of their sweet notes and tweeted them out to @SteveWyborney. Here is the tweet:
Big picture: There are many amazing math educators working hard and sharing their work so that we can ALL be better for our kids. Most share their work free of charge. A lot of it is amazing stuff. This couldn't be more true for Steve Wyborney. It was the day before Thanksgiving and I was feeling grateful. Sometimes, when we can, we need to take a moment and show our gratitude. Plus, these little notes, which were just a small sample of the notes written, were lovely and captured my students' true feeling so well. Knowing that I was going to tweet some of their notes was highly motivational for my students. They put their hearts into the writing. This is what Steve had to say about the notes:
He also sent me this message:
My key takeaway: My students spent less than ten minutes expressing their gratitude. I spent less than ten minutes tweeting out those letters. The ten minutes we invested in showing our gratitude made somebody's day! It is totally worth ten minutes of our time to make somebody's day. This is especially true when the work that somebody puts out into the world makes a tremendous difference in the learning that unfolds in your classroom.