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.