Countdown

pexels-photo-280264.jpegThe end of the school year is upon us. Today someone pointed out that we only have four more weeks of school. That’s not a lot of time. I know many teachers, and students, are in full ‘countdown mode’. Meaning, they are counting down the days until summer. I can’t fault them. The idea of a long vacation sounds wonderful. Time to do all the things that I’ve been putting off: steam cleaning the carpets, revamping lessons, relaxing, training ‘bat dog’ (aka Goldilocks, the 4-month-old puppy). Except, I don’t countdown. I used to, but I don’t anymore.

A few years ago I read a post (I can’t remember who wrote it) that changed my viewpoint. Basically, counting down sends the wrong message to the kids: learning isn’t that important. Learning is exciting and we should want it to continue. I am paraphrasing, but that was the message. I originally agreed, but have since changed my thoughts slightly.

While counting down and sending the message, “I can’t wait to get out of here” is what got me to change my thinking it’s not how I think now. For me, this time of year is bittersweet. I know what makes my kids tick. I know what will set them off. I know what to look for in others. I KNOW my kids. We are a family. We operate like a well-oiled machine. And now, I have to say good-bye. I don’t want to. I want to continue learning and growing with them.

Today I had a student upset about a personal problem. The student confided in another student. It warmed my heart to see the other student being compassionate and a good friend. We are a family and our family will be splitting up in a month.

It took us a long time to get to this point: us being a family. This is why I don’t do countdowns. I want to give it my all until the last day. I want to keep our family moving forward.

And next year I will start fresh. I will cultivate a new family. I will reflect on my new family in one year. I will be sad that we will soon go in different directions, but I will also marvel at their growth.

How Was Your Break?

pexels-photo-551590.jpegThis is one question I try not to ask. This and “Did you have a good break?” When dealing with many students from differing backgrounds, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has a ‘good break’. It’s a natural question for many of us to ask. We come back not really ready to be back. I mean, we all love to sleep in and get things done around the house or hang with family/friends or go on trips. But for many students coming back to school is a welcome break from their home lives.  And for that reason, I no longer ask students these questions.

I write this because I was reminded over my break that not all our students have ideal home lives. Some are dealing with the threat of a parent being deported or being evicted from their homes. Others are visiting a parent in jail over the holidays. Some don’t have money for presents. And yet others have had to deal with trauma and situations we can’t imagine. For these students, school IS their safe place; school is a welcome break from their everyday lives.

So what do I do? What do I say to my students when they come back? I’ve found that questions and statements such as: “I’m so happy to see you,” or “Are you glad to be back?” work well. “Are you glad to be back?” allows students to tell me about their trips to Mexico, all the toys they received, or the family they spent time with.  While allowing those in less than ideal situations to feel safe to say, “Yes, I’m happy to be back.” Many times they follow that statement with, “It was so boring.” Knowing their lives, I know this isn’t really the case, but rather they are happy to feel safe for 7 hours out of their day.

And it’s not just our students who don’t always have ‘good breaks’. Some of our colleagues have had to deal with situations that were less than an ideal Holiday. Remember: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” – Ian Maclaren.

First Graders Breakout!

First Grade WorkWhen a first-grade teacher expressed interest in doing a Breakout, I was thrilled to help. As she had never seen one in action she asked if I could lead. Of course, I said yes!

We worked together to find a Breakout that would work for her and her class. We settled on ‘Number Ninjas’. It’s all about numbers to 100: great for first-trimester first-graders.

There was LOTS of excitement and enthusiasm during the game. The students worked well together after they got the hang of it.

In the end, all the groups broke out.

So, to all those naysayers who think that first grade is too young to do a Breakout, we proved you wrong. This will hopefully be the first of many Breakouts in this classroom. And this will hopefully inspire other early elementary grades to give it a try!

Google Classroom & Your Phone

Google Classroom

During class today, I assigned a quick summary of what we read together. It was at that point that I pulled a small group aside so that they would be successful and get small group instruction on specific skills.

While working with the small group, I noticed a few students who seemed to not be working. So I pulled out my phone! I quickly pulled up the Classroom App and went into select students’ work to monitor their progress. Needless to say, my observations proved correct. This allowed me to have a quick correction with those students and at the same time putting the rest of the class on notice. Just because I am working with a small group doesn’t mean I don’t know what you’re doing!

Ah, the wonders of modern technology. Used correctly, it can be a powerful tool.

Social Media & Genius Hour

Each Friday our 5th-Graders participate in Genius Hour. This year, there is a large group of students that either create slime – in order to sell – or draw. They hop on either Google Images or YouTube to hone their skills. I have encouraged them to create a website to showcase their work. Silly me, no one wants to do that. BUT, showcasing their work on their Instagram accounts, that’s another story.

Yes, I am aware that Instagram is for 13-year-olds and older. Each time a student tells me they have an account I remind them of this and ask if their parents are aware of their account and do they have the password. If their parents are okay with it the best I can do is teach them how to be responsible: no locations, birthdates, first or last names, etc.

IMG_0013When we were cleaning up on Friday, I watched one student pull out his phone, snap a pic, tag people, and post to one of his Instagram accounts. I thought this was a brilliant way to document and share his work! Now I need to work with the district’s IT department to unblock Instagram so my class can have an account and document our work.

State Test & Slime: Perfect Pairing

img_0003.jpgSlime. A craze that is still going strong in my classroom. While many teachers find it the bane of their existence; I do not. Okay, fidget spinners might be the new bane of our existence. I don’t ban the slime, or fidget spinners, mainly because my students seem to understand that each has a time and place. My students, for the most part, have found a balance between work and slime.

This past week, my students began taking the state test. Again, I didn’t ban slime, nor did I encourage it. It’s just a ‘thing’ that exists in the classroom. As I was monitoring the students, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: while taking the test they were playing with slime. Let me be clear. It’s not all students, in fact, it’s about 5 or so and they were completely focused on their tasks.

IMG_0006One student kept the slime in her container, read, and simply played with it by dipping her finger in and out of the slime. She gets a bit nervous because she wants to do well. I believe it helped relieve some anxiety. I took a quick picture and texted it to her mom (our school’s secretary). We just giggled.

Meanwhile, a few other students had it on their tables, off to the side. They poked at it, rolled it, and kneaded it all while focusing on the test.

So if you’ve banned slime in your classroom, you may want to rethink it. Of course, there have been times where I had to confiscate slime because someone was focused on playing with it rather than working. However, if it helps calm students, why not let them play?

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Coordinates Breakout Continued

Yesterday, my class began creating a Coordinates Breakout. They figured out which locks to use and what the codes would be. Today, I tasked them with creating the clues and a story to accompany the Breakout.

IMG_5343We had a bit of trouble coming up with a story so I had them creating some of the clues to the locks. They were RockStars creating the clues! They really thought out how to make the clues meaningful, with a bit of depth. One clue deals with the compass rose. We are still debating if we should have different ones on one page or split them up onto different pages and have them placed around the room. I think we will have to run the game with another class to work out some of the kinks.

Another clue, or three, deals with coordinate planes – first quadrant. Each group took aIMG_5346 different approach in creating the coordinateplane. One group created a visually pleasing one with gradient coloring and took the time to draw each line. Meanwhile, another group struggled to create one; they needed four or five. The struggling group asked if the gradient colored group would mind sharing so they could copy their coordinate plane. And of course, the group was kind enough to share!

Then, while in the middle of creating, a student came up to me with a back story for our game. We bounced ideas off of each other and made it better. Tomorrow, I think I am going to have the students work together to make the story even better.

So far, this experience has been challenging, yet rewarding. It is our plan to submit the game to the Breakout EDU website. I think before that happens, I will share it out to make sure it’s in tip-top shape!