Over the summer, I had the idea that I wanted my students to participate in a Mystery Hangout with a classroom from each of the 50 states. I’m glad I started this journey.

So far we have connected with 3 states. In addition to the Mystery Hangouts, I wanted my students to start sketch noting the information we collected. I’m so glad I included this aspect. It wasn’t easy for them at first. In fact, I still have a few that write lists. But overall I’m pleased with how they are experimenting with becoming more and more creative.

I teach 5th grade. Traditionally, 5th graders write ‘State Reports’. I, however, HATE the state report model. I get it, kill 2 birds with one stone. Write and research, combine Social Studies with ELA. But does the state report model actually meet the Social Studies standard? No, it does not. The standard, according to the California Dept. of Education, states: “Students know the location of the current 50 states and the names of their capitals.” How does writing about Iowa inform me about the other 49 states and their capitals? Simple, it doesn’t. And when you assign states, there is a group that is disappointed in the state they got. So now you are torturing a large group of students to do something that they aren’t passionate about and it doesn’t even meet one of the standards you think you are teaching. Not to mention torturing yourself when you read through the reports. Furthermore, your class will not have 50 students, so even if you are having students present, they won’t learn about all 50 states.

So how to meet this standard in an interesting way? Hangouts! Sure you could teach a song to learn the capitals and give the students a blank map to label, but come on, that is so boring!

My vision for this year is to connect my class with at least one class in each of the other 49 states via Mystery Hangouts. This is NOT my idea. I saw it online last year. I don’t remember the teacher otherwise I would be giving credit where credit is due. What I have done is to create a Google Form for teachers to fill out. Using the Add-on Choice Eliminator 2 I can automatically wipe out state choices. When a teacher from Illinois fills out the form, Illinois is no longer a choice for a state. However, a teacher who wants to do this with my class, and doesn’t see their state listed, can simply contact me and they will be included in the fun. I also have carved out 2 days each week to complete my vision. There are more than enough days to complete this.

I would also like my students to keep notes on the states that we connect with. I’m not sure how this will be done. I could use a Google Form for each student to write one fact that they learned which could then be uploaded into a Google My Map. But that seems like a bit of work on my part and I want the students doing the work. I could have the students create their own Google My Map to log information. But my district has a ‘Walled Garden’ so the students wouldn’t be able to share their learning outside of our district; not what I am looking for. I could have students write on a shared doc or slide, but with 30+ students, it could get messy. We could create a Google Site or use a Padlet for each state, but 50 Padlets… So quite honestly, I’m not sure how to collect and archive their learning.

My idea for the notes is to track their growing knowledge. They need to know the state capitals and where the states are located. I would like for them to record capital, what region, maybe time-zone, what states border it, land locked or coastal, if coastal, what bodies of water, etc.

What are your thoughts? How would you have students record their learning? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

I recently wrote for the CUE Blog on how to own a premade curriculum. I spoke about taking it and tweaking it so that we, as teachers, feel the ownership instead of feeling like we have no say. Part of the way I take ownership in my math class is to use Andrew Stadel‘s Estimation 180 site. It’s a nice warm-up for the students and a great way to practice several of the 8 Mathematical Practices found in CCSS.

Most recently, we have been going through a series that has us estimate the value of coins in a container. It started with pennies, then progressed through until the day we estimated the value of dimes. We went through our normal routine – three minutes to discuss and find an estimate that is too low, too high, the actual estimate, and how they arrived at that estimate. Then, as normal, we viewed the video answer. Upon finding the answer, the RSP co-teacher got a discussion started. She disagreed with the answer. We left it at that so that the students could either agree or disagree. After they reviewed the previous two days’ answers and compared the answer to the dimes, the class determined that they too disagreed. Following the Mathematical Practices, they had to justify their reasoning, which they did. They reasoned that the pennies and nickels were mounding up to the point of almost spilling over, whereas the dimes didn’t quite reach the top of the container – same container.

Fortunately, with modern technology, we didn’t have to let the discussion die there. So, I got on my phone, hooked it up to the screen so the students could be active participants, jumped on Twitter, and sent Mr. Stadel a private message. This is what they wrote, well, told me to type:

After they got over the initial shock that one could actually do this, they got excited. Now, I have only been a participant in a few of Mr. Stadel’s sessions at conferences but was fairly certain that he would be open to what we had to say and would most likely respond. And he didn’t disappoint! The kids were VERY excited that he did respond. Okay, I was pretty excited too. This was such a real and relevant experience.

We then talked about how many more dimes we thought could fit. They determined that 1/2 roll more – 25 dimes – would be needed.

THIS is why we, as educators, need to be connected. THIS is why we continuously grow our PLN.

I would like to thank Mr. Stadel and Ms. Luke (RSP teacher) for making this all possible.