Kindness Coin

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Ben's Bells Kindness CoinAt some point last year at a Google Innovator event I was given one of these. I liked the idea of passing along a note to recognize kindness in others.

I recently ran across it again and incorporated it into my classroom. I introduced the idea to my students telling them that when they saw someone being kind, it could be passed along to that person.

Fortunately, my students have really taken to the idea. Each day I see this being placed on someone’s desk. I love that my students do it without making a big deal about it. At one point it was missing for a few days. One of the students asked where it was and what happened to it. I reminded them to keep it going and it showed back up later that day.

A little kindness going a long way!

#MathReps Work!

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Several years ago I created #MathReps (EduProtocols for math) for my classroom. The original idea was based on Jon Corippo‘s 8 p*ARTS of Speech. When I first designed it I was excited and blogged about it. Since then, the idea, and resources have grown. And being who I am, I constantly doubt myself and my creations. I constantly question whether I’m doing good or harm.

MathReps Logo

Yesterday, some of my doubts were cast aside and my creation was validated. Recently, I was talking to another 5th-grade teacher at my site. We were talking about some tasks that we have students do. She follows the curriculum to a T; I, however, do not. This is in NO way a slight towards her (she’s new and is doing as she is instructed). She shared that she pulled out a concept the students hadn’t seen in a few months (our curriculum doesn’t spiral. I have much more to say about it, but won’t do it here.). It was adding/subtracting with decimals. I thought THAT was a great idea, so I did the same. She reported her students having difficulty remembering to line up the decimals doing the task. As I gave my students a similar task, I observed that they instinctively lined up the decimals. I found this not only interesting but satisfying. My students had been exposed daily to almost 5 months of this concept on various #MathReps. Needless to say, I was elated and felt somewhat justified in doing what I do.

After completing the task I had a frank discussion with my class. I asked, even though I already knew the answer if they had any trouble adding the decimals. I asked about lining up the decimals. They all looked at me like I was crazy. Of course, they knew to line up the decimals….duh! I then shared WHY! I also shared that a class that doesn’t use #MathReps had trouble remembering that important piece of information. And that it was because we practiced these concepts DAILY that they had no trouble with that part. (They had trouble with the task but weren’t confused about how to perform the actual skill of adding decimals.) Because of the culture of our class, they focused on the fact that #MathReps actually do help them and not on the class that had trouble. It was so awesome to bring to light to them, and me, that this protocol really works. One student even remarked that while they may not like doing them it does help them to learn.

Just like with anything, if we don’t use newly acquired knowledge we lose it. In addition, John Hattie puts repetition at a 0.73 on the Hattie Check Scale. I would caution that there are different types of repetition and we need to make sure that our reps are meaningful.

I did share this with the other teacher. I assured her it was no slight on her, and she understood, rather it was a slight on the adopted curriculum.

Size Matters

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Yesterday, Friday, I had 5 students absent. When everyone is present, we have 26 students in our class. They are an awesome group of kiddos. I’m really enjoying them, but when I had 21 yesterday in class, it was so nice!

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Let me explain. First of all, it had nothing to do with which students were absent. It had everything to do with the number of students physically present. I know 26 isn’t a bad number to have (last year I had 31 – THAT was too many). However, 21 students made it so much easier to squash undesired behaviors before the student had a chance to fully commit to the behavior. It allowed me to target individual needs more effectively. Don’t get me wrong, we had some name calling and general playing around but it was easier to manage.

So when school officials, politicians, or policymakers say that handling 31 is the same as handling 21, they clearly have either never been in the classroom (as a teacher) or have been out of it for far too long. There is a difference. I felt so much more productive and impactful than I have in a long time. I felt as if I really was making a difference and reaching all students.

If you are in a position to make a difference in your community, I urge you to do so. Go to school board meetings or talk to teachers. Because in the end, size really does matter!

And yes, I will be happy to see all 26 of them Monday morning!

Classroom Podcast

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I have decided that we should start a classroom podcast. I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to bring the real world to my classroom. Each year, my students become more and more consumed by their devices and apps. Most of what they do is consume, text, or snap; very little creation occurs. I want to help change this and show my students that you can produce more than just YouTube videos. They all want to be YouTubers…

gold condenser microphone near laptop computer

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So why Podcasting? Well, it’s not something most, or any, of my students are familiar with. They all know about YouTube, but there is so much more to the creative world than becoming a YouTuber. I began by having my students listen to a podcast: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. Warning, this is addictive! This is a well-done podcast that the kids, and I, really got in to. I only had my kiddos listen to Season 1 – and bonus, we Sketchnoted each episode. However, I wanted to hear the rest and listened to it on my own. I was not disappointed!

After listening to Season 1 of Mars Patel, I proposed the idea to my class. They seemed up for it. We talked about what we could do. At first, they wanted to do one like that of Mars Patel, but I felt that might be too ambitious for our first go at it. I encouraged them to do stand-alone episodes. They came up with the idea of focusing on the history of our school and town. I was in!

As a class, we posed questions about our town and school that we could research and report out on. Now, I have a group of students who are taking one question at a time and doing the research. We have reached out to school and community leaders to interview. They will begin interviewing leaders soon. They already have questions ready for our school leaders for one episode.

I’m not sure how it’s all going to turn out. I honestly don’t know what I’m doing and am learning right along with my students. Once we publish an episode, I’ll share far and wide!

My Word – 2019

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My word for 2019Another year means another word! This year I chose ‘Do‘. It seems simple enough but packed with so much meaning.

For me, this will help me to follow through and DO what I intend. I have a habit of becoming overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of me. This leads to anxiety, which leads to me shutting down and ignoring everything. Yeah, that’s not working so well.

As they say, I’ll need a plan. I have one. I need to list my tasks (I hate writing things down) and prioritize. It will also include me DOing things that scare me and take me out of my comfort zone. The loss of control on that coupled with all the negative ‘what if’s’ generally keep me from taking drastic actions. I need to learn to trust that everything will work out -it always does.

So this year, I will DO more!

Hands-On Science

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Let me begin by saying that it has been several years since I have taught Science in my classroom; this is because I have ‘team taught’ in this time period. I took care of Social Studies/History while my teaching partner taught Science. This year, due to scheduling conflicts we weren’t able to continue. However, when I did teach Science all those years ago, it was rarely hands-on. And this was a HUGE disservice to students.

This year my school site is trying to focus on NGSS and really having kids EXPERIENCE Science. I love this focus. However, I have found that this shift is proving difficult for both my students and myself. Why? They have rarely done continuous (almost weekly) hands-on work. This is not a slight against my colleagues, I’m right there with them.

The push for all things testing (looking at you standardized tests and those that love them) has left us choosing to teach the testing subjects (mainly Math and ELA) or teach it all. Yes, CCSS has us shifting to more inclusive lessons, but as many districts purchasing curriculums for all subjects it’s not as easy as one would think. However, I digress.

Chemicals Reacting to White SubstancesChaos. That is the only word that accurately describes my classroom during Science. The kids lose their minds when given the opportunity to explore. For example, last week we were exploring different ‘white substances’ (insert El Chapo joke here) and their reactions to chemicals (water, iodine, and vinegar). Before we began we reviewed classroom norms: safety goggles on, observe, take notes, etc. I should have included ‘NO eating anything!’ Yeah, one of the substances was sugar and a few students decided it would be a good idea to taste test the ‘white substances’. Don’t get me wrong, they had a great time! They loved dropping the chemicals on the substances to observe the reactions. They were excited and engaged. That’s what we want, but they weren’t being very scientific. They were so ‘excited’ they observed all the reactions without taking a single note! #FrustratedTeacher Then, they started to ‘play’ with some of the mixtures. In their defense, they were observing what happened when the chemical and substance was thoroughly mixed. They did make some good observations, but still NO notes.

In the end, the lessons was a moderate (that’s being generous) success. And last week at our staff meeting we were talking NGSS. I brought up what I’d noticed. Another 5th-grade teacher noted that some of her students also ate the sugar. A 2nd-grade teacher noticed that her students lose their minds, too. It felt good not to be alone in this. After having a few giggles about our experience, it was nice to hear that everyone is still on board with the hands-on explorations. We know that this year might be tough, but the more we do it the easier it will become. The bottom line is that our students deserve the BEST education we can give them. Experiencing Science is part of that.

Manipulate This!

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img_2277I don’t use manipulatives enough in math. Over the past few years, I have used fewer manipulatives than ever before. I take partial responsibility for this. I should have incorporated more into my lessons. However, other factors contributed to this: my district not providing any manipulatives, adopting a half curriculum (half because the state doesn’t recognize it) that makes no mention of using any, and the pressure to keep moving along the curriculum/pacing guide. Well, this year I am making a conscious effort to do better.

No more excuses. Last week my class explored decimals and multiples of ten. I didn’t think they were really understanding that they moved the numbers a column (base-10 number chart) because we have a base-10 number system. They could do it, but were they understanding the why? The answer was, no. So, I broke out the base-10 manipulatives (rods, flats, etc.) to illustrate this. THEY worked as a group  (table groups) to prove that 0.26 x 10 = 2.6. Yeah, that lesson was a total failure! Each group created 10 groups of 0.26, but when they combined them they grabbed everything; including the unused manipulatives.

I did not want to give up the opportunity for them to make a connection. I regrouped after the failed lesson and reflected on what went wrong – management on my part. The next day we tried it again with greater success. Once they had their 10 groups of 0.14 I had them clean up the extra pieces (duh). They still weren’t completely making the connection, therefore, several conversations were had. Several finally saw the connection.

I’m not saying that this lesson hit it out of the park, obviously, it didn’t. I do need to make sure the students are getting more and more exposure to the manipulatives. With practice, we will all get better.

For as much as I write about my successes, I need to also write about my failures. This is a lesson that I am still thinking about nearly a week later. How can I make it better next time? Where did I go wrong? Any and all suggestions welcome.