Thursday, January 10, 2019

Through exploration students drive their learning!


They say a big piece of work in a PBL is finding a real problem and weaving your standards through that problem to find a solution.  Well, what is a “real problem” for kindergartners in North Dakota?  My kindergartners at Liberty were faced with a pretty serious problem they are now working to solve.  They watched a video of a sled that just would not go down a snow hill on the playground.  We have put on our engineering hats and need to collaborate with our peers to design and build the best sled! How do kindergartners do this? Through exploring their science standard of push and pull, of course! We started by asking ourselves three important questions that all engineers ask themselves. 

1.     What is the problem that needs to be solved?
2.     Who has the problem that needs to be solved?
3.     Why is this problem important to solve?

My students answered these three questions by stating that the problem is that the sled will not work.  One of the teachers at Liberty has this problem.  It is important to solve this problem because sledding is a lot of fun!!

The students will be working in collaborative groups to design and build their own sled.  After the building process is through they will have the chance to go test their sled on our playground.  After their testing they will come in and communicate with their team about what they think they would change on their sled to get a better outcome.

As Georgia Heard & Jen McDonough say in A Place for Wonder “We need to think about creating classroom environments that give children the opportunity for wonder, mystery, and discovery; an environment that speaks to young children’s inherent curiosity and innate yearning for exploration is a classroom where children are passionate about learning.”

This is my second year doing this PBL, it is already very different from last year.  Asking my students two questions has driven this project discussion differently.  What do you know about sledding?  What do we need to know to build the best sled?  This right here is the powerful thing about giving your students the ability to drive the learning.  They are all in on this project and excited to do this work.  My students are using their curiosity and desire for exploration as they investigate, draft, develop, and test their sled designs.

Twitter Tuesday Questions
Q1: How do your students drive the learning in your classroom?
Q2: How do you record your student’s wonderings?
Q3: How do your students find the answers to their wonderings?
Q4: How do you make this learning happen during and outside of PBL?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Treats! Presents! Celebrations!

Stress. Routine. Dread.

“The mind and body affect each other. Unmanaged stress can affect children physically, socially and emotionally. It is worth exposing children to relaxation techniques.” 
Patricia Arcari, PhD, RN, Associate in Medicine, Harvard Medical School/Mind Body Medical Institute. 


 This is the time of the year when there is heightened excitement in the air.

Kids are excited and may not be as focused. It is important to remember that although this time of the year brings excitement, it also brings some hard feelings for many other students. Parents may be stressed and the kids are feeling this. Many of our kids have experienced trauma in Bismarck Schools, we are working closely with Trauma experts and learning about what to “look for”. Many students have experienced some type of trauma in their lives but this will not look the same for any individual. Just as every child has an individual learning style, each child will be affected differently by trauma. Children handle trauma in different ways. Some will shut down. Some will act out. For some students, we may not even know they are exposed to trauma because this is how they have lived their whole life.

According to an article “Stress and Your Child” published in 2009 by the American Academy of Pediatrics “many parents believe that their school-age children are unaware of the stresses around them and are somehow immune to them. Yet children are very sensitive to the changes around them.” As teachers, what can we look for? Behavior changes, tiredness, heightened sensitivities, unusual changes such as not having a snack, stomach aches, kids saying “I don’t feel good”, or issues with friends. As parents, we may notice more irritability, more whining, difficulty sleeping and even defiance. You may hear more “I wants” or “so and so gets to do this”.

To help manage stress during this time of the year, try to keep things simple. Do not overschedule your family.  It is important for us to stay consistent with our kids. Stay with routines that kids know. Kids do well with routines. It is important for us to keep as many things consistent as we can. Keep night time routines consistent. Keep bedtimes consistent. Keep routines during the school day consistent. We may be the only consistency that they have.

Let go of what is not needed. Keeping it simple can help this season be successful.


Twitter Questions:

Q1: What have you let go this season?
Q2: What are signs you are noticing in students affected by trauma?
Q3: How are you helping your students that are experiencing trauma or stress?
Q4: What are effective ways to keep consistency in the classroom?
Q5: How do you stay out of the “holiday trap” that society has set?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Lunch and Learn


            Over the past two years our 4th grade team has been working on creating and refining our concept map. We have spent several hours discussing important topics and ideas. Our discussions were based around what we thought our students needed to learn in order to be better citizens when they left our classrooms at the end of the school year. We decided to create a concept map centered on the topic of acceptance. As a team we wanted our students to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of others. We believe it is a valuable lesson to teach students to respect similarities and differences.
            As our 4th grade team began the refining process on our concept map this year, we had the desire to dive even deeper into the topic of diversity. In 4th grade, students learn of cultural diversity in social studies, but we wanted to take it one step further. We decided to implement a two month lunch and learn book study centered on the topic of diversity.
            A lunch and learn book study is an opportunity for students to receive a valuable enrichment experience. Students participate in Socratic seminars, deep analysis of the text, and discuss important themes. The driving question for our lunch and learn book study is “How can we help others be accepting of diversity?”
To launch our lunch and learn book study, students participated in a “book tasting.” We set up our Blue Discovery Center as a book cafĂ©. Students rotated to different tables and read a few pages in several books to “get a taste” of the topics. Students then completed a Google survey on which books they would be interested in reading.


This is an optional learning experience that students can join at any time throughout the two month period. To date we have 34 students participating in our lunch and learn. Each 4th grade teacher is leading a book study. This gave students the opportunity to choose from a selection of 4 novels. Our building principal is also joining a book study to add to the novelty of this event and to lend her expertise. It will be exciting to see the impact this learning experience will have on our students.



Questions for Twitter Tuesday on December 4th:
  1. How can we teach students to celebrate diversity?
  2. How can we inspire students to dig deeper and take ownership of their learning?
  3. How do you provide enrichment activities for students in your classroom?
  4. What strategies do you use when guiding reading discussions?
  5. What are your concept map themes?


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Give Thanks Everyday, It's a Renewable Resource

Beginning as early as Monday your social media feeds will be bogged down with everything “thankful, grateful, and blessed”. In our Pinterest society, those terms have become very cliche. You see them on wooden signs, vinyl quotes, t-shirts and so much more. I have a few questions about this: Do we only take out this decor during the month of November? Is being grateful something we should be thinking about daily or just during the week of Thanksgiving? Do these people posting about who they are thankful for on Thanksgiving actually rely the message to those people on a daily basis? Have we lost the true meaning to these words?


During a recent fourth grade Mystery Science lesson on electricity, a wonderful teaching opportunity was born that had nothing to do with electricity at all. Let me set the stage for you. I am all ready to teach a great science lesson on electricity. My students are going to talk about how important electricity is in our lives and then we are going to make flashlights! Every year this lesson is a favorite with my class. I start out like I do every year watching a few video clips, one of them in particular is about the Northeast Blackout of 2003. It discusses the problems that were created when there was no electricity in New York City. The questions posed after the video are: Imagine power is out for a day.


  • How would that affect your life? (For example: What things stop working? What things do you lose the ability to do?)
  • Now imagine power is out for a week (or even a year). What are some ways this might affect your life?


The answers I received this year surprised me. Typically the students understand right away how significant electricity is in their lives. We couldn’t use the microwave, watch tv, have heat/air conditioning, etc. However this year my responses were, “Not having electricity wouldn’t affect my life at all.” or, “I could still use my cell phone until the battery died, then I could use my portable charger.” I was baffled to say the least. It was hard for me to understand that they didn’t realize how lucky they are to actually have light switches in their homes. They had no idea how important electricity is in their lives. I knew this lesson was going to be much bigger than circuits, conductors, and batteries.


I started brainstorming things I could do with my class to help them find things they were thankful for each day. I told them about a study I recently read about being positive and thankful. In this study the researchers discovered that people who think happy and positive thoughts on a daily basis are actually healthier than those who choose to be negative. If you think about how thankful you are everyday, your life feel more fulfilled! If you’d like to read this study from Mind and Body, here is the link: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain
We started out project by listening to Kid President tell us the 25 things he is most thankful for.

Every student thought of one thing/person in their life they are grateful for and we made a class “Gratitude Tree”.

From there each student wrote a letter to another adult in the building about how they were thankful for them. To remind ourselves every day how thankful we are for the things and people in our lives each student has a gratitude journal. Every morning when they come into the classroom they write one new thing they are grateful for and why. I was surprised how great the journals are starting off! To end this project we are going to think of a service project our class could lead or participate in. We have been participating in this project for a few weeks now and our class has noticed a big difference in their attitudes. They have commented on how they are constantly looking for things to be grateful for throughout the day so they can write it in their journal. It’s a great way to start our day and to bring positivity to our classroom.




Questions for Twitter Tuesday, November 20th :
1. How can we say thank you to others more often, in a meaningful way?
2. What experiences could we give our students to help them find things they are most grateful for?
3. If you were given the opportunity tomorrow to hand write a thank you note to someone in your building, who would you write it to? Why?
4. What gets in the way of showing others how thankful you are for them?
5. Do you think your students know how grateful you are to be in their lives? If not, how will you change that?

Authored by: Nikki Schaff, 4th grade teacher at Liberty Elementary

Friday, November 02, 2018

What are you thankful for?

All too often we hear so much negativity. But how often do we hear words of thanks and gratitude? The negativity in the world overpowers all the positive things that are going on. It can be hard to stay positive and look for the good when all you hear is the bad. Sometimes you have to search for the good when the bad is right in front of you.


But there is so much to be thankful for. As for me, I am thankful for my faith, family and friends. I am thankful for a good job that I enjoy going to every day. I am thankful for all the smiling faces that I pass in the hallways every day at Grimsrud.

This summer I watched a Ted talk about a young woman named Hailey Bartholomew who was married and had a couple little kids. She described herself as being depressed and was struggling to enjoy her life. She went to visit a nun who challenged her to do a 10 day project to find things for which she was grateful. She started seeing things that she would not have seen without refocusing her mindset.


This video got me thinking, if we don’t look for the good in the world, it’s going to slip right past us. This video pushed my thinking and provided the idea that sparked my action research project focused around random acts of kindness, gratitude and empathy in kindergarten. To begin my research I decided to interview students and hear what their perspective was right before the thankful season of the year.


I interviewed at least 2 students from every classroom at Grimsrud and I asked them all the same question “what are you thankful for at school?” All of their answers were incredibly inspiring. Many students were thankful for their teachers. And, I have got to say that I agree with them. I am fortunate to have the most amazing co-workers. One student said she was thankful for the janitors who help clean our school. Right? I am so thankful for our amazing custodians at Grimsrud who keep our school clean. Another student said he was thankful for the classroom. He is thankful for the physical classroom space to work in. I mean come on, it’s as simple as that. He is thankful for a cozy classroom to feel comfortable learning in. One of our staff members said she was thankful for the food bags that get sent home every week for students who need it. Our public school system in Bismarck is looking out for our students most basic needs even on the weekends. That is something to be thankful for.


This November, I challenge you to think about what you are thankful for, whether it be a short line at the Starbucks drive through or a helping hand from a colleague. Some days it might be right in front of you while other days you might have to search for it. But it’s worth the search and the good is there. So… what are you thankful for? Feel free to leave your “thankful thoughts” in the comments below this blog or join me to chat more next Tuesday the 6th at 8:30 for Twitter Tuesday on #learnbps.


Twitter Tuesday questions:
1. What are you thankful for at school?
2. Do you see your students being thankful for things at school?
3. What are your students thankful for?
4. How can we teach this concept of being thankful to our students?
5. How will searching for the good, change our school environment?