Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Keeping things Curious…..

     If you happened to pop into my 3rd grade classroom at Grimsrud, at first glance it may look like the classroom teacher is simply walking around observing while the students are busily working on a some type of project.  My hope is that you will see curiosity, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking as they have been working diligently for the last 2 to 3 weeks on their own passion projects.  Some of you may be more familiar with the term, Genius Hour projects, but “passion projects” seemed to just fit in my classroom.  If you would take even a closer look and ask these students what they are so actively engaged in, I am hopeful they would jump at the chance to share what exactly they are curious about! 
            Two years ago I participated in a book study that dove deeper into Harvey “Smokey” Daniels book titled, The Curious Classroom.   From this book study I have incorporated many ideas into my classroom to help not only inspire students as well as hang on to the curiosity that our students already bring to the classroom.  The one idea that I feel has made the most impact thus far is incorporating a Genius Hour into a portion of our day/week.   This first started with simply having a “Wonder Wall” in the classroom where my students could share their own wonders about anything that they were interested in as well as ideas that they may want to dig deeper into.  Many ideas stemming from the “Wonder Wall” soon morphed into individual projects as well as small collaborative group projects.  Interestingly enough, many students found that they wanted to learn more about some of the same topics.  This then of course led to research and then creating different projects to eventually present and share with our entire class.
While one small group has been working on, Why volcanoes erupt?, which of course includes a demonstration of a volcano that the small group crafted together, another individual has been researching about Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Our entire class was pleasantly surprised when “Laura” visited us in full costume, which included her favorite candy from the 1927 general store.  She shared about her own life events on a time line where she included many pictures from her life.   That same week we were a lucky class as another one of my students was eager to share all about the USA Women’s Hockey Team experience in the 2018 Olympics. She was more than excited to share her news report that she created with WeVideo.   Last year one my groups even discovered how to create the perfect bath bomb – hence the pungent smell of lemons lingering throughout the entire wing of our small school.  These are just a few of the many passion projects that have stemmed from this Wonder Wall/ Genius Time. 
            I must admit that when I first implemented this new idea, I wasn’t quite sure where this might lead to.  What I am most excited about is that it truly has given many of the students a voice and a chance to learn about something that they are truly interested in.  Having these structures in place for student-directed inquiry has been amazing.   I have seen some of my quietest students explode with excitement when it is time for Genius Hour.  Upon entering the classroom I have also seen many students check our agenda in hopes that there will be time for Genius Hour and then just beam when they see that indeed there will be time to work on what they are passionate about.  The biggest struggle that I feel I have encountered is how to move some of my students passed only wanting to learn about DIY projects rather than digging deeper into learning about a new topic. For some I simply feel this is developmentally a stage that some are just more ready for than others.  I also believe that this has been an outlet to share more of the student’s creative side.  My students and I have visited extensively about sharing our learning in new and different ways and to not just use the same presentation style each time.  Many of my students are comfy with creating goggle slides, which is great however, we have really tried to work on finding new, creative and versatile ways to showcase our learning.
            In closing, I wanted to share this last thought. My biggest “Aha moment” from introducing the Wonder Wall and Genius Hour/ Passion Project time into my classroom was one I never thought would actually happen.  Being Curious isn’t just for 9 year olds.  In order to encourage many of my students to tap into their own curiosity, I had to be vulnerable and share some of the ideas that I am most curious about.  Clearly, as teachers we model every day, but sometimes even if it is difficult, modeling our own deepest wonders may just be enough to spark even our youngest learners, to take a chance and learn about something they are curious about.  Are you willing to take that chance?

Twitter Tuesday Questions

Q1: How can we encourage curiosity in the classroom?

Q2: How do you as an educator help your students to find new ways to share their new learning?

Q3: When students embark on a Genius Hour Project, how can we encourage them to dig deeper       into their learning versus simply sticking to a DIY project?

Q4: In what ways have you modeled being curious to your students?

Thursday, February 07, 2019

The Power of Building Empathy and Gratitude in the Classroom

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

It was the time of year when I sat in front of my instructional coach and the TalentEd Perform tab trying to decide what my school and personal goals were going to be for the year. I reflected on the year prior and kind of knew the direction I wanted to go, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to go about it. I needed more time to process what I truly felt would be beneficial for me as far as growth, as well as what would work the best for my incoming students.

Last year was a unique year. My students had wonderful and funny personalities individually, however, when it came to working together as a cohesive unit, many times my class struggled to function. We had obstacles of getting along, name calling, and bullying, etc. My class felt like one big sibling argument all year long. In our small neighborhood school, most of these kids have been together since kindergarten and were pretty much ready to branch out to middle school where they would find more kids that shared their interests and personalities. So when it came time to figure out what I would like to take on as a goal for this year, an idea hit me.

I wanted to build a strong classroom community with my group this year. I wanted to find a way to have my students accept one another’s differences, appreciate the good things in their lives, empathize, and to just simply be a kind human being. Easy task, right?

 In order to take on such a task, I have to promote and model every single day what kindness and empathy look like. I have an entire bulletin board dedicated to “witnessed acts of kindness.” I have a specific job where it is a kid’s duty to spend their week “sprinkling” kind words to people. I have an “Appreciation Circle” at the closing of everyday where we recognize things we are appreciative of. I have a morning greeter that welcomes everyone into the classroom and a “goodbye wisher” that gives each student a special high five on the way out- myself included!

Another way for me to easily promote kindness and empathy are my morning meetings! I have been utilizing a morning meeting routine for a few years, but I wanted to bump it up and make it more meaningful for my students. I wanted something engaging that would bring my kids together and initiate deep conversation. I found an amazing morning meeting curriculum that complements our Second Step curriculum nicely. This morning meeting curriculum addresses topics of belonging, kindness, compassion, conflict, perseverance, integrity, and more! So much of what we are talking about in our Second Step curriculum is brought to life by this morning meeting curriculum. I use music videos, quotes, song lyrics, clips from Youtube, and read alouds that address these community-building themes. Kids have a journal where they are able to reflect on themselves, set goals, analyze quotes, and are given a chance to respond to the themes presented for the week. Each day, we gather together in a circle and discuss these various topics in depth. We have such rich conversations about the need to feel like they belong, the power of a compliment, how to stand up to a bully, and persevering when things get difficult. As we progress through the year, I get to know more about my students through our conversations with one another. During these morning meetings, I have been able to connect with my students and build relationships more than I ever have in years prior. One lesson in particular stands out as a lesson that solidifies my need to continue this type of social/emotional instruction.  

 As I mentioned earlier, at the end of each day, my students stand in a circle and provide either an appreciation, apology, or an “aha” moment. One day, I told them that I watched a TedTalk that explained that we (as Americans) have more than 75% of the world population. This could mean something as simple as having clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, or a free public education.  Instead of our typical Appreciation Circle, I wanted them to reflect and think of things that they could be grateful for. I explained that it had to be something beyond, “I am grateful for Fortnite,” or “I am grateful that school is done.” There always seems to be that one kid…

My kids had beautiful responses.

“I am grateful to have friends that support me.”

“I am grateful that I have a mom and a dad.”

“I am grateful to have a fun school.”

“I am grateful that I have a roof over my head and food to eat.”

With such an amazing response, I wanted to extend this activity further. The next day, I showed a One Republic music video- I Lived. In this video, a young man is living with Cystic Fibrosis (CP). Although he has this debilitating disease, he insists on living his life to the fullest. He runs, plays hockey, enjoys summers on the lake, and participates in cycling events. There are many times the videos shows him hooked up to numerous monitors and breathing machines. He compares CP as trying to breathe through a straw. After the video, I took my kids upstairs to our gym to run around to get their heart rate up. They were so confused as to what my plan was. When I had them stop, I gave them each a straw and asked them to try and breathe through it like it was the only way they could breathe. Obviously this was a struggle and something they couldn’t do. When the lesson was over and it was time for them to go to Phy. Ed, I told them, “Remember, we have more than 75% of the global population. Today, I am grateful for my health and my opportunity to share this moment with you.”

Before I left the gym, I observed their reactions. For most, they were stunned and quiet. For others, they made comments like, “Wow. That is how he breathes? How does he do that?” “If I had to breathe like that, I wouldn’t be able to do sports like he did.” “That is what my asthma feels like.”

Empathy. For some of these kids (and maybe even adults), experiences like this are needed for them to realize how to be empathic human beings. It takes more than just reading and responding. In that moment, my kids needed to experience something that they probably take for granted every single day.  What does it mean to have more than 75% of the global population? Our school is right next to our local homeless shelter! Even students that consider the shelter a home needed a moment to realize that they still have more than others and they can still have appreciation and empathy. There are moments and experiences that we can offer our students to help them build empathy. I got to witness something great that day. I got to experience that “lightbulb moment” ten-fold. Isn’t that what brings us, as educators, the most joy? To see our students realize and get something for the first time? I know it does for me.

Q1: How do you promote empathy & kindness within your classroom?
Q2: How can we encourage more kindness and empathy within our current state in the nation?
Q3: What are your favorite community builders in your room?