Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Creating Experiences for Kids

When I think back to my years as a student, the memories that spark the most joy were the ones that were out of the ordinary routine. Popcorn parties on the playground. Parading through the school wearing costumes. Eating lunch in the “Rainforest Cafe,” which was the teacher’s lounge covered in crepe paper. Field trips. School assemblies and pep rallies. Learning about sign language and dog sledding during an exploratory day. Trying rock candy at a powwow. Walking to a country music radio station where our teacher was a weekend disc jockey. Creating my own country, Pina Columbia. Screen printing my own t-shirt design. Experiences made school a place I wanted to be.

Though I did not realize at the time, all of these experiences required adults to go the extra mile behind the scenes. Enthusiasm required. Comfort zones expanded. Forms filed. It took time, talent, and resources to make it happen for the benefit of kids like me.

Now as a teacher myself, I see how experiences impact kids. One of my favorite experiences that I have provided to my students was a community service field trip to a senior citizen technology fair. My students taught older adults about makerspace technologies like Sphero, littleBits, and Makey Makey. The maturity and tenderness that I saw in those eighth graders that day was so beyond anything that had occurred in our daily lessons. It was worth the time, effort, and sub plans to make it happen.

Experiences grow relationships. Experiences help kids connect to content. Experiences make learning more fun and memorable. Every kid can benefit from experiences in the classroom. There are teachers in our district that are creating awesome experiences for kids. Let's share (and not compare) those experiences to inspire each other.

  1. Tell about an especially memorable experience that you had as a student.
  2. Share an experience that you have provided to students in (or out of) your classroom.
  3. Why are experiences important for kids?
  4. What kind of support do you need to provide these experiences?
  5. If you had all of the time and resources required, what is a dream experience that you would love to give to your students?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

AVID in the Elementary

What is AVID, you ask? AVID stands for Advancement Via Individualized Determination. AVID is best teaching practices nicely laid out for teachers to refer to; it is not something new that we have to “learn,” it is something we’ve been doing but need to be more diligent about. What is its purpose? The intention behind AVID is to prepare students to be college ready. AVID has been in secondary schools for some years now, but AVID at the elementary level, in Bismarck Public Schools, is very new. There are two elementary schools, Pioneer and Jeanette Myhre, who have taken on this great opportunity for their students, and from a firsthand experience, we have already seen the positive effects. According to Justin Miller, fourth grade teacher at Pioneer, “In our first year of AVID implementation, I have already noticed an increase in student responsibility and passion for their learning.”

This past summer, eight teachers (six from Pioneer and two from Bismarck High) packed themselves into a van and traveled to Minneapolis for the AVID Summer Institute. We attended a three-day training on how to implement AVID strategies in an elementary setting. Part way through the training, we established two goals for Pioneer that we felt our students needed the most. Our goals were organization and focused note taking. While these are goals for grades 3, 4, and 5, we are speaking mainly from what we do and see in our own fifth grade classrooms.

Our first step was to adapt our student supply list in grades 3-5 to meet the criteria for our organizational materials. All three grade levels decided to color-code the four core subject areas: math, reading, science, and social studies. All folders and notebooks were assigned a color that was consistent throughout so that students moving to the next grade would already be familiar with the system. Fourth grade implemented one binder for students, while fifth grade implemented two in order to accommodate all subject areas. Binders are used in AVID electives in our feeder school, Simle, so we want to gradually prepare our students for that transition. While this is definitely a work in progress with it being so new, we are seeing responsibility in our students. They are more independent when it comes to keeping track of their work and immediately know where to find it. There has been a huge decrease in the amount of time spent digging through desks trying to find a paper that was stashed in it days beforehand. We expect to see students’ organizational skills continue to increase as we move further into the school year.

Goal number two may seem tedious to some, but we have found great significance in note taking using AVID strategies such as two- and three-column notes. All of our notes have a purpose. I know as teachers, we always have good intentions behind everything we do, but let’s face it, sometimes note taking is assigned in the hopes that our students will simply learn something from the process. Using our learned strategies, we have students constantly refer to their notes right after taking them; they use the right side of their notebooks to take the notes and the left side to reflect on their learning through diagrams, written reflections, example problems, illustrations, etc. If students are absent and miss a day of notes, they take it upon themselves to get the notes from a peer, because they, too, are beginning to see the importance of them in our day-to-day activities. Students who struggle with a concept we have covered are taking the initiative to go back into their notes to guide their own learning, and, as teachers, these are moments of huge success and pride.

Some of our favorite assignments we have done this year with fifth grade are activities we have taken directly from the AVID book we received last summer. This include the “Successful Student,” which focuses on student empowerment, achievement, and self-determination, ultimately helping them set a purpose for why they are in school and how they can reach their goals. Another example is a one-pager. The first time we gave this assignment, we were anxious because we had no idea how much effort would be put into a simple hygiene assignment. We were extremely taken by surprise and proud of the outcome. Students did not want to quit working on them. In fact, some literally begged for additional one-pager assignments. These are only two of many things we have been doing with our classes that has shown us that AVID is working by providing evidence of students’ engagement and passion for their own learning.

Lindsay Mock & Arlene Wolf
5th grade teachers
Pioneer Elementary School

Twitter Questions:

Q1: If you are familiar with AVID, in what ways has this impacted your students?

Q2: What are some critical "soft skills" that elementary students need prior to entering middle school?

Q3: What organizational strategies are you currently using to help students become successful and independent?