Picture of the Day

It KILLS me that I’ve been gone for so long (my whole family has been sick for what seems like FOREVER, so I’ve been a little out of it), and this is all I can post on this one today.  Don’t worry–I PROMISE I will tell you all about our Read Aloud Timeline, the amazing learning we’ve been doing about the Cahokian and Iroquois Native Americans, the beginning of our blogging journey, changes coming in how we are doing spelling, my thoughts on homework, Math Warm-ups for the week, new “about” pages with the other subjects I’ve missed, and much more–but today I just have a picture.  But hopefully that picture will speak a thousand words about how amazing today was:


Today our class went geocaching!

First we had a reminder lesson about latitude and longitude, and a how-to with the GPS devices.  Oh, and we talked about what GPS was, too. 🙂  We needed our plan and our GPS devices:


Then we were off!  And how lucky we were they today’s weather broke just before we were scheduled to go outside on our hunt.  We’d been watching it rain all morning out our windows, but it was reasonably dry by 1:00.  Yay!


The cache we were looking for was hidden across the street from our school at Meramec Community College and was put there by a College for Kids class that learned about geocaching a couple of years ago.  We went walking in that direction, checking our GPS’s as we went.


Then we new we were getting close when lots of kiddos started to gather around this tree.  Their directions were to just stand there if they thought they found it–rather than yelling and screaming and spoiling it for everyone else.



We found it!!  Can you see it there?  Even though we didn’t need it, there was a clue on the directions to help if you got stuck.  The clue was: the container is a camouflaged plastic jar.


Now, to open it!

Yeah, I know–horrible picture! But inside we found a log book, directions and an explanation, and lots of little trinkets that other geocachers had left before us.  We signed the log book, and I showed them all the other goodies that were inside.


We logged in: 9/17/12 Robinson 5th Grade 2012.  We saw that lots of other people had been there since the cache made in 2010.  One entry was from the  Trailblazers group at our school on June 29, 2011, and one was even Anna’s family!  I took a picture of the log book to prove it, but alas, it was blurry, too.  Believe me, her dad signed it with song lyrics! 🙂

I know–corny pic, right?  This one was a card that the person made solely for the purpose of using it to geocache.  He was San Diego, CA!  All the way to that geocache in Missouri.  Very cool.
So after we found this one, Keelan and I took the class to the geocache that Trailblazers (a science/technology club that our librarian, Mrs. Meihaus, and I let the last two years) had created and placed.  We were originally going to hunt for that cache, but we couldn’t find it when we searched for it online. BUMMER!  We took them there and found another huge bummer.

Looked great on the outside, but the bummer was what we found on the inside of our cache:

Half of the things we put in there were gone, and it was all wet and moldy!  YUCK!  This will definitely take some tender-loving-care to get back to the state it was in when we hid it last year.  Boo. 😦


Ok, now a few more fun pics that were taken when I gave Fiona the camera, and a group shot.

Say cheese!


What a great afternoon of geocaching fun with friends! I know I wish I learned about geography like this when I was a kid. 🙂

Have you ever been geocaching before?  Do you have any suggestions for any good caches we could find? Tell us your stories!

Don’t Steal the Struggle

I’m not even sure who said it,  but I know I first heard talk of it this summer when I was working with other teachers in my district.

First a little background: In light of the new Common Core State Standards, which are changing the expectations for teachers and students, our school district is reweaving our curriculum to match up with CCSS.  The best part of this whole deal is that teachers are at the heart of the work.  We spent four really intense days this summer learning and writing together, and then all this year a smaller group of us will continue that really great thinking to complete the documents for English/Language Arts (ELA) and Math.

Ok, so during our work this summer, a phrase was floating around that said: “Don’t steal the struggle.”  From the second I heard it, I knew it was something I’d be on board with. It’s actually something I’ve always felt really strongly about as an educator, but now I had better words for how to describe it–both for myself and to my families.

Then I had a situation within my own life happen last week that really highlighted the importance of this phrase for me.  And I’ll warn you ahead of time, that it’s an example I share as the “what not to do in this situation.”  I’m taking a class right now, and had an assignment due on Wednesday for the discussion forum for class.  I, unfortunately, had waited until late to do it, and so was in a little bit of a time crunch.  Last week was nuts at school with lots of meetings and conferences on Thursday night, so I had a lot on my mind (i.e. I was a little stressed out already!).

I sat for close to an hour drafting my answer to the discussion question (which was related to whether or not there is a paradigm shift in education from information acquisition to knowledge creation in American education), and was ready to post it.  And then–yes, you guessed it–when I hit POST, I got a weird ACCESS DENIED error message and everything I had worked on was gone.  Gone.  And no, I had not saved along the way.

So obviously there are probably other lessons to learn here besides the one I’m going to tell you, but this next part was the one I shared with my class related to struggles.   Unfortunately, my first reaction after that little bump in the road was to cry.  It’s kind of how I roll.  When I am dealing with something stressful, first I cry, then I write (usually in my own Writer’s Notebook, so I can figure out my feelings) and then I can figure out a way to deal with said frustration.  So here I cried.  Then I wrote–which was some rambling email to my teacher about what had happened and how I hoped she’d show a little grace when she graded my discussion post this week–and then I was able to think about what I should do next.  Pretty much I had two choices:  1) I could just quit, and not turn in a discussion answer this week (which would have several negative consequences) or 2) I could start over.  Well, needless to say, I chose option #2, and reluctantly started over with my answer.  Luckily, I remembered more of it than I first thought I would, and honestly I think the second version was actually a little better.

Ok, so what’s the connection to my classroom?  Well, go back to the “don’t steal the struggle” phrase from earlier.  The big idea there is that as an educator, I want to focus on not “rescuing” my students when things are hard.  Whether it’s in learning or something social or any other kind of problem they might have, it’s not in my students’ best interest if I swoop in and save the day every time they struggle.  I only teach them that things should always be easy, and that only an adult can solve problems for them.  That struggle is bad and that I’ll make it all better and fix it for them.

But of course that’s not true.  Some struggle is a good thing.  It’s during those feelings of disequilibrium, “pain” so to speak, when students are forced to figure things out for themselves.  To solve problems and use what they know to figure out what to do next.  And my students would tell you that they know that’s a really important thing to know how to do.  We had a discussion about this the other day and they had smart words about the topic.  They agreed that they wanted a chance to figure things out on their own first, knowing that I would support them as needed, but that I wanted them to try something first.  They knew that this was important because I’m not always going to be there.  Some day they’ll grow up will have to be able to know how to do that alone.  And several even mentioned the pride that comes with figuring out an answer for themselves.

My story was a picture of both what I hoped they didn’t do (just cry), but also what I hoped they would learn to do in a hard situation–figure out what to do to solve the problem.  Not quit.  Persevere.

So my new motto is Don’t Steal the Struggle.  It’s going to hang in my room for all to see, and to hold me accountable.  My kids understand it, and I think it’s vastly important as I help grow these learners into confident, capable citizens of tomorrow.  And like I tell them everyday, hard is good.  Hard is when we learn.


Intake Conferences

Last Thursday I was a learner.  Well, I hope that on most days I am learning, but specifically on Thursday I was learning–from the families in my class.  In the fall, instead of having our first set of conferences at the end of first quarter (to talk about the report card and student progress), we get together shortly after school starts for intake conferences.  The goal of these conversations is to get to know the families in our classrooms better, and to begin to set goals together for the students we share.

I LOVE these conversations, especially since I’ve had a little bit of time to get to know my students, as they give me so much more insight into what makes each kiddo “tick.”  As their parents describe them as kids and as learners, I listen to see if the child they are telling me about is the kiddo I see every day at school–you know, sometimes kids have their “school” selves and their “home” selves.  It’s great to hear about both sides.  That, after all, gives me the best picture of each kiddo, and helps me to know how best to meet their needs while I have them.

In order to give the parents a framework for the conversation, they are asked to prepare answers to these questions before they come to their child’s conference:

We sit together for 20 minutes and chat about the answers.  It’s a great time to connect positively, face-to-face with parents–who are, after all, the people who know their child the best, and are their first and best teacher!  My hope is that from these beginning conversations, we begin to build the foundation for our work together throughout the year, and form a bond with one goal in mind: helping each student reach their full potential.

I have a few more conferences to finish up on Tuesday, and I’m really excited!  If you were here Thursday–thanks SO much for you time, and if you’re on my list for Tuesday–can’t wait to see you!

And as a side note: I have to sit on the other side of the table for the first time in my kindergartener’s first intake conference this week!  And I’m honestly really nervous.  I hope I can answer those questions for Riley.   What great insight this next step gives me as I work with my own families in my class. 🙂

So now it’s your turn.  Comment and tell us what you think.  Do you do intake conferences?  As a parent, what do you see as the benefits of these intake conferences?  What do you think we as a school can do to improve them? Thanks for your thoughts!

Another Fabulous Day

Today’s post is less about how we did something and more about how things felt today.  And things felt really nice.

We are in a Social Studies unit on Native Americans right now (don’t worry–I’ll tell you all about it this weekend!) which has required my students to do a lot of digging into a piece of text and pulling out the important pieces.  They read a section alone or with a partner, and underline important points.  Then we discuss as a class what we marked; a project then follows related to each important point.
But like I said, this post is not about the project we’re working on, or how they know what’s important and what’s interesting, this one’s about what came after the discussion.  Towards the end of our discussion today, Aiden noticed that there was nothing on our list related to music or dancing with the Cahokians; his background knowledge of Native Americans had music/chants and dance as an important part.  I suggested that we could dig into that topic as homework tonight, searching for evidence elsewhere that may give ideas about how music and dance were included in the culture of the Cahokians.   After that, we moved on to adding things to our list about how chunkey stones were found in many burial sites, but we couldn’t find in the text why that was: it is a coincidence (like some proposed) or on purpose (related to status, as some predicted).  Again, the suggestion was made to dig a little with that idea at home.  Once more after that, Don made a suggestion plan part of their project at home in order to more effectively use their time during our project work time tomorrow.  It worked for him yesterday, and our class took notice.

Ok, so what?  I asked them questions and gave them homework.  Well not really.  I didn’t ever say anyone had to do any of that.  But because of the culture of curiousity and inquiry that I believe I am fostering in my classroom, I believe that many will do it anyway.  They will do it because they want to know the answer, not because I told them to.  They’ll plan their project because they want to, not because I told them to.  That feels pretty good.  There really is no better evidence of powerful learning than when a student investigates a topic that’s interesting to them with the knowledge as the “prize,” not a grade or gold star or sucker.

After that conversation, I had to leave to go to a district meeting for the afternoon.  The great thing about that?  I didn’t worry one bit about leaving my class with a sub, because I knew that they would have the same fabulous afternoon with her as they would if I was there.  They’ve proved to me over and over again during the last month that they know what to do, and do it!  They are definitely respectful and responsible learners and show that in their words and actions.  Believe me, having that peace of mind while I am away is priceless.

Here’s to another fabulous day tomorrow.  And the next day and the next.  🙂

I Remember!

I remember it like it was yesterday, in my first year of teaching–1st graders.  It was extra eerie on this anniversary as that morning was very much like it was today: bright, cool, and with promise of exciting things to come.  Who knew what tragic events would unfold as I was driving to work that morning?   And while you and I have memories of that fateful day, our friends do not.

This is the first class I have where most of my kiddos (well, all but 2!) were not even born on September 11, 2001.  Everything they know about September 11, 2001 is from stories, TV, books, etc.  And I wonder if even the stories they’ve heard are true, or if they’re more based on bias and opinion–intentional or not.

So how do you deal with a major topic in their history in a way that both makes sense and doesn’t scare them?  How do you share truth in an appropriate way for a 10- or 11-year-old?

I decided to tackle the anniversary first in Writer’s Workshop.  First we read Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, and then talked about what we were thinking.  We used this as an opportunity to both teach a strategy for writing (responding to literature and what’s going on in the world around us) as well to work through their thoughts and feelings of the day.  Everyone wrote entries about what they knew about 9/11 or what they were wondering.

Later we took some time to watch a news segment made just for kids. It was from Nick News and was called What Happened?: The Story of September 11th.   It did a super job of explaining what actually happened as well as addressing questions that many kids have about that day.  They went back to the entries they wrote earlier in the day and listened for answers, or to add information they wanted to remember. Hopefully your student came home talking about it, and you were able to have a discussion with them about it, too.

Let’s help them learn, so that they, too, can remember. 🙂

They Grow Up So Fast…

Ok, so in order to understand this post, you probably should have already read this one.  Anyhow…today was one of the most exciting days in our classroom up to now.  Really–I was excited for what I knew would come from that mysterious pile of brown-paper-wrapped rectangles–and my kids didn’t disappoint with their reaction to the whole thing.


So that answer to that question yesterday was this:

Each kiddo was given their very own, specially wrapped Writer’s Notebook!  I gave them a new pen, too, since we have a “pen only” rule when we write in our notebooks.  And it was the clicky kind of pen, which was extra cool.


Now….before they could be gifted their very own, specially wrapped new Writer’s Notebook—which we fondly refer to as our “bears”–they had to agree to a few specific things and sign our class writing pledge (I’ll show you that tomorrow!).  Then the brown-paper-package was theirs (and yes, I was tempted to tie them up with string!).  Just look at their faces:


The whole class waited with anticipation as each kiddo individually came up to the easel to promise, then sign the pledge, and were given their goodies.  Then once we all had our presents, they got busy unwrapping:


Ok, and so while I know that video is blurry in places (sorry!) and out-of-focus (sorry again!), I KNOW you can see the joy on their faces and hear the excitement in their voices.  And believe me, it’s all real.  They have been waiting for this day for a while (like Devan said today, “It only took 4 weeks!”), knowing that one special day, after they’d learned the right way to use that Writer’s Notebook, they’d have their own.  From the second I walked over to my chair with the pile in my arms, I heard whispers of “today’s the day” and “those are our notebooks!” and lots of suddenly-jumpy 5th graders who were eager–honestly eager–to start the next phase of our writing journey.  AND I LOVE THAT!


So now their “cubs” have grown into “bears” (which I heard Anna exclaim after she’d unwrapped her present) and they’re ready to continue their learning journey as capable, FEARLESS fifth grade writers.

Do you have a Writer’s Notebook?  Does it have a special name?  What does it look like? Our homework tonight was to decorate our notebooks.  🙂