Feast Week Part 1: The Birth of Feast Week

First of all, Happy New Year!  I don’t know when you’re reading this, but I’m writing it during Winter Break, on New Year’s Eve Eve.  This is a time of year I both love and hate: the fresh start that comes both personally and professionally in January is one of my favorite things–there is an air of anticipation of new and wonderful things to come; the fact that Spring Break isn’t for another two months is a little disheartening.  Winter can be long in Missouri.

That being said, I am excited to tell you a story about what was happening in my classroom–well all the 5th grade classrooms at my school really–during the months of November and December.  It was a fun and exciting time in our school, full of learning and anticipation; an eagerness that had nothing to do with holidays or vacations.  We were doing hard work, focused on something that at that time seemed like it was forever in the future: Feast Week 2012.

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This year I have a whole team full of new friends, and with that comes new ways of doing things–mainly just because we have all done it differently in our previous teaching “lives,” and because we want to plan new things together.  So…when it came time to talk about fractions and how we were going to teach that dreaded fabulous unit, we knew it was something we wanted to do together.

First we looked at what we had.  I have taught a fraction unit of some sort for the last 7 or 8 years, in 4th and 5th grade.  Previously, we really just had to get our friends to a solid understanding of what “fraction” means (part of a whole), and be able to use fraction/percent equivalents to solve problems related to parts of a group.  There was also a small part that included adding and subtracting fractions, using the equivalents as the basis (rather than finding common denominators, which is a common practice).

This year, however, our school district is really trying to dig into the new Common Core Standards–hoping to get a feel for what they ask of our kids and how they’ll change things for us as teachers.  This is happening most deeply in math; all of our curriculum and rubrics were rewoven to match the CCSS this past summer.

Now, instead of just the basic foundation like I mentioned previously, our kids have to be able to do this:

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Can I be honest here for a minute and tell you that we were a little FREAKED OUT by all of that!  Unfortunately, until you get to know the CCSS really well, and dig into what they mean and are actually asking your kids to do, I find that they are written in a really complicated way.  Needless to say, the first time we even read those expectations we were scared: how were we supposed to get 10- and 11-year-olds to be able to do those things (and do them well, with a deep understanding) if we couldn’t even understand what the standards said?

So after we picked our jaws up off the floor, dried our tears, and got our heart rates back to a somewhat normal rate, we sat down to figure out just how we were going to tackle these things with our students. We began with the belief that they could do it, we could do it and we were going to do it well.  We wanted to do it in a meaningful, authentic and real-life way that would help build a “forever and always” understanding, rather than just an “I-get-this-now-but-will-forget-it-after-I-take-the-test-next-week” understanding.   That meant rewriting assessments, possibly reworking assignment and activities and rethinking our own working knowledge of fractions.

And so Feast Week was born.  It began as an assessment idea, really, but quickly melded into more of a celebration–a culminating activity that would incorporate all that we expected our kids to know and be able to do.  It was to take place the last full week before Winter Break, and would include all that goes into creating a Winter Feast–planning, shopping, cooking, and then of course, eating!  We based it on an activity I had done in previous years around Thanksgiving where I had students use the circulars from the grocery stores to plan dinner for their family.  In that scenario, however, the whole situation was hypothetical.  In this reincarnation, it was for real.  We set the 5th Grade Fraction Feast to take place as our Winter Party, and the kiddos were entirely responsible for making it happen.  Talk about real-life.  Authentic.  Engaging.  Motivating.

And yes, it was.  None of it was easy.   And yes, I can admit there may have been some tears shed along the way.  But we made it, and yes, it was FABULOUS!

Hopefully you’ll hang on for the rest of the story of Feast Week! I promise it’ll be worth your time.  🙂

(**Be sure to read Part 2 here!**)