Cahokia Mounds Trip 2013

Last year we went to Cahokia Mounds as a 5th grade field trip that connected to our study of Native Americans.  We had a great time, and were able to connect many things we had learned to what we saw there.  But last year we went AFTER our study.

And this year, we (well, Mrs. Hong really) had the idea that we go BEFORE our study, as a way to build background knowledge.  GENIUS idea!

So we planned our journey for early in September instead of later, and also figured out a way to make the trip better in another way: kids had a job to do.  And they got to take their iPads with them to do it!

Here was the message waiting for them in their inbox that morning:

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.18.39 PMSo we packed up ourselves and our iPads and headed out.

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What a fun day we had learning, walking and climbing mounds together. 🙂  And wow–I’ve already seen friends making connections between what they saw on that day and what we’re reading about in class.  SO glad we decided to go there first.

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The project we gave them to do worked out really well to keep everyone engaged in learning, even in an unstructured setting like a field trip!  AND everyone’s iPad came back in one piece. 🙂  Here are some highlights from the Pic Collage projects they made to show their answer to the EQ “What is a community?”.

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.39.05 PM Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.39.26 PM Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.39.44 PM Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.39.59 PM Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.40.21 PM Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.40.35 PM Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.40.45 PM Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.41.09 PMWhat’s even better, is that this was an assessment for what our friends had learned during all of our work on building community in our classroom.  And here I thought it was a pre-assessment/schema building activity for Cahokia!  Don’t you love two-birds-one-stone kinds of assignments? 🙂


Notebook Day! (a.k.a. SepChristmas)

We had a special day on Monday!  It was Notebook Day!  I wish I would have taken a pic of the big ‘ole pile of wrapped up notebooks, but I was so excited to give them out that I forgot. Boo. 😦

But just like last year (and for many years, actually) my friends got a special gift wrapped up all special, with an even more special note attached.  Here’s this year’s note:

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 8.36.28 PMThe paper they were wrapped in was covered in moustaches!  (On a side note, what is it with kids loving everything moustache lately?!)

Then it was time to pass them out.  So each kiddo, one at a time, came up to sign the pledge (which I’ll share soon–it’s at school. 😦 ), get their secret package AND a new pen!  The smiles on faces where SO GREAT!!  Here’s a little bit of how our “signing ceremony” went:

Yeah…somehow I got cut off there at the end, sorry.  🙂

I love that DeShala was the one who coined this special day SepChristmas, since it was like Christmas in September!  Yep, love it.

So once everyone pledged that they were going to do their best to grow and learn as writers this year, it was time.  And so on the count of 3…

Here’s to a great writing journey this year, friends of Rm. 202!  Let’s get this party started!

Headbandz: 5th Grade Style

This blogging challenge has been a good motivation for me to keep up with the loads of things that have been going on that I want to tell you about.  And yes, you may have noticed that I am taking a few liberties with how I define it.  But hey, rules were meant to be broken, right? (Uh oh…kids, cover your ears…:) ).  But so far, I have (including this one) the same number of posts as the days of the month.  That equals a win for me.

We’re still doing many great things together to build our 5th grade community.  In my mind, community building is really a year-long thing, not just a beginning-of-the-year thing, but for sure we hit it hard right now.  So the other day, we played a game that my team had put on our original plan: Headbandz (which was an idea shared by Ms. Turken–she is full of so many amazing things to do!).  If you have ever played this game, then you know it’s a ton of fun.  We actually have a Disney version of the game here (not surprised, I’m sure!) where you have to guess which Disney character you are.  And the headbands are shaped like Mickey ears, which is really cute. 🙂

Ok, but back to our 5th grade version: each kiddo had the name of another student in our class taped to their forehead and the goal was to figure out who it was.  The basic rules are that you can only ask yes/no questions, and those questions should be related to the person, not their name (so asking about the way it’s spelled or how long it is, etc., is not allowed).

Once everyone had their name, we got started.  And I know I keep relating this game to Headbanz, but Ke’Von reminded us as we got started that it’s really just a real-life version of Guess Who–I totally hadn’t thought of that, and it was perfect!

IMG_1291 IMG_1294 IMG_1295 IMG_1296 IMG_1297 IMG_1300And yes, in case you were wondering, I played, too.  So did Mr. Shelton, but somehow I didn’t get a good picture of him.

IMG_1298I loved how much fun they had with this.  They asked to play again, and many mentioned that it was one for their favorite things from the week!  We did something really cool related to this next, but I’ll have to tell you about it in another post because I don’t have good pictures of it on my computer yet.  What a great reason to come back and visit soon!

If It’s Not Good Enough

I’m sure this is just going to seem like an incredibly indulgent post by a proud mom, because it starts with this picture:


But I don’t post this picture just because I want you to see my pink-cheeked, blue-eyed princess, Allison.  It’s because it’s pictures like this that help me be the best teacher I can be each day at school.

It’s pictures like this that remind me of the saying, “If it’s not good enough for Allie or Riley, then it’s not good enough for anyone.”  A couple of years ago, that phrase was shared with us at a staff meeting as a charge to be present and do our best work with the kids in our class.  After all, wouldn’t we want that very same best for our own children? 🙂


What Real Life Looks Like…

Remember how excited I was to get my new table this year?  Well, I am happy to report that I am LOVING how it’s working out, and am so happy that I decided to replace my desk.

But when I walked by it the other day, I had to take a picture because I thought it would be funny to share what it really looks like during the day while we’re using it.  Definitely not sparkly clean and cleared off.  Here’s a peek:

TableInRealLifeI remember reading a quote once (and I even have it saved in one of my Writer’s Notebooks) that says something like “You can tell a lot about a person by the desk they keep.”  And it makes me wonder: what does this table tell you about me?  What do you think your desk says about you?  Does it match the real you?  I’d love to hear what you’re thinking….:)


I accepted a blogging challenge about a week ago, and I am very serious about keeping up with it as long as I can.  So far I am 10/10 in September with posting here!  YAY, me!

And, so even though I was at school tonight for conferences (which were GREAT, by the way–thanks to those of you who came to share great info with me about your kiddos!), I am posting today.

Yep, here’s my post.  That counts, right?  It’s technically a blog post…..:)

I know–not fair, but hey–I promise tomorrow will be better!  I’ve got LOTS of great material from this week.  AND tomorrow is a field trip, so watch out on Friday!

Thanks for reading and being kind in accepting my definition of blogging tonight. 🙂


Marshmallow Challenge 2.0

Last year, when my friend Genie told me about the Marshmallow Challenge, I was on board from minute 1.   I knew I would do it again this year, too, but just maybe a little later than my original plan from last year, based on our new plans for doing community building.  So this year, we waited a little longer, and today was Marshmallow Challenge day.

Just like last year, we worked within these guidelines:

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 9.03.48 PMOk, well almost the same rules.  I realized when I opened the box that I had thin spaghetti, so I gave them 5 extra pieces. 🙂  The rest was the same.

First we reviewed our norms and the directions, then I set the timer and they set off to work.

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At the end of the 18 minutes, everyone stepped away….and….we saw all but one of the towers fall. 😦

Now, while the stated goal of the challenge is to build a tower that stays standing, the real goal of the activity is to work well enough with your group that that other goal can happen.  So what we needed to find out is what happened that made it hard for us to achieve our goal today.  We met on the carpet to discuss plusses (things that we did that HELPED us do well, or that went well) and deltas (things we would CHANGE to make it better next time).

Here’s the chart we made:


We talked about our thoughts, and whether or not it was a coincidence that the 1 group whose tower stood is also the only group who put any plusses on our list.  Obviously, it was not a coincidence.

So my next question was “So what do we do next? What do we do with this information?”  The answer (from more than one person) was “Clean up?”  Well…yes, but that was not quite the level of problem solving I was hoping to hear.

So now I’m asking myself, what do I do with this info?  We’ve obviously still got a ways to go before most of us are ready to do something this tricky.  Today’s challenge, and the debrief that followed is telling me we still need to work on how to accept and appreciate the perspectives of others and not just consider our own.  We still need to work on using kind, patient voices with our classmates.  We still need to learn how to include everyone in an activity and give everyone an equal say.  We still need to learn to be gritty when something is hard or doesn’t work right on the first try.

So that’s what we’ll do.  And while we were not quite ready to take the Marshmallow Challenge today, someday–probably sooner than later–we will be.   And we’ll do it again. 🙂

Oh, but one more thing.  Here’s a pic of the group who was able to build a standing tower.  Way to go, friends!


Can’t wait to share this again when we have our Marshmallow Challenge 2.0–Take 2!

Be Square

Here’s a post about another team building activity we did the other day.  And boy, did it take some GRIT!  Some grit that we had to dig really deep for, too. 🙂

The basic premise of the game is that each person in the group has a folder with pieces of different squares.  In total, the group needs to end up with 5 equal-sized squares.  The catch?  No one can talk.  You can’t ask anyone else for pieces, but you can give pieces to other people in your group if you think they need them.

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At first, this was a really tricky task!  The biggest problem?  Everyone was trying to do it on their own!  Pretty much the opposite of how the game works!  You would not believe the sounds I heard during this activity–it’s too bad I didn’t take any video.  Most sounds were moans and groans as they tried to figure out what to do, except for from Table 6 (see above)–their group had “tweeting” or “chirping” sounds happening during this task.  I soon figured out that that was the sound of them digging deep to find their grit.  Whatever works, right?

However, I mentioned that some of us really struggled, and that was something that could be seen as well as heard.  Within the first few minutes, there were twisted-up “thinking” faces, frowns and furrowed brows.  One friend was even laying over the seat of his chair upside down.  Frustration abounded.  But nope–they could not and would not give up. 🙂

Eventually it was time for lunch, and so we left to chow–and left our game just as it was, planning to return after we’d had some time to breathe.  As I was sharing the story of our struggle with some friends at lunch, Mrs. Berger said something about needing to see things in another way.  This was genius!  It gave me an idea for how we could switch things up after we came back.

Once we were back in the room and ready to get started again, kiddos returned to their tables, but they had to sit at a DIFFERENT seat than where they were sitting before.  Groups got started again and slowly, but surely, I started to get hands raised (which was the sign that they had gotten it!). 🙂

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As we debriefed after we were finished, I asked each group what they thought it was that helped them the most.  Without fail, groups mentioned that seeing it from another angle helped them–then could see the puzzle from a different point-of-view and think in another way.  Thanks for the suggestion, Mrs. Berger–it’s just what we needed! 🙂


3 Things and 3 Friends

I have to start this post by fully disclosing that neither of the ideas I’m sharing today are mine. 🙂  Remember my FABULOUS teammates Genie and Rachael?  These ideas are theirs and I tried them in my room and they went really well.  Thank you for sharing, friends!

As I am sure you have figured out by now, building a strong community of learners is very important to me–as it is to many teachers.  So we spend the beginning weeks of school getting to know each other, both as learners and as people.  We laugh together, create together and hopefully start to build a trusting relationship that will help us as we learn together throughout the year.

One way I help foster these bonds is by going through an exercise called 3 Things (or at least it was called 3 Things this year–I have too many students to do it the original way of 5 Things as Mrs. Hong taught me!).  It’s pretty basic, but has been very much worth our time.  The conversations we’ve had around everyone’s 3 Things have been great and the inferring that happens during the exercise is great, too.

It’s pretty basic: each person brings in 3 things that tell us something about them and we have to guess (or infer) what those items mean.  I started by sharing my 3 things: a picture of Mickey Mouse, measuring cups and a Kirkwood School District pencil.  Everyone then has 3 minutes to talk in their 3 Friends groups (which I’ll explain in a minute 🙂 ) and decide what the items mean.  Every group shares their ideas with the class, I chart them, and then we hear the “real” answers from the spotlight person.  Easy peasy.  Here’s what my chart looked like:


Now, honestly, the first two of mine were pretty obvious: Mickey Mouse is to represent my family’s love of Disney World and the time we spend in the Happiest Place on Earth.  I can’t really explain what it is about that place, it’s just that it’s become our home-away-from-home and has a special feeling.  Just being there is amazing.  But I digress…

My second item is measuring cups and represents my recent love of baking and creating things for my family, primarily my kids.  If you dig a little deeper there’s a story about how we’ve been learning about eating locally harvested “real food” and are trying to cut out processed food from our diet–this was the spark for my new baking hobby–but that was obviously not a story that kiddos inferred from my picture.

That last one is a pencil.  It represents a couple of different things.  First of all, and most glaringly it is my love of writing.  But I also picked this particular pencil (and a pencil instead of a pen) for two other reasons:  it represents the annoying trouble there has been in my room for YEARS with never being able to keep pencils sharpened (EVERY pencil sharpener I have ever tried has broken.  I think my room is cursed!), as well as the fact that Kirkwood is my home, and where I have always been a teacher.

Since I shared my 3 Things, we’ve randomly chosen two kiddos every day (a boy and a girl) to share their own 3 Things.  Kiddos have taken this very seriously, and with each group that goes, they’re getting better at picking tricky things that get us really thinking.  They’ve been really good!

Then the other simple but powerful thing we did was called 3 Friends (thanks for sharing, Ms. Turken!).  Again, it’s not very complicated: you and two other people get in a group and do a couple of simple things–make sure you know each others’ names and find out 3 things you have in common.  The groups then introduced their 3 new friends to us, and shared what they had in common.  We took a quick poll to see who else had those common interests, too.  Then we come back to these groups everyday in 3 Things, helping to solidify the connections we’re making.  I’m thinking that as we go on, we’ll create new 3 Friends groups periodically that have different goals or functions in our room.

What would you choose for your 3 Things?  Post your list here and we’ll see if we can figure you out!  Play along with us! 🙂


Book by Book…

Yesterday we talked about the journeys that readers take.   Today we talked about how readers can make little goals along the way to help the goals in their journey seem more attainable.

We talked with our elbow-partners about goals that they’ve made, and when we shared out from our conversations, we realized that we had made goals that fit into 3 basic categories: goals for at school during RW (like reading 30 pages before the end), goals for at home at night (like reading 2 hrs before bedtime or “scheduling” it for after dinner or before bed), and goals that span the whole week (like finishing a certain number of books each week).  It was a great conversation that helped us all better envision how to have (and keep) a growth mindset.

Then I was ready to give them a goal of my own.  It is a year-long goal, and is definitely a pretty big one: to read at least 40 books, in a variety of different genres.

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 8.47.27 PM(Remember how I read The Book Whisperer this summer?  This challenge and genre requirements came from there. 🙂 )

I put this slide up on the ActivBoard and waited for the reactions.  To my surprise (is it ok to say that?), no one freaked out.  No one cried, and no one seemed discouraged!  I was really expecting at least one person to say that this was an impossible challenge, deciding already that they were doomed to fail.  But beautifully, what happened instead were a variety of responses somewhere along a continuum of “only 40? I thought it would be more like 150!” to “on 40?  I know I’ll read more than that this year!”.   I loved it, too, when one sweet friend looked at me, slowing nodding and smiling, seemingly saying “I can do that, Mrs. Bearden! I don’t know how yet, but I know you’re going to help me.” 🙂  And YES, my friend, I will help you!

But then my favorite part happened.  My friend Brittany (remember her from that big pile of books yesterday?), who had been talking to Grace, looked at me and said, “Mrs. Bearden, you’re going to do this, too, right?  You’re going to read 40 books with us?”  I was a little surprised, because I was surprised that she asked.  But I was SO GLAD that she did.  It would have been one thing for me to say that I was going to join them–which I was planning on doing anyway–but it’s a completely different thing when it’s their idea.  Now it’s OUR challenge instead of just mine.  And we’re going to accomplish it together, book by book. 🙂