A New First Day of School

Prior to my students arriving on the first day of school, I was trying to envision a new “first day.” I was tired of the same old ice breaker or get-to-know-you activities that really end up doing neither of their intended results. After a couple of hours spent reading blogs, exploring twitter, and searching on Pinterest, I knew that I needed to change the way I approached my first day of school. I wanted my kids to know that I value creativity, collaboration, and hands on projects, and what I had done in the past wasn’t representing the teacher that I am.

So I decided to scrap most of my plans, and start fresh. Although this can be a scary thing, especially for us teachers, it was something I felt that I had to do. In the afternoon, during our character time, I read the story Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. It’s a great book that talks about a rabbit who meets new neighbours, the Otters, and has to decide how he would like his new neighbours to be. It highlights important characteristics that we look for in others, like being polite and considerate, and ultimately leaves the reader with the rule to do unto otters as you would have otters do unto you. I’m a sucker for puns, so this book is right up my alley!

After we read the story, we shared our thoughts about it, and how the qualities the author discussed in the story are qualities that we look for in others. We also talked about when we work with others, that we must ensure we are treating them respectfully. My students came up with some great ideas about the ways that they want to be treated when in a group.

From here, I presented my students with a challenge: Each prearranged group of three would receive 20 pipecleaners and 3 large sheets of tin foil. They didn’t have to use all of the supplies if they chose not to, but these would be the only supplies that they could use. Together they would need to plan and create something. Much to my surprise, and with very few questions, the groups got right to work. They had over an hour to plan and design their projects, and the results were fantastic.

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Although the kids thoroughly enjoyed their creations, it provided me with insightful information about them. Instantly, I was able to see how my students interacted with one another; whether they were quiet and shy, or bold and took the lead, it gave me a quick read on their personalities and leadership qualities. Secondly, I could see how my students negotiated through their ideas. Some students were very adamant about their idea, but when others disagreed, it was great to see how they were mindful of the concepts we discussed to collaborate and come up with a new idea together. It was wonderful to see all students engaged not only in the process, but together as a team.

After completing this activity, it left me to wonder, what do I learn about my students in an ice-breaker or in a get-to-know-you game? Why have I chosen to do such activities in the past? Through a simple change, I am now able to answer these questions successfully and have a purpose behind my activity design. I challenge you to ask yourself the same question: Why?

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The Power of Creativity

Yesterday was International Dot Day and my class eagerly participated in the event. We began the morning by reading the story, The Dot, by Peter Reynolds. We discussed what the book meant, and the power of creativity and believing in yourself. Students were then given the opportunity to create their own dots. Using the app DooDoo Lite, students were thoroughly engaged in the work that they were completing. They were all unique and meant something to the individual student. Students then wrote a blog entry about what their dot represented, or what it meant to them, and their responses were incredibly powerful. Here are a couple examples:

Today was international dot day . My dot {shown below} is a meaning of Peace . A world without pain or sorrow nor is anyone unhappy. The world I just described below Is a happy world that my dot resembles. The lines are laughter waves.

Today is International Dot Day! My dot is about happiness. Also It is about the colorfulness in the world. I want people to be inspired by this dot to never think negative but positive. Well that’s all I have to say. Bye- Bye for now!

All too often it is easy to underestimate the power of art and the abilities of students to share their thoughts. I think at times because they are so young, we question whether students can really understand a concept or make it their own. This task proved to me that when students are given the freedom to express themselves and their thoughts, their responses can be more powerful than ever imagined.

If you want to read more of my students responses check out their blogs.

Below is a compiled video of their dot creations for International Dot Day.

Are Teachers Scared to Let Students Make Choices?

This year I set the goal for myself to try to give more choice for my students within my classroom. I was feeling I was making decisions for students, in terms of their projects, seating plan, novel study, etc… and after reading numerous articles about the benefits of student choice in the classroom I decided to put to the test.

As a teacher, it is shockingly hard to give over control and decision making processes to students. After all, my kids are nine years old, could they come up with various options that would encompass what I was looking for? I also think as teachers, we’ve been trained and “programmed” to be the ones in charge and be creative with the way we deliver and design our lessons. It’s scary to give a part of that over, and risk the chance to fail.

Failure had always had a negative connotation in my mind, and it hasn’t been until the beginning of this year, where the ideologies surrounding that word have shifted for me as well. Through elaborate discussions with my PLN, I am now able to look at failure as an opportunity for growth: a way to reflect, develop an understanding, and improve and grow. Failure is no longer something I fear entirely, but instead my mindset is changing. I’m trying to instil that in my students as well.

As I began to give more choices to my students throughout the year, there were a few things I discovered:
1) Kids are WAY more creative than I am. When I told them you can show me what you learned about…in any way you’d like, it was incredible to see the differences in their approaches, but also how their personality shone in each one. They expressed themselves in ways I never even thought of.
2) They were engaged! When students have choice, they are 100% engaged in what they are doing! No ifs, ands, or buts about that.
3) They used each other for support and collaborated more frequently. When they had a question about how to use a device or how to do something, they would ask another classmate. They would seek out support, and share ideas with each other.
4) They took pride and ownership in the things they chose. They were generally excited about their work, and put effort into their assignments. There never was any moaning or groaning, but instead a buzzing of excitement.
5) They had fun, and generally appreciated the fact that they had a say in the decision making process.

Within all the craziness of the last few weeks of school, I decided to let my students choose who would sit in their group. I know this isn’t a huge deal, but to my kids it was, and honestly I was a little concerned with some of their choices and the fact that school is almost done and they are wild enough already. After school a boy came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for letting me sit with my best friend.” I hadn’t really thought much about it, but to this boy, it clearly made a positive impact on him, and that’s what I’m always looking to do. I never imagined that something so small could be so appreciated. But it is always the little things. Those smalls things that make the difference and make learning better for students. Allowing students even just a little bit of choice can make all the difference in their lives. So what are you afraid of?