And We Survived….

Finally found the time today to stop, take a breath and reflect on what these last two weeks, on this new “normal” we teachers find ourselves in. Like the rest of us, I have just been trying to get through my days the best I can. In the midst of all this chaos and insanity, much like everyone else, I have been trying to keep my feet on solid ground. Here are a few things I have come to realize.

First off, it is easy to get caught in the whirlwind if you are not careful. It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to keep kids safely apart, masks on, sanitized every 2 minutes. I honestly feel like we are losing tons of solid teaching, connecting time going “Oh okay everyone, lets sanitize, now we are going to line up make sure you are at least an arm’s length apart.” Then it is ensuring the chromebooks we used get wiped down and put away properly, it is trying to remember that our new staggered recess times are at this new time, not the time we are all used to having and needing an extra 5 min to get everyone organized so we can get outside in a COVID safe way. Everything I do now is looked at through the lens of COVID and I will not lie, sometimes it is honestly mind boggling and frustrating.

Next, I am not sure how everyone is doing, but I find myself completely exhausted by the end of the school day. I stagger home to my family and my puppy, spend time with them. By early evening I am done, I have nothing left in the tank. I have used every last bit of energy I had just getting through the day. In years past, there would be days I was tired like this but it would be on days like Demonstration of Learning, or special event days not just a normal class day. It makes me wonder how long until one of us does get sick, because we are leaving ourselves open to something due to being low. I find myself drinking way more water, taking way more vitamins and trying to get much more sleep than I ever have before.

But…. in the midst of all this are my kids. I have a class of 23 grade four students who come in every day, happy to see me, my student teacher and each other. While they are not thrilled wearing masks all day, they do it. While they get tired of lining up socially distanced, they do it. When I tell them they have to sanitize seventy -five times a day, they do it. They do not complain, they might eye roll a bit and sigh, they still do what is needed. They wrote a journal on Friday sharing how much they are enjoying gym, having their own desks, how much fun it is to play at recess with their friends. They are thankful to be in our class family, they accepted that philosophy I shared right at the start. We have a class code we all agreed on and are doing our best to follow. (if you look in prior posts, I have talked about how I try to create a positive class environment in different ways).

Yesterday afternoon, near the end of the day, I looked around and everyone was happily doing their thing. Some were finishing an art mask selfie project, some were finishing up math work, some were on Chromebooks on our class websites. Music was playing quietly in the background, I just sat there and took it all in. I realized that while this new normal may kick my in the pants on a daily basis, if I can find these small pockets of positivity to enjoy, then I might just make it through this year. I just hope the rest of you are doing what you need to do to get through this year the best you can.

First Day of School Read Alouds

One of my favorite things to do on the very first day of school is to share my love of reading and picture books.  There are so many amazing books out there that can be used on the first day of school – to set the tone, to reinforce a theme or just to laugh and have some fun.  Below are a few I have used and activities I have done with them.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates – Ryan T. Higgins

Book 1

A fun story about the first day of school for Penelope Rex and how she struggles to “fit in” with the other students in her class due to the fact that she keeps wanting to eat them. However, she ends up learning her lesson by the end of the story.  This one is a favorite of both mine and the students I have shared it with.  For the response activity, I had students make up posters for the classroom of their own silly rules we need to follow.  I had things like “We don’t try to make our classmates our squishies” or “We don’t bring unicorns to school.”  We then had these up for the “Meet the Teacher night which was fun to share with parents.

Only One You – Linda Kranz

Book 2

A cute story about Adri the fish who is about to enter the big sea and his parents decide to share some words of wisdom.  It is another favorite of mine because I tie it in to how it is their first day in a new class with a new teacher and new classmates.  Just as Adri is going out into the world to explore, they too are also going to be exploring a whole new grade and what it has to offer.

For this book, the response I had the students do was to bring a rock in.  I had them paint their rock explaining that this was their fish – how would they want to look if they were like the fish in the book.  What colors would they be?  What patterns would they have?  Then I brought in a fish bowl and we made a bowl of our class family, which I then had set in the classroom for the year.  Then they would write what their own advice they think would be helpful navigating the school year.  They would write it out and insert a picture of their fish on it and I would again have it up for the first month of school.

A Tiger Tale – Mike Boldt

Book 3

For many kids the first day of school can be a bit scary, so this is a great book that fits in with this idea.  Anya wakes up to her first day of school to find out she has grown a tiger’s tail. What a way to start her school year.  The great thing about this book is that it is by a local author and illustrator – Mike Boldt lives right here in Stony Plain, which is awesome.

To respond to this book, I have the kids brainstorm what would be a crazy thing to wake up having on the first day of school.  I had kids share waking up with alligator tails, unicorn wings, kangaroo feet and much more.  I have them draw themselves with these things and share how it would be crazy, but kind of helpful and fun too.  This poster goes up for all to see for that first month of school.

You’re Finally Here – Melanie Watt

Book 4

It took awhile to find the book that spoke to me for this year’s read aloud.  But I finally found it and can’t wait to share it with my new class this year.  I thought the title summed up how we are all probably feeling. (and yes, I have Covid feelings too, but for this post I just wanted to focus on books) It is a funny story about the main character, a bunny, having to wait forever for a reader to open up and join the story.  Again, I think it will be one kids can relate to. I know I sure did.

For my response I have narrowed it down to a few possibilities.  One I have come up with though is how there is talk about how long the bunny has been waiting for someone to show up and shares all these crazy ideas of what it has been doing while it has been waiting.  So I thought I would have the students do the same – share crazy things they could have been doing all these long months waiting to come back to school.  “I have been waiting so long I knit a scarf long enough to go around the world twice.”  and so on.

These are just a few of my favorite picture books that I have used in the past on the first day of school.  Hopefully it gives a starting point for others and gives them ideas on great things they can do with their own classes.

 

The Power of Read Alouds

One of my favorite activities to do for Language Arts is read aloud books as a group. It hits quite a few curricular objectives, but moreso, it is a way for me to share my love of books and authors with my kids. The possibilities are endless, whether it is a novel or a picture book, the conversations that have come about from a book I have shared with my students has amazed even me at times.

I have talked about this in the past, but if you have a chance, check out the The Global Read Aloud.  It is the brainchild of a teacher in the U.S. that I greatly admire, Pernille Ripp.  She dreamed of connecting students across the globe with books, it is basically a global book club.  I wrote a post talking of the connections I made during the time I participated in Global Read aloud here.  I highly recommend participating, the connections you will make, the experiences you will have will amaze you.  I have multitudes of stories of connecting with students in classes across Canada, the U.S. and even across the globe.

GRA

Quite often, by Grade 4, students start to come in with preconceived notions about books.  Some will only read certain types of books – “I only like Dogman books.”  “Books without pictures are boring.”  So, it has been one of my biggest challenges and joys to change that by introducing them to books like “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate, “Wonder” by R.J. Palaccio.  I introduced to books that were classics that they probably would not have gone near because it had so many pages and hardly any pictures – “City of Ember” by Jeanne DuPrau, “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper and “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. As we delved into the characters and stories of these books, the kids were hooked.  The conversations we had, the connections they made were awesome.  One of the greatest things was having parents come up to me later saying their child was coming home talking about the books and were now wanting other books in the series or by this author.  Then, there would be the kids coming up to me going “Did you know there is a NEXT book, Mrs. D – we should read it.”

This year, I did one of my favorite books – The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.  The curriculum I could hit with this book was one thing, however it was the theme of this book that really is big for me.  By the end of the book, the students are in love with the little family in this book and it makes me smile everytime. Below are examples of work the students did.

Wild Robot II

Wild Robot I

So, for those wondering how to structure their Language Arts program, I hope this gives you an idea of the power and potential of read alouds. It has been an integral part of my program these last few years, a powerful one that has lead to great connections and conversations. I share this video as my last piece of evidence on the power of a great book.

 

Creating a Class Family….

I have had quite a few student teachers over the years.  I feel it is important to share what I have learned in my teaching journey with others to prepare them for the challenges of this job. The job of a teacher has changed greatly over the 20 years I have been in it. I remember when I was first starting out, classroom management was one of those things that principals would ask about in interviews.  There were many that felt either a teacher “had it” or they didn’t.  I did not know any better, so I agreed. Now, after being in the classroom for as long as I have been, I will say that I have a much different view of classroom management. There may be those that tell you that there are tricks or programs like classroom dojo or class bucks to get students to pay attention and follow the expectations. For me, what I have realized over the years is not so much tools and prizes, but more creating the environment that the students and I will be in together for the school year.

On the first day of school, one of the first things I talk about when it comes to expectations in the classroom is I talk to the kids about how we are a Grade 4/5 class family.  We will be spending the next 10 months together, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day.  I explained that with this there will be times where we will get along or see eye to eye on things, but just like their family at home, we will always treat each other with kindness and respect.  This is something I mention over that first week of school multiple times and I even ask the kids “What are we?” (“We are a class family.”)  and “How will we treat each other? “(“With kindness and respect”)  I also explain that there will be times they may need to remind me of this – there may be days that I might be grumpy or lose it, but I will always treat them with kindness and respect, and if I need to be reminded of that, they should do that.

The other thing I set up that first day of school is what I call our “Class Code” – the set of expectations that we all should follow in our Grade 4/5 classroom.  I first talk about what a code is – most of them that are in the gaming world get this right away. So then I put it out to them and ask them what they feel should be part of our code.  I explain we don’t need lengthy explanations, just a simple code we all agree to follow.  As they start out, they give me a lot “rules” – do not take people’s stuff without asking.  So each time they give me something, I turn it around.  Instead of a “do not” I explain what we will “do” so I explain that instead of saying don’t take people’s stuff – we will “Be Respectful” of people’s things and space. Each time I turn it around and by the time we are done we have about 5 things we will “BE”  I then get volunteers to make a poster of our code and lastly I get all the students to sign it.  I explain that by signing this, they are agreeing this is the code they will follow in our class.  A question that has been asked by my student teachers is how I handle those that do not sign it.  I explain that what I will say to that student (who may be doing this because of wanting attention, is annoyed they didn’t get more of a say), that this was something the class agreed on as a collective whole and just like things work outside the classroom, it will still need to be followed. I might not like having to drive 30 km in a school zone, but it is something that I need to follow and do.  Plus I will give them the chance to explain what their issue is and see if there is a resolution or compromise that we can agree on.  The most important part is not to force the student to sign because that just defeats the whole purpose.

Class code

Class Code for this year.  Yes they can up with all the words except “Audacious” they wanted something bigger than awesome so we looked up in the online thesaurus and found this.

The last thing I do on that first day of school is I do a Team challenge.  Over the years it has been making a spaghetti Tower, make a bridge that can hold the weight of x amount of textbooks using skewers and gumdrops. I will start off explaining the challenge, give the groups (they get to choose them) and the bag with their materials.  Then I turn on the timer and sit back to watch.  During the challenge I will not step in, I will just make observations.  Things I will notice:  who is taking charge, who is being “bossy”, who is sitting back and letting everyone do all the work, who is the team player – helping resolve issues and keep the group working cooperatively, who is the problem solver, who is the one who quits because things aren’t working.  These anecdotal moments will give me an idea of who this student is at this point in time and what their working behaviors are. It gives a good idea of those students will be able to handle the challenges they face during the year, who will need a little guidance, and of course the “fires” that I will be challenged to help in a positive way.

challenge

For those that wonder if the kids do buy in, I will share the following from letters I received from the kids and from a book we made together called “Advice for the Future 4/5 Class”

My advice for grade 4/ 5  is to follow the class code. Try to be the best kind of yourself.Do your work as best as you can.Be happy of whatever we are doing. Lastly have fun.”

“I also like that we have a class code and that we all are a class family and we all will always be one.”

“I miss seeing our class family, I also  miss learning in our classroom.”

“The last thing I really miss is all the fun memories I have had with our class family.”

So, for those stepping into your very first classroom, hopefully this will give you some ideas. If the students are happy and feel like they belong, it can honestly be a huge step in dealing with the challenges that will come up during the year. By developing a positive, welcoming class environment, the rest of managing your classroom will come together much easier.   In my experience, this has made all the difference.

 

 

So You are in a Combined Classroom….

Combined classrooms are something we are seeing occurring more and more in schools today.  It does cause great concerns for those teachers who have never tackled a combined classroom.  It is because of this I decided to share things that have worked in my own combined classroom.  I have been teaching a 4/5 combined for the last 2 years and will be teaching it again for the 2020-21 school year.  It can definitely be challenging, but it also can be a great experience if you let it.

The first question that comes up right away is how to deal with two curriculums.  The thing is for some classes like Language Arts and Math, you can teach both grades at the same time.  Language Arts builds and scaffolds so when I teach a mini lesson, I explain to the 5’s this is a review for them while it is a new concept for the 4’s.  Then when it comes to the assignment expectations – I will build on and explain I expect more from the 5’s. Assessment, of course, is scaffolded as well.  My rubrics tend to be written using Bloom’s taxonomy word vs numbers, so it will be written something  like “ideas come across clearly -specific details/examples added to support main ideas -writing is engaging, holds the reader’s interest” vs “students write 7-8 interesting detailed sentences about the topic.”

For math I wrote a post  here sharing what math looks like in my 4/5 classroom.  Again math will scaffold for the most part, you can introduce a skill like place value to 10 000 to the grade 4 class and 1 000 000 to the Grade 5’s.  Again when I introduce the concept I explain the 5’s this is a good review to remind them how this number concept works while the 4’s who need a challenge can see what the concept looks like for the 5’s.

For social, group projects were the easiest way for me to get through both curriculums at the same time.  Luckily in 4/5 the concepts are very similar for the most part, we look at things through the lens of Alberta in Grade 4 and Canada in grade 5.  An example was I had the students work in pairs to look at the regions of Alberta – researching things like climate, landforms, vegetation, occupations while the 5’s did the same assignment through the lens of Canada.  Another example was looking at the resources that can be found in the different regions in Alberta/ Canada – what resources were found specifically in that region, what were the challenges of getting that resource and what did having that resource add to the region (jobs, etc)

 

 

The biggest challenge was science, being that these are two totally different curriculums.  Most school divisions will have resources about teaching two grades together with this challenge in mind.  For me, Google classroom was what helped me greatly – that and being extremely organized.  What would happen is I would plan it that while I did a hands on or teacher led lesson with one grade, the other grade would have an assignment or task in Google classroom.  So, for example, the 5’s would be doing a science experiment or challenge in groups that I was leading and the 4’s would be in Google classroom doing an activity (google slide, drawing, doc) reinforcing a concept that they had learned last class. Then the next day, it would flip and the other group would be in google classroom while I did a hands on/teacher led lesson with the other grade.

science

There are a variety of great tech tools out there as well other than Google classroom that can be used in a combined classroom including flipgrid (kids sharing their learning in an oral format), Smart Online classroom (an online version of smart notebook for those that use this program – I LOVE this and so did the kids) and of course all the other google tools out there – Google jamboard is one I hope to look at using a little more next year.

Hopefully this gives those that looking at combined classrooms with fear and trepidation a few ideas on how it can be done.  I do not proclaim myself to be the expert in the room, but these are things that have helped me out in my own journey in teaching in a combined classroom.  Just keep an open mind, be organized and do not be afraid to look to others for ideas and resources and trust me, it will be a great learning experience.  It has been for me.

 

Using Guided Math in my Classroom

This question has come up multiple times in my travels as a teacher… what does Guided math groups look like in my Grade 4/5 classroom. So I thought instead of a multitude of Facebooks posts and twitter posts, I would just explain how the process looks like my classroom.

Schedule:  I start day one with the teaching of the concept or strategy. For example, I will walk the kids through place value – the different ways you can write a number or a strategy – how to multiply a bigger number.  All the students have a math journal so we walk through the concept as a guided lesson, I have my smartboard lesson and the students copy in their math journal.  Quite often I have an interactive aspect, so they are doing a journal where they have coloring, cutting and pasting things. Then we practice the concept/strategy by doing 3-4 questions together as a group.  This usually takes 30-40 min depending on what we are looking at.

Days two and three are where the stations come in – I will explain those in a bit.  For this I put the kids in groups of 5-6 depending on class size.  The groups are usually heterogeneous – where I have a variety of levels working together.  This way I have a strong leader to help the group keep on track. I have had people ask why I do not group students according to ability levels.  For me, it is a personal preference, it is something I have not wanted to do or found that worked.  The students are usually able to work through 2 stations a day (30 min. each)  The first 5 min I usually review expectations, 20 min work time and then 5 min to clean up/bring everyone back to the group to go over any questions or concerns.

I usually had one day where I did not do math because our school schedule was shorter one day a week  – this was the day where I focused on other subjects.  On Day 5, the last day is where I would do an exit ticket activity – a group whiteboard activity where I would ask 4-5 questions and they would hold up their whiteboards for a quick check, a google form activity, a group kahoot activity or just a quick exit slip.

Stations:  Here are the stations I set up and used.

Math with Mrs. D. – this would be where I would take a small group and work through the concept with them.  I had a whiteboard table we all worked on together, but getting them to bring their individual whiteboards would work too. This way I could see their math thinking, redirect if needed and challenge others if needed.

Math Work – this would be the actual math practice. I would give a worksheet or textbook questions that they would work on.  They would have the option to work with a partner or on their own. If they finished early, they would get their whiteboards and ask each other questions.

Math Tech – For this I made sure I had 5-6 chromebooks from our grade level cart during this time.  The students would log in and I had different websites they would use to work on practicing the concept.  My go – to’s are Prodigy (free site), IXL (paid, but highly recommend) and other sites like multiplication.com and so on. I would usually say to the kids, do 20-25 questions practicing the concept, then they can go practice math facts on other sites. So, for example, they would do 25 assigned questions on IXL, then go do fun math on Prodigy.

Math Games – This station had a variety of games that practiced the concept. I also had cards and dice so they could practice their basic facts with games like Math war and so on.  Again they had the option to play in partners or in one big group.

And this is how Guided Math looked in my classroom.  Hopefully it helps others looking at using it.  I honestly cannot emphasize how well it worked in the classroom. The students also very much loved it as well.  Do not get me wrong, you will spend the first month getting them used to the routine and there will be days where you will have to stop and redirect.  However, for me, by around October it was a well established routine and worked really well.

Gauge your kids though and set it up in a way that works for you – you may need extra stations (Math Fact Practice Station or Smartboard Station) for bigger groups or groups that you just know need to be smaller for various reasons.  You may do shorter time slots and do a group math activity. If the class was a little “energetic” I would shut things down a little early and do “Beat Mrs. D” on the smartboard – it would be a smartboard dice activity where we could do place value, basic facts and so on

For those wondering whether to take the plunge, I highly recommend.  It is a great way to get to know your students as math learners.  Good luck!

Connecting in a Remote Learning World

One of the biggest challenges I had when I started down the rabbit hole of teaching online was not the technology piece, surprisingly.  Most of my students were quite confident with using technology to share and showcase their learning.  We had been doing it for most of the year, so this was just par for the course for us.  However, as the days turned into weeks, one of the biggest challenges I found was keeping that connection we had together.

When the year started, one of the things I shared with my students was the philosophy that we were a class family.  We would be spending the next ten months together, eight hours a day, five days a week.  And just like with their family at home, there would be times where we might not be happy with each other, might not see eye to eye on things, but we would always treat each other with kindness.  As the year progressed, everything we did as a class, had that embedded into it. I would talk to them always as our class family.

Fast forward to online learning, and I honestly felt our class family connection was not really there.  We would make comments to one another in our online classroom, we would have video meetings where some students would participate and share, but many were not comfortable with the video format and would not come or would be quiet during the meets.  I needed to find another way to connect that was something all were comfortable and knew.  That was when I came up with the idea of connecting remotely using Minecraft Education edition.

I had been using Minecraft Education edition throughout the year in a variety of classes for students to showcase their understanding of concepts covered.  As well I would often give them Team challenges where they would be asked to work collaboratively in our Minecraft world to create something based on the parameters I had given.  The students were very comfortable and confident using Minecraft.

Unsure whether this would work in a remote learning way, I put forth the challenge in our online classroom.  I wanted to start with something simple – log into the world I made and work together to design their perfect self isolation space.  They would add all the things they wish they could have to be happy during this time of staying safe at home. The things they came up with were awesome – some built indoor gardens, some built swimming pools with diving boards, some built gigantic spaces so other family members could live with them.

Minecraft I

I would host the world – students would join.

I would put the join code in the classroom, put the time up that they would be able to join in to build and that was that. Students were able to log in using their iPads or laptops, whatever device they had on hand at home.  There were some days I had almost half my class, and some days only 3-4 happily building together. The part that made me the most happy was seeing them talk while they were building, sharing ideas, sharing what they were up to.  In Minecraft there is the ability to chat, so quite often during their builds there were multiple conversations going on.  It was them and I connecting in a way that made it feel like we were in our classroom together again.  It was honestly quite easy to do, I would host the world in the background and then could continue to keep an eye on things, make comments, but yet still do my own work at the same time.  The kids would ask me when build days were before I even had a chance to put it up.  This was how I knew that they were enjoying that time together.

Minecraft II

Self Isolation Space Creations

 

Now that I know it can work, I have been able to put more curricular based projects up for the students to work on.  I have put a math assignment for students to work on and will be doing more as the weeks continue.

It has been wonderful to see my students showing their understanding of their learning yes, but more importantly it has been amazing to see them connecting with each other during this time of having to be separate from each other. It has made me feel like we are still together as a class family, just a distant one.

As One Door Closes, Another Opens

It seems honestly like yesterday that I started my journey with Minecraft. I had heard parents grumbling about their kid’s new obsession, so I went to the source to find out more – my nephews. As they showed me what Minecraft was and what it was all about, I was fascinated with the possibilities. Then came the opportunity to test out using Minecraftedu in my own classroom. At the time I was teaching a grade 4/5 combined classroom and I’ll never forget our first crack at using it. I challenged my students to design a new playground for our school. The playground at our school was old and there was talk about potentially fundraising and building a new playground, so this seemed like the perfect authentic project. They spent the class designing and started their build. I shut the server off, the next day we opened our designs up and everything was gone. I couldn’t believe it, I thought maybe their was a glitch so we started again. Again that day when we finished, I shut the server off to open it in the next day to again a blank world. It wasn’t until I did some research that night, that I found out the glitch in the situation was me, I had to “save the world” which I was forgetting to do. The conversation that came about the next day was one of the hardest I ever had, I had to be honest with my kids and take ownership of my mistakes. While they were not impressed with me, they soon got over it and the running joke the rest of the year was always them reminding me to “save the world.” 

Fast forward five years later and the memories I have with Minecraft are too numerous to completely share. Highlights though would be my kids sharing their knowledge with teachers via skype and going to different conferences sharing my story about the possibilities of Minecraft in the classroom and meeting so many different people along the way. As well, the amazing projects my students did – rebuilding famous structures, recreating settings from our read aloud novels, making Array cities, designing and creating new schools for our district and so much more.  The stories I have of my kids – the boy frustrated in other classes because he struggled with things like writing becoming the class expert, the one who others went to when they had problems in Minecraft, of another boy who had never been challenged in school, everything came easy to him until he was challenged to build something in Minecraft and everything that could go wrong did and he had to learn not to just quit and give up. I have shared the story of the girl who found her “voice” when it came to Minecraft and sharing her design. I have so many stories that will be tucked away as great memories.

The other thing that has started to happen is other staff in my school are coming around to the potential of using Minecraft. The grade one classes did a project where they compared urban and rural communities in Minecraft, the grade two classes had their students share their understanding of patterns in math in Minecraft. My grade partners even got in on the action and did quite a few projects with me. It’s been great to see how it is slowly being used across our school.

So last week when it came to pass that Windows 10 would be coming to our site which meant our friend Minecraftedu would most likely no longer be able to be used, both the kids and I were sad. We had so much fun this year with it, we had built so many wonderful and fantastic things with it, how could we say good-bye? However, as this door closes on this adventure, a new one is opening. I have the opportunity to test out Minecraft education edition at my school site with my littles. We will be one of a few schools to try it out. I won’t lie, I am nervous and scared. I don’t know Ed edition like I do edu. There are many things new to get used to, I honestly feel quite intimidated. 

The thing is I know, just like five years ago, when I started with Minecraftedu, there were many things I had to learn, things I figured out as I worked hand in hand with my kids, quite often we figured it out together. So now this will be our new adventure. We will open the new world and see what it brings. The thing that is also different this time around is I have a much bigger group of experts to draw on, my Minecraftedu people are a treasure trove, I know any questions I have, they will help point me in the right direction. Plus I have my littles, who aren’t afraid to just jump in and figure it out as we go along. That’s the great thing about kids, when it comes to Minecraft they aren’t afraid to make mistakes, aren’t afraid to say ok, back to the drawing board. I’m just crossing my fingers that I don’t have another “saving the world” moment this time around. 

Queen’s Castle from BFG

Place Value Designs

Working as a team

Building Different Types of Bridges

Cardboard Arcade 2017

This year’s Cardboard Arcade started off much like the last two, with a whole lot of cardboard, excitement and chaos.  This would be our third year doing the Cardboard arcade (a post about our arcade last year can be found here ) and one would think it would be a well oiled machine by this point, however, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t convince my grade partners to change it up and up the ante. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We started things off with a video as a provocation courtesy of the Caine’s Arcade.  We brought all 64 grade three students together, watched the video and then brainstormed cardboard game ideas.  It is funny that I have watched this video so many times, but when you watch it with students who are watching it for the first time, through their eyes, it is so exciting and heart warming.

The kids hit the ground running and were excited to put together their games.  For the next few weeks, it was a mess of cardboard, duct tape, glue and paint.  There were tears when things didn’t work as planned, kids having to go back to the drawing board because the games weren’t hitting the expectations of “is your game sturdy, functional, and eye-catching?” For some they had to learn the hard lesson of adding more and more duct tape might not be the solution. When it came to game building, I always stepped back because I thought it was important for them to try to problem solve. While I might guide, I never just gave them the solution.  Funny enough, sometimes their solutions, I might not have agreed with, actually worked out just fine.

The extra piece I decided to add on this year was that I would have my twenty grade 5-6 coding club kids build their own cardboard arcade games and join us.  This would mean the total game count in the gym would be 84 games which would involve some serious organization to not only fit them all, but also have it set up so their games could actually be played. The other added challenge was we decided to open up the arcade to the whole school this year.  In the past we had only allowed the primary grades to participate.  However, I had many upper elementary students talk to me about how they wanted the opportunity to come in and play, so after some discussion with my grade partners, we decided to give it a shot. We would somehow get all 412 students through the arcade in one day.

The day of the Cardboard arcade would end up being the 2nd last day before our March break.  We brought all 84 kids to the gym and got things set up, hoping we’d get through this day.  Amazing enough, it went awesome.  Before any group came in, I would gather them in the entry to explain how these were cardboard games so please be kind and careful.  As well, with the upper grades, I reminded them the importance of being kind with their words. While a game might not look that great, saying it out loud where a grade 3 student might hear them, would be disheartening so to be aware of that.

The thing was we didn’t need to worry about this.  Honestly, when the grade five and six classes came in, they were just so excited to come in and play, they became like little kids.  They played games, laughed, challenged each other but the greatest thing they did was tell the grade 3 students how fun their game was, what an awesome idea they had for their games.  The looks on many of those grade 3 students’ faces is not one I will forget too soon. So often we will not take chances and try things out because we are trying to ensure the kids are okay, that no potential problems will occur, that no one’s feelings get hurt and such.  The thing was that we were looking for problems that didn’t happen, everyone that came was just so excited to be there that they had a blast.  The gym was full of fun and laughter all day.

 


Cardboard Pool Table

The one thing that we did learn was that it was a very long day for our kids, by the end of the day after being in the gym for the whole day, they were exhausted.  This will be something that we need to revisit next year when we start planning again.

 

For me, this year’s arcade memory comes courtesy of one of my grade six coding club boys.  His story is like many, he doesn’t shine when it comes to school.  Reading and writing are not his strengths, he is not the most popular, not very artistic or the most athletic.  He is quiet and shy, quite content to hide in the background. When we started the cardboard arcade, he asked if he could work on his game at home because he had this idea he wanted to try out. I agreed because I knew I could trust that he would do this on his own.  The day of the arcade came and he and his mom brought his game to the gym and I won’t lie, he blew me away.  He had built a cardboard pinball machine game.  His mom explained he had spent many, many hours working on it.  He had researched, built many versions that didn’t work, had spent hours on Youtube learning how to put the pieces of his pinball game together. But the end result was honestly fantastic, I know I could never had done it.

That day, at cardboard arcade, he had so many students flock to his game.  So many of his classmates were impressed, asking him questions, telling him how cool his game was.  It was his opportunity to shine, and while he didn’t exactly revel in it, I knew by the smile on his face all day, that he was happy.  And for a kid that has had the road he has had,  this for me was worth it.  All the challenges in organizing, trying to fit the coding club kids in, didn’t matter because he had this positive memory which made it totally worth it.

Cardboard Pinball Game

Another cardboard arcade went down in the books and as I walked down the hall I could hear the younger grades going, “Well when I do cardboard arcade in grade 3, this is how I am going to do my game” and I won’t lie, it made me smile.

We Got to Play and It was Good….

Many people do not know this about me, but I’m a country girl.  The first twenty years of my life I grew up in what I called the boonies. It was house filled with horses, dogs, cats, people and even a lone sheep 🙂  I spent my life playing in coolies, forests, tree forts and swamps.  Quite often, my sisters and I would come home with pockets full of all sorts of interesting things that my mother made us leave on the steps before we walked in the door.

I worried about my peanut growing up in the city that she would not get these same experiences as I did growing up.  Funny enough I did not give her or my husband and I enough credit. We spend most of our days at parks and playgrounds, her favorite thing to do when the snow is gone is ride her bike and scooter around our cul-de-sac. I’ll never forget the first time I caught her hanging from a tree branch, how proud she was that she had shimmied up a tree.

What this has to do with today’s post on Global Play Day you might wonder.  It starts with a conversation I had at Christmas I had with some of my students.  I went around the room asking them to share one cool present they got but also to share one great thing they did over the holiday.  Most of the answers were similar – they had gone tobogganing, they had gone swimming, but a new answer came up that sort of bothered me.  I had two of my students share they got to spend the whole holiday “playing on the ipad.” I asked if they had done anything else fun, played with a friend, gone somewhere and they were quite happy to share that they got free, unlimited access to this technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of technology – it has a place both in my workplace and at home. I am also that parent, when stressed and rushed trying to throw supper together, I will throw the iPad at my peanut just so I can have a few moments peace.  But I also believe greatly in balance.  I feel it is important for kids to have those moments where their face isn’t buried in a piece of tech. I believe they should have the chance to get out and play like we did when we were kids. 

So, when the email came reminding me about Global Play Day I again presented this to my staff asking them to give up an afternoon for this.  I shared how I felt it was so important to give our students the time to have unstructured play, where we would not plan it out for them or tell them what to do or how to do it.  It was important for us to give them access to choices and then just step back unless needed. And again they stepped up and agreed to my crazy plan. (I love that about them)

Today was the day and I was lucky enough to be able to walk around and see Global Play Day in action. I walked around and saw imagination and creativity in so many different ways. Boys were making home made beyblade spinners with unifix cubes, there were card tower challenges, domino runs and so much more.  Students right from kindergarten to grade six were just playing – they were laughing and talking. They were sharing, taking turns, collaborating, working together, building amazing things out of everyday things like blocks and cubes. They were creative, imaginative and just having fun.  The power of that was something that should not be lost in this never-ending march of homework, standardized tests, and reading levels.

Having fun making

Having fun with dominos

They all loved knowing that they were part of a group of students across the globe playing like they were.  I was lucky enough to even sneak a peek at my peanut and watch her building with her grade 6 buddy, making towers with magnets.  Her and her buddy were talking away, she didn’t even notice I was there.  It’s funny because I am sure if the students had had their way, this would have gone on much longer than it did. It was the teachers that were quite happy to shut things down. (it’s amazing how the volume can go up when kids are having fun).

Making puzzles together

Making their own Beyblades

 

Our kids spend so much time in structure – in the hours at school and then the afterschool teams, clubs and lessons that many of them are involved in. I honestly believe it is important to give our students these moments where we can just to remind them how fun it is to be a kid.  They will learn soon enough the responsibilities that come from getting older.

To the organizers of Global Playday, you asked if we should add another day, to that I say a resounding yes.  The more opportunities our students can have to moments like these, the more they can go home and say, “Guess what, at school I got to just play today!” And isn’t that a great thing?