Washington Elementary has been my school home for the last 7 of my 8 years teaching. I don’t think a more incredible teaching and learning experience could’ve been possible anywhere else these last 7 years. From the time I started here, part of me thought I might just stay forever. In this historical, almost century-old building, I’ve met some of the most amazing educators, mentors, friends, students, and parents who have forever impacted me.
This week I experienced my very last day at Washington, as I finished packing up and moving out of room 151 at the very end of the Kindergarten hallway. I’m following my heart and also taking a leap of faith to become a K-5 Intervention teacher for the upcoming school year at Baileywick Elementary. In this new role I am thrilled to continue working with students, push-in to classrooms of different grade levels, co-teach, support small groups, and collaborate with classroom teachers as well as a team of instructional specialists. This next step is so exciting, but that doesn’t make it easy to leave Washington. It has been difficult to process all the emotions that come with this transition: the best experiences are by far the hardest to say goodbye to.
It’s hard to put into words what Washington means to me. Here I have experienced the true beauty and meaning of diversity in our amazing student body, along with a staff that genuinely values our diverse school community. I have been surrounded by educators who have modeled leadership, given me incredible opportunities to grow, encouraged me, collaborated alongside me, and believed in me. I have formed strong relationships with so many students and families, and have had the privilege of staying in their lives as they grow up and even move onward to middle school. And as all the memories flood my mind, I am reminded that every memory and meaningful experience I’ve gained here involves people – people who have stayed and people who have gone. And there are many who were here before I was, some who I have been lucky to work with and others who I never had the chance of meeting, as well as those who will come after my time here has come to a close. But somehow even as people come and go, Washington GT Magnet Elementary remains and I think will always be one of the most special schools in the world! It’s been said many a time, but now I cling to knowing “once a wizard, always a wizard”!
THANK YOU to the educators, students, and families (pictured below or not) who have left a permanent imprint on my heart! I will never forget the people on 1000 Fayetteville Street, past and present, who have been part of my journey. Now onto my next chapter!
It’s hard to remember what life felt like a month ago, interacting face-to-face 5 days a week with my students and teammates. And here we are now, “enjoying spring break”…AKA making final preparations for a totally different way of doing school that will all begin next week. Education across the world is seeing some temporary yet significant shifts (and who knows what the long-term impacts on education will be). Shifts toward virtual/online options for “doing life” – education related or non – have been happening for years, and we are so lucky to live during time when we have all of these digital options. But in the last month across our state, country, and world, things have reached a new level of “remote.”
In education, when the governor of the state you live in says that schools are going to shift to remote learning during this time of school closures, that is indeed what the schools of that state will do. One day at a time, teachers have been getting new bits of clarity on what this remote learning will look like and what our district’s expectations for this state-promised remote learning are. And each day therefore has become more overwhelming, not just for educators, but for our families too. There isn’t physically enough time to work out the kinks that impact both teachers and families prior to the start of remote learning: access to devices for students, access to internet for students, building a remote learning plan that fits the needs of everyone involved, planning new ways of teaching content, creating virtual instruction, creating assignments and options for submitting them, informing students and families of all the expectations, and assisting families as they too prepare and connect to our virtual classrooms.
Then you add the element of Kindergarten to the whole situation: how will such a young group of learners be able to independently access, create, and submit work for remote learning? The Kindergarten grade level has rigorous curriculum standards, so just telling the kids to have some playtime or build something creative or paint something they like for every assignment would unfortunately be failing to meet the expectations of the grade level (not that we don’t try to integrate those types of play-based activities into the curriculum any chance we get). But just as high schoolers on the Common Core will follow a remote learning schedule, receive virtual CORE instruction, and submit assignments digitally, so will Kindergartners. Imagine the kind of pressure that puts on the parents and guardians of Kindergarten and elementary-aged students right now. And then imagine the pressure on parents, particularly working parents, with MULTIPLE children of this age group.
My team and I, among many other educators right now, are in an entire realm of unknown. Yes, the WCPSS district is emphasizing grace, grace right now for all the educators and families who are traveling through this uncharted territory. But giving grace does not mean that this isn’t all starting on April 13th. So being aware of the inequities, impossibilities, and uncertainties embedded in the remote learning we are heading for next week, here is how my Kindergarten team is navigating it all:
1. Make a teacher space within our homes. Here is what was previously my kitchen table, but now serves as my classroom! All I need is an iPad, iPad stand, whiteboard/marker/eraser, and my laptop/its resources to make this happen! Oh, and some pasta shells that I used as my math manipulatives to video a lesson on adding. But that’s it! Which just further shows that the most important part of learning is what is not pictured here……the teachers and the students!
2. Connect with families and listen to their needs and concerns. Our team called each of our families to check on them and find out about their device and internet needs prior to even knowing anything about what remote learning would look like. We gave them a chance to voice concerns they had health-wise as well as with remote learning. Their concerns helped shape our understanding of the impact that learning at home will have on their lives, and gave us insight we needed before jumping into all the planning.
3. Get ready for a whole lotta Google Meets together.
The Google Meet seen above was from last week and lasted almost 4 hours…it takes so much planning to make decisions about how and what to teach and create in this new school “environment,” while also taking into account how families will receive and be impacted by whatever decisions we make. You may notice the blurry picture quality, due to poor/shared internet connections at home. You might also see that the Google Meet screenshot pictured says that “Lisa Baildon left the meeting,” while she is also there at the top of the screen- we’ve only had a few of these little “technical difficulties” (and lots of laughs about them) so far.
4. Make a hyperlinked schedule that outlines weekly expectations with as much flexibility as possible. We created a hyperlinked schedule, which has become both how we plan/embed instruction and assignments, as well as how students will access the learning. Our schedule incorporates a lot of flexibility. We’ve given recommended time blocks for different subjects, but not a time of the day it must be done. We plan to share the schedule of instruction and assignments a week at a time so that families can have access to 5 days at a time and see what lies ahead. Assignments are not due on the day they are given, but the following week. We hold daily office hours, as well as flexible Fridays, to connect with students and answer questions students and families have.
5. Create a letter for parents, with embedded videos, outlining what to expect and how to access the learning. This letter to families from our team explains how to access online learning, what to expect, and as much as we know about how it will all work. Parents are receiving this letter over a week prior to the start of online learning, so that we have time to answer their questions and get everyone prepared for a successful start.
6. Give choice in how to complete and submit assignments, and not ALL tasks are digital. We created a box at the bottom of the hyperlinked schedule that gives options for submitting work. Students might type a document, hand-write a writing piece and take a photo of it, or video themselves presenting the content on any given assignment! We’ve also given them multiple online platform options to access and submit work so that they and their parents can do it the way that they are comfortable. Printing materials is an option for some student assignments, but never a requirement. And most importantly, not every assignment involves learning and working on a digital device. While tasks have to be accessed digitally, not all work has to be completed digitally. It was important to parents to have a balance of learning with and without technology.
7. Get feedback using a Google Form to see how things went and what changes we could potentially make for improvement.
We will share this Google Form with families after week one. Thanks to our Literacy Coach, Dan Gridley, for this idea! This will allow us to continue gaining feedback to improve what, in some ways, feels like a brand new practice!
These are stressful times, but I’m so thankful to take this on in collaboration with an incredible, supportive team and in partnership with amazing school community and families! We whole-heartedly support our families through this change in education and understand that they will each complete and prioritize online learning differently. People don’t always think about the role parents must play in order for young children to take part in remote learning- parents deserve major recognition during this time for any efforts they are able to put forward to support their children’s learning while schools are closed. We are ready to give this our best try, and hope to be back together, face-to-face with each other and with our students again soon!
It is hard to believe that my 4th year of teaching is coming to a close. Being completely transparent, this year has challenged me in ways I have never experienced, both resulting from professional growth opportunities that I have voluntarily taken on and from the quality and quantity of needs among the students in my class. There have been glimpses of joy and rewarding moments that have of course made the year worthwhile, but I have also experienced my fair share of difficulty in a variety of ways. Even though I know it is my job to meet my learners where they are, it has felt discouraging at times to modify and even totally change routines and activities that have worked for past years. With many years ahead of me in my career and only a few behind me, I predict that there will be many “types” of school years, each unique in growing my practice and building the educator stamina that I have been building since year 1.
I have been aching to introduce my class to my brand new cart of 7 Chromebooks, devices recently rolled out to WCPSS classrooms at the end of this school year. But for several weeks, the feelings of a challenging and overwhelming school year, combined with continuous end of year literacy and math testing, prevented me from jumping right in with those devices. But with 6 days left of school and a newfound inspiration to take a risk, I decided to go for it. All year, I had planned to facilitate the creation of digital portfolios for each student in my room, and I was determined not to let that goal slip away. Student digital portfolios are a new push in the district, as a means of student housing of and reflection on work over time. The Kindergarten team and school leaders at my school believe that this should start for students at the beginning of their school experience in Kindergarten. So here is how I used our new Chromebook devices to make this happen on the Kindergarten level!
1. Practice logging in right away first quarter.
Yes, there is QR code option for younger elementary students to log into their Google account (a very long, time consuming process), and yes, that makes it faster. But in the long run, if students have been logging in the same way since Kindergarten, they will be faster in 3rd grade rather than having to learn “the long way” then. My team has learned the value in this over the past few years working alongside our ITF Chris Tuttell, and we have learned and evolved in our practice of working with Kinders in Google over the years. This was the first year we started the logging in process right away first quarter, and it has paid off! And now that we have our Chromebooks, several steps of this process (computer login + going into Chrome + entering web address) are eliminated and will allow us to move even more quickly next year!
Google, here we come! Ts learn from past yrs- Ss work in small groups, and only log-in to computer/practice moving/clicking mouse day 1! pic.twitter.com/8nT1teDlG6
These kinders have logged into their google drives! Next steps: create our K folder, add content/projects to our folders, and take home information for logging in and working in drive at home! #kindersCANpic.twitter.com/ELKNliw003
Digital portfolios are really just a reflection on favorite pieces of work from the year, including work done in Google Drives. As the group prepared to create their Sites, they completed work in their Google Drives that would be linked to their sites, such as an animal picture and shape replication in Google Draw and an all about me Google Slide.
3. Advance student leaders in the digital portfolio process.
We have used upper grade student mentors while logging in and working in Google over the years, and I highly recommend this with younger students. With ambitions of having students create digital portfolios on Google Sites to link work from throughout the year, we started with a small cohort of K students from a couple of classrooms. This had 2 benefits: we could provide greater support to a small group of students as they created, and then these students could be tech leaders to assist the whole group in creating theirs.
With my own uncertainty about how to structure the use of 7 Chromebooks for 21 students, coupled with never having used a Chromebook myself, I decided that our after school program with 5 Kinders in my room would be the perfect setting to try them out! Starting small gave me the comfort I needed to go big!
Look at these kinders independently logging in and using our brand new Chrome books during the after school program! Searched around our campus for signs of spring and made a Google Draw to represent our findings! We ❤️our new devices @WCPSS !!!#kindersCANpic.twitter.com/1iW8KTJEdH
5. Create and add work to sites in small groups, with student tech helpers.
After reviewing Chromebook etiquette and procedures for taking out and putting away, students were put into 3 groups of 7. Student leaders who had already made Google Sites portfolios were strategically dispersed into each group. Groups of 7 rotated to 3 learning centers, one of which being Google Site creation on the Chromebooks. In this first step, students created a Site through their Google Drive, using the New Google Sites option. They worked specifically on the home page, typing their name and site title, customizing colors and background images, and linking in an all about me Google Slide. Next, we will add a Kindergarten page and link in more work!
Thx to 7 new chrome books, station-based rotations, amazing S tech leaders, and the growth mindset and intrinsic motivation each learner displayed today, every S in my class now has a Google Sites digital portfolio up & running!More than ever I am reminded that #kindersCANpic.twitter.com/TGPh7I96eV
After a tough school year, and with only 6 days left with this group of students, this was just the joy that I and they needed. Having 21 Kindergarten students successfully get their sites up and running reminded me of my strong belief in the capability of young learners. Each year brings a new set of challenges, talents, needs, gifts, and unpredictable circumstances. But I am reminded to embrace change and challenged to find the structures and modifications so that each year, #kindersCAN continue to do amazing things.
Opportunity context plays a large role in a person’s confidence, and therefore, learning. I was lucky to grow up in an environment where all influences encouraged me to pursue my dreams. Not only was I taught to go after my dreams, I was told that I would reach them if I put my mind to it with practice and determination. I could be anything I wanted to be with the right amount of studying and schooling. I never had to question what I was capable of because of the mindset instilled in me since birth.
As early as Kindergarten, it is clear who comes in with a work ethic to persist through challenges, who is learning that practice leads to growth, and who already believes that “you either have smarts or you don’t.” Growth versus fixed mindsets within students not only affect their overall confidence, the type of mindset a child carries also affects his or her level of academic achievement. Students who don’t believe they can grow come in believing they will not be successful, and their mindset causes the outcome to be a “self-fulfilling prophecy”- what they believe about themselves comes true. For many students entering Kindergarten, school is a foreign concept. Not only is picking up a pencil a new thing for some, but following multi-step directions, asking for help, and independently taking responsibility for personal items are all brand new concepts. It takes practice for many students to adapt when they have not been to school at all, did not receive quality preschool with valuable Kindergarten preparation, or did not go for the length of time of their peers. Children are aware of this gap, and many of those who have not had as much school and academic exposure seem to believe that they will always struggle. Many are scared to try new things…like tracing the letters in their name or raising their hand to respond to a question. They see others doing it with such confidence and believe “they just don’t have it.”
Here are some quotes, some amidst tears and hyperventilation, that I have heard this year reflecting a fixed mindset:
“I can’t do it.”
“This is too hard.”
“I’m scared…I can’t….”
“But I don’t know how.”
“Oh I wasn’t raising my hand…I wouldn’t know that answer.”
“I’m always gonna have bad days and everyone else is always gonna have good days.” (referring to behavior)
This fixed mindset in students becomes a problem. And Kindergarten is the pivotal age to begin addressing this issue of mindset, as the achievement and opportunity gap begins dividing students from the first day of K on. Their beliefs about themselves are holding them back from where they could be. Research shows that when we practice a skill, our brain gets stronger and more proficient with that skill; and the more we get into the habit of absorbing new information and taking part in the struggle of the learning process, the better we get at new skills and at learning in general. Contrary to what was believed for many years, there aren’t “math” people or “word” people…we can all be any kind of people we want if we practice and persist through challenges.
This year more than years past, it was clear that I needed to teach students about the science behind their brains. Many students weren’t going to do much growing until they believed they COULD grow. So here are some ways that we are learning about and practicing a growth mindset on a weekly basis:
–Morning Meeting: Morning meeting is a time to come together as a class each morning, greet one another, share out, and focus our day for a successful start. Morning meeting has provided a lot of outlets for focusing on growth mindset. We have used this time to learn about a growth mindset, and that intelligence is not fixed. Additionally, when sharing out, students often respond to mindset prompts and share with others what they are proud of, something that is a challenge for them, something they can’t do YET, etc. We also use morning meeting to reflect on growth and show new student work compared to previous student work, giving students visual evidence that their brain has grown.
–Class Dojo Videos: This is where the bulk of growth mindset instruction took place and how students learned about the secret behind their brains. Even if your school does not use Class Dojo, these videos can be located on youtube as well. These videos have given us the language (matched with visuals) to talk about how our learning can change, rather than our learning being fixed. The first video showed us Mojo’s (the main character) original thinking: that you’re either good at something (like math), or you aren’t. His thinking isn’t resolved until the 2nd video. After watching the first video, I took a vote to see who believed that “smarts” are either something you have or you don’t; and who believed you could get better with practice. Only 2 students originally believed you could get better with practice.. A couple weeks later, I took the vote again, and everyone unanimously believed practice helps you improve and learning is not fixed. Below is the first of the five growth mindset videos, and the first of three perseverance videos.
–Language: The videos we have watched and conversations happening in our morning meeting have transformed our overall language. Now you might hear an “I can’t do it…YET.” And if that yet doesn’t make it to the end of the phrase, you can bet the people sitting near that student will chime in with a YET to remind their friend of a growth mindset. Another phrase we love and have adopted from the Class Dojo videos is to “take the challenge,” rather than run away or give up. That has really taken the place of “this is too hard,” as students are now inspired to “take the challenge” and get better at whatever skill they are practicing. A fellow K teacher on my team, Claire Morrison, does an amazing job instilling a growth mindset in her students! She has also adopted similar language with her students through the Class Dojo videos, and they took the phrase to the next level and made it their class motto (see below). It is hanging in the front of the room signed by all the students in her class. Also, check out her anchor chart (see right) on transforming language to reflect a growth mindset! This anchor chart is our next step during Morning Meeting this week…thanks, Claire!
Earlier this yr a S said "Look Ms. Morrison, I took the challenge!" & it has since become our class motto. We talk often about the power of 'yet' & these awesome kinders wanted to pledge to challenge themselves to always try their best! #wetakethechallenge#kindersCANpic.twitter.com/QnvdGUYbfZ
–Focus on practice: We talk about practice all the time now. Students are seeing that the learning activities we take part in throughout the day ARE practice that help us learn. Tasks are no longer scary, they are practice. And students are less scared to take risks, because they know that trying it is how you learn. This has been a big mindset shift. A couple of students have used the phrase “practice makes perfect,” and are usually now stopped by other students who remind them, “there’s no such thing as perfect…we can always get better!” Once recently, a student got an answer wrong, and another student giggled. One student got very defensive for her peer who had gotten the answer wrong, and said “It’s not funny! He is learning, and you have to try it to learn!” In another instance, a couple of students were questioned by another student for having to complete their work at a teacher’s table for extra support, an outsider listening in again jumped to their defense, saying “They may not have had as much practice as you before…sitting with the teacher helps them get better practice to learn!” As a group, our language has transformed, and when we go back to “old language,” you can see how other students jump to the defense.
–Activities where learning isn’t easy: Various 4C/STEM activities have helped us practice using a growth mindset. These activities really show students what taking on a challenge feels like. And we have seen, just like in our videos, that just because you take on a challenge does not mean you’ll get it figured out in the snap of a finger. You have to persist through the challenge even when it continues to be difficult, or even when you sometimes fall into “the dip.” We are finding that learning can feel like a struggle, and not to run away from the struggle.
–Reflection: After these challenging STEM activities, it is always important to reflect on the activities and on student mindset. We ask what was easy, what was hard, and next steps. Students are now identifying times when they went into “the dip,” or when they really had to show perseverance to get through a challenge, or how they still need a little more practice to master a skill. Reflection is also what we do in our Morning Meeting, when sharing personal experiences or responding to Mojo’s experiences in the video clips we watch. We reflect orally often, and at this point in the year, have also started reflecting using self-assessment exit tickets after a lesson. We’re seeing how reflection helps us identify areas of struggle so that we can improve.
Taking some time out of the day to teach growth mindset has been critical to my students’ learning this year. You can see through the above example descriptions the new and improved ways students are talking about and approaching learning. Growth mindset, in essence, embodies the #kindersCAN movement – a belief in the capabilities of our youngest learners, and consequently, a belief in all learners and ourselves.
During my first year of teaching (around 3 years ago), growth mindset was a big district push, and I learned a lot about it; but this is the first time I have shared about it with my students, and the outcome has been amazing: students are learning how to think of themselves as learners, but also learning character strengths that will bring them success in life. I believe that growth mindset is a springboard for overall confidence which, in many senses, is vital to a person’s success. Confidence- a belief in oneself- is what makes someone unstoppable, and confidence starts building from birth on. Often, confidence makes the difference between thinking you have value or not, being able to effectively defend yourself or not, creating aspirations you want to live up to or not, turning that tassel or not, going to college or not, following your dreams or not, maybe even taking a path no one else in your family took or not. It is easy to take confidence for granted when it was instilled in you since birth, but more than any other content I learned in school, I recognize that confidence is what got me where I am now. Growing up, I didn’t realize how privileged I was to always know in my mind that I would be successful if I put my mind to it (aka confidence)….and to never worry about whether taking a risk could result in complete failure, or whether I’d have to defend a questionable choice I made, or whether I’d be capable of making it through school. I always had confidence I could do it all, and it is vital to remember that not everyone’s experiences instill that level of confidence! Building up confidence in learners from day one is really more important than anything else they could learn; and it is part of what many groups or students need in order to be on an equitable playing field with their peers. So before assuming students “can’t do it,” help them believe that they can; give them the right level of instruction, tools, and opportunities for practice; have them reflect on what they can do when they have a growth mindset; and work with them to build confidence that pours into all the areas of their lives. That’s one of the best ways we can ensure equity and genuinely change lives in this profession.
I became a teacher to make a difference in our world and the people living in it. Make a difference…we’ve heard the phrase a million times, but my “why” has deep meaning for our society: the world needs change, and who better to serve as active agents for change, than those who work directly with the future adults of our world? I get to work with the young citizens of our country when they are just 5 and 6 years old, for 10 consecutive months of their lives, seeing them for more hours in the day than their parents even get to see them. And even though I may only work with an average of 20 students each year, I can use my voice to help impact education at my school, in my district, and abroad, through the tools we have access to in this day in age.
When I picture myself making a difference, I envision a class of Kindergarteners with no more tattling, because they’ve learned to work out their differences without my help. I envision a group of students who can build and create to display their thinking, because they aren’t one-dimensional students who need paper/pencil every time. I envision students who collaboratively put their different strengths together to solve a problem, rather than preferring to work alone because it’s easier. I envision students pursuing their personal passions, even if no one student’s learning path looks the same as another, to become experts in what matters to them. These are ways I envision myself making a difference…creating group after group of prepared and thoughtful citizens, who will eventually become the adults and leaders in our society.
These are the thoughts and visions that led me to get my degree in Elementary Education, but these are also the thoughts and visions that temporarily came to a screeching halt when I was thrown out on my own during my first year of teaching. In our district, state, and nation, there is a large emphasis on the curriculum standards, particularly CORE standards (English Language Arts and Math), that students are expected to master by the end of each year. In elementary schools throughout the state of North Carolina, we have even transitioned to Standards Based Grading, where students are given a 1, 2, or 3 in each particular curriculum standard. I became a teacher to make a difference in our world and the people living in it, but without even realizing it, my focus had shifted to standards, standards, and more standards. As a first year teacher, and really as a teacher with any level of experience, the amount of “standards” that need to be taught and assessed each quarter seems astronomical; so naturally, this becomes the focus, and for me, it overshadowed the whole reason I became a teacher. At this point in my career, teaching the standards became like checking off a mandatory checklist that drove all my instruction. When teaching becomes centered around checking off boxes, our lessons lose relevance for the learners; and for me, I lost sight of the big picture, my why.
Teachers can’t get rid of the curriculum we’re expected to teach; in fact, we do need a curriculum to guide us and to ensure that our students are getting similar experiences, are being held to a set of common, high expectations, and are learning content skills that will help them be successful in the real world. But finally I realized…there are effective teachers out there finding a way to get it ALL in, not just the standards, but the real-life, 21st century learning skills also. After a year of building a comfort level with the curriculum and taking baby steps in 21st teaching and learning, I was ready to bring back my “why,” and more than before, make a real and true difference in the lives of students. Teaching the whole child isn’t simply about training a book-smart society, it’s about teaching the standards AND MORE.
Things are Looking Up
I am honored to be a part of the Instructional Leadership Team for my school, where we hear directly from our district, take part in learning about components of our district’s vision, and discuss as a team how we will tie these components into our school’s personal plan for improvement. It has been so refreshing to be a part of our district’s movement to #becomebetter for students, and to understand our new emphasis on both the standards and the 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity). The 4Cs really are the foundation of relevant, 21st century learning…the 4Cs line up with all those visions I mentioned above. And even our district is now saying that these 2 things are linked together, so when I’m teaching the standards, I should be having the students learn and practice the standards by communicating and collaborating with one another, thinking critically, and coming up with creative solutions and ways of displaying their learning. When digging into our district’s vision, there is a new emphasis on teaching the WHOLE child…this is music to my ears! Teaching effective life skills is no longer something I feel like I have to creatively sneak into my day; I am actually being asked to align my why with the standards I am expected to teach.
Standards AND 4Cs
So how are we doing it in Kindergarten? Now that we’re starting to get over the first month of K beginning of the year hump, we used a fun project as a springboard for introducing the 4Cs as our foundation for the school year. This is a project that Linnea Gibson introduced me to and co-taught with me during my first year of teaching, but doing it again year 4 has allowed me to really link the standards and 4Cs, make it my own, and be even more intentional with the goals and learning I want students to walk away with. We worked with the story Spookley for about 2 weeks, thinking critically about the key ideas and details from the text (standard RLK.1). Students responded to the text in writing by completing the picture and illustrating a scene from the story (standard WK.3). We compared the story Spookley, a fictional story about a square pumpkin, to a nonfiction story about how pumpkins grow and change (standard RLK.5).
It is easy to see how we linked this story to our reading and writing standards over these weeks, but to culminate our unit with the book, we focused in on a key detail from the story: the problem with the fence in the pumpkin patch. The fence broke, and many pumpkins rolled out of the fence into the ocean during a storm. Spookley helped save the day by using his square shape to block the crack in the fence. Our job was to create a new solution to the story: using a chosen material, students were put into groups to collaboratively build a fence with their material. Students were asked to build a strong fence that would not break when the storm came and shook up the pumpkins.
Before making an official plan, we focused on communication and critical thinking. Students first chose the material they wanted to use. Then in their group, they took turns thinking critically about and communicating their individual ideas for the fence, and responding/giving feedback to the ideas that were shared.
Shout out to my teammate Claire Morrison for taking the risk to jump in and try this project with her students too (during her first year of teaching)! This open-ended element of the project is something I would have been so scared to try my first year…how would Kindergarten students have productive and effective conversations without an adult present to facilitate each group? But with a structured protocol and role play modeling beforehand, they CAN! You just have to let them try it, even if it seems like organized chaos!
To make their official plans, we focused on collaboration and creativity. Students each took on a job in designing the plan they had communicated about the day before, and made their own creative, collaborative plan. I also completed our 4C anchor chart shown below.
Shoutout to another teammate, Kelsey Clarke, for intentionally integrating the 4 Cs with her kinders on this project also!
After breaking the large task into smaller daily sub-tasks, with explicit modeling and instruction on the 4 Cs, each group successfully built their fences! We tested them with pumpkins, I shook up their fence for a storm, and every fence was strong enough to hold the pumpkins inside!
It could’ve been easy to skip the fence building part of the project. We had already checked off standards RLK.1, RLK.5, and WK.3…why do anything else with the story? But if I chose to skip out on opportunities like this culminating Spookley project all year long, I would deprive my students of practicing and building on the skills they will need to be valuable and effective citizens in society. If all I did was teach the standards, I would be creating one-dimensional learners, who may or may not even be interested in learning the standards without the relevance the 4 Cs bring. Most of us did not sign up for education to teach standards, but to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. If we don’t bring relevance to how students are learning, practicing, and problem-solving through the curriculum, our learners will not be empowered, and we will NOT make a difference in the way our society functions. The WCPSS district is encouraging us to link the standards and the 4 Cs together, so those of us in this district don’t even have an excuse to deprive students of this connection that brings relevance to the curriculum. Educators, let’s not forget our why….let’s communicate with one another; collaborate to think of projects like these; and think critically about how to get it all in; so that we can help create a multi-dimensional, well-rounded group of problem finders and solvers that help make our world a better place.