Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Fearless 3rd Grade Author's Story

The following is the work of a 3rd grader who disliked writing and believed he wasn't good at it.  He blocked himself from letting go of the fear of not writing what he thought the teacher WANTED him to write, or of getting words misspelled, or of making a mistake.  My approach to writing is to first, just write.  Write about anything.  Write to a prompt, get off topic, get back on topic, start over, but just write.  Once you have something you feel is worth expanding, expand.  revise until you feel it is the story you wanted to tell, or the story you never knew was in you.  Edit on a computer to help you find the errors more easily.  Publish with pride and celebrate your genius.  This approach freed this student to write this brilliant story.  With his permission, I am honored to share it with you here:

Homerun Henry
By:  Ethan K.

Whooooosh!  Thump!  Henry felt himself melt into the catcher’s mitt like a freshly cracked egg.  Henry was the fastest baseball in the league.  Everyone watched as he became a blur of white and red each time he was thrown toward the batter’s box.  Batters feared him.  They knew that he was the “Strikeout Superstar” and they knew there was no hope of them ever hitting him.  Henry was the most famous baseball to ever play the game.

But Henry was very unhappy.  He dreamed of soaring through the air like a wingless bird, high above the cheering crowd, the bright lights, the amazed players, and eventually over the fence.  Henry wanted to be a homerun. 

Speed was always Henry’s gift.   From the moment he was brought out onto the practice field, he was speeding past every bat.  Henry didn’t feel very special though.  Always flying into the catcher’s mitt and never flying out to the field. 

He tried to slow himself down.  He would spin himself backwards but that just made him faster.  The crowd would cheer, “Fastball! Fastball!  The ‘watch it go past’ ball!”  He tried wiggling around in the air but this did nothing to stop him from zooming over the plate and into the mitt.  “Change up! Change up! Take you glove and hang it up!” the crowd would roar.   He had always heard that the fastest way to get somewhere is a straight line, so he figured he would take a wide arching approach toward the batter to slow down.  Again, all he heard was the thud of the glove around him and the screams from the crowd as the yelled, “Curve it! Swerve it! But you can’t hit it!”  He even tried to use the dirt to slow himself down but everyone just called him “Wild Man”.  Nothing he did ever slowed him down enough for a batter to hit him. 

At night, after the games, after the crowds were gone and the lights were darkened, surrounded by silence and stars, he dreamed of the land beyond the fences.  He had heard it was a beautiful place where baseballs could be whatever they wanted to be.  Daddies and Mommies would throw them back and forth with their sons and daughters.  Young children would roll them or try to bounce them.  Dogs would fetch the baseballs and bring them back all slobbery wet to the dog’s owner.  It sounded like the most magnificent World Series kind of place to Henry. 

Henry had had enough.  He didn’t want to play anymore.  He was ready to give up on him dream of being a homerun and just settle for hanging out with the old worn out practice balls in the practice ball bucket for the rest of his days.  

The next day was another game day.  Henry didn’t even want to leave the locker where he stayed when he wasn’t playing.  But the crowd had come to see the “Strikeout Superstar” and he had no choice but to go out to the pitcher’s mound and get ready for the first pitch. 

The first three pitches were just like all of the others from every game before.  “Strike one!  Strike two! Strike three!  You’re out!” the umpire grunted.  Henry was miserable.  But when the next batter prepared for the windup, Henry felt a cool, crisp breeze swirl around him like a cloud whispering encouragement to him. 

As Henry zipped through the air toward the batter, he felt the force of the wind pushing back on him.  It became stronger and stronger!  It was actually slowing him down!  Henry perked up and focused on the sweet spot of the bat.

CRACK!  He was hit!  Henry soared through the air, over the cheering crowd, over the bright lights, high above the amazed players.  He couldn’t believe the view!  He saw the fence ahead but he had never been this close to it before.  Doubt started to creep into his thoughts like a snake slithering quietly through grass.

“I won’t make it.  I won’t make it, “he thought to himself.  Suddenly, he saw the fence getting closer and closer as he began to fall farther and farther down.  Just as he dropped toward the ground he saw the fence pass by him and he thought, “I made it!  I am finally a homerun!” 

Henry landed on a soft bed of sweet, fresh clovers and sat wide-eyed staring at the beauty that surrounded him. 

But just as quickly as the joy and excitement filled his new homerun self, a sinking feeling crept in.  There were no daddies or mommies throwing him back and forth with their sons or daughters.  There were no young children to roll him or bounce him.  And there were no dogs to fetch him.  Henry was all alone. 

“Being a homerun isn’t what I thought it would be,” he thought to himself.  Maybe being the strikeout superstar was what I was made to be. 

Just as Henry began to wish to be returned to the field where all of his fans and friends had always been, someone picked him up and threw him back over the fence. 

Henry landed in the outfield next to the center fielder’s cleats.  The smell of the field, the cheers from the crowd, the grit of the dirt felt to Henry like being autographed by all of the people he loved the most. 

Henry was thrown back to the pitcher’s mound, but this time he was excited to get back in the game.  And as Henry raced toward the catcher’s mitt once again he knew that he was exactly what he was meant to be.  And with one more THWACK! into the mitt, Henry smiled and thought to himself, “I’m home.”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fearless Geometry Using Angry Birds

In an effort to bring intense STEM thinking and collaboration to a 3rd grade geometry unit, and taking inspiration from Todd Nesloney, who by the way is one of the most incredible educators changing the face of education today, and the nets of Angry Birds and other 3-dimensional nets, my students learned, named, designed, and calculated three increasingly difficult levels of their own Angry Birds.  Utilizing the ipad apps, 3D Geometry,  EduCreations and Skitch, students created visual notes depicting angles, describing attributes, and calculating perimeter and area of their structures.  Students were required to sketch their level design collaboratively and then create digital representations of their designs through Build with Chrome.  Below are some examples of the guide that they used to develop their projects and complete their work.  This was an incredibly engaging, incredibly challenging, and incredibly effective project that hit every geometry standard at a high, complex level of understanding and application.  This is a definite "must do" for any primary grade studying geometry!

Design You On Angry Birds Game!

3rd Grade Geometry Project

by:  Mrs. Barker
In this project you will be exploring the world of geometry.  As you design your Angry Birds characters and levels, you will be asked to apply your understanding about geometric shapes, area, and perimeter to create three increasingly difficult levels.  Part of your grade from this project will be to complete this packet of calculations, design, and reflections.  A rubric has been provided for you to help you stay on target for the maximum grade.

Good luck and have fun!

Write a definition for the following terms and draw a visual representation to help you remember.

Students learned and defined many vocabulary words first so that they could use strong math language in their annotations and descriptions later.

Naming Your Bird
In this part of the project you will be required to name each of your bird characters based on the specific attributes of the bird’s shape.  For example, if your bird is a cube shape, you might choose to name it Twelve-edge.
You must name at least 4 different birds and tell why you gave it the name you chose.  Use your geometric vocabulary terms to help you name your bird and to justify it.

Bird 1 is named __________________ because ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Bird 2 is named __________________ because ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Bird 3 is named __________________ because ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

Bird 4 is named __________________ because ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.
Designing Level ONE
Level One should be the easiest of your three levels.  Consider the base area of the structure and make it easy to destroy.  You must include the dimensions for all parts of your structure including the perimeter of the base, the area of the base, and height and length of any structural components.  In your design, you must identify at least 5 angles produced by your structure.  You must include at least 2 different geometric shapes as “pigs” in this level and explain why their placement on the structure is important.
In the space below, draw your design plan.  Be sure to include labels and calculations for the measurements.


Base Area:____________ inches2        
Perimeter:_________ inches
Height of structure:____________ inches
Length of structure:____________ inches
Geometric shapes used:
1.    ________________
2.   ________________

Designing Level TWO
Level Two should be more difficult that Level One.  Consider the base area of the structure and make it more difficult to destroy.  You must include the dimensions for all parts of your structure including the perimeter of the base, the area of the base, and height and length of any structural components.  You must include at least 3 geometric shapes as “pigs” in this level and explain why their placement on the structure is important.  In your design, you must identify at least 5 angles produced by your structure.
In the space below, draw your design plan.  Be sure to include labels and calculations for the measurements.


Base Area:____________ inches2        
Perimeter:_________ inches
Height of structure:____________ inches
Length of structure:____________ inches
Geometric shapes used:
1.    ________________
2.   ________________
3.   ________________

Designing Level THREE
Level Three should be the most difficult of your three levels.  Consider the base area of the structure and make it challenging to destroy.  You must include the dimensions for all parts of your structure including the perimeter of the base, the area of the base, and height and length of any structural components.  You must include at least 5 geometric shapes as “pigs” in this level and explain why their placement on the structure is important.  In your design, you must identify at least 5 angles produced by your structure.
In the space below, draw your design plan.  Be sure to include labels and calculations for the measurements.


Base Area:____________ inches2        
Perimeter:_________ inches
Height of structure:____________ inches
Length of structure:____________ inches
Geometric shapes used:
1.    ________________
2.   ________________
3.   ________________
4.   ________________
5.   ________________

 Sample reflection questions:
Reflection Journal:
  • What was the most difficult part of this project?
  • What was the easiest part of this project?
  • What did you learn about geometry through this project?
  • Describe how the area and perimeter of the base of level one differs from the base of level 3.  How is this difference critical to the stability and easiness of the level?
Students also used 3D Geometry app and Skitch to demonstrate their understanding of both nets and attributes of three-dimensional figures.  See these awesome examples!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How the Tale of Despereaux and Choosing to Matter Brought Fearlessness to a Whole New Level of Genius

I was quite serendipitously presented with a thoughtful question last night on social media.  Angela Maiers asked, How big is your brave?  This was a question that I immediately felt would be interesting to bring to my third graders.  Even more perfectly coincidental is the fact that we just began reading The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo as a novel study this week.  Book one discusses light vs. dark, perfidy and bravery, and judging someone's differences unfairly.  This question of how big one's bravery is was a perfect tie in!  On the drive to work this morning, the radio hosts were discussing the world's most difficult question to answer.  The question, they said, is, What is your favorite feature about yourself?  The discussion explored how confidence tends to be viewed negatively in our society and that young people, especially young girls, are taught early to keep such musings to themselves.  Sure we are capable of showering others with compliments, but to actually compliment ourselves can be tough.  What will others think?  How would we be perceived?  

 I began thinking that this too might be an interesting conversation to have with my third graders. 

So when my Fearless Geniuses walked into class this morning, we finished Book One of The Tale of Despereaux.  We analyzed theme, discussed characters and their traits, learned new vocabulary.  We empathized and shared how the story affected us as we read.  Then, I unveiled these two writing prompts:

1.     What is your favorite thing about yourself?  What is your favorite physical feature and why?  What is your favorite heart feature and why?

2.      How big is your brave? 

They had the opportunity to not only support their thesis statements by discussing textual evidence from the book, but to explore a deeper examination of themselves.  The results of this highly engaging writing assignment are as follows:

In the Tale of Despereaux, Despereaux is judged because he has big ears, is small, and was born with his eyes open.  Even his family judged him.  These are things that made him special and different.  When I think of my own physical features I think I would choose my hair as my favorite.  It is curly and I always think it is funny when girls with straight hair curl their hair to make it curly and girls with curly hair always want to straighten it to make it straight.  I love my curly hair.  I can wear it back and show my face or I can wear it down and show off the curls.  Either way I feel pretty.
Despereaux also has a different kind of character.  He sees the world as some place beautiful and not dangerous.  He enjoys the light and music and a good book.  He loves with all of his heart and no matter what.  He is a lot like I am in this way.  I am passionate about my education but I am also passionate and loyal to my family and friends.  I would not commit perfidy against any of my family or friends.  I am compassionate and would help them rather than betray them.  Despereaux is a very brave when he speaks in front of the King and professes his love for the princess, when he faces the Mouse Council, and when he finds himself all alone in the dark dungeon.  His brave is very big.  My brave is not that big.  Sure I can speak to people from other countries and classes and even give speeches in front of my own friends, but I also have a hard time being brave enough to really put myself out there and take risks when it comes to my work.  I know I am smart.  I am a genius.  But being fearless is tough sometimes.  I still get scared, but when I decide to push through it I always end up feeling a little braver than before.  

 Despereaux was made fun of a lot.  Just because he had differences like big ears and being small everyone looked at him differently.  I don't think I look different from other people much.  What I do like about myself are my hands.  My hands can do a lot of things.  They can hold a baseball bat and hit the ball far.  They can write my thoughts and tell my stories.  My hands can help a friend feel better.  My hands make my mom smile when they hold hers.  Despereaux is a kind and curious mouse.  His heart is innocent.  He doesn't understand why others don't like him.  I am kind too.  When I play sports I am a good sport and tell the other players good game no matter what.  I try not to get mad when other people are not nice to me because being fearless means to find opportunities to set an example.  I know that my kindness makes the world a better place.  Despereaux is a very brave mouse.  He has a lot more guts than he should being so small.  I think it is his confidence that makes him so brave.  He believes in himself.  I have learned that even though things can be challenging at times, I am capable of figuring it out.  My bravery has grown since being in the Fearless Classroom.

In the Tale of Despereaux, Despareaux has many things about him that make other characters make fun of him.  He has to be really brave to not let it get to him.   I think I am pretty and I especially like my hair.  But there have been times when other people have tried to make me feel ugly with their words.  I usually feel hurt and think that maybe they are right.  But after hearing our discussions about it being okay to celebrate what makes us special and after hearing what we think makes Despereaux special, now I feel special and I don't think I will let people make me feel bad anymore.  I think my brave is growing.

Just like Despereaux, I have fears.  I am afraid of losing friends, not doing well in school, not being good enough, not being liked.  But I don't let these fears stop me from being who I am.  I may not be the smartest or the prettiest but I am still me.  I am a good friend.  I am a smart and work hard.  I am a great reader.  I have a loving heart and believe in the good in people.  I think if I were in a story there would be a lot of light around my character too.  My favorite feature are my eyes because they are like mirrors of my heart.  My favorite heart feature is my loving heart.  I am a good friend.  My bravery is really big because I am fearless.  Not fearless as in having no fears, just fearless in that I don't let fears stop me.

I think I am brave because I will stand up for myself and my friends.  I have been brave for the past two years in class because I have had to work really hard and sometimes it wasn't easy at all.  I am brave when I go on stage to sing in front of a lot of people.  I am strong and courageous.  My brave is my song.

My favorite feature is my vocal cords.  They are the best gift I have.  Not only can I sing beautifully but my words help make the world a better place.  I am brave because I choose words that lift people up but I am also truthful.  Despereaux was honest and loved music just like I do.

I would like to think that my best feature is my passion for educating kids and creating fearless thinkers and compassionate young people.  My BRAVE is LARGE and abundant because being fearless has lead me to some extraordinary experiences so far! 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fearless Writing

Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.

Writing always seems to be a weak area for elementary students.  As educators, we tend to teach as we learned--formulaic, methodical, and structured.  Unfortunately, for the arts, (and I DO include writing as an art form albeit a seemingly dying one), structure and cookie-cutter doesn't quite cut it.  In teaching writing, we must allow students to be expressive, celebrate their ideas and unique outlook on their world.  That would be just fine if they haven't already been jaded by the relentless drafting and revision processes that we must teach in order to truly and adequately teach the "writing process."  I think we do more harm than good by not just giving them a chance to write creatively without fear of judgement or failing.  

Motivation is key.  Why SHOULD kids WANT to write anymore?  They text, tweet, Facebook, blog, etc. all day.  Social media is the new chat rooms which were the new forums which were the new face-to-face social clubs.  SO how are we supposed to convince our kids that they can and should write creatively...for school...for their teacher...without fear?

I found an app that remarkably did exactly what I wanted it to do.  (Yes, there is an app for that too!!) It is called ColAR Mix and it is FREE!  (There is an in-app upgrade if you choose for $2.99).  This app comes with coloring pages that can be turned into 3D Augmented Reality animated images!!!  

I did not tell the students about the app at first.  I wanted to see what they would produce for me based on their pictures.  I instructed them to write about what the think is happening in the picture.  Who is it?  What do they want?  What's stopping them from getting what they want?  Where are they?  How do they change or do the circumstances change so that either they get what they want or stop wanting what they want?

The kids colored their pictures, proudly sharing their masterpieces with each other and me.  Then they began writing.  No prompt.  No expectations.  Total freedom.

The stories that emerged were worthy of a celebration!  I couldn't believe the imagination and creativity of the stories that were written!  We decided to celebrate their drafts and revisions with an author's chair the third week of school!  We invited the parents, administration, and other classes to come hear and see our work.  Little did they know what was in store for them with the app!  

Here are screenshots of the app accompanying some of the incredible stories that were written.  Thank you to all of the staff and parents that came out to support my kids!  We are so grateful for the opportunity to share our genius with you!

Drago the Gold Stealer
By:  Ryan J.
3rd Grade 2013-2014

Once there was a dragon named Drago.  He wanted to take the gold from the king and queen.  He attacked the castle for many years, but he just couldn’t fit through the door because he was so big.  So he tried going through the side.  He broke in! 

He couldn’t find the room with the gold.  The castle was like a maze.  He broke through the top and found the room with the gold.  He saw the king and queen then roared and flew away.

He came back the next day.  The king ordered the knights to seize Drago.  Drago dodged every arrow and cannonball.  The king told the knights to throw a net.  They got him!  But Drago broke through the rope net.  Unfortunately, he fell into the castle.  All of the bricks crushed Drago’s tail.  Drago’s tail was broken!  Drago moaned and moaned. 

The king did the right thing and put a cast on Drago’s tail.  Drago gave all of the gold back to the king.  They became friends from that day on and they lived happily ever after.
The Dragon and the Boy

By: Ashton F.

3rd Grade 2013-2014

One time there was a dragon.  He was the meanest thing ever alive.  The only thing he cared about was diamonds.  Nobody even dared to go near the dragon, not even the village idiot, unless that person wanted to die.  There was only one person that was brave enough and all he had was a stone in his hand.  Inside the stone was a diamond though.  He thought to himself, “Do I try to defeat the dragon or do I give in?”  He decided to give the stone with the diamond to the dragon.  This surprised the dragon and he promised to never attack the kingdom again.  They all lived happily ever after.

Dragon Bait

By:  Caleb H.

3rd Grade 2013-2014

Once there was a kingdom that was always on the lookout for dragons, especially a dragon named Drago.  He was the fiercest dragon of all.  His claws were seven feet long and had huge _____.  He also had a huge spiky tail, large teeth, and humungous wings.

One day, Drago stopped at the kingdom to get a sip of water and then the King Ranch saw Drago and sent a whole bunch of guards with bows to kill Drago so they could eat him.  Drago saw the guards with the bows so he flew away.

The next day he planned to attack the kingdom.  In the morning Drago went to the kingdom and started from top to bottom killing the guards who were after him.  One of the guards new a secret passage that led right to Drago’s foot, so he went through the passage, got his bow and aimed the arrow at Drago’s foot.  But Drago moved fast enough that the guard missed his shot.

Drago looked in the hole and then took his out of the hole and stuck his tale in the hole and started throwing spikes.  All the guards shot arrows at Drago but his scales were too strong.

Finally, Drago picked up the castle of the king and started destroying it.  The king and all the guards gave up and retreated into the forest.  Drago lived in the kingdom and was never bothered again.


By:  Abby S.
3rd Grade 2013-2014

As Isabella skipped in the woods she sang a song that she was going to sing at her concert.  When she returned home she got ready to go to her room when she noticed some brownies on her desk.  She was confused but she took a bite anyway.  When she did she fell on the floor.  Her sister came looking for her.  When she saw Isabella on the floor she smiled.  Finally she would be the big popstar and not her sister.  Isabella started to wake up and ask her evil twin why she had poisoned her.  “Why did you do this to me?  I know you are jealous, but you could have asked me to o a duet with you.”
The evil twin decided to accept the deal and apologized for poisoning her sister.

The Lost Crow
By:  Valerie P.
3rd grade 2013-2014

Once there was a lost crow and she couldn’t find her way home.  She saw a pink yummy worm, but she thought to herself that she shouldn’t eat it but rather ask it for directions.  When she asked for directions the worm got scared and kept on crawling.  Emily the Crow didn’t want the worm to get away so she picked the worm up in her beak.  The worm said, “Please don’t eat me!”  Emily said, “I’m not going to eat you silly! I need your help.”
She put the worm down and he looked up at her.  “My name is Wormy, what’s yours?” the worm asked.
“I’m Emily the Crow,” she said.
“I need to ask you a question.  Where am I?”
“We are in Farmersville.”
“Farmersville!?  But I am trying to get to New York City!” Emily said.
“I thought birds could fly.  Why don’t you just fly there?” asked Wormy.
“I don’t know which direction to fly.”
“I can help you.  I have always wanted to see New York.” Said Wormy.
“Why don’t you come with me?  You can show me how to get there and then you can stay with me once we are there?” said Emily.
“That sounds great!”
So Emily and Wormy flew to New York and Emily made Wormy a little house so he could be safe.


The Soccer Day
By: Emma K.
3rd Grade 2013-2014

I woke up so frightened because it was Tuesday the day of the big soccer game.  Mom made pancakes that looked like soccer balls.  After breakfast I practiced for an hour.  My Dad said it was almost time for the game.   I worried and was nervous the entire ride to the field.  When I got onto the field my friend Lizzy came up to me and said, “It’s okay, Emma.  I know you can do this.  You have been training for this all season!”  That made me feel better.  I said, “You’re right!  Let’s do this!”  The game was tough but in the end we won!  I was glad I didn’t let my nerves get to me.   It was an awesome day!

The Lonely Tiger
By: Camaren G.

3rd Grade 2013-2014

Once there lived a tiger who never ate meat.  His mother had taught him that vegetables were healthier for him than meat.  He remembered trying them and thought that they were yummier than meat.  Now he is all alone because hunters killed his family. He walked alone near the edge of the forest near the sidewalk where people would pass with their pets.  He always wondered what it would be like to have a real person family and be treated like the pets he saw. 

One day the tiger was eating his vegetables in the forest when a hunter came up.  The hunter thought that all tigers were mean.  When the tiger didn’t attack the hunter it surprised him. 

“Hi!” said the tiger.

The hunter was shocked that the tiger could talk.  “Was that you?” he asked. 

“Yes,” said the tiger.
“I am lonely can I go with you?” the tiger asked.

“Okay, but only if you don’t destroy all of my things,” said the hunter.

“Okay, thank you!  I promise I won’t hurt anything.”

The hunter and the tiger walked off together and the tiger was happy.

Paint My House
By Yasmin A.
3rd Grade 2013-2014

There was a house that had been forgotten.  It was off in the woods.  One day a dog went sniffing around the woods and came up to the house.  He immediately ran away home.  They next day he brought his owner back to the house.  The owner said, “Wow! This could be our house!”
So he saved up his money and painted the house a pretty color, fixed the doors and windows, and rearranged the furniture inside.  All he needed was a vase of flowers to finish the job.  Once he put the vase in the house he and his dog lived there very happily.

The Chinese Cat
By: Gavin S.
3rd Grade 2013-2014

One day a long time ago there was a cat lost in the jungle.  He wanted to find his home but he couldn’t.  He was looking around and found a rainbow.  He decided to climb the rainbow and when he did he found his home. 

Homerun Baseball
By Ethan K.
3rd Grade 2013-2014

Once there was a baseball who wanted to be a homerun so bad.  He had heard that it was pretty on the other side of the fence but he had never seen it.  Mysteriously he kept missing the bat every time he was thrown over the plate.  He knew why he was missing the ball.  He was just too fast.  He tried to slow himself down by spinning.  That didn’t work.  He tried pushing himself back but he couldn’t.  He was ready to give up.  Then one day a mysterious gust of wind came while the ball was in the air and it slowed him down just enough to hit the bat.  He felt nervous because he didn’t know if he would actually go over this time.  “I won’t make it.  I won’t make it, “he thought to himself.  Suddenly, he saw the fence pass by him and he thought, “I shouldn’t have ever doubted myself.  This place is beautiful!”

I encourage you to download and explore innovative used for this app in your classroom!  It is incredible!