Sunday, August 3, 2014

Turning a New Leaf

2014-2015 begins a new journey with a new campus, new students, new opportunities.  The Fearless Classroom continues to evolve and improve.   If you're looking for the previous posts from the past few years, they have been turned into a book!   You can pre-order now and the release date is October 26, 2014.  I am looking forward to the next chapter of the Fearless Classroom as we embark on an adventure of purpose and service based education!   STAY TUNED!

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 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 6, 2013

The 4 Fearless W's (and an H) of Difference Making

As we approach the International Dot Day and through our discussions of Habitudes by Angela Maiers and the Choose 2 Matter movement, I wanted to bring to light for my students that anything we want to accomplish, we can.  Our ELAR topics this week revolved around fiction, story arcs, and writing good paragraphs, but I wanted to connect this learning to an opportunity to commit to matter in our community.  Thus, the "Four Fearless W's (and an H) of Difference Making" was born.


Who we are is essential to the difference we will make.  Who we think we are may or may not be who we authentically are, but embarking on a journey to making a positive difference in the lives of others most certainly will shine a light on one's true self.  So I asked my fearless geniuses this question: 
"WHO are you?  Look beyond the obvious answers of 'I'm a third grader.  I am a girl.  I am a soccer player.'  Look inside.  What will your mark be on this world?  You are the dot that will become the artwork of our future.  Your thoughts, dreams, hopes, passions, and genius matter and will make a significant positive impact on at least one other person.  You've already changed me for the better.  Just by what you've accomplished in my classroom over the past 2 weeks, you've already taught me so much about how to improve as a teacher.  So again, who are you?"
As a class we brainstormed WHO we are and decided on one name that collectively encompassed who we felt we were or wanted to become:  
(GEN for Genius and PACT as the combined ending of IMPACT)

What we do and say directly impacts another person whether we mean for it to or not.  Even a simple look can change a person's mood from sad to happy or vise versa.  So I asked my class how they wanted to impact the world this year.  "With passion, ingenuity, commitment, and a fearless determination to succeed, we can accomplish anything we put our minds to," I said.  "So what is it that you would like to accomplish this year.  It can be anything you want.  Think about what would fill your heart and make a difference in the life of at least one other person."
They brainstormed. discussed, became active and alive with excitement about all the possibilities of things that they wanted to accomplish this year.  We wrote down every option and then narrowed them down to 2 fun, "just for us" projects and 3 "Just for the world" projects.  Here is what we committed to accomplishing:
Just for us:
  • Build a working go-kart
  • publish a book
Just for the world:
  • Organize, lead, and carry out a Military Care Package event to send a minimum of 100 care packages to our servicemen and women. 
  • Raise $20,000 for Relay for Life in honor of 4 staff members who are survivors and countless other family members and friends we have lost to the disease.
  • Raise awareness about global slavery with a focus on child slavery through technology and social media.


Once one sets a goal, one must also make it measurable and set a time line.  By giving yourself a deadline, you work harder and stay focused on the task and goal at hand.  
  • We want to be published or at least have our book submitted to a publisher by March 15, 2014.  We want to have the $20,000 raised for Relay for Life by Banquet Night which should be in February.  
  • We want to have our go-kart built by May 10, 2014.  
  • We want to have our technology projects for the global slavery awareness project completed by April 2014.
  • We want to have the military care packages completed and sent to arrive on or before December 25, 2013.


Why we do or say something is arguably more important than the word or action itself.   It is from our intention that we determine the ultimate effects of what we do.  It determines not only how the difference we make is perceived and received, but also how we, ourselves, receive the effect.  We must choose to matter based on our passions and a genuine desire to make positive contributions to our community and not on possible recognition or reward.  This is a difficult term to resolve when you are asking children, with all their wide-eyed, untainted, hopeful dreaming minds, to determine what is really driving their want to participate in these projects.  So I asked them, "WHY do you care?":
Regarding the go-kart:
"It would be cool to actually build something like that together.  Can you imagine!?  All of us working on something that big and then being able to ride it!?  Besides, we could maybe donate it to a shelter when we are finished so that other kids could ride it."

Regarding the published book:
"Why don't we write a book about kids for kids...about how we all matter...about how no matter where we come from, live, what we have, how we look, we can do something special."

Regarding the military packages:
"I would be really sad to be away from my family especially if my life were always in danger.  It would make me feel good to help (a serviceman or woman)  feel like they were appreciated."

Regarding Relay for Life:
"We have lost a teacher, Mrs. Barker's husband, a 4th grader, and grandparents, cousins, friends, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters to cancer.  We have a counselor, many teachers, and several students on campus who are survivors.  Our school has really been affected by cancer.  We want it to end!  We have never raised that much money as a campus before.  Wouldn't it be cool to hand over a check for $20,000 just from our class?!"

Regarding the Slavery Project:
"I saw something on the news the other day about children in another country who were slaves!  I thought slavery ended when they were freed by President Lincoln!  I talked to my mom about it and she said this happens a lot in other places and that I should feel grateful.  I do, but I want to stop it from happening to anyone."


How are we going to accomplish all of these wonderful goals?  It is great to dream and wish, but how can we realize our dreams?  This too is a tough question to process for a 3rd grader.  In a culture like ours, with instant gratification a norm, I anticipated a shallow discussion.  Shame on me for underestimating the power of a passion-driven conversation.  I asked, "This is all well and good, but how in the world are we going to accomplish all of this?"
Their response?

"How can we not?"

We committed to accomplishing these goals through thoughtful collaboration, communication, diligent hard work, and fearless determination.  I committed to creating projects that address our TEKS but also connect to our goals. 

We are ready.
We are passionate.
We are....


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Choose Your Path to Learning: The Unlockable Feature

Just as we all have choices about how we get to our destinations, so too do our students' differing learning needs offer opportunities for choices in how they reach their educational destinations.  In an effort to improve the gamification concept of the Fearless Classroom, XBROX 360, in quarter 4, I have added the "unlockable feature" of "Choose Your Own Path to Learning."  Not only does this feature enhance the ICAP rotations but it allows students to have a voice in how they achieve the goal.  

Choose Your Own Path to Learning works by providing up to three choices from which students may choose to navigate their learning experience.  These choices come in the form of QR code choices, activity choices, or schedule choices.  Students are given the freedom to explore topics from a variety of angles and thus gain a unique, self-individualized learning experience.  

Behind the QR codes are secret missions through which students will explore topics using real-world applications such as designing a race car made of recycled materials that must qualify through given force and motion parameters or designing a racetrack whose frictional force requirements determine the distance and pace at which something must travel.  Or perhaps the mission asks students to create a training video on the most effective strategies for solving multi-step word problems.  The beauty of this approach is that if a student scans a code and doesn't feel confident in his/her ability to successfully produce the end result of one mission, he/she can scan another and make a choice. All codes address the same topic and skill set, but in a variety of ways.  It is a digitalized, mini-version of old school menus.

With activity choices, students are only given a topic question and given the choice of up to three different expression outlets.  Web 2.0 tools, art, or gaming, for example, are given as activity choices for answering the following sample question: How is a sphere similar to a rectangular prism?  Students can also propose new activities to challenge each other to step outside of their comfort zones.  If a student proposes a challenge that gets picked up and successfully completed, he/she earns an unlockable feature on his/her wikispace like custom colors, layout, and featured spot on the menu bar. 

Finally, with schedule choice options, students write their own work schedule.  They are given the learning objectives for the level but the AR and QR codes offer choices of where they can go next.  For example, a student might scan the first QR code after reading a selection on force and motion as it pertains to gravitational pull.  The code takes him to a Voki who offers a choice, "Go to mini-games and complete the genius minute to win it activity within 60 seconds to advance on to the next mission, OR you may select a task card from the challenge basket and complete the activity.  The choice is yours!"  One path will take a bit longer, but both advance them through the game level to the same destination.

This does take a lot of preparation ahead of time, but my second graders feel more in control and thus far more motivated and engaged in class with this new feature.  They have become pros at the game so, this is a great way to add some fresh new excitement to a game they play everyday.