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.