Thursday, August 28, 2014

Being the Change

5th Graders Start the School Year Off with Gestures of Kindness

Being a Choose2Matter classroom in a new grade level on a new campus, it was important for me, the teacher, to ignite the passion for making a difference in the world from day one.  TODAY.  Today is the day to be the change you want to see in the world.  
This first week of school, the entire 5th grade, chose to matter to the rest of the students on our campus.  Each day, we focused on making a difference in the lives of our friends.  Monday, we focused on Kindergarten.  In order to encourage our kinder friends to love reading and to feel supported by us, we created popsicle stick word pointers.  On the stick, we wrote inspirational quotes to remind them that they are important to us.  

The kindergartners were so excited to have "the big kids" share something that the 5th graders made special for them.   Each 5th grader approached a kindergartener by saying something to the effect of, "I made this special for you. You are important to me and this school and I expect greg things from you!  You matter in this world!"  The smiles on ALL of the kids' faces told me that this idea would be a success.

On Tuesday, we focused on our first graders.  We created bead and string abacus as a way to support their math thinking.  We strung colorful beads onto string and tied the string off so that the beads could be easily moved back and forth in a variety of sets.  Using these manipulatives, students can count, add, subtract, and even write multi-addend equations!
Giving these abacuses to the first graders brightened their days and told them in a small way (maybe bigger!) that we want them to be successful.  It showed them that we are here to encourage them and their learning matters to us too!

On Wednesday, we set our hearts on second grade.  We wanted our second graders to enjoy reading, to find a passion and love for reading.  We wanted them to be reminded of our support and encouragement for them as readers.  We created corner page bookmarks that looked like googly-eyed monsters!  
These adorable bookmarks actually inspired many of the second graders to go home and read just so that they could use their bookmarks!  On the back of their monsters we added an inspirational saying to remind them that reading is important and so are they!

Thursday and Friday we created ribboned bookmarks with inspiring quotes and sentiments for our third and fourth graders.  Again, this week was all about creating a sense of belonging and community among the entire school.  Students need to feel that not only are they important to their own classroom teacher, but to every adult and child on campus.  Our fifth graders may have been the ones giving of their time and creativity this week, but we received so much in return.  

Here are quotes from some of the 5th graders about what they experienced in this exercise in compassion:

"What I do matters in this world.  And it is better when you consider others instead of just yourself.  It feels good to help others because it is the right thing to do to help others." --Jacob

"Doing for others actually helped me to believe in myself.  I felt good because caring for others means something." --Ebony

"I realized that I can make a difference in the world.  I could't believe that my little craft could actually mean so much to someone else.  It made me think that if I do bigger things it will mean even more."  --Alliyah

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It's Not Just About Changing Lives…It's About Saving Them

I've been making a list of the things they don't teach you at school. They don't teach you how to love somebody. They don't teach you how to be famous. They don't teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don't teach you how to walk away from someone you don't love any longer. They don't teach you how to know what's going on in someone else's mind. They don't teach you what to say to someone who's dying. They don't teach you anything worth knowing.
--Neil Galman

Over the summer I received a phone call that would change the course of both me as a professional and of the Fearless Classroom.  On the other end of the call was a voice echoing my philosophy as an educator.  But what struck to the core of me was the statement, "This is about saving these kids' lives."  Instantly, the enthusiasm I felt waning and the cynicism beginning to break down my usually optimistic walls were gone.  Yes!  Of course!  This is WHY I became a teacher in the first place!  We don't get into this profession for the easy.  We want to make a difference, to change the lives of children for the better.  We STAY because of the easy, but we COME BACK and we get EXCITED because of the challenge of reaching children, giving them unforgettable learning experiences, and creating opportunities that they may never have been given had they not been in our classrooms.  But to think of it as actually "saving lives," well, it just put it into perspective again for me.  

My new principal gave me a chance to lead a team, but I never realized the gift she was giving me.  I have four like-minded passionate educators willing to get out of their comfort zones, try anything, and who believes in the genius in all kids.  But more than that, the entire staff feels the same way.  There is a sense of freedom, collaboration, support, and a genuine shared vision for saving lives through creative and innovative learning experiences.  

On this eve before the new school year begins, I am reflecting on my goals for the year, and my gratitude for this incredible opportunity.  We begin tomorrow.  My students will find their passions, their voices, and their genius this year and the world will forever be changed because of their work.  

In preparation for the new year:
I wanted my classroom to feel like home for my students.  I wanted them to find a peaceful place in my classroom in which they can learn, communicate, explore, and make discoveries.  The results of my efforts are as follows:  
It is important that students know that they matter, that they have something unique and important to say.  My job isn't necessarily to teach them the curriculum but rather WHO they can be and HOW they can achieve their dreams THROUGH curriculum infused with experiences.  This concept and the You Matter Manifesto comes from Angela Maiers.  And if you don't know it by know, please go to her webpage and become familiar with her and her amazing work!

Part of being Fearless is knowing what BRAVERY truly means.  It isn't about walking through life without careful consideration for consequences and dangers.  It isn't about doing whatever we want without care for repercussions.  To be fearless, to be brave, is to keep going when doubt tries to stop you.  It is believing in your goals and your purpose and never letting naysayers stifle your ambitions.

In the Fearless Classroom, we must research and collaborate in order to refine our vision, our passions, and our learning.  This corner is perfectly suited for just that!

Inspired by ISTE's Bloggers Cafe, I created this collaboration and networking area for my students so that they could share ideas and learn from each other in a comfortable space.

Another aspect to my classroom is gamification. This year's game is called, Call of Duty: The Compassion Crusade.  Students are charged with missions where compassion for others and purposeful learning are necessary and expected.  They receive a game guide upon arrival the first day and our first mission is a week long effort to welcome every student on our campus with a gift and a promise that as the leaders of the campus, our 5th graders will support and encourage their younger peers.  Our motto:  We are the change.

We are making popsicle stick word pointers for the Kindergarteners.  These easy to make crafts will encourage our new friends to enjoy reading and will remind them that their 5th grade buddies are expecting genius contributions from them :D  We are writing simple inspiring phrases on the sticks such as, "You Matter!," "I'm proud of you!," and "I believe in you!"

For the first graders, we are creating bead and string abacuses.  We want to encourage our first grade friends to learn by doing and to know that sometimes we all need a little support in our learning.  When they use their abacus, we hope they know that we are supporting them as well.

For our second through fifth graders, we are creating Monster corner bookmarks! We encourage learning though research and exploration.  We hope that the monsters inspire our friends to keep reading, keep learning, and to always remain fearless!

It is our vision as a 5th grade team that 
1.  Students are inspired when they have the opportunity to discover and develop their impact on the world around them.
2.  Students become empowered when they create, collaborate, communicate, and critically think about their learning.

The Fearless Five are ready for the new year to begin.  Curiosity, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Connections, Community, and Compassion are the Great Cs of our 5th grade culture.  And I, for one, and beyond excited to witness the genius that is bound to be discovered and developed this year.

Stay Fearless because YOU MATTER and the world NEEDS your contribution!

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!