AAAnnnnddddd….we’re off! Our first two weeks of school were eventful and wet, but it was a smooth start for us all! Teachers who teach the same group of students in consecutive years are said to be “looping,” and moving from grade 4 to 5 with this wonderful class of learners meant that we were off and running from the very first day. Although many things this year will be slightly different due to higher expectations and small shifts in routine, we all fell into the daily routine with smiling ease.
The beginning of the school year is the time when we all get used to being hard at work together all day long. We are figuring out what the new year will hold and we are welcoming new members into the classroom community. We are setting expectations for each other and learning to work together again. We are setting goals and examining our hopes and dreams. Though we aren’t launching major projects just yet, we are still trying to ensure that our activities align with the key elements of project based and 21st century learning.
In one team building activity, students worked to “save Fred,” a foolish gummy worm who went boating without putting on his life preserver. He had ended up on top of his capsized boat with his life preserver under the boat. Students were challenged to rescue Fred, returning him into his boat and making sure he was wearing his life preserver – all with only a few paperclips to assist. They couldn’t touch Fred, or poke or spear him, and that gummy life preserver was awfully tight… As the kids enthusiastically tackled the challenge, they made plans, tried them out, adjusted their strategies, and communicated with each other. They found there was no way to solve Fred’s dilemma without communication and collaboration, trial and error, persistence and flexible thinking.
As we explored sound and how it works, students made paper cup telephones and experienced how sound vibrations travel across the string from one person to the other. Their next challenge: make a better telephone. They had to work with a partner to define “better,” and make a plan for how they would alter the original design to make a better phone. They immediately realized how important it is to change one parameter or variable at a time, so they could tell which change actually worked! In his task we were focused on clearly setting forth a plan for an experiment, ensuring that variables were controlled, and taking accurate, helpful notes throughout the design and experiment process.
In social studies we examined brown bags of artifacts to figure out who might own those artifacts. Presented with a crumpled bag of objects, students had to use their background knowledge and the objects to build a picture of the bag’s owner. Is the person male or female? What are the person’s interests, hobbies, passions? What is the person proud of? Historians must piece together the past using artifacts and other sources, and this was our first step into the work that historians do. We had some surprises where we thought for sure we knew quite a bit about the bag’s owner, but found ourselves to be wrong. What are the implications of that as we explore history?
As we completed these activities and got to know one another again, a key element in play was “authenticity.” This is defined as doing work that involves “real-world contexts, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact, or speaks to personal concerns, interests, and issues in the students’ lives.” Since the year is just beginning, we focused on real life tools and tasks that are used by scientists and historians. We collaborated, took careful and accurate notes, made plans before starting a task, listened to the ideas of others, made claims and supported them with evidence, and approached each task with an attitude inquiry. As I said… we’re off to a great start!