Friday, February 17, 2017

EdCamp Elmbrook

We are so exited to share that our school district is hosting our First Annual EdCamp! We hope you can join us!

What is an EdCamp? It is a movement of professional development created by teachers, for teachers. Check out this short video for a very quick overview:
Our EdCamp will be held on March 25th at Brookfield Central High School! We hope you can join us! We are excited to see what topics arise that day! Check out our website to learn more:


Links to registration can be found on the site. The best part of EdCamp (besides the amazing learning) is that it is FREE!

We can't wait to learn along side you on this amazing day! We want YOU! Come Join Us!

~Angela

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Launching An Argument Unit

Photo Credit
I'm not going to lie...argument has never been one of my favorite units to teach. Maybe it is because I am not a "great debater?" Maybe it is because in 18 years, I could count on one hand the arguments I have won against my wonderful husband. Maybe it is because it seems weird to encourage kids to "argue." But, whatever my reason, I need to get over it, because It. Is Happening! And regardless of MY level of interest, the truth is...KIDS LOVE TO ARGUE! They love to debate and to question things!

This year, we have a new Teacher's College reading unit...Researching Debatable Issues. It does also tie well with their writing unit Writing an Argument Essay. Win-Win. The downside, is that the Teacher's College does not always provide the most open-ended opportunities for voice and choice in a personalized learning environment. I will say, that the new reading unit really has stepped it up. The online components of being a Teacher's College district were great for this unit! Lots of articles and resources to help you. Let's be honest, finding age-appropriate resources that connect to debatable issues isn't always easy. We are very fortunate to have these resources available to us in our district.

In our grade level PLC, as we began unpacking our units of study and working to develop a cross-curricular unit plan, we had some intense discussions about what topics would be appropriate for our kiddos. We are not in a place where we could just "take the lid off" and let kids tackle any debatable issue they wanted. There are many factors that play in to that, but the bottom line is that we have some unmovable "fence posts" in that area. However, we as a team are committed to personalizing the learning of our students as best as possible. The compromise we found was to provide our students a "limited menu" of options to choose from. While this isn't as personalized as we wish it could be, it was the best we could do with the strong fence posts we are functioning within this unit. The Teacher's College resources set the stage for a lot of it, but we also added a few PC topics of our own. Here is our "final" list:
So, to launch this unit, we read a wonderful book: I Wanna Iguana. It is a hilarious story told through letters between a boy and his mother about why he should get a pet iguana. Even as 5th graders, they loved it. Big kids still love picture books, and we try to incorporate them whenever we can!
Link to Amazon
Following the book, we discussed three essential questions when examining argument writing:
  1. What is the claim being made?
  2. What reasons are given to support that claim?
  3. What evidence is given to support those reasons?
We, then, examined the types of persuasion that is all around us. The conversations that came up surrounding these different types of products was fantastic!
"Wow! Look at that! Why are those words bigger? Where do they put sugary cereals on the store shelves? What commercials do they play in between cartoons? Why do you think they put those words there? What words are missing?"--and, of course, they got quite the hit out of "Everything tastes better in a bacon bowl!"

Then, it was time to "Take Our Own Stand"--literally! We had all the kids stand up. We put up choices on the board (example: soccer vs. football), and the kids had to move to either side of the room to take a stand. We did these with a few, then they had to find someone on the opposing side of the room and "convince" them that they were right! The buzz in our room was electric!
Once this fun and excitement was done, we put the kids into random groups of 5. Each group got a folder full of articles that took a stand on one side of a topic or another. There was at least one article for each of our list topics. With 50+ kiddos, organization is key in these types of situations. If we aren't organized, there will be articles EVERYWHERE in our space without any rhyme or reason. To help with this, we put each article set into a numbered manila folder. Each article in that folder shared the same number. Each random kid group was assigned a number and the responsibility of keeping track of their team's folder! It was beautiful! <My Type A Heart Is Singing> ;)
FINALLY...it was time to DIG IN! Kids devoured one article after the next! They couldn't help but discussing while they read. They voluntarily took notes on what they were reading. We just sat back and soaked in the amazing-ness all around us for a few minutes! Jumping into those initial small group conferences was energizing. It made ME enjoy argument! They were so engaged and excited!
In our space, we have the most amazing kids. Our room is full of so many diverse needs and backgrounds. We have multiple students identified as having disabilities. We also have even more students that receive ELL services. One of our students is even just starting to learn English for the very first time (He's now reading at a Level J...we're SOOO proud of his growth!). With the many needs, kids need different ways to access materials. We are fortunate to have Google Read & Write for all of our students in our district. This amazing tool allows for almost all websites and PDF's to be read out loud to kids! It also allows you to "simplify" texts from sites, creates pictures notes, and more amazing features...all connected to their Google Drives!

With the new updates to Google Classroom (it's about time, Google...), I am able to send websites and articles to individual students. This helps so much with the way that we personalize learning for our kiddos! Now, no matter what their ability or background, kids can access argument texts and have rich conversations with their peers! <I Heart Google!>
One of our students listening to an article using Google Read & Write!
Following an amazing immersive day, kids continued to become familiar with the topics within their folders. They debated (naturally) with each other, shared facts organically, and were truly fired up about what they were reading. Two days after this launch, we held a "grand conversation" about what we had learned so far. Kids led this, and they brought up the topics they learned about. What sides they were noticing. Some even were ready to declare their own claim about a topic. We took notes on all their great ideas. Then we provided them with a simple form to make a "final selection" on a debatable issue that they wanted to pursue further. 

Debate can be a tricky thing. There are so many topics in this world that may not be completely age appropriate for "littles", so we have to be a little protective. Heck, even we as adults are having some difficulty lately arguing and disagreeing respectfully. That being said, we still wanted to give our kids some freedom over their topic selection. Due to this, we added a selection in our form for "I have an idea I want to share with my teacher." We were floored with the amazing (age-appropriate) topics that they came up with. In addition to the list below, we now also have kids studying:
  • Whether or not kids should have caffeine
  • Reducing carbon emissions by increasing hybrid/electric car use
  • Why improving public education in America is important
  • Whether or not we should use nuclear power
  • And a few more that are digging into topics of interest to see if there is enough info out there to support a claim!

From here, we put the kids into "topic-alike" groups. Kids created shared documents to share digital resources (without being prompted...wow!). They took their own notes in graphic organizers. And, most importantly, are naturally forming opinions that they want to share with others.


So, what's next? We are going to allow the kiddos to learn more about their debatable issue. From there, we are going to conduct "flash debates" with others. We are going to talk about the importance of counter-claims. How understanding points that are different than yours can strengthen your own argument. Ultimately, they will write an argumentative essay aligning with the 5th grade writing standards.

I know I was a little unsure at first, but, as always, putting trust in the kids prevails. They have made me LOVE argument! Their energy, excitement, and passion are completely contagious. I can't wait to see where the rest of this unit goes!

What about you? How do you teach argument? Have you found any resources that have made a great impact on your units? We'd love to learn from you!

Happy Teaching!

Angela

Friday, January 27, 2017

Reflecting on Our Math Workshop



Math Workshop has always been one of my favorite hours of the day...the energy and controlled chaos within the room is contagious, and we love that the kids take ownership over their choice time. This year our district adopted a new math curriculum...I'm not going to lie, that adoption made me a little apprehensive. After attending the training and reviewing the materials, it seemed to be greatly teacher-driven...something we are not totally in agreement with. I loved the components of Bridges, and knew the kids would enjoy the problem solving activities embedded throughout, but worried that I would be spending too much time in front of the students.

Angela and I promised each other we'd go into the year with an open mind and a positive attitude towards the program. We knew we liked Bridges in and of itself, so we had to remain optimistic. We discussed with our students some of the changes they may see in our workshop block, but promised them we'd familiarize ourselves with the curriculum and go from there. This was one of those moments when we felt bound by curriculum. It took us a good three units, and copious amounts of time co-planning, before we felt we had a grasp on Bridges and all it had to offer. Our students were extremely patient with us getting ahead of the learning curve.

Bridges has supported our students in many ways, and they have grown tremendously through this program. They have an amazing intervention binder that supports our struggling mathematicians (we also use that for our daily bullpens). Our students have also developed incredible mental math strategies. They approach complex problems in a variety of ways, and think about numbers flexibly. We've enjoyed the overlap of concepts, and love seeing how the different domains mesh together throughout units.

A few disadvantages, though, is feeling there is a repetitiveness of lessons at times. Sometimes lessons seem redundant and unnecessary. We also noticed a decrease in the students' daily choice time. Part of these struggles are due to system structures that we can not control, and part of that is feeling as if we needed to teach the program with fidelity in order to best understand all it has to offer. It is a juggling act when you're tackling a new curriculum. There are concepts the students already know, but then there are definite areas where they're missing information. BUT...with the first half of the year under our belts, we are thrilled that we FINALLY feel we can venture away from Bridges a bit and bring in some more project based learning. Please do not misunderstand, Bridges is still our primary resource, but based on pretest results and some of the skills our students have mastered, we know many of our students are ready to take on more independent choice and project based learning.

As I previewed our Unit 4 pretest results, I was extremely pleased with the skills our students already had in place. Students doing well on a pretest is sort of a double edged sword- you're excited and proud of them for showing they're applying skills previously taught and knowing they're ready to move ahead...BUT it can also be terrifying because you're faced with the dreaded "Now what do we do with them?" question.

We had a relatively large group of children (8-10ish) that scored 100% on the entire pretest. We have another 5-8 that will master the skills needed within a few mini lessons or bullpens. Knowing that, we knew we had to plan accordingly for these flyers. They'd be ready for something more. We did not want these students sitting through unnecessary mini lessons. Last year, based on their pretest results, we had students moving back and forth between multiple mini lessons on a daily basis. That was easier to do when we were writing all of our units and lessons. This year it's been more difficult to juggle because we are still getting to know the Bridges units.

Seeing our results for this unit, though, we knew it was time to venture outside of the walls of Bridges and jump back into our "normal." We wanted to give our students an opportunity to practice the skills and standards addressed within Unit 4, but also push them further ahead. We knew this would better serve them and give them the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a real world situation. Angela and I spent time creating "Planning For Your Future- a Personal Budget Project"; an independent project that our students could work on throughout the unit. This project is required for students that mastered the learning targets on the pre-assessment, but is open to ALL kids in our class, as well.
Click the image above to see the full product.
Students tackling the budget project may participate in certain mini lessons, especially during problem solving days. We want their expertise in our discussion, and we want them to practice the skills and explain their thinking in a variety of ways. With that being said, they will spend a good portion of their unit working independently on the project. We have the luxury of having two full time teachers, and a student teacher in our space. This gives us a lot of flexibility to work with a variety of small groups throughout our workshop block.

We are excited because it's wonderful to see the enthusiasm back in  our classroom. The students are thrilled to be gaining back some choice time, and tackling long term projects. They understand, though, that there are days we will pull them back to our mini lesson for multiple reasons. Maybe we feel they need more practice, maybe we need their voice in our discussion, or maybe we think they'll just have fun tackling the day's lesson/activities. We are also hoping to see them take this sort of open-ended project, and spark new ideas of their own! They always come up with better projects than we do!

The "Cake Pop" problem below is a perfect example of a problem-solving day that was beneficial for ALL learners. Only a handful of our students have background knowledge on multiplying decimals, but EVERY kid in our class could solve this problem using a variety of strategies we've learned in class. Some used ratio tables, some used the double-half strategy, some tore apart the dollar amounts and made the questions easier to solve, and some used the traditional algorithm for multiplying decimals (teaching them the traditional method will come within this unit, but we loved that the students pulled other strategies to solve instead of just saying, "I can't do this...". Our hearts were even happier when partners chose to solve the questions in multiple ways.
Katie & Evy solving their cake pop questions using the traditional algorithm. Another group setting up a ratio table to solve.

We are super excited to see our students jump into the "Planning For Your Future- a Personal Budget Project". This enrichment project has them exploring their future careers, as well as budgeting for life's everyday expenses. Students will find an apartment to rent and furnish the apartment, determine cost of additional living expenses each month, along with making a plan and shopping for healthy meals.  It's going to be an eye-opening experience for them. To check out the project, and try it in your classroom, visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out! We love hearing from you!

 ~ Kate

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sphero Golf!

Swanson Straits logo modified from Whistling Straits Golf Course.
If you have not explored Sphero Balls, today is the day to check them out! Sphero is a robotic ball that pairs with your iPad or Smartphone. Using a variety of apps, you can manipulate the ball's movement through coding, programming, or a simple finger swipe. I love Spheros because they are easy to use and content integration is totally accessible by teachers at all levels. Spheros emphasize the power of play in our classroom, something we're always looking for more of in our world!

We brought the joy of Sphero into our classroom today with another engaging collaboration day with Mike Mohammad and his BCHS students. Y'all may be tired of hearing about our days together, but we are definitely not tired of having fun together! Because of the size of our group (50 students) we decided to divide up the time together into two rotations.

ROTATION #1: SPHERO GOLF
Being a golf lover myself, this morning is definitely ranking up there as one of my favorites of the year!  Mike's students came to "Swanson Straits" a little early to turn our Library Media Center into a 10 hole mini golf course. Our 5th graders were divided into teams and spent the morning playing all 10 holes of golf with the Sphero balls. Even a few grown ups enjoyed "teeing off" and giving it a try. It is waaaay harder than it looks. The Sphero Golf app is fun because it allows you to choose your club, determine the distance needed, and then tee off. The kids didn't tell me that when I started playing, so I was using my putter for most of my hole....urrrghhh! I made up for it in future holes, don't worry! 



ROTATION #2: POLYGON NAVIGATION 
In addition to the mini golf, our students also explored the Lightning Lab app. This app allowed our 5th graders to program the Sphero ball to navigate around a series of polygons taped onto the floor of our Makerspace. As the students approached each shape, they had to use the app to program the Sphero to trace the edges of each polygon. Students quickly realized they had to adjust their team's programming, through trial and error, in order to correctly navigate the polygon path. They had to create roll combinations, including the direction, speed, and the number of seconds they wanted it to move. They had to repeat this for each edge of the polygon. This rotation was much more challenging for our students, but they practiced their perseverance and grit to work through the different polygons. 

Although we only dabbled with a few of the Sphero Apps this morning, there are ton of options out there for students. I know there are many more out there, but these looked fun to me. Feel free to comment below with other apps you've used in your classroom!Below is a list of apps your students may find enjoyable: 
  • Sphero
  • Sphero Lab
  • Sphero Golf
  • Lightning Lab
  • Sphero Draw N' Drive
  • Sphero Exile


What an incredibly fun morning! We can not tell you how much we value our collaboration days together. A HUGE THANK YOU to Mike and his students! No matter how much we rant and rave, they'll never realize how much we value this time together. Not only do we laugh and play and have ridiculous amounts of fun, these days spark an interest and curiosity in the minds of our 5th graders. Collaboration days introduce our students to passions they may not even realize they have. The enthusiasm in our space this morning was infectious, and none of us wanted the morning to end! We can't wait to bring our Sphero balls back out in our upcoming Geometry unit.

Until next time...

~ Kate

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Our Place In Space

So many people ask us about our room...where do kids put all their STUFF if you don't have desks? Where did you get your furniture? How do you manage the supplies of 50+ kiddos?? I'm hoping this blog post will answer a few of those questions.

Let's start with general room set up...Our room has a few "zones" of instruction. We have a "Large Group Meeting Area" that can hold all 50+ kids in front of a SMART board. We do have another SMART board on the opposite side of the space that all the kids can sit in front of, if needed, but it is a little "tight." We do also have 2 classroom libraries--one for fiction and one for nonfiction books. We also have smaller group work spaces, individual work spaces, a variety of seating choices, and lots of rugs! We have a "kid storage" side of the room, where kids can go into ANY cupboard or drawer to get things. We also have a "teacher storage" side of the room, where we house our things, and they have to ask permission go into. We have lots of kid-zones for storage, as well, which we will share below! Kids will often ask for other zones or for us to create new ones. From their input, we created a "quiet zone", as well as a "mindfulness zone" by utilizing hallway corners and landings outside our space. It is important to us that our students know their voice and needs MATTER in TEAM Togetherness. The space is THEIRS, and we want it to reflect that.

Within our "Large Group Meeting Area", we have our infamous "bar." Not going to lie...it is one of my favorite pieces of furniture. This "bar" can hold 10 kids around the back and 10 kids on the bench. We love it! It also has a white board table that we painted (an old round table, that we took the legs off of). It also has one set of our red "step" pieces that can hold about seven 5th graders. The "bar" and the "steps" we get asked about most often. We ordered them through Business Interiors by Staples. They served as the "middle man" between a bunch of different manufacturers. I know the bar was made by a company called "JSI" and was part of their "Connect Collection." Since we have purchased that, I know that there is a smaller, less expensive version that can be purchased through School Specialty (it has vinyl seats, and a shorter counter). Sadly, I cannot remember the name of the company that made the red step pieces, but they were also purchased from Business Interiors by Staples.
Here are our classroom libraries. Having the two separate ones really helps to keep books organized! I wrote an earlier blog post about how we basket/number/color code books. You can check that one out HERE. It also includes a link to the free basket labels we use! We love the "mini milk crates" that you can get at Target or Wal-Mart to house chapter books! We find the most success in getting them during "back to school "shopping time, as they often have them by the dorm room items. We usually get them for about $1 a piece. 
The "counter top" seating you see in the nonfiction library was a "recycled" piece of furniture we made. We had some solid wood bookcases (purchased from a rummage sale) and a co-worker was replacing her counter tops! We took a piece of her old counter top and secured it to the top of the bookcase! Voila! Instant seating! We love the multi-purpose-ness of this piece! Too often, many get hung up on "expensive" fancy furniture, when in reality, much of what we have in our room was garage sale or re-purposed items! The beautiful, green "Hand Chairs" that you see in the pictures were also a fantastic rummage sale find!

We also like to keep our room "tidy" and "organized" (hard to do with 50+ little bodies that might make it their secret mission to make a mess!) These are our "math bins." These are housed in a cabinet on the "kid storage" side of the world.  On the "Kid Storage" side...they have their math bins, math manipulatives, tissues, paper towels, ziploc bags, textbooks, loose leaf paper and indoor recess games!
The image links to Wal-Mart, which is where we purchased our original "blue bins" 4 years ago. I don't think they make this exact model anymore, but this one is close. These bins hold a personal white board, marker, eraser, math zippered pouch (calculator, protractor), their math notebooks, and the district-purchased math journals that are tied to our Bridges Math curriculum. Some kids also house their scissors here, some Sharpies, highlighters, etc. We stuck a "binder label pocket" to the front of them, then slid a label in. This allowed us to change names in and out very freely! We also use these same pockets on our book bins! Here is a link to the adhesive pockets we purchased! They come in SOOOO handy!

Speaking of book bins....We have two spots in our room to house the book bins. This helps when 50+ kids are trying to get to them all at once (prevents accidents :) These are simple "magazine boxes" that are from DEMCO. Here is a link to a similar product. Again, those binder pockets come in really handy! They come in lots of sizes, so you can definitely find one that fits your needs!
We also use these amazing drawers as "mailboxes." In these mailboxes, kids keep their "home folder" (Which goes to and from school every day), their "stay at school folder" (which houses any loose papers they NEED to keep safe and here at school), their word work notebooks, any special pencils, and their flash drives. You can purchase these from all sorts of places, but the most reasonably priced ones that we found were from Sam's Club. Here is a link to their site. They can get pretty pricey if you buy them from other locations!
We also utilize a lot of "community supplies" in our space. We have small, plastic shoe boxes (purchased from the Dollar Store) to house general things. We also have some great "fish bowls" that we got from a K-Mart that was going out of business near by. We got them for only $10 (they used to hold Chapsticks and hair ties in the beauty department, I think?) We also got the white "double carts" to house some of our general math supplies from Amazon (link to exact carts). It is great to have supplies in multiple parts of your room, so kids can always grab what they need. We also have MANY pencil cups throughout the room holding pencils and erasers (I swear, they must EAT pencils for breakfast on some days!!)
Besides covering 4 tables in our space with white board paint (A tutorial can be found in THIS BLOG POST), we also re-purposed old art room stools. So many schools have these gems hiding in storage rooms somewhere. We got a few cans of Rustoleum Glossy spray paint (for about $4 a can) and voila! You have colorful seating options that are very easy to move where you need them!
One of the first pieces of furniture that we actually purchased during our first year was a vinyl futon! We wanted "couches" in our space, but wanted them at an affordable price AND cleanable! We now have 2 of these beauties and they are still in use...4 years later! They get daily use, to say the least! Since we have had them for so long, I don't think they make our "model" anymore. Here is a LINK to a similar version. I think we paid about $130 for each of ours at the time.
We do also have a "teacher zone." We are rarely sitting here throughout the day, so it typically becomes a "dumping ground" for our papers, books, etc. When we ARE sitting there (outside of lunch or prep), kids are usually there with us. We use it as a getaway to confer with kids quietly/privately.
I think that covers most of the "zones" in our space. What storage tools have you found to be helpful? Any tips and tricks for us? We are always looking for new ways to rethink our environment!

Happy Teaching!

~Angela

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Amazing Race Across the United States

Okay, so this blog post is long overdue...I am almost embarrassed to be posting this months later, but better late than never. Although Angela and I won't be tackling the Regions of the United States this year, we know many of you may be, so hopefully you'll find this post informational.

During our summer co-planning meeting, our 4th grade team was trying to come up with a creative way to teach the Regions of the United States. We had quickly brainstormed ideas, but with the start of school, and all that comes with that, our enthusiasm and ideas fell by the wayside. Then, last December (yes, over a year ago...shhhh), I met with Drew & Laurie, two incredible teachers from a neighboring school district. They agreed to jump into my "crazy pool" and look for ways to bring interaction and fun into an upcoming Social Studies unit. In the past, teaching the Regions of the States, states and capitals, along with other general information about each area of our country, has been rather dry and boring. Our goal was to enjoy a warm cup of a coffee at a cozy cafe and plan an engaging and meaningful inquiry unit for the Regions of the United States. It was then that the ideas for the Amazing Race Across the United States was born.

We spent that initial morning hashing out a few clues, creating collaborative docs and brainstorming next steps. With the caffeine flowing, we surprisingly got quite a bit accomplished. We continued to work together, from afar, and by the end of April we were ready to tackle the Amazing Race with our students. We had hopes of having our students compete against each other, but with timing, field trips, and everything else that happens at the end of the year, that didn't happen. What did happen was a lot of laughter & learning! 

The Amazing Race Across the United States is a fun and interactive way for your students to explore the Regions of the United States. Our students had a blast RACING across the United States using this fun inquiry project
We introduced our students to Google Maps, and they used Maps to track their journey across the states. Within Google Maps, they collaborated with their group to insert images and generate newly learned information about each Pit Stop Road Clue. As the groups worked through the tourist attraction Pit Stops, Angela and I bombarded them with Detours and Road Blocks. They bundled up and made hallway "snow angels" during a Nor'eastern blizzard and "Gator Chomped" our assistant principal while visiting the Everglades. They crab walked their way down the coast of Maine and "hula hooped" through Tornado Alley. 

It was a great way to add inquiry, student voice and choice, and self-pacing to a formerly dull unit. The project encouraged collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking skills, as the students “RACED” with their team across the United States of America to learn more about our “AMAZING” country!





If you're interested, check out our product in our Teachers Pay Teachers store! If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to email!

~ Kate

Friday, October 14, 2016

Makey Makey Exploration: Collaboration Day #1



It's hard to believe it is already the middle of October. It seems like just yesterday, that the incredible Mike Mohammad and I were spending an August afternoon at Panera, planning out the upcoming year's collaboration days. I think we would both agree that these days are some of the best days of the year, and we were going to head into the school year with multiple days in the books. As we booted up our computers and nibbled on our lunch, we started to talk about how the 5th grade curriculum and his physics curriculum could overlap. We shared thoughts about how the expertise of him, and his high schoolers, could support the learning going on at Swanson. Some of our units aligned beautifully...others not so much. During our short lunch time together, we were quick to realize that with or without alignment, collaboration days were going to take place- several of them!

Like usual, Mike is always on his A-game. He's ridiculously intelligent, highly creative, fun, and organized. Plus, he always makes Angela and I feel like rock stars...honestly, it's quite humbling. At the end of last week, he sent me an email reminding me of the upcoming days together and the expectations he had for his learners. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little intimidated and freaked out. I knew our students would be exploring Scratch...that didn't worry me so much, we've done coding in our learning environment, and our 5th graders are pretty savvy in that department. I can even hold my own if needs be. What worried me a bit were the boxes of Makey Makeys that I had yet to unpack. I had seen them in action before, knew the premise behind how they worked, definitely knew the kids would love programming them and exploring. The problem was I didn't have the first clue as to what to do with them. Mike, being the gracious gentleman that he is, reassured Angela and I that we would be just fine. I put my trust in him and took another sip of my morning latte.


Well, today was Collboration Day #1. As the morning bell rang, 25+ juniors and seniors walked through the doors of our classroom. Did I mention they're really big? They smiled at the 5th graders, and quickly made themselves comfortable on the couches around the room. I loved it. Every minute of it. The enthusiasm and excitement in TEAM Togetherness was contagious. Our 5th graders L.O.V.E. our collaboration days. They can't wait for them! Quite frankly, so do the grown ups! Within seconds, I quickly recognized several familiar faces...faces that took me back 7+ years in my teaching career. In the faces of those 6 foot tall giants were my former 4th and 5th graders. It's amazing to me that in those moments, names can still slip off your tongue. Kennedy! Tyler! Nick! Breanne! Regie! I can look at them, all grown up, and see them as a 10 year old. Besides the amazing interaction with my current students, seeing my former students several years later, on the cusp of their adult life, is so incredibly rewarding. I called them by name, was quick to hug (and probably embarrass) them, and then proceeded to find their school picture from way back when...not sure if they love or hate those moments, but honestly it doesn't matter.

After a quick trip down memory lane, the students were organized into groups and the "bigs" shared the Makey Makey creations they had brought from BCHS. Our 5th graders had the opportunity to check out the programming and play, knowing that in no time they, too, would be creating alongside these high school kids. Angela and I could NOT believe that we had 75+ students in our room. The room was relatively quiet. The loudest ones in the room were her and I...surprise, surprise! Our students were enthralled and hanging on every word that those big kids said. Initially they were a little shy, but in no time, they were digging in and knee deep in FUN!

After seeing what the big kids could do, we pushed their creations aside and dug into Scratch. Many of our students have used Scratch before during coding, but they loved the pointers from the high school friends and soaked up the attention. Realizing that we could offer little to no support in this department, Angela and I instantly felt the need to try to control something. You give up a lot of control when you teach in a PL environment. That is actually something we are completely okay with. Typically though, we know deep down, that if necessary we can jump in to offer help and support. This morning, that was not the case. This was one of those moments in our learning environment when our students are more knowledgeable in a subject area than we are. This is a very gratifying moment for a teacher...we usually love it. Today, though, with almost 100 kids in our room, we felt the need to control something. So, we quickly turned to the one thing we can always control- organization. We had to organize something...anything. This time, it was the Makey Makey boxes. By labeling boxes and bags, I was reassuring myself that my 5th graders would be able to crack open the contents and WOW us with their creations. Once everyone was feeling good and ready, each partnership picked up a brand spanking new Makey Makey (in it's appropriately labeled bag) to get to work.

Within seconds, the boxes were torn open, the contents were dumped, and the students were at work. Before you knew it, we heard drums drumming, cows mooing, and even a "TEAM Togetherness Rocks!" coming from all corners of the room. The kids were quickly searching for cardboard, bananas, water, gummy worms, candy, aluminum foil, cups, anything and every thing you could think of to invent something. That was the moment we exhaled and realized it was all going to be okay. Our High School Super Heroes swept in and saved the day...they read the challenge off the board and helped the kids code, program, and create. Mike, Angela, and I just sat back and took it all in. It was another amazingly wonderful morning!

In the blink of an eye, it was 11am and our high school friends had to make their way back to Brookfield Central. We sent them off with HUGE thank yous, knowing they'd be back at Swanson in less than a week so our kids could show off their creations. Our room was buzzing and our students were all smiles as they cleaned up their inventions and organized their supplies into bags. I know they are going to be super excited on Monday when they get to dive back into their Makey Makey creations.


   

 This is Zach's way of saying he's in heaven :) This video pretty much sums up how we were all feeling today! Somehow it got left out of the movie, I had to include it in the post! 

Thank you, Mike, for another incredible day of collaboration. Angela and I are so fortunate to have you in our personal learning network. You push us to think outside of the box, and you help us grow in our practice in ways you'll never realize. Can't wait to see you guys next Thursday.

Next up...Sphero Ball Mini Golf!

~ Kate