In my last blog, I wrote about my ambitions for the remainder of our school year. We finish school the third week in June so, as of this writing, I have 4 weeks left. While those four weeks will be filled with assemblies, visits to the middle school, field day and flag day events, and graduation, we still have plenty of time in class to accomplish some of our goals. But first I'd like to think back through the year.
The year started with a bang. During the summer, we had all spent time "training" for our new APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) plan. We had been talking about APPR all last year and now, this year, we were going to be evaluated based largely on state test scores. As you can imagine, this made preparing for tests even more important than before.
So what did I do? I decided to have a year spent working on more projects, giving students more autonomy, making more connections, and having more fun. Call me a rebel but I decided to actually teach. And it was a rousing success.
September/October/November - I began with a geography project on Natural Disasters. I enlisted Donna Roman to join in and she and I planned, coordinated, and worked with our students to learn about how different parts of the world handle natural disasters. This project was so successful, that we won 1st place in the ISTE Sigol Online Learning Award 2013. Of course, having a massive hurricane in the middle of the project didn't hurt. LOLHurricane Sandy did major damage to Long Island. We were out of school for 10 days. Many of my students had no electricity during those days, our partners in Illinois worried about us and then collected money to help out. When streets were finally cleared, power returned, and schools reopened, we had about a week before we were hit with a massive snow storm. We got dumped with 30 inches of snow. More power outages, more street closures, more school closings.
But through it all, we blogged our Hopes and Dreams for the year, connected with our friends in Illinois, Skyped with an earthquake survivor in Costa Rica, had our first Mystery Skype call of the year, read Moon Over Manifest and Sign of the Beaver, fell in love with writing and reading, and held Morning Meetings to help us learn how to treat each other. And, of course, we carefully followed the election coverage, keeping a list of "facts" we heard about each candidate, and proving or disproving each one as they came.
December/January - In December, we had our first Mystery Skype Call out of our Western Hemisphere. The children skyped with Emily Roth's class in Abu Dhabi. We also started our government unit, working on a project with our student teacher.
We also joined in the Save our Rhinos project, which took on a world of its own. We wrote persuasive essays to political leaders to help stop poaching, made batik pillows in art, and held a bake sale where we raised over $1000 for the cause. It seemed that everywhere we looked, we were faced with poaching issues. Time for Kids, test prep material, a new television series on Discovery. It never ended. And we coordinated our efforts with a group of teachers also working in the project. We started with a Mystery Skype call to Robyn Theissen in Vancouver, who revealed to us that she also was participating in the project, after we discovered where they were on the map. We eventually held a Google Hangout with over five classes and the Save Our Rhino leader to discuss the situation.
February/March - February brought extra days due to losing our February break. We used those days to complete our science unit on light, begin our Holocaust unit, brought on by a student passing around a book on the Holocaust, and finish up our fantasy unit with comments to the VoiceThread we shared with Mrs. Roman on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. March came in like a lion, with cold weather and near-panic in the school about tests coming up. We just kept reading and writing about the government, rhinos, the Holocaust, and, now, Westward Expansion. Test prep was in real time.
April/May - We started Global Genius Hour, with students researching how to train therapy dogs, why pitching mounds are different heights for different ages, how to program in html, and how to create a heat-seeking robot to find people buried under rubble. We learned about the Industrial Revolution, the start of unions in our country, and the similarities to changes occurring in our government then and what is happening in Bangladesh's textile industry today. We finished those presentations and have moved onto the Civil War. We also began the Mysteries of Harris Burdick writing project with our partners in Illinois. We love working with them.
May/June - We will end the year with the completion of our last read aloud, Wonderstruck. We are creating videos about the Denton Dynamos and what makes us unique. Recording should begin this week. We will continue to work on our Genius Hour projects and our Civil War projects, hopefully finishing the Civil War before the school year ends. We will continue to read and write each day, learn about how math is used in the real world, keep track of current events and what is happening in the world, follow weather patterns and practice compassion.
And how did they do on the tests? Just fine. They did the same as other fifth grade classes, showed great improvement in running records and MAPS scores from September to now, and should make their parents and administration very happy. And what did they learn? School and learning is challenging and fun, working with others is helpful and difficult, and the Denton Dynamos class is a great class to be in!