What Good Learning Looks and Sounds Like

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”
John Dewey

“Give me liberty or give me death” proclaimed a Patriot this morning at our fourth grade debate. The students in our fourth grade classes have been intensely and feverishly preparing for their debates, this class specifically on the merits of diplomacy.

For the past several weeks the students have been learning about the causes of the American Revolutionary War. They were randomly placed on sides of either Whigs or Tories, Patriots or Loyalists and spies were assigned. Lines were drawn -literally drawn down the middle of the room) and so began the immersion in the learning. There was not a teacher reading from a text book nor students regurgitating information. This was a classroom transformed by the chronicle of events to the point that they became these historical characters.

This morning the children shared their learning and understanding of the causes of the Revolution as they debated their side of the argument. Each student argued their point as if they themselves had been alive during those years. The students were not just reading from a script that each had written, they knew their argument because they lived and breathed it these last few weeks.

To say that they did a tremendous job and that they understood the curricular content to be able to take on the role so perfectly is an understatement. It is what good learning looks like; what good learning should look like.


Half Full or Half Empty: A Look Back on the Year

 It’s May so it makes sense to look back on the school year to  reflect and assess how things have gone with the change in my job from specialist to integrator. We have had the Mac laptops for a year (we got 1 cart last April, 5 more last summer), the teachers have all had theirs for a year, the students have had access for almost the whole school year at this point so it’s a good time to see what we have done. And of course, it’s also a good time to see what there is still left to do, hence-half empty.


  1. Teachers are comfortable with their Macbooks
  2. Teachers and students are using the laptops everyday for something, whether it is a visit to First in Math, Spelling City or an application like Pixie, the teachers and the students are using technology in some way.
  3. Some first grade students are blogging
  4. Many fourth grade students are blogging
  5. Fifth grade students are blogging (this is not new but still . . )
  6. We have made connections to other classes through blogs, skyping and Mystery Skype
  7. A third grade class skyped with a Veteran for Veteran’s Day and also shared their biography museum with a class in California
  8. A first grade class has tweeted about and shared pictures of their Painted Lady butterflies and has received comments from  other first grade classes in other schools
  9. Second grade students have shared their love of and improvement in reading through podcasting
  10. Many students are creating and sharing their work with others
  11. Teachers are beginning to think about ways to integrate the technology in purposeful, natural ways
With that being said, there is still more work that needs to be done:
  1. I would like all students and teachers to be blogging about their work, their reflections and their wonderings
  2. Meetings for brainstorming and sharing need to be a priority and I need to make it happen more often
  3. Though I met with many teachers and went in to many classrooms regularly, there were some that I did not go in very often, or much at all and that is something I would like to change, even if it is just to check in to see what is happening
  4. I would like to see more classes collaborating with others via skype and making connections with other classes
  5. I would like all students to be creating and sharing their work with others, creating a lasting legacy of their learning
Yes, much has been accomplished this year, but there is still so much to do.
So what do you think- half full or half empty?

photo credit: jenny downing via photo pin

Why Creativity and Passion Matter

We recently finished independent research projects in one of the fourth grade classrooms. You can read about that in this post. The teacher and I wanted to hear what the children thought of the process and the opportunity to explore a topic of their own choosing. As the teachers, we know what we thought about the process but we wanted to hear form them. Here are some of their responses:

I enjoyed the fact that other people would be reading my work. I like the feeling of getting other people excited about the next section of the story. I always enjoyed writing, but when I blog I get detailed feed back on my story, and sometimes the readers know more about the topic than I do! They can comment and tell me all of their knowledge, for the story and for the topic.

 I loved this project and bloging. I can’t wait for the next time we can do an IRP again. I think this is a great learning project. It’s great to focus on one topic that really interests you.

I love feeling like a real writer

It allowed me to show my creative side through things that I like a lot. 

Because it allows me to have some time to do things I like.

I liked that you could chose what you wanted to learn about.

That you got to learn about everyones when they presented it.

Set Godin, in his manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams writes,

“We can amplify each kid’s natural inclination to dream, we can inculcate passion in a new generation, and we can give kids the tools to learn more, and faster, in a way that’s never been seen before.”

As you can read from the students’ responses to the project, if given the time during the school week, the freedom to choose their own learning and the chance to pursue a passion, they can rise to the occasion and go beyond the status quo.

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc


Pink Sherbet Photography

One of the fourth grade teachers and I decided a couple of months ago to let her students have some independent research time so they could follow their passion and learn about whatever they wanted. The students were really excited about the idea of being able to choose whatever interested them and have time to seek out the information.

The teacher was also excited but a little hesitant about what we would actually get from the kids-would they really use their time to learn information, are they just playing?

We started by introducing the idea to the kids who immediately began percolating with possible topics. Here are their topics:

  1. Our resident artist chose to learn more about Picasso
  2. Our gamers chose to learn more about game design
  3. Our animal lovers chose to further their knowledge of the animals they love-big cats and turtles
  4. Our fashionista chose to learn more about an area designer Tory Burch
  5. Our class baker wanted to learn more about cake design
  6. Our class astronomer wanted to learn more about the planets
  7. Our writers wanted to spend more time writing so they began writing blogs

During their independent research time the students were researching, reading, emailing and skyping with experts in their field. Each time we were able to connect the students with a real person they were so excited to actually be in touch with people who could help tell them what it as really like to follow their passion!

Yesterday the students started to share their research with us and the teacher and I have been so impressed and inspired by what we are seeing. Our game designers went first. A group of four boys and one girl researched online and skyped with a game design class in California to learn about the program they used. These students then went on to create their own games.

The other students in the class were so inspired and motivated by what they saw that they are already thinking about what they are going to do the next time around!

Why did I spend 340 words telling you all this you wonder? A few reasons:

  1. This teacher took a risk with her class allowing them to have this time to follow their interests
  2. The students showed that if they were allowed, they could do so much
  3. There is value in allowing students to follow their passion
  4. Finally, and to me most importantly, these students are excited about learning and can’t wait to do it again! Need I say more?

Have you tried this with your class? How did it work? Would you do it again?

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

Fun With Fourth Grade

Fresh Idea by jscreationzs

I have been spending a lot of time in one of the fourth grade classes. The teacher and I have a nice relationship and she and I have fun working together. The great thing about this teacher is her willingness to try new things and take risks. This is a teacher who has been teaching for many years, knows what she knows and is not afraid to admit what she she doesn’t. So, she and I spend time in her class trying out new things together. We are currently preparing for a Mystery Skype call so we wanted the children to compile a list of facts about our state so they would be ready to answer the other class’s questions. Fortunately the class just completed their study of our state so the skype call will be a great way to purposefully use what they learned and do it in a fun way. We were going to have them just create a Word document and then merge the contents but at the last minute I thought, “let’s try using a backchannel.” Since the teacher and I have that kind of relationship, she said to go ahead and do it (not knowing what I was really talking about). I set up a Today’s Meet room for our facts, showed the kids how it works and they were off and running. The facts were quickly popping up and the kids were excited to see their classmates ideas in real time. I sprinkled in a few reminders and suggestions along the way and the kids responded to these. By the time we were finished we had quite a list. At that point we took the facts and tried to see which ones were useful in narrowing down our location on a map since those are the type of questions we will probably be answering. We printed out our transcript so she could take a closer look at which students were participating, what facts they each added to our list, etc.

What we saw from this activity is how much the students remember and also how easily the kids were able to jump into trying out this tool. The teacher and I immediately talked about other ways she could use this site and she is excited to try it with the Thomas Jefferson movie she shows.

Why this kind of relationship works is because she and I are able to brainstorm together, we are able to laugh and she is able to let go of hesitation and try something new.

Image Credit