All posts by Chris

3rd / 4th Grade Teacher at Summers-Knoll

Lake Erie . Crafting Excellence . Compost

This week the class traveled to the Lake Erie Metropark Marina to study Lake Erie, the body of water that the Huron River empties into. When we think about the health of our water it’s important to think about the bodies of water and communities both up river and down river from us.

The boat took us out on Lake Erie where students measured the surface temperature and carbon dioxide levels of the water with an eye towards what these can tell us about the health of the lake. They also explored the bottom of the lake with an underwater camera. Plankton was also a focus as it makes up an essential aspect of the ecosystem.
Using maps and other navigational charts the students explored the way the captain navigates the waters and the importance of rainfall in the Great Lakes Basin and the environmental impact that too little can have on the ecosystem.
We also began to think about how to build excellence and the role of critique and review in that process. We reviewed what excellence meant to us and then watched a video as a first-grade child drafted and revised a drawing of a butterfly. The kids noted the incremental improvements, the ways and kinds of feedback given, and what would take each draft closer to excellence.
The student ended up making six drafts of the piece and the difference between the first and last was astonishing. When discussing why the teacher didn’t just accept the second draft, given that improvements were made, students in our class had thoughtful responses. A few offered the idea that to accept the second draft as the final would be like “giving up” on the student and not helping them achieve their full potential.
Finally, a huge thank you to Mark (Max’s dad) for helping us repair the lid for the compost bin.  We are looking forward to composting our food scraps and helping build soil.

Argo Cascades . The Water Cycle . Great Lakes . Pascal’s Triangle

We began the week on the Huron River, specifically the Argo Cascades. The class, along with extra chaperones (Thanks, Dan and Jenna!) rented tubes and enjoyed a gorgeous day in the sun. For many, it was their first experience there and most left adamant about bringing their families back. In the coming weeks, we will be looking into the history of the cascades and how economic and environmental concerns inform land use decisions. The trip was a joyous one as well and was designed with the hope of building positive connections between the students and the river. This will make our work with the river more meaningful beyond an abstract appreciation.

In connection with this work and in preparation for our trip to Lake Erie next week, the students looked at some of the issues affecting the Great Lakes. One is invasive species and the other is land use, specifically, development that fails to account for the ecosystem services provided by wetlands.
We also created water recycling systems to study the water cycle. After filling cups of water, the students placed these in sealed plastic bags and taped these to the windows. We’ve been observing and making notes of the condensation and precipitation.
In math, we continued our work in Singapore with some students working on the long division algorithm and others making the transition from using repeated addition to the multiplication algorithm. We also focused on math as a pattern finding activity, focusing on Pascal’s Triangle. The students, individually or in groups, observed patterns and made predictions.

Identity . Water . The Little Prince . Mathematical Reasoning

This week we worked on writing prompts as a way to connect with aspects of our identity and what matters to us. They included creating a list of rules for being us at this age, describing moments when we were happiest and imagining our lives as a video game and ascribing points to the things that bring us joy, whether that was based on experiences or overcoming obstacles. We will channel these into our work on our 6 Word Memoirs.

In Science, we began our exploration of water by examining our ideas about the distribution of water on Earth. The students estimated the percentage of water found in the following:
  1. Oceans
  2. Ice Caps and Glaciers
  3. Groundwater
  4. Rivers, Lakes and Streams
  5. The Atmosphere
They then worked in groups to represent their mental models visually by taking a cup of water and distributing amongst cups representing the categories above. After doing so, the students also distinguished between water we can drink and water we can’t.
When Michelle and I revealed the actual distribution cries of shock and disbelief rang out especially when seeing how little of the Earth’s water was drinkable. This helped illustrate how precious of a resource our drinking water is and the importance of protecting it.
We continued reading The Little Prince focusing on the different reading roles that the students will be taking on as they read. These include the following:
  • Reporter – Summarizing
  • Profiler – Character Analysis
  • Curator – Finding Interesting or Confusing Words or Phrases
  • Detective – Asking Questions and Making Connections
This work will help them continue to develop their skills as readers. We will also be collaborating with Imogen on our work with The Little Prince with more details to follow.
In math, we continued our Singapore work as well as multiplication facts. Fact automaticity is practiced by learning to recognize patterns and ways to use facts they know to figure out ones they don’t. We also practice in groups naming facts, trying to get as many in a row as possible. The students always get a chance to practice being successful with the ones they miss. We also discussed the Commutative Property as it relates to multiplication and how it reduces the number of facts they have to practice.
The students also took on a series of folding challenges with origami paper. They were asked to create squares and triangles of various sizes (fractions of a whole) as well as different orientations. The two triangles folded couldn’t be congruent. The other important piece was that students had to convince each other that they had actually satisfied the challenge. For example, when asked to make a square 1/4 the size of the original, the students had to describe what made it a square and what made it 1/4 the size of the original. This allowed them to practice making arguments using mathematical reasoning.

Conflict Resolution . 6 Word Memoirs . The Little Prince . Visual Thinking in Mathematics

This week we began our work around peacebuilding and conflict resolution. This involved digging into the definition of conflict and our relationships with it. We listened to words associated with conflict and what it meant to us and then clapped, snapped or refrained to demonstrate our connection. As many students observed, negative words received the strongest connection. “Normal” was observed to be oddly silent.
Students then used these words to define “conflict.” Many focused on the negative words while some also shared a different perspective, focusing on the way conflict can lead to growth and new understandings.
We also began looking at 6 Word Memoirs, in connection with our exploration of identity. The students used a See-Think-Wonder Routine to describe what the noticed, what it made them think they knew about the author, what connections they made and what questions they would ask. From here, we began to craft short stories around these initial offerings.
To follow, students will then compose short stories around their own identities and then finally, an illustrated 6 Word Memoir.
Also connecting with the theme of identity, we began reading The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Before reading we spoke about the benefits offered by returning to a book as some students were already familiar with the story. We talked about how we might notice things that we missed the first time and how since we are changing over time, the book might take on different meanings to us.
The author dedication also offered an opportunity for discussion as it was dedicated to a close friend, as he was as a child. While reading this and the first chapter, students noted what it means for a child to grow up and forget what it feels like to be a child, losing a child-like spirit and adopting a more serious tone about things.
In math, we continued our Singapore work. Some worked on long division, using base 10 blocks to explore the algorithm in a concrete way. Others used fraction blocks when working on problems involving parts and wholes.

We also thought about the importance of visual representations in math using a series of patterns that represented the numbers 1 – 28. Students identified the numbers and then made connections between numbers through repetitions of patterns in numbers. They also did a gallery walk, observing the connections others made based on how they marked up their work. This activity is good for reinforcing the visual aspect of mathematical thinking as well as an introduction into factors and multiples which they will work on in greater depth later on.

Our First Week Back

Happy First Week of School! This week we spent time settling in and getting to know each other and our space. We began with a game called The Great Wind Blows which helped us learn more about our interests. Academically speaking, the students have been reading independently daily while I conducted informal reading assessments.

Academically speaking, the students have been reading independently daily while I conducted informal reading assessments.

In math, students have worked on Singapore Math Assessments as well as their Singapore Math books. We also played the math game Four 4s which challenges students to find numbers 1 – 20 using only four 4’s and any operation (ignoring the Order of operations which comes later.)
The beauty of this game is that students can begin by simply playing with combinations to see what they come up with. As they did, we began to make observations of patterns we noticed. For example, we looked at the instances where our solutions were greater than 20. What we found was that the last operation in all of these was multiplication. We then concluded that if we were going to use multiplication, we should use it towards the beginning and not the end.
The students have also spent ample time playing games together (Zeus on the Loose, Mille Bornes, and Rope Escape) as well as creating games together. We have also spent time outside during recess where kids have explored, discovered a skeleton and looked for clues as to what happened, as well as other imaginative play. These have provided ample opportunities for communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution. This time together has been essential as we work towards building a classroom. The building of these connections helps students feel safe enough to engage with content and take academic risks.

Ypsi-Arbor Forest Project

Much of our work, as of late, has been focused on the Ypsi-Arbor Student Forest Project. The work is a collaboration with We Are The Forest, a local non-profit that focuses on education and reforestation and students from Ypsilanti New Tech High School.

The project takes a bioregional approach to understanding the Ypsi-Arbor Corridor and focuses on the shared green spaces and watershed. One goal of the project is to create new connections with and tell new stories about the Ypsi-Arbor Corridor. They will be documenting these stories and sharing them with the broader community through interactive story maps. The other goal is to complete two green infrastructure projects on their respective campuses using trees and the ecosystem services they provide to improve air and water quality as well as provide energy savings.

Together we will learn more about the importance of trees and forests to ecosystems, study the history of our local area, and plant trees on our respective campuses.

Our class began the project by traveling to Ypsilanti New Tech High School where we learned more about some of the challenges the school faces regarding flooding on campus and the different trees they have planted so far to improve storm water management and provide energy savings to the school.

After the presentations and a walking tour of part of the grounds, we were invited to play Capture the Flag in the beautiful forest on their property.

We also invited the students to join us on our campus to share the work we’ve been doing. Part of this work included designing a game that highlighted the different relationships in a healthy forestial ecosystem. Working through the design process (Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Play/Test) we defined the elements of our game and games in general. After identifying key ideas, goals, core mechanics and materials, we play/tested, revising based on our experiences.

The current version of the game, Ecosystem Infection (working title) pits native and invasive trees against each other as they work with mycelium to accumulate nutrients and establish themselves in their respective zones.

After sharing some of the key ideas with the students from Ypsilanti New Tech High School, we invited them to play the game. While some played, others helped us mark invasive species that we will clear before planting more native trees at the end of the project.

Later in the week, we joined our Ypsilanti New Tech friends, as well as Nate Ayers (We Are the Forest), Jason Hogans, and local historian Matt Siegfried for a “Surthrival Course” at County Farm Park.  We began with an introduction by Matt on the history of County Farm Park and Washtenaw Avenue, how the land has been used over time and how the changes reflected changes in societal values.

Nate showed us how to use common plastic bags that can, unfortunately, be found all over to build a solar water still to collect water in case of emergency. Taking advantage of the condensation that happens overnight, we learned how to set up the bag to collect this water and save it for later use (after boiling.)

Jason Hogans, who specializes in primitive survival techniques and is a musician shared some of his history and the ways that he uses nature as both an influence and actual samples in his music. He then helped us build shelters using large and small branches as well as leaves and bark that would be useful should we find ourselves in the woods overnight.

After shelter building, we spent time with Jason learning how to build fires using common plants and other materials that could be found in the area.

We capped it off with hot dogs (both beef and vegetarian) and fresh smoothies with mint found in the area.

As the day drew to a close, we left with new perspectives on the ways we can interact with the natural spaces that surround us.

OOEL . Ann Arbor Water Treatment and Barton Dam . River Crossing Riddle

This week, the students continued their work in the Out of Eden Learn Project. One group is focusing on connecting their own lives to the past. Part of this work included reading a dispatch from Paul Salopek titled The Natural History of Kindness which addresses some of the social theories about how and why ‘kindness’ evolved. Reflecting on this and other aspects of our shared human history can help us understand or think differently about our lives. The next part of their work will involve them looking to specific ways their lives are connected to our shared human past.

The other Out of Eden Learn group will be focusing on documenting an aspect of their everyday lives and sharing it with their walking party. When viewed from the perspective of others, the small moments we take for granted can take on a new life.

We also visited the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant and Barton Dam (Hydroelectric) continuing our exploration of water and electricity and the relationship between the two.

In math, we continued our work in Singapore math including rounding, factors, multiples and double digit multiplication among other topics. We also managed to find a few different ways to safely transport the wildebeests and lions across the river to safety, solving the logic puzzle from last week.

Out of Eden Learn . Thinking about Thinking . Morning Meeting . Logic Puzzles

This week both first years and second years continued their respective work with the Out of Eden Learn Project. The first years dug deeper into the way Paul Salopek has captured glimpses into the moments of the lives of those he has encountered along his journey. Together we looked at his dispatch from the Prophet’s Mosque in Saudia Arabia which occurred during the month of Ramadan. We shared what we noticed, appreciated and wondered about or connected with.

Some struggled with how to approach the work at first which led to some exploration of metacognition (ways to think about our own thinking.) One approach to building understanding that we use in the class is based on the work of Derek Cabrera and involves the following:

Distinctions, Systems, Relationships and Perspectives

When we use these lenses to think about a problem, concept or story, we are able to find different concrete ways to frame our thinking and make connections within and across our areas of study.
The class presented during our Friday Morning Meeting, sharing their work with aquaponics, Out of Eden Learn, and the book we just finished reading as a class, A Wild Ride through the Night.
In math, some of the students continued their work with long division, area/perimeter and fractions while others worked on factors and multiples. We also worked individually and in groups on solving a logic puzzle that involved making sure both lions and wildebeests crossed a river to escape a forest fire that destroyed their home. The key to making it across was transporting the animals in such a way so as that there were never more lions than wildebeests on land or the raft. Under those circumstances, the lions would eat the wildebeests.
What made the work so interesting wasn’t just the different solutions that the students proposed. It was also their approaches. Some worked the puzzle out in their heads. Others sketched it out while still, others made small paper representations so they could act out their strategies and find the most successful one. It was a great reminder of the different ways we, as learners, make sense of the world.

Expert Eyes . Grandfriends’ Day . County Farm Park – Ecosystem Restoration . Aquaponics . Odyssey . Computer Programming

Our Expert Eyes walks continued with one led by Ed Feng, with a focus on mathematics around our grounds. He shared with us how he develops algorithms to rank the strength of college football teams and why the home team receives +3 points just for playing at home (Hint: It’s the referees.) After noticing the students practicing archery, Ed shared his understanding of statistics and helped us think about the odds of shooting our arrows inside and outside of the target under certain conditions.

We also welcomed families and friends into the school for Grandfriends’ Day. After gathering in the atrium for a performance from the choir, we set to work on a murder mystery activity created by Clara, a 4th-grader in our class. After learning about the various suspects, we had to carefully eliminate some based on clues she gave us and identify the guilty party.

Working together, grandfriends and students created maps that represented the neighborhoods that the grandfriends grew up in. The grandfriends then shared stories about their childhoods with the maps as visual aids. We were fortunate to be able to share their stories and learn more about their lives when they were younger.

We spent some time across the street with County Farm Park Naturalist, Shawn Severance where we helped clear out some invasive species, including honeysuckle and buckthorn. Our work there is part of an ongoing ecosystem restoration project to encourage more native plant growth in the park.

Our Odyssey collaboration with Imogen continued with homeroom time being devoted to both blocking and scriptwriting for the upcoming performance.

In math, in addition to their work in Singapore Math, students were introduced to some computer programming activities where they had to use blocks or lines of code to complete different challenges.

Nature’s Recyclers . Expert Eyes . Spelling . Pascal’s Triangle

This week, we welcomed MacKenzie from The Ecology Center into our class for Nature’s Recyclers, a workshop focused on understanding waste streams in our city and the effect composting has on the overall system. With magnifying glasses in hand, we dug through a sample of soil to find some of the invertebrates involved in the process, including worms, pillbugs, and slugs. Moving forward, we will be restarting our compost program, and using our kitchen waste and leaves to improve our soil.

Our Expert Eyes walks continued as we welcomed Theresa Angelini from Angelini and Associates to the class. She, along with others in her firm, was responsible for many of the renovations that transformed our building into the school it is today. Together we examined blueprints of the school in various stages of its evolution and talked about some of the things that the firm considered including colors, angles of walls, plumbing, and carpet. How people move through and feel in the space were themes that continued throughout the conversation.
Hearing how Theresa thought about and experienced the space helped reveal some of the hidden details that shape our own experience. One thing to notice next time you enter the building is the placement of the wall you see upon entering. Rather than being perpendicular to the door, it is placed at an angle, directing you toward Karen’s office.
Shawn Severance, from County Farm Park, also took us on a walk through our grounds with a focus on Ecosystem Restoration. She began with a story, “Sky Woman Falling,” from Braiding Sweetgrass about the creation of the world and then she shared some of her experiences growing up with nature. We then walked around our playground, taking notice of the non-native species, evidence of wildlife (crow’s nests and woodchuck burrows) and chokecherry.
Taking a historical view of the property, Shawn shared photos of the property over time where we noted changes in the landscape as well as the size and flow of the creek nearby. Moving forward, we will continue these explorations and begin some work at County Farm Park, with Shawn, helping with shrubs in the nearby floodplain.
In spelling, we spent some time looking at which suffixes may force a change in the join. Right now, the students have hypothesized that suffixes that begin with a vowel will force a change at the join if the base ends in a “silent e.” We will test that further in the coming weeks.

In math, we worked on our Singapore books and played with patterns including Fibonacci’s Sequence and Pascal’s Triangle, where the students worked individually and with partners to uncover patterns in the triangle.