Sharing True Selves

I shocked my students this week.

During a rainy day game, there was a moment of silence. We were waiting for one student to finish his thought. A predictable comment. Something he is known for and says all the time. One that always gets a laugh. And at that moment, I said it. It just came out. And the class exploded.  When they calmed down, I apologized.  And one student said, “No, that was too perfect.”

I had joined in their play, and I couldn’t help but think of the beautiful new book by Kristi Mraz and Christine Hertz, Kids 1st from Day One. In it, they reference Stuart Brown’s Play Personalities having readers determine what type of play personality they have and can bring into the classroom. At that moment, I was taking on the “joker” personality. Opening this side up to my kiddos, left them happily shocked with my silliness.  And it made me feel good too. To be silly with them.

Later this week, during a whole group discussion about a scientific phenomenon, excitement bubbled over into sidebars. Shouted responses to questions dissolved the group’s attention. One student wanting to be heard said in frustration,  “Why can’t you stop talking and listen?” And I said, “A thought I ponder daily.”  It just popped out and stunned students. One said, “That isn’t positive. You are supposed to be positive.”

Whether or not I should have said that and how I could turn that moment into a teachable one rolls around in my head.
And I wonder. How we share ourselves in our classrooms is essential.

The community develops, and more of who we are becomes apparent. It can’t be helped. We are more than the moment or the lesson.  It’s a continuum of understanding that develops, and we are real. All the bumps and smooth spots; trust and truth.


Celebrate: What my students taught me

Feedback is an essential element of teaching. Teachers and students give it in every move we make.  It’s implicit in our actions. So I do my best to notice how kids approach a problem; how they sit as they read or write. And then ask questions about it. In the hopes of understanding and offering opportunities for them to understand their practice, their successes, and their struggles. But with a big classroom, those one-on-one moments just can’t happen enough. So when a kiddo offers explicit, unsolicited feedback, in the midst of the work, I am amazed. And I take note.

Last week I asked students to work on math problems on their own.”Just for me to see where you are in this work.” I could tell from their body language, and general unrest this was hard. Feedback received.  But when I looked over their work, I got more.

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By looking at her answers, which were correct, I would have assumed she “got it.” But with her self-designated “hardness level,” she gave me feedback I would have missed. And it made me wonder, what else am I missing?

I ask explicit questions about our classroom and the work. But am I asking the right questions, and are their being asked at the right times? With her response to the task, it made me realize that this is something that needs to be honored and included. Kids have things to say all the time.  I need a manageable and meaningful way of soliciting it.

Next time and every time I ask students to “show me where they are in the work” I’ll add this prompt: Hardness level? Simple and naturally differentiated.

Just one example of what my student taught me this week.


STEM meets Social-Emotional Learning

If you were to ask me where I’d rank roller coasters, physics, and engineering as to my expertise/interest, it would not have made my top ten. Not surprisingly, studying the concepts with my fourth graders, have me hooked, and I’m finding it difficult to keep my hands off their paper roller coaster creations.

Today, I’m celebrating our process.

It’s been a process. At the beginning of this unit, students knew the goal was to build rollercoasters. But to do the work, we needed to do a lot of reading, experimenting, and thinking.

Newtonian Laws of Motion are kid-friendly concepts; they understand because they see or do every day. And our experiments required not much more than marbles and rulers. Find amazing links to our process here.

With the theoretical knowledge of the laws of motion, we stopped and worked on building together.  Each design team had experience working together in reading research and presentation projects. Creating a paper tower made of index cards was their first engineering project. Interestingly, what made a successful team was not about design or engineering ideas, it was about how the teams worked together.  Those who found success as teammates in reading research projects found the equal success in engineering and design. A fascinating lesson for all. Collaboration skills are essential, no matter the academic domain.

Building structures required students to “hear” each other’s ideas. For some, this came quickly. For the majority of teams, the motivation to create prevailed over the desire to give up or fight about an idea. For a few teams, teamwork is the most significant hurdle. Proving kids need more time to play and interact with each other to be successful in cooperative academic work.

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After all the study and our initial building experience, roller coaster designs were imagined and planned. Materials were presented: cardstock, tape, and a base of cardboard. The timeline was established: Six days.

And, I was nervous.  Would students be successful? Would the science concepts transfer? Would they be able to work together through the troubles?

Day one building conversations, materials, and emotions were everywhere. Words like “you need to have more supports” and “there’s not enough potential energy” and “can you hold this” and “that’s a good idea” made me smile.  While words like, “they aren’t listening to me” and “I’m stupid” hurt my heart.  Both things were happening around the room. How similar life and engineering can be. The bumpy teamwork moments required some to stop, think, and collect their emotions before they could listen to each other. STEM meets social-emotional learning.

The beginning.

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Early attempts.

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Early success. Test, re-engineer, and work from the ground up.


Day two the designs get more dramatic.

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And yes! They work. Sort of. More re-engineering needed.


Three more days of building are in front of us. And while I can’t wait to see what will be created, the biggest lessons are outside the science standards.


  • Kids are fearless explorers. They venture in, eyes wide open.
  • Kids expect the good. They want the challenge.
  • Desire, motivation can overcome trouble.
  • Play matters. Getting along as humans first is essential to our student’s success.