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Archive for December, 2010
We have the scores for the first Word Masters meet and the students did very well. Special honors go to Kriselle M. who had a perfect score. In the eight years in 5 different schools that I have facilitated the Word Masters competition, I have never known a student to have a perfect score! Kriselle’s name, city and school will be printed in the newsletter that goes out to all schools across the nation who participate in Word Masters. Great Job!
Parents should be reminded that the creaters of Word Masters say that even a child scoring a 10 should be commended, as the competition is intended to be very challenging. We had many students score above a 10 and the top scoring students are listed below:
3rd Place: April S, Brooke M, Avery G & Piper R
2nd Place: Elizabeth S, Shelby L, Reece Y & Releina A
1st Place: Ciara G
3rd Place: Jane K, Jalen B & Samantha C
2nd Place: Paul S
1st Place: Kriselle M–Perfect Score!
3rd Place: Thomas A & Angela G
2nd Place: Tyler M
1st Place: Aniya W-B, Ashley J & Nicholas B
This certainly has been a very busy beginning of the school year. The cluster teachers and I have undertaken several new gifted units, and we’ve continued some learning experiences that we have found to be engaging and effective in our effort to cultivate 21st Century learners. Now that we’ve gotten a few of these endeavors underway, it’s time to catch you up with what we’ve been doing! Read on for highlights from the beginning of the year.
Cluster classes in all grade levels began the year with a look at the big picture. We discussed grade-level themes (SYSTEMS in grade 2; STRUCTURES in grade 3; RELATIONSHIPS in grade 4; CHANGE in grade 5). We talked about the important skills of a 21st Century student and worker (collaboration, critical and creative thinking, and self-direction) and we focused in on what it means to be a good collaborative worker. We discussed the importance of metacognition (thinking about how you think and knowing how you learn). We discussed the Curriculum of Identity (being aware of your interests and skills and considering how these might be developed and applied to future careers). Finally, we talked about how learning about the language, skills and products of experts from various disciplines helps us to focus on and make meaning of the curriculum being studied.
The cluster teachers, students and I are now continually weaving these skills and concepts into our teaching and learning. We hope that students will come to understand what they are learning at ever deeper levels and that they will carry this understanding with them out of the class and into other life experiences.
Read on to learn about the unique happenings in each of the cluster classes!
Second graders in Ms. Haberdash’s class began the year thinking like mathematicians as they worked through multi-level problem solving with Math Exemplars. They recently worked on one in which they were given a set amount of money to spend at the school holiday shop and were asked to determine all of the combinations of gifts they could buy given a set budget. They will now be able to connect this thinking with purchases they make should they visit our school’s holiday shop. Second graders are also completing pre-assessments for each math unit so that they can complete Math Extensions during the direct teaching of any math objectives for which they have already shown mastery.
In addition, students became scientists when they put on their lab coats, used microscopes, designed experiments and recorded observations in their science logs during the Budding Botanist unit from William and Mary. They are currently being introduced to the Creative Problem Solving process as they attempt to solve a holiday dilemma.
When we return from winter break, Ms. Haberdash’s students will begin a study of Junior Great Books in which they read more challenging literature and learn to have shared inquiry discussions using higher-level questions about the literature.
Third graders in Ms. Myers and Ms. Cuthbertson’s classes have been involved in a variety of critical and creative thinking activities. In Ms. Cuthbertson’s room students are participating in Word Masters. This is a competition in which individuals must learn multiple meanings of 25 challenging vocabulary words. They then must apply these words to analogy puzzles in a meet. Some of the words for the first meet were condemn, hasty and novice. To introduce them to the way in which language is created and evolves, they listened to a reading of the novel Frindle.
Students in this class have participated in a study of realism and fantasy and have thought like creative writers as they chose to write a story that was purely fantasy, purely realism or something in between. Ms. Cuthbertson has also begun the William and Mary unit Journeys and Destinations. In this unit, among other things, the class will do a novel study of The Green Book and do research on the preservation of memories. Next week students will practice their Creative Problem Solving skills with a challenge to solve a holiday dilemma.
With Ms. Myers the children began the year completing Math Exemplars and working with the M3 (M Cubed) unit Unraveling the Mystery of the Moli Stone. Both Exemplars and M3 require that students solve multi-step problems that involve higher-level thinking and that they communicate in writing the solution and the process they used to get it. Use of these materials continues during power math every Friday and both can be differentiated to meet various levels of student readiness.
Third graders also put on their lab coats as they conducted science experiments, kept science logs and thought like scientists to complete the William and Mary unit What’s the Matter. Ms. Myers’ students are now studying the Virginia Beach gifted unit on Ancient Greece and Rome. They have already been introduced to Socrates, have honed their questioning skills, have considered primary sources from Ancient Greece and have heard a reading from an adapted version of Homer’s The Odyssey.
Fourth graders in Ms. Saunders’ class have been on a long and winding trip while completing the Virginia Beach gifted unit River Adventure. This unit combines objectives in social studies and language arts as it required students to consider some pretty big questions such as “How are the economic, geographic, social and political features of a region interrelated?” and “What are the positive and negative results of global interdependence?” Though these questions had the teachers thinking just as much as the students, we made it through our river adventure and are all the smarter for it! Students were able to connect these big ideas to current events in the daily news program they watch. As part of the unit, students were asked to write two photojournalistic articles.
To help the students understand the world of publishing, a guest speaker, Ms. Rhoda O’Dea, came to talk with the students about her skills and the path that she took to become the first female regional sales manager in her company, Walsworth Publishing. Ms. O’Dea’s visit contributes to our ongoing efforts to integrate the Curriculum of Identity into our teaching by bringing in experts as guest speakers who help students envision how their skills and interests might be applied to future careers.
Students in fourth grade are also participating in Word Masters using words in the first meet such as ungainly, nimble and edifice. They have investigated Math Exemplars and will be working on a Creative Problem Solving task next week in which they try to generate ideas for decreasing the environmental impact of the holidays.
in Ms. Sykes and Ms. Swager’s classes are participating in gifted units, competitions and special lessons. Ms. Swager’s class has been working with the M3 (M cubed) unit Factors, Multiples and Leftovers. This unit challenges students to acquire and apply a deeper understanding of the concepts they have learned in the regular math curriculum using hands-on learning. These students have also completed Math Exemplars. Both Exemplars and M3 require that students solve multi-step problems that involve higher-level thinking and that they communicate in writing the solution and the process they used to get it. In addition, students have been participating in weekly bridge lessons with life master Early Lee Miller. They are learning skills of concentration, memorization, collaboration and planning as they bid hands and attempt to work with their partner to take the most tricks in a game.
With Ms. Sykes, students are participating in Word Masters, a competition in which individuals must learn multiple meanings of 25 challenging vocabulary words. They then must apply these words to analogy puzzles. Some of the words for the first meet were persnickety, spendthrift and morose. Ms. Syke’s students are also working with the William and Mary unit Persuasion. Students have already read a Japanese-American novel and are now reading African-American novels. In late winter they will read a Hispanic-American selection and we have purchased ne literature from Filipino-American as well as Korean and Vietnamese writers to investigate at the end of the year. Students are learning the qualities of effective persuasive speaking and writing and applying these skills to the curriculum. Finally, the fifth graders are currently engaging in a Creative Problem Solving task in which they are trying to generate ideas for ways in which folks can continue to enjoy the holidays in these financially trying times.
One of the messages that students were introduced to in the big picture presentation at the beginning of the year was the “secret” that being smart doesn’t mean that you always have the answer, do things quickly or never struggle. In fact, smart people know how to work hard even when they just aren’t sure and even when it takes awhile.
This message coincides with a good deal of research that indicates that underachievement among the gifted can often be traced back to a fear of risk taking. The gifted child, having been praised on many occasions for being smart and doing things so quickly and easily comes to believe that if they don’t know an answer or do struggle it will mean they are not smart. Rather than be “found out” and determined not to be so smart after all, gifted kids (and gifted adults as well) may avoid doing something for which there is not a guaranteed positive or successful outcome. Thus, they may avoid challenges.
As an attempt to illustrate Albert Einstein’s sentiment “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new” and to help students in grades 3-5 see that success, even among the gifted, often follows struggle and many mistakes, they are making entries in a booklet we are calling The Book of Secrets Every Smart Kid Should Know. After listening to a biography of a famous person from the book Gifted or Goof Off? Fact and Fiction of the Famous by Nancy Polette, students identify something they found surprising or interesting, struggles the person overcame and a way that they can relate to him/her. By the time their book is full of examples of famous gifted people who overcame struggles, we hope that students will make the connection between hard work, healthy risks and success.
Though not just for the gifted or students in the cluster class, several of our students are participating in math contests through the year. I am working with the school’s math committee to offer some of our top performing math students the opportunity to challenge themselves through the Virginia Math League. In November, some students from all classes in grades 3, 4 and 5 completed a math contest in which they had 30 minutes to complete 30 problems. Though the contest is in a multiple choice format, it requires multiple step problem solving. The contest creators say that if a child gets only 12 answers correct they should be commended as the problems are meant to be challenging and few students get even 24 correct. Two more small contests will be held in February and March, and in June the big contest will be held and top performers will be awarded prizes.
We have already had two parent workshops and will be offering two more in the new year. In October, we talked about Promoting a Growth Mindset. This presentation builds on the research about underachievement and, though seemingly simple, is pretty profound. Though we may think that telling our child that he or she is smart is a positive step toward nurturing their self-esteem, we may actually be doing them harm. Rather than give our children the message that they were born smart and we can see this when they do things quickly and easily which indicates that intelligence is a set quality that can’t be changed, we want to promote a growth mindset.
In a growth mindset, students come to see that intelligence can be nurtured and expanded through effort, that anyone can change and grow to meet their individual potential and that failures provide information about what needs to be done to reach the next skill level. When we start to think about our own attitudes about intelligence and success we begin to see the ways in which we may be promoting a set mindset in our students.
Some ways that you may begin to change your own thinking and that of your child are to praise effort, practice and process rather than outcome, emphasize the joy of learning for learning’s sake, let your child see you taking reasonable risks, share how you deal with challenges and how you continue to learn and work together to identify areas of challenge and make concrete plans for improvement. Biographies in the form of books or documentaries are a great springboard for a discussion about how people become successful. Kids these days are inundated with half-hour shows about famous people who seem to have just been lucky and had material excesses showered down upon them. The finer details about a life story included in a biography will likely provide a more realistic perspective.