Game On!

Today was a great day in my classroom.  Today was the day when the 5th graders from my friend’s classroom came over to our classroom to play the government board games my students have been creating.  Christie’s students helped by reading through my students’ papers in which they described the rules and objectives to their games.  On the first draft, my 2nd graders were pretty certain that their directions were clear and easy to understand.  That’s when I told them that I was going to walk their papers over to Christie’s classroom and ask her 5th graders to comment and ask questions about their games.  The 5th graders were awesome.  They made comments on little sticky notes.  They asked questions.  They wanted clarification.  When I got the papers back, I was impressed with how much time and effort they put into reading them.  I showed my students the sticky notes and told them they had some rewriting to do.  I instructed them to read every sticky note and try to address them in their rewrite.  When students were finished with their 2nd draft, I sent them back to the 5th grade for a second read.  In the meantime, my class worked in small groups to create their board games.  We worked for several weeks on them.  It was interesting to see the creative juices flowing.  They all seemed to work well together.  Most groups shared the tasks of planning the game board.  They discussed how their game would be played.  I did have a few groups where some students were not sharing the tasks at all.  One group complained about a member not helping.  However, these complaints were rare.  Everyone worked together.

When we got the 2nd drafts back, my students were disappointed to see all the sticky notes on their papers again.  But, this time, my students were really happy.  I could hear comments like, “Oh this one is a positive comment.”  Or, “This is a good one.”  And, “We just got a compliment.”  This was followed by high-fives and pats on the back.

As our game development continued, I stressed the fact that students should not forget the purpose of the games.  The purpose was that people would learn about the three branches of government through playing their board game. After some thought, students would go back and re-do or re-work what they had already done.  When groups said their games were finished, I had them play someone else’s game.  I would then ask, “What did you learn about the government?”  They would either say some facts they learned or tell the group who created the game that they didn’t learn anything.  That meant some groups had to go back to the drawing board.  The games went through so many different iterations.  In fact, my groups were still trying to make their games better right up to the moment the 5th graders came over.  It was pretty amazing.

When the 5th graders arrived, they found the game where they had provided feedback.  They were able to sit with the 2nd grade developers and play.  All the students were excited and engaged.  They were learning together.  They were also laughing and having fun.  My friend, Christie, and I marveled at how well they were interacting.  Here are a few pictures of the students together.





 After the 5th graders left, I had my students reflect on their game making experience.  All the feedback was positive.  They all said they loved the process.  They enjoyed working as a team, even though they argued some of the time.  My students all agreed that I should do this again next year.  I was amazed by what I saw in my classroom this morning. That is what I feel learning should be. . . a truly collaborative experience.  Students had ownership in what they were learning.  They worked together toward a common goal.  My students were able to tap into their creative side.  I think they realized that learning is a process.  And, most importantly, they had a whole lot of fun!


A Day of Making

This morning I had the great pleasure of meeting with the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) for a morning of tinkering, making, and inquiry.  Christine Kane began the morning by sharing a brief history of the Maker Movement which started with Leonardo da Vinci.  She ended her presentation by telling us about Seymour Papert, the father of the modern day Maker Movement.  Papert was the father of constructionism (not to be confused with constructivism).  Constructionism is learning by actively constructing knowledge through the act of making something shareable.  The motto of the Maker Movement is:

If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”

Then, Margit Boyesen talked to our group about systems thinking.  After that, the fun really began.  Kim Douillard asked all of us to hack our notebook by creating a simple circuit using a 3 volt battery, copper adhesive tape, and a light bulb.  After a few minutes of instruction she let us create.  At first, I was a bit frustrated because there was a lot of new information thrown at me.  It took me a few seconds to get started.  Thank goodness I was sitting at a table with supportive peers who encouraged me to start.  As with anything new, I find that just getting started is the hardest part.  However, once I began, I couldn’t stop!  Here is the simple circuit I created in my notebook.

simple circuit

It was an exciting moment when I got my light bulb to illuminate!  As I look at it now, I am thinking I don’t need to go that big with my initial rectangle!  I will have to remember that when I attempt this with students.  The circuit can be smaller.  🙂  The next thing we did was to incorporate the light into a picture or text.  Since we were instructed to keep the page before the circuit blank, we could draw our picture on that.  At first, I was disappointed that I had selected a red light for my circuit.  We were given several little light bulbs and I had not paid attention to the color scheme when I stuck it to my page.  I suppose I could have switched out the light bulb, but I was afraid to mess anything up, especially since it was working.  In any case, I decided to go with what I had.  I began thinking what the red light represented to me.  What do I relate a red light to?  The first thing that popped into my mind was a stop light.  This is what I was able to create with the red light from my circuit.

first attempt

It’s basically a picture to remind myself of things to stop doing, or things to stop and do.  Kim and Margit shared this video with us which served as inspiration for this light bulb activity.

After lunch, we were given more time to hack our notebook.  Kim brought out more materials for us to use.  She gave us a battery holder and 2 alligator clips.  We could tape the battery holder to the back of our notebook and that way we could create as many “light” pages as we wanted.  There were also filament thread, needles, and crochet hooks.  People were getting creative by sewing directly into their page.  I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted to create, but I was unable to get my circuit to work.  I tried several ways to try to get 3 light bulbs to light in a series circuit.  Nothing worked.  Then, someone suggested a parallel circuit.  I did that and got 2 of the light bulbs to light.  Unfortunately, it was time to stop working and go home.  When I got home, my husband helped me figure out a way for the third light bulb to be part of the parallel circuit I had already created.  He said that I needed to think about the circuit like water flowing.  Here is how I was able to get my third bulb to light up.

final circuit

I was so excited!  This conversation with my husband reminded me of the power of collaboration.  Kim asked us during the session what we do when we get stuck.  My first solution almost always is to ask an expert or someone I think can help me.  I want to build this kind of interaction in my own classroom.  I want there to be moments where kids are creating, discovering, collaborating, discussing, problem-solving, and sharing.  It is so powerful when these things happen.  Learning can be fun, exciting, and meaningful.

After I got my circuit to work, I made this picture.


I realized that I actually incorporated my 2014 word of the year!  🙂  I had a great morning learning, sharing, and creating with my SDAWP friends.  It was a productive day, and I am proud of what I accomplished.

Wanted: More Technology

Picture this scene.  The bell has rung.  Students are filing out of the classroom to head to the playground for recess.  One of my students lags behind.  He is one of my reluctant writers.  Before heading out, he utters the words that any teacher would like to hear.  He says, “Mrs. Kozak, I want you to know that I love writing.  I am having fun writing about my animal.”  That comment really warmed my heart.

As a teacher, I try to approach instruction with excitement and enthusiasm.  Some days are better than others, if I must be honest.  For the past few weeks, my students have been working on informative writing.  They have been working on writing animal reports.  I have had to alter my plans a bit since we do not have access to the computer lab this month.   I had plans for students to type their report in the style of a news article with pictures and captions.  However, the computer lab has been closed so that 3rd through 5th grade students can take the Smarter Balance Assessment.  This means my 2nd graders have limited access to technology.  We are unable to do any research, word process, or blog about our learning.  It’s gotten to the point where I have invited my students to bring in their own devices to work around the issue of no computers.  It is frustrating at times, because only a handful of my students have a device to bring in.

Tonight in one of my Twitter chatrooms, we talked about the SAMR model.  It’s a way to integrate digital learning that leads to high levels of student achievement.

SAMR Model

The basic level is substitution.  The highest level is redefinition.  It is difficult to get students to redefinition when you don’t have the technology to do it.

That’s why I value the comments my students make about their learning.  Even with limited technological resources, we are making do.  I wish I had a cart full of iPads or Chromebooks, but I don’t.  Somehow, I have got to give my students a 21st century education, but I am lacking the tools to do so.  I was given one iPad to use with my group of 26 students.  I am still trying to figure out how to utilize it so all my students can get their hands on it.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear it.

My students are so amazing.  There are so many things we could accomplish if only we had the resources.  I am ready to show them how.  All I need are the technology tools.  In the meantime, we will keep plugging along.  I will have to find other ways for my students to show their creativity.  That means that I will also have to get creative!  Am I up for the challenge?  I hope so!


Hard Work Pays Off

Yesterday, my daughter, Malia, performed a solo piece and an ensemble piece during a music festival at the high school.  She had to play her clarinet solo in front of a judge.  The judge listened to her performance, wrote comments, and provided constructive feedback to Malia after her solo.  I am proud to say that Malia’s solo piece, Nocturne from Concerto in G minor, was rated as excellent in intonation, tone, rhythm, technique, and interpretation.  She received a superior in “other factors”, like music selection, stage presence, accompaniment, and proficiency.  After the performance, the judge spoke to her and gave her advice on what to work on.  What I liked is he started out with the positive before the constructive feedback.  What I also noticed is he only gave her 3 things to think about-timing, tone, and making sure her chin was down while she played.  These were all manageable things Malia could work on.

I can only think back to last summer when Malia first started out with the marching band.  In my post, Have No Fear, I wrote about how Malia wanted to quit competitive band and switch to non-competitive.  Since then, she has worked hard to improve.  She even goes to extra tutoring once a week after school.  Malia has put a lot of effort into practicing the clarinet.  I was amazed at how she could play by herself in front of a judge.  I told her I could not have done that when I was her age.

In the end, it wasn’t really about the judge’s score.  It was the sense of accomplishment that Malia felt about doing her best.  The lesson I hope she came away with is that hard work really does pay off.  I keep trying to repeat that to her.  I am trying to help Malia see that it isn’t the letter grade or the test score she gets that is important.  We just want to see her try her best and put effort in the thing she is trying to accomplish.

As I go back to my own classroom on Monday, I am going to make sure I remember Malia’s experience.  It helps to give positive feedback before offering constructive criticism.  I need to remember not to bombard my students with too much criticism and only give them what they can manage.  I want to talk about effort and remind my students that you get what you put into it.  Finally, I want students to remember that feeling of accomplishment when they know they gave it everything they had.  That feeling can carry them through life.

Dealing with Disappointment

Today I experienced a little disappointment.  I spent some time feeling badly for myself.  I remembered reading somewhere that a good thing to do in times like this was to write about the things you are grateful for.  I believe this helps put things in perspective and reminds you that this feeling of disappointment will pass.  So, here are the things in my life that I am grateful for today.

1.  An Awesome KaiaFit Workout-A half an hour of power, and then another half hour of yoga.

2.  Crazy Hat and Crazy Sock Day-Today was a spirit day at the school I work at.  Today we could wear our crazy hats and/or socks.  It was awesome to see the creativity among some of the students.  I wore my black cowboy hat with the “bling” on it.  A parent of a former student actually gave it to me when I told her how much I admired it.

3.  Fun and simple art project-My 2nd graders completed an art project that was fun and simple.  It involved drawing chalk and Kleenex.  My students made beautiful spring flowers to beautify our classroom.

4.  The musical, Merrily We Roll Along-I was able to see a performance of this musical with two of my daughters at the high school.  I really didn’t feel like going to the show tonight.  However, I had promised my oldest daughter, Cassie, that we could go tonight.  My youngest daughter, Allison, wanted to come along.  So, the three of us went out to dinner and watched the show.  I am so happy I shared this time with my daughters.

5.  Rain-When we left the theater, it started to rain.  I love the smell of the rain when it first starts falling.  We need the rain in Southern California.  The earth will be fresh and clean.

6.  The Support of Friends-Man, I have amazing friends.  They are there to support me in good times and in bad.  My friends are ready to pump me up when my ego has taken a beating.  They remind me how much I am appreciated and loved.

7.  My Wonderful Family-My three girls were exceptionally nice to me today.  They gave me all the hugs I needed, sometimes without being asked to.  My husband, Kevin, validated my feelings.  He shared in my disappointment, but he didn’t let me wallow in it.

Reading my list makes me realize I have much to be thankful for.  In the whole grand scheme of things, this disappointment is just a little blip on my radar.  If I wake up feeling badly tomorrow, I am going to try using this technique again.  It really works.  I am feeling a little better already.  🙂

What Do You Do With An Idea?

A few weeks ago, I attended my first EdCamp Ignite.  It was a great experience.  I learned a lot from the teachers who attended.  I am excited to say that there will be another EdCamp Ignite next month.  I already signed up for it.

In any case, while I was there, I met a teacher who shared the book, What Do You Do With An Idea?, by Kobi Yamada.  It is a wonderful picture book about a boy who gets an idea.  He doesn’t know what he should do with it.  He wonders if he should keep it to himself or share it with others.  He is afraid of being laughed at about his idea.


I really enjoyed reading the book because it explains exactly how some people might feel about having a new idea.  Will people like the idea?  Or will they make fun of it?  Is the idea worthwhile?  Or is it a waste of time?  I really connected with the struggles the character goes through.  I love how Kobi Yamada brings it all together on the very last page.

I have plans for this book.  I am going to use it in conjunction with my next Genius Hour.  For next time, instead of focusing on new learning, I want my students to think of ways they could change the world.  This book would tie in perfectly with that concept.  I also found this video by Kid President.

Genius Hour: The Finale

Since my last post which dealt with the death of my friend, LaRie, I have not been in the mood to write about anything.  I just haven’t been able to motivate myself to get back to my blog.  Today is my first attempt to get back into the swing of things.  Life must go on, and I must try to make each day better than the day before.  So, I will begin by writing about my students’ Genius Hour presentations from two weeks ago.

On Friday, April 4th, my students presented their learning from Genius Hour.  Each one of my students selected a topic of interest that they wanted to learn more about.  We had everything from how to make a blueberry pancake to coding.  This was my first attempt at Genius Hour, and I have to admit I was very nervous.  No, make that afraid of what might happen.  I am slowly learning that this is actually a good feeling.  🙂  In any case, my students worked diligently every week doing research.  They blogged about their ideas and commented on other people’s ideas.  Some of them brought their own device every week to help them with their research.  Parents were involved in supporting their child.  Volunteers came to my classroom each week to help us during Genius Hour.  It was amazing.

On the day of the presentations, you could literally feel the energy and excitement as my students walked through the door.  Some came with posters, models, and props.  Others handed me their thumb drives so I could be ready to plug them into the computer when it was their turn to present.  Here are some pictures of the projects.

GH 1
Learning About Lasers

GH 5
Bunny Facts

GH 6
A Lesson in Robotics

GH 8
Acoustic Guitars

During the presentations, I had my students take notes.  After the presentations, they had to reflect on what they learned about.  They also had to write about how they felt after they were done.  Did they feel like geniuses?  Many of my students enjoyed the experience.  Most of them talked about how nervous they were at the beginning.  They realized that presenting in front of the class was not as bad as they thought.  Parents were invited to watch and listen.  After the presentations many of them told me Genius Hour was a wonderful experience for them, too.

I learned that this kind of activity has many benefits.  It was scary for me, but I was so happy at the end.  I realized that learning is messy.  It’s okay if things don’t work out the first time.  I learned that I don’t have all the answers.  Like the students, I relied on research and talking to an expert who would help steer me in the right direction and motivated me to keep moving forward (Thanks Kriscia!).

I am sad Genius Hour is over for now.  But, I am still trying to incorporate that inquiry into other parts of my day.  My students are asking for another Genius Hour.  I am not sure if there is time.  The end of the year is fast approaching.  Before I know it, it will be June!  We shall see what we can do.