The last week of school before winter break can be a tough one if you are a school teacher. Most the students are excited about the upcoming holidays and the time off school. There is a sense of waiting that gives an urgency to the time.
Or at least that was the vibe in my third grade classroom. (It probably didn’t help that I had the scent of peppermint going in our oil diffuser either.) I was planning to keep our schedule and routine as consistent as normal – morning work, morning meeting, reading and writing, lunch and recess followed by math, our mini afternoon recess, and social studies.
In social studies, we have been discussing how exploration leads to discovery. As a summative assessment, and a very project based one, the students picked an explorer to research. They then organized their learning into some presentable form, whether it be a Google Slide, a paper poster, or a biography poem and created an authentic looking paper doll of their chosen explorer. There was a rubric to follow, so they knew what to focus on and how it would be graded.
They are third graders, however, and this was their first big research project of the year. It was something that really needed to be completed by the time we went on break and our time was starting to get eaten up by non-routine events: our winter party, the school spelling bee, the half day on Friday. I refused to cancel our thrice weekly small reading groups, but some other subjects started getting nudged out.
On December 19th, with a mere 2.5 days left of school, their project was in full swing. And they were loving it!
It looked chaotic, but it wasn’t. Each child was at a different point in their project. Some were researching and taking notes, others were learning how to create a Google Slide, and yet others, were focusing on the details of the tools and clothing of their explorer so as to make their paper doll as authentic as possible. They were learning with and from each other. I did my best to stay out of the way and ask open ended questions to guide them towards what they were looking for.
In the end, they all finished in time. I was so proud of them and the knowledge they took away from it. Yes, they learned about their explorer, but they also learned how to research, to focus on the key details, and to present them in such a way that was not only logical, but pleasing to the eye. They uploaded their creations to Seesaw, a digital portfolio, and then spend some time looking at their peer’s creations to learn even more.
They were proud of themselves and I was proud of them too. Soooo… after I got home from school on Wednesday I did something I have not done before. I emailed my principal to see if she could pop into my classroom to see their work. The school I teach at is very large, there are seven third-grade classes. I can count on one hand the number of times my principal has been in my room this year. I guess that is a good thing and I shouldn’t complain, but I kept thinking – what about the good stuff? What about the shinning moments that I know would mean so much to my students if they could share it with the principal of their school?
Well, early the next morning I got a response back. Apparently the new school district superintendent was going to be on campus for a tour. She said that both of them would stop in to see my students’ hard work. Oh boy.
I rushed into work a bit early so as to tidy up my already rather tidy room. I put lavender in the oil diffuser; I have heard it is a calming scent. The bell rang. I picked up my students and we walked to class. We did morning work. We had our morning meeting. I did not mention our soon-to-be visitors, preferring to keep it organic and casual. My parent volunteer came in to help run reading groups.
It was during the second reading group, our transition already complete, that they came in. And it was frickin’ awesome! The kids were so polite in their excitement and their learning was very evident. One of my very academically low students was called on, the superintendent having no idea of this, and that little boy just rocked it. He monologued up and down and all around about Christopher Columbus. I could have cried.
It was a great way to end the week, a celebration of their success and learning.