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Read carefully kidlets....
The following ideas contain lots of words that will begin to shape your fifth grade year. Be sure you have time to read them all carefully... even the one syllable words. You may like to have your parents sit and read with you so you can all be excited about fifth grade together.You should also have dancing shoes on.
Ready? Of course you are! Because you are about to become... Fifth Grade and Fearless!
I am excited for the year ahead - but first, I need your help in knowing what this year is going to look like.
Yes, your help!
What this year holds, is, in large part up to you. I have my plans, my ideas, my goals....what about you?
I have been teaching for 23 years and every year, I begin the school year as a somewhat different person. You see, at the end of each year, I get you inquirers to write a report about me. I reflect on your feedback, and hopefully become a better teacher as a result.
So, courtesy of my students' well-thought through comments, on that first day of every year, and then every day thereafter, hopefully I evolve as a teacher, because of your input. I need your wisdom to help me decide, what is important to me. What I want to accomplish. What I want my students to see when they come to school. I think about it and I make decisions that will help guide us. Sometimes I get ideas at crazy times of the day & night, ideas that I can't wait to try out with you guys... to direct that HUMMMM, that BUZZ that seeps from your brains when your brain is really in drive. I don't let other people tell me who I will be (I'll listen to them, because many of them have great ideas, so I'll pick and choose what works best for me), and I don't just be who I think other people want me to be. I read, I think, I write and then I decide.
Sometimes I will conference with you on your reading & writing, and sometimes (when it's my turn to be a couch groupie) I'll grab a book and be on the couch next to you, because reading is cool. Do you know when I get a magic inner smile? When one of you come and tell me, "You know Mr. M, I watched the movie on the weekend, but the book was so much better." WICKED!
And sometimes I'll write too. I like writing, but it's not easy. Good writing takes practice, lots of it. But I know if I work at it, plan and think through my characters, close my eyes and visualize the setting, revise, revise, revise & edit... then I'm ready for the author's chair. Sometimes writing can be very personal, and that's fine, but most of the time, writing is for sharing; that's why we have the author's chair. And just like you, I get nervous, but those butterflies also excite me when I'm sharing my writing, because I know I'll have the trust & respect of my audience.
Who Will You Be? (This is a big question - take your time to think about this!) Will you be the kid who has brilliant ideas, so many ideas she/he can generate chapter stories in their writing? The kid who loves Wizards (our oral Math quiz)? The kid who is going to help us drive our Math problem solving with Tokyo International School this year? The kid who looks to help other people, especially new students to CAC? The kid who is going to represent us at Student Council, helping to make our community & beyond a better place? The kid who......? Fresh start. Clean slate. We all get one (that includes you!) and we all get to begin fifth grade as the person we want to be.
What is important to you? (This is another big question and one I am really curious about so I will ask it twice.) What is important to you?
There are lots of things that are important to me: Carlton (my Aussie Rules Football team), the "hummm" that comes from our classroom when we're all thinking & focused, getting the best out of CAC's x-country team, discussion with passion, writing epic stories, reading & sharing connections, exchanging strategies and ideas, making things, discovering things, sitting in the author's chair, asking questions, and knowing when to say sorry.
As a teacher, there are a few more things that are important to me:
* Having a relationship based on respectful, open communication - I promise you that no student I have ever worked with has ever 'gotten in trouble' for respectfully sharing their opinion with me. In fact, it usually makes me like and respect you even more!
* Having my students as co-creators - I want your input to our units. I have the skeleton plan for what concepts we will explore but this is an inquiry based program! There are no things we 'must' do. We are inquirers, thinkers, explorers - right? Be prepared to help decide where our learning will go.
* Independent thinking - This year we will be setting you up for Middle School. You're in the driver's seat, so it will take a lot of initiative on your part. Turn to Mum or Dad now, and discuss this word initiative. There will be a lot of work, but it will be a lot of fun too. You'll need to be organised at home and at school. This will mean having a home learning routine that's achievable.
* Engaging in dialogue about your work - There are lots of tests in fifth grade, from the MAP testing to spelling to Math and Writing on Demand. But don't worry, because you're not competing with anyone else. It's all about you, and your individual progress. You will get test scores every now and then but you will, for sure, get lots of feedback and more importantly engage in dialogue about your learning. That means we both talk. The chance to discuss, review, revise, rework, tweak and try again - not a punishment, a chance to show yourself just how awesome you can be.
* Thinking & engaging - When I was teaching in Japan, I went to a workshop run by a guy called Terry Small. He claims to be Canada's number one learning expert, and I think he might have claim to be just that. He showed me how to be a better learner, and some of his ideas I'm keen to share with you. One of those ideas is learning to think like your teacher. Last year we took the measurement test from the year before, and just between you and me, it was 12 pages long, dull and not very challenging. I asked my mathemagicians, what was important to know about measurement, what skills are important, and how could we measure that? Together, we came up with our own rubric for measuring success in measurement. Then we broke measurement into important areas. The students did all the thinking, and came up with all the key learning areas including area, perimeter, length, mass, capacity. They then brainstormed questions to address these areas that included estimation, converting units of measurement, reading a scale, and generally creating word problems of their own. Deep thinking, and the BUZZZZZ in the classroom when they got HUMMMING was mighty!
And do you know what happened to that 12 page test, dunno, it's in a drawer somewhere. But most importantly, last year's fifth graders made their own test for measurement. And guess what 90% of them said was harder, making their own test and scoring well on their rubric, or sitting a teacher test? I think if you think about it, you already know the answer... The main thing was they were challenged, really challenged, and they enjoyed it; because you know what? HAPPY CHILDREN LEARN.
* I believe in collaboration. I love to share ideas and get ideas and try new things and even when those things fail, I know I am just one step closer to finding what does work. That's why I love the author's chair. There's an element of risk about reading your writing to a real live audience, but I also know we'll catch each other when we fall. I encourage you to be generous with your ideas - especially your writer's notebook. Invest time on the cover, and make it all about YOU. If you give it your best this year, your writer's notebook is something you'll keep forever, I promise. The more you give of yourself, the more you will grow and the more your awesomeness factor will exponentially explode. While we're on collaboration, check out what last year's Mathemagicians worked on with the American International School in Chennai, India:
And check out the problems they fired back:
WOW, looks tricky hey? But don't worry, because that was toward the end of the year, and we've got plenty of time to build our understanding.
* Inquiry is where it's at. Someone smart said, "No one cares what you know. What the world cares about is what you do with what you know." Think about that. Chew it over. We can all google and find stuff out - but then what? After we know stuff, what we do with it = inquiry. And that is what the world cares about. Me too. You?
* Time is precious. So are you. I don't like wasting time and I especially don't like wasting your time. That means I try to come to school ready, fired up, and prepared to get you guys BUZZING! That buzz, that hum, is the sound your brain makes when it is challenged to be creative, thoughtful, inquisitive and world-changing - it is a beautiful sound, and gives me one of those inner smiles. Some days I forget to put my Awesome Pants on, and some days I forget to put my Patience Sox on. We all have those days and I hope you will go easy on me when I have mine. But look out if you've got your Initiative Button off and are just wasting your time...
* Technology is part of the process. I like technology because it allows me to connect to new ideas. I like to think about what I want to do and look for tools to help me do it. I want to hear your ideas on technology and what works for you. But I also love libraries, because books are cool; besides they smell better than computers!
* We are not in this alone. We are a community: our class, our families, CAC, our neighborhood, Egypt and our world. Our Community Circles or Circle Time will rock. Last year when my students wrote a report about me, some of them mentioned how they loved the openess & honesty of our Circles, but they were disappointed when other things got in the way and we missed our Circles. I'll try not to let that happen this year... remind me!
* I like to take some risks. I hope you do too. It is scary sometimes and it fails sometimes, but sometimes, more often, it is just A-MAZ-ING! Someone smart once told me that "Fear and Excitement are shades of the same color". Cool, huh? You all know Dr. Zuess, yeah!? Did you know that he sent his first book to over 30 publishers, and they all said the same thing, "NO!" Just as well he kept at it, took a chance and sent it again. Imagine our libraries without Dr. Zuess! Work hard and take a risk every now and then.
HANG IN THERE, THE END IS NEAR. Feel free to get some refreshments, you might even like to make Mr. M a chocolate cake!
OK... if you made it this far and are still with me, congratulations, you are a mighty reading rockstar! Stop reading right now and do some kind of victory dance. Pretend you're dancing like nobody is watching, but hopefully you are reading this in a public place and people are watching, and I bet they are thinking, "I should dance more....". If you are reading this with your family, make them dance too, especially Dad... Dads don't dance enough! Are you dancing yet? No? Afraid you will look silly? What is the worst thing that could happen? People might laugh... laughing is good for you. Here's a laugh just for you while you're sipping your milk:
Did you recognise that tall naughty teacher in his sox doing a handstand?
Not laughing yet... WOW, tough audience. Still sipping your milk? Need another naughty teacher video? How's my chocolate cake going by the way?
Yeah ok, so the guy in the orange jacket can't dance.
So....what now? How can you best prepare for the extreme awesomeness of fifth grade?
- Be extraordinary.
- Read every day... don't cheat yourself, read every day... especially if you have yet to discover that a book can be MUCH better than the movie!
- Start thinking mathematically. Math is everywhere. Tune in to your Math facts... it'll take practice, but the rewards are great! Last year 5M students beat their parents in four rounds of Wizards... true story!
- If you have any questions, stop & jot (otherwise if you're anything like me, you'll tend to forget them) and bring them to school. No question too big or too small.
- Think about what I said about being who you want to be. Most importantly, remember that everyone else in our class is thinking about that too. Be gracious to those who are brave enough to set lofty goals and make the effort to become an even better version of themselves.
Make this THE year to remember. Will you help me do that?
Here's To Being Fifth Grade and Fearless!
To infinity and beyond!
PS. If you didn't get up and dance before and are now wishing you did, there is still time to do it. Anytime. Grab Dad and get up on the table! Here's some music you could dance to:
Do you like my haircut?
When you have had a chance to relax, digest this letter (maybe talk about it with your family or friends) and get your fifth grade brain tuned up, I would love for you to get writing in YOUR writer's notebook. At the very least, get decorating your writer's notebook. Start collecting ideas, photos, quotes, pictures, tickets to cool places, and get creative! Create a collage of YOU! Inside, write to me to introduce yourself, ask questions, maybe respond to something you read in this letter that made you think.
*I want to say thank you to Sonya terBorg, a New Zealand teacher who's at the top of her class. She put me onto smore.com, and some of this letter sounds like the letter she sends to her kidlets at the start of every year. I'd also like to thank Matthew Miller (Michael's Dad), for putting me in touch with Sonya in the first place.
*'cause teachers have gotta dance too: