The Amaryllis Moment

I received an amaryllis for Christmas from my father.  Since it was winter time I figured it would be a cool experience to have our students watch it grow.  After taking the bulb, soil, and plastic pot out of the little cardboard box I set it on my desk for all to see.

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Well, we didn’t see much for awhile.  But eventually, out of the dirt slowly grew a small, pale stem.  I watered the plant according to directions, kept it out of direct sunlight, turned it every so often, but still no flower.  Gradually the small green stalk started heading for the ceiling.  Some time after that a bud began to form.  Then one Monday morning, several weeks after it was planted, a bright red, pink, and white flower welcomed us to school in a glorious way.

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One of the most enjoyable aspects of teaching is the “amaryllis moment”.  Sure, it is an incredible thing to behold when students are bursting at the seams to answer questions to concepts they only learned days, or even minutes ago.  But what is much more amazing and satisfying to both teacher and student is that amaryllis moment – that moment in time when a student who has been struggling with a concept for days, weeks, and perhaps even months finally understands.  Finally “gets it”.  Finally has conquered the matter that has troubled their brain, their time, and even challenged their self-esteem.

When the amaryllis blossoms it is a sight to behold – like a firework exploding then freezing in time.  When children display grit failure after failure, watching the timid or even shocked smiles that spread across their faces and then freezes in that moment of understanding and satisfaction at the realization that they have just overcome that difficult concept – it SO much more amazing than any flower blossoming or firework exploding.

And I’m just the soil in this analogy.  Or perhaps the water?  Or I suppose the gardener.  It is the amaryllis itself that truly has to do all the work.  It is the young student who has to block out all of the discouragements and distractions to finally break through the soil and prevail.

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The amaryllis moment requires time, patience, endurance, and a brave determination that says, “Yes, I will succeed no matter how long it takes me and no matter how discouraging my failures become.”

CONGRATULATIONS and CREDIT are due to all the kids out there who stick with “it” every day no matter the trial so they can grow – so they can learn, and know more, and be more.  And when the next challenge wields its ugly face, they will be prepared to rise even higher than before…

Mrs. Guerrette

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Our school is full of talented, hard-working individuals.  Our third grade class is no exception.  We have had the privilege of having three paraprofessionals working with our class this year, as well as with Mrs. Scarpa’s students.

One of these skilled educators is Mrs. Carrie Guerrette.  This year is her first year working as a teacher in our classrooms, but she is no stranger to our school and community.

Carrie recently graduated from NHTI with an associate degree in Early Childhood Education.  Prior to going to college she worked in the health field as a medical assistant, licensed nurse’s assistant and a phlebotomist.  She is also currently our school’s ChiPS (Children, Parents and Staff) organization president.

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Mrs. Guerrette is a wife, mother of two girls in first and fifth grade, and owner of a dog named Toby.  She enjoys coaching soccer, reading, traveling, spending time at the beach and she always enjoys time with family near and far.  The thing she is most passionate about is volunteering in her children’s school and in the community.

We are proud to have Carrie as a staff member now, and the third grade students and teachers are particularly grateful to have the opportunity to work with Carrie on a daily basis.  Thank you Carrie for all that you do in helping make our students’ learning experience great!

An Adoption from the SPCA

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A couple of weeks ago our class visited the Pope Memorial SPCA in Concord.  Yesterday a special adoption occurred involving one of our very own students and a beautiful rescue kitty!cat

Zoe, a wonderful eight and a half year old black and white cat was adopted from the SPCA by Jonah and his Mom, Jessica.  What a special event for both the O’Brians and Zoe!  Zoe was a “lonely heart” cat meaning she had been at the SPCA for more than 45 days.  The O’Brians were not only given a precious pet but were also provided with bedding, toys, food and litter from the SPCA.  What a GREAT organization.

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I am so thankful for Jonah and his Mom taking on the important responsibility of taking care of this great animal that needed a forever home.

If you want to help out the SPCA and their volunteers there are many ways:  donate items, volunteer your time, spread the word about their great facility, or adopt an animal that needs food, shelter, and love.

 

Whole Child Field Trip

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Several weeks ago our students were engaged in an activity that involved learning about voting as a citizen’s responsibility.  Another responsibility of a citizen is to perform meaningful actions for their community.  We put two and two together and had students vote for a community service project.  The students almost unanimously voted to raise donations for Concord, New Hampshire’s Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

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After students made flyers, posters, and boxes the donations from our school community started pouring in.  We collected several bags and cans of cat and dog food, many fleece blankets, as well as A LOT of other items on the SPCA’s wish list.

As I was discussing with my Principal on how I was going to get the donations to the SPCA, he pointed out that it would be a very affordable and easy field trip.  How thankful I am for that suggestion!  Our field trip last Tuesday was perhaps the most meaningful field trip I have ever been a part of, and it only took an afternoon.

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Why was our field trip so meaningful and successful?  Because this educational experience was not just about academics and ensuring that our children were applying what they learned.  This field trip was personal.  The students were emotionally invested in their citizenship project.  The opportunity to have firsthand experience to witness the many animals needing assistance, as well as the many volunteers who work hard out of pure kindness and empathy for the animals was incredible.

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The Whole Child approach to Education includes five main tenets that I believe our school and district follow on a consistent basis.  These third and fourth tenets were included in our citizenship unit and our community project, and spell out why I think this field trip was so successful and meaningful:

  1. Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  1. Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults. (like the volunteers from the SPCA)

I wanted to share some facts we learned about the SPCA in Concord that I found particularly meaningful and memorable:

  • They take in approximately 1,500 homeless animals each year.
  • Last month alone they helped 110 animals find new homes.
  • Each day they need to do 10-12 loads of laundry.
  • Volunteers at the SPCA make no money, and the organization needs volunteers at their facility 365 days a year.
  • The SPCA relies heavily on donations to help provide the animals with the best care possible.
  • The SPCA doesn’t just take in animals – they also help families struggling to take care of their pets with provisions.

The Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord-Merrimack County is definitely an organization that ROCKS.  Please take the time to check out their terrific website:

http://www.popememorialspca.org/

 

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To Squeeze or Not to Squeeze (an object lesson)

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In our first week of school our third grade students participated in an engaging object lesson.  The Free Dictionary defines an object lesson as “a concrete illustration of a moral or principle,” as well as “a lesson taught by using a material object.”  Our object lesson focused on the words we use to speak to each other, along with some squishy items.

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Pairs of students were given the option to choose a container of toothpaste, hair gel, or lotion.  They were also given a plate and a spoon.  Students were encouraged to squeeze out as much “stuff” as possible onto the plate in five minutes.  Their plates were instantly covered with a sticky or oozy mess.

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Next, all partners were given five minutes to put their “goo” back into their tubes.  Despite working hard, students became quickly discouraged with the seemingly impossible task.  Some students did come up with some clever ways to attempt to put their mess back in its place, but alas, the plates remained full of glop.

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After a much needed cleanup time, students were asked, “What was the point of wasting some perfectly good Dollar Tree toothpaste, hair gel, and lotion?”  A few came up with some good, yet incorrect suggestions.  One student came up with a reason that was not intended but made a lot of sense – “Keep trying until you figure out a way to solve a problem.”  We had to take the time to discuss the merits of this wisdom!

I then revealed then main purpose of the object lesson:

  1. When words are quickly squeezed out of our mouths they often create a mess.
  2. When we speak a mess of words it is difficult to take back what was said.

For the rest of this year our students will be reminded to be careful not to squeeze their words out too quickly, and that what we say to each other should be encouraging, not discouraging.

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More Than One Way to Pick Apples (and Solve Math Problems)

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The other day I was picking apples with my children in our backyard. We are very privileged to have four apple trees that produce a lot of delicious fruit. Unfortunately it was taking an awfully long time to pick all of them.

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As the minutes turned into hours I couldn’t help but think that there must be a better way to pick these apples! I will often tell my students that there is more than one way to solve a problem, so I thought of my problem and current strategy:

Problem: It takes too long to pick apples with several distracted children.
Strategy: Pick apples one-by-one and place them in a basket. (no good)

After brainstorming I came up with a New Strategy: Shake the tree like crazy to knock the apples down, and then use a snow shovel to scoop them into the baskets.

It worked! Some apples were bruised, but I could live with that…

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It is important for students (and all of us) to realize that there is often more than one way to solve a problem. Sir David Attenborough, an accomplished naturalist once said, “There are some four million different kinds of animals and plants in the world. Four million different solutions to the problems of staying alive.”

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Although there may not be four million, there are many math strategies to solve a variety of math problems. I can come up with three main reasons why there are multiple strategies to solve math problems:

1) The strategies work.
2) Some strategies can help people better understand the context of a math problem and its solution.
3) Different strategies work better for different people.

Once in awhile a math problem-solving strategy will find its way to social media because someone found it to be disagreeable and needs to share their discouragement. I have no problem with someone voicing their opinion. But the fact is some strategies do work for others more than they work for you, and vice versa. And sometimes strategies can help assist people with understanding why something occurs – for instance, why you put a one in front of a number after you have “borrowed” from the number beside it.

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A discouragement of mine as a professional educator is that not all math word problems are created equal. What I mean is that not are all worded in the most understandable way for youth (or adults for that matter). But please trust that I will do what I can to either reword a problem for your child in a way that makes sense for him or her, or I will provide an entirely different word problem that is appropriate for your child (if they face a word problem of the most disagreeable nature). After all, as stated by inventor and engineer Charles Kettering, “A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved.”

And well-stated problems often have a variety of effective strategies that can assist with finding the correct solution.

Making Learning Relevant: Fossils

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For the next few weeks our class will be learning about fossils – the different types of fossils, how fossils are made, and why fossils are important.

Fossils are old – often REALLY old.  Fossils are rare (especially in our Granite State of New Hampshire).  Fossils are remains of dead plants and animals, or evidence of dead plants and animals.  Who wants to learn about really old dead things?  Why learn about really old dead things?

We began our unit with a trash bag.  I rummaged through a trash bag and pulled out different items.  After examining these items, it only took a few educated guesses to discover the owner of this trash bag – our classroom’s valued paraprofessional, Mrs. Duffy.  Why go through someone’s trash?  Because someone’s trash can give us clues about what that person’s life is like.

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Why learn about fossils?  Because fossils can give us clues about what earth’s life was like MANY years ago – how cool is that?  Learning about fossils is not only like solving mysteries, but it easily connects to the process of scientific inquiry – something our youth definitely needs experience with.

When someone is studying any topic, if the topic is relevant to their life, they are bound to be more interested.  So how do we make studying fossils relevant, especially in our fossil-starved State of New Hampshire?

  1. By investigating current events
  2. By examining how it relates to our lives
  3. By acting out the process of a paleontologist

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Today our students read an article and watched a video about an adult wooly mammoth that was discovered by Michigan farmers…this past weekend!  This investigation of a current event alone inspired students to want to go and dig in their backyard.

For the last couple of years students at our school lobbied (unfortunately unsuccessfully) to have an official state fossil declared.  They researched what types of fossils were discovered in our own state, learning how fossils related to our local lives – it was an incredible learning experience.  This year I have contacted a UNH and Dartmouth professor regarding a fossil we have in our class – they are very intrigued and have already provided some feedback (see below).  We have a large, real life example in our classroom!

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In a couple of weeks our class will be taking a short walk behind our school to “dig for fossils.”  Although we will likely not find any authentic fossils, students will discover something – and participate in the process of how to excavate and study fossils.

Making learning relevant is one very effective way we here at Bradford strive to help make our students’ education engaging and worthwhile.  I certainly hope your child finds our fossil unit to be both an exciting and valuable experience.

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Classroom Fossil

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Donated by Anonymous Community Member

Professors’ Comments on our Classroom Fossil:

“The fossil seems somewhat vertebral, or even the end of a long bone.  My first guess was that is was from a whale, but really not certain.  I note that it seems imbedded in a hard rock matrix.  Therefore, geologically quite old, and probably not from around here.  Which then begs the question – something from quite distant in time.”

– Professor Gary Johnson, Dartmouth

“Definitely fossil bone which makes it a lot more interesting than most of what passes through my email box from state residents! I agree with Gary that my first guess would be whale or at least large mammal (bones look hollow). Size looks like it could be a dinosaur but bone texture looks more mammal.”

– Professor Will Clyde, UNH