Whole Child Field Trip


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).


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.


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.


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:







To Squeeze or Not to Squeeze (an object lesson)


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.

goo 3

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.

goo 2

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.

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.


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


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.


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…


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.”


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.

Confused Man in Front of Math Formula Written on a Chalkboard

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


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.


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


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!


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.


Classroom Fossil


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

The Voters Have Spoken!


Our third grade classes started off the year learning about citizenship, and what it means to be a good citizen.  We also discussed our rights and responsibilities as American citizens.  We focused on one major right and responsibility, voting, and our students voted to participate in a community service project.


One book we read, “Grace for President” by Kelly DiPucchio, talked about a class voting for a class president and how they used the electoral college as their format.  Each student in our classes was a representative of a state or multiple states, and voted between two admirable service projects: helping to collect or donate items to a local food pantry or the Concord – Merrimack County SPCA.  The SPCA won by a landslide!  I made sure to commend the students that voted to help out the food pantry, and for caring for those who need help to get the food they need.  Our school does help out a local food pantry, so they will be able to participate in that service project if they wish in the near future.

We look forward to seeing the energy and hard work we KNOW our students will put into getting the word out and collecting donations for this organization.

The Official Results (Blue: SPCA, Red: Food Pantry):


The Ultimate Solar System Project


One of my favorite third grade traditions at Bradford Elementary is to learn about outer space.  Every year something exciting is happening in the world of astronomy.  Very recently the New Horizons spacecraft reached the vicinity of Pluto after nine and a half years!  It has taken stunning photos, and revealed information, particularly of the geography of Pluto, that mankind never knew of.  How awesome is that?!


Another cool aspect of our astronomy unit is that we celebrate all of our learning and hard work on projects by spending 24 hours together – 24 HOURS OF SPACE!!!  A trip to the planetarium, crafts and games at the school, a potluck dinner, stargazing outside, and then a kid’s space movie and sleepover inside is an out-of-this-world experience.

The students and I will highly anticipate this event, but until that day draws near, I may share from time to time on this blog outer space-related material.  Like tonight!  Recently some friends decided that they should create an ACCURATE scale of the solar system.  Using their cars, GPS, ingenuity and creativity they did it!  ENJOY the two videos below of the creation of the ultimate solar system project!

Encourage: A Letter to my Students’ Families


According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of the word encourage is “to make someone more determined, hopeful, or confident.”  This is my goal every year as a teacher – to help my students become more determined, hopeful AND confident.

Students in the third grade start becoming more aware of both their strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes students will focus on how they do not measure up to their peers in certain areas, rather than being proud of their abilities and doing their best to overcome challenges.  I feel it is all of our jobs as adults to encourage our children to be pleased with who they are – all of their strengths, weaknesses, and everything that makes them a one-of-a-kind human being.

My goal is that every day each student in my classroom will:

  1. gain confidence in their abilities
  2. become more determined to do their best in every task they are presented with
  3. be hopeful that despite challenges, mistakes and the occasional failure, that consistent effort will indeed produce favorable results

Do we as adults always succeed with what we set out to accomplish?  Certainly not.  However, it is how we handle both successes and failures in front of our children and students that just may impact them more than how “good” or “bad” we are at our jobs, hobbies, and everyday responsibilities.

As your child’s teacher I will do my best to encourage your son or daughter throughout the year.  I am determined to do so, confident that I have the skills to do so, and I am hopeful for an INCREDIBLE school year.  Your child deserves it.


Mr. Smith