Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why We Still Make Leprechaun Traps

*In an effort to keep all magic going strong for as long as possible this is NOT a post for children's eyes!*

Throughout the year I talk with my class about how third grade is a really special year.  They are technically considered "upper graders" but I like to look at it a little differently.  My third graders are the biggest of the "little kids" and have to be good role models for the students in grades K-2, but they're the smallest of the "big kids" and still have a lot to learn from the students in grades 4-5.  I like to think of third grade as a magical land where the students get the perks of being little kids and big kids throughout the year.  Why act older than you have to?  But at the same time, why be treated like you're younger than you are?  And on the teacher end, if my students are head over heels for Santa, itching to catch a leprechaun, or hanging on every word of a fanciful story, why would I want to miss out on all the magical opportunities?

I'm the only teacher above first grade at my school who does anything with leprechaun traps...which doesn't always earn the most encouraging comments from others.  Whenever I catch myself getting defensive inside I remind myself of one of the most important things I learned in my credential program: as long as you can justify the decisions you are making in your classroom, you are the teacher and you need to do what's best for your students.  That pulls me out of my "soon to be defensive" mode and reminds me to highlight the good in my instructional decision - in this case, leprechaun traps.

I loved St. Patrick's Day while I was growing up...I got to build things, there was glitter, and there was candy involved!  I will never forget walking into Mrs. Lehto's classroom on St. Patrick's Day and seeing the little green leprechaun footprints on our desks (covered in gold glitter).  Obviously, one of the highlights of being a teacher is getting to provide those magical memory for my own students now!  (However, it's a lot more work that it looks like!)

While the magic is fun (and I believe, essential to learning in the long run) the academics can't fall off the wagon.

This year, our persuasive writing unit started right before St. Patrick's Day; just enough time to give students a taste of what opinion writing is - and then have them try their hand at a persuasive piece about their trap.  Students started by brainstorming strengths of their traps.  I loved reading each student's argument about why his/her trap was the best trap to catch a leprechaun.  Some students even chose to write their piece in the form of a letter to a leprechaun.  It's impressive what a kid can come up with when trying to convince a leprechaun to get in a trap (*cough cough* house).

We started with a review of the basics of measurement (gotta make sure we're using the correct side of the ruler!).  Students first estimated the height of their traps in inches and centimeters - then found the exact measurements.  Once the measuring was completed, students compared their measurements with a classmate and had to calculate how much taller (or shorter) the classmate's trap was.  We wrapped it up with a short geometry review - identifying different shapes on the trap (and uses for them if they were part of the "trapping mechanism").

Growth Mindset
While this isn't necessarily standards based, our school has been focused on Growth Mindset and the power of "yet" this year - so I think it's important to incorporate it into our academics as much as possible.  Our class talked about the traps they made in first grade and how they could learn from their mistakes, use what they know now that they're third graders, and improve their traps this time.  "We haven't caught a leprechaun...YET!"

We've already got the mathematics part covered - but what's more perfect for creating a leprechaun trap than engineering?  These kids had to make something out of nothing that could actually do something.  Some of my students' traps were so good that I actually had to put thought into how the sneaky leprechauns were going to escape!  Traps came in with pulley systems and all sorts of hidden tricks!

In the end, while my students were building traps and building memories, I was sneaking learning in all around them!  Once all the fun was done we talked about how some people didn't understand why we were doing a "kindergarten project" and one student went "uh, and because it's FUN!"  Yes, my dear child.  Yes.

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