Friday, September 27, 2013

Seize the Dot Day!

This post may be long, and it seems to be just a story explaining how the events of "Dot Day" came about. But in the end I think anyone can learn from this story because this is more than a story - it's about Seizing the Day!

On Friday, September 20, 2013 my class celebrated Dot Day. I heard about Dot Day on Twitter and began planning for the day just a week beforehand. With the hustle and bustle of the year, I reminded myself that I could do something on a 'small scale' and not have to make Dot Day into a huge ordeal that took over the whole school. I mentioned Dot Day to a few other teachers, but for a change, I didn't push for a whole school participation like I have done in the past for other events...

I kept telling myself - just do something small - make a small dot, just for the students in your classroom...

The book that inspired the whole day, The Dot, by Peter Reynolds, can be interpreted in many different ways. The message I decided to focus on was that "By yourself you can make a mark (dot) on the world, but if we connect the dots, we can make an IMPACT." (I'm not sure if I read this somewhere on Twitter or if I made this up by myself, so please let me know if credit needs to be given to someone.)

So, here's how "Dot (3) Days" went:

On Wednesday, I read The Dot, by Peter Reynolds to the 50 students on my team and we discussed the message above.

On Thursday, the students decorated their dots. They also wrote word problems that involved multiplication and any other operation. I gave each student a number and the answer to their word problem had to equal this number. (You'll find out why later...)

Friday was the BIG DAY! One of my favorite quotes that I shared with the students was that "You may not be able to change the WHOLE WORLD, but you can change SOMEONE'S world!" This helped the students focus on things that they could realistically do to change someone's day or to make an impact on the environment. The students had great ideas such as recycling, reusing paper, picking up trash, planting trees, writing a note to a friend, making cards for those in the military, painting fingernails of children in hospitals, starting a canned food drive, raising money for cancer research, donating your hair, giving blood, donating books, shoes, clothing and much much more! I was very impressed with the students' brainstorming and throughout the year I hope that they decide to turn their brainstorming into actions!  (I actually started an after school program that gives students the time and resources to do just that: ACT. The program is called Choose2Matter and you can learn more information about our program here.)

Then students switched multiplication word problems and solved them. They checked their answer and then placed their colored dot on the 'board' with the corresponding number to the math problem. I told the students that this was the largest connect the dot activity which may be a lie....So, technically I'm calling it a "Life Sized Connect the Dot Activity." Here's one of the the 'boards.'
This picture was taken before I put numbers on the sticky notes marking where the dots should go. 

After all dots were placed on the board, the students connected the numbers/dots. Once they stepped back they could see what the dots spelled:

The students on the scarlet team literally made their MARK!

The students on the gray team literally made an IMPACT!

So, this was my original plan - Dot brainstorming, math word problems, and life sized connect the dots activity.  But, the story is really just beginning. On Wednesday, I saw a tweet from Janine Crain who is a 5th grade teacher in Iowa. She asked if anyone wanted to Skype to celebrate Dot Day on Friday together. I absolutely love Skype in the Classroom and I thought that the students in my class could 'connect their dots' with students from Mrs. Crain's class in Iowa!

After exchanging a few messages on Twitter, Janine was able to help me set up two Skype calls - one for each one of my classes. The plan was that the scarlet team would share their ideas on how to make their mark on the world with Mrs. Crain's 5th grade class and my gray group would do a Mystery Skype activity and share dot day ideas with Jennifer Plummer's 4th grade students (Jennifer and Janine teach at the same school in Council Bluffs, Iowa.)  Mrs. Plummer's class is on a quest to Mystery Skype with a school from each of the 50 states! We are very lucky to represent OHIO on their quest! Because of time purposes, my students answered the mystery Skype questions but I told the students beforehand where the other class was located. It actually was a great way to model a mystery Skype for the students!

So, again, the Dot Day celebration was getting a little bigger - we were able to connect dots with another school which was wonderful...but of course my mind raced in another direction.

Also on Wednesday, I emailed a incredible teacher I met last May via Skype. @Capt_KK is a 5th grade teacher in Perth, Australia. I wondered if she knew about Dot Day and emailed her the basics. Because of the 12 hour time difference, I thought it would be fun to exchange pre-recorded videos of how students in Ohio and Perth would have similar dots. Jacqui replied that she hadn't heard of Dot Day, but she loved the idea and she would try to send us 'a little something' for our Dot Day celebration on Friday....I was excited to receive their video and honestly I didn't know what to expect....

On Friday morning, I woke up at 4:45 excited for the day! I looked at Twitter and read the message below from Skype in the Classroom

Would anyone be interested in doing a last minute Skype at 10:15 CT with a fire safety dog named, Molly?

I thought for a second about the timing and realized the students could Skype with Molly and then immediately afterward Skype with Mrs. Crain's class in Iowa. I read about the lesson and it fit my student's age range. We recently just discussed fire safety in science so I thought it would be a great opportunity. Within 30 minutes, Dayna Hilton (Molly's owner), and I had exchanged information and the call was set up! I mean who would pass up Skyping with a dog with dots on Dot Day.... (Incredible right!?)

Here are some pictures from the each of the three Skype in the Classroom calls on Dot Day!

 Dayna explains how Molly makes her 'mark' by helping others learn about fire safety BEFORE fires happen!
Below, Molly holds up the sign from Clarksville, Arkansas (one of her many tricks!) Molly also can crawl on her stomach to demonstrate the proper way to escape a burning building! See, even a DOG can make a DOT on the world. :)  

Mrs. Crain's students shared their colored dots and their plans on how they can impact the world. We had a lot of common ideas for dots, but one thing that we did NOT have in common was their use of technology in the classroom. We were very impressed (and jealous) that they were using iPads! 

Mrs. Plummer's class found Grove City, OH in only 8 guesses for their Mystery Skype! (I think this is a record!). They used Chrombooks to help them find our exact location!  Our students were in awe at the technology they had access to, but we'll be happy to get our LearnPads soon!
The students then showed us their dots and explained that their entire school celebrated Dot Day together! We were very fortunate to be a part of their celebration!
Mrs. Plummer also shared with us how the students could make 3-D dots using the iPad app, colAR! We were very fortunate to see how this app works via Skype. What a fun way for students to celebrate Dot Day.

Finally, remember Miss Korten from Australia? She was able to put together this AMAZING Dot Day video with her students in only TWO days! I got goosebumps as I watched the 46 second video and listened to how they wanted to impact the world! 

Many of the students in Australia gave the same reasons as the students in Iowa and Ohio! The Australian students sure put the DOT on the exclamation point of a great day!

As I wrote this blog I realized something pretty powerful. I actually lived the message I was trying to get across to my students. You can make your own mark but together we can make an IMPACT. At first, my connect-the-dot activity would have been fun and more than enough for Dot Day. But by reaching out to others across the globe, we were all able connect the dots to make a larger IMPACT. And this is the point that I hope all teachers can learn...

When someone offers to connect - seize the day!

Ask others to connect, so they can - seize the day!

Don't be afraid to share your ideas - seize the day!

Don't be afraid to CHANGE your original plan - seize the day!

Don't be afraid to fail - seize the day!

Ask questions - seize the day!

Push boundaries - seize the day!

Think outside the box - seize the day!

Take risks - seize the day!

HAVE FUN - seize the day!

I'm so lucky that I decided to connect my students with others from around the world. I know that the day was much more memorable and they were able to learn much more because I decided to SEIZE THE (DOT) DAY :)

Thanks for reading!
Arin (@ArinKress on Twitter)

Special Thank Yous to:

Janine- Thank you for reaching out to any teacher who was willing to accept your invitation on Twitter. If you would like to connect our classrooms in the future, please be sure to contact me! Good luck on your upcoming Skype in the Classroom presentations! I love that you're trying to spread the power of Skype to other teachers! 

Jennifer-It was great connecting our students again. Good luck with your quest to Mystery Skype all 50 states! I'll be following along on your class's journey! Good luck also with your upcoming presentations with Janine!

Dayna- Thank you for setting up the call so quickly. My students loved your presentation and loved the pictures you sent of Molly. Good luck with future calls and the great work you are doing with your dogs :)

Jacqui- Thank you for the AMAZING video and for creating a great experience for both your students and mine on Dot Day. I'm very excited about the future connections that we will plan together. The sky's the limit as we create a global classroom and 'seize the day' together! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

PSI's Choose2Matter Program

PSI Choose2Matter Blog
Over the summer I learned about Choose2Matter and quickly decided that I wanted to implement a program that allowed students to focus on work that is both led student and compassion based in nature. After getting the ok from my administration, I put together an after school program and pitched it to the students. In less than a week we had nearly 50 students sign up to 'change the world!' These students will be split into small groups and the groups will meet every other week for two hours to dedicate time to their topic they choose. At the end of the year, students will present their research, their action plan and the results of their efforts to the group members, their families, school/district staff and community members.

Please click on the following link to learn more about Park Street Intermediate's Choose2Matter program!

If you have any questions or would like more information about starting a similar program, please don't hesitate to contact me on Twitter (@KressClass)

Compassion Based Learning Blog
The work that the students will be doing in the Choose2Matter program is what is called Compassion Based learning. Therefore, please check out the Compassion Based Learning blog started by Oliver Schinkten, a high school teacher in Wisconsin. He is one of my biggest inspirations and someone I would highly recommend following on Twitter (@schink10)

Need proof? He and his colleagues developed an entire high school course that gives students 3 HOURS per day to work on compassion driven work while the other content (literacy, social studies, leadership, etc.) is woven into the curriculum! If this isn't inspirational I don't know what is! You can also follow the program, called Communities, on Twitter (@CommunitiesONHS)

Finally, here's a link to the a post that I wrote for the Compassion Based Learning blog called: "Let It Grow!" I used Dr. Seuss's, The Lorax, as inspiration for this post! It gives some more information about the Chose2Matter after school program too. 

Thanks for reading,

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Best Post I Never Published

We've been in school for only a few weeks and I feel like I've learned more this year than some others combined...

Is it because some very odd situations have happened already? Probably. 

Is it because I write a blog post for my students and their parents reflecting on each week? Most likely. 

Is it because I'm personally and professionally reflecting more via published and unpublished blog posts? Most definitely. 

(If you have not started a professional blog and are on the brink, I would HIGHLY recommend it. You don't have to publish everything you write! Blog for you first. Others second!)

Yesterday I wrote a post that was, in my opinion, my best yet.  I can't share it with anyone because it involved a student and the sensitive nature of the situation. But for me, writing it was cathartic. It was hard to write, but I felt good after I wrote it, and I feel better every time I read it. That's what writing does for me. Writing gives me clarity. Writing allows me to sort through my emotions....

Even though I can't share the details, what I can share are the lessons...

Sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do.

You can get several perspectives on a situation, but the one you need to focus on, is your own.

Time Heals All Wounds. 

Forgiveness is so important - When faced with a difficult situation, strive for forgiveness. Always strive for forgiveness.

The students will make mistakes. 
When a student makes a mistake in math or science, I help them.
I have patience with them.
I allow them to see where they went wrong and give them the opportunity to correct their mistake.
I give them time to practice and move forward so they don't make the same mistake again.
I don't give up on them.
I believe in them

When a student makes a life mistake, I need to help them.
I need to have patience with them.
I need to allow them to see where they went wrong and give them the opportunity to correct their mistake.
I need to give them time to practice and move forward so they don't make the same mistake again.
I can't give up on them.
I have to believe in them.

Next week I'm looking forward to saying:

"I believe in you.
I forgive you.
I'm not going to give up on you.

Although I couldn't post about all the details, I hope this post reiterated four major concepts:


Lesson #32: "Don't give up, don't ever give up!"  -Jimmy V. 

Because the hardest students to reach are the ones who need you the most.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Baggage - Helping Students Lighten Their Load!

A few years ago I was flying home from college. I was already on the plane when they announced that the flight was delayed. Because I knew I would miss my layover, I asked the flight attendant if I could deplane and try to get on another flight. Ironically, the gate next door held a plane with a direct flight to my destination. I was able to get a ticket on that flight very easily...almost TOO easily :)

I asked if there was any way they could get my baggage from under the first plane and transfer it to the second plane. Again, they acted like that wouldn't be an issue, and I was reassured my baggage would be on the direct flight. About an hour later, I boarded the new plane, sat comfortably in my seat, looked out the window and there it was: my maroon colored suitcase, sitting right next to the first plane I was on. So, I quickly hit my call button to alert the flight attendant. She listened intently as I explained that the bag I was pointing at was in fact my bag. We were just minutes away from pulling away from the gate, when she sprinted off the plane, ran to get my bag and after checking the tags and my ID, she secured it on the plane. A few hours later, my belongings all arrived with all the other bags in baggage claim :)

On the flight home, I wrote the following poem:


One day I wish I'd go to baggage claim
and my baggage wouldn’t show
but I carry this baggage
everywhere I go.


I wish this baggage would just get lost
lost on the runway
I wouldn’t miss it
wouldn’t miss it for a day


I wish this baggage would just get stolen
so go ahead and take it
'cause once you see what's inside
like me, you'd want to break it


But, I'm not lucky enough to lose it
or have someone take it away
so, I guess this baggage,
is mine and here to stay.


-Written by Arin Kress - November 2005

I obviously was having a difficult time with the baggage that I was carrying in my life. Poetry has always been a good outlet. However, I thought of this poem the past two weeks as I met all my students and am in the process of building relationships with each one. I did my research. Looked at their files. Learned about their families. Asked a lot of questions....

What I unfortunately found was that many of them carry a lot of baggage. Baggage that I have never had to carry. Baggage that I personally hope I won't have to carry for a long time, or may never have to carry. 

My heart breaks for these students. I want to be a bright light in their life. I hope that every day I can provide for them a safe haven where they can smile, laugh, learn, play and be kids. 

And I know my students unfortunately aren't alone. These students are in all of our classes. They are in every city around the world. Each individual not only brings to class their own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, failures and successes, but just as important: They bring their own baggage.

Each one's baggage is tagged with his/her name and his/her name alone. Each one is special and unique so it can be identified in the crowd. And like baggage in an airport, sometimes students can get lost.

It's understandable why they get lost. I have taught students who have lost one or both parents; who had lost grandparents and siblings; who have lost a classmate, teacher or friend; who have lost their house and belongings to a fire; whose family members are imprisoned or dependent on drugs or alcohol; whose parents are getting divorced; who are in the middle of a custody battle; who have witnessed a tragic event or a crime; who experience medical problems or whose loved ones experience serious medical issues; The list goes on and on.

The baggage that each student carries can be overwhelming for them. Who is there to make their load lighter? In a perfect world, hopefully a lot of people! Hopefully the student has a strong support system, but most times, this isn't the case. YOU can be there. YOU can be the bright light in their life.

However, you might not be able to figuratively 'jump off the plane to save the day' like that flight attendant did for me. Jimmy Casas's post, Living in Potential Prison, so honestly discusses the difficulty of "not being able to save every kid." My last post, Building Community While Breaking Down Walls, discusses how it may be difficult to build a relationship with some students.

It's important to remember to not try to help each student carry their baggage alone! Think about what happens when you drop off your baggage at the ticket counter. You relinquish possession, but you do not relinquish ownership.

Think about how many people handle your bags at an airport before it arrives safely at baggage claim. I honestly don't know how it happens sometimes, and I've had to eat my words more than once when I was sure my bag wouldn't arrive at its destination!

This is what we have to do when we are helping students be successful despite the baggage they carry. Go to your colleagues for advice. Seek out help from the school counselor. Look for support groups for your students to join if necessary. Look beyond the school and into the community for help! You aren't the only person who will care about the students! We have to work together to help our students through difficult times. (Great advice spoken by an amazing mentor of mine - Jimmy Casas)

Although the students won't be able to relinquish ownership of their baggage, my hope is that they will TRUST that they are in good hands! It's important that you're aware of their baggage and that you in fact handle it with care:

Build a relationship with each student.

Be a positive role model.

Smile at them.

Laugh with them.

Tell them stories about your life and choices you've had to make.

And most importantly- Listen to them.

By doing the above suggestions, you won't be able to make their baggage disappear, but you will be able to help lighten their load!

Lesson #31: Like Rita Pierson said so eloquently in her Ted Talk, "Every Kid Needs A Champion." Be that champion for the students in your class and at your school. 

Now, that I'm older and a little wiser...I feel the need to write another 'Baggage" poem....

Baggage (Part 2)

One day I got to baggage claim 

and my baggage actually showed
See this baggage is mine
No matter where I go.


I was so happy to see it

I couldn't believe my eyes
For this baggage has been through so much
and I'll claim it with a cry.


That baggage is mine!

Get out of my way
See this baggage hasn't left me
It's mine and here to stay.


It was handled with care

and arrived in one piece
I'm glad I have this baggage
'cause I'm the person it's made me!


-Written by Arin Kress - September 2013

As the students grow, I hope they too have the epiphany that I have had over the years. My hope is that they can accept their baggage - they just may need some guidance to baggage claim - and that's where we can point them in the right direction!

What are your thoughts on this topic? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@ArinKress)

Thanks for reading,

Monday, September 2, 2013

Building a Community while Breaking Down Walls

At the beginning of the year it's important to build a community with your students as a group. It's also just as important to learn as much about each individual student as possible. During the first week of school, we ask a lot of opinion type questions, complete fun get-to-know-you activities, etc...

I know that it's very important to build relationships with your students. Genuinely ask the students questions. Show them that you honestly care about them as a person. Take time to get to know what they care about!  When building a classroom community it's important to emphasize respect, trust, honesty, and transparency.

So what do you do when you're told you are asking too many personal questions about the students? 

What do you do when you're told that some students are private and don't want to talk about their interests, their families or their talents?

What do you do when one of the most important things you do daily is questioned?

This past week, someone questioned my tactics. She was being honest. She didn't mean any harm. But it affected me, because I see building a strong relationship with each child as the most important thing I can do during the school year.  Not only is it important to begin building the foundation of a strong relationship from Day 1, but it's even more important to show the students through the remainder of the year how much you care about them as an individual.

However, I may have to rethink my approach for some students.

The thing I learned from this conversation was something that I already knew, but I never thought about in this type of situation. EVERY child is a unique individual. Typically, our teaching strategies work for the majority of students, but not EVERY student. What do we do? We differentiate. We look at each student's learning style. We look at each student's strengths and interests and gear the lesson to them.

Therefore, when establishing a relationship with each student, we must differentiate. Typically, most questions and activities will work for the majority of your students. But there may be one or two students who don't want to open up with both the adults and other students in the room.

If this happens, maybe we should change the questions that we typically ask or have the students ask US the questions first. Create a game to play with the students where they determine what type of questions are asked. We can ask the students to draw or write. We may even pull out play doh or other objects that they are comfortable using. Invite them to have lunch with you. Try to even connect with them outside of the classroom if necessary (attend a football game, etc.)

Will this take extra time? Yes. Is the extra time worth it when building a relationship? ABSOLUTELY!

Building relationships with some students may be very difficult. Building a relationship with some adults can be very difficult.  This is just another example that what occurs in the classroom IS the real world. However, like any other situation, we must find a creative solution.

Every day we must show RESPECT to the students in our classrooms. Hopefully, over time the students will open up, but we may have to do some research. Talk to the parents or previous teachers. See if this is typical behavior at the beginning of the school year. And realize that by NOT opening up, in actuality, they are sharing a lot about themselves.

Are they shy? Are they afraid? Do they lack confidence? Are they not responding to you as a teacher? Are they not responding because of another student in the classroom? Did something happen to them in the past leaving them scarred? There's always a reason behind every behavior.

When reflecting on this situation, I keep coming back to two special words that I learned this summer: YOU MATTER. Angela Maiers said it so perfectly in her Ted Talk: "Mattering is not an ego thing. It's a DNA thing. EVERY person wants to feel significant. Every person wants to matter."

Students who don't know they matter, need to hear it more than anyone else. Students who lack confidence or who are scarred need to be surrounded by positive people in a positive environment who remind them daily that they are an important individual in an important community.

The year is long, so if you have difficulty building a relationship with certain students, don't give up. Persevere. Have patience. Respect the boundaries that they have established, but slowly start chiseling away at the walls they have built.

Because, if anything can make those walls's two simple words spoken by someone with a genuine heart: You Matter

Lesson #30: I'm not telling you it's going to be easy. I'm telling you it's going to be worth 
it! - Art Williams