Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Planning Passion

This week is our first week back after Spring Break and our fourth graders were ready to dive into creating their Passion Project display boards! After a brief introduction and a display of another class' book projects, we were ready to begin!

I'll be honest with you - it was a little bit of mayhem trying to figure out the best way to proceed.

We showed the students a blank display board and talked about the required elements. While this wasn't a science project, we still wanted to align the project display as close to the scientific method as possible to give our students a taste of the structure and organization they would discover in future projects.

Students then took some time to complete the planning pages in their Kindness Journals. Since students completed their acts of kindness before break, we needed to fill in the sections for results and reflection.

We discussed the best way to tackle the display: What looked best on the models we had seen? What grabbed our attention and made us want to read more? We agreed that our white display boards were boring and would need color and large text. This naturally led into the decision-making process for a crucial question for our display board design:

Do we write everything out by hand or use digital tools instead?

This is only the second year our school district has used G-Suite tools (e.g. Google Docs) and it's the first year we've jumped into Google Classroom. The learning curve for digital writing was a bit cumbersome at first with students having to create new passwords for first use of accounts, then remembering those complexities as they maneuvered through logging on to the computer, accessing ClassLink, then accessing Google Classroom. Then we had to actually compose writing digitally.

There was a moment when I wondered if students might choose the traditional tools of markers and colored pencils, but unanimously the class agreed that digital text was best. Within minutes, students had laptops out, were logging in and we were scrambling to catch up!

To keep the students organized, and allow us access to everyone's work, we created individual assignments for each of the display headings: Title (which included presenter name), Materials, Procedure, Results, and Reflection. From there, students selected the assignment, created a new Google Doc and voila! Their digital paper was ready for typing.

We brainstormed project titles and helped our classmates with creative suggestions. We played with perfect pentameters as alliteration shined through our work. We discussed the differences between bullet lists and numbered lists and figured out how to switch between the two.

Even though Mrs. Cross and I had mapped-out this entire year-long unit, some basic elements were left for student discovery and discussion. For example, one student asked, "Shouldn't we have all the headings the same font and size?" Another students asked if they could add more fonts to their selection box, noticing the "More Fonts" option at the bottom of the font pop-up box.

The room was noisy and busy with students asking questions, helping neighbors, and requesting to be checked. When students determined that their section was complete, they raised their hand and we put a check mark beside that section on their planning page once it had been reviewed and edited.

We quickly realized that the original 45 minutes we had planned for today's lesson was simply not enough time, so we extended our planning and preparation for another hour.

Today's lesson was important; engagement and productivity was priority.

Thankfully, I had planned for success! Prior to the lesson, I put student names on gallon-sized Ziploc bags to hold any display items students would create for their projects. This was a lifesaver as many students were printing their pages, ready to customize them for their boards!

Next week we will wrap up our digital writing and customize our boards with color, photos and any additional ways we choose. That will leave us one lesson for a dress rehearsal and then it will be showtime: our Kindness Fair is almost here! We can't wait to share with you all the ways we have blessed others with kindness through our Passion Projects!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

When Ordinary is Extraordinary

For the past few weeks, our students have been digging deeper into planning their Kindness Passion Projects. Thanks to the power of Google Docs and Google Classroom, our students have been able to brainstorm ideas both in person and virtually as they've collaborated on digital idea sheets shared with small groups.

One thing we discovered when brainstorming ideas is that it was challenging to start with the ideas first. Sure, we could come up with a few here and there, but then we were stuck. Realizing this, I gathered the students together and took a step back, turning this mental roadblock into a teachable moment about writing for an audience.

"Let's start with the who instead of the what. Can anyone help me think of who we could bless with kindness?"

Within minutes, our digital page was filled with potential recipients and the chatter of student voices filled the room as their excitement grew. The rest of our time together was productive as each group filled their sheet with ideas. From there, I compiled all their ideas into a master list of kindness ideas to help them spark an inspiration of what they might want to do for their Passion Project. 

If you read our list, you may think these project ideas are rather... well, ordinary. No one is winning the lottery and giving their winnings to charity. No one is purchasing a home for someone else or taking all their family members on a vacation to Disney World. No, our ideas are pretty simple and straightforward with the end result of simply making someone else smile, or "being the good" we want to see in the world.

We learned from Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed, by Emily Pearson, that even the most basic act of kindness can have a global impact. By the end of the story, Mary's simple deed of bringing her neighbor a basket of blueberries set off a pay-it-forward chain of kindness that impacted 6,103,515, 625 people. WOW! Imagine the impact you can have on this world with one simple act of kindness! Talk about empowering!

Acts of kindness multiply!
Our students are now creating their planning pages and participating in Kindness Conferences to finalize their plans. Thanks to the Hanover Education Foundation, each student will receive $10 in mid-March and put their projects into motion. I can't wait to hear the results from their kindness!
One student's planning page
Students researching items costs

Sharing ideas in Kindness Conferences

You can help us with our mission to share kindness with the world by sharing this blog post or giving a shout-out to our website: You can also comment on this blog post to let us know how our lessons and projects have inspired you to show kindness to others or perhaps start a kindness initiative in your own school or community! We look forward to seeing how our kindness can impact people we've never even met!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Flower Power

To jumpstart #RAKWeek17, I decided to give our students a first-hand taste of random acts of kindness. I brought in three bouquets of the most colorful flowers I could find and surprised the students with a Flower Power challenge.

"You hold in your hands the power to make someone else's day brighter, more meaningful. You have the power to remind people that they are special, that they matter. You even have the power to brighten your own day by giving to others. Today I want you to choose a flower and think of someone you would like to bless with kindness. Your task is to give your flower away, then think about the impact your flower had on someone else's life. You can make great things happen for others!"

Oh, how I wish you could have seen their smiles as they realized these flowers were for them to share with others! Pure joy! They gathered around for a group photo, then sorted the flowers by color before choosing the one they would give away.

The students were all smiles as they planned their RAKs, chatting with one another. Who would they choose? When would they go? What would happen? They practiced what to say with Mrs. Cross so they wouldn't feel nervous talking to another adult. It was a delight to see them working together for a common cause of kindness!

They walked around the school, at different times throughout the day, and gave away their flowers one by one. Every single student returned to class with a smile. Mission accomplished!

One teacher stopped me in the teacher's lounge to say, "I have never seen that child smile SO much. What a wonderful surprise!"

We encourage all our readers to do a random act of kindness this week in celebration of #RAKWeek17. Be the change you want to see in the world!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Words of Inspiration

One of the ways we focus on everyday kindness is discovering ways to lift up others, making them smile, changing their perspective. As teachers, we do this in simple ways. We greet our students at the door by name. We share a shout-out of praise for a job well done. We make a point to acknowledge ways our students are nice to others and how they help in the classroom.

Our students have the same power to impact others! One way they can let their kindness shine is by sharing their positivity through posters. During our winter party, students worked with parent volunteers to create colorful, personalized posters of kindness after brainstorming and researching quotes online.

When we returned to school in January, we brainstormed locations around the school we could hang our posters to have the greatest impact. We came up with so many places!

Students worked in small groups to add tape to their posters and hang them around the school. From the cafeteria to hallways to water fountains, we sprinkled inspiration of kindness everywhere!

HEF Celebration Gala

In December, Mrs. Cross and I were honored by the Hanover Education Foundation for our grant project, "A Passion for Kindness." This annual event spotlights the different grant projects funded for the upcoming year as well as recognizing each school's Teacher of the Year and the district's Teacher of the Year. It was humbling to share this evening with so many teachers from Mechanicsville Elementary, many of whom had also received funding for their creative projects!

Brainstorming RAKs

After learning about our random act of kindness project, students were very excited to move forward in the process. The next time we were together, we talked about acts of kindness we had completed on our calendar, then separated into small groups to start our project brainstorming lists.

The students came up with so many ideas! They were very excited to hang their lists in the hallway as a reminder of all the different ways people can show kindness to one another.

When we return to school in January, we will start working independently to develop our projects with the goal of completing them in February and sharing with the world in the spring!

December RAKs

To encourage our students to share kindness throughout the month of December, we created a Kindness Calendar for them to complete. Each day listed a different act of kindness. The students were excited to cut these out and glue them into their kindness journals and we enjoyed reflecting on what they had done during our weekly lessons!

Part of our joy as educators is seeing students take what we are learning in school and applying it to the world around them. As you can see from the Facebook message below, our students went above and beyond by making placemats as part of a math activity which benefitted homeless guests staying at a local church. One student volunteered her time with Mrs. Cross to help during their stay and unbeknownst to them both, they wore the exact same shirt!

Our students are taking initiative to shine in kindness, bringing more good in the world! What a delight to so many!