The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Posts tagged “Physical Education

Back in the Saddle

Many years ago, my wife and I found ourselves without a car. During that time, I rode my bike everywhere I could as often as I could. After nearly passing out from heat exhaustion on a day when the heat index was over 90° F (32° C), I decided that was my upper limit for biking. As winter came, I also discovered that biking when the wind chill was below 20° F (-6° C) was equally a bad idea! On those days, I was fortunate to have coworkers who were kind enough to give me a ride to work. For the most part, though, as long as it wasn’t too hot, too cold, or raining, I was on my bike.

Even after we got a new (to us) car, I continued to bike as often as possible. Cycling was a great form of exercise, it saved a lot of money on automobile costs, it helped energise me in the morning, and it was fun. My students also recognised me when they saw me biking, so they knew that I was setting a good example for the physical activity that we are frequently telling students they all ought to be getting! Then I started graduate school. I still rode my bike a few times, but I quickly realised that biking home in the dark was not particularly safe, even with reflective gear and lights. So I started driving my car again.

I had wanted to get back into the (bicycle) saddle again this year, but it seemed like every day it was too hot, too cold, too wet, or too foggy, and so I was driving my car all the time. In fact, I think I rode my bike once all of the first semester and, until today, not once since then.

But I got back into the saddle again today. It wasn’t too cold, it wasn’t raining or foggy, and I knew I needed to stop making excuses. I woke up earlier than usual, got myself ready, and hopped on my bike, expecting to get to work in about 30 minutes, which is about what I used to average.

I forgot to take into account two important things: one, it has been months since I last rode my bike and two, it was a windy morning. It took me about 40 minutes to get to work, which may not seem like much, but it did mean that I didn’t give myself nearly as much time to get settled in at the start of the day.

All that being said, I am glad I am back on my bike. Graduate school was great for my mind but not so kind to my waistline. I am hoping that cycling 9-10 miles every day will bring back all of those positive outcomes that I saw back when I was biking more regularly. In the meantime, I think I ought to get up about 15 minutes earlier to give myself just a little bit more time in the morning!


Recess is a regular, time-honoured tradition in schools, although I have read disturbing reports of schools and districts eliminating recesses across the nation. As a child, recess was a break from classroom activities, an opportunity to play with friends, to swing, to slide, to run, to jump. My friends and I came up with elaborate stories we acted out while playing, starting with Star Trek stories in which we were the captains on the ships and later our own science fiction story about the USS Aerostar traveling through time in the 4th dimension. (Or was it the 7th? I’m not quite sure…) In many ways, this was our own version of live-action role-playing, although without the costumes. We connected our play to other ventures, including artwork and writing.

As a teacher, I have a somewhat different view of recess. It is still a break from classroom activities. It is still an opportunity for students to engage in play. But it is also an opportunity for them to develop pro-social skills of taking turns. Additionally, recess is a time for physical activity, to move and expend a bunch of energy.

I realised recently that my students were not doing as much of this last part as I would prefer and, as a result, many were getting “squirrelly” or “antsy” toward the end of the day. (They have a 20-minute lunch recess and a 15-minute afternoon recess each day. Our schedule doesn’t allow for a morning recess, too.) I remembered something I did all last year in the mornings (when it was nice out): having students walk or run laps around the front lawn of the school. I decided to put this into place during our afternoon recesses. Before students have free choice for play, they have to do one, two, or three laps.

The early results have been fantastic! The students are getting my physical activity, they are doing sustained, moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise, and they are able to focus more during mathing workshop. (Keep in mind, we also do a lot of moving around in the classroom, but it isn’t the same as sustained aerobic exercise!) With the increased focus at the end of the day, we have been able to conclude our core instructional activities for the day, leaving time for my students to once again have free choice at the very end of of the day.

What do you do for recesses?

A Good Day for a Bad Hair Cut

Many friends, family, and regular readers of this blog (all fifteen or so of you) know that, about four and a half years ago, I challenged the Wiley students and community to read 1,000,000 minutes in a single school year. It was an ambitious goal but, with everyone working together, we not only achieved our goal, we exceeded it by 247,277 minutes! The incentive for this goal? I agreed to let my hair grow all year long and then let one of our teachers shave off all of my hair during a whole-school assembly. (more…)

Indoor Recess

One of the realities of living in East Central Illinois is that it gets cold in the winter. Not Antarctica-in-the-winter cold. Not Alaska-in-the-winter cold, and not Siberia-in-the-winter cold, but still cold. Our district policy of staying indoors when the temperature is under 20° F means that we spend a lot of days indoors during January and February. (December, surprisingly, is usually fairly mild.)

Besides the onslaught of cabin fever that comes with the cold weather, students don’t get nearly as much physical activity when we have indoor recess as they do when they are outside. I admit that I don’t blame them. I am frequently expressing a desire to stay inside, wrapped in a blanket, sipping herbal tea, and reading a good book. (Come to think of it, I expressed this very sentiment yesterday when we had our first major snow of the season.) However, as much as I understand the desire to curl up and not move when it is cold out, the reality is that my students need the physical activity. Their bodies are designed to be on the move.

Which is why I am really glad that I finally got around to checking out the Indoor Recess Mega Mixes today from GoNoodle! Instead of spending 10-15 minutes sitting around with their eyes glued to a screen, my students were standing, dancing, high-fiving, and just plain moving. We used one of them today and I was so surprised that all of my students were participating! And then when it was time for Fine Arts, nobody complained about “missing” recess!

Of course, they still like to have time to just chat and play, but we will definitely be using the Indoor Recess Mega Mixes in the future to make sure we are getting in our much-needed physical activity when we can’t go outside because it is too cold!

How do you encourage physical activity when the weather doesn’t cooperate?

New Schedule

I admit, I sometimes get in a rut when it comes to doing things a certain way at a certain time. I like schedules, I like consistency, and I like to keep things the way they are if they are working.

Of course, sometimes things aren’t working and I keep trying to keep them the way they are, anyway.

This is kind of silly, especially because one of my personal mantras is a quote from the movie “Australia.” After two of the main characters have discussed something they both view as a problem and one says that it should be changed, the other responds, “But that is just the way it is!” The first then makes brilliantly simply yet profound statement:

So after nearly three months of trying to find a better way to get some better control to our end of the day routines in our classroom, I realised that one of the problems has been a direct result of having P.E. scheduled from 2:15-2:45. That time just has not given us enough time to return to the classroom, get packed up, and ready to go without a lot running around and chaos.

As a result, I was finally able to look at the P.E. schedule for the building and found that another teacher recently moved her times, which opened up the spots from 1:00-1:30 on Monday and Wednesday. I checked with the various interventionists who work with my students and decided to take the spots. Moving our P.E. times allowed me move our literacy block forward half an hour and move my daily read aloud to the very end of the day. So this is what my new schedule looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 4.45.52 PM

We started working with this new schedule last Friday but we had a lot of changes in the day so today was our first time really trying to follow it. The day worked fairly well until it got to be time to pack up (Today’s Topics on the schedule). Things were still a bit chaotic and so we were not able to read more of Fablehaven. We did have a brief class discussion about it, though, and it seems like the students are willing to give it a go again. I am hopeful that this schedule will be better once we work out the kinks.

But if it doesn’t, that just means I have to do something new!


Giving Students Choices

First off, a quick apology: I left my computer at school yesterday and didn’t realise it until nearly 8 pm. I have tried writing blog posts on my phone and on my tablet before and it just doesn’t work the same way. It wasn’t until I went to bed that it occurred to me that I had a Chromebook at home that I could have used. My apologies if you were looking forward to a post from me!

Getting on topic…

I am a big proponent of giving students choices, albeit always with age-appropriate limits. Allowing students to choose, I have found, increases engagement and buy-in to the activities we are doing. While there are certainly times that I cannot provide choices, such as when we are doing a math benchmark assessment and every student is required to do the same test at approximately the same time, I have discovered that it is usually possible to provide some sort of choice.

Sometimes those choices are between something desirable and something that is not desirable. In those cases, providing choices is a matter of letting them know that while they may pick what they do, the may not be able to pick the outcome. For example, if a student is not following directions in the classroom and it is causing a disruption, I may tell her, in a very matter-of-fact way, that she has two choices: follow directions and be able to participate with her class or speak with the principal and miss out on a preferred class activity. (When such a choice is presented, the student then has to wait until the principal is available and, in the meantime, misses the activity she wanted to participate in.)

Other times the choices are between two desired outcomes or there are an infinite number of choices but a limit placed by how the choice is carried out. During P.E. this afternoon, I gave my students such a choice. After doing our warm-up stretches, they were randomly placed into four groups (I use a set of playing cards for when I need four groups because there are four suits that are easily identified by shape and colour.) Then each group was given a large rubber ball and told that they had 15 minutes to come up with a game or activity that involved the ball.

Like I said, an infinite number of choices limited only by the fact that they had to incorporate the ball. Interestingly enough, I had four separate activities going on; no group chose to combine with another group (or groups) to use two (or more) of the balls. Two groups played Hot Potato. One group played basketball. One group played kickball, or a bizarrely shrunken version of the game. Each group stayed in their quadrant of the gym, assigned at the start simply to identify the four groups.

What I found most interesting was what happened when a student expressed that he did not like the activity chosen. I simply said, “But your group picked that activity and you helped them come up with the idea.” He looked at me a moment, then said, “Oh, right!” and went right back to working with his group.

I was really impressed by how well the four groups worked together. I will do a similar activity with them on Friday, although the groups will change as they will once again be randomly assigned. I will also use a different kind of P.E. equipment. But I am confident that the students will find a way to be successful as I give them choices and allow them to make decisions for themselves.

Hosting Nursing Students

I’ve mentioned several times on this how much I love the resources available to our school through our community, whether it is access to world-class museums, music, and dramatic productions, or just amazing professionals and researchers who can come in as special guests/presenters. Another resource we have comes because of our close relationship to the University of Illinois.

The nursing program at U of I includes a class called NURS 355: Clinical Concepts and Processes in Children’s and Family Health. (Technically, the program is run out of the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the students in our area enrolled in the Urbana Regional Program. This is similar to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine in Peoria.) A part of this course requirement is for student nurses to do practicum experience in local schools for six weeks, and Wiley is one of those school that gets to participate.

This is why my students got to meet Miss Joan this morning. She will be in our classroom each Thursday morning. Today she came to observe but quickly jumped in with the class and was helping students with our review of adding, subtracting, and comparing fractions. After Spring Break, she will be presenting health lessons when she is here, and then will be helping in the classroom wherever needed.

My students and I are very excited to have Miss Joan with us!

PARCC Testing – Day Four

As a test administrator for the PARCC exams, I have an obligation to actively monitor the testing environment throughout the exam period. That means that I need to move throughout the room and ensure that students are doing their own work, maintaining respect of others’ space, and not talking to others.

Because students are testing in the computer lab, I could just position myself at one spot in the back of the room and keep an eye on all of the students, but I have learned in my career that a part of actively monitoring is maintaining proximity. So instead of just sitting in one place, I have been walking throughout the computer lab. That means I have done a lot of walking this week!

I tried to use a pedometer yesterday to see how many steps I took, but I apparently selected the one pedometer in my classroom that was broken. It only recorded four steps for the 90 minutes the students were testing. Since I know it is more than 4 steps to cross from my room to the computer lab, I knew that numbers were not recorded.

So today I pulled out two different pedometers and used both of them while testing was going on. The students had 60 minutes to complete the first math section today. One pedometer logged 2,593 students. The other logged 3,821 steps. Averaging the two and then rounding, I can safely guess I walked something in the neighbourhood of 3,200 steps. Since each step I take is about 2.5 feet, I walked 8,000 feet or nearly 2,670 yards. That is more than twice the length of a football field. That is also about 1.5 miles, or the distance between my school and the Urbana Meijer.

That’s a lot of walking!

Assuming I do that much walking or more each day of testing, I can estimate that I will have logged over 7.5 miles in the computer lab this week!

One more test session this week!

Wear Out

I was gone last Friday attending a conference in Chicago. When I got back this morning, I read through the notes my substitute teacher left for me and saw that the students had played a game in P.E. called Wear Out. She made an observation that the students loved the game. I had actually never heard of it before and so my interest was quite piqued!

I asked my class to tell me about the game so that we could play this morning. It involves the students dividing into two teams on opposite ends of the gym. On the signal, one student from each team races around the gym. As soon as they make it to their base, the next student in line races. The goal is for everyone on your team to make it around first. It is a simple game and the name says exactly what the purpose is: wear out the students as they run, run, and run some more!

The students wanted to compete boys against girls, which they did twice. Then I had them select their own teams of half boys and half girls. They competed two more times. Then I recombined the mixed teams and allowed them to race two more times. After six races, they were quite thoroughly exhausted!

I’m always in favour of learning about new games and activities to use for P.E. We have a lot of resources available in our school and our district, but I am grateful to the retired teachers who share their expertise with me and my students, too!

Body Safety

Every so often, our school has representatives from a coalition of the Urbana Fire Department, the Urbana Police Deapartment, the American Red Cross, and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District visit to talk to the students about different risks that students are exposed to during their day-to-day lives. Some of these include fire safety, gun safety, severe weather, and potentially hazardous liquids. Because of recent legislation in Illinois, our district has joined with the schools in Champaign to provide a body safety presentation, too. Members of the coalition visited each classroom yesterday and today to talk to the students about this very important safety topic.

They started by talking about “stranger danger” and the reminder that students shouldn’t engage in conversations with people they don’t know, especially when they are alone or with friends. Each student should have a list of safe adults that they can go to when they need help. They practiced saying “NO!” in a strong, loud, confident voice and were reminded that whenever they feel unsafe or uncomfortable they should say NO! and RUN AWAY to a safe place. The presenters shared strategies for getting away from a person who is trying to hurt them, including hitting them in a sensitive place.

There was a reminder that these strategies for staying safe are not meant to be used as games or jokes. They also shouldn’t be used when a student in mad at a teacher for telling them to stop doing something that is not safe, respectful, or responsible. Throughout the presentation, our school social worker was present to help monitor students and be aware of possible triggers.

The entire presentation was perfectly geared for my students and taught important skills and concepts without making anyone feel uncomfortable! I am very grateful to those in this student health and safety coalition for putting together these presentations and giving my students the tools and knowledge they need to keep themselves safe from danger.

Basketball Drills

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had my students doing different things with basketball over the past couple of weeks. I’m not really sure why I decided to do it, actually. I don’t play basketball, although I’ve joined a pick-up game here and there. (Due to my lack of depth perception that is a result of being blind in one eye, I’m not particularly good and throwing an object through another object that is a great distance away.) I also played basketball with some buddies in high school during gym class, although I preferred just walking laps around the gym and talking with my best friend.

Anyway, I have somehow managed to find myself trying to teach my class some basics of basketball. Because even though I’m not particularly good at it, I understand some of the mechanics and I have enough students who want to play that I figure they may as well learn how to play right. Fortunately, we have a great resource in our building for helping with this: our speech and language pathologist, who is a former high school and college basketball star. She did some basketball training with fifth graders last year and I asked her if she’d be willing to help out with my fourth graders this year.

She agreed and came in this morning to help out. Something you may notice: she’s got quite the baby bump going on, but that doesn’t stop her! She stepped in, took charge, and got my students learning how to complete step passes, bounce passes, overhead passes, and right-side lay-ups!





It was fantastic! (And, until she explained and taught these, I honestly had no idea what they were.) She modeled each of these for the class before having them do them, but it was quite a shock to many of the students to see this pregnant lady run down the court and complete a lay-up as if it was nothing!



She graciously helped the students, coaching and coaxing, encouraging and supporting, all while helping them learn better control. We don’t have school next Friday (a staff development day on Hallowe’en), but I think she’s going to try to help us a few more times on Fridays, if her schedule will allow it.

I’m very grateful to have access to such remarkably talented people in my building, and I am even more grateful to those who are able to find a spare moment or two to step and and help out. (And yes, I try to do the same with the talents I have, such as troubleshooting technical issues and supporting teachers and students with instructional technology!) Thanks, Mrs. Clark!

Walking, Walking, Walking

At the end of last year, I had an idea: I’d like to participate in the Illinois Marathon’s 5k event. And while I’m at it, I’d like to see a group of intermediate students from Wiley do it, too. I was inspired by other teachers who had done this with their classes.

The biggest hurdle, for me, is that I don’t actually run. Way back when I was in high school, I started experiencing something my family doctor referred to as “throat spasms.” Pretty much, I would start coughing uncontrollably, my throat would close up, and I would black out. Not much fun. At first it would happen for apparently no reason at all. I could be sitting still, walking, running, biking, eating, reading, or watching a show. If I was awake, there was a chance I’d have a coughing fit. I found that drinking lots of water would help stop them, but they would still happen. Then I got to the point where they would only happen when I tried running, even if it was a very short distance. Not when I walked, no matter how far or how long, nor when I biked. Just when I was running. So I pretty much abandoned running as a mode of transporting myself from place to place.

But I’ve wanted to see if I can build up the strength to do it. I’ll take my dog for a walk and run short distances with him. Sometimes I can do an entire lap around the block. But most of the time I just walk. Lots and lots of walking. And biking. (Well, when the weather cooperates, which hasn’t been very much lately.)

I mentioned this goal to my students this year and many were excited by the idea. For P.E. in the morning, we will often go outside and walk or run laps around the sidewalk that surrounds the large front yard of the building. Because of the clothes I wear for work, I walk with my class, but several students choose to run. In the process, we’ve all gotten very good at walking long distances this year. This has been good for us, because today was the annual PTA Walk-a-thon fundraiser event!

My students had 40 minutes to walk as many laps around the front of the building as they could. I told them my goal was for each of them to walk 20 laps. (The fundraiser has recently been going toward getting interactive whiteboards in the building and I want all of us to get them sooner than later!) I also told them that they had to do 5 laps before a water break and 10 laps before they could get an Italian ice. (Alas, the official PTA rules were 2 and 4, respectively.) I also joked that if students did 50 laps they would get a car (but, when asked for more details, I admitted it would just be a picture of a car, drawn by me) and 100 laps would get them an iPhone 6 Plus (also just a picture). Fortunately for me, none of the students got quite that many, so I didn’t have to scramble to produce the joking prizes I’d suggested.

Many students did walk 9 or 10 laps. A few did 11. A few more, who arrived a few minutes later because of different reasons, only did 8. But all of them walked for the full amount of time! We also had a parent join us! My students logged a total of 196 laps! With the 5 I did and the 10 that the parent did, our class had a total of 211 laps! This is roughly 70 miles! (I told my class earlier today that each lap was about a quarter mile, but I checked the math again and I believe it is closer to a third.) This isn’t the greatest distance of any class of mine, but I also have fewer students this year than I have had before.

All in all, I was quite pleased with our performance. Whether we set a record for the school or not doesn’t even matter. What matters is that we were walking, walking, walking!

The Impact of Music

I taught a brief health lesson this morning on how music and other external stimuli can impact how we are feeling. It was really interesting to observe how easily recogniseable the effects really are!

I started with asking the students to take a moment to take a mental note of their physical state: what their bodies were doing, what their heart rates were like, and how they were feeling in general. Then I asked them to listen to a song and think about what their bodies did in response. While the song was playing, I had all the lights on to make the room as bright as possible. The song was Sandstorm by Darude. For those who aren’t familiar, it is a non-lyric piece of techno music with very fast beats. While it played, several students danced in their chairs, moving to the beat, and getting excited. When it was done, they took note of their heart rates and commented that their hearts were beating much faster.

Then I turned off a set of lights and played another instrumental piece, this one from the British television series Doctor Who.

The results were quite dramatic! The students quickly calmed down, rested their heads, relaxed their muscles, breathed deeply, and seemed to enjoy the brief respite from so much stimulation all the time. When it was done, I asked the same questions. They shared that they felt much calmer and their hearts were not racing.

I explained that different kinds of music affect us in different ways. Fast music is good when we want to get pumped up; slow music is good for when we want to relax. And being able to recognise which we want to do is part of good health!

Year in Review

Today was our very last day of school for the 2013-2014 school year and the end of my third year of teaching at Wiley Elementary School. Each year has had its own unique challenges and each year has had both similarities and differences in what we have done and how we have done it in the classroom. And each year ends with me realising that, despite the challenging days, despite the struggles to reach the students least willing to be reached, despite the personal goal to make sure that every student is being stretched to do his or her best, despite my own personal shortcomings, the year has been a good one. I have come to love each and every one of my students and know that as they grow older they will always be my fourth graders. I hope that they will fondly think of me as their fourth grade teacher. I have a not-so-secret hope that, just as I went back to visit my fourth grade teacher over the 20 years that she taught after I had moved on, my own fourth graders will remember me and come back to say hello, to introduce me to new books, to talk about their families, and to let me know what they are learning. I also hope that parents will forgive me for my shortcomings and know that I really do try my very best every day to help every student.

Here’s a recap of the year. This is the same recap that I sent home with report cards today, but since I know that there is a lot information that goes home with those report cards, I thought I’d share it here, too.

Science: We learned about ecosystems and habitats, especially around the Great Lakes region; weather and the water cycle; electricity and magnetism; and force and motion. The students conducted several independent research projects, attempted to build small electronic devices in the classroom and learned how to deal with the struggle of things not working properly, and constructed balloon-powered toy cars using household items.

Mathematics: We studied properties of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and learned how to use the standard algorithms to perform multi-digit arithmetic; we examined plane figures and two-dimensional shapes, learned how to find area and perimeter, and explored how to measure angles using a protractor; we learned about fractions, including how to compare and order, how to find equivalent fractions, adding and subtracting with like denominators, and multiplying by a whole number; we learned how to convert fractions to decimals and decimals to fractions; and we examined the two major systems of measurement and found different ways to graph data.

Social Studies: We started a journey through the history of how we got where we are today, starting with early European exploration, going through colonialism, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and Westward Expansion; we visited Springfield and learned about Illinois’ natural history and the visited the State Capitol and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. We read Alice McGinty’s wonderful book, Celebrating Champaign-Urbana History, and learned how our community was founded.

Literacy: We read! Oh, how we read! We read from our Houghton-Mifflin Reading textbook, we read chapter books in literature circles and guided reading groups, we read as a whole class, we read to each other, we listened to reading by our student teachers and others, we read to our first grade reading buddies, and we listened to them read to us! Many of us participated in the Battle of the Books program. We also read our own self-selected books, SOARing every day. We also wrote! We wrote in response to reading, we wrote about our own experiences, we wrote about personal hobbies and interests, we wrote to our pen pals at Robeson Elementary School in Champaign, and we wrote about short research projects.

Physical Education: We learned how to handle different sports equipment, we played games, we practiced volleyball techniques, we ran, and we trained for the big teachers vs. students kickball at the very end of the year. Four of our class members were on the student team and did very well competing against the teachers! We also participated in the Wiley Walk-a-thon at the start of the year and the Color Run at the end of the year!

It’s been a wonderful year! And while I am looking forward to a break, know that I will be spending the next few months attending workshops and conferences, reading professional journals, articles, and books, and planning for the coming year. I hope that each of my students will take time to read every day. The Urbana Free Library is once again offering their wonderful summer reading program. There are also programs available online through Scholastic and other sites. Enjoy the break and, as I told students who asked me to sign their yearbooks, have a fantabulasticaliciously awesome sauce summer!

Spring Training

One of the highlights of the end of the year at Wiley is the epic (and yes, I do mean epic) Teachers vs. Students Kickball Game. This tradition has last several years and I have been a proud part of it since my first year here. (Admittedly, this is only my third year, but still, I love the kickball game!) The game is a part of our annual Wiley Fun Day, which is our big PBIS send-off for the year.

Not all of the teachers play, but there are enough of us who volunteer to do so that we are able to field a respectable team. The students’ team, on the other hand, is by peer nomination. The six intermediate classes (third through fifth grades) each select two boys and two girls to represent them on the team. I allow my students to vote for the classmates they want to have participate based on the criteria of athletic skill and good sportsmanship. We have had students in the past who were very athletic but had failed to demonstrate good sportsmanship and therefore didn’t make the team. Each year I can guess who will be selected but I refrain from sharing my thoughts with the students because I want them to have total ownership over the selection.

Before voting, though, I make sure all students have an opportunity to properly train for the game! So we use our last few weeks of school to train during P.E. If the weather is agreeable, we go outside and have kickball games. Today, though, it was cold and damp, so we did some indoor training. After stretching and warming up, the students divided themselves into two groups which ended up being all the boys in one group and all the girls in the other. (This was entirely their doing.)

For the next ten minutes, the girls practiced throwing, catching, and sometimes dodging while the boys practiced speed and dexterity. Then they switched places and practices for another ten minutes. Some students were initially reluctant to participate, but their friends encouraged them and soon everyone was joining in on our Spring Training. We will continue our kickball unit for the next couple of weeks before voting for our representatives on the Wiley Student Kickball Team.

Physical Exertion

My fourth grade teaching partner is also the girls’ volleyball coach at Urbana Middle School, so when it comes to physical education, she is much more of an expert than myself. While our classes do not combine for P.E. (fifty students in the gym with just two adults would be a bit much), we often collaborate on plans for what we will have the students work on. So when she told me earlier this week about a plan to have the students work on being able to run a mile, I quickly jumped on board with the idea!

There is a large grassy field in front of our school building that is crisscrossed with sidewalks. It turns out that a particular circuitous path is pretty close to being a quarter-mile. (It isn’t exactly, though. The path we use for the annual walkathon fundraiser, incidentally, is about a third of a mile.) This morning we had P.E. and it was just warm enough to be able to go outside for it so the students could get a feel for what our cardiovascular unit would feel like.

Before going out, though, we talked about safety, especially not pushing oneself too hard the first time doing a specific task. I told the students that I did not want anyone to try to sprint the four laps they were going to do, but to try alternately running, jogging, or walking. We also talked about what could be expected during such physical exertion, such as elevated heart rate and quickened breathing.

Once we got outside, I led the students in some warm-up stretches and then let them start their laps. Some decided to walk all four laps, others alternated their activity. A few boys tried sprinting, despite my caution, and quickly learned that sprinting a mile was not going to work out for them and they ended up walking toward the end. There were quite a few students who complained of breathing quickly and I explained that that is normal after physical exertion, especially running!

After we came in, we took some deep breaths to calm down and settle our heart rates. We also had a short discussion about aerobic exercise, how muscle tissue responds to increased activity, and the common experience of slight pain, or a “stitch” in one’s side after running. While a few students insisted that their hearts were going to explode and they would need to go to the hospital, this didn’t happen for anyone!

We will continue to do this activity after Spring Break. My goal is for the students to start setting goals for their time and learn what they have to do to reach those goals. I will also do some more collaboration with my grade level partner to see what other activities we can do with our classes. And since we will be outside, I am certain that at least some of them will be combined!

I am so glad that the weather is finally warming up with the arrival of spring! After a long, cold, often miserable winter, it is nice to get outside and take advantage of the open space and the fresh air!

Warm(er) Weather

By most standards, one would be hard-pressed to consider today a day of warm weather. It was about 30 degrees in the morning, with a brisk wind blowing. The temperatures did get up to the 60s this afternoon, which was pretty awesome. According to the calendar, though, we still have a little less than two more weeks of school.

But the weather today was pleasant enough that I was able to do several things I haven’t done since November!

First, I finally got to ride my bike to work again! I live about 5-6 miles away from my building, which is just close enough to be “bike-able” but far enough to make the ride a decent workout. With the constant layer of snow and/or ice we’ve had for the past several months, though, biking has not been an option for me. So today, with the temperatures above freezing and the sun up early (about the only good thing about Daylight Savings Time), I was able to hop on my bike and come to work. It took me about 35 minutes, which is fairly typical, and I was fairly worn out, but it was worth it! I felt energised and ready for the day!

Another thing I got to do today was take my class outside! We went outside last week a few times, but it was still pretty chilly and the students weren’t too excited about being out of doors. Today, though, was our regularly-scheduled day for physical education and I was absolutely going to take advantage of the warm(er) weather! We got some of the balls and headed outside! After doing some stretches and warm-up activities, the students had the option of playing soccer, basketball, kickball, or playing tag in order to soak up the sun’s rays and get some fresh air!

The other thing we did for the first time in what seemed like forever was go outside for a morning recess with other classes! Again, we went outside a few times last week, but we didn’t have a whole lot of time due to testing schedules, and we weren’t able to go out as the same time as the other classes because they were either getting ready for testing or were going to the fine arts classes. So it was quite nice to have multiple classes outside, burning off the energy that has been pent up for so very long!

I know that there is the possibility of cooler weather returning later this week, but I am not going to focus on that. Instead, I am going to be thankful for the warm(er) weather we have today!

Creating Order Out of Chaos

I have a confession to make: I am absolutely fascinated by physics. I first took a course on physics while in high school but, honestly, other than vague notions of applying calculus and using vectors, I don’t think I got too much out of it. Basic principles stuck in my head, though, and I continued to enjoy learning more about how these scientists try to make sense of the world through mathematical models. While attending the University of Illinois, I had the great fortune to meet and befriend physicists from all over the country, many through my church community. One in particular became one of my best friends and I recall many times hanging out with buddies who were working on PhDs in physics, biology, microbiology, chemistry, and other fields. I rarely understood half of what they were talking about but when I caught onto a topic, I was elated, especially when I realised the connection between the models and theories they were discussing and my own chosen vocation. The only other physics class I have ever taken, though, was Physics 123, which was subtitled “Physics Made Easy for Elementary Grades.” We conducted experiments, many of which involved eggs, and I made more connections between theoretical physics and education.

One of the concepts of physics that I have thought about a lot is entropy. There are many misconceptions about entropy, but there are some fundamental principles that I see being made evident in the classroom. Essentially, entropy is the idea that systems will gravitate toward equilibrium, but that equilibrium is sometimes brought about by disorder. (I am surely oversimplifying the concept and I am positive that someone who knows much more about physics will be able to correct my errors, but I think the gist of it is accurate.) I see this idea of “order out of chaos” all the time as an elementary grade teacher, but I have seen it across the spectrum. Even in the leadership field, there is a notion that groups create order only after going through a tumultuous period of “storming” that eventually leads to “performing.” In my college classes, I was always fascinated by the way my classmates and I created a system of assigned seating that was never once enforced but always followed.

Today I saw this concept of order out of chaos perfectly modeled by my class during P.E. After doing our regular stretches and warm-ups, I allowed my students to use various rubber balls in the gym. The only rules I established were that they not kick the balls and they constantly looked around them to ensure everyone was safe at all times. Then I set them free to do as they would, watching the whole group closely, of course. Within minutes, the class had spontaneously gone from sheer chaos as students sought to get to the equipment to an amazing level or order! On one side of the gym was a volleyball game. On the other was a basketball game. A few students were creating their own games. But everyone was included, everyone was participating, and the chaos was turned into order!

Many teachers I know (myself included) describe teaching as “organised chaos.” Visitors to the school may hear loud noises, see a lot of hustle and bustle, and wonder what, if anything, the students are learning. But as one who is with them all day, every day, I can assure you that not despite the chaos but because of it, my students are learning, growing, and maturing day by day by day by day! Just keep in mind that this growth is rarely linear, but tends to resemble more, to borrow words from a favourite television show, “a wibbly-wobbly ball of timey-wimey stuff.”

The 2013 Wiley Walk-a-thon

Each year, our PTA sponsors a fundraiser known as the Wiley Walk-a-thon. (You can read about the walkathons from previous years here and here.) This year’s walk-a-thon was once again held in the autumn, which I think everyone agrees is a much better time to hold it than in the late spring when there are roughly a million other things going on at the same time.

My class was scheduled to walk for about 40 minutes right after music. I forgot about handing out their wristbands, which are used to track the number of laps they do, so we had to do that very quickly and then finally got outside for the walk-a-thon. A member of the PTA quickly explained the rules of the walk-a-thon (no running, students get a cup of water after two laps and a popsicle after four), and then they were on their way. I walked four laps with my class and then supervised to make sure nobody got hurt.

I decided to use one of the apps on my phone to see how accurately it could track the distance I walked. We determined last year that the route is 1,791 feet, or about 0.34 miles. So three laps should be just about one mile. According to my app, though, it took four laps to walk 0.97 miles. So, obviously, the app is not 100% accurate.

I don’t have the building-wide totals, but I did learn that my class, including me, walked 229 laps, which translates to 410,139 feet or 77.68 miles! That means that each student averaged about 3.24 miles in 40 minutes. Some students walked considerably more than others, but I am overall quite satisfied with the results of this year’s walk-a-thon. And now I feel much, much more confident about having my students build up the stamina to run a mile this year!

(On a completely different note, here is the link to the blog post that Anjanette wrote about her and Robin’s visit to our classroom a couple of weeks ago to hear reports about Great Lakes fish!)

Review Day

We move along at a pretty good clip here in Room 31 at Wiley Elementary School in Urbana, Illinois. Once students have shown me that they have mastered a concept or skill, we move on to a new one, but we keep spiraling back to the work we’ve done before. Every now and then, though, we have a day that is mostly review of these previously-learned skills. Today was such a day.

And a good thing, too, because nearly 25% of my class was out sick. One of the downfalls of having community schools in which everyone is friends with everyone else is that illnesses tend to get passed around pretty quickly. I’m not terribly worried, though, because we will loop back to review the material we reviewed today, so everyone will have ample opportunity to demonstrate mastery before I ever sit down to fill out a progress report!

So, what did we review today?

We started our day with the students reviewing their morning routines. Rather than write out everything I wanted them to do this morning, my morning message asked the class to think about our routines and show that they could remember them without prompting from me. As an incentive, I offered five minutes of extra recess time if everyone was able to follow our routines correctly. A few extra minutes outside is a great motivator!

For physical education, we went to the gym and reviewed what it means to be responsible in movement activities. I allowed the students to play with the large bin of kickballs we have at our school and monitored to make sure that everyone was moving around, everyone was participating, and everyone was being safe.

When we returned to the classroom, we started our second reading unit on American Stories. After brainstorming what it means to be an American, we previewed the selection for this week, which is a story about Mexican-American author Tomás Rivera and his first visit to a library. The students thought about their own experiences at libraries and then we reviewed how to write a response to a reflection question. The question for today was: Why is the library important to you?

Later in the afternoon we had a fluency review lesson for math. We played Around the World to practice the multiplication facts and then the students worked independently on factor triangles and inequalities. We also had our Mix-Up Math sessions, in which the two fourth grade classes mix together for review and enrichment. The two groups have been exploring the principles and properties of multiplication as they work on becoming conversant with the process of multiplying numbers together.

It was a good day today. We did a lot of review but the students are showing that they are remembering the things we have learned so far. With the Fall Holiday next Monday, we have just eight days left of the first quarter. I am so impressed by how much my class has already accomplished! This week and next are going to be exciting as we move forward and prepare for the second quarter of the school year!


After our fantastic field trip to watch an Illinois Women’s Volleyball game on Friday, I decided I wanted to take advantage of the volleyballs we have in our P.E. supplies and have my students work on learning how to pass the ball from one person to another. The other fourth grade class has been doing volleyball for the past couple of weeks. (Their teacher is, or was, the UMS volleyball coach). I would love to have them play an actual volleyball game, but the system for setting up the volleyball net is complicated and would take up too much of our time.

We started our volleyball unit today. After the students did their five-minute warm-ups, I had them line up and then randomly assigned groups by handing each student a playing card. Then they formed groups according to suits. It is a great way to group students randomly!

For about half an hour, students passed the volleyballs within their groups of five or six. Because this was our first time, they dropped the ball far more often than they successfully passed it to another, but they kept trying the whole time. As they practiced, I circulated the gym and offered tips and advice, using the Illinois game as a reference point. For example, when I saw some students staying in one place and having the ball fall to the ground near them, I pointed out that the Illinois and Arizona State volleyball players were constantly moving around the court, going to the ball. One of the best parts of this activity was that all of the students were participating and taking my advice to heart, actually trying to move around more and keep the ball going.

We will continue volleyball for a couple of weeks and then we will move on to something else, but I am excited to see how my students grow in their skills!


(By the way, I finally got the photos for my previous post uploaded!)


Last weekend I came down with a nasty cold that I battled long and hard. On Tuesday I dragged myself to school and discovered nearly a fifth of my class had also come down with nasty colds. I survived Tuesday and dragged myself to work again on Wednesday so that I could be there for my student teacher’s first observation and also so that I could participate in our fourth grade data review meeting. But by the end of the day I was still stuffed up and slightly nauseated.

So I made sub plans, called in sick, and have spent the day finally recovering from my cold. My nose is still a little stuffy, but not as bad as it was the past few days. I was able to sleep in (and on my brand-new mattress, too!), rested all morning, and felt better so my wife and I finally got our bedroom organised. (It took us slightly more than a month, but our home is finally unpacked, organised, and ready for guests to visit!) Then I spent the remainder of the day resting.

I hope that my class had a great day today. I know the sub well, as she has subbed for me many, many times in the past few years and she is a retired fourth grade teacher who used to work in the same room I work in now. I hope that my class had fun during P.E., that they wrote excellent paragraphs about a story they’ve read a couple of times, that they learned more about ecosystems, that they enjoyed continuing to learn the story of August Pullman, and that they have a better understanding of the properties of addition and subtraction that help explain how and why certain computations always work.

I hope. I won’t know for sure until tomorrow, of course. But any parents who are reading are encouraged to ask their children how their first day with a substitute teacher in fourth grade went and what they accomplished!

Go Foods, Slow Foods, and Whoa Foods

My students and I had an interesting conversation this morning about food and physical fitness. As part of our building’s new Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program, we are placing a larger emphasis on not just physical activity but also on healthy lifestyles in general. This has always been a component of our physical education/health curriculum, but CATCH will provide us with the resources we need to make it truly meaningful to our students.

The conversation about food focused on the three basic categories we can put food into: Go Foods, Slow Foods, and Whoa Foods. Several of the students had already heard these terms from parents or from their participation with the FitKids program offered by the University of Illinois. I really like these categories because they emphasise that there is no such thing as “good” food and “bad” food, but rather food that should be eaten in higher quantities and food that should be eaten in lower quantities. The basic standard to follow is this: Eat more Go Foods than Slow Foods and more Slow Foods than Whoa Foods. Pretty simple, right?

So what do these different categories actually mean? Go Foods are things like lean meat, poultry, and fish that have been grilled or baked, not fried. Things like fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whole grains, and high fiber foods. Slow foods are things like fried chicken, 2% milk, white bread or pasta made from refined flour, tacos, French toast, or pancakes. Whoa Foods are things like cake, cookies, ice cream, meat with high fat content, and canned fruits in heavy syrup.

To provide examples of these, I showed the student three different kinds of snacks I had in my desk: Fruit and grain cereal bars (a Go Food), chewy granola bars with chocolate chips (a Slow Food), and Swiss cake rolls (a Whoa Food). We discussed what made all of these foods different and what we could learn by looking at the packages. We wrapped up our conversation by talking about the types of foods students will be encouraged to bring to school for birthday treats. Instead of full-size cupcakes with lots of frosting, we would like students to bring fresh fruit, muffins, small cupcakes, cookies, or other foods that are Go Foods or Slow Foods. We will have Whoa Foods at our class parties, but only with plenty of Go Foods and Slow Foods, as well.

I really like the overall approach that this program presents. The students understand what the categories mean and are becoming more aware of the food that they eat at home and at school. There is a lot more to the CATCH program, of course, but this was a great way to get us started!

Getting Started with Curriculum Materials

Today was a getting-started kind of day. After spending a week of community building, expectation setting, rule making, and procedure practicing, it was time to get started with our material. We will continue to do all of the things listed above throughout the year, of course, but while doing so we also need to move on to the next major challenge, which is establishing routines of academic success.

After our time in the gym for P.E. where we played four-corner dodgeball, we returned to our classroom where the students took a brief “brain break” while I passed out our Houghton-Mifflin Reading books. The first story from the basal reader for the year is Akiak, which is a story about a lead-dog for an Iditarod race team. As the students read on their own, I played a recording of the story (and confirmed that I am able to control my iTunes library on my computer via my iPad, which I thought was pretty cool). After reading, we talked about making inferences and then the students had their first written response assignment. I reminded the students to restate the question as a sentence, provide supporting evidence, and give a conclusion. Everyone was working, which was rather wonderful!

Later in the day, we broke out our Houghton-Mifflin Math books for the first time. I am taking this second week of school to review some fundamentals, such as addition and subtraction of greater numbers. I have a weekly meeting each Monday afternoon, so the sub who will also be one of my regular “go-to” subs introduced the afternoon’s assignment and got my class started. After returning from my meeting, I monitored the students as they finished. As soon as everyone was done and had handed in their work, we did two more benchmark assessments for math, known as the M-COMP (math computation) and M-CAP (math concepts and applications). And then the day was done!