Friday, September 6, 2013


My wonderful fifth grade team and I were very purposeful in the way we started off the year. We wanted to make sure that we explored the essential questions, "What makes a community?" and "What does the way I show respect say about me?" These are really key questions that we want fifth graders to think deeply about. So, we began the year with some community building activities that would really showcase how students will work collaboratively in our classrooms. And on top of learning about each other and teamwork, Robinson has a theme this year: GRIT. And what is grit? Well, grit is persevering through difficult tasks for a longer period of time. (If you have six minutes, watch Angela Lee Duckworth express the key characteristic that leads to success in her TEDTalk.) And our students are going to be learning to be "gritty" this year as we may present challenging content and material that they may first fail at! But that's okay! Because we have grit and we are going to persevere in order to be successful in the future.

So, have you heard about the Saving Sam and the Marshmallow Challenge activities?

Saving Sam was an activity that involved a gummy worm, a gummy lifesaver, a plastic cup, and two paperclips. A worm named Sam (gummy worm) had flipped its boat (cup) over and was trapped on top of the boat while his or her (well, worms are hermaphrodites) life saver (gummy lifesaver) was stuck underneath the boat. The goal of the students, in pairs, was to save Sam only using the provided paperclips. No hands, Ma!

Wow, did I see GRRRRRIT! At my first walk-around, I wasn't sure if anyone would be able to save Sam. They weren't sure how to save him/her and I heard a lot of questions like, "Are you sure this is possible?" "Are you sure I can't use my hands?" And then, miraculous things began to happen: partnerships were working together! Take a look!

Now, I had planned on debriefing about the teamwork and collaboration, but this activity led me to talk about GRIT. Why? Well, because I had a couple groups finish within the first five minutes of the activity. Then some of the other groups began trickling past the finish line. BUT I had three pairs still working even while we were debriefing the activity. And guess what? They were seriously frustrated...but they didn't give up! They kept on working because they knew that other groups had completed the task and they knew that it was doable! Wow, what grit!

I first learned about the Marshmallow Challenge from my administration at my last school. They brought in this exercise from TED (talks on riveting ideas: technology, entertainment, and design) to begin the conversation of collaboration, communication, the different roles that different people have on a team amongst the adults. This was such an eye-opening activity that I thought this would be an awesome way for students to be involved in that same conversations, hopefully preparing them for the teamwork and collaboration that would come throughout the year.

The materials that each team of four received were: 20 spaghetti sticks, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. Each team only had 18 minutes to build the tallest freestanding structure with a few simple rules: the entire marshmallow must be on top of the structure, the structure can be made up of as many or as few of the materials provided, the spaghetti sticks, string, and tape can be broken/cut, and the structure had to be freestanding at the end of the 18 minutes.

Some began by drawing out a plan on paper. Other groups just began to build. Some groups naturally divvied up the roles, which included cutting the tape, providing/breaking spaghetti sticks, and etc... I would like to tell you that all groups succeeded in building a freestanding structure, but...only one group had succeeded. But I would not ask them to build me a building in the near future: their structure collapsed within a minute after being measured and declared the sole winner! Yikes!


We had to debrief, of course! We talked about the positives, things that went well. And I would agree with them that they were all engaged, working together, and communicating... But this activity, I heard and saw more disagreements break out and/or miscommunication in the groups. AHA! Finally a moment of failure for my kiddos to learn from! So when we debriefed the activity, we all agreed that we need to learn not only to communicate, but to communicate WELL.

This year is going to be full of so many challenges that I know at first, they may fail at. But with the lessons of grit we're learning and the support of many, we will succeed. Even if it takes five minutes or five months or five years. We will be at the finish line!

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