Today We Went On A Treasure Hunt.


 Could it be the droid I am looking for? photo credit: Nukamari via photopin cc

This morning as I was putting the schedule on the board, I stopped next to the science label and simply wrote: C,H & O activity. When students started coming in and seeing what the roadmap for today said, they all asked “What is C,H & O activity”. It stumped them. It perplexed them. It thrilled them. They couldn’t wait until 2:40pm when it was finally time to explain what we were doing. I was bombarded with questions all day but simply replied “You’ll see when we get there. It’s going to be fun!”.

One student did figure it out 5 minutes before science, and was given the job of proudly announcing to the class that it was called the: “Carnivore, Herbivore and Omnivore Activity”. Questioning eyes landed on me as I finished my sentence. What was this activity? How would it be fun?

The idea was simple. We have been studying habitats for a while and have just started our exploration of food chains this week. It was time to explore what the different types of consumers were.The students were given a table with three columns and were challenged to search through the science literature for multiple examples of all three types of consumers. (I am blessed that the school librarian put together an amazing collection of together for us for this unit).  Once they had completed their lists, they could pick their favourite three and sketch them in their science thinking books.

Our pre-discussion resulted in amazing questions: Is a penguin an omnivore or is it carnivore? Are bees herbivores? What about vampire bats??. Armed with the books, a reminder to have a critical eye when reviewing information and eagerness that only a treasure hunt could inspire the students were off! The buzz in the room was amazing! Discussions and gasps of delight as they figured out what different animals eat filled the room. “DId you know that a frog is carnivore?”, “Do you know what the three types of mammals who lay eggs are?” When students were stumped they could use the laptops to check their information.

Oh what fun it was! There were groans as I asked them to clean up. What fun scientific treasure hunts are! Nobody can take away the treasure of knowledge.


Books That Touch Our Humanity

I have been struck down with Strep throat and am currently sitting in bed with my orange juice reading an amazing book called “Teach Like a PIRATE”. (Ironic because my voice sounds just like that of a gruff pirate right now..)  It’s just the kind of book I need: something to inspire me to do great things. As I was reading through this book I started thinking about the impact that amazing literature can have in the lives of our classrooms. I want to share with you two books that I have read with my students that I truly believe have touched our humanity and made us a better community of learners.


The first book is The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. My students and I loved reading this book. It was our first novel study of the year. The story centers around Ivan who is a gorilla that lives in a mall. The story is told from his perspective as he remembers his past and fights for his freedom from the big top mall. It helped build empathy and understanding during that crucial first two months of the school year when we were carefully building our classroom community. The text is simple but the characters and story are so profound they move you in ways you cannot imagine.


The second book is Wonder by R J Palacio. The story is about August Pullman who is entering school for the very first time after being home schooled his whole life. August is a very special boy who has a facial deformity that makes him look extraordinary when he really is ordinary just like all the other kids. The book chronicles his struggles as he navigates his way into life as a middle schooler. It brings up topics that all kids can relate to: being new, exclusion, bullying, the power of friendships and acceptance. I am in love with this book and the conversations it has brought into my classroom.

So if you are looking for two great books to read with your students, I would recommend these two books in a heart beat.

To learn together do we have to sit together?

Earlier this week I read a blog post by Aviva Dunsiger entitled: “Why I have such strong reaction to rows”.  As is usually the case with my PLN when something is on my mind someone else is thinking about the same thing and writing about it. Some people say they don’t like students sitting in groups because it causes increased noise levels and behaviour problems. Although this is true in some instances. Should learning really be quiet and reserved all the time? Although I am not the biggest fan of row seating I don’t think it is that bad but rather keeping your seating plan static for long stretches of time is.

Over the course of the year I have tinkered with our seating plan. We tend to change seating arrangements once every 4 – 6 weeks to keep things fresh. Sometimes I have the students vote on seating options and at other times I just pick an option. We have sat in pairs, in groups of 3, 4 and  5 and in rows.  The same goes for choosing where students sit. Sometimes I pick, sometimes they pick. Variety is the spice of our seating arrangement in grade 4. And yes, by request from the students we have sat in rows for a bit this year. They loved it for a bit but then as usual got bored and asked to change the arrangement again.

Students will occasionally request that they sit alone and I let them do so with the understanding that next time they will need to sit in a group with their peers. They happily agree and we find a spot that is just right for them to sit.


For the most part in our grade 4 classroom we sit in groups and I prefer it.

Some of the reasons I like having my students sit in groups are:

Sitting in groups makes group work easier. No need to move desks when students need a space to work because there area already spaces ready for them to work in.IMG_0034

Learning is very social in elementary school. Young students love learning together!

Sitting in groups teaches them self-control. When great friends sit together they chat. It’s natural. Seating them in a group forces them to learn that there are times  when it is okay to be talking and sharing with each other and others when you need to be listening.


Peers model appropriate behaviour. Sometimes all students need is to see their desk mate pulling out their work to do the same. No need for a teacher prompt.

For whatever reason when students sit in rows I feel like I need to lecture more. I don’t like lecturing to my grade 4’s  for long periods of time as I find they tune out and get bored.

Sitting in groups also allows students who may otherwise not interact with each other to see each other in a new light and learn to work with new people.

I also tend to be flexible with where students work once they are given an assignment. We are lucky enough to have a large table at the back of our room that can seat 6 people. Students will often move there when they are given work and collaborate together on projects. At times I sit there so I can help students who need extra help. Other students prefer to do their work on the floor using clipboards which is also okay with me as long as the work gets done. Others simply stay at their desks.

What are your thoughts on seating in elementary classroom?

Wonder of a Quick Assessment Tool: Glass, Bug, Mud

As I was sitting relaxing on christmas break a thought came across my mind, ‘I need a quick assessment tool in math to help with quick differentiation”. I pondered the idea for a while and remembered I had read an article on just that topic in one of my education courses a while ago. Once I had dredged up the name of the article from my memory I started looking into the ins and outs of the assessment tool (incase you’re wondering it’s called, Glass, bug, mud).

The glass, bug and mud assessment tool works with a simple analogy of imagining your understanding is the driver of a car. If you understand a concept you are glass, all is clear and you can see the road. If you kind-of get it you are bugs and see some of the road ahead. Finally, if you are mud your view is almost completely blocked and you don’t understand the concept or question. My goal was to have students quickly self-assess and to help me with my groupings during our math stations in math.

To get the concept of glass, bug, mud going in my classroom I created a small graphic inspired from Freshly Sharpened Pencils and it stuck on the top of my whiteboard.


C.C. “Glass, bug mud” Mary Bertram

Once the graphic was up the fun began. I played a game with my students to see what their evaluation of understanding was of everyday activities with three corners of the classroom representing glass, bug and mud. I asked questions like “What is your understanding of the rules of baseball?” or “Do you understand the rules for kickball?” and the students would move to the appropriate corner. They loved the game and we played it for a good 15 minutes before recess. Later that day I asked all the students to stand up and whether they were glass, bug or mud in their understanding of the topic just covered. They quickly and easily moved to the corner their understanding was at.*It must be noted that I have worked hard to create a sense of community in my classroom this year where weakness is accepted and celebrated as a learning opportunity. I know some students get self-conscious with this type of self-assessment but that is a post for another time.* The rest of the week after we completed work I would ask them where their understanding was at and they would let me know without hesitation. (They actually asked multiple times if we could check our understanding and play glass, bug and mud! You have to love grade 4 enthusiasm)

I hadn’t thought about it much this week as we had a windchill day on Monday and only 5 students made it to school on Wednesday but today is when the MAGIC happened….

I was fumbling my way through a lesson that was nosediving quickly. After explaining something twice to the students one of them said “Miss Bertram. I have to be honest I am at mud right now. I have no idea what you are trying to tell us”. Then slowly a few students responded “Yeah, I am at mud too…”. I smiled as realized I too was in the mud and was glad for our new glass, bug and mud tool.