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Gordon School
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News blog
A look at day-to-day life in the school, and the ways Gordon touches the community that surrounds it.


A classwide collaboration on a nationwide project in fourth grade

A classwide collaboration on a nationwide project in fourth grade
Thursday, February 24, 2005


From year to year, and between one classroom and another classroom, every group of students is different.
Recently, one fourth grade teacher began to think his class needed some practice working as a team, so he invented a project he’d never tried before.
Keeping with the established fourth grade curricular theme of the United States, he challenged them to make the largest map of the United States that they could.
With the desks moved back and all the students working, shoeless, on a single sheet of paper, the group dynamics are laid out for all to see.
Their only tools are pencils and pens, and their references are the classroom map and their personal atlases.
The globe came in handy for the team drawing Alaska and Hawaii, as the teacher tried to explain why there was no way they were going to draw the Pacific Ocean to scale.
It is a complicated project. During today’s session, there was more observation than drawing, and there was more discussion than there was quiet work.
Group work is hard, and it’s easier for the students to direct all of their comments and questions to the teacher.
And they do need the teacher to get them started.
But, eventually, the teacher always steps aside, and the students begin to turn to one another more and more.
Even on this scale, the little details make the difference. Today, something that everyone referred to as “that whole Florida problem” was causing trouble all the way up in eastern Pennsylvania.
After a few sessions on the map, the group had stopped to discuss a six-step process for problem solving:
1. Calm down
2. Identify the problem
3. Set a positive goal
4. Think of several solutions, and listen to all solutions
5. Evaluate the solutions
6. Try the solution!!
You guys! This is all wrong!” came a cry today. Several heads turned. “Try smiling,” one of them said. “Smiling will relax you. Smile, then we’ll talk.”
One of the struggles is overcoming perfectionism. These students need to decide, together, how good is good enough.
Frustration heats up, and the urge to erase it all and start again is strong.

“Except Washington,” everyone agrees. “Washington came out great.”
At the end of today’s session, the class gathered for a debriefing. “Guys,” the teacher summarizes, “even if you can’t solve a problem completely, you can work together to find the best possible solution. And that’s going to be the key if you’re ever going to finish this project.”
Happy 100 days
The fourth grade’s room-sized map is a nice echo of the rug that occupies center stage in the Early Childhood shared space.
Today that rug was covered with 100th day celebrants.
Each year students celebrate the 100th day of school by making groups of 100, throughout the day.
This group was contemplating the nature of 100 feet.
Yes, they really did measure out 100 of them.
And they really did trace their feet to make them.



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