This week I had the honor of visiting the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade GATE classrooms at Golden Hill elementary in Fullerton, California.
High-quality classroom management stood out across all four classes. It’s easy to forget this essential need when planning complex lessons and in-depth activities, but a well-managed classroom is the foundation for everything. I noticed:
- Student numbers being used to form groups, split the classroom into ‘odds’ and ‘evens’, and to check in assignments.
- Playing cards used to randomly call on students.
- Rhythmic clapping to get students’ attention during group activities.
By early October, these techniques were already well-practiced and second-nature to the students. Whether kids were working with circuit boards, iPads, or writing on paper, the invisible work of establishing classroom norms and procedures was clearly evident.
4th Grade Electronics
Mr. Waisanen’s fourth graders were delving deep into electronics. Students worked in groups building circuit boards using Snap Circuits. They experimented and then used multimeters to infer how their changes affected the flow of electricity through their circuit.
As I walked around, my favorite student comment was, “We like to make modifications!” This summed up students’ familiarity with the tools and concepts, but also their confidence in experimenting and going beyond the instruction manual.
Mr. Waisanen did a great job funneling this experimentation towards a larger understanding of electricity.
6th Grade: Faults
In Mrs. Lee’s sixth grade classroom, I quickly noticed the iPads and iPod Touches in students’ hands. At Golden Hill, students bring devices from home and actively use these tools during lessons. I watched them take pictures of PowerPoint slides with their iPad’s camera, and then write notes and add information onto these images. Obviously, time had been spent teaching the students to use these devices, and use them appropriately.
The sixth graders learned about different types of faults in an inductive experience where they interacted with materials, used multiple resources, and developed explanations for tectonic activity seen in authentic photographs.
Mrs. Lee acted as a guide, encouraging students, challenging their responses, and offering advice, but never simply lecturing. Students sat around the room in groups, at tables, or on the floor. Once again, I had the impression that a lot of work had gone into establishing systems that made this freedom and flexibility successful.
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5th Grade: Ancient Americans
When I entered Mrs. Nelson’s fifth grade classroom, a student walked right up to me and explained what the class was doing. I loved this because it showed the level of student leadership expected from Mrs. Nelson. It also enabled her to teach without stopping and talking to me, demonstrating a respect for her students’ learning.
During the social studies lesson I saw, students used depth and complexity icons to analyze the movement of people from Asia to the Americas. The lesson was organized around a big idea, and students looked for supporting evidence. They also noted language of the discipline and evidence of change over time. Once again, this lesson was student-driven. The class was constantly searching for evidence, sharing with each other, and providing Mrs. Nelson with ideas to put on the board.
At the end of this lesson, the fifth graders packed up and headed off to the school’s third grade GATE class.
3rd Grade: Buddies
Mrs. Mazza’s third-grade students are “buddies” with Mrs. Nelson’s fifth graders. The sixth and fourth graders form another buddy group. This buddy system addresses a common need at schools that pull gifted students from other sites. When students join a gifted program, they often leave behind their neighborhood and friends. It was awesome to see Golden Hill address this challenge and build a community within their GATE program.
The buddies worked on a Red Ribbon Week activity together. This kind of task could easily be disregarded as “fluff,” but the teachers built it into something greater.
It wasn’t simply the use of their community-building buddy system, either. Mrs. Mazza pushed her students as they explained their anti-drug slogans, she connected student responses to scholarly habits, and she demonstrated a clear familiarity with each student’s strengths and skills, encouraging them according to their needs. I was also quite impressed with how she handled the mix of third- and fifth-graders.
This time made me eager to see the culmination of the Red Ribbon Week project.
A big thanks to all four teachers for letting me stop by. I was impressed and inspired by what I saw!
If you’re in the Orange County, CA area, I’d love to stop by and see your classroom in action. If you’re interested, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org