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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Are you smarter than a Fifth Grader? Probably Not!

Well, my 5th Grade teaching experience was very enlightening! Wow! They are so smart! Fifth Graders today are learning much more than I did way back in 1971 as a 5th Grader! I remember being in fifth grade at Cypress Springs Elementary School in Ruston, Louisiana with Mrs. Neal, Mrs. Snowden, and Mrs. Ashford as my teachers. We did switch classes back then, but other than that we were still mostly treated like elementary kids. Fast forward to 2012 and being in fifth grade today is more like Junior High was for me. Now I understand why Jeff Foxworthy chose to have adults of today to compete with 5th graders because they really do learn so much more than we did at that age. The best part about teaching fifth grade is definitely the age of the students. They are still young enough to love and enjoy school, and yet they are old enough to be interesting people. It was so much fun to get to know the kids and to see them interacting with one another on a social level at school.

I taught four classes of 5th Graders. In all that was about 110 or so students with over 25 per class. One of the hardest things for me to learn was the schedule. School began at 7:40 each morning. We had a very short homeroom time, then the homeroom class would move to their first class and a different class would come in. We had our first period class from 7:45 to 8:45, then they would go to P.E. until 9:25. Then after P.E. that group would move to their next class and a new group would come in for Science. This class would go from 9:30 until 10:30 at which time we would all go to lunch, and lunch was followed by recess. Thankfully it only rained once while I was there. I had cafeteria duty on Monday and Tuesday from 11:05 to 11:35. The students would come inside from recess at 11:25 and go to Encore Time (Specials) from 11:25 til 12:25. Then they would return from Encore get their things and move to the next class and a new group would come into Science from 12:30 to 1:30, then we would switch one last time and the homeroom class would return for their Science time and the end of the day from 1:35 to 2:35. School would dismiss at 2:40. Just before 2:40 they would be getting ready to go and the minute the bell rang everyone would jump up, shout, and hurry (run) out of the room! I tried to work on this, but this was how they were used to leaving each day. I think I made some progress on getting them to stay seated and wait for the bell and to calmly put their chair up on the table and WALK out of the room quietly. But, mostly they jumped, shouted, and ran! Ha! It wasn't as bad as it sounds, but this was not the way most schools are dismissed. Everyone leaves at once, and you just hope they know where they are going!!

The first topic we studied was the Sun and the Solar System. We had to compare the Sun to other stars in the Universe according to the type of star it is and the phase it is in, and the temperature and distance from Earth. If you have not thought about this in a long time, then I suggest you do a little research. It is so interesting that the Sun is our star, and it is "just right" for our planet Earth. Then, as we explored and studied the Earth in relation to the other planets in our Solar System, it is so amazing how the Earth is "just right" for us! We compared our planet Earth to other planets by distance from the Sun, temperature, length of a day (rotation), length of a year (revolution), what each planet is made up of, the atmosphere of each planet, number of satellites, number of rings, etc. All of this is incredibly fascinating if you stop to ponder on each of these things. It is so true that the creation itself preaches a sermon about God and His perfect love for us!

Our next topic to study in Fifth Grade Science was Rocks. Now on the surface, you may not think rocks are all that interesting, but when you consider where rocks come from and the fact that rocks are constantly being created and changing, it is fascinating! We learned about the three basic types of rocks: Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic. There are two types of Igneous rocks: Intrusive and Extrusive. Intrusive Igneous Rocks are formed by volcanic activity when molten magma cools inside of the Earth's surface. The  most common type of Intrusive Igneous Rock is Granite. Extrusive Igneous Rocks are formed by volcanic activity when flowing lava cools on the surface of the Earth. The most common type of Extrusive Igneous Rocks are Basalt which mainly are formed in the ocean floor. It just keeps getting more interesting when you begin to understand the Rock Cycle and how rocks can change from one type into a completely different type due to heat and pressure within the Earth. Kids really love all of this and are so interested in real things like rocks.

The next topic in 5th Grade Science was the upcoming Arkansas Benchmark Test. We spent some time reviewing things they learned earlier in the year, which was hard for me because I had to learn real fast to just keep up! Anyway, they had already learned about Light and cells, and the Scientific Method. Whew! We went through it pretty fast, but I was so intrigued by Light, that I had to stop and think about it for a bit. The fact that the Sun, our nearest star, creates light for us, which travels in a straight line until it is interrupted by an object, then an object will either absorb or reflect certain light waves, depending on what it is made up of, and then our eyes are made to see only the colors reflected by an object. It truly amazes me, to realize that the beautiful colors we see each day are just reflections of God's light. Wow! Try to figure that out! It's only because of our eyes, and the way our eyes see things, that we can see the beautiful colors of God's creation. And, compound that with the perfection of our planet Earth and our nearest star the Sun and our atmosphere, and how could anyone believe that all of this just happened with a big BANG! Not me, it just reaffirmed by belief in God and His love for me. It was fun to see the students realize, maybe for the first time, how wonderful, marvelous, and mysterious our Universe is.

One problem I did encounter with fifth graders was that some are very lazy. Really! Some kids who are very bright and capable, would rather waste their time, sit there and do nothing than pick up a pencil and get their work done, or turn in their homework. I was surprised to see cute and capable kids that have so much materially and physically in their favor, not realize their full potential. I think this was the hardest part of teaching fifth grade - motivation. Even though they loved Science and talking about it, and learning about it, some people just are lazy and will not get the job done when it comes down to it. I can only hope that eventually they will wake up and realize that they are just hurting themselves in the long run. But when I look around at adults I see the same thing. Some people are just not motivated to do their best at whatever the task at hand may be. Some people will just sit and do nothing while others will strive to be the best and others are highly motivated and competitive.

Anyway, my final week with the fifth graders was the full week of testing. Yes, that's right, it lasted a full week. Monday through Friday. It was exhausting. Every day from 7:40 until around 11:30 each day we tested. Most I think did pretty well, and I was surprised that they were able to sit quietly for long periods of time, while some students really struggled with the test. It was most difficult for new students who had not been in Arkansas for the entire year, but moved here recently. That was sad to watch, but hopefully they will adjust and do better by next year. Most of the class I was with seemed to take the test very seriously and seemed to put forth their best effort. I wish I could see the scores, but that will be for their regular teacher to see.

Well, that concludes my time at Old High Middle School in Bentonville, Arkansas. I haven't mentioned this until now, but on about my second day of substituting, Fletcher told me that Community Coffee had offered him a new position which will require us to move to Baton Rouge, Louisiana sometime this summer. Well, I'm back at home now reorganizing things and packing up to get ready for yet another move, and getting ready to say "Good-bye" to Arkansas. It has been quite an experience!