Saturday, October 19, 2013

the science of happiness

Last week, I asked my class to engage in an experiment.
I had them think of one person in their lives that is really important.
Then, they thought of the reasons why this person is so important.
They wrote letters to that person (mini-lesson: parts of a letter - score!).
Their homework over the weekend was to read the letter aloud to that person.
Some had to write emails as their letter was for someone in another country; some made phone calls to local family member or friends; some arranged visits with the help of their parents; some even got on Skype to share!
Afterward, I asked them to share what they noticed.
They came back with things like: 
"My dad put the letter on the fridge! He loved it!" 
"My mom put it up where she works in our house, like in her home office. Now when I see it there I always feel happy."
"It made me feel really, um, good!"
This was not my experiment:
I showed the kids this video afterward.
They stayed an extra ten minutes after the end of the school day talking about how the letters made them feel, what they noticed about the video, and how happiness is so important.
Grade three!
Yes, there are a couple of choice words in the video, so it's something to be mindful of.
(Of course, you can always skip that part if you're on the ball - it's not crucial.)
When the kids looked at each other with surprise and started talking about those words, I was able to simply and calmly ask, "Is that what's important in the video?"
It was a clear no and I didn't hear another word about it.
I really loved the rich discussion that came out of this experiment and I feel it's a great exercise for all of us!

PS - Anyone read "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

spiritual health + mindfulness

After our experiments to test whether exercise affects our mental health and watching this video, we've decided it's a good idea to start everyday by getting our brains "ready" to learn.
So this morning we started our day with one of these awesome interactive dance videos!
We danced away to this one first:
It was so much fun, but very confusing for a not-so-light-on-her-feet teacher!

To start a more in-depth discussion about spiritual health, I'll be reading this book to the class this week:
It's a story that you can read in a very open-ended way, stopping along the way to have students turn and talk, share in small groups, or discuss as a class, because the three questions are kind of big ones that are difficult to understand as is.
The main character, Nikolai, just wants to know how to be a good person.
He asks his friends and gets very different answers.
In the end he has made a very interesting discovery...
It's more correct to say we'll be examining the book as spiritual in the way of being mindful.
Recognizing our selves, recognizing our actions, and understanding our impacts.

We've also done a small bit of "inner thinking" (or meditation) using this website:

And at the risk of being misunderstood, I've arranged to have a certified yoga instructor (a class parent!) come in to lead a beginning yoga session.
She did warn me that this is a bit of an issue in the US, hence the focus on mindfulness rather than spirituality in our classroom.
I'm really interested to see how my grade three's will react to it.
I feel I'm lucky to have such an open class, so all should be fine.
It seems inevitable, though, to get some giggles with 20 other 8-year-olds all stretching out and trying to find their "center" in our school Fitness Room!
I've been meaning to try yoga for a long time now, so this is a sneaky way to bring it into the classroom that I'm definitely looking forward to.

Friday, October 4, 2013


This is a really cool website to share with your class:

Basically it asks a totally random question about the world and offers answers using videos and articles.
It boosts imagination and curiosity.
It can be used in SO many different ways!
And you can subscribe to the daily wondering by email...

PS - they're also on twitter.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

emotional and mental well-being in the classroom

We've been learning a lot about Wellbeing these days as part of our Inquiry:
Emotional, physical, spiritual, environmental, mental, and social health
and finding balance in our daily lives.
In order to help students understand emotional wellbeing a bit more, I read this book:

This is such a beautiful story.
It deals with a pretty heavy situation but one that is only to be inferred - the story never tells us explicitly whether the girl's father passes away, leaves the family, or what.
It's all about how the young girl, once curious about everything around her, places her heart in a protective "bottle" when her father is no longer there to guide her wonderings.
It follows her as she grows, as she comes to deal with this huge loss and then how she begins to overcome it.
Our class discussion afterward was so rich and incredible.
Tomorrow I'll read this book 
and have the students come up with a way to show their connections to and understandings of one of the stories.

Today, to connect our understanding of mental health, students inquired into this question:

Does exercise help our mental abilities?
{Thanks to a student for coming with this Wednesday Wondering for us!}
They created experiments to test their hypotheses and it was amazing to watch them get straight to work, figuring out how to test this big question and how to measure the results. 
My VP happened to come in just as they were beginning their experiments and, happily, he gave some great positive feedback.
Particularly about how quickly the students were able to find a "smart" partner independently.
And what's funny is I hadn't even considered that to be a great skill since I'm so used to the kids doing it on their own all the time now! 
When we talk about finding partners for any activity, the kids always say:
You need to find a smart partner.
You need to be a smart partner.
They know that a smart partner is someone that will allow you to remain focused and will not be a distraction.

Experiments ranged from doing jumping jacks and then answering some standard addition questions to jogging on the spot and then writing a series of sentences about their personal interests. 
Smart bunch!
Most groups decided that exercise has a positive impact on our mental health, but some weren't so sure.
Tomorrow I'm going to show this video and see if they have any connections or further inquiries:

And next week we're going to be discussing what makes us happy and how we can be our happiest selves. 
Looking forward to that for sure!