Saturday, February 18, 2012

Revisiting Our 100th Day of School - Giving My Students Full Choice

As I've mentioned before this is my 20th year of teaching, which means I have celebrated the 100th day of school many, many times before. In the past I've always put a booklet together that explored the number 100 in a variety of different ways, and as a class we would move through a variety of different activities all based around the number 100.  The 100th day has always been an exciting time in my classroom but this year I wanted to try something different.

I have been following Kathy Cassidy quite closely via twitter and her blogs so when she posted a video on her class blog about what her students were doing for their 100th day, she got me thinking.  That's one of the many things I like about Twitter.  It opens me up to ideas which I would never have thought about by interacting with my small circle of teaching friends and colleagues.  But I digress.

Kathy's class wrote about what they wondered about the number 100.  On their 100th day of school Kathy let her students find answers to their wonders.  Wow, that totally inspired me as I thought to myself, I can do that too!  So about a week ago I met with my class about our up coming 100th day of school.  I showed them the video and we talked about it, a lot.  I was curious what they wanted to know about the number 100.  I took notes.  They were so keen to share with me what they wanted to know about one hundred.  Questions like, how far can you run in 100 seconds? How long does it take to skip 100 times?  What does 100 children look like?  I wrote down all their queries.  Now some I knew we weren't going to do - like how long does it take to eat 100 chips - but most were totally doable over the course of a school day. I also added to the discussion by suggesting things my class has enjoyed doing in the past such as making and wearing 100 style glasses, and creating 100 breakfast cereal necklaces.

Fast forward to yesterday morning, our 100th day of school.  My students arrived super excited with their 100 collections in hand.  There was definitely a buzz in the air, as there usually is on our 100th day of school.  The first thing we did was take a look at the different collections that were brought in.  We tried to figure out who had the biggest collection, the heaviest, the lightest, and the smallest.  Each person talked about their collection. (Yes, this is where I need to get filming my students- something I am trying to implement more into my classroom after being totally inspired by Aviva Dunsiger).

Once we shared our collections we turned to the chart of what we wanted to discover on our 100th day.  I had begun to write ideas on the chart from the ideas they had suggested over the course of the week, and we added and created a second chart. Once the charts were created I explained to my students that they could  do as many activities on the list as they wanted as long as they remembered to sign up for their activities so I would know how they chose to discover 100.   I also let them know that if they came up with another idea we could easily add it to the charts.  You should have seen their eyes light up. They were so excited to have complete choice of their learning.

At first it was a bit crazy as they realized there was only one skipping rope to skip with, one ball to bounce, and one hula hoop to spin.  But I reminded them that they'd have most of the day to get those specific jobs done and to not worry, a free moment in the day would arrive for them to give it a try.  I also let them know that some of the items we would all do at the same time, or at least those that were interested in doing them - like for example running for 100 seconds.

The buzz was incredible, again I should have been filming their conversations.  Everyone was doing exactly what they wanted to be doing and they were ALL exploring different aspects of the number 100.  One child that loves our class Lego immediately began counting out 100 pieces of lego to create with.  Others were keen to get their special glasses made, and others wanted their own necklaces.  A few minutes later three of my boys wanted to count 100 children, so after some instructions they headed down the hallway to count children in different classes. As I suspect the glasses and the cereal necklaces were popular choices but so too were the skipping, hula hooping, ball bouncing, and drawing.  All day long I heard my students counting, over, and over again.

The counting was really quite incredible.  You see in math right now we are revisiting skip counting making sure to use manipulative as we count.  Many of my students can skip count (or at least repeat the string of numbers from memory) but have a lot more trouble when we actually have objects to count.  Watching them count their breakfast cereal, or the ball bouncing, or lego pieces opened my eyes up to who really "gets it" and who is still struggling.  It was also so beautiful for me to see them help one another out with their counting.  They knew it was important to have 100, not more or less, so they were eager to ask for help from one another when they needed it.  All this time EVERYONE was on task, engaged, and smiling.  It didn't matter if they had special needs, or their language was limited, or they didn't like to speak to others, EVERYONE was doing something that they wanted to do and they were all exploring the number 100.

Between recess and lunch I booked our school's laptops and created a blog post with links to a variety of 100th day activities.  Some students were keen to explore on line, but many were too busy exploring our non digital options.  This was actually quite interesting for me.  You see we have one class iPad and my personal iPod and these two devices are in use all the time in my classroom.  Yet never during our discussions of 100 day did they come up as tools the children wanted to use to celebrate our 100th day of school.  I didn't even realize it until the end of the day either.  I know there were many things we could have done with those two incredible devices but none of us thought about it in advance.  Maybe my students just needed a break from technology and were enjoying interacting face to face with one another instead.  I'm not really sure but it does have me thinking.

After lunch we participated in our Run Across Canada with the other grade one students.  We enjoyed a 100 day story, and we searched for the numbers 1- 100 around our classroom.  We had a few more minutes to complete our unfinished jobs from the morning too. We ended the day with reflective writing time and a whole class discussion.  It was a very powerful day and I'm so glad I took the risk to change my ways.

If you're interested in seeing my students in action please check out the post on our classroom blog

I'm curious to hear how you've celebrated your 100th day of school. Have you ever given your students a full day of complete choice? How has it worked out for you?


  1. This is a great post, Karen! I have never done an entire "free choice" day, but you have me thinking about how my students could get more involved in this decision making. Thanks for the inspiration!


    1. It was not in the plans to do an entire day of choice but they were so motivated and involved with their learning I didn't want to stop them. We usually end our week with free choice Friday and I cancelled that for more 100 day activities. Not one student complained. It really was a fantastic day. Crazy busy, but so many smiles while learning. Their writing at the very end of the day was quite reflective too. Other than me missing some great opportunities to film their thinking and learning it was a great day.

  2. Sounds like you had a great day! It's great to have students following their passions as they learn, isn't it? Technology never came up in the questions my students had, either. Now THAT is something to wonder about.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments Kathy. This day was totally because of you. It is interesting that technology never came into it. It was I that booked the laptops because I thought they would want to use them, not them suggesting I get them in. While about half my class did spend some time on line between recess and lunch, I was really surprised that not once was the iPad or iPod asked for. Those two little machines are used all the time on a regular school day. Plus no one asked to blog about the day either. Very strange actually. Now I think I need to ask them why that was. Hmm.