The Five-Minute Dance Party


It happens every time. “Five minutes until it’s time to pack-up,” I announce and I hear pleas from my students. “Can we PLEASEEEEEE have a dance party?” they beg. I smile, look at the clock once more, and answer them, “sure why not?” My students love our five-minute dance parties and to be honest, so do I (true for us, true for them). They are fun, they incorporate movement in the classroom, and they are a great way to let loose when all of our mental energy has been spent.

Recently, thanks to an outsider’s observation, I realized that our Five-Minute Dance Party is so much more.

But first, here are the rules:

  1. When it’s your turn to be in the middle of the circle, you can do whatever you want – just no headstands, cartwheels, or flips (we learned the hard way once).
  2. You can say “pass” if you don’t want to go in the circle.
  3. You can go in with a friend or teacher.
  4. It takes courage to be in the spotlight, so clap, cheer, or give thumbs up for those who are in the middle.
  5. And yes, the teacher takes a turn too.

We formed a circle, started the music (music suggestions below), and everyone busted a move. We were joined this particular day by a special visitor, my husband, Rob.

Sometime after Rob’s visit, he started asking me a lot of questions about the Five-Minute Dance Party. Originally I thought it was humorous that out of all of the things he saw in the classroom during his visit, the Five-Minute Dance Party resonated with him the most. In my mind, I gave him a “pass” – he’s not a teacher. He probably just thought it was “fun.” But what he shared with me really got me thinking…

He said it was unique to see 20 kids brave enough to jump in the middle of a dance circle. That scares most adults. It made him think about the importance of risk-taking. He reflected on his school experience and how he wished he had more opportunities to safely take risks. He went on to connect this to lessons he has learned in the business world. Ask any successful person in business about their success and they will tell you that being comfortable with risk is one of the keys to unlocking their full potential. So, the earlier you become comfortable with taking risks, the easier it becomes later in life.

I was dumbfounded, proud, and humbled. That was his takeaway. I had wrongly assumed he was talking about the dance party simply because it was “fun.” The more I thought about it, the more I was able to identify some important messages the Five-Minute Dance Party teaches kids:

  • It’s okay to be vulnerable.
  • It’s okay to try new things.
  • We’re in this together.
  • You have talent. You can shine.
  • It’s safe here.
  • It’s okay to be unsure.
  • It’s okay to let out physical energy.
  • Express yourself.
  • It’s okay to be silly. It’s okay to have fun.

What began as a simple way to let energy out has become one of the most important 300 seconds of a kids’ day.

Now I challenge you. Think about what your Five-Minute Dance Party could be. What can you do to create opportunities for your students to express themselves and take risks? I invite you to share your ideas in the comment section below or on Twitter @InKidsShoes.

Looking for some great, child appropriate songs and brain breaks? Check out Go Noodle – it’s free! Personal favorites: Koo Koo Kanga Roo’s Get Loose and Get Yo Body Movin.

Our Own Alternate Endings

Alternate Endings.png

This post originally appeared on the Adjusting Course blog on December 22, 2015, and on the #KidsDeserveIt blog on December 28, 2015.

We all know the endings to familiar stories: the shoe fits so Cinderella marries the prince, and Harry Potter defeats Voldemort to save the wizarding world. We find ourselves often thinking and talking about endings long after we have finished reading. Generations of teachers have challenged learners to use their creative talents to write alternate endings to these beloved tales. But how do we tailor this classic method to our current generation of learners – the next innovators in our world? In what ways can we apply 21st century skills such as collaboration and creativity to the learning experience and standards? And, what if the artifacts of learning lived on beyond the lesson using digital tools relevant to young students?

Recently, my kindergarteners have been fascinated by the alternate endings to the gingerbread man story. I wanted to take their energy and dive deeper. The classic method would have been to have my students use their creativity to write a new ending. And the challenge was that kindergartners’ writing skills and stamina are still developing. So I asked myself, what motivates them? What tools can I give them to help them be successful when so many of their skills are still in progress?

This is when I turned to our school’s mobile Makerspace carts and challenged my students to build alternate endings to the gingerbread man. The objective was kindergarten friendly: I can create a new ending to the gingerbread man using legos. The results were astounding. My students planned, collaborated, shared, built, created, and reflected for over an hour – a long time for our youngest learners. Their creativity stretched well beyond my highest expectations and the experience was authentic and meaningful. They changed the characters, the setting, and more. One group’s version of the story had a copy machine that the gingerbread man used to make twenty copies of himself in order to “outfox the fox.”

“We’re engineering!” one student exclaimed. This was the moment when I started thinking about the possibilities for their future. I was not just teaching a skill, I was imparting on kids a new mindset – an engineering mindset. Building their alternate endings was cross-curricular. During the planning stages, I looked up how many standards connected to this objective and was blown away.

While learning to write and practicing writing are critically important, this whole exercise made me reflect on the choices I make as a teacher. Maybe I should not limit their tools in the classroom when it’s time to create. How could using tools that are relevant and motivating to students change the learning experience?

After an hour of innovating, it was time to take apart the creations – such a hard thing to do for both teachers and students after so much time, effort, and creativity are spent. But what if the learning does not stop when the last lego brick is cleaned up? What if we could make time in the classroom to help students’ ideas and work live on? Enter, Google Drive. When students take pictures of their own work, upload it, and share via the Drive with their families, they truly own every step of the learning experience. Digital learning is relevant to students and the ability to share learning with families helps connect us.

Every teacher savors that moment when her students achieve bigger things than she ever dreamed possible. Witnessing 5 and 6 year-olds upload photos of their creations to Google Drive was one of those seminal moments. Most people might hear “Google Drive and kindergartners” and think “that can’t end well.” I guess you could say my class created an alternate ending of our own.

To learn more about this lesson, click here.

True for Us, True for Them

pexels-photo.jpgImagine you attend an all-day professional development course with a group of your teaching colleagues. You arrive and enter a large conference room with hundreds of other teachers. As the presentation starts, the leader of the conference instructs everyone to sit “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor for each presentation. What would you think? Terrible, right? And what if while doing that, you were asked to learn? Does that sound like a good learning environment for you?

Assuming you answered “no,” ask yourself this as an educator: would kids want to do that, sit in one position all day to learn? If it’s true for us, it’s for them. One of my professors in graduate school once posed this example to explain how we as teaching professionals often miss such a simple guiding principle: if it’s true for us, it’s true for them.

As teachers, we make hundreds of decisions every day. It’s exhausting. While not a catch-all, the true-for-us-true-for-them approach helps me make more purposeful decisions. Whether it’s planning an effective lesson or making a split-second decision while I’m teaching, I ask myself: how would I want to learn? What do I need in order to learn?

Here’s something I know to be true: I learn by trying and failing and then trying again. True for us, true for them. I learn through active, experiential learning rather than passive learning. True for us, true for them. I learn through collaborating with others. True for us, true for them. I learn by moving, thinking out loud, getting personalized feedback…true for us, true for them.

Now, think. What if we all took a few moments each day to reflect on this notion and then put it into practice? It’s possible that if you reflect on your own learning needs, it might provide insight into children’s learning needs.

Join me as I ask questions, seek to find answers, and build connections while I put myself in kids’ shoes. 

Connect with me via Twitter @InKidsShoes and @MrsGarwitz (my classroom account).