For the past 14 years, the 3rd grade classroom has been under the devoted guidance of Mrs. Cuevas. Her classroom is filled with excitement and possibility, and she encourages her students to explore and imagine – to treat life and learning as adventures, and to enjoy both as much as possible.
Part of that enjoyment comes from learning new concepts, developing and strengthening their skills, and working through the 3rd grade curriculum. As we speak, Mrs. Cuevas points out several key areas where students have been working, including the Carden vowel chart.
“Miss Carden breaks down the way the vowels change their sounds in a word,” Mrs. Cuevas explains. “So, when the students hear those sounds, they understand the spelling of the word.”
These skills allow students to not only spell words for that week but to use the Carden controls as tools which enable them to spell hundreds of words. When they see a new word, they can pronounce it with accuracy, and when they hear a new word, they are better able to spell it.
“Of course, there are exceptions in the English language,” Mrs. Cuevas adds. “But overall, these are helpful tools for the students.”
Another helpful tool is taught in math, where the students are working on multiplication. While some schools may use flashcards and repetition, in 3rd grade, Mrs. Cuevas uses Clotheslines, a visual aid for the students.
“Multiplication is repeated addition,” Mrs. Cuevas explains. “So, when a student is learning to multiply by 12, for example, the Clothesline helps the student to have a visual of this. As they add another 12 to the line, they see that their product increases by 12--which gives them a clever way of learning their multiplication facts.”
Mrs. Cuevas often uses storytelling and visual aids to bring concepts to life for her students, occasionally finding materials outside her curriculum to enrich her lessons – such as a recent discussion of measuring capacity.
“This is a helpful visual aid for the students,” she says, pointing to a series of different-sized letters drawn on a page. “It shows the measurements, so gallon is a big G, and inside that you have quarts, then pints, then cups. It’s actually something that I learned in college, and I remember seeing this and thinking how it would have been useful to me a lot earlier, so I said I’m keeping this!”
Mrs. Cuevas brings energy and vitality to her classroom, and during her career she has brought in different elements that she loves and that set her class apart. Each day she announces the National Day (when we spoke it was National Chocolate-Covered Raisins Day) which can be light and humorous or particularly meaningful to her students.
Aside from her personality and joyful attitude with her students, Mrs. Cuevas might be best known for introducing Titanic Tuesday to her students. Every week, the students learn another fact or piece of information about the most famous ship in history.
“I started this because it’s awesome, because it is part of history and many of the students might not know about it,” she explains. “Sometimes I talk about the Titanic and the students say oh yeah, I’ve seen the movie! So, this helps them learn about the real events before they are lost to history. Before they run out of steam, so to speak.”
Mrs. Cuevas also finds unique and interesting ways to incorporate research and public speaking into her class, giving her students the opportunity to learn and practice important skills.
“When we start our earth science unit, I split the students into groups, and they have to present a report on a certain weather event,” she says. “We cover tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, and the students create a News Flash – they are reporters on a fictional news program and they have to give their report to the class.”
The project not only teaches the students about important weather phenomena but allows them to be creative in their presentations.
“They are doing background research and writing a report, but the students really get into it,” she says. “They seem to enjoy it.”
Above all, Mrs. Cuevas teaches her students to strive for excellence not only in their academics but in their character. By modeling right conduct and maintaining high standards for behavior and respect, she conducts her class with great enthusiasm while also showing peacefulness and a sense of calm.
She begins each day by softly ringing a chime. Without speaking, her students prepare themselves to begin the day. And she ends her day with a series of call and response phrases, adding structure and routine, and closure to the day.
These traditions and rituals create an environment in which the students feel free and comfortable, in which they feel safe to learn. And for Mrs. Cuevas, there is no better place to teach than her 3rd grade class.
“My students are at that sweet spot where they are independent enough to do things on their own, but they are sweet and curious about learning, and not jaded,” she says. “I make ridiculous jokes and they laugh at them! And sometimes I will share information with them that they are learning for the first time, which is fun to see.”
After a moment of reflection, she smiles.
“The 3rd grade is the best grade,” she says.
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