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Rayna Freedman


Enter Rayna Freedman's third grade classroom at Jordan/Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield, Massachusetts, and you're likely to be investigated by "secret agents!"

"Being a secret agent is like being part of a family," Freedman told Education World. "There's nothing else like it. Students are infused with skills they'll carry with them for the rest of their lives. They learn to set goals and -- when they reach them -- to set new goals. They learn the importance of taking responsibility for their actions, respecting others, imagining, and having high expectations."

Rayna Freedman and her third graders are "secret agents."

Freedman's first experience with a secret agent investigation occurred when she observed a unique classroom while student teaching in Burlington, Vermont. "I remember walking in and being 'investigated'," recalled Freedman. "The teacher told me that his students were 'agents,' and they investigate strangers who come into the room. I laughed, but I never forgot the experience."

Today, Freedman's own classroom has become Secret Agent Headquarters. "I took the experience with me and created a whole plan of how to use the concept with third graders," Freedman noted. "As agents, we are investigating our world with everything we do. No matter what task or subject we're working on, it's linked to that theme."

When Freedman started out as a teacher, her portfolio focused on the concept of "home." To her, school is a home -- a community where growing, learning, and reflecting take place. The "agency" allows her to quickly build a community of learners, where students work together and cooperate -- because that's what members of a "force" must do. They must back up one another and help one another through tough times.

"On day one, my students pull from a mug a number written on a Popsicle stick -- similar to Harry Potter's sorting hat," Freedman explained. "I then need to learn everyone's name and number. All classroom supplies are numbered. All my files are numbered. It's a great management strategy. Students take ownership of their own numbers."

As for Freedman, she always is "Agent 24." She chose that number because she typically has one or two students more than that, so she can blend in with the "force."

"When we line up, I'm part of the group," Freedman explained. "I'm not in the beginning, and I'm not at the end. I'm with the agents. I'm just like them. I'm a kid. I'm a learner. I'm a thinker, no matter what my life experience has been."

As they enter her classroom, "agents" receive a badge with their photo on it and a certificate welcoming them into the secret agent training force of the student section of the FBI. "Our mug of sticks is used for grouping students, and we investigate any stranger who comes into our classroom (parents, teachers, guests, volunteers, and so on)," says Freedman. "We also have secret agent privileges -- like snack whenever we want it (as long as it is a good time!), and secret agent activities. We throw a secret agent Mother's Day party to celebrate our moms. Because we realize that secret agents are challenged, we have agent guidelines to follow -- and consequences to face when they are not. When we get new students, we welcome them onto the force."

Parents are a constant presence in the agency. More than 20 parent volunteers assist with Freedman's class. In addition, the class holds one or two family events per month, sometimes featuring such games as "Agent Map Jeopardy" or "Agent Trivial Pursuit." Each year, Freedman attends one outside-of-school event for each agent, which allows her to get involved in the lives of her students and their families, and better understand the whole picture of each child. Secret agents serve their community by raising money -- through a Skittle machine in the classroom and by collecting cans. They often raise $400 or more, and use the money to purchase goods for a local food pantry.

Agents may attend a homework club, at which agency alumni also are welcome. Freedman's room has a huge alumni following; former students return year after year to find out if Freedman remembers their agent numbers -- and without fail, she does! Alumni also come to read to current agents or to help them with writing or math. They speak to students about projects they have done and things they have learned.

"My students run their conferences and are involved in the assessment process," adds Freedman. "They are in charge of their learning. The agents have a bothering box where they can write down things that bother them, and that's great for teaching social skills. We also have a kudos box where students can send smile-o-grams to people they catch doing good things. At the end of the year we have a secret agent graduation ceremony, and they all get to sign the book. It's a nice tradition." It's fun, Freedman reports, to watch her "agents" grow up.

Photo provided by Rayna Freedman.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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