Sunday, August 22, 2010

A 19th Century Addition to my Classroom

The first picture is from a one-room schoolhouse near Placerville, California, very close to wear gold was first found. I was so excited to see a piano in the schoolroom. Last spring I discovered a piano in a storage closet at school. I got permission to store it in my classroom instead.

For those last few weeks of school we used it very little. We did sing happy birthday when appropriate and we learned a few songs about worms during our study of those creatures. I really want to use the piano well this year but I have not had any epiphanies about how to do so.

Any thoughts? Advice? Great music? Anything?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

CMK - Peter Reynolds

How long after a conference is too long to post reflections? This was in my drafts and I'm disappointed in myself for not posting it before now.

Peter Reynolds spoke to us briefly during a visit to FableVision (total geek excitement for me about that visit!). I've heard him speak before and it is always a wonderful experience. One thing he said this time was that we need to stop making excuses for ourselves as artists. How many teachers draw something when modeling for their students and say, "I'm no artist" or "Pardon my artwork, I know you'll do better." I've said things like that.

Reynolds' point was that saying that suggests to our students that our work is not good. Then when they create similar work they see it as not good enough. This is something I'll be watching in the future.

For me it begs the question. Why don't we allow our students to see us struggle? When I struggle to make a picture look the way I want, why don't I share that? When I struggle with explaining something I don't fully understand my students should see that. Watching me struggle is a good model for them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Adventure Playground

After having the opportunity to visit Tinkering School I was clearly prepped for taking my daughters to Adventure Playground in Berkeley. We had a fabulous afternoon and I was astounded by this place. It's been around for more than 30 years, nearly my entire life.
I didn't expect a traditional playground but I didn't have any idea what it would be. The space is full of structures kids have created and added to. My daughters found pieces of trash and traded them in for paint. Then they got a saw and we cut a small piece of wood that looked like a flag. They then got a hammer and nails to attach it to one of the structures. They left their mark!

The playground provided these sticks with magnets hanging from them for kids to search the space for loose nails. Brilliant.

At one point in the midst of our exploring, creating, and playing four kids worked together to bring over this jungle gym. I have no idea where it was before they moved it but they brought it to a big open space. The cooperation was impressive to watch.

My younger daughter is 3 1/2. She is pretty independent and immediately began exploring today. Her older sister will be seven in a couple of weeks and she is more hesitant. She wanted to know where I was all the time. However, she climbed over the entire netting, rode the zip wire numerous times and tackled the tire wall again and again. She was much more of a risk taker in this environment than she normally is. I wish we could return next week and the week after. I think it was really good for her.

The question now is how do I take what I saw here and at Tinkering School and incorporate it into my classroom? I'm not sure yet but it feels very important to me, especially after watching my daughter.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kids Learn, Like It or Not

I have more pet peeves than I would care to admit to having, but this is a significant one. "That Make Learning Fun" suggests that, naturally, learning isn't fun at all. A nationwide child care center had a tag line for a while that read, "Where Everyday Learning Feels Like Fun". Every time I read it I would cringe.

Anyone who has worked with young children knows that learning is amazingly, astoundingly fun for them. Adults love to learn, on their terms. They take art classes, join clubs, meet with friends who share a passion. Human beings need to learn. It's a driving force for us.

I get frustrated at this time every year as back to school commercials show up depicting the return to the school year as a dreaded event (but if you buy their product it will be more bearable!). Often in TV shows and movies, both for adults and children, school is presented as boring and hated. That is probably true for some kids. However, many children, especially elementary aged children, love going to school. Why are we socializing them into believing it is an awful place? Why are we teaching them that learning is dull, hard, not fun at all?

I'm not suggesting that we can't do a lot to make schools better places for kids. I am suggesting we don't need to teach kids our perceptions of school. Let them build their own, many will be positive.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

(First) Tinkering School Visit

Due to the fact that my only sister learned to paraglide from Gever Tulley we have had family involvement in Tinkering School for years now. My sister has helped with planning and implementing Tinkering School for several years (you can see her in pictures in Gever's TED talks). Two years ago my parents went out to help with one week. Somehow, however, I had never managed to go. (My daughters and I have been lucky enough to spend time with Gever and his wife, Julie, on a couple of occasions.)

On our first full day in California we headed down to the Tinkering School location. It was the final day for the seniors (the older group) so we got to see the results of all their thinking, tinkering, and work.

They spent the week working toward the structures you see here. They were created with pallets, eucalyptus, and twine. Impressive. You can read a lot more about this on the Tinkering School blog. They slept in these structures the last night.

The thing that impresses me most about Gever, and seeing him at Tinkering School just reinforced this, is that none of this is about him. I'm not saying that as well as I would hope, but I can't figure out a better way. Gever almost fades to the background. He's there and aware of everything going on, available to help anyone who needs it, but never forcing himself on anything or into anyone's work.

There's a lesson in that for teachers.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

No Words

For the past eight years we've been on a modified calendar. This week should have been our first week with the kids. Instead, it's been a roller coaster of a week.

On Monday morning, at 10:01, two teachers at our school gave birth (yes, two teachers on the same day at the same time - we are a close staff :).

Yesterday another staff member, a parent liaison with our school for as long as I can remember, died of cancer. She's been ill for two years and those have been hard years.

As I mourn today I keep trying to remember those two new babies. The promise of their lives, the potential for all they will do in the world, the wonder of newborns. It doesn't take away the pain, but it helps.

This woman gave more to our school than any one person could be expected to do. She knew everything about our students, everything. She translated for conferences and often was able to make points, emphasize concerns, and say things we didn't feel we could say. I had a student, years ago, who lived with her after this girl's mother had died and her father could not safely care for the kids. In fact, she updated me on this previous student just last year.

When she first became ill we were all sure she would recover quickly. She was the strongest, most determined woman we knew. However, our principal was concerned about the time she would have to be away from the school. Her concern stemmed from the fact that she knew who really ran things at our school.

She will be sorely missed. Her influence, however, will live on at our school, in our students, and beyond for years to come. In my mind, she will now be our school's guardian angel.

Classroom Makeover

I should wait to share pictures of my recent work in the classroom for when I've got it all set up and looking good, but I can't. After eight hours of painting over the past three days I am so excited by my new, blue wall that I have to show it off!

That's the view (cluttered by lots of junk) when you first walk in my classroom. I've wanted to paint one wall of my room for some time now. My administrators had no problem with the idea. I was just lazy.

I love this time before school starts. Everything is possible.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Great Gooney Bird Book Club

We did it! We had a kids' book club meeting tonight!

It was small, only three kids. But it was great fun. Before our meeting each of the kids (and their folks) read Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry. They seemed to all enjoy the book, thankfully.

We talked a bit about the main character and then I gave each child an outline of a paper doll so that they could create an outfit for her. They had identified Gooney Bird's clothing as one of the things that was especially distinctive about her. We also had a bunch of necklaces, ribbons, rings, bracelets, and such so that the kids could dress up like Gooney Bird. As the kids worked on their drawings and dressed up they were laughing about different parts of the book. It was fun to listen to their thoughts.

After eating dinner we discussed the other students in Gooney Bird's class. After listing as many as we could (their list was much longer than I expected!) each talked about who they were most like and why. Listening to each others' thoughts, of course, made them change their mind frequently. We also talked about Gooney Bird's favorite word (at least in our opinion): Suddenly... She uses this word in all of her stories at least once. We thought about things we might say following 'suddenly...' At the very end we looked at a list of all the stories Gooney Bird told and talked about the order they happened in her life and our favorites.

As a school we are talking about hosting kids' book club evenings two or three times this year for first and second graders. (I think family book club would be a better term.) I'm very excited about the possibilities, especially after tonight. One thing I did decide based on tonight is that we won't use this book. It was wonderful for these kids. But we want books that we can use in translations for many of our families and this one has so much fun with language that I'm not sure it will work as well in translation.

Our first book will be a wordless picture book in the hopes that everyone will find it accessible and will draw people in. No final decisions have been made for the one or two other titles for this year. I'd like to use beginning chapter books because first and second graders think chapter books are special. But I also want books that have a lot of meat to them. There is still a lot to iron out but the possibilities are exciting.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

CMK - Still More Deborah Meier and Alfie Kohn

As a first grade teacher (and the mother of a six year old) I am well aware of how strong the need to be first is in children of that age. Others have noticed it as well.

I think six year olds are not the only ones with this urge however. As a country we are constantly trying to be first in any positive comparison.

At CMK Alfie Kohn pointed out that anytime we want to be first we are hoping that others will do poorly. Hearing him say it felt like a slap in the face. As with many things Kohn says it seems so obvious now.

We are connected in so many ways to our allies, enemies, and everyone else that hoping they do poorly not only reflects badly on us but may also hurt us in the long run.

I spend a lot of time every year working toward a community of learners who work together, support each other, and learn alongside each other. It seems a worthy goal for everyone, not just first graders.