Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Post on In Practice

I've got a new post up on In Practice and it's something that's been bouncing around in my head for quite some time. I'm trying to figure out where we draw the line in regards to how much and what sort of things a school does for a student. I'd love to hear thoughts on it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rube Goldberg Machines

My students created Rube Goldberg machines during the last few weeks of the year. I used the projects as a chance to try out some technology and I'll be posting my thoughts on that soon. First, however, I want to focus on the project. The inspiration came from a dy/dan post in which he shared some You Tube videos of wonderful Rube Goldberg machines. I thought my students would enjoy watching them and that led to my thinking that they would also enjoy creating some.

It seemed like the perfect project for the chaos of the final weeks of the year. This video is photos of the project as well as short videos of their machines. The audio in it is taken from their thoughts about the project; what they enjoyed, challenges they faced, how they felt about working in groups.

If you want to see their machines in action with their explanations, check out the video on You Tube.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Poem in Two Voices

I had intended to have the two boys who co-authored this poem record it for me to post, but the end of the year got in the way. The fabulous intern who worked with my students this spring introduced them to poems in two voices and a few of them tried writing some. I thought this one was fabulous.

More information on poems for two voices

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

End of the Year Gifts

I received several lovely gifts on the last day of school yesterday. However, two of them amused me greatly. Not because the gifts themselves are amusing (something that is frequently true) but because of the stories that go with them.

I walked into my classroom today ready to tackle the chaos in the hopes of having it packed and well organized by the end of the week. I noticed a large bag in the coat closet area. I asked the intern I've worked with if he knew what it was. His response was that it appeared to be a gift someone had forgotten to give me. I had to agree that was how it appeared, but found the idea highly unlikely. Picking up the gift I was hoping there would be a tag with a name. Luckily there was and I should have guessed the name that would be there. It was from a young man who never ceased to make me smile and think, but who can't remained focused on the majority of tasks for longer than a moment or two. It is not hard to imagine him walking in yesterday morning, putting his backpack and the gift in the coat closet and getting involved in conversations with his friends about the upcoming promotion ceremony and other last day activities. It was a fitting final image of him.

Another child arrived on Monday telling me that he would be bringing me a gift on Tuesday from him and his parents. I told him that was so kind and unnecessary. He said, "I paid for most of it with my allowance." This was not said with joy. The next morning he arrived with some beautiful flowers. As I took them I thanked him and told him how beautiful they were. His response? "Good, they cost like $50." He clearly had better things to do with his allowance money (and really, who can blame him).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Saying Goodbye

At the end of the last day of school all of the teachers rush outside to line the street near the building. We wave to all the cars and buses as they head out for the final time for the year. Parents wave enthusiastically back and children practically hang out the windows of the buses screaming goodbyes. It's the most wonderful tradition.

I have no idea how I managed to look this happy in this picture. I was weepier today than I have been on any other last day of school in my ten years of teaching. I don't know if it is because I am moving to the primary grades so this feels more final or if there is some other factor. I loved this group of students, but I've loved them all. I worry for some of these students, but that's also true every year. I am so proud of the work we've done this year and so frustrated by the things we didn't do. But, yet again, always true. We had a wonderful year together.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What 'first' would you like to see?

After Obama claimed the nomination yesterday I felt this was a moment in history to discuss with my students. My morning message explained the details and then asked, "What 'first' would you like to see happen?"

They struggled a bit with the question, but once they got going they were on a roll. Some of their answers were quite serious:
  • a president who cares about global warning
  • all weapons destroyed
  • a law that requires all endangered animals have reserved areas to live on
  • an NFL for women
Others were absurd:
  • a house made out of marshmallows that could bounce all over
  • kids getting paid to go to school or for doing nothing
Some were serious, but highly unlikely:
  • a time machine
  • cloning endangered animals to save the species
It made for a fascinating morning meeting.

"Playing" in our Strategies Lab

Playing alone, with a partner, or in a small group - honing problem solving skills through games.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs

Our last state standardized test was this morning. One of my students will be taking it as a make-up test because she broke her arm at recess on Friday (I was out!) and is getting a new cast this morning. She is not alone, however.

Another student came up to me first thing this morning to say that she will be picked up every afternoon for the rest of the year rather than walking home. I didn't think too much about it, just thanked her for letting me know.

She went on to tell me that her home had been broken into yesterday. I immediately dropped what I was doing and gave her my full attention. She's been having some significant family problems all year and I have been amazed with her resilience. Very little was taken during the break-in, only some important papers and a ring. The computer, XBox, PS2, and such were all left behind. As a result, she is terrified that her family was the target, not their things.

Because today is a test, one of my first reactions was to call our assistant principal for advice. I did also email our counselor so that she could talk to this student sometime today. I'm so lucky to have an administration that is understanding and proactive. Our AP came right down and talked with my student. They jointly decided that she should take the time to talk to the counselor, we would call her family to touch base and see if there is anything more we could do, and she will take the test another day. Everyone seemed comfortable with these decisions.

It just saddens me that one of my first reactions had to be to think about this test. I'm glad she doesn't have to sit down and take it right now, after all of this, but how different will things be tomorrow or the next day. How meaningful will this test score be? And how many other students have issues distracting them that they are not willing to share publicly?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Writing Beyond Pencil and Paper

Our fifth graders have a new, county-wide required project. Last year my class was one to beta test it and this year my school is one of sixteen to pilot it. Last year I felt rushed and had another huge year end project we did as a school. As a result, I was disappointed in their projects (not that they didn't work hard). The project involves looking at different cultures (we study ancient cultures in fifth grade) to better understand global interdependence and to use technology.

This year we got started earlier, did a lot of prep work ahead of time, and I had a better big picture vision. So far, I have high hopes for how this will turn out next week when they are due.

My kids have found a new search engine they really like: boolify. They have almost all been using it frequently. My favorite thing about it is that it has them thinking more critically about their search terms. They are using the 'and' term and the 'not' term well to narrow their searches. I think that is a difficult thing for kids to do.

Another big improvement this year is that my students are really trying a variety of new technology. Last year they all either created web pages through an awful site or created powerpoints. This year, thanks to their push and my growing knowledge, we have a lot more going on. Many of them are using their own wikis in Blackboard to organize their research, especially if they are working with a partner.

One student is creating a blog using blogger. She wants to put a powerpoint slideshow on it as well as several other options, if she has time to create them. She's using the blog as a place for some text and a home spot for other aspects of her project.

Another student is creating a webpage using googlepages. Her site has inspired kids in my class and in other classes and she will not be alone in using this tool.

Several groups are using Movie Maker or Photo Story to create movies using images they've found (we're still struggling with some copyright issues, especially for those who want to include their movies on a website).

They're pushing themselves as learners with technology, which I find exciting. However, the biggest thing I think they're learning from this project is a broader picture of 'writing'. They are finding that they can use other ways of sharing information than simply writing a paper. And that they still need to do some planning, drafting, revising, and editing of their work, regardless of the medium. I hope that as they head off to other schools next year they will take that knowledge and their skills and continue to push themselves and their teachers (as they have done with me!).

Warning: Not Education Related - Personal Post - Feel Free to Ignore!

Yesterday morning my sister and I participated in a sprint triathlon. That means it is shorter than a more traditional triathlon. We swam one quarter mile, biked twelve miles, and ran three miles. I have been training, at least a little bit, for a while now. However, I was still terrified when we showed up at the pool. I thought we had to be insane to think we could do this. However, less than two hours after we started we crossed the finish line and I felt fantastic. It was a great experience and I can't wait to do it again next year. (And I am so grateful to my sister for agreeing to do this with me because I would never have attempted it on my own.)