Saturday, January 30, 2010

Drowning at Educon

I'm at Educon 2.2 this weekend. I went last year (see here and here) and found it to be just about the best, most thoughtful, most thought-provoking conference I have been lucky enough to attend. This year I've dragged my husband along.

Yesterday we toured Science Leadership Academy and attended the panel discussion on "What is Smart" at the Franklin Institute. It was fabulous and I've overflowing with thoughts, ideas, and questions. Hopefully, I'll actually manage to post some of that. I'm sure I'll be tweeting frequently at least.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Disclaimer: Not Directly Related to Education

NPR had a story this evening about the absurd number of people sitting in jails because they can't make bail. These people are poor; they may only be needing to pay a bail of $150 but they don't have that money. Studies have shown that people who make bail serve much less time than those who must remain in jail. On the outside they have the chance to show they can do the right thing or to get into rehab. Biding their time in jail they can do nothing. Most of these people committed non-violent crimes.

I'm reminded of the opening of Les Mis. Is it really possible that this is how we treat people?

Not long after hearing this story my daughters and I spent $70 at Target, $45 to fill up our minivan, and $12 to go through the car wash. I didn't have to think hard about any of that. How can I live such a privileged life while others lack so much? How can we as a society accept this?

(My husband's immediate response to my comments about this at dinner was, "What can we do about it?" I'm not clear on anything we can do about it, but I appreciated the question.)

Who Would You Put on a Coin?

My students are learning about money and coins. The first grade next door is doing the same. The other teacher and I were looking at some large, paper coins to use in lessons and the set included a Sacagawea dollar coin. This teacher sighed a bit and I asked about her reaction.

Basically, she said that she felt a better choice could have been made for a woman on the coin. Or at least a better image could have been used than one of her and the baby. She felt it presented a very specific view of what a woman can be.

I'm not sure I completely agree with her, but it did raise a really interesting question for me. If you could choose an American woman to be on a coin who would you choose? How about an African-American to place on a coin?

I'd love to hear folks' thoughts on this. I'm also interested in why. How we prioritize individuals in history fascinates me. And, so far, I haven't been able to decide who I would choose. I'll have to get back to you on that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don't Ask Questions if You Don't Want to Know the Answer

I sat in our team meeting this morning aware that there was some teasing comments and quiet giggling about something I had completely missed. I don't like to be left out (I figure that sort of personality flaw helps me better understand my students).

After the meeting I couldn't help myself and had to go and bug another teacher to find out what was causing all the rumblings.

Yesterday a first grader brought a condom to school.

I have no more details than that, except that it was discovered because it was being passed around. I don't know if it was open, but I hope not. I don't know if the child discovered it hidden away and knew it must be exciting or if she had it for less innocent reasons. I have no idea if she has any idea what a condom is. So many questions.

As a result, I feel slightly uncomfortable making jokes about it, but they pop to mind so quick. I want the whole thing to be innocent so that I can joke guilt free.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Being Bossy

We just read this last week. I have Bossy Bear at home and love reading it. So when I saw Just Like Bossy Bear in a friend's classroom I couldn't wait to read it to my class.

The kids loved it just as much as I do. After we finished they talked a little about Bossy Bear and his best friend and how they changed throughout the book.

Then they started talking about how they want to be bossy when they grow up. I don't think they got the message David Horvath or I wanted them to get.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Student Teaching & Learning

Our class has an intern (long-term student teacher) for this semester. As a general rule there are things I love about having an intern and things that drive me a bit crazy.

- I love having another set of competent hands.
- I love having someone else who knows my students well.
- I love being forced to think about and explain why I do what I do.
- I love (mostly) having to be my best teacher self all the time (no slacking off).

- I miss having a bit of me time.
- I never like any extra paperwork.

Obviously the positives far outweigh any of my frustrations. This current intern is a career changer and not a young-un. I think this is one of the reasons she is comfortable jumping in, getting to know the kids quickly, and asking lots of questions. I love the questions! I'm always worried that I'm spending my time explaining the wrong things. I also really appreciate another perspective on the students and on the constant choices I make as a teacher.

I hope she is learning a lot in our classroom because I always learn and grow when I work with an intern.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mo Excitement

I can't believe I haven't written about this. I wrote about my students writing a pigeon book, a la Mo Willems.

I did not write about the exciting twist that story took. Somehow Mo found our fabulous book and blogged about it himself! I was so excited when I read it that I emailed it to everyone I could think of.

Later that day I shared it with the kids. I showed them other posts on his blog first to help them understand the medium (they have no understanding of blogs). Then I showed them the post about our book.

Their response was not what I expected. As soon as they saw our title they all started screaming out, "He took our book!", "What's he doing with our book?" and such. I immediately set about reassuring them and telling them they should be excited. After a bit I think I convinced them and they were thrilled.

Later I realized that we had been working all week on writing new books. We were researching topics and trying to put things in our own words. In some small way I feel like they learned a great lesson (which I may have undermined with Mo's blog post).

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I am inherently lazy. I'm not proud of that fact but I know it to be true. In my classroom I have to constantly fight my natural tendency toward laziness. During intersessions, I indulge it.

I plan my intersession classes to be as little work for me as possible. I do read aloud to the kids everyday. I do have to give directions for activities. But I really aim for most things to be as independent as possible. (It seems wrong that I get paid for this.)

One of the activities we did this week was to trace three-dimensional shapes to try and create a pattern to build our own copy of it. I modeled this for the kids and then gave them all paper and cubes. It was tough. They struggled.

Eventually one or two managed to make it work. The pride and excitement was strong enough to touch. The motivation for the rest of the group was unparalleled. They went at the task.

I put out pyramids and rectangular prisms. They grabbed them up. Those that were still struggling turned to the ones who knew how to do it for help.

My presence was only needed to celebrate the achievements. Kid after kid would bring their patterns to show me that they worked. "Wow! Awesome! Way to go!" And off they go with another shape. This is pretty close to heaven for a lazy teacher.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Open Eyes

I love getting to know other students during intersession. I also enjoy the break from my own students. However, sometimes I get to see something completely new in kids I know well.

I've got one of my own little darlings this week. She is a hard worker and my amazing co-teacher works with her in reading recovery. She is always raving about this little one. While I am glad to hear such news about my little darling I haven't seen such quick learning in quite the same way in the classroom.

This week we looked at two-dimensional shapes for a couple of days. At one point students were discussing shapes based on the number of points each has. This little darling could not accurately count the points. She and I worked together on several shapes practicing. Throughout the rest of the morning she would bring shapes to me and show me how she counted the points. It was great!

Today we are using three-dimensional shapes. The kids are tracing the faces to try and create a net (pattern) to build their own. It's a challenge but they are working hard. My little darling has noticed that these shapes also have points. She has counted them for me. Accurately! I am amazed.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Insanity & Adoration are Closely Related

Intersession means I work with new kids for a week. Some of them I know from previous intersessions. However, many are completely new to me. By the end of the first day there are some I adore and some that are driving me crazy. (Sometimes those categories would surprise their classroom teachers.)

I often try to learn something about the ones that are driving me crazy as quickly as possible. I only have a week or two with them so I don't want to waste it. If there are effective strategies I should be using or important details I should know, I want to learn it quickly.

This week one boy nearly drove me out of my mind the first day. I spoke to some other teachers after school and learned just a bit about his home life and emotional issues. I was able to be more patient with him yesterday.

Today we are worked with geoboards. I gave them time to play with them, we talked about making shapes and finding other shapes in them, and I gave them shapes to try and copy. They all enjoyed it. This one boy was especially engaged. He showed me shape after shape he created and things he noticed about them. He nearly jumped out of his chair with excitement when I put shapes on the table for them to copy. I sent kids to him when they were struggling to create a certain shape. He was able to be a leader and role model.

I don't think I've changed his life. But he's changed me. I needed the reminder that I have the power to make school successful for kids. I also needed the reminder that kids are so complex. The behaviors that were driving me crazy are not gone but there is so much more to him. He's become one of the kids I adore. And that's my constant goal, to have all the kids be kids I adore.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Graduate School and Life

I took two classes in the fall for my endorsement in Supervision and Administration. I enjoyed the classes, but I have to admit that I didn't work as hard as I should have (or, really, hard at all). I'm not very invested in the courses because I don't want to be a principal but I'm almost finished with the endorsement so it seems worth finishing.

I got my grades yesterday and I received and A- and an A in the classes. How is this possible? My husband (a college professor) believes it is because these classes are basically a joke. Some co-workers think it is because an A is the standard and you have to do a really bad job to earn less. I want to think it is just because I am that brilliant. (But I think their theories are more likely.)

There is no way I could do a master's degree or an endorsement full time. I work for financial and emotional reasons. I need to be able to take classes around my work and family life. However, I want those classes to be rigorous enough to warrant the degree or endorsement. Is that possible?

Monday, January 04, 2010

In An Ideal World

We're having intersession this week (explained at the end of this post). I'm teaching a geometry class to first and second graders.

For the past few weeks I have read about geometry in several fabulous books about math (Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics, Grades K-3 and Math Matters and Navigating through Geometry in Prekindergarten-Grade 2). These books gave me a great foundation for geometry and for how children learn and understand geometric concepts.

Next I went through our district's curriculum expectations for first and second graders to begin to determine our focus for the week. Finally, I browsed through a variety of books with activities and ideas to begin planning.

This was all fairly time consuming. However, it is how I would like to plan for everything I teach. I want to have such a deep understanding of the theory and the curriculum and be able to see the big picture. I just can't find the time.

Should I tackle one subject area each school year until I begin to have a handle on them all? Should I work on one area for a few weeks and them move on to another? Should I just keep trying to figure it all out at once?

How do others deal with this?