Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Penny Drive for Haiti

Just after the earthquake in Haiti our school decided to do a penny drive. This is a school with about 65% of our students receiving free/reduced lunch. The money poured in for the week and a half we ran the drive.

Lucky for us, this happened just as we were studying coins. So we brought in donations from other classes and figured out how much money was there. We started by sorting the coins (great practice for those students who were still struggling with identifying the different coins). Then we counted each type. We used hundreds charts to figure out how many of each coin was there. Students then had to figure out how to count (by 1s, 5s, 10s). It was an interesting challenge for some.

The few quarters were saved for groups up for the challenge!

This was an amazing learning experience for my class. Eventually they did count groups of pennies, nickels, and dimes. I was quite impressed with them.

Also, the school brought in about $2,200 for the relief efforts in Haiti!

(The penny drive was suggested by a third grade class and my first grade daughter. Honestly, I couldn't be prouder.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reason #829 Why I Love My School

I've got a student who is pushing me and I'm failing in my responses to her. She's made such progress since pre-school, but that isn't helping me as much as one might hope.

I've started the paperwork for child study/local screening to get some help because I'm at a loss. But that's a long process. It will be a month before we meet.

So, I pulled together my own 'child study' committee. I sent emails to some fabulous primary teachers and asked if they would be willing to meet with me to talk about this little one. One morning, in the brief half hour we have before kids arrive, three teachers sat down with me to brainstorm about this child. It was fabulous.

These are teachers with their own classrooms, their own students, their own responsibilities. However, they were generous with their time and energy. They had brilliant ideas and we've been trying some new things. I feel so lucky to work with such amazing folks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Golden Rule

There are students who drive me crazy. That's not something that teachers are supposed to admit, but it's true. However, I've been mulling this over quite a bit.

I respond differently to those students who annoy me. If they are tapping a pencil I assume they are doing it on purpose. If they are humming I assume they are trying to disrupt those around them.

But, when I stop to think, I don't believe these things are intentional. I teach first graders. They tap fingers, hum, whistle, wiggle, squirm, etc. It's not intentional, at least not the great majority of the time. They are simply being first graders.

When I recognize that students are doing these annoying things subconsciously without an attempt to annoy or disrupt I respond to them in a very different way. I respond with patience and care. Not surprisingly they then react with respect.

My reminder to myself is to respond to students as I would want my daughters' teachers to respond to them. (I think that's my new golden rule of teaching.)

Put a Fork in Us

Spring break is next week. We all need it.

I teach first grade and I am the mother of a first grader. I see the lives of six year olds all day. I know they are tired. Of course they are tired. We work them. We make every second of every day count.

But here's the thing. I'm tired, too. Making every second of every day count is a bit exhausting.

When I'm on top of my game I can help students who are tired to find strategies to cope. I can modify and accommodate to keep them learning and get them through the day.

I'm not on top of my game when I'm tired.

When we're all wiped out, how do we keep first grade going?

Monday, March 15, 2010


Maybe it's that I'm still tired from losing that hour of sleep this weekend. Maybe I'm cranky because it's Monday and I have a 3 hour class tomorrow night that amounts to jumping through a hoop. I don't know.

Regardless of all that, I'm sick of hearing about how our public schools are failing.

I do believe our schools can do better. I do not believe they are failing.

There are areas in which we desperately need to improve. We must do more for children living in poverty. We must help students learn to problem solve and be creative rather than follow directions and conform. We must be willing to question the status quo. I believe schools could work better with significant changes.

However, I'm a product of public schools. Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Feynman, and Katie Couric are all products of public schools. Most of the people crying that our public schools are failing are products of those same public schools. Most people are happy with their local public school. It's 'public schools' they don't like.

We educate everyone (not always perfectly but we take them all). We attempt to offer options to meet the needs of gifted students, students with disabilities (physical, emotional, learning, etc.), and those who just don't fit in.

We're not perfect, but to say we're failing (and to say it from the highest offices in the land and on the covers of magazines and newspapers and on the daily news and on and on) is a slap in the face. So far we're turning the other cheek, but at some point we're likely to give up, give in, and walk away. Then our public schools will fail.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We're Not Diagramming Sentences, Part II

Our fascinating discussion of sentences continued on Friday. After talking about what sentences are and what they are not and then the parts of sentences and what sentences can be a part of, we moved on to how sentences are related to other things.

As I mentioned I was a bit nervous about this piece. It's hard for me to make clear connections about relationships in abstract ideas so I'm never sure what the kids will do.

However, I'm always willing to throw it out there and see if we sink or swim. And, almost always, we swim, thanks to the kids. This was no exception.

They started with some basic relationships - sentences are related to books because books have sentences. Sentences are related to words because words are in sentences.

Then they began to stretch a bit. They mentioned that sentences are related to names because both have letters in them. Then, sentences are related to what we say because they both have ideas. They were genuinely thinking about sentences in the world around them to consider the relationships.

Every time they would mention something they believed sentences to be related to, I would hold my breath. Usually the idea sounded absurd to me, until they explained their thinking. Then, as usual, it sounded brilliant. I try so hard not to underestimate my students and I think I fall short everyday.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

TEDxNYED Reflections

There have been so many thoughts flying around the blogosphere about TEDxNYED I'm not sure where my own thoughts begin. I'm not going to get involved in the critiques of the format; I can accept that different conferences have different set-ups and leave it at that.

When the videos get posted on the TEDx channel on YouTube I'll watch most, if not all, of them again. Trying to process 14 live talks and 2 videos in an eight hour day is beyond my capabilities. Add to that the excitement and joy of talking with and meeting folks I've only known virtually or not known at all and the day was exhausting. In the best possible way.

Michael Wesch's presentation was fabulous. I have to admit that having seen the videos his classes have created I was a bit hesitant about him. I had some fears of his being cheesy or condescending or something (I'm not really sure what). My fears were completely unfounded. He began with a hilarious story that will make watching his video completely worthwhile for it alone. My big take-away from him is the idea that we need to honor students' interests and passions. It was intriguing to feel such a connection regarding goals for our students when he is a college professor and I teach first grade. It suggests that the differences between the various levels are not as significant as we may think.

David Wiley was someone with whom I was completely unfamiliar. Of all the new-to-me faces at TEDxNYED he may have been my personal favorite. He spoke on the idea of 'openness' in education. This section of the conference was the most challenging to my thinking. In theory I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of openness. In reality I'm not sure where we should draw the line or how we make this work while still honoring everyone's efforts. It's something I will be thinking more about. Wiley also said, "Technology always plays opposite its nemesis, policy." I thought last weekend that I needed more time to think about that sentence and I still do. I think it's the 'always' that makes me uncertain.

George Siemens
was another I did not know before TEDxNYED. He spoke about connections and transparency in education. This is another talk I need to watch again (and maybe again). I was really struck by this, "We want to disrupt what it means to be a teacher and to be a learner." I don't think we will be able to enact any sort of meaningful change without disrupting that. Siemens also earned immense respect for me when he said, "We drop so much on the educational system it's amazing it functions as well as it does."

The final batch of presenters was one I had been really looking forward to. It began with Dan Cohen of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University (just down the road for me). I had never met Dan but was familiar with him through my husband, a college professor who has worked with Dan in a variety of ways. Dan's talk was fun, interesting, and exceptionally well done. I highly recommend watching it when these are posted soon.

Dan Meyer was another in this final group. I have read his blog for some time now and appreciate the ways he pushes himself and others. His talk was not new to me (for which I was actually pretty grateful by this point in the day). That said, it's the first talk I'll be pushing people to watch. He's a high school math teacher with the mantra, "Be less helpful". I've been talking about his presentation all week with others at my school. He's an engaging presenter with an important message. At one point in the talk he said, "I'm going to retire into a world my students run." That's something teachers need to remember everyday (as does everyone, really).

Finally, the day ended with Chris Lehmann. I've been familiar with Chris since attending Educon last year and I am convinced he is one of the brightest, most charismatic, important voices in education today. Again, this was a talk that was not new to me. Chris had mentioned concerns that many folks in the audience had heard him say these things. I firmly believe they are worth hearing often. Everyone at TEDxNYED spoke with passion, but no one is quite like Chris. He can barely contain himself when he begins talking about education and it is inspiring. Watch this one.

There are many great reflections on TEDxNYED out there. Shelley Krause has wisely and generously set up a wiki collecting them. There are a few I highly recommend:
Chris Lehmann
Will Richardson (Reading this one will give you a real sense of what the day was like.)
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
Jose Vilson

My reflections just cover the talks, and only a few of those. I met and talked with so many amazing educators that day from breakfast through to dinner. I hope to spend some time thinking deeply about that aspect as well, because it was equally important to me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We're Not Diagramming Sentences

In thinking about our focus for writing my co-teachers and I decided to look at sentences. This is a surprisingly difficult concept for first graders.

We decided to tackle the idea through the patterns of thinking. Yesterday we talked about identity/other, what is a sentence and what is not a sentence. It was a pretty basic discussion. The most interesting piece of it, in my mind, came when one student said that one word is not a sentence. We put in a thinkblock, charted it, and moved on. A minute or two later another student took us back to that, saying, "I think one word can be a sentence. Sometimes we just say hi." So we added a thinkblock to what is a sentence and added the idea that one word could be a sentence to our chart.

Today we discussed the parts of a sentence. (In the picture I was trying to draw a thinkblock to include the parts we were putting in our actual thinkblock. I'm not an artist.)

The students came up with the things we would have expected: periods, words, letters, question marks, etc. They also mentioned spaces, an idea that is still challenging to some first graders and one that had not occurred to me. The idea that pictures can be a part of sentences was mentioned in reference to books for young children that often use pictures for some of the more difficult words (think Highlights magazine).

Finally, we talked about what sentences can be a part of. This is always a bit of a challenge at first. But, pretty quickly, students began spouting ideas: books, stories, poems, paper, speech bubbles, etc. The surprise for me was a student saying boxes. When I asked him to tell me more, he pointed at a box with instructions on the side. I was thrilled. If my students begin noticing sentences everywhere then we are making good progress! They also mentioned the idea that sentences are a part of talking. Success!

Tomorrow we will discuss how sentences are related to other things. I'm always a bit hesitant to tackle this pattern because it's not as easy for me to see. This could be fabulous or it could crash and burn, we'll see.

I have thoughts about TEDxNYED but not enough time to put them into any meaningful order. Maybe this weekend I'll manage it.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


At this moment I'm sitting in the auditorium of The Collegiate School in Manhattan awaiting the first speaker of TEDxNYED. The past couple of weeks have been so busy I haven't even had time to get excited about this. I am now.

You can watch the live stream at the site. There are many great folks presenting today. Enjoy!