Monday, February 28, 2011

Fun with Tools

I finally got things together to add a new center to our free choice time. I put this picture up as an option for the kids without telling them anything about it. Of the first 5 who went to pick their choice for today, four picked this with no idea what it would be.

They loved it! I have a few remote controls, a couple of portable CD players and a DVD player, all of which are broken. I have six screwdrivers and two pairs of pliers. The kids loved taking the items apart. So far the joy all seems to stem from unscrewing screws. I hope eventually they will find some interest in what is actually inside the items. For now, I'm happy they're excited about it!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

7 Facts

Frau M. at Half Dollar in the Jar, weeks ago, tagged me with the 7 Facts Award. I'm always flattered when someone tags me for something and then I always manage to completely drop the ball. So, here goes...

1. I get all my news from NPR, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report. It makes for a slightly jumbled, but mostly amusing sense of what's happening in the world.

2. I played harp on a cruise ship when I graduated from college. It wed the two things I wanted most at that time: to continue playing the harp and to travel. It was fabulous.

3. Related to number 2, we have a baby grand piano and a concert grand harp in our living room. There isn't room for much else.

4. I've been doing sprint triathlons (short ones) for three years now. I am exceptionally slow but I'm thrilled I can finish them!

5. As a kid I loved to read mysteries, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and such, and I wanted to be a private detective when I grew up. But, really, only for the safe, fun parts.

6. In high school I spent two summers in Spain (I have an aunt from Spain and I stayed with her family) and loved it. I would live there if I could figure out how to make it work.

7. I was a total girly-girl as a kid. While still being something of a tomboy. I loved purple, flowery things, lace, and fancy dresses. Now I prefer sweatpants and a t-shirt.

I am not going to tag anyone, sadly, because clearly I'm not all that competent at these things.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Soul Searching

Inertia is a powerful force. The problem for me is that I can't tell when the issue is inertia or when it is fear or when it is neither.

A friend at work let me know today about a central office position that will be opening up soon. He suggested it might be a good fit for me.

It is an exciting position. There would be a lot of fun aspects to it and a lot of ways to impact schools. It would be a move up, something that doesn't happen as long as one remains in the classroom.

But, it would be outside of the classroom. In some ways I think that would be really good for me. In other ways I think it would be awful. It would also be outside of my fabulous, wonderful, amazing school. Again, that could be both good and bad.

Leaving my current job means leaving the kids. It means leaving the incredible teachers at my school. It means leaving the opportunities I've gained over the past 13 years, working with interns, supporting new teachers, teaming with colleagues and learning together.

Finally, leaving the classroom means not being a teacher anymore. I'm incredibly proud of the things that I do in the classroom and while I'm in a classroom. I've written an article, presented at conferences, blogged here and elsewhere all while being a classroom teacher. That means a lot to me. This is how I define myself.

Of course, there's no guarantee I'd get the job if I applied for it. That said, how do I know if I should try? My gut leans towards staying where I am, but is that because I'm afraid to take this leap? Is that because it's the easiest thing to do? Or is it because I'm not finished growing here yet?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On a Lighter Note

According to Zac Chase, this is Nerd Chic.

I wear my SLA lab coat everyday at school. It has one pocket to hold my flip camera and my regular camera and one pocket for pens, post-it notes, and my cell phone (forgive me, I've got a little one at a babysitter - I like to feel accessible). Plus, I can clip my badge and keys onto a pocket.

The first year I went to Educon, 2009, the students were all wearing their lab coats and I thought they were awesome. I casually mentioned to Chris Lehmann that, while I liked the Educon shirts, what I really wanted was a lab coat. He told me we could work that out.

I don't even think about what I'm wearing any more but I'm sure I look strange to other teachers or parents. But, being nerd chic works for me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's All About Me

I've got a little darling this year (it is first grade, most of them are pretty darling) who drove me nuts at the start of the year. She seemed snarky, if first graders can be snarky. She could push my buttons (see how it's becoming about me already).

We've all seen this happen when a student can just drive a teacher nuts. Some personalities just clash and being a teacher doesn't make one immune to this, unfortunately. Other teachers working with my class would also get highly annoyed by this little one. That was somewhat reassuring, suggesting that I was not the sole problem.

However, I'm smart enough to realize that I was at least a part of the problem. So, I decided I needed to build a better relationship with this one, and a few others while I was at it. I started inviting one child to pick a friend and eat lunch with me two or three days a week. To be honest, I find this almost painful because I highly value that time alone or to talk to other teachers, but I began with this student. It helped, but we still would butt heads a lot.

Then, by chance one day recently I came across the forms the kindergarten teachers filled out at the end of last year to help them create this year's first grade classes. These help us ensure well balanced classes: gender, ethnicity, reading ability, etc. This little one's kindergarten teacher had written "produces nice work, very sweet" about this child. I was shocked. That did not describe the student I knew (or thought I knew) at all. I went to this teacher and she was just as shocked to hear me describe the girl.

I can't say things are perfect now with this little one. But the difference is amazing. She's the same child she has always been. I just see her and respond to her differently. I'm more patient. I smile rather than frown. I gently remind rather than explode.

I am the difference. Like it or not, I have the control and power, even when I'm not aware or thinking about it.

I wish I could say I now respond to all my students in such a positive way. I can't, I'm far from perfect. I do believe I am striving for respect and kindness in all my interactions. I don't expect to succeed constantly, but I hope for continual improvement.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feeling Like a Real Writer

This year I've been writing posts for My most recent post is Making Technology Work for Primary Students. There will be a couple of posts following-up on this one. I'm enjoying this opportunity to write in a different way and with a (somewhat) different purpose. The site is quite good and they've got some wonderful teachers writing for them across the grade levels. (Spoiler alert: Apparently the fabulous Diana Laufenberg has just joined the team.)

The first couple of posts I wrote were focused on accuracy in teaching history in the primary grades - specifically around Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hallway Math

Twice a week I take my little darlings to the computer lab. In my brilliance I signed up for times right after lunch. The theory was that we wouldn't waste a lot of time wandering back and forth through the hallways. The reality is that now we have to stop and wash our hands because I refuse to take them to the lab after lunch without washing hands. Sigh.
So, twice a week we have time standing around waiting for our friends to wash hands. It's a surprisingly long process. On my lazy days we all stand around and they whisper (hopefully) to each other.

On my better days we play games. Our most recent, and my current favorite, involves me asking them to show a number with their fingers. Then, show it to me another way. Then another way. We try to find all the possible ways to show a number.

Everyone can play at the same time and the only talking is me saying a number and telling them to show it another way. Hopefully it's also helping them cement the idea that numbers can be built in many different ways.

While we're loving this game right now, if you have any others that would be good for first graders, please share! Ideally they allow everyone to be involved and are pretty quiet. Thanks!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How Does Snow Sound?

After reading this post from Kelly Teaches I decided to try to be more positive about snow as well. Over the summer a bunch of us read and discussed A Place for Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. We've done a lot of wondering in a variety of ways this year. It seemed like time to wonder about snow.

I scooped some snow into four small clear tubs and put them out for the students to explore. I also put out magnifying glasses.

We talked about using our senses to explore the snow. This explains why one girl here is trying to listen to the snow.

They stirred the snow with the magnifying glasses, squished it between their fingers, and looked at it closely with the magnifying glasses. It was beautiful to watch. Some students were fascinated by how cold the snow felt (have they not been outside at all? what were they doing on our snow days?) and others were amazed by how the snow looked like diamonds when scrutinized.

I'm learning that I shouldn't assume my students understand the world they see everyday. One would think I'd have learned that from reading Science Teacher, but clearly I needed a more concrete reminder. We'll be exploring more common, everyday things in the future.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Not the Utopia I Hoped

While these pictures in no way represent the norm in my classroom, they do make one wonder. What am I doing wrong?
Add to this the fact that at least one or two kids breaks out into tears on a daily basis and I'm beginning to question the wonderful learning environment I thought we had created. (I haven't snapped pics of those sobbing students; it seems that crosses the line for me.)

Honestly, most of the time things are wonderful. I'm not truly concerned, but coming across these pictures after having just tweeted this yesterday:

did cause me to reflect a bit. This will remain on my mind as I plan our lessons, activities, and fun for the next few weeks. At least I hope I'll keep it in mind and work to make things better.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Loving Writing

Yesterday and today we had large writing celebrations at school. We do this every year around Valentine's Day to celebrate our love of writing. We've had to make it two days because our school has gotten so large (we don't have enough parking to have parents from the whole school visit).

In our first grade classroom we've worked hard to plan and write a book, revise it (make it sound better) and edit it (make it look right). By yesterday everyone had a book to share. We decorate the room and hallway, set up a stage (a coffee table) and read our books! About half of our class had family members here to share the joy. After everyone reads we have cookies and juice and the chance to really look at each others' writing.

It's a very exciting day for first graders, if a bit exhausting for their teachers. I recorded all of them reading and you can watch them on our class blog, if you feel such an urge.

To keep the excitement going we've put a poster up in the hallway. One side of the poster asks, "What kinds of writing do you do?" The other side is available for friends to share comments about our writing. I've left markers and the students' books on our coffee table under the poster. I'm hoping people will slowly add their thoughts and we can keep learning about writing.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Value of Silliness

If you missed Educon you missed a lot. More than I can begin to tackle. However, my very favorite moment of the entire event was this one:

I have immense respect for these two men and their takes on silliness and seriousness are fabulous. I don't think I could have put into words what they have said about this idea, that there is value in silliness but I completely agree with them.

I don't know either man well, but I spent some time with Chris Lehmann at CMK last summer and he is being completely honest about not taking himself seriously. I might not have believed it before then but it is true. I have spent less time with Zac Chase, but I don't question his sincerity here.

A principal's office like this has to be a good sign for a school.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Co-Teaching as Mentoring

I'm a month behind on this article from Education Week. (I blame Educon.) Apparently special education teachers are much less likely to have a mentor in their first years of teaching than general education teachers.

It got me thinking about my school, as I do frequently. In the years I've been there we've had a few teachers who have not had their contract renewed after two or three years. They've all be classroom teachers.

We have lots of special education, English Speakers of Other Languages, literacy, and math teachers. Just like our general education teachers they have not all started off super strong (as is true for most teachers). And yet, we've never had one whose contract wasn't renewed.

I think that's because of our co-teaching model. All of our non-classroom teachers co-teach in multiple classrooms everyday. They have the opportunity to watch the classroom teachers with whom they work. They plan with the classroom teachers, discuss what they are noticing about students together, and generally work as a team. They are not functioning in isolation.

Of course, this is true for our classroom teachers as well. But, a classroom teacher may only have one specialist in their room for an hour a day. Our specialists are in rooms for multiple hours each day. It can, for those just getting started, almost serve as additional student teaching time. That's pretty powerful.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Benefit of the Blogosphere

If you've missed the ongoing conversation between Chris Lehmann and Ira Socol about Educon (and, really, education in general) take a few minutes to check it out. The exchange has been fascinating and thought-provoking, but this comment from Chris really struck a chord with me.

Finally, let's also take a moment to enjoy this dialogue. It was on my mind today when I mediated a very challenging moment between a student and a teacher who were not seeing eye to eye. The easy move would have been to side with the teacher and tell the kid to deal. I don't think -- I don't think -- I would have done that under any circumstances, because I don't think that's my MO in general. But today, your voice was very much in my head, and I was even more aware than usual of being worthy of this conversation and worthy of trying to walk in the footsteps of my heroes / mentors (even the mentors I've never met) in that moment.

One of the most significant benefits I get from my involvement in the blogosphere and twitter and such is this. It keeps voices I respect in my head. It keeps my focus on a high bar for me and my students.