Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Conversations about Kids at ISTE

If you're at ISTE and feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the people, tools, and vendors and want a break to see what kids are really doing as learners, then come see us this afternoon. We'll be presenting about our online newspaper for K-5 kids in a presentation. The beauty of this one is that we can talk in detail about what is happening, answer questions, and delve in as much as we want.

I'm greatly enjoying the conversations here at ISTE and hope to have some fabulous ones about our students and their work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Much Needed Boost

I spent more than eight hours packing up my classroom today. That's after a couple of hours on Monday and about four hours yesterday. By the end I was throwing things into boxes willy-nilly. That'll be fun in September.

By the time I got home I was wiped out. Got through dinner (made by my fabulous husband, thankfully) and daughters' long bedtime routine and was ready for some down time. Sitting at my desk in our bedroom I noticed a book written by a student who moved away a few months ago. It was sitting here from when I was scoring my students' writing samples for the year. Hers did not need to be scored since she moved so I set it aside.

I picked it up out of curiosity. It was written back in the fall and the change in first graders' writing in that time is dramatic so a quick glance seemed worthwhile.

I'm so glad I did. This made my day.

I love that she wrote about our wondering. I love that she already had our class name, ExploreOrrs, down so well. I love the details in her pictures. I love that she included the two other teachers who worked in our room this year. I love that when she remembered to include periods they are huge. I love the spelling of the end. The whole book just made me smile.

I love what I do. I love my students. I feel so lucky.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Group Hug

Our last day is done. The kids loaded up their backpacks, hugged their teachers, and flew out of here. There was shouting, laughing, and crying. Smiles and tears. Excitement and fear. Joy and sorrow. The last day of school is nothing short of amazing.

One of our traditions is to have all the adults in the building (at least the ones who don't have duty getting the kids out safely) line the exit of our school and wave as the kids all leave. We stand on both sides and wave at walker, cars, day care vans, and buses. Mostly we say goodbye!, have a great summer!, don't forget to read!, see you next year! But we have to mix in some put on your seatbelt! too.
It's a wonderful way to end a year. A joyful, loud, chaotic goodbye with everyone together. One school, one community, one family.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The End is Nigh

Today was the last full day of school. (Our kids always go home two and a half hours early on Mondays and they are only here for two and a half hours on Tuesday.) Somehow we were still in the middle of several big projects.

This morning we presented our Readers' Theaters to parents: check.

After that we made the table of contents and illustrated our non-fiction books: check.

We finished the narration about triangles for our shape movie: check.

Then we compiled all the powerpoint slides the kids had written captions for into one presentation: check.

Now if my classroom didn't look like the office of an absent-minded professor I might be feeling pretty good!

Looking for Luck

We're losing another administrator. We keep losing great ones because they move up and on to wonderful things. It's fabulous for them. But it always hurts a bit.

I get it, change is hard. Unless an administrator is widely disliked (unlikely at our school, luckily) we don't want to see them go. Then, after they do, we are left filling their shoes. That's always uncertain, scary, iffy.

Right now feels like an exceptionally bad time for this. On the whole, our administration (a principal and two assistant principals) is pretty new still. So a change in it seems more shaky than normal.

Plus we're immensely overcrowded and that's impacting everything. People are fragile. More so than I've ever seen at this school.

And I know the power of the administration. It makes or breaks a school.

So I'm holding my breath, crossing my fingers, and searching for four leaf clovers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Should I Share My Ice Cream?

We're in the final stretch for the year (four days left and way too much to finish). So I was excited to pick up the newest Piggie and Elephant book by Mo Willems and share it with my class today. If you haven't read any of these books, check them out. I was skeptical when the first one came out but I'm completely addicted to them now. My first graders adore them. I had not told them there was a new one so you can hear their excitement when I explain what I have.

I love reading to kids. They are so engaged, so quiet, so drawn into the story, it is amazing. My class is never as quiet as they are during a book. When we read this one again they will be more vocal but the first time through they're just soaking it in.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Brief Learning Interlude

This morning our four year old noticed this small rainbow on the harp in our living room. She pointed it out to my husband with great excitement. He asked her what she thought was making it and she looked around and decided it was the window on our front door.

To test her theory, my husband held up his hand near the harp so that the rainbow showed on it rather than the harp. Then he walked slowly, keeping the rainbow on his hand. Our daughter followed him, watching his hand intently. After a few steps he neared the door and they agreed that it was coming from this window.

The entire event took only about three minutes. It happened as our older daughter was putting on her shoes and I was gathering all of my things. It was a tiny part of our day and one that our daughter will likely forget pretty quickly.

It struck me though. To me it illustrated the ongoing ways we interact with our girls, ways which I hope will help them love to learn and continue to do so on their own. It took very little effort but I think the payoff is huge.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Absolutely Awesome

Yesterday I introduced my first graders to Turtle Art. To be honest, I'm not sure what made me do so. Numerous knowledgeable people I respect have told me that Turtle Art fits best with 3rd graders or older. Earlier this year I introduced it to our AAP (advanced academic programs) 3rd graders and they loved it. Somehow though, it seemed like a good idea to set my first graders free with it.

So, yesterday I showed them a few, very basic things and let them go explore. A few got frustrated. Others were fascinated. After about 15 minutes I stopped them and showed them a bit more. Off they went again, this time with even more gusto. We only had half an hour yesterday so I arranged more computer lab time for us today.

Today I just let them get started. They immediately wanted to get help from each other so I made one rule. They could go anywhere in the room they wanted and talk to anyone they wanted. But they couldn't touch anyone else's computer. My reasoning, which I shared with them, was that doing the work in Turtle Art for their friend wouldn't help them learn anything. Talking through it would be good for both kids.

These videos are all from today. I barely spoke to the kids throughout the 45 minutes we were in the lab. I did stop them once to show them a couple more things. Otherwise I let them go to it.

Now, I know they don't fully understand the programming they are doing yet. That's fine with me. That will come, especially given their engagement in this. The most exciting thing for me today wasn't really their work in Turtle Art, although I loved that too, but the way they were teaching each other. I just sat down and one point and looked around in awe. Truly in awe.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Personal Definitons

I did* a sprint triathlon this weekend.

These races give me a lot of time to think as I swim, bike and run. It takes me about an hour and 45 minutes to complete a sprint triathlon. Often as I am in the midst of a race I remember a speaker I heard at a literacy conference several years ago. She was talking about having students write poetry and that people often think it isn't such a great idea because kids write such terrible poetry. She showed a picture of her husband at a triathlon and asked, "What do you call the person who comes in last in a triathlon?" A triathlete.

Anyway, I often think about this as I plod my way through a race. This time it got me thinking about how I define myself. The order is mostly random and not meant to suggest priority.

  • As a mother
  • As a teacher
  • As a wife
  • As a reader
  • As a triathlete
  • As a cultured individual
  • As a musician
  • As a member of a family (sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, daughter-in-law, etc.)

A large part of my mulling over this during the race was thinking about how much effort I put into each of the above. I work at being a mother and a teacher - reflecting, reading, talking to others. I could certainly work harder, but I put in a reasonable effort. That's not so true as a triathlete and it shows. There was a period in my life when I put in that kind of effort as a musician but not now.

The question this raises for me is where to set the bar. Do I work to put more effort into the areas that I feel I'm falling down in? Doing so would require letting other areas drop a bit. Or do I accept the level of effort that exists now? That feels like lowering the bar which sounds bad to me. But is it?

Oddly enough, I'm also a bit fascinated by the things that aren't on the above list. Things I would expect to be how I define myself but don't seem to be.

*I've never been able to come up with the right verb for this. Run isn't appropriate because I also biked and swam. Competed might work for some folks but is not the right term for what I do in a triathlon. Any thoughts?

Monday, June 06, 2011

Indoor Recess Learning

My kids don't have a lot of options during indoor recess. They can read or they can draw. Mostly they draw (or take the paper and make paper airplanes). All the paper we use for indoor recess is scrap paper - extra sheets from our work or things which were mistakes in the copy room. I grab them all for scrap paper.

In the last week we have had indoor recess quite a bit due to ridiculous heat. Typically the kids draw pictures and give them to me. I hang them up on the bulletin board above my desk for a while and eventually throw them away.

These two I may keep however. In case it isn't clear, the top one is of the life cycle of a plant, something we've been discussing in science. The bottom one is the sun and the eight planets in our solar system.

I love that these kids are processing their learning through art in their free time.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Our Ladybug Book

This is the book my first grade class wrote together. We did it in a pretty short time period because the end of the year is looming and I want them to have time to write their own books.

I do know that there are a few errors (predators are not things that eat plants) but we fixed so many things I let a couple slide.

I love the About the Author page. A few kids wrote that completely on their own and my only contribution was to help edit it for spelling and punctuation. Actually, they wrote it all on their own and I helped with organization and editing.

I love first graders!