Friday, September 21, 2012

Relax Partner

School has begun.  It's official, my carefree mornings of sipping coffee and taking brisk walks by the water have been replaced by frantic packings of lunches and barking commands to the young ones to put on shoes and socks so we can all get to school on time.

I kept pretty faithful to the walking as it reduced my stress level, until I caught the first flu going around the school.  Then it was rushing to bed to battle migraines.  My walking routine diminished, but didn't disappear.  It was rushed.  Everything is now rushed.

Rush to call parents, rush to the photocopier, rush to the playground, rush to the meetings, rush to get my bio-children  and most importantly RUSH TO THE BATHROOM!  This week we had an Open House in the evening, giving me three hours between work and the open house.  I rushed to make copies, charts, and plans hoping to squeeze in a quick walk (on the road, not by the water) before the Open House.

Then in walked Pam.  She is one of those people in my life who exemplifies the character and integrity I aspire to.  She asked me if I'd like to go to her house for a cup of tea.  I looked at my walking shoes, unanswered e-mails, unfiled RTI documents, unfinished plans and said, "SURE." I had never been to Pam's house before.  This two hundred year old farmhouse just kept whispering "relax" to me.  The tea, the chair in the sunlit kitchen, the amazing woman sitting next to me.  These all pressed an invisible release valve in my brain.  For the first time since school started I just WAS.  Sipping hot tea and enjoying conversation with a friend was the Rx for my rushing ways.

The next day we were both saying how much we enjoyed our time together and I had an epiphany.  Just like we need workout partners to keep us motivated to stick to our exercise, we also need Relaxing Partners, folks who keep us true to taking care of our souls.  Thank you, Pam.  I just took a deep breath in honor of you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Learning with Chutes and Ladders

I was hanging with my favorite six year old last night, trying to put off the requests for Sponge Bob.  We sought out other options and lit upon this unopened Chutes and Ladders game. Immediately ripping off the plastic Lil' Buddy opened the box and started putting players into the little stands.  I was folding clothes in the laundry room as he asked me which piece I wanted. I asked him to describe the pieces to me.  He did so with great detail, describing the hair color, shirts, and pants, and even throwing in evaluative statements about the pieces he favored. (classifying, isn't it exciting?)

Then we needed to put the spinner together.  It was a struggle to snap the spinner out of the plastic rigging and then set it correctly into the cardboard. Yet we persevered and accomplished the task.  (objects can be made of smaller parts)

With the pieces selected and the spinner assembled it was time to play.  Lil' Buddy went first, according to the rules we read.  (that's right, reading informational text)  He spun a six and counted off six spaces. (one to one counting) Then I had a turn, but before I was finished moving my player, Lil' Buddy spun again!  That Lil' Buddy was turning into a Lil' Rascal.  I explained that when we play games the deal is you have to wait for the other person's turn to end before you start a new turn. (guiding principle: collaborative worker/ responsible citizen)

If you've ever played Chutes and Ladders, you will note the board has one hundred numbered squares to navigate through.  The squares move numerically left to right in one row, then right to left in the next.  Lil' Buddy was struggling to figure out which direction to travel.  I suggested he always move toward the largest number. (identifying numbers and then comparing numbers)

The game has advantages and pitfalls.  When you land on a square that shows a child making a good choice there is a ladder that advances the player to a square with a "reward" of sorts.  If you land on a square with a child making a negative choice there is a slide moving you backward landing on a picture with the consequence of that choice. For instance, the square with a child who ate an entire plate of cookies slides down to a square showing the child with a belly ache.  Lil' Buddy and I got buggered up on that one several times.  (wait for it...wait for it.... my two favorite words in education and life are coming up.... LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES as detailed by the philosophy of Responsive Classroom)

We had a super time playing Chutes and Ladders, giggling when we got caught eating the cookies and squealing when we mowed the lawn and went to the circus.  Then the Papa Bear came home.  He sat down and watched for a while, making the comment that teachers could exploit Chutes and Ladders if they were having a not so stellar day and needed to coast.  Ah, Papa Bear.....thanks for the inspiration for this blog.  I explained all the great learning that was taking place while playing this "simple" game.  Amused by my sincerity and looking at the clock ticking toward Lil' Buddy's bedtime he suggested we make it a little more interesting.  

His idea was to DOUBLE the number we spun to speed things up a little.  I tell you, that cookie square was really holding us up.  Now Lil' Buddy was spinning a four, and yelling EIGHT! (using strategies to add and subtract)  We finally made it through the last game, thanks to a last minute ladder, and Lil' Buddy scurried off to bed.

As Papa Bear and Lil' Buddy went through the nighttime rituals I sat back and thought about my upcoming class.  Sure, I make games available to my kids, but usually during inside recess.  This year I'll be playing these games with my class, using them as informal assessment tools to see which kids can recognize numbers, compare numbers, use addition strategies, etc.  These games have the potential to give me lots of information about my class with the added benefit of being able to PLAY!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Independence for Mama and the Boys

Just a few days before the Fourth of July the boys and I went camping.  Though they played in the water while I set up the tent, collected rocks while I prepared the foil packet meals, and decided to read in the tent while I cleaned up, they were REMARKABLY present when it came time for dessert.  In fact, they jumped for the roasting sticks and commenced scorching marshmallows over the fire.  I collapsed at the picnic table, content that once again, my children were experiencing another rite of passage in growing up.

But...I was tired, sore (my bones don't sleep on the ground well anymore), and perhaps a little cranky.  These two boys, ages eight and ten were certainly capable of helping me.  To their credit, they did help lug the gear on the trolley to and from the campsite.  Yet they could have done more.  The question I pose today is SHOULD they have done more?

A week later I have been scurrying around the house, sweeping the floors, gathering the recycling, putting the clothes in the appropriate dressers, making breakfast and lunch while the  Remember, I am a HUGE advocate for play.  I believe much learning takes place during unstructured play.  Yet in the last few days I have also become a huge advocate of "Not-being-the-maid."  

When do I start expecting my children to start helping more?  What is appropriate to expect of my eight and ten year old boys?  The boys will help if I repeat a directive over and over, threaten to take away the Wii or gnash my teeth in a scary manner.  When do they begin to help independently? When can I expect them to get their own lunch?

Now this "teacher on vacation" is recalling the Responsive Classroom approach.  I need to teach the skills I want my boys to practice independently.  I have to show it, discuss it, allow them to practice, coach, and then observe them practice the skill on their own.  For instance, this noon I taught the youngest how to make a tuna fish sandwich.  From using the can opener, to adding basil and onion, to taking care of the tin can for recycling my kiddo made his (and my) lunch.  I showed him how to add just enough spice, he practiced, I offered feedback.  We dined together and he was clearly excited about his creation.

As I become giddy with the thought of my boys becoming more independent in helping around the house, I seek feedback.  Help me, oh parents of older, younger, and same age children.  What do you expect from your kids, and when do you expect it?  How do I work best to assure my boys won't be paralyzed at the age of twenty five when it comes to sweeping floors or preparing meals?  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Go Go Overboard!

Yup, that's me, riding in the back of my friend's boat on Damariscotta river.  I'm sucking up as much summer weather and fun as I can before going back to the schoolhouse to prepare for another exciting year of molding young minds.  In Maine we get about three weeks of spectacular weather.  Those of us who teach are fortunate to have the time to enjoy this weather.

I put a bunch of pressure on myself to go go go and do do do.  My agenda on one Monday read:  go to Botanical Gardens (paint while there), find sea glass in Boothbay, make strawberry jam, weed garden, write blog, work on sweater....... and so on and so forth.  I inherited this list making habit from my mom.  The difference between she and I is she actually gets all the stuff checked off her list, while I only make it about halfway through mine.

Last night, after deciding AGAINST fireworks I put my head on my pillow and thought long and hard about why I was so tired.  I started the morning making white chocolate covered strawberries dipped in blue sugar (thank you Pinterest). The kids and I went to our town's 4th of July celebration for three hours, went to my family's cookout until 7:30 (missing another cookout we were invited to), and then came home to play with sparklers.  I was tuckered out from the family fun.  It dawned on me, sometimes in the course of trying to do EVERYTHING, I end up just "getting through" instead of enjoying what I'm doing.

I like to be busy. This year I'm going for National Board Certification, I'm also going to be a facilitator for Take One candidates.  I'll be working on the science curriculum and acting as a peer coach.  I've been asked to run another mentor program and my team at school is looking for a team leader.  The move back to kindergarten is welcome, but I have to set up my room quite differently than I did for fourth grade.  There's an excellent dine and discuss opportunity to work with teachers in the area of math.  And that's just SCHOOL.  There is soccer to coach, knitting for Christmas, a play I'd like to audition for.....

ENOUGH.  How can I do it all?  Simply put, I can't. I need to pick and choose what the best uses of my time are.  

Now I'm starting to think school districts could do the same.  Last year our schools were mandated to participate in the Take One program (though a deferral option was offered after much gnashing of teeth).  We were also asked to rework our curriculum and add it to an online program called Atlas. RTI is now in full swing and we need to keep the records that keep changing for kids on Tiers Two and Three.  By the way, if you aren't a teacher I apologize for the foreign language I'm currently using.  There was a school wide challenge to improve math scores.  Staff Development days required people to be in two places at once.  We were running in too many directions feeling that nothing was being done well.

As summer goes by I'm spending time thinking about how I'm going to slow things down a bit.  I will focus my time more wisely. If the to do list gets whittled down perhaps I'll have a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Playing on the Water

I know, I know, I didn't post any connections of play to standards in the last two days.  That's because I was PLAYING!  You heard me, taking the first few days of summer vacation with my boys and PLAYING.  Call it research for today's post.  

On the first day the boys and I hosted a pool party at my folks' pool.  How could you POSSIBLY have learned ANYTHING you ask?  Just wait for it my friend..... In preparation for this party we prepared food, and lots of it.  We cut up watermelon, kohlrabi, celery, and carrots.  We made chocolate covered strawberries and Nutella cookies (a deadly recipe).  We prepared lemon water and lemonade.  Quick quiz here kiddies, how many standards did I just cover?  Let me plot out what I came up with:
Follow words from left to right, top to bottom (reading the recipe)

Understand that words are separated by print (reading the recipe) 

Plan and carry out investigations to test the idea that warming some materials causes them to change from solid to liquid and cooling causes them to change from liquid to solid. (chocolate covered strawberries.

Classify objects and count the number of objects in each category (putting the vegetables on the platter)

Compare and share observations of solids and liquids at room temperature (talking about all the refreshments we set out)

And that was just the getting ready part.  Then came the pool party. This is where we go more to Maine's guiding principles.  To me, the Guiding Principles are really why I show up to teach each day.  I loved watching the eight little yahoos scrambling around in the pool:
 playing Marco Polo and jumping into the water at the count of three: collaborative worker

figuring out that the pool noodle turns into a faucet if you hook it onto the pump thing in the water: creative and pratical problem solver

 and taking care of the kid with the bloody nose: responsible and involved citizen

Oh golly, what a fun day we had.  Then we went for a boat ride on the Damariscotta River yesterday,  We saw baby oysters on the dock, a bunch of seagulls (or should I call it a flock?), four seals, big fish chasing little fish, ospreys nesting on big buoys and five peacocks on the way home.  Yes, peacocks, I was just as surprised as you. We read the names of all the boats we saw in the river.  We went to Lobsterman's Wharf for lunch, then took a little swim in the river before heading back.  Does this qualify for a day of learning?  You bet your bippy it does!  Let's review:

Big fish chasing little fish:  Use observations and information to identify how animals get their food

Ospreys on buoys:  Use observations to describe how plants and animals depend on the air, land and water where they live to meet their needs

Lobsterman's Wharf for lunch and reading boat names:  Follow words from left to right, top to bottom, understand that words are spearated by spaces in print,

Talking about the peacocks to EVERYONE we saw: Use words and phrases acquired through conversations

Regaling others with tales of the great fish chase:  Distinguish shades of meaning among verbs describing the same general action

I could add more, but it's time for the Pirate Fest.  I can't wait to see what kinds of standards I'll gather there!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In Defense of PLAY

The day I often thought might never arrive has come.  My students have departed.  My classroom is empty, save for a box of garbage bags.  One of my fourth grade kiddos just popped over for a visit and I sent him off with the chore of putting my worms in the car. Now it's time to make the jump back to kindergarten.  

One of the kindergarten teachers just passed me her sacred file of articles defending play  for children.  She knew I would give it a place of honor in my desk, keeping it near for when childhood needs to be rescued from the constantly increasing demands of test preparation and increased standards.  The truth is, I consider play to be preparation for tests, reading, math, writing, and navigating tricky social waters.
After my post about homework I felt as though I needed to follow up a bit.  Though I don't like dictating what children should do when they are home, I want to recognize all the learning that takes place in the joyful act of play.  I wanted to wait until I had time to really dive into this and the time has come. 

In the next few blogs I will be looking at the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Math as well as the NEXT GEN Standards for Math and connecting common play activities to the standards.  Let me just start with a quickie.

From the Common Core Reading Standards for Literature Key Ideas and Details K-5:
Kindergartners will:  
Ask and answer questions about key details in the text.
Kind of a no-brainer here, my kids ask me questions about EVERYTHING we read. Nothing is taken for granted. Now as a teacher I can encourage folks ask and answer questions about the books they read with their kids. I won't ask them to document the questions and answers.
Retell familiar stories.
Sounds like car ride conversation to me.
Identify characters, settings, and major events in a story. 
This sounds like the dramatic play area, puppets tell of Hansel and Gretel's adventures, colorful drawings can detail settings.

Learning doesn't have to be "work."  It doesn't have to take place on a "worksheet," though I am chastened to remember that some kids actually do well with the support of a worksheet and therefore swallow the bitter pill of handing them out occasionally.

Enough for today, time to "play" in the garden....

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Know Thy Class

I have quite a crew of kids this year.  This is my first experience teaching fourth grade, and let's just say it's been a trial by fire.  My little darlings have a unique set of quirks and interests.  The poor secretary at my school had been hard pressed to find guest teachers willing to return after one day with them when I was out.  We finally found a retired principal I cajoled and begged to work with the kiddos.

Though my crew is tough, I adore the little buggers.  As I pleaded with them to behave for guest teachers and asked why they were so naughty they explained that guest teachers just aren't me.  My lesson plans are four pages long. Single spaced.  A guest teacher doesn't even get to HOW to start the day until he or she has read the proper care and feeding guide for individual students.  Then there are the instructions of "how we roll" in the room and explanations of how Beck bucks are given and taken.  I try to be as thorough as possible, yet it's just not "me" teaching the kids.

I know my class intimately.  When their little faces go vacant we stop midstream and sing "Mother Gooney Bird" or "Shark Attack."  Before a test we do breathing exercises.  No academics begin until the kids have stretched out with downward dog and child's pose.  I know who needs to run an "errand" for a movement break and who needs a few minutes to chill alone because of an altercation at recess.  These quick subtle adjustments to the day come as easily to me as singing the alphabet, but I can't just put that on paper, though I've tried.

One of the tenets of Responsive Classroom is "knowing the children you teach is as important as knowing what you teach."  After 160 days with this gang I know them well.  As I prepare this group to move onto middle school I want to tuck a note in each child's folder explaining the intricacies of him or her.  I want the future teachers to appreciate their beautiful strengths even in the face of some aggravating challenges.  These kids are mine, and as I've learned from my past 17 classes, they always will be.