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.