Friday, October 30, 2009

Parties and Plans: Then and Now

Here I am, at home, with my sick child. I had to leave school at noon to take care of my daughter after receiving a call from the nurse at her school telling me my daughter was sick.

When I was in 2nd grade, here are the directions that probably would have been left for my teacher's substitute had she left early that day:
  1. Make sure everyone stays in his or her own desk.
  2. Ask two students to give out the treats (If suggestions were given of "good students," I would have been listed of course!!)
  3. Give out the Halloween worksheet. Students should complete it by themselves.
  4. Sing Halloween song.
  5. Have two students clean up the trash.
  6. Have two students sweep the floor.
  7. Have two students clap the erasers.
  8. Have students pack up.

And here are some of the directions I left:
  1. Here is how you log into the Mac. It is the same way as you log into a pc.....
  2. Here is where you access the on/off to the projector (it's in a box).
  3. Do you know how to orient the Smartboard (yes, good). If you have trouble, see the teacher next door.
  4. Here is the link to the web site, etc. (provided directions to get to a Halloween spelling game to play on the Smartboard).
  5. Here is a pile of books my student helpers and I collected in case you need them to read.
  6. On the children's desks are science papers. They need to observe the toothpaste and water to see what it looks like after sitting overnight.
  7. The children can have some independent reading time if there's time. They love that. Or, they can write in their journals. They were learning about "sound words" and alliteration by watching two short videos and creating a podcast yesterday so they might want to use those styles in their writing today.
  8. Parents are coming at 1:30 to help the children dress. Some parents will stay in the classroom to help set up for the party (food and craft) and others will come on the parade around town.
  9. I have partnered the children for the parade so they keep an eye on each other. I used the digital photo magnets of the children posted on the chalkboard to show you who the partners are.
  10. Here is my cell phone number in case you have any questions.
  11. Make sure to lock up the Mac and cord in the closet when you are finished.

Whew! No wonder we are tired at the end of the day - even if we aren't there!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Classroom Culture

As all teachers know, every year you have a different group of children and a different feel to the classroom. There are different people, of course, in your environment, and that makes all the difference. You are teaching similar content, the classroom itself is somewhat the same, you probably have many of the same books, desks, learning materials, standards to achieve, and a similar schedule to adhere to. But, luckily, we get to do our job differently every year. That is one of the exciting things about teaching - even if you teach the same grade year after year.

As the "leader" of the group, a teacher does have some say (at least we try) in the development of the culture of the classroom. This year I have been observing some of the very interesting developments in the culture of my second grade classroom that I find fascinating because the children are creating some of this culture themselves by making the most of the structures that have been set up in this particular learning environment. Here are two examples:

A few weeks ago a child brought in a rock from home. During the busy morning as the children were arriving, the child showed me the rock. I commented on the rock as I was getting the day organized. He asked me if he should put it on the display table. I quickly said yes as I attended to the other children. After a few minutes (processing, processing), I stopped and thought, "Do we have a display table?" I then realized that on the first day of school a child brought in some things from her summer vacation. We put them on a metal stand that I use to store science materials. Without my paying much attention to it, the stand gradually became a display table for all kinds of interesting items the children wanted to share with the class: books, toys, rocks, shells, awards, Halloween decorations. Sometimes I don't know who put the items there - they just "appear" there. And that seems to satisfy the need of the children to share their things without having them become a distraction. And, the other children respect the items and leave them alone.

This is the first year our four Macbooks available at the very beginning of the year for the students to use in the classroom. The children are already becoming comfortable using the computers and will even ask for "my mac" when they have some work to do. But it still surprised me when I was talking with another teacher as the children came into the classroom after lunch and I heard the "ding" of the macs as they were being turned on. I found it surprising, and amusing, that the children were so comfortable with themselves as learners and tech. users that they would get right to work after lunch without waiting for me to give them any directions (I did actually have a math lesson planned by the way...). You have to remember, these are only second graders! They aren't fooling around - they want to get their work done. And this is THEIR work - not my assignment for them to complete.

With guidance and trust, modeling and support, even the youngest children will embrace learning and leading in their classroom. Keep an eye on them...they're fascinating. And they won't wait for you either!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Triple Dog Dare You - And Other Exciting Playground Rules

Everyone knows that if you are "triple-dog dared" you just have to do it, right? We all know you can spray yourself or draw a force field to keep the "cooties" off too. When I was in elementary school, we had the "Naked Machine." If you stood on a certain vent and someone pushed a button, then you were naked, no questions asked, and it didn't matter that you still had all your clothes on either - you were naked. About 15 years later I was visiting my parents and walked through the school playground during recess, and, sure enough, someone was on that vent and the "Naked Machine" was still in operation!! I couldn't believe it. Are these really logical and sound rules and procedures for your playground? Of course not!

We do have lots of rules, though, to make play-time fun, safe, and fair for everyone. We help the children understand the rules and what to do if they are having trouble. We help the children when the problems are beyond what they can handle themselves. We work with the whole class and with individuals. We use stories and role playing to help the children understand empathy, fairness, cooperation, etc. So why is it, then, that year after year, we continue to address the same problems, sometimes problems that continue to pop back up throughout a school year? And sometimes the problems continue year after year throughout the grade levels.

During the July 2009 Constructing Modern Knowledge I was fortunate to be able to interact with educator Deborah Meier. She gave us some suggested resources ("Write this down," she would I did.) One of the educators she spoke about was Vivian Gussin Paley, and she suggested we read her book You Can't Say You Can't Play. It took me about two days to read - it's a quick read.

You really have to read the book to appreciate the discussions and debates Paley and her kindergarteners and the children from grades 1-5 had regarding the rule "you can't say you can't play." They wondered--Is this a fair rule and would it work?

So, do you think this is a fair rule, and do you think this would work in your classroom or school? Would you like this rule applied to you, either as an adult or thinking of yourself as an elementary school student? Remember, that would mean that you couldn't tell anyone they couldn't play with you, and no one could tell you that you couldn't play with them (or anyone else).

If you think about it quickly, it sounds great - everybody gets to play. But then you have to consider all the "what ifs" that will certainly occur in a social arena. What if someone is mean to me? What if I only want to play with my best friend? What if the teams are too big? What if the boys only want to play with boys and the girls only with girls?

But also consider: What if one child is always excluded, day after day, year after year? What if there is always one child who decides who plays and who doesn't - one day you're "in" and the next day you're "out"? What if someone wants to play with your best friend and your best friend wants to play with someone else but doesn't want to hurt your feelings.

I'm not sure if this rule is fair or if it would work in my second grade classroom. I do know that for the last nine years of teaching, it is certain that there are problems that occur at recess and free play times because the children exclude some, create cliques (even at this young age), test their social powers, and still need help learning how to join in with a group. As Vivian Gussin Paley suggests, a public school is a public place. If you want to play exclusively with your close friends, you can arrange to connect outside of the school day. But school is not the place for exclusion.

What do you think...I'm still deciding...I wonder what my students think...I'm going to ask them...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009 - Show and Tell Is Not Just for Kindergarten

If I told you that as a teacher you would have to plan and execute a one-week circus camp and at the end of the week your students would have to understand the science content and perform in their own one-hour circus you would think..., BUT...

...If I showed you the letters w
ritten in the style of “camper to family” explaining the science content and you viewed a video of the amazing circus performance that had been prepared in five days, then you would think??

If I told y
ou to use an annual Alaskan dog sled race (Iditarod) to teach probability instead of the usual math p. 103, you would think..., BUT...

...If I showed you my notes with the dialogue of the children’s discussions about who is most likely to win the race with their detailed theories why and then also showed you the links to social studies (including geography, current events, history, economics), science, art, music, graphing, languages arts, etc., then you would think??

Out of Constructing Modern Knowledge I came away with a number of things to think about. Two of them - good PR and documenting learning, to me, seem to go together.

Have you ever been to the Apple Store? It’s a great place to play. It’s a great place to watch good marketing too. There’s lots of good showin’ and tellin’ (and buyin’) taking place! And the showing part is a very important part of the process.

Sylvia Martinez of GenYES shared a clip of a student teaching others in his school how to use GarageBand to create podcasts. He was actually inspired by his trip to the Apple Store in New York. He wanted to be like those he saw in the store showing others how to use the tools, how to get excited about learning and digital media!

Schools can do that too! Many of the schools already have the equipment: the cameras, video recorders, computers, software, web 2.0 tools, the know-how (and if you don't, ask your students!!) We need two more things. We need to know that it really is OK to show off the great things that are happening in our schools - the great things that the staff is doing and the great things the students are doing. And we need to make that part of our job description and the culture of our communities.

Deborah Meier expressed it well when she said that schools do a terrible job of marketing ourselves as we compete with the toy markets, electronic markets, sports market, food market, for the attention of our children. We need to do a better job of "Show and Tell." And by the way, didn't we invent the game in the first place!!

We need to counter the bad press that drags down morale. Do you want your own children to go to an ordinary or worse school or an award-winning (perhaps), unbelievably exciting and engaging special learning environment? Here is where the craft of documenting comes in. Of course, we don't want to engage in deceptive advertising or seem like we are enticing children or families to "buy" a poor product. We don't want to hand children a script and tell them to say what we want others to hear either. We want to tell the truth - so make it the truth! We want children to do what they are going to do anyway and say what they are going to say, just make sure we, or they, document it. When it REALLY isn't good, that's when we have a problem.

Lella Gandini spoke of the early childhood schools of Reggio Emilia and how their approach to teaching has influenced education across the world, including in the United States. One of the important practices of educators in Reggio Emilia schools is to document learning, for example, with writings and photographs and with the children's own work. She commented that one of the reasons that the Reggio Emilia approach to education has been successful is because the schools have been so dedicated to the process of documenting the learning that takes place in their schools. The documentation tells the stories of the successes and stands as proof of learning. Their documentation is certainly different than a list of test scores, I would say. The documentation is not taken for the purpose of "good PR" but does the job nevertheless. Learning to observe and collect quality documentation is a skill that is crucial to the learning process but that can also serve to "show off" our schools.

So, upon reflection, Constructing Modern Knowledge was about many things. But, I have to say there was a lot of "Show and Tell" taking place throughout the week. Lots of great educators showing us how to do things, lots of participants showing what we learned. Lots of great educators telling us some amazing, engaging, thought-provoking stories and asking some questions that don't necessarily have answers but will require us to continue the " showing and telling" with our colleagues back home.

Pass it on...We're doing Show and Tell next year...all grades, all ages...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Constructing Modern Knowlege 2009 - Project Sharing

Since I haven't yet finished blog post #1 about Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK), I have skipped to blog post #2, which I suppose has thus become blog post #1, making the original blog post #1 now blog post #2--as soon as I finish it.

As we know, sharing a finished product is a great way to celebrate the hard work of learners. At the end of our week in New Hampshire, I was able to see the unbelievable efforts of my new CMK friends. Here is a fun project I worked on with two colleagues during the week. We wanted to show what today's teachers are doing, creating, caring about. With the help of programs and equipment, such as Scratch, Animation-ish, PicoCrickets, and Flipcameras, CMK participants created amazing projects, and we were able capture some of them using iMovie '09 to show what teachers are doing - and to encourage you to join in the fun! (It is draft-ish because of time constraints, but we are proud of our hard work and accomplishments nevertheless!)

What will you be doing in your classroom in the 2009-2010 school year? How will you show off your great efforts and those of your students?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Outside the NECC Walls

So, after all my reflections on NECC, I have to say that my favorite part was the people-watching. During the keynotes, sessions, the volunteers, outside the conventions center, at the receptions, the vendors--there was so much going on! And surrounding the many aspects of this conference, a city was bustling with workers, vacationers, families, etc.

I think I saw it suggested somewhere - that we have a "conference without walls." And we are definitely at a time when all of our sessions do not have to take place in rooms in the same building. We can be "out and about" the cities where we are having the conference doing some great hands-on learning and discussions.

One of my favorite parts of my NECC-plus-vacation was the Fourth of July parade. Instead of watching the parade, I found myself watching the spectators. With the countless phone, photo, and video gadgets, the people--children, adults, seniors--were involved in the parade in more ways than just as viewers. There were flags being waved, but more often than flags, I saw cameras and cell phones flying high above the crowds trying to get a great photo. Here's where our learners are. Here's where our educators should be. Here's where the collaboration, sharing, and learning by doing are taking place. They've got the tools and we can facilitate the learning - taking it to the next level - outside where things are happening...

BubbleShare: Share photos - Easy Photo Sharing

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Live Meme Tagging

I am the worst at participating in a meme online. I start my thoughts and don't finish. Aside from that, I find the process very interesting - that people post their thoughts about themselves and share and then, that people comment. The comments are mostly supportive, funny, and interesting themselves.

Recently,  I decided to give a writing prompt pulled directly from the world of social networking. They wrote their prompts in their journals - a place where they mostly have free choice about what to write. The prompt: The Top Ten Most Important Things You Should Know About Me. A good topic to learn more about your classmates.

These little guys really took this task seriously. They covered their papers for privacy. Most children spent a good 1/2 hour in thought and writing. Even students who struggle with writing were "into" this assignment. And then they lined up to show me what they wrote - where did that come from??

And, when I began reading their entries, I was amazed. I learned so many new things about them, and I learned that they are really funny, interesting, diverse, and thoughtful people. I also learned a lot about them as writers.

Now, I am thinking, just like with a blog or Facebook meme, perhaps we will tag a few classes to complete this task. It doesn't have to take that long, and I would love to see what another class could do with it. I would love to see children tag their parents too :)

One of my favorite top ten entries is from a student for whom writing is not really a preferred activity...

#5 I like to move it, move it! (Think of the song - was in Madagascar)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Ball of Clay and a Bit 'O Google Earth

Erasertown USA - that is what happens when you have primary-level children sit at their desks for an extended period of time and listen to you teach. They do "creative" things like create little towns in their desks, with the erasers as the people! (Hence the name of this blog!) So, we have groups of children who need to move, collaborate, create, etc. That sounds good, for the most part. Although it can be exhausting to a teacher!

But, recently I have been thinking about the idea of continous partial attention, a phrase coined by Linda Stone. It is not a new idea, but one that I have heard being used more often in recent months. It is meant to explain something similar to multitasking - where people are doing more than one thing at the same time to be efficient. With continuous partial attention, however, one is always on high-alert, bouncing from one activity to the next with a sort-of urgent need be involved in everything that is going on at once. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of this at times.

Some classrooms have a strong energy--but it can be an unsettled feeling that is not a creative, collaborate, hands-on energy. Some groups work very well together and thrive when they are given hands-on, collaborate projects, but they often crumble when they need to sit, even to listen to a story. Just recently, as I was reflecting on this idea, and I began to think that I don't just need to give children hands-on projects, I also need to give them practice "being calm." They need to know what that feels like. And I do think they need to practice.

Somewhere in my Internet browsing at one point (YouTube perhaps - now can't find it), I came across a college professor who actually did require all students to put away all electronic and other devices, including computers. If I remember correctly, one person took notes and shared with the class. He was trying to re-teach them how to focus on one task - listening to him only.

For me it started with a ball of clay. Each year my students learn about famous American symbols, and as part of unit, they each sculpt one of the symbols (Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, Capitol, etc.) out of non-hardening clay. It is a large chunk of clay, and it takes some time to soften and mold. Once, before I had even given out the last balls of clay, some children were jumping out of their desks, "claiming" to be finished. "Impossible!" I exclaimed as I found a great place for some learning. And that is where my lessons began. I showed them how to take their time, that it was OK to relax, to work the clay, to think about their work, to smash it and start over if they weren't happy with it, etc. And I think they slowly got the idea, but they really did need the lesson.

Another opportunity arose once time when I began teaching the class how to use Google Earth and how to create placemarks for famous American landmarks.. There was again a feeling that it was a race to the end. Again, I slowed them down, showed them all the wonderful "sightseeing" that was available to them, and praised them for their exploring. They began to enjoy the moment, the task, and working with their partner on what they were doing, not racing to whatever came next. And I was content with the fact that they didn't all get finished the task.

So, lesson for the students - enjoy the process of learning. Lesson for me - remind yourself to remind the students to enjoy the process of learning! Find those moments when you can allow the children to practice being calm, even in our fast-pace, ever exciting learning environments.