Thursday, September 30, 2010

Go Fish

So I have had a wide variety of classroom pets over the years--guinea pigs, hermit crabs, African aquatic frogs, fire bellied frogs are those that come to mind. Pets. I've never been a big fan of pets, however it's one of those things I do for my students.

This summer my husband bought an aquarium for the classroom at a yard sale. He has since spent a bunch more money, but the aquarium is up and running. It does take some effort, but it has some surprising benefits, too.

There is the obvious benefits like science and learning about animals.

The unexpected benefits have more to do with classroom environment or climate. I like the quiet hum of the pump when I arrive in the morning. We like to turn off the overhead florescent lights, and it's another light source. The aquarium is very calming to watch.

Some future benefits I'm anticipating include teaching students more responsibility in caring for the aquarium, and learning about the habit in the aquarium as we continue to add more animals and plants.

And did I mention that my husband and I are learning lots about specific varieties of plants and fish that work well together? Go Fish!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No One Is An Island

So it's respect Wednesday, and I had an event this week in which I felt terribly disrespected. I was hurt and angry, and my confidence faltered. I felt embarrassed that I couldn't just handle it and let go of it.

It really got me to thinking about the power of a tribe. How I'm not really supposed to be able to handle it all on my own. How I need the support of other people. (That's honestly hard for me to type or even admit to myself.) I've had little seasons with a supportive tribe, but it's never been something I've cultivated--even though my spiritual beliefs say it's essential. I don't know if it's age or wisdom, but I know I need it. For that reason (and others), I've signed up for Mondo Beyondo's Fall Dream Lab. I believe there is still time to join, if anyone is interested. It begins October 4. I love that it gives you a tribe--an instant place where you belong. I've made connections with people through Mondo Beyondo whose blogs I continue to read, sometimes respond to, and even buy their art!

I'm also feeling compelled to find a tribe of flesh and blood women. I will be working on that. I don't know if it will be on a personal level or a professional level or both. Don't know exactly what that means, but I believe I will when I find it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Inspired By Beautiful Creativity and Autumn

I keep leaving my camera at school with the photos I want to download to this post. So they will eventually be here for all to witness.

On Saturday morning I drove to the Country Living Fair in Columbus. It was crazy and gorgeous. The weather was spectacular. I did buy a few things, but I mainly soaked in the creativity. I always love the power to create and make money doing it. I'm trying to figure that out myself. I loved seeing all the ways people dressed. I loved the amazing energy of "Sisters on the Fly." Who wouldn't want to have a rehabbed trailer with a great paint job that you could take on a cowgirl caravan? I enjoyed seeing the passion of artists and shoppers alike. I enjoyed sitting on the ground and people watch and hear conversations and create stories about the lives of the people I saw. It was fun to be alone on my own time schedule--free to come and go as I please. For many years I took that for granted, and now it is so rare I don't know what to do with it. It was really a simple pleasure.

I also loved seeing pumpkins and cornstalks. I really enjoy fall decorating. Who doesn't like carving a pumpkin? I like the naturalness of it all. In many ways I like it more than decorating for Christmas. Fall doesn't have so many shoulds and shouldn'ts attached to it. More simple pleasures.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Need Your Help

I need your help. Those are not words children often hear adults say to them, but I said those exact words to my students this morning. I think many of the things I say just go in one ear and out the other, but they didn't know what to do with this one.

I told them I needed their help, because I wasn't very good at one part of my job. They just stared at me or looked down. I told them how I thought the no talking plan we agreed to was fantastic, and I love buying trinkets for our red box (which once held pastries from Italy). But I'm not good at the taking away the paper pencil that determines if you earned a trinket. And it didn't feel fair to me for the students who weren't developing self control to receive the same reward as those who are working hard to find self control. They agreed it doesn't feel right.

They just looked at me. I said, "No. Seriously. I really need your help. I'm no good at this." Finally someone suggested that instead of taking away the pencil, I could give them out. Hmmm. That feels so much better to me.

We voted.

Not everyone agreed it was good. And then there was a moment when I asked what didn't feel good, and one child said that he only talked when someone talked to him. And without missing a beat another child said, "But that is the self control part that's hard for everyone." Wow! I don't know if that moment was lost on the other child, but it wasn't lost on me.

What comes out when people are honest with other people--regardless of age or level of authority or income or education. It was incredible! And we have come to an agreement that everyone can feel good about. I asked for help, and I received it from 9 and 10 year olds. That feels respectful and honest and real and quite educational.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Respectfully Yours

One of the things I love about impatiens is how they will look like their on their last leg, and then they bounce back with gorgeous blooms and a new zeal for sharing their beauty with the world.

Today I would not say I'm on my last leg, but I would say I'm a little bruised and beaten up. I'm not weathering the little every day storms of life quite as well as I wish I was. I feel moody and tired. And my feelings are hurt that so few people seem to share my perspective on life and the world.

On one hand it seems so petty, but on the other hand it is the core of my being that is feeling this way. So instead of diminishing my reality I'm going to respectfully be with myself. I'm not going to pretend that everything is OK, but I'm not going to wallow either.

I want to bloom and exude zeal and share the best of what I am with the world. I think in large part that needs to be a focal point for me--without force or threat shining my light into the world. I've downplayed it and hid it and stood behind others I thought were brighter for too long. It's time for me to take inspiration from my impatiens and keep my heart open. I'm starting to seriously seek a tribe to support and tend to this little impatien. And for today I will respect myself enough to be here. And that's enough.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Students Self Select Work For Display

I used to sweat about what work to display. I often make a hall display of everyone's work. Aside from that do I display only 100% work? Only As? There is a dilema here.

I've taken all the guessing out by allowing students to choose the work they display. This year there is a magnetic clip on everyone's locker. In the first few days everyone filled out an "All About Me" sheet and hung it up. Since then I've seen a few 100% spelling tests and the sheet of math facts in which a student entered a Challenge Club (Challenge Clubs have to wait for another day.)

The thing that often surprises me is that kids often choose work I would not choose for them. It gives kids control. It takes the pressure off of me. No one can complain about why their child's work is not displayed.

I guess that makes students selecting their own work for display a win, win, win!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Inspired by Autumn

This weekend our little family went on our 2nd hike of the Fall Hiking Spree in our Metro Parks. It was so bright and sunshiny, but we had cold noses and ears. Aaahhh! It must be autumn.

One of my favorite aspects of living in Ohio is the amazing change of seasons, and Fall really may be my fave! The crunchy leaves. The apple cider--hot or cold. Trick or treaters on Halloween. Pumpkins to carve. Roasted pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin pie. Crisp mornings accompanied by toasty (even hot) afternoons. Starting to pile blankets back on the bed at night. Pulling out jackets and sweaters. The wind rustling the leaves.

What do you enjoy about the seasons changing?
I really am inspired and in some ways invigorated as the seasons change.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tips and Tricks in Photos

I'm thinking that this digital age is great for teachers. We can take photos of activities for so many valuable purposes. The photos I've included today are from our math games yesterday. We worked in 4 different stations. I was at a teaching station, but while my group practiced I circulated around the room and took photos of some of the different activities.

How could these photos be put to good use? Here are some of my ideas:

~Photos could be printed and used to show choices or centers. A photo of the game activates recall more quickly than the title, especially if we've only played the game once or twice.

~Photos could accompany game directions in a folder or binder as a quick reference for adult volunteers or guest/substitute teachers.

~They could be displayed as part of a family outreach night along with a description of the math skills that are practiced through each game.

~The photo could accompany a writing prompt or class blog asking something like, "How does this game help you practice place value?" or "What are some of the properties of polygons you name when you play this game?"

How would/could you use photos in your workplace

Friday, September 17, 2010

Menu Books Are Great

I'd like to recommend a book series that I just purchased. (I only bought 2, but I might look for more!) They are the Differentiating Instruction With Menus books by Laurie E. Westphal. I just got Math and Science. I'm particularly excited about using this whole concept with my fast and accurate mathematicians and with all my scientists!

I love that all the foundational work and layout is done, and there's the variety of menus. Some of these include: Tic-Tac-Toes (which I'm already familiar with creating), List Menus, 2-5-8 (very cool and simple), Baseball Menus, Game Show Menus, and some variations on these.

Honestly, many of the actual menus are a little more advanced than where my 4th graders are at this point in the year (I think they're designed for middle school), but it would be a small amount of work to modify what is already provided versus creating the whole thing from scratch.

I've used menus off and on my whole teaching career. My 2 favorite aspects are student choice and the fact that work load and degree of difficulty can be varied will everyone is still doing "the same thing." That last part seems especially important to kids who struggle more and always know they're not reading the hardest book, but they wish they were. Menus are great tools for differentiating if you don't have support or resources at your disposal.

What resources do you recommend for differentiating learning and teaching to be serve your students?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Through the Eyes of a Child

I went outside on Wednesday evening to take a few photos and who hopped in front of me? Why it was this toad! It went hopping around the driveway and the little dying flowerbed.

While taking photos of toads was not part of my plan, it brought and instant smile to my face. I couldn't wait to run inside and grab Sam. He then proceeded to follow the toad through the flowerbed. And when we went inside we had to say bye-bye.

There was a point in time when I would not have had any interest in watching this little fellow, but it is such a good reminder to take some time every day and look at the world through the eyes of a child.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Another Round of Respect

Respect is tough to teach. I think this is true because it is best taught by modelling. It is tough to be respectful to people who are not respectful of you as a human being or an authority figure or a person who makes consistent sacrificial choice on their behalf. (I'm sure the parent of any teenager is having a bout of hysteria as this is their total reality!)

I'm trying to teach my students respect for the materials in our classroom--most of which have been purchased for them by their hardworking parent(s) or their hardworking teacher(s). I find many pencils everyday on the floor along with glue sticks, game pieces, markers, colored pencils, even books I provide in a classroom library.

This makes me angry. But why should I expect immediate respect for material things when many kids find the most precious parts of their lives disposable and instant? And regardless of the economic background, most material things are easy to replace. Who even has to wait until Christmas or their birthday for a special toy or video game or game system or digital flat screen TV for their bedroom? The child who has to wait is the rare exception that proves the rule.

Come on! What lessons are we instilling? I'm afraid they might not be the ones have have long term benefits for our society or planet.

So today I used words to explain how hard I worked to get new game sets for our class and how I felt when kids did not take care of them. And I modelled respect for them in the quality of instruction I provided with an amazing dose of enthusiasm. And when I took my lunch time to stay in the room and answer questions for kids who have missing and unfinished work, so they can have another chance to develop a stronger work ethic. And when I praised their hard work and maturing behaviors. And so the road to respect continues. This is a long one. . .

Monday, September 13, 2010

Inspired By Volunteers

Volunteering rocks! My all time favorite job, as a literacy advocate, was voluntary, but it paid a stipend. I know what makes me volunteer, but I'm always amazed when other people do it.

So I'm so inspired by the people who are volunteering in my classroom, and I can't wait for more volunteers! So this year my volunteers range from parents, to middle schoolers to 3rd and 4th graders.

I love the 3rd grader who wants to help kids be better readers, so he is going to come to our room on indoor recess day to listen to kids who are practicing their outloud reading voices. Who wouldn't be inspired by this?

I love the eager 4th graders who want to make our class a better place, so they cut and glue and organize for stuff like math games.

I love 3 old middle school friends of mine who come in once a week to make copies, cut out stuff, and even put together lamps. I love just seeing them, but I appreciate their willingness to work.

I love the mom who makes copies faster than a speeding bullet--no kidding. She is so organized and masterful.

And finally the mom who comes in once a week to play math games. I think she must feel like she has entered a cyclone--there's a new group every 15 minutes, the kids are all different. It's crazy, and she is amazing. I wonder if she takes a nap when she leave?!

Props out to anyone who volunteers anywhere. THANKS! The world IS a better place bacause of you

If you have one hour a week you can spare, please volunteer at a school. It can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be, but it is so good for kids and teachers. What kind of volunteering have you done? or would like to do>

Friday, September 10, 2010

Twisted (of Folded) Humor

Okay, I'm taking a risk here and I'm recommending a book I have not yet finished. I am currently reading The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. The humor of this book might not be for everyone, but even the premise makes me smile--Dwight, a real loser, has an origami Yoda who dispenses wisdom. Is the Yoda real or not? The book is divided into incidents that are documented by Tommy, another loser, who want to know the answer.

I think this quirky book will appeal to anyone who likes Yoda, origami, or other books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I think reluctant male readers from 4th grade up might enjoy this. I'd give it a shot.

I have a smile on my face just thinking about it! By the way, instructions for folding your own origami Yoda are included.

What are you reading these days that you would recommend?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Love Will Find A Way

Love will find a way to bridge the divide between where I am and where I will be next. I might not even see the bridge, but it will be there when it needs to be.

I'm especially thinking of this for my new students--who are young and energetic and uncertain. Some of them are forcing their way forward for attention, while others try to melt into the background. They have baggage and issues I don't even know about, maybe never will know about.

But love is going to find a way to grab them and reach them and change them forever. My job is to trust and walk on the bridge when it appears. And show them that the bridge is safe.

How do you see love at work in the world around you?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

If I Ignore You, You Can't Make Me

I once read a classroom management book that talked about those curious boundry testers that are always looking for the limits. Most of the time I can manage those. This year I have quite a number of kids who I think internally have their fingers in their years and they're shouting, "If I ignore you, you can't make me!"

I'm serious about this--I'm still oberserving and testing myself, but I find it a bit overwhelming. I'm the one who knows how much they have to learn. I know how this is disrupting learning and teaching. And now the question is, what am I going to do about it.

I am the grown-up, so I will handle it. But I just want to put my fingers in my ears and say, "If I ignore you, you can't make!" (And that's about all I have to say about respect for today.)

Any ideas?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Inspired By Spontaneity

After an unexpectedly long adventure (3 hours) at the Cleveland Zoo this weekend we ran into these amazing birds, lorikeets, and we decided to feed them. It was my favorite part of the whole trip. Sure we saw lots of amazing animals--orangutans, a zebra, koalas, giraffes, butterflies, crocodiles, etc., and Sam was thrilled by saying "wah-wah" everywhere we went. No matter how unfamiliar an animal it was, there was water somewhere with it!

Sometimes it's hard to admit how different spontaneity is in life with a toddler. Before Sam I would hop in the car for a meal in Cleveland or a day in Amish Country--no planning required. That type of spontaneity is no longer part of my reality.

However, there is this total in the moment, throw yourself all into it, and let's just do it sort of spontaneity that is pure joy. The bliss factor is often captured in a brief moment, but it's so much more thrilling than any day shopping or even travelling. That is a part of being a parent that no one tells us about. We hear plenty about sleepless night, picky eaters, illness and tantrums, but we don't hear about the intensity of joy that creeps into the ordinary moments of life. No one tells us that if we don't watch and stay present those moments will slip through our fingers--gone forever. So let's be inspired by the spontaneous!

Wherever you are in life today, I hope you can grab a moment of spontaneity and run with it! What sort of spontaneous things do you like to do?