Educational Mountains

So, here is how a mountain is formed.

The first basic thing you have to understand is that the earth’s crust is made up of gigantic plates. These plates will create a fault line wherever they meet another plate. When these fault lines start pressing against each other, then they will push the land upwards in one way or another. When this land reaches up into the sky, you have a mountain.

Twenty-six fifth graders modeling convergent, divergent, and transform faults with icing, cookies, and graham crackers made my heart sing.  Of course, there were the few who dipped their entire hands in the icing and showed me with looks of pride and glory.  I only had to remind those children that the last time I checked, I didn’t teach kindergarten.  I was rejoicing in the fact that the sugar comas would happen after they all went home.

My Earth science lesson vaulted me into literary metaphors and educational symbolism.

It is truly amazing how a mountain is formed. I have seen mountains my entire life, but I never wondered how they were created until I began teaching 5th grade. We can consider the fact that we don’t witness the mountains being created as we never know the exact moment that learning occurs.

We use a variety of idioms and adages with the word “mountain”.

  • A mountain to climb
  • If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed.
  • Make a mountain out of a molehill
  • Move mountains
This week, I believe (with the help of some wonderful friends) I climbed some elementary school mountains.  I’m still climbing, the rocks are rough, and I have lost my footing many times.  I’m good, as long as I don’t look down, or gaze at how much more I have to go.
  • Seventy-two children are cast in three separate productions.
  • The three productions had successful first reads.
  • My friend Daniel did not go screaming from the elementary school, after I discussed that the “slanty‘ words are italics.
  • Daniel still stuck around while I mimed, slanty, with my hands-multiple times.
  • Twenty-six children are prepared for the writing test on Wednesday.
  • Eighteen children know that there are two cups in a pint.
  • Those eighteen children are now pronouncing pint with a long i so that it doesn’t rhyme with “mint”.
  • The same eighteen children learned about capacity with measuring cups and food coloring.  (I have never been so happy to have a sink in my classroom).
  • A student left a note on my desk, “You are the best math teacher, ever.”
  • I created a boy/girl line-up system that simultaneously quiets the line and disgruntles the kids.
  • I made it to specials on time-every day.
  • I made it to work on time-every day.
  • I had lunch count in by 8:30 every day.
  • I successfully explained why it is necessary to wear shoes, at recess, while playing football.
  • I also explained that shoes don’t randomly fall off of ones feet.
  • I finally got the idea across that, gravity works all of the time.  Therefore, catapulting out of the desk will ALWAYS result in a booming racket that diverts everyone’s attention.
  • They all understood the theme to Pandora’s Box.

Although we have many mountains to climb, there Ain’t no Mountain High Enough to prevent Mohammed from coming to the mountain.

On another note, Drama Club updates are coming.  Aladdin, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Cinderella (The World’s Favorite Fairy Tale) are off to a great start.

Cheers to the weekend


Superman and Cookies…


Watching, Waiting for Superman, in a Comtrex-laden flu haze was a bad idea.  It is a movie that every teacher and parent needs to see.  It is raw, uncomfortable, and rife with debilitating statistics about what children (in the United States) know-or better yet, what they don’t know.  It seems that some people feel that there are children out there, who cannot learn.   One thing that I know for sure (thanks Oprah) is that all children can learn.  Ok, so this is pie-in-the-sky idealism.  What is so wrong having a Mary Poppins educational  philosophy?  Without the hope of teaching all children, we are at risk of becoming like the evil principal in Matilda.

Ms. Truchbull-

I am a realist and I have been faced with extreme challenges in the classroom. The way I saw it, I had two choices, similar to that of Robert Frost and his road dilemma.  I could ignore the problem and say I did all I could.  Or, I could work with the challenge, ask for help, research, plan, teach, re-teach, go back to square one.  When this doesn’t work, I keep going; because something has to work.

Now, I’m not Mary Poppins, and I don’t smile all day while imparting boulders of wisdom.  Many days, I get frustrated and feel like a failure. Some days, the paper work, meetings, and assessments can saturate even the sunniest teacher disposition.  The thing is, teaching is another member of the family.  It follows me around as if it were my shadow.  The educational day does not end at the last bell.  The faces of my class pop into my mind, one-by one, like the old projector slide shows.

The movie discussed how the lower socio-economic districts continually have lower math and reading scores than the more affluent districts.  Some failing high schools are nicknameddrop out factories.

Consider the following statistics cited in the film: the annual cost of prison for an inmate is more than double what is spent on an individual public school student. Eight years after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind act, with the goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading, most states hovered between 20 and 30 percent proficiency, and 70 percent of eighth graders could not read at grade level. By 2020, only an estimated 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill 123 million highly skilled, highly paid jobs. Among 30 developed countries, the United States ranks 25th in math and 21st in science.

The end of the movie left me encouraged more than discouraged.  The animated “good teachers” depicted in the movie made me hopeful.  If every teacher in the U.S., took one step beyond what he/she is currently doing to affect change-what would happen?  Again, Mary Poppins seeps in, but without her the cynic would take over, and the kids deserve more than that. Don’t they?

This week at school, I’m teaching plate tectonics and how mountains are formed.  The activity calls for boo-coos of cookies, icing, and graham crackers.

As the mound of sweets slowly rolled by the girl at the check out, she asked me:

“What is all of this for?”

I heard myself explaining how when two plates move together it can result in the formation of a mountain.  I told her that I was doing an activity with the cookies to model the various faults in the earth.

The girl bagging the groceries asked, “What grade do you teach.”

“Fifth grade”, I replied.

“I don’t even remember fifth grade”, she mumbled as she stuffed the grocery bags.

The girl ringing my groceries said, “I wish I could have been in your class.”

I believed her.

So, here it to a new school week, and to all the teacher superheros.


One-Room School

I have always been fascinated by the one-room school-house ideology.  In this picture from 1921, the kids are present although some are barefoot and others are hiding.  In the far right corner there is a girl, reading a book.  One glaring difference from a modern-day classroom is the teacher.    First of all, she is seated.  I worked in a county where a teacher would be “written up” if found sitting, disengaged from the class, during instructional time.  The teacher seems to be looking in one direction, while doing some random task with her hands.  There are no books or pencils. I don’t see a five-inch notebook jam-packed with lesson plans. What on earth are they all doing?  Do they do that all day? Did she have a planning period?  Did they have state mandated tests?

I bet there were no fire drills that interrupted the mysterious activities occurring in that photo.  Do you think those kids went home buzzing about all the great things they learned that day?  I wonder if she sent a newsletter home each week, stuffed Friday Folders with graded, weekly classwork, or took ice cream orders? Or, did she just sit in that chair, wear sensible shoes, and watch the door for escapees?

Little House on the Prairie inspired me. I loved the books and I was completely obsessed with the series.  Laura was just spunky enough to keep us all tuned in. The school scenes were my favorite.  When Laura fought with Nellie in the mud, my life was complete.

Or, maybe my obsession was with Pa? I couldn’t keep my eyes off of this man, not even for a minute. Who had a dad who looked like that?  I digress…

In simpler times, did the kids learn less?  Did the teachers get to school early, stay late, and work through the weekends?

Every teacher I know, slides up and down the spectrum of instructional insanity.  The mania leaks out into all aspects of our lives.  I unsuccessfully will myself  not to discuss school with my non-teacher friends.  When I see a child misbehaving in public, I do my best NOT to call him to me and ask, “Are you making the right choice?”

The next phase of my school fixation was the show Fame. I was in high school the entire run of the show.  Did my mom know about this school? Did they do any math? They wore leg warmers, sang in the hallways, and performed perfect impromptu dances without any practice!  Had there been Internet, I would have found my very own FAME school.  I took dance for years. I cannot count how many times I practiced the split roll-over and toe touch.  When I was suckered into representing the cross-country team in the school pageant, I wore a magenta, spandex, unitard and danced to MANHUNT.  I have no pride.

I imagine there was no dancing in the one-room school-house.  Debbie Allen was nowhere to be found talking about “big dreams”.

I don’t think I would be a good teacher in 1921.  I would feel that there should be something “more” to be done or learned. I would have no colleagues to dish with at lunch.  My friends might think that I would create some type of academic compulsion.  Maybe, I would re-arrange the benches and color code the girls’ bows.  I would possibly go a bit crazy and actually talk to the students-even the one hiding in the back.

Hopefully, one hundred years from now, there will still be teachers.   They will study pictures of us teaching in classrooms instead of  in space stations, or in Jetson’s inspired flying communities.  I can only imagine where their history curriculum would begin.

It is good to think of simpler times in education.  More is expected of teachers and students than ever before. I know I make my job more arduous than it needs to be.  What I do in three hours, others do just as efficiently in thirty minutes.  I can’t stop. Each time I attempt to work smarter, I find some task that needs immediate attention, or  a project that needs to be created.  Maybe, I can plan a class song and dance routine….with legwarmers.