Wigwams, Portals, and The Bermuda Triangle

Have you ever been hit suddenly with the absurdity of your situation?  This happened today, as I was carrying a wigwam prop down the hall (in wedges), stuffing it in between the useless doorways in the school hallway. I broke out in a sweat by the third doorway. Everyone is gone, and I am carrying a wigwam.  It just seemed a bit surreal.  I did panic when I saw the custodian-so I begged him not to lock me in the school, again.

Now there is a wigwam in my classroom.

One of the parents of my students stayed after school, for hours, building the wigwam.  She was so happy to do it, and I was so thankful for the help.  My cynical funk began to dissipate-a tad.

Before the wigwam transport, I had just cleaned up after our Independent Study Open House.   You see, I felt the need to instill in the kids that learning should be motivated by intrinsic rewards-you know just because you want to know more about stuff.  I explained that there would be NO GRADES given, just feedback, from me on a regular basis.  They would have to pick a topic of interest, do a full on research paper (including citations), and a visual display. Eleven kids signed up to do the I.S. project! This was above and beyond their  regular assignments and assessments.  That alone restored my faith in the world.

So, for the last four months, these eleven students studied the following topics: Extreme Architecture, Black Holes, The Eagle Nebula, Falling Water, Greek Sports and Entertainment, Greek Mythology, Dinosaur Extinction, Broadway, Famous Landmarks in Dubai (no joke), Michael Jordan, Lighthouses , and The Bermuda Triangle.  Each child came to class with questionnaires regarding their project, a visual display, and a research paper.  They dressed up, presented these amazing projects, and made me know the world is in good hands.  I asked the kids what inspired them for their subjects.  They answered with responses such as:

“I want to be an oceanographer.”

“I want to be an architect.”

“The Greeks inspired so many new ideas that we use today.”

“I read The Lightening Thief, and decided that mythology was cool.”

“Lighthouses have saved sailors for years and years.”

“One day, I will be on Broadway.”

The great-grandmother of one of my students was there.  This was the first time I had met her. The school air-conditioning was turned off, and I was beginning to melt. She came up to me and said:

“Do you know why I like you?”

I couldn’t be snarky and say, “People usually don’t like me when they first meet me.”

But instead, I just looked into her eyes.

“I like you because every time one of the kids got stuck, you jumped in and got them back on track.”

I replied, “Really? I did that? Well, it is very difficult to present to a large crowd, they are just kids.”

She had her hand on my arm, and I didn’t even mind that she was in my “bubble”.

Right now, I’m suppose to be completing the play my home room is writing. The basic idea is that literary characters fall into portals that bring them to Wonderland.  I have enjoyed this project immensely.  We are discussing the plausibility of events and situations given the understood demeanor of the characters.  My mind is racing, and the day is re-playing, over and over.  I am refraining from making all of the characters end up in the Bermuda Triangle.

It was a good day.  I guess my pie-in-the-sky idealism has settled to an appreciation of a wigwam builder, kind words from a stranger, and creative kids who question EVERYTHING.

K

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What Now?

The email blasted all the teacher laptops: TESTING IS OVER!!!!  The tubs have been turned in and amazingly enough, I had all the materials that I started with-counted, over and over-and in front of people.  They will all be shipped off to some grading warehouse. I imagine it looks like the one in Reservoir Dogs, but with scantron machines set up in rows, while retired teachers, wearing rubber shoes, scan-in unison. My imagination runs away with me if I don’t have visuals.

I look at my calendar to see that I have five weeks of school left. Seriously?  I see my class, staring back at me as if to say, “What now?”

So if you don’t know, these last weeks of school are “review” weeks. Translated, this could mean movie-watching-a-palooza.  In the ten years I have taught, I have had little to no success in watching a movie in the classroom.  I keep thinking, “I could do this at home, in my pink sweat pants.”  The kids start talking, and soon-no one is watching the movie-except for the ONE kid sprawled out in front of the screen, annoyed with the rest of us.

So, like all other O.C. teachers, I ATTEMPT to plan things that will affect change in the lives of the students.  Because, this is how all this teaching career stuff got started.  But this year seems different.  Did testing suck the life out of me?  Do I still have a pulse? Did the Greg Mortenson news contribute to my creative flatline?  Did I lose my powers like Samantha often did? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

In our last planning period, we were discussing what academic activities we had planned for the end of the year.  It was my turn. Oh, yah-that.  Things are…forth coming.  Forth coming-a polite phrase to say, “I got nothing, and don’t know when I will have something.”  I mumbled about a time-machine project that I have been tossing around in my brain for years.

I think I want to do more than create an engaging project. I want to do something that is far-reaching-that has a global perspective. At the end of the curriculum, there has to be something more-Oz, Wonderland, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory?????  What can I do to make the kids continue to love school?  Because, I’m beginning to believe that this is a critical time to sell them on the idea that learning is fun.

So, we are writing a play.  Not world-changing, but not a coma-inducing activity either.  As always, the imagination pouring from my class makes me want to keep going back to work.

We could have done a readers’ theater, or pull a play from somewhere  But, we have been there and done that.  It is tIme to spark those synapses a bit after hours of testing has dulled our  senses.  The end of the year also means that  the phrase “simple activities” is not part of my end-of-the-year-engage-the-kids vernacular.  I’m still working on the Global Project, because it needs to be done. Performing arts, global awareness, and small children…oh the possibilities.

I also know that the 5th grade field trip is looming.  Just think, hundreds of 5th graders, in a narrow cave-a mile under the earth, followed by a river boat ride.  This is what dreams are made of.  You never know who has claustrophobia, until it is too late.

For the next five weeks, I will be embroiled in Odysseus’s and Robin Hood’s journey to Wonderland.  Maybe, I’ll find my mojo somewhere between the tea party and the battle with the Cyclops.

K

Crying Ranting Crawling Twitching

If you teach in Georgia, do you see the cryptic message in the title to this blog?

I see bubble scantrons in my sleep.  I hear the sharpening of the no. 2 pencils while I drive to and from school.  I dream that I lose the testing bucket (that we take with us everywhere we go-even the bathroom).  Our morning conversation starters are, “What was your testing dream last night?”  My most frightening testing dream involved “test detectors” at the entrance of the school. Each teacher had to walk through(without the alarm going off)  on the way in and out. Of course, it was my paranoid, neurotic dream, so the alarm blared when I went through.

I never mean for this blog to be a complaint forum.  So, I’ll save those thoughts for the teachers’ lounge.  This is after we have all been carried out on stretchers, revived, and placed back in our classrooms.  Eventually, the incessant American Idol talk will resume, and our angsty testing woes will be history.

It is best practice to utilize test data  for instructional purposes. I get that. However, I wonder how much emphasis should be put on one test?    If you saw, Waiting for Superman, you know that American students  are deficient in both math and literacy skills.  So, how do students (who PASS nationally normed and criterion-referenced tests) move through school without maintaining age-appropriate literacy and math skills?  Conversely, what about those students who have a rough testing day and don’t do well on the tests? Does anyone ask the teacher for anecdotal records, or observations from the year to refute the test results?

All year, I try to offer a multitude of learning opportunities to my students. We do projects, we work on critical thinking skills, and we study  real literature. But, by April I feel like I’ve sold out, because I’ve mutated into a testing troll. I see myself handing out test packets, and I hear myself discuss test taking strategies.  I don’t recognize me.

I began wondering how it all got started.

The earliest record of standardized testing comes from China, where hopefuls for government jobs had to fill out examinations testing their knowledge of Confucian philosophy and poetry. In the Western world, examiners usually favored giving essays, a tradition stemming from the ancient Greeks’ affinity for the Socratic method. But as the Industrial Revolution (and the progressive movement of the early 1800s that followed) took school-age kids out of the farms and factories and put them behind desks, standardized examinations emerged as an easy way to test large numbers of students quickly.
Read more:

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1947019,00.html#ixzz1JiTB65W0         

Think for a moment.  How would the world of standardized testing change if there were assessments on the arts?

We could integrate art history, literature, music, performing arts, and drama into the mix.  We have state standards on all of these subjects, and standardized testing is not going away-so why not sprinkle these elements into the testing recipe? Learning to read and answer questions about a passage or story is essential.  Let’s take this one step further.  What if the tests assessed the understanding of a specific piece of grade-appropriate literature?

Let’s encourage students to think about how the social and political events of the world have impacted the arts.  Think of the Harlem Renaissance, The Great Depression, The Industrial Revolution, the 1920’s,the 1960’s, etc…  People use art, music, and literature to reflect how the world changes.  Elementary students can make these connections, if they are given the opportunity.

We spend the year teaching with a global view in a holistic manner.  I’m wondering why we cannot test students similarly?

The point is to develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition and to guide the child over to important fields for society. Such a school demands from the teacher that he be a kind of artist in his province. Albert Einstein

I know that I would like my students to think beyond the bubble.  Just sayin…

Our end of the year project is to write a one-act play.  This was my students’ idea-not mine.  How could I possibly say no?  It will be a challenge for all of us.  But I’m hoping my testing troll fades into oblivion.

K

The Evolution of Small Talk

Lately, I have been tuned in to conversation starters.  I am not good with small talk.  In fact, my awkwardness in making small talk is palpable.  I alerted a close friend of mine that she wasn’t the adept in this skill.  This being said after it took both of us six months to have a real conversation.  A couple of days after my comment, she texted me that she was indeed an epic fail at the small talk.(Notice it was in the form of a text.)  She told me her cringe-worthy story.

Eliza is still charming in this clip as she talks about her “real world’.

I believe my years of working with children (who need no small talk) has made me small-talk challenged.   After teaching all day, every drop of small talk is sucked out of me.

I watch and listen to my students.  They fascinate me.  There is no pretense, they say what they mean to say.  John Mayer is my hero.

“Will you be my partner?”

“Did you steal my pencil?”

“Can I have a bite of your snack?”

“Is there an ‘a’ in civil?”

They are the same way with me, and I appreciate this more and more the older I get:

“You did that problem yesterday.”

“Why are you teaching how to take a test if you keep saying you aren’t worried about us taking the test?”

“Do those shoes hurt?”

“What did you do to your hair? I like it better the other way.”

It seems that somewhere between elementary school and the delightful teenage years, the real talk becomes “Jive Talkin”

Soon, we realize that brutal honesty and blatant lies upset people.  So, we find “small-talk” somewhere on the spectrum between the real talk and jive talk.

This blog was inspired by some dinner party conversation that I was sucked into a few days ago.  I wished that I had responded with intelligent, forty-something repartee.  It was one of those, “Ask Kim, she is a teacher.” comments that dragged me in like the Godfather.  “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”

Another reason I’m horrible at small talk is that once people find out I’m a teacher, I feel the need to be the spokesperson for teachers EVERYWHERE. There is no appropriate way to gloss over a hot education topic with a weather-related comment.

“We wish the weather were better so that we can have recess outside more.”  I’ve tried this-it doesn’t work.  It results in a discussion about the legality of maintaining recess in the elementary school.

I go from zero to debate in less than five seconds. This has been a weakness of mine for years.  But as soon my high horse gets on the soap box, I regret the words flowing out of my mouth.  My speech bubble rams into everyone else’s.  What would my students do?  They would probably say something clever and run for the chips.

Before teaching, I owned a fitness business. Preparing for shows backstage with bodybuilders and fitness contestants is a strange experience.  The conversation starters are unlike any others I’ve heard.  Basically, I had no small talk for them either.

Watching talented small talkers is amazing.  I am very impressed when I watch my father’s brilliance with making instant connections to everyone he meets.  He is the most charming person I have ever known.  He can relate to everyone, talk about anything, and contribute to just about any conversation.  He gets better at this the older he gets.  He is almost 81, and people always tell me how easy he is to talk to.

So, I guess I’ll get better, since it seems I have forty more years to be an inept small talker.  In the mean time, I’ll continue to observe how everyone around me communicates.  If you know me, our first few meetings were probably awkward.  I take full responsibility.  Most likely, I was attempting small talk.

K