Hiatus

I’ve been trying to figure out what I’ve been doing instead of blogging. Revenge-Victoria-sits-in-her-chair

I was obsessed with evil Madeline from Revenge. She can smile through the most horrendous comments, and evil doings. Plus, she has that cool chair where she sips her coffee while plotting against everyone. Her dresses are flawless, and she always has good hair. I told my colleague that I kind of wish I could smile and be evil simultaneously. She reminded me that was not a normal goal.

I have put my energy into refining my 3rd grade guided math. The other day, I looked up from my “meet with teacher” group, and saw an amazing thing: Children were engaged, on task, and collaborating about math. No one fell out of his chair, or asked me to sharpen a pencil the 567th time.  This class has a thing about sharp pencils. I’ve purchased two pencil sharpeners from Amazon; one already broke.

The following type of conversation happens daily:

Me: “We are going to do math journal, Number Talks, and then guided math.”

Student “Are we doing Number Talks today?”

Me: “Yes, we are doing Number Talks today.”

Me: “When you are done with your assessment, put it in the basket under the white board.”

Student 1:”Where do I put my work?”

Me:”In the basket under the white board.”

Student 2:-“Where do I put my test?”

Me: “In the basket under the white board.”

Student 3:”Do we give you our tests when we are done?”

Me: “No, put it in the basket under the white board.”

Then there is the stop everything, look at me, listen carefully classroom intermission.

“Everyone, hands on your heads. Look at me. The assessment goes in the basket under the white board. Thumbs up if you understand where the assessment goes.”

I’m working with my students to think outside the math box, or at least open the box and peek outside.

I have used picture prompts to show children that math is not confined to an hour a day, in my classroom. Slide25 This was a journal prompt one day.

Student: “There is no math in this picture.”

Me: “Yes, there is math in this picture.”

Student: “I don’t see numbers.”

Me: “Is math always numbers?”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “What about geometry?”

Student: “Oh!”

Me: “There isn’t one right answer. Look for the math.”

Students are looking for the one right answer. I want them to see math as a part of their worlds that cannot always be defined with one correct response. I ask them if there are other ways to solve a problem, and they give me blank stares. It has taken me a couple of months to show students that the process in which they are doing math is very important. Just because they know that 3×3 is 9, doesn’t mean that they understand the many ways this multiplication fact can be represented, or what multiplication means.

I am on a math committee for my county. We discussed how the traditional algorithms, we have always taught, are causing students to have little to no understanding of number sense. For example, if we are dividing 45 by 3, we ask the kids how many times 3 can ‘go into’ 4; place value isn’t considered in this standard algorithm. What we are really asking is, ‘How many groups of four are there in 40?’. Students have to explain their reasoning more than ever now. So how do we balance the right answer with the process?

I have tried to show students a standard in every possible form. I say it is the same standard, but in a different outfit. They need to apply the skills to various situations, which may or may not be the examples used and practiced in class. I have changed much of what I do as a math teacher, and it hasn’t been comfortable or easy.

I have been personally challenged this year. As the literacy coach, I have had less time in classrooms, and spent more time in meetings and out of the building. I begin teaching the gifted endorsement Monday. I’m in a small panic, because now I’m teaching a class to teachers. I am driving myself a little nuts. Should I bring cookies? Candy? Tell a joke? Do a little dance?

We have a new evaluation system. It’s amazing that I’ve taught fourteen years, but at the end of the day, I am reduced to a number between 1 and 4. I do understand the efficacy of a standardized evaluation system for teachers. But, sometimes I don’t want to worry about it. I realized that my expectations for myself are, at times, unrealistically high. Some days, we just feel like a 3. And that’s ok. Isn’t that what we tell our students, and better yet, their parents?

I remember my early years of teaching, where I felt invincible and that I could affect change. I hope that I inspired or encouraged a few students along the way. In those early years, I was able to advocate for children without meetings, emails, or glaciers of paperwork. I just did it. I’m sure there was protocol; I just didn’t think about it.

Now, I advocate for students in different ways. A test score doesn’t fully give the scope of a child’s potential. And if a child doesn’t qualify for the gifted program, that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t brilliant. Children cannot be reduced to numbers and percentiles. There is so much pressure on everyone to perform. What happened to the utter joy of learning something new? What about taking risks in learning?

I believe that Drama Club has given students a chance to take risks without the fear of grades. I promised myself that I would only direct one play this year. We have ten boys in drama, and they requested Shakespeare. So, we are doing Macbeth.  I really wanted to do Romeo and Juliet, but the suicide aspect is too heavy for elementary kids. So, I thought if I made them zombies, they couldn’t die. Yes, I’ve been watching The Walking Dead. Zombie Romeo and Juliet is a future project. It has to be written…

Teaching is very much like impressionistic art. The further away we get, the clearer the picture. When we are too close, everything is a blur, and unrecognizable. None of the parts are logical, and everything seems disconnected. We often get lost in the blur. I am thankful that sometimes, I have the awareness to step back and see the intended beauty of being an educator.

K

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Gratitude.

Collective grief is the only way to describe what happened in our school the Monday after the Connecticut school shootings. During car duty, I thought about the parents who kissed their children good-bye that morning. I thought about how those parents didn’t know that they would never see their children again. Without talking, I knew we were all thinking about our own children, and how we couldn’t survive such a tragedy.

The new years come without our permission. We may have unfinished business, or maybe we are still wondering what would happen we had made alternate choices. What could have been different?

When I see a car accident, sometimes I think, That could have been me, if I were here five minutes ago. And usually, I think about what may have delayed me. I wonder about our place in the world, and how many times I will be afforded a coincidental delay. It just isn’t enough to fully appreciate our lives when tragedy happens. But, sometimes we do.

We look for messages in tragedies. There is no message in the Connecticut incident. Sandy Hook Elementary is the new school for the survivors of the shooting last month. I read this quote from the attached article:

Sandy Hook Elementary School parent Vinny Alvarez says he took advantage of an open house at his daughter’s new school to thank a teacher who helped protect her class from a rampaging gunmanSandy Hook

This scenario isn’t something for which we could ever be prepared. How does a teacher shift from teaching, to saving the lives of his or her students? Where did that courage come from? Is it in all of us? I am amazed by the human condition.

We wonder how we got here, and how to prevent such events from happening again. I still think of the faces of the victims. I think about what must have happened that day; I cannot fathom any of it. If the domino had fallen another way, could the outcome have changed?

As the holiday season comes to a screeching halt, and I begrudgingly resume my episodic days, I can only be grateful to have a rut. This year, for me, has been a challenge. My nineteen-year marriage ended, I sent my eldest daughter to college, and I earned another degree. These life events are insignificant when images of that day fill the minds of parents and educators across the country. It didn’t happen to us. But, what if it had?

The moment 2012 came to a close, I felt nothing but gratitude. Gratitude for the ugly parts as well as the momentous occasions. Gratitude for my daughters, my family, my friends, my job, and for a few coincidental delays.

K

Their, They’re, There, it will be okay…

A homophone is a word that is pronounced like another word, but it has a different spelling and meaning. 

There is a  literary pandemic of homophonphobia-the fear of actually checking to see what you wrote is actually the correct form of what you intended to write. Now, I know use dashes too much–semi-colons just don’t do it for me.  And not too long ago, a friend schooled me on the proper use of a colon. But, for the love–heard and herd are not interchangeable. They never have been, and they never will be. It is like saying that two plus two is suddenly five. Just in case anyone is wondering, these homophone lessons can be found in the second grade curriculum.

I put this lesson together to clarify the issue.

“Has anyone seen Logray? We are supposed to have lunch.”

“Isn’t he over they’re?”

“Stop right there Troopie! You used the wrong form of there. THEY’RE is a con-trac-tion. It means they are. So you were really saying, “He was over they are.” Now that doesn’t make sense, does it?”

“Why do I get the feeling he is over their?”

“Goodness gracious! The grammar force is definitely NOT with you! You used the wrong form of there.  You used THEIR which shows ownership. Now that doesn’t make sense, does it? Look! THERE he is! It looks like he made a few friends.”

The next lesson will be on threw, through, and thru.

K

Invasion of the Recycling Bins

My environmental science class is slowly altering me, like the pods-I’m slowly being taken over, and there will be another, just like me-reducing, reusing, and recycling. I’ve been aware, and haphazardly tossing my La Croix, snob water, cans into the recycling bins. But, after a few weeks of environmental science, the guilt began to eat at me. Isn’t it always true that our intentions are to save the planet…..later?  I did some research, because that is how I roll before I take on another obsessive habit. Only about 30% of people in the south-east recycle from their homes. More people recycle in the north than they do in the south.

I sit in class with eleven environmentally savvy people. Yes, they are a bit weird, and the idea of watering your lawn with the water from your shower caused an electric stir throughout the room. (My professor suggested that we put a bucket under us as we shower.) Apparently, going green isn’t always convenient, comfortable, or attractive.

He asked us this-“How many of you get rid of your clothes because they are worn out?”

Silence.

Student: “Do you mean if there is a stain on it?”

Professor: “Can you still wear clothing if there is a stain on it”

Student: “Yes, but why would we?”

Professor: “Because it serves the purpose of clothing you.”

I glanced at my new DSW, sparkly wedges. The thrill of the sparkle was cloaked in blackness.

Professor: “What would happen if (those of you who love shoes) were to give up all of your shoes except for one pair that would get you through the season?”

I broke into a cold sweat. My left leg involuntarily shook. Visions of my color-coded closet being emptied made me dizzy. I believe I had the vapors for a moment.

It would have to be like a 12-step program. You can’t go all cold turkey on a shoe obsession for goodness sake!  This idea is not possible, at the moment.

Professor: “How many of you could change your habit of buying new clothes, and only wear clothes from consignment or hand-me-downs.?”

Student: “Sorry, I have to draw the line there. I don’t know what those people did in those clothes.”

Our professor poses these questions to make us think. I began to wonder why I have so many things that I don’t need.

The turning point was our discussion about the book Ishmael. Well, maybe it was this quote that made me perk up one Saturday morning,

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Daniel Quinn-Ishmael.

Every summer, I seek out what will put that first-year-teacher mojo back into my spirit. This just may do it.

The teacher in this story is a gorilla. He is telepathic, and he is able to teach the ‘narrator’ how things came to be. The premise of the book is that there is more than one species on the planet. Sustainability is a collective effort. Get off your butt. Do something. Of course, as I was listening to the discussion, I was sipping from my Dunkin Donuts to-go cup.

Environmentalism is like a flu virus. You get exposed, then 3-5 days later, the effects begin to take over. I have this nightmare, that I’ll be that lady who dries her paper towels, breaks appointments with friends to rinse the plastics,  and keeps the same paper bag for her lunch for three years. I will be shunned, and people will tease me by throwing recyclables into the trash.

It is just that I’ve never met an environmentalist who wasn’t, well….a bit fanatical. I have witnessed, the go greeneries, filtering out the non-recyclables from the recyclables. They are in a frenzy, and we all know never to make eye contact. Because, inevitably, we are the ones who tossed the styrofoam cup into the bin, on our way to some very important place. Now, I appreciate their efforts. There are a few people who try to keep us all on track. No wonder they are manic and angry. They are doing their part, which is way more than many of us are doing.

I had to conduct a data-driven experiment for my final project in environmental science. I wanted to see what would motivate my daughters to recycle more. Yes, there were variables like one stealing from the other’s bins. They both took from my bins, and suckered people to save their recycling. My smaller one, collected beer cans from my neighbor. But, by the end of the month, during the last week-my recycling bins were filled to capacity, and my trash output had decreased. During this time, I became that frenzied recyclist who began following my children when they get up to toss something.

Me: “Where are you going to put that?”

Child caught in the scary mom vortex: “Um…in the…well…um the recycle bin-yes…it is going there.”

Me: “Right answer.” (Insert cackle).

Hopefully, my kids will think about their carbon footprints a little more. I know I will.

This week is the 4th of July. I won’t begin to discuss the firework/atmosphere controversy.

Happy Fourth!

K

Found in A Cyber-Place

The song, Too Much Time on My Hands was playing on the radio as I left my friend’s house. Yes, a Styx song gave me perspective. During this holiday break, I have spent many hours doing human things like reading, writing, and spending time with friends. I even made fried chicken. I have also spent time attempting the triple word-triple letter score on Words With Friends. 

I’ll begin with my enlightening thoughts on WWF. I began playing the game because a persistent friend signed me up so that she could defeat me. There are secret social rules to the game. I have competitive thoughts about my opponents as I am playing. But, when we see each other, we pretend that the word war is a non-event. I have this odd, clandestine relationship with fourteen WWF people. It is a very different relationship than the real ones we have. Face-to face interaction is vastly different from iPad to iPad communication. There are even reminders on Facebook when it’s your turn to play. I will find my way out of this obsession. I’m thinking the two graduate classes for which I so willy-nilly registered will bully WWF out of my life.

Somehow WWF made me think of the T.V. show-Lost in Space. (I don’t try to analyze my connections anymore.) If you are unfamiliar with the show, I suggest that you YouTube a few episodes.

I remember watching the show and thinking that the future would be a great place where we wear noisy, silver jumpsuits. The most interesting part of this picture is that it was someone’s vision of the future. The show was created in the sixties. It was supposed to represent 1997. Well, they were off a tad. Here is Dolce and Gabbana’s futuristic line in 1997.

Notice that in the Lost in Space picture, there are no Apple products. If they did update their walls, I imagine they would be:

“I love Robot. He saved me from giant attack plants.” Will Robinson

“My New Year’s resolution is to have a larger vocabulary. And maybe a new name.” Robot

“O.K. everyone, I need your advice. Should I keep my bangs?” Penny Robinson

But, the Robinsons didn’t blog. They didn’t Tweet, text, or Facebook. They had conversations-with each other.

The education connection is about to happen.

When I took online classes, I imagined my teacher watching Friends reruns and cooking dinner, while grading my assignments. Although I appreciated the absence of the nonsensical prattle, I missed the discussions and the physicality of learning.

If you have ever been in an engaging classroom, you may have noticed that students do odd things as their brain synapses fire. I have seen children bounce, hold up signs, clap their hands, and illustrate the concepts. Conversely, do you remember a class where the drone of the teacher left you passed out on your desk, creating drool puddles? The first thing I notice when I’m teaching is students’ body language. As a result, I am aware of my personal body language, which has been an issue for me in the past. (I tend to make faces.)

We have a program at school where students bring in their technology. This includes iPads, iPods, Tablets, and lap tops. I am excited about the program.  I know how important it is for students to be technologically savvy. But, the thought of the impersonalization that would result from the technology program bothered me. Students were responding to instruction with a blind tapping of letters on various devices.

I am all for the use and expansion of technology. I always have my iPad, iPod, Andriod, and laptop at arms reach.  My ability to tune out my environment with these apparatuses, surprises me.

Who needs to talk when we can send my messages through cyberland? It is a black hole into which we easily fall. The lack of personal connections exacerbates social awkwardness issues. By the time people meet to visit, they already know every minute detail of each other’s lives.

“I got a new car.”

“Yah, I saw the picture on your FB post. Oh, I have this great new Coldplay song I would like to share.”

“Oh, someone posted it on my wall today.”

“Oh, I’ll be right back. I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Didn’t you just Tweet that you went?”

“Yes, actually I did. By the way I received your Evite for the party. I read your blog about your new baby-congrats. I will get back tot your text about our cyber book club meetings.”

“Ok, well it was great catching up.”

It isn’t such a farfetched thought to have students taught by videos. It is a horrendous idea, but one that could happen. I have said the following things to my students:

“I am not a Wii game. I will never be a Wii game.”

“My name isn’t Ms D.S.”

“Bleip, Blong, Brip. Do I sound like one of your games?”

I can use this humor with older students. They understand what I am saying, and they laugh.

Moderation is a great thing. I’ve said this before. Maybe, I’ll get off the computer and go talk to someone.

Happy New Year

K