I love FRIENDS. Especially Phoebe. And particularly her rendition of Tiny Dancer. This is now always the first thing that comes to mind when I see/hear of Tony Danza. No exception today when I came across an article on Good explaining that during the 2009-2010 school year the actor ditched Hollywood for a gig teaching tenth grade English at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. Now Danza’s written a book,I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, about the experience.
It’s an article worth reading and it comes with three quotes worth sharing:
“teachers have no problem being held accountable by parents. In fact, they crave parent involvement.”
“(parents need to) persuade their sons and daughters to take part in their own education.”
“kids have to understand that it’s their responsibility to do well—no matter who their teacher is or the quality of their school.”
While it might sound like teachers just have to sit back and wait for the parents and the kids to get with the program, I don’t think this is it at all – which is emphasized in the concluding paragraph that states only when all three (parents, kids and teachers) work together will things turn around for the better.
During the summer, I had the opportunity to interview Suzy Greenslade from Discovery1 school in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her school works because she (and her fellow teachers) work hard to build a relationship with the kids and with the parents. The school is clear on what they believe in, what their core values are and families sign up for Discovery1 knowing these and knowing that part of what makes this school work is their involvement.
I think the key factor here is in being clear about your purpose, about defining who you are. If you want your kids to be passionate – be a passionate teacher and then expect the same of your students. If you want parental involvement – invite parents to partner with you in a way that acknowledges and values their strengths, and supports the learning in your room. If you want kids to take responsibility, give them something to be responsible for. And don’t deviate.
Think about the words used to describe your classroom or school on a daily basis or when a potential new family comes around. Then take a closer look when no one is watching. Do your beliefs match your behavior?
First day back. Awesome kids. Loads of energy! Solutions?
I think I know these as Brain Gym. Either way, putting some movement in the classroom sounds like a great idea to me. Some of them in the first list below might seem a little cheesy (I am not sure it is possible to pull off a chicken impersonation and maintain your fifth grade swag?) but they do sound fun and a way to keep engaging body and mind. I really like the dice roll sheet. Quick, snappy, independent. Just like my kids.
How do you help kids engage their bodies and brains?
Here’s to taking the time to see the potential and to developing the courage in all our students.
Here’s to being more than “most people” on the first day back and every day thereafter.
Here’s to seeing the art and beauty in the everyday.
Most people don’t care enough to make a difference.
Most people aren’t going to buy that new thing you’re selling.
Most people are afraid to take action.
Most people are too self-involved to do the generous work you’re hoping for.
Most people think they can’t afford it.
Most people won’t talk about it.
Most people aren’t going to read what you wrote.
Fortunately, you’re not most people. Neither are your best customers.
This is a beautiful post from Brain Pickings – and thanks to Tricia, a timely reminder on the eve of going back to school:
Some Rules for Students and Teachers
(my favorite, by far, is Rule Six – perfect)
We started the year with two days of writing training. Among other strategies, we looked at Step Up To Writing. This method utilizes a color coding system and a traffic light analogy to guide children through the process of writing a topic sentence and expanding on that idea with enough detail and information to engage their audience. It is also a way of helping organize thoughts orally when used to guide students as they share their ideas. Once a main idea has been shared, having that student elaborate is a great way for them to continue to think and share their ideas with the class. As a school, we have agreed to implement this strategy pre-K through 5th. I am looking forward to seeing how this works – and how my students do at self-initiating this thinking process as the year progresses.
This morning, I was on Pinterest and my friend and fellow teacher, Kim, had pinned an interesting post from a first grade teacher’s blog about differentiation. Her story goes that on the first day or during the first week of school, the teacher asks her students to pretend they have a “boo-boo”. She asks each one in turn to describe where they are hurt (cut my finger, scraped my knee, stubbed my toe etc). Regardless of what the child says, the teacher places a band aid on their upper arm. Despite cries of “But I don’t need it there!” everyone gets a band aid on their upper arm. She explains she is treating all her students fairly by giving everyone the same thing. At least one child will exclaim that they don’t all need the band-aid there – they all need it in different spots – at which point she shares the moral of her story: that fair does not mean equal.
I love this analogy – especially as I head into a new year with new students who each have unique needs. Some kids I may spend time with taking dictation from what they say while others write out their own ideas. Equal? No. Fair? Absolutely.
Earlier this week, I came across an online Digital Passport curriculum for Grades 3-5. Created by CommonSense Media, the passport program can be customized for your students to guide them through responsible use of the internet. A brief overview of the curriculum offered includes the topics of communication, privacy, cyberbullying, searching and giving credit where it is due. This is a solid, basic foundation of skills regarding appropriate digital use. I can see the need to add to and customize as the year progresses or if a particular issue arises but for a pre-packaged, FREE program, this looks pretty impressive. Students can pace themselves through the activities, work independently or collaboratively and the responses to the questions can be completed online in game form and offline via discussions, drawings, writing and even role-playing.
If you are looking for a dynamic solution to kick off your connected year, I think this looks like a pretty good place to start.
On my drive home today, I noticed a sign like the one above as I approached an intersection. I have some bulletin board boarders in my classroom that say “Caution! Kids at Work”. I got them because I thought they were cute. I am now thinking of replacing them with a big sign like this on my door. Why? As a reminder to myself as I begin the new year to make room for play.
I have posted on enabling creativity, the power of play, and the idea that there is no purpose without play. I believe that play is positive, play promotes creativity, play unleashes ideas, curiosity, wonder and excitement – and isn’t that what school is for? So the sign will more than likely go up in some form or another. But a sign in itself is not enough. I want my actions to reflect my beliefs.
We have had two days of school so far. Teacher days. No kids. But they are always on my mind. The actual logistics are still in the making but here are some of the things I want to do in the first day/week of school:
SPOILER ALERT! *If you are a parent of a child in my class and can promise you won’t share the following with your kids, you may keep reading – but don’t share! 🙂
The Marshmallow Challenge. This is cool. It is a TED talk, a challenge, a blog and just a fun, dynamic way to kick things off. It has been done by CEO’s to Kindergartener’s and soon, by my fifth graders. Why do it? In the words of its creator, Tom Wujec:
The marshmallow challenge provides teams with a shared felt experience, a common language and a solid stance to find the right prototypes to build their real projects successfully, to avoid the oh-oh moments and have real ta-dah moments.
Exactly what I want this year: sharing, commonalities, inquiry, and aha moments. I don’t actually mind if there are oh-oh moments. They work for me too. But honestly, what better way to kick off the year than with some spagetti and marshmallows?
I was that kid who sat there, petrified that I was going to have to speak in front of the class. I loathed it. I don’t know if any of my new kids dislike speaking in front of the class. I do know that there are some options for getting around that – at least on the first day. Cue Voki. This is a fun, online tool that allows you to make an avatar and record a voice for it – your own, or a text-to-speech voice from the US, UK or Australia. The challenge will be for kids to choose to either recreate themselves as closely as possible (with their own voice) or to create an alter ego avatar and have us guess who they are. Here is my Voki that took me about six minutes to make:
Voki has a classroom account for a fee. I am going to start my free trial of the educator account and see after the two weeks if the kids and I think this is a useful tool to add to our belts.
The one assignment that I gave my incoming group of fifth graders was to read Wonder by RJ Palacio. This book has launched the “Choose Kind” movement. I want to ask my kids what they are going to choose for themselves this year. If they have a choice between right and popular, hard and easy, challenge and status quo – what would they choose? These words will become our targets: the things we aim for throughout the year. I want to incorporate these words into a large piece of group art: something beautiful and meaningful for the children to collaborate on together and make their mark as fifth graders.
I want to share this quote with my class to help them think about the word they will choose.
I am looking forward to combining their words with their images to make something magnificent for our wall. I am toying with the idea of also sharing one of my favorite poems, “Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. I love it. Love it. I think that also will have to be shared – it’s themes of bravery, dreams, hope, strength and courage are all traits I want to build in my kids this year.
I don’t even know if we have any lego at school – but we should! I just read a really cool article about a 23 year old from Illinois who has become the fourth Lego Master Model Builder in the United States. He now works at LegoLand. Here is the video application he sent out to Legoland in order to be considered for the job. In the video, listen to him describe all the ways lego can be used to foster and strengthen imagination, creativity, passion, innovation and ideas:
I love it! I have done a quick look and in some places, universities and colleges will loan out kits of lego for schools for a 3 to 4 week time period with a refundable security deposit. I don’t know if we have something like that in Boise, but I want to find out!
Ultimately, my goal is to start the first day and first week off the way I mean to continue: with challenge, collaboration, technology, innovation, thinking, creating, connecting and playing. Lots and lots of playing.
How will you start the new school year?
The landing of Curiosity on Mars was beyond amazing. Here are five cool finds to share the awesomeness and bask in the wonder of Curiosity:
EDS Systems have stitched together a high-resolution interactive panorama of Curiosity’s landing site from where she’ll soon embark on at least two years of research and investigation of the red planet. (via Colossal)
Thanks to Samaritan Blog, I watched this video is produced by an engineer working on JPL NASA’s Mars Rover. In Mark’s own words:
I was able to work on NASA JPL’s Curiosity Mars Rover for 7 years. This video is an attempt to capture what it felt like to have 7 years of your life vindicated in the 7 minute landing. Honestly one of the coolest moments of my life so far.
All the pictures of hardware you see in the video are things that I worked on designing or testing or building. I got to work on the Sky Crane for 3-4 years then with some hardware on the Rover itself for the rest. My background in school is Mechanical Engineering.
A great take off of a well-known tune. I think I like this one so much as it makes me think of the video my kids made last year of this song! Very clever!
Upon hearing the news about the landing of Curiosity, President Obama spoke with the engineers at JPL and NASA. He thanked the people for their “passion and commitment that is making a difference”. I love that. Imagine being thanked by the President for the passion and commitment you show in your place of work – your classroom! President Obama concluded his conversation with these words:
“Really what makes us best as a species is this curiosity that we have and this yearning to discover more and more, and to push the boundaries of knowledge, and you are a perfect example of that.” – President Obama
Bobak who? You may know him as “the mohawk guy”. The guy admired by the President and parodied in the NASA and We Know It video. Meet Bobak Ferdowsi and hear the story behind the hairstyle!
For a little over a year, I have been a fan of IdeaPaint. IdeaPaint is a dry erase paint that turns virtually any surface into an erasable canvas, giving you the space you need to collaborate, interact and fully explore your creativity. Popular for homes, businesses and schools, IdeaPaint opens up any surface to the possibility of becoming a platform for generating ideas.
This week, IdeaPaint ran a competition to win a kit of IdeaPaint CLEAR – a transparent paint to transform surfaces into an “erasable canvas”. The competition was in honor of National Bad Poetry Day and limited to the 140 characters of a tweet. In the wee hours of the morning, I composed my entry and today, discovered I had won! The poem is really bad – but it made my husband and the people at IdeaPaint chuckle – and won me and my students a Clear IdeaPaint kit – hooray!
So, what do with it? From the IdeaPaint website, they offer the following suggestions:
IdeaPaint has been used at many schools and colleges around the US and the World. One of those schools is MIT:
As I was looking through more of the work on the IdeaPaint website, I came across a combo IdeaPaint/Evernote innovation. I was excited having set my class up last year with Evernote and having planned to do the same this year. I love the ideas encompassed in this video:
The possibilities are endless and I can’t wait to explore them!
On behalf of my kids at Riverstone International School, thank you IdeaPaint!
I have been have an interesting Twitter conversation with a fifth grade teacher embarking on her sixth year of teaching. The conversation has been on the topic of punishments, specifically taking away recess for ‘infringements’ such as not having parents sign notes, forgetting homework, behavior. Five minutes. Five minutes. Five minutes. A culture of subtraction has been established and now the question is, what are the alternatives and how can these be agreed upon by a team of teachers for whom this has been the norm?
This year, I am flying ‘solo’. There is only one fifth grade. But there is a whole school of kids and whilst I don’t believe in the ‘one rule fits all’ mentality, I do believe in finding positive solutions for negative situations. So what would I do?
My friend Marina Gijzen, a teacher, parent, colleague whilst at Bonn International School, taught me a lot about the family dynamic and the relationship between home and school. She was the one who advised me to take up any issue such as no note, missing forms, and late arrivals with the parents first. No kid “wants” to be the one walking into class late, all eyes on them, having missed what’s going on. Take it up with parents and welcome the kid, warmly, genuinely. I was teaching her daughter at the time, so I took the advice on board. I have also been on the ‘late train’ myself as a teacher and I know what a difference “Mrs. terBorg, I am so happy to see you!” makes to what has probably been a stressful morning rather than, “Hey! Mrs.terBorg! You’re late!”.
So…do we punish kids by excluding them from recess, or not?
I say not. Unless your school culture is one of exclusion, separatism, ostracizing and humiliation. If so, go right ahead. If not, if your school culture is built on developing a welcoming environment and nurturing the development of your children, you will need an alternative. What about discussion? What about finding out what the root of the visible behavior is? I just read a fabulous article on the importance of inclusion and of being part of something bigger than yourself. Did you get that – being part of something bigger than yourself. And for those who are a bit rubbish at it – they need twice as much. Twice as much love, patience, practice, support, caring and kindness.
Schools are currently set up for the students who have good social skills to be given more opportunity to use and refine them, while those with poor social skills are left behind, only to get worse than others in their age group. Opportunity for winners — and exclusion for losers — is a recipe for disaster.
– Dr. Richard Curwin
It is said in sports and in war that the best offense is a good defense – same goes for a good year in your classroom. Start the year strong. Give your kids permission to choose a new path. Establish a culture of respect and the idea of community. Be relentless in your quest for this from day one.
Donalyn Millar, author of The Book Whisperer, has put out a book list of Books that Build Communities: Communities of Readers and Writers, Communities Who Value All Members, Communities Who Have Fun, and Communities Who Care about the World. Being in community can mean many things and these books are a great way of sharing that with your students.
One of Donalyn’s suggestions is the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. This was the only book on my summer reading list for my incoming fifth graders.
In addition to reading this book, we will be looking at the movement behind the book to “Choose Kind“. We will also be partnering with other classes of 4th, 5th and 6th graders who are also reading Wonder as part of Wonder Schools. In addition to Wonder, there are a number of picture books (another love!) that could be read in conjunction with this book (cue shopping excursion before next Monday!) Clearly, this is important to me – but why? Because I don’t want to spend the next year subtracting things from the lives of my students. I want to add to their lives. I think we are going to have a great year. An amazing year. All the ingredients are right in front of us. What will you choose? Compassion? Love? Kind?
As I think about the teachers who will choose to revoke recess over missing parent signatures and late arrivals to school, I can’t help but think what would happen if the principal of their school treated them the way they are treating their students. What would a teacher say to being given an extra recess duty because the lunch order form for a child in their class was late, or the school fees were overdue, or a parent from their class was yet to volunteer? Ludicrous, right? So why treat our kids this way?
Always, always, choose kind.