Saturday, September 5, 2009

Can I just take a moment to express how much I love Chip Woods, the author of Yardsticks? This is what he writes in his blog:

"One of the remarkable gifts of childhood is children’s abilities to focus on and get the most out of the present moment. As educators, we have the responsibility to capitalize on this period of naissance and create the most rigorous, challenging, and exciting educational experience for them each year they are in school. We need to teach them to read and write, compute and problem solve. We need to teach them to help their classmates, school and community and to be personally responsible. We need to maximize the child’s developing cognitive and social skills every year in the context of curriculum that has meaning to the child now."--Chip Woods

It is helpful to have this reminder as teachers. Too many kids seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders--how are they going to get into Harvard? What are they going to do in the future? How many medals are they going to earn in this activity or that one? I think that if we do it right, school can be a safe, fun place where kids can just learn, and grow, and just stay in the moment. It's a good reminder to teachers too, to just stay in the moment. Plan ahead, but love the curriculum we're teaching in the here and now, rather than racing to some deadline of "well, they have to know this for the test." It's a hard fight, particularly one in this era of make-or-break testing, but one worth fighting, nevertheless.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Day of School

Although yesterday was TECHNICALLY the first day, it was more of an orientation. Today is the first day we had regular classes. We got to know the classroom by going on a scavenger hunt of the room. Students working together, thinking, learning. . . . all in all, a GREAT "first" day!

Friday, August 7, 2009

99-cent highlighters and other "Back to School" thoughts. . .

So I finally stopped ignoring all of the ads for back-to-school supplies and took the plunge. What brought me out of my summer dream, into reality? 99-cent highlighters at Office Depot. Well, you just can't pass up a deal like that. It would be, I don't know, un-American somehow. But the land of highlighters is also a sea of notebooks, pencils, locker accoutrements, TI-83 calculators, and all that other stuff that just shouts "this is the end of summer! School is once again upon us!"

Wow--year 5. I truly can't fathom that this will be my 5th year teaching. Although I kind of miss the frenetic excitement of my first year, I'm feeling a deeper, more mature kind of anticipation for this school year.

One of the joys of being teachers is that each year we have the opportunity to keep improving--teaching truly is a craft that we hone and polish with each passing year. For the second time, I can teach curriculum I've taught before and improve it. Along with my colleagues, I spent my first three years building a curriculum that would be meaningful and effective. Through a good amount of trial and error, I've finally emerged with a curriculum skeleton I am really satisfied with. It's similar to the way you learn to play a piece of music. First, you have to sight-read it, and all you're trying to do is get the notes right. As you practice more, you can begin to capture the nuances of the dynamics, play with the tempo and the pedals, and bring real feeling to the piece. This year is all about nuances--what can I bring to the curriculum that will help students engage more in the material, understand it better, grow even more in their skills? What metaphors, visuals, activities, projects, technology, and other teaching tools can I use to make the material come alive?

These are the questions that spin in my head as I take one last road trip, enjoy my final weekday hikes in Rock Creek park, wake up at 9am, read the paper in Starbucks on a Wednesday afternoon. Lazy days will soon give way to schedules, grades, hormones, lunch duties, and best of all, a fresh new class of fascinating, compassionate, intelligent, vivacious 6th graders.

I'm ready. Almost.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Power of Stories

When I was in graduate school, I had a professor who was very into storytelling as a method of getting students to remember and internalize information. Although I have thought back to this fleetingly over the last four years I have been a teacher, I've never consciously tried to tell many stories. Every once in a while, I have been inspired and one has popped out, but like many things I learned in grad school, it's just one more "best practice" I keep forgetting to return to.

Lately, this idea keeps popping up, though, leading me to believe that the universe is trying to send me a message.

Evidence #1: Just a week ago, a student answered a question by reminding the class of something I had told them back in September. I didn't even remember having said it, and at best I said it casually, off the cuff, but clearly it was so powerful it has stuck with him all these months.

Evidence #2: Over the summer we read A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, in which the idea of storytelling as a vital twenty-first century skill is a primary focus.

Evidence #3: Just an hour ago, I was trolling through one of my favorite sites, Lifehack, and I stumbled on this post about storytelling.

It's all starting to add up. Storytelling as teaching method. . . intriguing.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On updating and other things I don't do very often. . .

Yes, it has been a ridiculously long time since I updated the blog. Although I'm more diligent about updating the website, I do feel that blogging is a worthy window into a classroom, if used properly. To that end, I pledge to update (or have one of the students update) this blog at least once a week.

I will likely have the students do it for the following reasons:

a) They are much more interesting than I am.

b) They would probably prefer that I spend time grading their quizzes and papers instead of writing a blog.

c) They are much more interesting than I am.

I hope that you enjoy our new, improved, class blog. Please comment often, as our class gets a real kick out of the idea that someone may actually be reading this.