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Monday, November 30, 2009

The Bathroom

The bathroom causes no end of problematic situations in elementary school. There's the not making it on time, there's taking too long and playing in the bathroom, not washing with soap or using up all the soap, stalls locked from the inside that have to be opened by sliding underneath, paper towels on the floor, a roll of toilet paper all unrolled, and the list goes on. Clogs are their own special brand of problematic bathroom situations. Sometimes trying to correct one of the aforementioned bathroom problems only leads to further complications.

One day we found that someone had unrolled a whole pile of clean toilet paper onto the floor. I asked Javonte, on his way into the bathroom, if he would rip off the toilet paper and throw it away. He dutifully did as I asked, but a few minutes later he came out of the stall and announced, "The toilet's overflowed!" I realized then that I was not as clear as I should have been about exactly how he was to dispose of the unwanted trash. “But I ripped it up!” he explained.

Readers' Stories

New mini story from Alexis in California under "Readers' Stories"--take a look!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It Really Really Tastes Right

I swear this is not vegetarian evangelism, but I always do a turkey persuasive writing around this time of year in class. The kids decide if they're going to manufacture some mostly made up arguments and proof for eating turkey, or some mostly made up arguments against.

You should eat turkey. Please eat turkey. It is so delicious! eat turkey because you will get strong. You should eat turkey because it is in KFC. You should eat turkey because you eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

People should not eat turkey. You could get bird flu. You wouldn’t like it if someone ate you. I’m nasty. Do not eat turkey.

Don’t eat turkey. Why do you want to eat me? I’m chewy. You will be chewing me for a month or 2! In anchient egypt, they worsheped us. So don’t eat little young me!

You showd eat turkey because you wont starve to deaf and you really will not turn into a turkey it really really taste right

Monday, November 23, 2009

Embrace the Crappiness

I am going to EMBRACE THE CRAPPINESS OF THE PLANES. That's my new mantra for our science expedition on the physics of flight. Embrace the crappiness.
  The kids have learned about the forces of flight and are now building planes for our flight contest. The last time I did this expedition, we bought a bunch of balsa wood kits, separated out all of the different plane parts, had 4 or 5 different choices for which wings you could choose, which plane body, which tail, and which rudder. There was also a choice of making it a glider or a propeller plane. They had to think about each part they chose and explain why they had chosen it for their plane. Still, though, many kids just picked the blue wings to go with the blue tail to go with the blue rudder, because they were the coolest-looking ones and seemed to go together. The planes were cool, but mostly all looked the same, with a couple of interesting adaptations - a couple of sets of double wings, and one with helium-balloons attached to give (in theory) more lift.
  THIS TIME around, we wanted to make building the planes more of a design and revision process, so we are not using kits! Oh--the potential for unique designs! I envisioned them thinking outside the box, without the confines of the kit pieces! We ordered large sheets of foam with limitless flight possibilities. We planned to have two flight contests, so if their first design did fly how they wanted it to. They'd come to the understanding that if something doesn't work the first time, you revise, and try again. "Mistakes help us learn!" they'll certainly cheer in unison at some point.
  We tried to scaffold their plans to help them decide how to get more lift, less pull of gravity, less drag, and more thrust. They could choose what parts to make, the size of each part, the shape--even the materials to use. They could choose different thickness of foam based on what we assumed would be their carefully considered design specifications. At the last minute I even threw in sort of a red herring choice of materials--corrugated cardboard. "Maybe one or two kids will pick this" I thought. "But surely most kids will see that foam gliders will have infinitely better performance than using the practically leaden cardboard."
  We've been building the planes and doing some preliminary test flights. And...they're a disaster! Many of the kids have been making theses miniscule planes that fly practically no farther than past the end of their shoes. So tiny! Some planes are comprised of an oblong, vaguely plane-ish shaped body and a set of tiny wings stuck through. They drop like a ton of bricks. In our reflection this afternoon, one student said, "I thought it was going to stay in the air a lot longer, but it just went straight down." A surprising number of kids ended up choosing cardboard, and it's not working out to be the optimal material they thought it somehow would be. I've been standing along the runway/hall, watching spectacular crash after spectacular crash. Some planes go no farther than you could just THROW a wad of cardboard. And I've been getting really frustrated about the possibility of ever ending up with planes that actually FLY.
  Today I realized that this was THE POINT! We're going to REVISE after this first draft plane, and learn from our mistakes. The more terribly your plane flies this time around - the more chance you have to improve it. Revision is not neat and tidy, and it sometimes takes a while to get to the improved version.

And so, I'm going to EMBRACE THE CRAPPINESS OF THE PLANES. Ahhh.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tools

You can sit on it and wiggle around to your heart's content. Sound like a cool new toy? Nope--it's actually a tool. It is always rather difficult to adequately convey to the rest of the class the single most important feature of the plastic, air-filled, fun-looking seat cushions that we have in our classroom for a few students to use. They are to help you move around a bit in your seat so that your focus stays on the lesson. They are not inflated instruments of entertainment. They are tools for kids who need to use them.
  There are a variety of other tools that physical therapists have suggested. The stretchy, plastic "focus fidget" is also not a toy but a tool to help your hands move around so that your focus stays on the lesson. This refrain of one's focus and where it should be appears in pretty much all of my explanations of the tools. The stretchy band around your chair legs is for your feet to kick and move around so that--everybody say it with me now--your focus stays on the lesson.
  One day, Andrea decided that it was about time for her to have one of these nifty little tools. However, her rationale had nothing at all to do with focus.


Ms. S I need a tool because my butt hert


  Sadly, I was unable to fill this request because the stated problem did not fit with the intended purpose of the tool. They are for helping with focus, for keeping kids from tipping back in their chairs, for keeping kids IN their chairs, but sadly, not merely for the comfort of one's behind.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Her Mom's a Secretary

My cousin was in from out of town this weekend, and we showed him around the DC sights--the Capitol, the monuments, the many stately embassies. To add to the excitement, there's always the possibility in DC of running into a government rock star--or of having one run into you. My husband saw Bill Clinton on the Georgetown campus. He also crossed paths with Jenna Bush when she was teaching second grade at a school across the street from our apartment. My brother, a chef in DC, cooked lunch for Laura Bush at his restaurant. My contribution to the government celebrity count was to get rear-ended by a cabinet member's Chief of Staff. I've seen the Vice President pulling out of the White House late one evening as well as multiple motorcades, and one of my former students' parents worked for a cabinet member.

Ellen shared at morning meeting one day about her mother's job with the Secretary of Commerce. After she finished the share, she took questions and comments. Mykell had clearly misunderstood the job title, but this did not prevent her from trying to one-up Ellen. “See, her mom is a secretary" explained Mykell. "My mom is a manager and HAS a secretary.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Elementary school children love money but have very few opportunities to earn it. Sure, they might earn a little allowance for cleaning their room, doing the dishes, or they might find loose change under the couch, but this does not always satisfy their need for cold, hard cash. I distinctly remember seeing a huge container of lollipops at Costco when I was younger, and having the realization that I could SELL them for MORE MONEY than I paid, thus achieving instant wealth. I set them up as a stand in my front yard, and had fairly decent sales until neighborhood parents started wondering where their children were getting all of this candy.

One year, I busted a similar scheme in my classroom by the cubbies. I found Landon selling the baggie of watermelon his mom had packed him to Kyron for the rather inflated price of five dollars. I explained to the price-gouging Landon that we don’t run a black market fruit stand in this class and also threw in a few basic economic tips for Kyron—namely that just because you have five dollars doesn’t mean that five dollars is automatically a bargain price for four melon slices.

Another year, Daniel and Rafael inexplicably began collecting leads that had broken off of pencils. They brought in first a small glass jar, and then a larger, much fancier tin container decorated like a treasure chest to house their goods. They planned to have an auction for said pencil leads, and posted an auction notice on Daniel’s cubby.

Meanwhile, we were having trouble finding enough pencils to write with that hadn’t been cannibalized for lead. We had to put a ban on collecting pencil leads in class.

The next year, no longer in my class, Daniel and Rafael continued collecting pencil leads and trying to turn a profit. They even drew up a contract to establish rules of governance for the pencil lead organization, now known as the P.D.W.C. Rafael’s mom emailed me the contract, which is written in sufficiently convoluted and contracty-sounding terms such as “hereby” and “amongst.”
Apparently, perhaps due to the down economy or perhaps after a retooling of their business plan, Rafael and Daniel have decided to add color to their pencil leads, as well as scent. They painted them green, and crushed mint into the leads.

This blog does not generally advertise for products, but if you are in need of any painted, minty-smelling pencil leads, I strongly urge you to purchase from P.D.W.C.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Can You Handle How Amazing This Is?


Brace yourself for something EXTREMELY exciting. Yes my friends, FREE HOMEWORK PASSES HAVE COME TO THE SECOND GRADE. These are the first homework passes I've given out this year, and let me tell you--the kids are besides themselves. This past Friday, I gave out free homework passes instead of extra recess for anyone who completed their homework all week (I know, a little odd--if you do all of your homework, you don't have to do your homework). I explained what the homework passes were and built up the excitement. "If you have a homework pass, you can play all afternoon, take the night off, and NOT do your homework. BUT, I will mark you off as HAVING DONE the homework! Even though you haven't. Wow! Imagine the possibilities." This was loosely how my explanation went.
Denard interpreted the concept of using a free homework pass to NOT do homework but to STILL be counted as...cheating. Well, he's pretty much right. It's a rectangular, purple slip of paper that gives you permission to cheat the system. As I wrapped up the details about the passes, Denard couldn't contain his glee about this condoned fraud and blurted out in a singsong voice, "Cheat-ing!"
I have seen a sparkle in the eye of many students planning to use the homework pass already tonight. "Do you have your homework?" I asked J'Nai at the end of the day. "I'm going to use my...[sly smile]...homework pass" she replied. Michael was also planning to use his tonight, also gave me a sly smile when he informed me of this plan, but then asked if kids were allowed to do some of the homework for tonight, even if they were using their free homework pass. I consulted the official rulebook of free homework passes and informed him that yes, it was OK to do some of the homework anyway.
Some students, though, if past years are any indication, will save up their free passes until the year is over. Sometimes savoring the amassed potential to not do homework is better than actually "spending" any of the passes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One Less Spider

Taking a trip into the depths of actual nature with a class of city kids is always an adventure. Today we went on the annual trip to Great Falls National Park for a hike and some information about animals from Ranger Mike. There were picnic tables for lunch, restrooms with running water, and a flat path to walk on, so clearly I am using the terms, "actual nature" and "hike" loosely. Nonetheless, it was much more nature than we see in our day-to-day concrete-filled, city lives.
  City kids marvel at every aspect of nature. One year, even on the drive to the park entrance, Terrance stared in awe out the bus window at the huge trees that lined the road. "Is that real?" he asked. Yes, Terrance. They are real trees, and it is a real forest, and it is not plastic. Today as we made the same drive to the park, Zoe spotted a house along the way. "There's a house!" she exclaimed, completely surprised that people would actually think of living way out here in all this nature. A house in the woods--what will they think of next?
  As we pulled into the park, Jaylen informed me that she had seen a "wild deer" before. "In the zoo." We forged ahead through the real trees, and while we didn't see any non-zoo deer, we did get to pet a real snake and touch a real fox pelt. We also happened upon a real daddy long legs, which drew a crowd of at least ten kids, oohing and ahhing as the spider made its way along a boulder.
  When the spider met an unfortunate, shoe-related fate, Bryson lamented the loss of this small piece of nature. "Man," he said. "Now there's like one million spiders. Before, there was one million and one."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An Even Scarier Thing

This time of year is filled with frights--and I'm not even talking about Tristan's squirting blood. No--there's something even scarier than kids going around with costumes. Kids going around with germs.
There were several kids out sick in our class last week, and Lucas claimed that he is "really close to having Swine Flu." Is he anticipating catching the flu in the next few hours? Does he have something from nearby in the animal flu kingdom--Bird Flu perhaps? To keep all of these germs as contained as possible and to not get Lucas any closer to Swine Flu than he apparently already is, we're reminding everyone to cover their coughs, wash your hands with soap, use hand sanitizer, etc. These were some tips that the assistant principal got at our whole school meeting the other day when she asked for ideas on staying healthy. A few kids also offered suggestions that they clearly have filed under the broad category of "Health, Good." "Brush your teeth" one child called out. "Eat vegetables" volunteered another. Yes--all good things, but the main thing we're trying to impress upon you, children, is DO NOT GET ANYONE ELSE SICK.
To further reinforce this goal, I'm even bringing in some of the professional literature on the topic. I was flipping through the guided reading books the other day, and hit upon one cutting-edge medical treatise called, "Germs! Germs! Germs!" The book's illustrations include various multicolored, amorphous representations of microorganisms with extremely menacing grins as they hold up their germy appendages, ready to pounce. "We're on the ground. We're in the air. We're GERMS and we live everywhere!" begins the book. I challenge you to find a Halloween story that's spookier than that!