Memorial Day

Second graders have trouble with the grand scheme of things and mostly focus on what's of immediate relevance to themselves. Sometimes I try to explain the grand scheme of things, but it doesn't always work. Take today's holiday, Memorial Day. One year I was trying to explain the reason we celebrate Memorial Day. "What is Memorial Day?" asked Joelle. "Well," I said. "It's a day to remember people who have died in a war." This didn't really fit with Joelle's understanding of the day off.

"'s when the pool opens."

After walking around DC today in near 90 degree heat and swampy humidity, I can't blame Joelle for thinking that today has been set aside specially and schools and businesses closed so that we can fully celebrate the opening of the local pool.

This year, my students' understanding wasn't any better. Upon learning that school would be closed Monday because of Memorial Day, Drew exclaimed, "Yes! Because it snowed!" Mr. Halpern at Look at My Happy Rainbow didn't have much better luck explaining the holiday to his kindergarteners.

Any bigger meaning of holidays is frequently lost on kids--or at least misplaced. DeAngelo one year referred to that holiday in late December as "Santa Day" and Byron once explained to the class that the Fourth of July is when the Earth was created.

Thanks for Noticing

As much as I'd like to think that consequences in my classroom are between me and a particular student, there are moments when a "time out" is a fairly public affair. I'm not sure if this phenomenon happens in other classes out there, but some days I swear that someone observing our classroom from afar has a mute button and chooses to press it, eliminating all of the normal noise of literacy centers, exactly as I'm telling someone across the room that scissors are for paper, not for hair and that there's an opening in the "time out" chair. Ideally, I'd be able to deliver that message up close and personal, but sometimes scissors across the room require immediate attention.

Last week, I was sitting with Darius, eating lunch. It was, you see, the time for eating lunch. Antonie, however, had not gotten this message and thought instead that it was the time for leaning within four inches of the kid across from you and making silly faces.

"Antoine. Bring your lunch and move to the rug."

"Caught him" commented Darius under his breath.

Yes. Yes I did catch him. Thanks for noticing.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Rock, Paper, Scissors is one of the best things that's come to our classroom this year. We were researching about how to have a more peaceful playground for a law that we were creating, and in the process discovered that some schools use the game as an official policy of argument-settling. Wouldn't it be great if it were actually listed in those schools' handbooks?

Can't agree on if someone was tagged or not? Rock, Paper, Scissors it up, and you're good to go. The best part teacher needed! Arguing over who takes the first turn in the math game? A peaceful resolution is just a rock, some paper, and a pair of scissors away.

Sure, there's still some room for the old sneaky switcharoo. "Roc-issors. No--I did scissors. You probably thought I did rock but I really meant scissors which conveniently beats your paper." Overall, though, it's a marvelous innovation. Who would have thought that such a fairly arbitrary collection of items could hold such power?

The other day, a heated argument was brewing and getting near the pushing stage over who had or had not filled in a certain math problem first on the morning message. I had put one foot towards the impending argument, when the kids broke out into Rock, Paper, Scissors. They determined a winner and that person got to fill in the math problem. No teacher needed. Wow.

Today, I overheard the game being used again to settle a question of turns. When I listened carefully, I noticed that Matthew had added a fourth item to the arbitrary list of items: shoes. As in, "Rock, paper, scissors--SHOES." I mean really, why not shoes? They're just as random as the other items. But no, I felt the need to preserve the accurate wording of this ages-old tradition.
Rock. Then paper. Then scissors. Then SHOOT.

"Shoot, children" I explained to them. "It's shoot. You know, like you shoot something. I mean, I know that guns are bad and are not allowed even in pretend form or in our writing stories, but you need to know that it's not shoes."

I tried explaining this case of funny, mistaken wording to my husband, but apparently this staple of childhood game-settling never made it as far west as Minnesota. Or at least not fully in-tact. According to Nate, you say, "One, two, three" instead of rock, paper scissors. "So then do you say shoot?" I asked. Apparently in the Midwest you just say nothing after the one, two, three. Geez.
Back me up here--the "shoot" is key, right? And none of this one, two, three business. Or Paper, Rock, Scissors, for that matter.

By the way, our showcase performance was tonight and went well! All of our rehearsals paid off and the loud pills worked their magic once again!

Hmmm...just realized that somehow scissors are factoring prominently this week. I'll try to come up with something very profound and entertaining about scissors next time....
Amazingly, Wikipedia has this full-on diagram of the rock/paper/scissors options.
Shoes courtesy of

Just in Case

Tomorrow is our big performance of all that we've learned about laws! But before the big performance can happen, there have to be four thousand, five hundred twenty-nine rehearsals, give or take three rehearsals. I get really cranky at rehearsals and have been trying to focus on taking notes on which kids are speaking loudly, saying their lines with feeling, and putting energy into their parts, and then sharing those at the end. If I don't, it's just so easy to focus solely on who's still speaking too quietly, who's fidgeting around on stage, who's talking off stage!

There's nothing in particular to report from today, other than rehearsals, so I'm digging into my list of favorite moments from past years. A few years ago we had done a science experiment one day in class. Kids in general just go nuts for science experiments and Elijah was one such kid in particular. The next day, even when I told Elijah there would be no experimenting that day, he maintained his persistent optimism that there might arise some circumstances under which an experiment would, in fact, happen. And in that unlikely but possible situation, well he'd not be caught unprepared! Since you never know when something excellent is going to happen, it's good to be ready with some scissors.

Elijah: "We gonna be doing that experiment today?"
Ms. Garb: "No."
Elijah: "Well, I'll just get the scissors out in case."


Brandon has clearly spent a good deal of time analyzing the situation. He's considered many different factors, has made a list of materials needed, and is now ready to share his master plan with the world. I was the lucky audience this morning for his big reveal. "I know how to bring someone back from the dead."

"Oh yeah?" I asked, not yet realizing just how much thought Brandon had put into this. The main problem with lifelessness, he seems to have deduced, is the lack of moving blood. The solution? Well--move the blood of course! And what better way to move your blood than tiny bulldozers in your blood vessels to "push the blood back and forth." Brilliant! At this point I was partially convinced that he was onto something. "Yeah, and then you have sensors in their cheeks so they can sense when food is near." I mean, obviously the second major problem with the dead is that they can't tell when it's time to eat.

When the principal walked in during our conversation, I told her that Brandon had come up with a pretty amazing procedure for reviving the dead and made him explain the little bulldozers all over again. "Doesn't he have quite the plan?" I asked her. "It would use math though" Brandon replied. Another thing this plan would apparently involve is welding. I'm not sure I fully understand this part, but Brandon understands enough for both of us. "As long as my dad knows how to weld, then I'm in good shape."

Note to all of you out there who have access to both a welder and some microscopic construction equipment--you can cancel your life insurance policy.


There are plenty of times in a school day when I encourage lots of talking--about different kids' approaches to solve a math problem, planning out how to do a collaborative art project, or about the news article we just read. When it's time to rein in the noise, though, I reach into my bag of noise level tricks and pull one out: "If you can hear me clap three times;" our school quiet signal; a clap pattern to repeat; or a good old fashioned "Shhh!"

I do a lot of shushing every day. The playground noise level that's currently happening might need to be turned down to the currently required lunch noise level or a lunch noise level might need to become a quiet voice. Sometimes even a quiet voice, though, is over the noise limit and must be shushed down to a no talking level. Fart noises get shushed. Random comments shouted out get shushed. When the drama teacher explains, "This activity will require self-control," and Christopher blurts out, "I have that!"--yes, more shushing.

Nowhere do I do more shushing, though, than on a field trip. Towards the end of a field trip, I often slip into a subconscious zone of quieting where I just utter a long, continuous shhhhhh to dampen not only the noise level but the general body movement level. This extended shhh has been known to last for up to 12 minutes and also, on occasion, to occur while I sleep, dreaming of a field trip.

Any given field trip from art museum to anything involving a bus has quite a heightened number of noise level reminders, but today we went to the ultimate shush-fest known as the U.S. Capitol. The building is beautiful and stately. "This building is important!" the kids declared. Yes--so important, in fact, that they have gold trash cans. Or at least gold-colored trash cans that Thomas and Kyron were pretty sure were the real deal. And if gold trash cans don't dictate a certain noise level, I don't know what does.

Once the tour guide started talking in the rotunda, I was in the zone, trying to break my 12-minute record. At the end of the tour, we got to visit the place where all the legislative magic happens--the House floor! We entered the House gallery to watch the Congress in action below. And by "action" I mean seven House clerks standing around chatting with each other. Nevertheless, this was the REAL, actual-laws-get-passed-here, shown-on-the-news-all-the-time House of Representatives and it was time to break out the deadly combination of shush + extreme glare, meant to convey, "I say 'no talking' a lot during the day, children, but you must believe me that there is REALLY no talking in CONGRESS."


Wow! I received a great compliment today from fellow blogger and teacher, Sarah B., at Confessions of an Untenured Teacher. No, I'm not talking about the kind of pseudo compliments my kids sometimes give each other during our end-of-year compliment exchange, ("He is short but still smart")--Sarah gave me this blog award, and I'm thrilled! Sarah shares about funny moments in her classroom, the successes of her students, and is not afraid to share things that didn't go well in her classroom. Thanks Sarah B.!

I'd like to continue the compliments with some shout outs to other bloggers I love to read. And it's not because they can snap really fast or that they scoot their desks over nicely when asked, though I'm sure that they are all very fast snappers and polite desk scooters. Their blogs are great and you should check them out!

Ms. Teachin' at I'm a Dreamer shares inspiring stories from her eighth grade language arts classroom and I love to follow her ups and downs with the students. And talk about a dedicated teacher - Ms. Teachin' opened the school on a Saturday for her kids!

Mr. Halpern at Look at My Happy Rainbow finds touching and funny stories in everyday classroom moments. I admire how he can turn a cartwheel or three cookies into a post!

I want to give a shout out to fellow Teach for America alum Mr. D at I Want to Teach Forever for his multi-media reflections on teaching and for his bravery in sharing his journal from his first few years of teaching.

I am right there with Mrs. Awesome at Mrs. Awesome Blogs as she worries about every detail leading up to a school performance! And you, too, might just become a new fan of BUNCO after reading her description of the game.

An Army of Ermas just recently caught my attention, and boy did it suck me in! This is a great collection of posts from different humor writers, run by Stacey Graham. The "new generation of disgruntled housewives" tackles everything from buying undergarments to newfangled name spellings.

Go check them out!

Look at This!

I went to PE yesterday and was amazed by the wide array of fancy tricks that second graders like to try with a basketball during stations.

"Ms. Sarah, Ms. Sarah. Look at me!"

"Hold on Patrick, I'm watching Orlando dribble the ball three times and then bam! Knee dribble. Woah."

"Ms. Sarah, watch this!"

"Hold on Nick, I'm watching Patrick defy gravity by spinning the ball for about an eighth of a rotation, but I'm making a pretty big deal of it."

"Look at this Ms. Sarah! Watch!"

"Hold on DeAngelo, I'm watching Nick bounce the basketball with extreme concentration and then sort of dribble it through his legs and lose control of it most times but sometimes he gets it and is very proud."

"Look at me! Look at me!"

"Hold on Lucas, I'm watching DeAngelo's ultra fancy leg-over-ball dribbling."

Think! Think!

The stakes are pretty high in our weekly "Math Match-Up" math fact competition. If you win, you get to be the winner, and winning is all-around good.

Today during the competition, Alexis was trying to secure victory by mind control. She grasped her teammate LeRoy's head between her hands and spoke directly to his brain.

"Think! Think!" she said. "Math! Math!" Simply saying the name of the subject, Alexis seemed to believe, would imbue him with the needed mathematical prowess. I might just try that for our end of year reading test coming up Friday. "Think! Think!" I'll say. "Main idea! Main idea!" And if that doesn't work, there's always smart gum again.
Image from Are You Psychic? The Official Guide for Kids

I Like It Because...

My school is in the midst of deciding to keep or switch our math curriculum. Big decision! I'm part of the team charged with this decision and I used some of the sample materials we got from one of the publishers to take the potential new curriculum for a test drive the other day.

I told the kids that we were thinking of switching to a new math program and that we wanted to test out some lessons. I was curious to see what the kids' opinions would be of the materials. Two very salient features of the new math curriculum would, I was pretty sure, sway the children completely: 1) its full-color student sheets and 2) its newness. Surprisingly, though, nobody said "I like it because it's really colorful." Maybe it's just me who is easily distracted by multi-colored ink! The trial curriculum did get some rave reviews, though.

I love it! It is fun!

Because it helps me a lot it is fun!

I like it! I like it because it has multiplication.

I like it because it teaches you times tables.

Second graders just go crazy for multiplication, no? They really feel like the bees knees when they finally get to do this extra special kind of math they've heard so much about.

The lesson was deemed both "too hard" and "too easy." Actually, truth be told, the lesson was definitely too easy. I was glad to see how many kids recognized that the pictures and diagrams all but gave them the final answers and didn't really challenge them to do any, well, math thinking.

I like it. But it is a little too easy.

Way too easy.

It is a bit too easy because it has pictures.

Under the heading, "Do you understand?" was one question that did ask the kids to think critically. This was by far the hardest part of the lesson and the heavy mental lifting met with mixed reviews.

I like it. It asks me do I understand.

I love it! Because it's fun, but the do you understand part I don't like.

Now I have to give my feedback on the new program at a meeting tomorrow!

You Put your Arm Through Here

OK, I admit it. I got fashion tips today from an eight-year-old boy. Now, I don't think my sense of style is particularly terrible, but I'm definitely not up on the latest trends. I don't own any bubble dresses. I consistently have the polar opposite opinion of Tim Gunn or Nina Garcia as an outfit struts down the runway, and I could not tell you if stripes or belts are in or very out.

For Teacher Appreciation Week, I got a lovely blue and purple scarf today from Amari. I unfolded it to find that it was sewn in a loop. Only now after having researched this newfangled fashion can I tell you that it appears to be called an infinity scarf, a circle scarf, a loop scarf, or an eternity scarf.

As with any new fashion or new accessory, it's not always apparent how exactly to wear it. I marveled at my infinity scarf for a minute, wondering aloud what to do with it, when Marcelo piped up. "Oh--I know how to wear those. You put your arm in here, and your other arm here." Of course! Sort of a shawl-y drape-y deal. "How do you know that?" I asked, amazed. "I saw them on TV. See--it does teach you something."

I proceeded to don my new scarf in the "infinity shrug" fashion (or so it's called by one website with an actual video of how to put on the scarf in this style--only one of multiple ways to wear the scarf). Thanks to Amari's gift, and the assistance of trend-savvy Marcelo, I was extremely fashion forward today. One might even say very fancy. Or maybe very last season, I really have no idea.

Just Think of a Land Full of Candy

The topic of our discussion this afternoon was ways to respond when someone pushes your "anger button." The button-pushing situation for today was someone calling you a mean name and groups were brainstorming things you could do to diffuse the situation. Reid suggested thinking of a happy place you like to go. I overheard the conversation at Reid's group, and was picturing a generically pleasant beach, the mere thought of which could evaporate all of your rage about having been called a "big headed pee" or some other such insult.

Ahh...the clean white sands, the sparkling water, the lack of tests to grade. Charlotte, however, was not convinced that this "picture a happy place" strategy would cut it.

"But they could RUIN it and make it not a good place--like a dungeon!" she pointed out. Suddenly, the serenity of my imagined beach scene was shattered by the hypothetical anger-button-pusher, running onto the beach, kicking up sand in my face, hurling insults. Just like that--happy place ruined.

Charlotte did offer a replacement strategy, though. Knowing that just any old happy place could be susceptible to the intrusion of a name caller, we were going to need the ultimate happy place. "You should just think of a land full of candy" declared Charlotte. I have to admit, the thought of a land full of candy would indeed go a long way in minimizing the impact of someone saying something rude to me. And I know for a fact they kick out name-callers at the chocolate covered candy-cane gate.

The Blues

When the classroom's a mess,
No PE (just got the news),
Meeting time got changed,

That gives me the blues.

That was my Wednesday a couple of weeks ago, and I was indeed quite cranky about all of those things. I did not have to search very far for inspiration as I sat down to write an example of the poetry assignment we were about to start, based off of Langston Hughes' poem, "The Blues."

The kids wrote about what bums them out and tried to make it fit the rhyme.

When I'm on a cruise,
And I have no shoes,
And the floor feels like it's on fire,
That gives me the blues.

When the tire on my bike busts
I do not know which tool to use
Then my other tire busts too
That gives me the blues.

When you play football and the shoes get untied
And you fall and you lose
And play again and lose
That’s the blues.

Some days are just like that--your schedule gets messed up, a cruise deck nearly scorches the soles of your feet, your bike self-destructs, or your team has issues with standing upright. Maybe it's ketchup packets that are getting you down, the loss of eight-legged life, or a lunch that's been left in mom's car. The lunch-in-car situation turned out to be the reason behind Carson's note today.

I don't really know why kids from time to time to call me "teacher," but it's true--some days just give you the blues.

Anyone feeling bummed and rhyme-y? Post your own Blues poem!

Sounds About Right

Throughout much of elementary school, ridiculous things make just as much sense as probable things. "My teacher has been in the classroom closet for two hours while we've been doing work with another teacher?" Highly likely. "What's making me sick is those little green people like I saw on TV?" Yep, makes perfect sense. "New kid's name is Analyze?" Why the heck not?

Last week, allergies were really flaring up in our classroom. My method for avoiding rubbing an itchy eye is to hold a wet paper towel on it to cool it down a bit, and I sent a few kids last week to go fetch the necessary supplies for this temporary cure. Some of the kids even discovered that they could just fold up the paper towel and tuck it behind the lens of their glasses for hands-free itch relief. The reason for this paper toweling, though, was not obvious to everyone. After carefully wetting, folding, and tucking, Marshall was headed from the bathroom back to class when he ran into a kindergartener. Left to make sense of this encounter, the kindergartener asked Marshall to confirm his suspicion about that wadded up paper towel behind his glasses. "Your eye fell out?"

Thanks to Jane for her overhearing skills!

We are NOT Joking Around, Here

This summer I have been getting lots of advice on the impending baby situation that will be happening this fall.   Highlights of this advi...