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Sunday, February 28, 2010

So Which Is It?

On Friday I found a "circle yes or no" note floating around the classroom, though unlike most such notes I've found, it did not center around liking or not liking someone. The intended recipient had apparently not had a chance to get the note or to form an opinion, but I'll just assume the circle would have gone to "yes," or possibly a third, write-in option: "Actually I LOVE school because my teacher is amazing."

  Elementary school students spend much of their energy on opinions. They form opinions. They ask other kids their opinions. Then they either confirm their own opinions, change their minds, or try to get the other person to change their mind. All parties being agreed on a single opinion, though, is highly valued. Seven year olds in my classes over the years have been known to devote entire lunch periods to the following game:

1. Sit around lunch table.
2. Someone calls out, "Raise your hand if you like...."
3. That same person fills in the name of a movie, food, or birthday party location.
4. All who like said movie, food, or birthday party location raise their hands.
5. All who don't like the thing in question but who like being part of the crowd raise their hands.
6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 until lunch time is over.

  The circling of yes or no on a note, though, is a standby favorite for expressing an opinion. Although the circling will not always fall in your favor, It is very important to pin down a yes or a no. Sometimes hints are even included so that the right choice is made. Listing these two options works for a variety of situations, from obtaining a boyfriend, to asking the teacher for a class pet, and from determining the truth to forming friendships when you're the new girl.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kicked Off and Pissed Off

  Our newest social studies expedition kickoff was today! It succeeded remarkably well, in that 100% of students were furious by the end, a half dozen had voluntarily sent themselves to the take a break chair to calm down (well, there weren't enough take a break chairs so they took over the guided reading area to regroup/fume), and at least three were in tears.
  I'll back up a step to explain how, exactly, this seeming disaster of a lesson constitutes a successful kickoff. We're diving into an expedition on laws, and how they keep us safe and help us accomplish our goals. For our kickoff to launch the 12-week project, the second grade team decided to create some scenarios that would simulate various systems of creating laws.

  First up: anarchy. I laid out a medium-sized piece of yellow butcher paper and some brand new markers in the middle of the classroom. I told the kids that we'd get to create a piece of art for our classroom today and tried to talk up how great this art piece would be and how new the markers were. I sent them a few at a time to start in on the art. Pretty soon, 3/4 of the class was flopped on their bellies, furiously art-ing. The remaining fourth of the class was standing above them, arms crossed and scowling. There was no more room around the perimeter of the paper, and some kids weren't getting to participate. As you might imagine, arguments, grabbing, stewing, shouting, and sulking ensued. It was great. We teachers sat back, let the state of nature unfold, and took notes on what the kids were saying.
  Some kids were very considerate and tried to make sure others were getting a turn (while not necessarily giving up their own prized spot along the paper), but mostly we heard:

Stop!
Ow!

Hurry up!

Some people aren’t sharing.

I don’t GET to draw.
I don’t get to do ANYTHING.

That’s the stupidest idea ever!


  We hung the art on the wall and took some time to write down how that had gone. We agreed it had not gone well, so I proposed a new piece of art. Bringing us to the next scenario: dictatorship.

  "What kind of art would a dictatorship produce?" you ask. Black and brown art about tennis, that's what. The position of Student of the Week was a very convenient way to choose a dictator. I announced that for our next art piece, Samuel was going to decide what kind of art we'd make, and what colors we'd use. He selected his favorite colors from all of the marker boxes and we put the rest away. The Student of the Week then proclaimed that the art would be related to sports. Kids started in, drawing soccer balls, trophies, hockey sticks, baseball bats, and other generally sports-related items. They were coloring away quite happily, actually, so I decided to up the dictatorship ante.
  "Samuel," I asked. "Do you think maybe we should just draw what you really want to draw? What's your favorite sport, anyway?" "Tennis" he replied. "And which one of these colors is really your most favorite?" "Black and brown." And so it was that a second decree came down from the Student of the Week that everyone would only draw tennis. Black and brown tennis.
  This did not go over well.

What??!!
Samuel, why are you being picky?
It's not fair.
I don't want to draw that.

I already drew soccer!

This is stupid. What's the point of joining?


  Art piece # 2 was certainly turning out to be quite the disaster I had intended, but there was a bit more unfair it could yet become.
  "And maybe only some kids should get to draw, right?" I asked Samuel. "I mean, like, maybe only kids wearing...." Samuel glanced down at his own green uniform shirt. "Green!" he exclaimed. "And gold."
  "If your shirt isn't green or gold," Samuel announced, "you have to leave."
  As the non-chosen kids stormed off, those left behind lamented the selection process, apparently preferring either a meritocracy or just to put themselves in place of the current dictator.

"But all those people were good!" one student said of the kids who had to leave.
"She was being bad outside at recess!" another said of one who got to stay.
"I wish I were the student of the week!"
"He’s mean. I don’t like him."
"He’s the worst student of the week EVER!"


  And just as the masses had begun to plot their revenge on the most unfair of all Students of the Week ever, I pulled the plug on art piece # 2. I proceeded to start on damage control--namely explaining that it was really ME who had made Samuel be so bossy--didn't he do a great job ACTING like I asked him to? Yes--let's not direct this at Samuel, in fact, let's come up with some compliments about Samuel--stat! And let's also get some paper into these kids' hands so they can FINALLY just draw what they want to draw!
  As the kids reflected on the experience of art piece # 2 and drew their own personal mini art piece, I went to check in with Samuel to see how he was feeling about having been the dictator. "What did you think of that?" I asked. "It was great!" replied Samuel. I then went around to each kid and asked if he or she had felt really mad. After the inevitable "Yes!" I told them that they had passed the test! This activity was SUPPOSED to make kids mad! "Isn't that weird?" I asked them. "What kind of a teacher DOES that??!" This got a smile out of most of them, and we joked around about it and they colored until a good mood was restored.
  I'm pretty sure that today's art creation will be useful in explaining many concepts related to laws!

photo from jgearhart@wikispaces.com

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sharing / Hoarding the Love


  This week is Share the Love Week at school--the operative word being "share." I introduced a "Pay It Forward" game today where everyone gets a kindness card with a certain ID number on it. The idea came from a website where you can use ID numbers to log the acts of kindness online and track where your kindness has gone. This logging of a multi-digit number online was a way greater degree of complexity than I was willing to go with--a piece of chart paper with a sticky note for each card number will do just fine for "logging" the kindness in our class.
  So we talked about some ideas for different acts of kindness, and then came the giving out of the cards. I suggested that kids keep their kindness cards in their pockets so they'd be ready at a moment's notice to accost someone--Ha! I've been KIND to you! Now you've got to do WORK and write down what I did for you. Take THAT! This was towards the end of the school day, though, and once those cards go home in a pocket, there's a very good chance they'll end up in the black hole that also has claimed piles of homework assignments and several books from our library.
  We only had a short time today during which to potentially do kind things and pass the cards on, but gave away my original kindness in fairly short order. As the kids started in on their animal research, I picked up a few kids' pencils, folders, seat cushions strewn around the room and returned them to their rightful spots on my way to help a couple of kids look up information about pandas. I contemplated handing off a card to Patrick as I returned his seat cushion to him for the umpteenth time that day, but decided I'd save it for something a little more substantially kind. I turned around to find Matthew waiting with a question. He asked about the scenario wherein someone does something kind but doesn't leave their card. I told him that he could still take the kindness even without a card. "Because, like, you were just giving people back their stuff and you did something kind for me." I forked over my card.
  A mere 15 minutes later as we were packing up to go home, I saw Matthew fanning out a half-dozen Pay It Forward cards and displaying them proudly. "You have to give OUT kindness, too!" I reminded him. We'll see how the rest of the week goes. Perhaps I've just introduced a token economy where the person with the most kindness cards somehow has the most power....

I'm guessing that either of these things are equally likely to happen this week:
a) The cards will travel all around the class and even to our fourth grade reading buddies, potentially making their way back to their originators and thus illustrating how kindness really does spread all around and might even come back to you.
b) They'll all end up in Matthew's pockets.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

If I Were 100 Feet Tall....

For the hundredth day of school, the morning work was to imagine what you would do in various exciting but impossible situations involving quantities or measurements of 100. I learned that Brian would like to jump in a pool filled with "100 dolphins you could ride on", and that TyQuon would not like to "be in school" for 100 minutes. Sorry friend, you're actually in school for many hundreds of minutes...

The question about what you'd do if you were 100 feet tall generated a variety of responses, some of which only eight-year-olds could come up with.
  • Mario would reach into space--really a great use of the extra height.
  • TyQuon would also use the height advantage to do something cool. If I were 100 feet tall, I would be an excellent basketball player.
  • It occurred to Michaela that this new size would require a trip to the big & tall store. If I were 100 feet tall, I would get a hundred size clothes.
  • Christopher would put his giant body to use for the good of all other children, making a superior if perhaps a bit uncomfortable form of entertainment. If I were 100 feet tall, I would make a water slide with my body.
  • Dylan and Ariana both situated their 100-foot selves among tall buildings, one industriously and one purely for fun. If I were 100 feet tall, I would help people make big buildings. If I were 100 feet tall, I would play with people on sky scrapers.
  • Brittany also planned to use her size to accomplish a certain task and to contribute to the good of the tree-loving world, though I personally would think that being extraordinarily tall would be somewhat of a disadvantage when putting things into the ground. If I were 100 feet tall, I could help people plant trees.
How would YOU finish that sentence? If I were 100 feet tall....

Havin' A Lot of Good Things

My hot date Friday night? Yep, going to the school dance. It was actually a lot of fun to see the kids all dressed up, not in uniform, and to dance and be silly with them. Another teacher and I went and wore ourselves out doing various slides (both electric and cha cha), the Cupid Shuffle, and a little swing. We found out that the answer to, "How low can you go?" for us was "not very," but for many kids it was definitely "all the way to the floor." Some of the parents were out there having a great time dancing, too.
  My lightsaber buddy Jerome was there, all dressed up in a suit coat! Just the day before, I had run into him on our first day back from a twelve day blizzard/holiday break, and he gave me a huge grin. "Every day I come to school," he said, "it seems like I'm havin' a lot of good things!" Last night's dance was definitely one of those good things!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What's it called again? Oh yeah--school.

After five possible hundredth days canceled due to city-crippling snow, today was FINALLY the hundredth day of school. Somehow we ended up with TWELVE days between day 99 and day 100--possibly long enough to not only forget everything they'd learned all year, but also how to even get to our classroom. They didn't seem to have forgotten everything and it was great to see them all. I also worried that after being snowed in at home for so long, they'd immediately run to the nearest wall and just start bouncing off of it. But no! A remarkably smooth day today!


(That post has 100 words!)

Friday, February 12, 2010

25 Reasons Why I am Nevery Leveing You

As Valentine's Day approaches, if you are in need of a special message for your loved one, you might consider borrowing some of the following 25 reasons from a note I once found in the fourth grade. It's just an excellent list all around.

  Fourth grade girls like to take advice from older and wiser siblings and friends when it comes to matters of the heart. In Katina's case, expert advisors must have directed her to do several things in her list of reasons why she loves the potential boyfriend. I can only assume that these things must have included:
-Quote songs from the 80s
-Praise his gift-giving and truth-telling abilities
-Use acronyms for emphasis
-Demonstrate just how much you like him by having that item in your list take up three whole numbers
-Threaten him



  For more tips, you might also get some ideas this Valentine's Day from, "Dear Ms. Sexy."

Day Four

Yep, the cycle continues. Closed Thursday. Woah.

Still Snowing!

OK, so Monday was closed while everyone dug out of the blizzard from Saturday and because the Metro and buses weren't fully in service. Yay, snow day!

Then....Tuesday was closed as well while people STILL dug out and Metro and buses STILL weren't fully in service, AND because of a new storm due to arrive Tuesday.

  Now we're in the middle of the second blizzard in a week, still no school and it's Wednesday. Some places are closed all week. I'm watching someone cross country ski down 16th street, one of the busiest streets in DC and the one that leads straight down to the White House. We've just passed the mark for the snowiest winter literally ever in DC's history, and might eventually set the record for shortest summer break ever for DC students.
  My days have followed fairly predictable cycles during the blizzards. Eat, do a little school work, do some dishes, eat some more, do a little writing, and then start in on the near-constant refreshing of the various bearers of important information: The school closings list, the federal government status, and the weather forecast.
  Schools start announcing closures, and the numbers steadily increase throughout the day. 114, we're at 114! Now it's 189. We've passed the 200 mark! Another milestone during this phase is the point at which the first school starting with "D" announces its closure, thus opening up what will eventually be my category between the "C" and "E" districts. Apparently C and E make their decisions earlier than the District of Columbia.
I check back in often to see what the current total is and to try to correlate that with the chances that DC will close as well. A burst of closings comes in the evening, and then around 5, DC decides our fate for the following day and posts this on their website.
  I then try to be one of the first people among my colleagues to disseminate this information, posting a new Facebook status and sending text messages. The evenings are then usually spent emailing with colleagues about what a crazy week this has been and, more recently, being smug about not having planned out the next day that is now not going to happen. Life is too short to plan school days that won't ever come to pass. Following the smugness is a wave of guilt for having so much time off, and a nagging feeling that I really should be using this time more productively. At night I get a few things done for school, watch some TV, eat some more, and hit the hay.
  Then, mid-day the next day, there comes a critical hour when the number of schools with announced closures drops dramatically from around the 400-500 range to below 100, and that is when the whole cycle begins once again. Checking for information, trying to beat colleagues to the punch. More eating.

At the moment I'm in the phase of rapidly refreshing and trying to calculate the chances of being closed for a fourth day. The hour of reckoning is soon upon us. Anyone else in the DC area having a similar cycle to their days?

Monday, February 8, 2010

School and the Funny Things that Happen There: Closed

Well, there will be no funny kid quotes from today..snow day! When I taught in Louisiana, we got a dusting of snow once or twice, and the next day the kids would always be talking about the snowmen they supposedly made with less than an inch of snow. Well this DC storm, otherwise known as Snowpocalypse / Snowmageddon / SNOMG has dumped around 25 inches of snow on the city this weekend.
  It was a close one, though, with the District at first declaring a two-hour delay and then finally changing it to a cancellation. And more snow is on the way Tuesday and Wednesday! The kids might forget what school is.
  Perhaps this weekend's 100th day project is staving off cabin fever for a bit longer for some families. Today is the 100th day of--well let's put it this way. Friday was the 99th day of school (I suppose only day #98.5 if we're being technical with the storm-related early closing), so whenever we next go to school will be the 100th day of school. Somehow it has evolved in elementary schools that this day of 10x10 is cause to celebrate the number one hundred in all its forms--I've heard of schools doing a sausage 1 with two pancake zeroes for the hundredth day, and then a slew of other 100th day related projects. Finding the percents of different color M&Ms in a handful to celebrate 100, doing 100 math problems, or making the number 100 in as many ways as possible. One of my favorites is being quiet for 100 seconds. In past years I've read a poem with 100 words, skip counted various ways to 100, had a writing project about how you'd spend $100, and had kids string together 100 pieces of cereal to make necklaces. Phew! This year I'm cutting back on some the 100th day projects in favor of more of our normal lessons, but we're still going to work in some hundreds.

  Over the weekend, the kids had to create a collection of 100 things, or bring in a string that's 100 centimeters, or change a recipe so that it serves 100 people. Now with this added time snowed in at home, some kids might be doing more than one hundredth day collection! 100 times asking mom to go out and play in the snow....watching 100 cartoons....making 100 snowballs....checking the school closings list 100 times....
  Whether they're working on collections of 100 or not, we've gotten over 100 centimeters of snow this winter--plenty for at least a few snowmen.
Washington Monument photo from AFP / Getty Images

Friday, February 5, 2010

Twittering Blizzard

No--it's not that I've been tweeting so much that one might liken it to a blizzard of tweets, there's just been the one so far. But thanks to this DC blizzard, we closed school early and I had some time to write my first ever tweet! Let the blizzard of tweets and the blizzard of snow begin!