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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You Might Think We See the President

It's spring break! We've had visitors in town to see the DC sights, so I've been recommending various highlights of the city. This is much the same position the second graders were in when they wrote their first pen pal letters a couple of weeks ago to our Louisiana pen pals. The assignment was to tell all about DC in the first paragraph of their letters, and here are some of the top features of our city that they chose to share.

DC is a safe place to be because we have people here in the U.S.A. like the policemen and the ambulance who keep us safe.


The President lives in our city. My mother lives in DC.


Washington has the only capital of the U.S. In the spring the cherry blossoms bloom.


Washington is a great place to be if you want to visit a different state. Some people visit DC to
know if they are going to move.

It's a place where you can run, have
fun, plant, eat, and shop.

Washington has a lot of buildings.


DC is fun because they have places like Pump It Up. That is a place where kids come for their birthdays.

You might think we see the President. Well, we don't but we wish we could see the President.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pajama Day


Today was Pajama Day! It was also the day we ate popcorn during math, the day the kindergarten sold cupcakes and second graders could buy one, the day before spring break, the day that Caden brought in some cookies for everyone for snack, and the day of the math competition. Really just a whole day of specialness. The main star of the day, though, was definitely the pajamas.

Jake entered the room this morning in his pajamas and matching robe and literally the first words out of his mouth were, "Who wants to look at ME ?!" Now, when I go to a party with, let's say, a new sweater on, or a new haircut, I sometimes feel like asking everyone, "Who wants to look at ME?" but that option is not available to adults. We have to stick either a) with waiting to see if anyone notices and then saying something like, "Oh this old thing?" b) trying to subtly draw attention to the special look. New pair of shoes? Try commenting on the host's floors. Snazzy necklace? Run your fingers along it every once in a while until someone notices.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Give 'Em some Crayons

Coloring. I need to do more coloring in class. That is my take-home message of today.

This morning we took a few minutes to make goodbye cards for our student teacher when she stepped out of the room to observe in another class. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the room was as close to silent as it's ever been in the second grade. I didn't even particularly SAY that the noise level would have to be silent, the kids just picked up markers and became so intent on producing a fantastic creation that making noise didn't even cross their minds. Having their own individual card to work on made a world of difference--this was no anarchy or tennis-leaning dictatorship from our earlier government scenarios. Just an artistic moment of total peace.

Thank you Crayola.
 

Monday, March 22, 2010

But It Says


Lunch food opening methods keep second graders busy for a sizeable percentage of lunch time every day. There are the ketchup packets, Thermoses, and fruit cup pull-ring lids that are all just really tricky if you don't have quite the right angle, and the yogurt tinfoil covers are liable to burp out a dribble of yogurt down your hand if you don't get the pressure release just right. Most encounters with containers, wrappers, or packets cause frustration, but some can be wholly amusing if you're generally prone to silliness anyway.

Today I glanced over during lunch to see Alec with his fist balled up, attacking his milk carton. "What?" he asked, as he picked up his straw and aimed it at the carton's round perforated hole. "It says 'punch here.' "
Illustration by Mark A. Hicks

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Not Trash

I almost threw out Darien's tooth today! Correction--I threw out Darien's tooth today, but then dug it out of the trashcan from underneath used tissues, lunch remnants, and pencil sharpenings, because I happen to possess the teacher super-power of trash immunity. I had noticed a plastic bag on the floor and tossed it while scanning the room for any other quick fixes that would make me feel better about our classroom's level of cleanliness. It's really amazing how much more satisfied I am with the state of the classroom and perhaps even the world at large when just a few stray markers have been put away, the empty sandwich bag has been disposed of, and the leftover lunch utensils have been picked up off the floor.

When Darien asked to have his tooth back, I truly had no idea what he was talking about.
"I took it?" I asked. I did sound like something I would do, particularly if the tooth in question had been getting more attention than the literacy center assignments, but I had no recollection of confiscating anyone's newly lost tooth. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah--it was in the bag." And thus commenced the trash digging.
Fortunately, the lost lost tooth situation turned out just fine, which is more than I can say for another trash situation a couple of years ago.

One year, my second grade class studied the physics of flight. The culminating project of our months-long unit was the design and construction of airplanes out of balsa wood for a flight contest. A few days before our final flight contest, I came into school one morning to find the laundry basket that usually held the twenty-four planes empty and sitting next to the also-empty trash can. Still in denial, I checked the closet to see if I had perhaps stored the planes in the closet without first putting them in the basket. When this hopeful theory did not pan out, I had to admit that I knew exactly where the planes were—in the dumpster. On the verge of panic, I ran through the school to find the custodian. Out of breath from running, I panted, “I think—I think the cleaning crew THREW AWAY our planes--ALL of our planes, all 24 of them--why would they do that? They are clearly not trash—they are planesour planes that are now gone!”

The custodian and I put on latex gloves and opened the dumpsters behind the school. Bag by bag, we combed through an entire day’s worth of school trash before finally finding the planes among peanut butter sandwich crusts and orange peels. Thoroughly repulsed, we disentangled the pile of plastic propellers and balsa wood wings from dirty napkins and still-dripping milk cartons. We had worked so hard on those planes that I couldn't just leave them there in the bags of trash. I salvaged what remained of the kids' work and sprayed an industrial disinfectant all over them before realizing that there was just no way I was going to put these trash-covered and now chemical-covered creations back in the kids' hands. It worked out alright, more or less, actually. The kids whose planes didn't fly so well got to revise their whole design!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Elephants, but then No Elephants, but then Elephants After All

I saw in the paper today that the annual DC Elephant Walk was yesterday! Sadly, our school is no longer on the route to the circus. Though we don't get to go watch the elephants stroll by anymore, it was certainly quite the unexpected school-day excitement a few years ago.
To an eight-year-old city kid, there are few joys greater than seeing elephants walk down the street next to your school in the middle of a Monday afternoon. Certainly none more random. By the same token, there are few disappointments fiercer than being promised elephants and getting no elephants. One spring day during my first year teaching in Washington, DC, we experienced both in an elephant-induced emotional rollercoaster.

The day began with a story on NPR just before I stepped out of the car on my way to school in Northeast DC. Several elephants from a traveling circus would be parading through Capitol Hill that morning. I came to find out that not only would they be passing within two blocks of our building, but that there was a school-wide plan to drop everything at 12:30, hop around the corner, and see the enormous animals in all their glory. Apparently this had become an annual occurrence.

12:30 rolled around, and we left the classroom in search of a mystery “surprise.” “That’s the surprise!” I told the students as we tiptoed through a large puddle resulting from a broken water main gushing into the crosswalk. Though a few students perhaps believed that water pouring onto the concrete actually was the surprise, we were heading for something even better.

We chose a spot along the elephants’ route and waited. We waited some more. And some more, before finding out that the elephants were still on the train and wouldn’t be arriving until around two-ish. “OK!” I announced in my best “no big deal” voice. “We’ve got some stuff to do back at school, so we’ll just go learn for a little bit, and then pop back over here for this really neat thing.” A line of rather grouchy children followed me back through the large puddle and into the school.

Two-ish rolled around, and we put our coats back on and lined up at the door, ready to forsake our standing Monday appointment with the Spanish teacher for this still mysterious surprise. Before we had even gotten to the threshold of the front door, another class passed us going in a decidedly non-elephant direction. “I guess the surprise isn’t happening until after school is over, kids. The surprise was elephants. Elephants and horses. But we won’t get to see them. Sorry. But that makes us just in time for….Spanish!”

A short while later, as most students had started to get over the major letdown of the day (and a couple had spiraled into melancholy), news came that the elephants were off the train, headed our way, and would be arriving before the end of school! Elation!

From their questions as we walked back over to the designated viewing spot, it appeared that some of the children were under the impression that they’d somehow be riding the elephants or at least petting them, but neither of these things happened. We simply watched from the sidewalk as the impressively huge and lumbering creatures were led down the road to the circus venue by their trainers. The elephants came and the elephants went without a single instance of trunk trumpeting or uber-pooping, or any of the other fancy things that elephants do. We did, however, see some PETA protesters.

Photo Credit: 2009 Photo Carol Guzy/the Washington Post Photo

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sites to Check Out!

Cool! The website that was collecting different views out of classroom windows featured mine today! You really can't beat an unobstructed view of Yum's Chinese food.

Plus, there's a new Carnival of Educators (including me!) over at Andrea Hermitt's Education Headlines Examiner with various posts about the rewards of teaching....and less than rewarding moments!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

This Seat Reserved for Analyze

We're down a student these days after one of the Turtles moved, and anticipation has been high among the kids about whether or not we'll get our second new student of the year. We're going about our normal business, but the possibility of a new second grader showing up any day is definitely in the back of kids' minds.

On Wednesday, we had a staff workshop in my classroom. Teachers were sorting different questions we had created for lessons by type into different levels of thinking. We grouped together all of the basic "remember" questions or the more complex "evaluate" questions, and so on. Some groups used Post-It notes as headings when sorting their questions, and one of these labels got left behind on our table. The next morning in class, Byron walked into the room and found a sticky note that said, "Analyze." "Is the new kid sitting here?" he asked. As it turns out, I found out on Friday that we will be getting a new student! His name, sadly, is not Analyze.

Oh--and speaking of sticky notes, I asked Anya the next day about the Post-It she taped down to her desk that said, "glasses." As it turns out--it was not there to claim a spot for her glasses to live, but to remind her to put them on! This is certainly a critical rule to remember as a user of glasses, and one that can be rather difficult. I'm tempted to use Anya's method with Thomas, as well, to remember to put on his glasses. Really, I could pretty much cover everyone's desk with such reminders: Don't pick your nose. Turn in homework. Chair legs on the floor. Look at Ms. Sarah's lesson. Right now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Accessories

When you are in elementary school, there are various new items you get to wear for the first time. There's a learning curve for the different rules and procedures that go along with each. Shoes with laces, for example. Mario told me today that he just learned how to tie his shoes and was very proud of this. Several kids in my class this year have gotten eyeglasses for the first time this year, and have been dabbling in the field of "the proper way to use and care for glasses."
One step that is very important but not always followed is, Put the glasses on. A key rule to remember. Another component of caring for glasses involves the use of a hard-shelled case. Second graders are immensely excited by glasses cases and never fail to show me both the inside and outside of their cases when they first get them.
 
Keep your glasses in the case when you go to PE.  Another must.
Glasses need to be cleaned with a special cloth when they get dirty. And if that happens to be in the middle of the reading lesson, well, the special cloth is coming out.

Glasses can be slid extremely far down on your nose to the very tip if you need to see something far away.
This is an optional step in eyeglass use, but a very appealing one.
Today Anya, the newest inductee into the legion of glasses-wearers, came up with a new innovation. 
Designate a spot for the glasses on your desk and label the spot.
I wonder if this had been a major problem for her. "Hmmm. Time to take off my glasses. But how will I ever remember where to set them down?" Fortunately, though, this problem has now been solved.
There's a lot to learn and remember when you first get glasses, but at least you can create a safe space in the classroom to park them when you take them off. Not so with another item new to some elementary school girls: bras. The basics of any rulebook on the topic would surely include, 
 
Take care to prevent the undergarment from ending up on the rug in the middle of the classroom.  
  One year, though, it became apparent that Deandra hadn't yet read this owner's manual for her new underclothes.
   I don’t know at what point, exactly, Deandra tuned out of the math lesson happening on the rug that day and turned her attention towards other endeavors, but by the time she got up from the carpet, her bra was no longer in its original location. It was located on the corner of the rug. I was mid-way through a set of clean-up directions to the rest of the class when I spotted it lying there.
Fortunately, though, the misplaced unmentionables were out of view of most of the class, and nobody noticed. I figured I could deal with the situation once the kids were safely distracted by all of the bustling that usually goes along with putting their papers away. As I was wrapping up my directions, however, I noticed Imani noticing the bra. Now, bras being still rather new to third grade girls, Imani must not have been completely certain how it all worked, either. “Could that be mine?” she must have been wondering. “Did my bra just spring out from under my shirt and land over there on the rug? That would be weird and rather embarrassing. I sure hope not, but who knows how these things work?”

    To be sure that all clothing items she had put on that morning were still in the right place, and that the bra lying out in plain view was not hers, Imani placed two hands on the neck of her sweatshirt, stretched it out in front of her, and popped her face down inside for a quick peek.
    As the children began a flurry of paper-putting-away and were fortunately preoccupied, Imani marched over to the rug, picked up the bra, pinching it between her fingers as if it might bite her, and carried it to me at arm’s length.
   
I whisked her hastily behind my desk and motioned to her to drop the bra under some papers while the last of the groups were returning to their seats.
    Perhaps if this happens again I should employ Anya's labeling strategy...

Monday, March 8, 2010

The View From Room 202

All teaching and learning in my classroom gets suspended at a few key, window-centric points during the school year. The most notable of these is the moment when it begins to snow. Whatever it is we're doing with fractions is nowhere near as enthralling as a 120 square foot view full of snow. Yes, that's right, our classroom window is gigantic. It extends all the way from the floor to the ceiling, and across more than half of the classroom. I'm not complaining about the size of the window--don't get me wrong. It lets in a lot of light and adds to the modern feel of our school building. And really--a short break so we can all just stare at some falling white flakes is a pretty great use of those 3 minutes. I'm just saying that there's a great likelihood of some kids staring out the window when the full wall of glass is one of the main attractions in our classroom.

A while ago I came across a website where teachers could send in a snapshot of the views from their classrooms. Many of the views feature trees, playgrounds, grass, and parking lots. I'd actually kill for a view of a staff parking lot, but alas, we have no such thing at which to look through a window or otherwise, and I park in a much-coveted alley that gets filled up very quickly. We are on the second floor and overlook busy Florida Avenue, a Chinese food restaurant, a warehouse, and a corner lot covered with stones where the gas station used to be. Talk about not getting much done in class--they removed the underground fuel holding tanks one year and productivity in the third grade took a dramatic downturn for a solid week.

It's charmingly urban out our window, though nothing much usually of note. One year a kid saw some people fighting, another year a teacher saw someone steal something out of her trunk (and actually ran out to stop him). We periodically have to stop a lesson for sirens, but other than that it's just a road and some cars. A steam vent from the warehouse gives off some fairly dramatic bursts, but it soon just becomes part of the everyday landscape. For the majority of the day, the scene out our window is just an average city street, though even that, I learned the other day, is quite fascinating if you're eight years old.

On Friday, I ate lunch with the kids who sit closest to the full wall of glass and sure enough, there was some fairly routine road-type stuff happening down in the city below. What seemed routine and rather boring to me, though, dominated the entire lunchtime conversation. A car had somehow ended up by the side of the road with its hazard lights on, directly below our window. Well, this caused no end of speculation about how it got to be there, if it was or was not abandoned, and a lengthy discussion of the various uses of brake lights. Dominic kept staring down at the car, forming various hypotheses about its situation and the plight of its owners. At one point he abandoned his chair altogether in favor of a more prime car-watching spot sitting on the floor to have a better view of the road below us.

Mia joined him a few minutes later, sprawled out on her stomach, watching the car while eating her sandwich. "Maybe its engine is dead." she said. "A car doesn't have a heart. Some people call the engine the heart of the car." That was pretty much the extent of the action with the car on the side of the road, but it did occupy the whole table for the entire lunch time. As we were cleaning up, a car-transport type truck drove by, carrying eight cars. Exciting views from room 202!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

And Twirl-Two-Three-Four

The dance competition, once again, was fantastic! I can't...remember why I was almost not going to bring my class! Oh yeah--learning. Pshh. The would-be social studies lesson originally planned for this afternoon was no match for an eight year old in a bowtie.

Two of my students that I taught for two years won first place out of the whole fourth grade! Clearly I must have been a major contributing factor to their dance moves....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dancing with a Boy or a Girl

Okay, okay, we're going to the dance competition tomorrow.

  For a few years now, our school has incorporated dance into the PE curriculum ala Mad Hot Ballroom. There's even a competition and the whole dance unit is a HUGE deal among the kids. In my third graders' end of year letters to the next year's rising third graders, news of and advice about the dance competition always features prominently.


  The kids are partnered up with yes, a boy or a girl, and learn proper hand placement on the partner's shoulder or waist. They learn the steps to the Bachata or one of several other dance styles, and when the PE coach blows his whistle, everyone spins his or her partner. The synchronization of so many little couples twirling at the same time in fancy clothes is quite excellent.
  We, in second grade, though, are not old enough yet for the fun and skill of ballroom dance, so we make up the audience. There are several dance competitions--each grade has a separate contest for the first round, and the more coordinated and rhythmic children get ribbons and progress to the semi finals. Then come the finals, where the real action happens - trophies. We attended the third grade first round, but got a little wiggly toward the end. Yes, we lost about 45 minutes of instructional time so that we could watch the competition, but it's a big deal at our school, and bringing the second graders gets them psyched to participate the next year.

  Then came a whole lot of snow and not a whole lot of learning. I really do love watching the dance competition, but after missing so much instructional time with snow days, I was none too keen on the idea of dropping everything to go see another round. But....we've been back to the normal learning for long enough now that giving up a little class time wouldn't be too crazy (half of the time is our recess time anyway)....and the competition organizers talked up the finals so much at our whole-school meeting today....so we're going tomorrow! Bring on the Bachata and the twirling!