Monday, November 30, 2015

What to My Wondering Eyes?

It has been a couple of weeks since my last post seems like November came and went and I believe I missed it!  My inspiration for this week was a trip to the movie theater.  I have been wanting for 497 days to see the final installment of the Hunger Games trilogy.  My husband and I ditched the kids for a date night.  I had read the books over and over, seen the other movies many times micro analyzing and as we stood in line for tickets to the second part of Mocking Jay I had no idea what was in store.  After we purchased tickets we moved down the line to refreshments.  I was handed the drink cups and asked  if I wanted butter on my popcorn.  Ooh! ahh, no big surprise yet...that's when it happened.  I saw the drink machine.  Now, I must interject here that I am from a very small Midwest town and things get to us a bit after the bigger cities.  This was one of those things.  I was in charge of popcorn my husband the drinks. After I got the popcorn I turned to see my husband looking confused.  

"Where do I get ice?" he asked.  I looked and before I could experiment a young kid says, "just push your cup there", pointing to the lever in the dispenser.  ( small town) Then the lights flashed and the drink selections began. "What do you want?" He asked me.  I said, "I want Diet Coke."  Well then he pressed Diet Coke an tons of flavor choices popped up.  
"What kind?" He asked again.  "Regular Diet Coke" was my reply.
Then it was his turn.  He chose Coke and then many flavor choices came up. 
"This is nuts!" He said. "I just want Coke", the best part was him talking directly to the machine as if it understood.   

I have to say that was pretty cool.  But there was more to come.  I sat watching the previews and noticed that graphics on the screen were so amazing. A 3D quality without the glasses.  Crisp, clear, picture with a sound quality that literally made the hair on my neck stand.  These are the times random thoughts start swimming in my head.
Is this what my parents thought the first time they had cable color television?  Or what my grandparents thought the first time they same a television screen illuminated with life.  It stuck in my head and I started thinking about all the technological advances just since I was a child.  The Coke machine was sweet, I remember when we got the fountain pop machine in a gas station that we could do ourselves, I remember having soda pulled on a soda bar as a little girl in a pharmacy with one of the last working soda bars in the state.  What a difference in just 40 years.  
So I start thinking of my firsties and all of the advances that they will witness.  The things that their wondering eyes will behold, just like myself in front of a soda fountain that can make any flavor I want by simply pushing a button.  The awe I felt looking at the "magic" of it all.
The best part was my husband looking at me and saying," of all the choices we could have had wasn't it funny that we both chose the regular, the one we know and are used to?"  I thought about it. It is like my students they like to have the choice there but they usually choose the the choice they know, but they have the choice.  So within the "regular" apps we use I am showing them some "magic" and awesome within those apps that will give them the choice to choose a different way to create.  Even if they choose the safe and "regular" way I will know they had the choice, and I think that will be the thing to keep the wonder and excitement and a sense of adventure with our new technology.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ask A Deeper Question

Well another week has flown by and sitting last night with my 19 year old son (a freshman in college) I got my inspiration for this week’s post.  My son commutes to school this year and has been kind enough to volunteer in my classroom once in awhile.  That is where the inspiration happened.  I was sitting and talking with him about life, work, evaluations etc.  I looked at him and asked if he thought I was a good teacher.  He said, “yeah mom”.

Now, I took this with a grain of salt because he is my son and he knows where allowance comes from.  So I asked a deeper question.  “Why and how am I a good teacher?”  This is where he took a little bit longer to give me answer.   He said that sitting in my first grade classroom he had learned something he had never learned before.   I was kind of surprised and shocked to hear this still thinking he was being silly.  Yet I was intrigued.  I went on with the conversation wondering what he possibly could he have learned in the first grade classroom that he did not truly know?

He went on to tell me that the experiment I had performed in the classroom was so cool.  I remembered then that he had raised his hand along with the children while we voted on whether a pumpkin would float or not.   I remember him doing this and I thought at the time he was just playing along with the kids.   I know now that he truly was learning in the moment.

The question posed to the children was “will a pumpkin sink or float”.  We looked at heavy things then we looked at light things.  We looked at solid things and hollow things. With each part of the experiment we tried,  we thought out loud.  What did we think might happen with a pumpkin?   After we had dropped several things into a tub of water we were ready to do the pumpkin.  We did a thumbs up thumbs down. “Who thinks the pumpkin will float? Thumbs up. Who thinks it will sink?  Thumbs down.  As I gauge the room I noticed all of my children excited and ready to vote some thumbs were up, but many were down.  As we counted down I held pumpkin over the water, every face was anticipating what would come next.

The look of shock on all of their faces told me that they had just seen something that they had never imagined, including the 19 year old boy sitting in my classroom.

I asked him how could it possibly be in school no teacher had ever explained that a pumpkin with float.  He said he did not have me for a first grade teacher. I laughed.  Then he told me he now understood why an aircraft carrier can float as well.  This is something I had added into the end of my experiment explaining to my students as we looked at a picture of an aircraft carrier and talked about where the hollow parts of an aircraft carrier would be and where the air would be to keep it floating in the ocean.   Many of my students were excited to go home and drop other things in water to see what would float and what would sink.

Back to my living room and talking to my 19 year old son.  he told me it was cool how I talk to my students like they are people, not 6 year olds, not babies, but people.  He said I talk to them the same way I talk to him.  I asked what he meant.  His answer was a response to my initial question.  He said I don’t water down learning, I don’t give them little pieces, I show them then connect it to the real world.  He said it was cool and asked if he could come in an other free days to see what else he could learn in first grade.

I was so excited!  I have always believed children will rise to meet the expectation level you have for them. I do set the bar high, but hold a hand in the process if needed and allow the children who are already there to run with thoughts and ideas.  Differentiating doesn’t mean make it easy, it means meet them where there are and support the way.  

So the next time your child at home says “yeah mom”, ask a deeper question, you just might find out something you never knew.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

I Wonder If They Know...

     So I was setting my yearly professional goal back in August.  I was all ready school hadn't even started.  I thought about it all summer, what would I commit to? I filled out the google doc and overachiever that I am I even included a clever picture!  See below picture.  My goal for myself this year was simple really, I would commit to journal every Friday and reflect on something positive.  I had the paper ready to give to my principal, check.... and moving on.  

   Week one was easy, I survived the first few days with my new, untrained, eager firsties.   My positive was that I was still smiling.  The second week again Friday came and I sat there thinking, and thinking.  Then, I sat there, hmm I thought wow I am really tired, I need to get home and rest.  So the "reflective" writing became the "urrghh, this is the thing I need to do before I can go". But now it was my goal so I had to.  

     Much like my first graders I sat there unwilling, unwanting, uninterested and done for the day. "I don't want to"... I could hear the whining rising in my mind.  So I sat and wrote something down.  It wasn't "bad" writing but I could not call it a "reflective" writing.  Actually the "writing itself was messy and I had a hard time reading it back.  So I did this for a few weeks every Friday.  Looking back at my journal, there was something happening, and not positive.  I noticed that now each week the "reflection" was shorter, weaker and less legible.

     If I knew this was a positive thing and I knew it would make me a better teacher why could I not give 100% and pour my heart into this?  I am not saying it has to be lengthy to be reflective but I literally have a page with 2 sentences... REALLY? 

     I watched my class one day and I started to see a pattern.  My kids were so excited to read but writing is hard so it is not the thing they want to jump into and do for short spurts let alone long stamina writing.  I started on a mission to make my firsties readers and writers, knowing one discipline would strengthen the other and visa versa.  

     So how could I convince them... "Writing Journal?".  I told the kids it was Friday and they had been awesome all week, "I have a surprise for you. Today we are going to use a reflection journal.  In this journal you can chose any book or story we have read, listened to and you can reflect in your new response journal!"

  So I modeled and got mine out. I showed where we would write the title and the author and a good sentence or more if we wanted and were able about the story and why we chose it.  Then when writing was done they could get out their crayons and color a picture that matches the part they wrote about.  Oh my, they were so thrilled.

    #1 the paper was not our regular writing paper, it was small lines and in a spiral notebook so that was like the big kids, also there was a possibility to write a bout a cool book no one else had read yet.  they worked hard for about 17 minutes of no walk no talk.  I sat there in awe.  

How could they just write and have fun, what was different? I had a journal , but I did not want to write in it, how can I be excited like my students?  So... I kept thinking for a couple more weeks.  I knew in the back of my mind what I needed to do but I was afraid.  Yep afraid.  The 6 year olds in my room had so much courage to tackle the new, unknown, paper medium and freedom of topics, and I couldn't pick up my pencil.  

Sitting at lunch one day another educator was talking with me.  "I think you should try blogging", she said.
"hmm...hmm...yeah, no I don't think I can do that." I replied.
"You really should, it can be a great way to reflect and pushing that button to publish will add value to what you do,"  was her quick reply.
Now, the fact that she blogs and I have read her blog regularly made me think I could not do anything like that.  I was worried I would say something incorrectly, have spelling errors, sound like was not intelligent.  You think of the negative, panicked thought and that is what I was thinking. I had every excuse to not blog.  

The seed was planted though. That Friday I picked up my reflection journal and thought o.k, here we go, get it done.  At that moment the seed that was planted had a burst of growth. Maybe I should type today and I could maybe write a post to blog later. So I started typing.  Ideas and cool things were floating around my head. I typed. I reread. I typed some more. This went on for a while.  I looked at the clock and an hour was gone!  WHAT?  It was so easy.  

So I came home and read what I wrote to my husband and again positive words, "just post it" is what he said. so I did.  I wonder every time I write now if the people I work with every day have any clue how scared I was to try this new venture. I wonder if they know I am taking this leap and pushing myself quietly to be brave like my firsties.  I wonder if my firsties know that they teach me daily...Oh yeah, I know that answer, they know, because I tell them they teach me something awesome everyday because first graders really are they brightest people on the planet. (Yes, I really do tell them that, and they do not doubt it!)

My post tonight is not why I blog.  That was my first post. This post is my new professional goal for this year.  Yes, I am editing my original reflection idea.  I do not expect to force ideas out weekly but I would like to try to write weekly.  my commitment is to post at least twice monthly.  I have also realized the reason the journal worked for my kids but not for me was because I needed something new and fresh for myself.  I actually look forward to writing each week, it is a rush and I feel like even if no one reads it, I put myself out there.  But if one person reads it and has an "aha moment" or a "right on" then it mattered to someone that I shared and pushed the button. 

 Thank you to the positive people who write weekly and inspire me with "aha moments" and "right ons".  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just Smile!

So this week the song that came rushing to my mind was a Nat King Cole song Smile, that I remember hearing in the movie Savannah Smiles.  One of my favorite movies from the 80's for many reasons, but the biggest reason was that song. 
" Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by"
This was the song that rushed to the front of my mind in class today.  We are implementing 1:1 technology in our district this year so every app, project, use of our iPads brings new challenges.  Normally I can keep ahold of the reins by scouting an app or site prior to kids so I can troubleshoot and prepare my firsties for unexpected issues.  However, there are things we can not control.  The new assessment we will be using this year is on iPad instead of 1:1 with the teacher.  Keeping things fun and positive is the only way to keep firsties from stressing out. 

So on a side note, you know how animals can smell fear?  Well so can 6 year olds!  My students will follow me with a smile and no fear... Unless they see me stressed.  Well watching my firsties enter a 9 digit student number and then a password with letters and numbers combined, they could hear the stress in my voice.  I did not know what the screen would look like next, how it would respond, if my kids could maneuver, etc.  My principal, an aid and myself were in the room floating around to assist.  After the test was done I felt drained!  I felt awful like my kids were super stressed.  When they came back from recess they were bounding with energy and giggling...What?  I thought they would be wiped out, over stressed, overloaded!

Yes, it took longer than planned, it was hard work, but we rose to the challenge.  Another day that my plans would be a mess because things took longer than planned, were not as smooth as I pictured in my mind.  We had to adjust and do a few things differently in the afternoon so we could finish our day on a high note.  Smiles and high fives as my bus students left the building made me stop and reflect on the day.  They were amazing, I was amazed by their ability to shine in a moment that could have been scary.  I walked back to my classroom and I heard the song pumping through my brain once again...
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying? 
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile.

So much power!  If we remember that positive energy and something as simple as a smile can redirect many issues we first view as impossible or frightening.  Someone once told me it's impossible to be sad if you are able to smile and get someone to smile back at you. So when it gets crazy, I'm gonna stop, take a breathe and smile at one of my firsties so they know I believe in them!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jumping in Without a Plan

For years I have been a lurcher in the shadow of the open internet.  I have been able to agree with a blogger with smile or exit a page in disgust basically unnoticed. I never imagined I would attempt to put myself out there, bare, unguarded, completely vulnerable.

         Well today I step out of the shadows and jump in trembling with excitement or possible severe fear!  So this is my very first attempt to blog so please be kind.  I have been sitting here thinking about all the possible things I can write about.  I have several avenues to reflect on.  Ideas and thoughts of concern, excitement, disbelief, motivation, realization and hope.  So which is the direction?  Well, indecisive as I am I will just start writing and see where it takes me.

I guess I should start with who I am... I am a teacher of first graders. I am a mother of a son, a daughter, and a dog who believes he is a cat that I accept as a child.  If you followed that you must suffer from the same creative thinking I do.  Last but not least, I am the wife of the smartest man I have ever known and I really mean that.  

My week started the normal Monday, busy and crazy, but also had some high points.  As I often do, I had lesson plans nice and tidy ready to go. There were objectives posted and the room was clean, desks were wiped down.  Every Monday is a new start for me.  I was a weight watcher for years and I would weigh in on Monday, that was always like my reset point.  So I guess the thing I think about is the need for the reset is vital.  If you don't reset your habits you will continue to get the same product.  I guess if your product is perfect then you don't need to worry, I have yet to reach anything close to perfection.

Monday was Columbus Day.  So we started by reading about Christopher Columbus.  As I got started with my real aloud I looked around to see 25 pairs of eyeball looking uninterested and disconnected.  At this point there was a choice: continue reading and push through, or close the book and insert a real life application.  So I jumped in and started with an application lesson.  We looked around the room. " Imagine that you are locked in and not able to leave.” I told them.  Even better, “ We started school on August 19, and today is October 12. That means if you were Christopher Columbus you would have been on your boat sailing that whole time. or in our classroom the whole time .  What are we missing in here?"
Well the conversation got pretty silly from then on.  First they decided we would starve to death, then they realized there was no refrigerator. After that the restroom situation and lack of shower facilities.  It was a powerful conversation, they were engaged, smiling, being silly for a second... Well they are 6.  I was having fun and they were having fun and they will remember not that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but that a long sea travel 600 years ago would have been unpleasant, hard, gross, and most importantly if you got hungry there was no McDonald's to go to.  Had I just stuck with the perfectly fine, perfectly factual, perfectly normal read aloud, I would have missed the opportunity to share a real world connection with history.  After we had our crazy chat we went back to the book.  This time as we read facts they were attentive, excited and wide eyed!  That is how I love my little firsties to look.
Had I stuck to the tidy lesson plan I would have robbed my students of a truly authentic learning moment.  The lesson learned! Teach where you can connect and be real.  Days like this happen often, I do not go back to my lesson plan book and rewrite my plans, mostly because I can not get 2 seconds at this point in the year.  There may be another reason though; maybe I would look ineffective or unorganized to anyone looking at my plans.
I didn’t really have an idea where I was going with this.  Perhaps I just needed to write this so I could see for myself how much more important it is to be flexible, gauge my audience, and look for active engagement.  
Do you have these moments?  I am so afraid I will look like I don’t know what I am doing.  Do I dwell alone in the world of "am I good enough?"  At the end of each day I just want to know I did all I could to make a difference.  Sometimes to make that difference I may need to allow my teaching to be interrupted.