And one more thing…..

Yesterday, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. Armed with a listing of my newly reorganized Leveled Library inventory, I forced myself away from the picture books and materials more suitable to second grade independent readers in order to focus on increasing nonfiction texts.  20 year old buying habits are not easy to break.

Although the sale was not as big of a bargain as I’ve experienced previously (economics?), I still walked away with some nice reads for my third graders — lots of N, O, and P texts — in the nonfiction genres. Sometimes there is a lot of flotsam in the materials Scholastic puts out, and the warehouse sale does involve quite a bit of sifting through, but that being said, getting books at 25 to 50% off list certainly is a big deal when adding to a class library with personal funds.

And I bought myself a book or two for read-alouds.  If you’ve never read Bats At The Beach by Brian Lies, I highly recommend it.  I first discovered this book on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scot Simon.  Scot was reading this book with Daniel Pinkwater (who doesn’t love Guys In Space?) — it was so engaging that I bought it right off.  And it has been a well-loved read aloud by my students ever since.  Well, on this trip to the warehouse I discovered Brian Lies newest edition, Bats at the Library. Equally enjoyable — and we premiered this book during our read aloud this afternoon!

This morning, we spent more time on the library’s organization.  Under the impression that the students were putting books back in their proper bins, I was shocked to find that over 20 had carelessly been thrown in any available bin.  Regie Routman speaks to us about the gradual release of responsibility — in this instance, I must have not be gradual enough.  So the minilesson I had planned during Literacy Studio turned in to a shared practice of how to put books away.  Will this be the last time? I doubt it.

A New Old Project

Tonight, my colleague Colleen Turco and I shared our new and improved third grade mathematics curriculum with our peers as part of our course final. The more I work on curriculum — and I’ve been at it since 1987 — the more I realize that nothing is every really “finished”. Curriculum is a fluid as the students who populate our classrooms from year to year. Can we ever consider something done? I doubt it.

This project was started nearly a year ago when Colleen and I realized that following the Investigations in Number, Data and Space curriculum strictly left us little time to develop number sense or conversation about mathematics. We also came to the realization that the timing of the units left our students with little time to learn the math facts, multiplication and division, expected in computation. With these things in mind, we spent the summer pulling apart the curriculum and reordering units in a way that seems to make sense for our student population.

Additionally, Colleen, who is our school’s Math Resource Teacher and who knows the big picture like no one else can, made sure we had addressed all the third grade standards in the Massachusetts framework. Working together, we’ve pulled in lessons and resources from many different places (Math Solutions – THANK YOU!) which we felt supported the philosophy of mathematics teaching, yet improved upon, supported, or revisited the curriculum framework.

Now that we’ve developed this document, or plan if you will, and implemented it on a pilot basis in my classroom, Colleen and I are ready to roll it out to the rest of my grade level team — and adjust it. Already I have a list of things that need tweaking.

Our first attempt at making sense out of the mathematics curriculum feels pretty good; although I do have an eye on the standardized testing which I hope will show some improvement over prior years.

We hope any readers of this blog — if you are out there — will offer up suggestions for materials or lessons that will enhance our work in progress.

The Insanity Of It All

This is the time of year when you really need to have “chops” as a teacher. Once the weather becomes fairly reasonable here in New England and the spring sports begin, my students seem to think they are done for the year. Unfortunately, the academic year has six more weeks to go.
Each week has a new set of challenges: starting next week, our challenge is the MCAS Math tests. I get that given the educational climate we live in, testing is here to stay. What I don’t get is why my students need to be tested on the entire third grade curriculum when there’s about one-sixth of the year left (or in the case of the English Language MCAS about one-quarter). What is the point of testing students’ accomplishments when the total curriculum hasn’t been offered. That seems to set the kids — and the schools — up for failure. Or is that the point in the first place?
This is also the time of year when what we fondly refer to as culminating activities seem to take on a life of their own. If it isn’t a field trip, there’s a special event (art fairs, family nights, awards….). The rush to the finish line can be quite chaotic. The students are getting tired of us – time to cut the umbilical cord. End-of-year data collections, placements for next year, retentions – maybe?, special education re-evals, testing, documenting, record-keeping…. oh my!
So to my colleagues, who are testing, writing, evaluating, recommending, and trying to hold down the fort for the next six weeks – cheers!

And happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Taking a Breather

Having finally completed leveling, documenting, and labeling the classroom library, this week finds me in between projects.  What would life be like without a project?  I don’t know because it’s never been tested!

The students are on their way now using their reading bag bookmarks as a guideline for finding just right books in the library.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks as the book exchanges are more independent.

One of the Looms

One of the Looms

One of our activities this week was a trip to the Tsongas Industrial History Center in the Boott Mills.  We are so fortunate to have this terrific resource in our community!  The docents and Park Rangers are both knowlegeable and entertaining and students learn much about the Industrial Revolution as well as the history of Lowell. The Boott Mill is also open to the public as park of the Lowell National Historic Parks.

This trip was as outstanding as the others I’ve been on with my

The Weave Room at the Boott Mill

The Weave Room at the Boott Mill

Third Graders.  The program we participated in – Change in the Making – enabled students to learn about how this area of Massachusetts changed from farmlands to factories over a period of about 100 years.  The black and white photograph is an image of one of the looms outside of the weave room.  Only a few looms inside the room were running on the day we visited, but the clatter was nearly unbearable.   Imagine having to work in such an environment for 10 to 12 hours each day.

One of the most (un)popular parts of the tour was the climb to the fifth floor activity rooms using the spiraling staircase that the Mill Girls would use.  As our guide pointed out, the Mill Girls made several trips up and down the stairs throughout the day.

Lots more fun going down than walking up!

Lots more fun going down than walking up!

In addition to the climbing, students used a cotton gin to remove seeds from the cotton — and also attempted to invent a tool that would do the same.  They observed the living conditions at the Boarding Houses, and learned how Mill workers were recruited to leave farm and family to come to Lowell.

It is always amazing how much the students learn on this trip.  It’s a perfect blend of information sharing and hands-on learning and generally ends up being the event students write about when they reflect on the school year.

No matter if you travel to Lowell with students in tow or on your own, visiting the Mills and learning about the history of Lowell is highly recommended.

Boott Mill stair tread

Boott Mill stair tread