What Matters

It is terribly difficult to keep one’s focus on the things that are important – the “prime directive” for those of us who grew up on Star Trek – no matter what your profession.

For me, the prime directive is to encourage children to be curious, to encourage them to take learning risks, to encourage them to love learning new things, whether or not those things are academic. In current times, education has taken on an air of desperation as policy makers try to jam every child into a one-size-fits all curriculum. What we gain in test scores, we lose in creative possibility.  But I digress.

How easy it is to lose sight of what is important! We have been in school (officially) 2 days and here it is, the morning of the 3rd day (4:30 in the morning to be accurate). So far the things that are occupying my mind are schedules, logistics, paper management, and directives. “When your up to your ass in alligator, it is hard to remember your original objective was to drain the swamp.” I don’t know who said that originally, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a teacher during the first week of school.

Before any magic can take place in my classroom, I need to put aside these distractions. The outside influences that are impeding what I would like to accomplish – my prime directive – need to be shut out.

Energize.

August 27, 1979

They say it’s your birthday….. click the picture:

August 27, 1979 was the day we met you for the first time. And every day since then you have kept us on our toes, amused, and amazed.

1980

Fashionista

Always interested in the latest technology

I will resist doing this: Angel Birthday Boy.  Happy Birthday Matt! You are one heck of a good guy!

Ramping Up For the Re-Entry

My colleagues and I were taking a break from dusting, washing, organizing and throwing yesterday to commiserate on what every educator knows is true: if you don’t get some stress-related malady just as school is starting, you must not be paying attention.  Hello insomnia.

I used to feel like I had some character flaw because this happens to me every year. But my first year in public education, when my new principal – who had 25 years of administration experience AND classroom experience on top of that – openly admitted at Staff Orientation that she never sleeps the “night before”, it was somehow comforting. Maybe this behavior is normal after all.

Holding on to a more relaxed summer lifestyle is not easy to let go of. No matter how much I promise myself – and my spouse – the craziness starts up the minute I start working on my classroom. Some people buy new shoes, new clothes, new school supplies. I buy melatonin in the hope that I’ll sleep through the night. Never works.

Law and Order at 3 anyone?

 

 

The Grand Plan

I broke down today and started to work on a room arrangement.  I am planning on 24 kids – already have 23 on the roster – and have a contingency for a 25th.

Here are some “before” shots from last June:

 

Mail station and conferencing area

View to back of classroom

Step one was to move shovemy desk out of the way. I have a large, desk with an

New front layout

equally large return; thankfully it is not attached! I have rotated the return around so that that kids have access to the knee hole. On top of this space I’ve put a 24-slot letter sorter we use for “mailboxes” and the shiny new iMac that actually runs the web-based programs our district subscribes to. I’m kind of happy with this arrangement already. The mailboxes are inside the classroom space now and not at the doorway causing a logjam. They are lower so the kids should be able to access them. And the computer is now easily accessed by students.

I have an old(er) Dell laptop that I have replaced with a personal netbook. I will

Back of the room

hopefully gain permission from the computer network gatekeepers to access the internet from within our school’s firewall – which will allow me to do what I need to do assessment and data-wise, unplug the laptop and bring it home to continue my school tasks.  We’ll see how long it takes to get all of that permitted.

I’ve also flipped where the classroom library was located to the front of the room. My classroom is at a junction point for 2

New library location

hallways – it is often noisy – which means it is distracting to put the reading conferencing space and/or student tables in that vicinity. I placed the shelves to create a kind of barrier which I hope will insulate us a bit from the hallway noise.  This is also where the gathering space is for whole group lessons.

Finally, I’ve decided to group my students in 6’s – not because that’s such an ideal number for cooperative learning, but because there will be less real estate involved with the desks when we get down to 4 groupings.

Now to work on the tossing; after sending out an all-school message, I got a taker for the table I wanted to get rid of. Next up is to get the TV cart moved in to storage and clear off the countertops. Once that is accomplished, I can bring in my plants and lamps — and some other homey touches. I’ve even located some fire retardant valances on the web. Things are starting to come together.

Yardsale anyone?

Another Look at the Daily Five and Math

How does that saying go? If you’re not green and growing, you’re rip and rotten. One of the key components of the Daily Five – teaching learners to be independent – is not only appealing, but imperative. After some false starts last year (based on my reading of both the D5 and Cafe books), I attended a Daily Five workshop. And the whole thing is becoming less muddled.

Typically, my students don’t do well with a million and one different teaching models thrown at them. We already have a Launch-Explore-Summary model in place for our mathematics instruction. There is a great need for small group/individualized math conferencing and intervention, particularly this year when we transition from the Massachusetts 2004/2009 Frameworks to the Massachusetts version of the Common Core Curriculum. There will be gaps, that is certain.

To address both the transition to a new curriculum and my students’ need for consistency, I have decided to make a go at implementing a Daily Five model during mathematics instruction. What are the five areas going to be? Well, here’s what my current thinking is:

  • Exploration activities based on the launched mini lesson (a “must” do)
  • Strategy Activities. Through the use of games and other constructive activities, students will address computational and conceptual gaps.
  • Problem Solving. All of my students, but particularly second language learners need practice in the structure of problem solving situations. This will be a weekly assignment with time built into our schedule for students to discuss how they solved the problem (rigor! perseverance!)
  • Basic Fact Games/Practice
  • Technology Tool (a chance to use the accompanying programs for our math program OR the interventions found in the Galileo program).
I’ll need a minimum of 85 minutes; 90-100 would be better. That means getting back to class and started on our mathematics work right after recess. Hopefully the stamina-building and direct instruction in expectations for independence will give us greater success. On paper it looks do-able, in reality – I am hoping so.
Planning out the block comes next.  Suggestions welcome.

Purpose

What is my purpose in life?

I was asked that question recently and my white glare honest answer is, I’m still working to uncover that answer. My purpose has been defined differently at every stage of my life.

At different times, my purpose has been defined by different roles: daughter, sister, wife, mother.  Each role carries a separate purpose.  Supporter, caregiver, even pain in the ass. For my family, my purpose is often to be historian; my deep obsession with family history leads me to honor and respect those who came before. It connects me with the history of our country and our world. It causes me to pause, to wonder at the hardships endured so that I could be here in this place at this time.

Professionally, my purpose also has evolved over time and again has been dependent upon my role. I’ve taught every grade level from Pre-K through 12th grade.

Currently, my purpose is intertwined with my role as a third grade teacher in an urban school. For me, my purpose in the classroom carries the responsibility of opening minds to possibilities, to embrace discovery of something new, to discovering that as a learner, you are far more capable than anyone had imagined. To love learning and creating and finding your way – not without false starts and missteps, and not without learning from those missteps.Not without having some fun either. To take pride in what has been accomplished; to ignore those who say “you can’t” . To know that smart is what you are when you work hard… not what you were born with.

My purpose in life, my mission, is to guide learners to these ends. Surely there is no test for this, no measure. The pursuit of such overtakes my life, not just 10 months of the year, but all twelve. It is critical. It is important.

It is my passion.

Classroom Reorg: Making Our Space Less Cluttered

I’ve been spending a bit of time thinking about what the physical atmosphere and arrangement of the classroom projects.  I am a packrat. There, I’ve said it. I saved egg cartons – must have had to toss about 50 of them when we moved 16 years ago – knowing in my teacher brain that I “might need these some day.” Well, someday never came.

As much as I would like to make the classroom into a homey place, I worry about the wisdom of bringing upholstered furnishings into a space and risk bedbugs or other interesting things. Fire inspectors tell us that only 50 percent of our wall surfaces (or is it 20?) can be covered – and nothing within X feet of a door. Sprucing up foggy plexiglass windows with a window valance is out of the question.

Even so, there are things I can take control of. I have a concern that a cluttered classroom translates into a chaotic message for students who are easily distracted. I understand that there have been rules created to ensure teachers have equitable access to equipment -our Union book spells out some of this. But an overhead and extra cart in the room – I don’t use this any longer as we recently obtained projection equipment – just takes up space.

Here are some of the things I am considering:

  • Clear the countertops as much as possible. Use the surfaces for displaying special literature or projects.
  • Using the “return” on my desk for the students’ mailbox center and for the newer computer. Where will all that “stuff” on the return go? I am rehabbing a 4-drawer file cabinet which I’d like to use to get stuff of the surface areas.
  • Get rid of the rectangular reading table. I have a round reading table that can be used for conferences or listening or what-have-you. I want to conference right at the student’s desk or read in small groups in a rug area.
  • Put the television in storage. The cart it sits on must take up 6 square feet.
  • Throw, recycle, sell – get rid of any personal teaching material that doesn’t support the current framework or hasn’t been used in more than 2 years.

This year I will be sharing my space with at least one – possibly two – SpEd/ health paraprofessionals and some medical equipment for one of my new students. It is not only a nicety that the room becomes less cluttered, it is imperative. There may be decisions to be made about where adults put personal “stuff” and how much can or cannot be in the room. That will most likely not be met with enthusiasm.

Time to roll up sleeves and get cracking.