What happened today?

Reflections from a Messy Classroom
June 24, 2011, 1:25 am
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Another year is finished. I have my room cleaned and packed up…a feat most think I will never finish on time, but I did with fifteen minutes to spare! The room is silent and I reflected on the wonderful year I had. I was able to teach these 29 students for 9 months and I hope they know how much they all taught me. I was taught to be more patient, that if a student wants to have a messy desk even after we clean desks on Friday to let it go…it is not worth the battle. I have learned that students love to create and I have learned that this group were scientists (they begged to have a science fair…and we did!). I learned many things this year, and for that I am grateful.

My goals for this year were the following:

1. Integrate technology when I can.

2. Make my students’ passion drive what we do.

3. Have a cleaner room….to make my principal happy.

4. Make learning has hands on and engaging as I can.

These goals are not really in the correct order, but that is how they are listed in my notebook. I sat down to write how I did  on each goal and I found examples for each of these goals that made me feel I have made progress on these goals, but I will still have these goals next year and I bet the year after that. My mantra is if I think I have nothing to change about my teaching, then it is time to retire….at the rate I am going I will not retire until I am physically or mentally unable to do so….there is always room for improvement!

I feel I made progress with all of these goals except for number 3. I tried to have a cleaner room and I even had a vacuum cleaner and a broom in my room to help with the mess we create… we failed miserably! I have learned that when you give the students ownership and let them create…it gets messy! My students know that it was OUR classroom not My classroom. They know where to get things in my desk, they know where the creativity box is housed and that they can use all the publishing tools available to them, no need to ask, just create. I have had to take the teasing and disdain from several people about my classroom and it bothers me, so every year I try to make it cleaner and I am beginning to resent that this is the only thing some people focus on. We have a messy room, but we have a great time learning and for that I will not apologize! I make sure the floor is picked up so the custodians can vacuum, but the tables are covered with a myriad of projects. Our Webkinz zoo takes up a whole table and to some observers that may look like boxes, but you ask my students and they will say, “That is our habitat!” This year long project is wonderful because it incorporates social studies, science, reading, writing and students are working in cooperative groups. All that learning that takes place makes some people cringe because there are boxes- decorated by 8 year olds. Our publishing center has many books on the table drying, our science table is covered with whatever science experiment a child has wanted to try and their desks, well they vary depending on the child and I believe that is how it should be. I have also had people tell me I need to get rid of some of my books because I have too many. I just shake my head at that statement…you can never have too many books!

I am tired of defending myself to people and quite honestly I think people that have really clean rooms are not letting their students explore, yet I do not go in their room and make statements like, “You’re room gives me a headache!” or “How can you stand this?!” Quite frankly…I am thinking the same things about the sterile environments that many hold as a standard all educators should strive to be. If I was a teacher that lost all her papers and never could find things you may have an argument, but that is not the case. I lose some things, everybody does, but I have several people come to me for something that was misplaced. So please, if you are only going to concentrate on the cleanliness of a room…just walk on by. If you want to see some really cool things can do if you let them explore, then come on in! We would love to show you how fun learning can and should be!

I am moving number number 4 to the top and number 3 to the bottom…it is still there because I will never please anyone with that goal so it is there. I will try, but I will not let it take too much instructional time or squelch creativity! I make DVD’s at the end of the year that showcase all the learning that took place this year. I made each child 3 DVD’s full of memories of learning that took place this year. One parent called me to thank me and said, “I see why it was so messy, but boy did my kid love school this year!” That is what it is all about!

Here is an example of the science activities we did for our Earth Science Unit. Messy, yes, but very engaging and the class average on the test was a 93%! Worth every bit of teasing about the room!

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Field Day
June 12, 2011, 3:42 am
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We have a tradition at Goodrich that has been in place for a very long time. We have what we call a “Field Day” where we spend the day at the high school track participating in running, field and class events. It is always in June, and we spend the entire day outside. I was lucky to participate in field days when I went to Goodrich, and as a kid it was something we looked forward to all year. I am pleased to say I still look forward to field days even more now that I have the honor of  being a teacher in this district.

Our physical education teacher, Mr. Adams, plans the day for us. Mr. Adams is beloved and we couldn’t have the day without him. I have a soft spot for this man because he was both my softball coach and basketball coach when I went to Goodrich. He was always tough on us, but we all knew he was pushing us to be better.  He has a way of caring about kids and having very high expectations for them at the same time. We have several successful athletes in our district and I believe Mr. Adams has a huge part in helping these kids find their passion for sports. We all have our tasks, but without Mr. Adams we would not have the wonderful day of physical activity. I think it is important day for all students for several reasons.

The main reason I love this day is we get to see our kids in a different environment. Often kids that may struggle in the classroom shine on field day, and we get to see them in their element. I think it is also a good thing that some students do struggle that normally ace everything in the classroom. I think it is a great lesson for students to learn that we are all good at somethings and we all have things we need to work on. The important lesson is that we need to persevere and work through it.

Another reason why I think this is important is that it gets kids moving and highlights physical activity. Keeping healthy and active is a life lesson and this day is all about keeping active. I applaud Mr. Adams for organizing all the different events so that strength, skill and quickness all matter.

Our PTO plans the class events so that students are having fun, but still racing against other classrooms. This is also important because we can model good sportsmanship. We race against other classrooms and it is very important that we help kids learn to be good sports. I find that in the course of the day we all win and lose at something. Learning to cope with both respectfully is a skill that has to be modeled.

I also love the sense of community field days brings to our district! The parents come out in record numbers to support their children. The day ends with the relay race. Being chosen to run in the relay race is an honor and something a child will never forget. We end with the fifth graders…their last hurrah before they go to the middle school. There is a great atmosphere that shows one of the reasons why Goodrich is such a great district to live in. It was true when my parents sent seven of their children through and it is still true today! We are a small school, and we live in a small town. This may be why we are such a close-knit community. I am grateful for the support of the community at all the events we have at Oaktree, and we have a lot events that involve our awesome school.

It makes me proud to chant with my fellow Martians…”We are the Martians, the mighty, mighty Martians!”

Thanks for another great year Mr. Adams! We are lucky to have you!

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Mission Egg Drop
June 11, 2011, 7:11 pm
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One of my favorite projects I have my students do is “Mission Egg Drop” to conclude our unit on physics. It is a great problem solving activity and I love how much the parents get into this project. It is a fun activity, but there is a lot of application of science skills used to create these capsules of awesomeness! The objective of the mission is simple; create a capsule that will keep the egg from breaking.

The slide show illustrates how creative the students and parents are, but my favorite thing is seeing the excitement on the face of each child. Learning should be fun, and I am on a never-ending search to find ways to make my students enjoy what they learn. I wish you could hear the students…they cheered on each other hoping that the egg did not break. After each drop everyone gathered around the capsule and the creator to see if the mission succeeded…it was a great sight to see. The fruits of all this cooperative learning is having a class that acts like a family, and we truly do treat other like we are a huge family! It has been a great year and this was a nice way to help things wind down for the summer.

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Identity Day
June 5, 2011, 8:46 pm
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It was this time last year that one of my friends on Twitter shared pictures from an amazing day he had at his school in Alberta, Canada. I remember seeing the pictures and saying to myself that I wanted to do that next year. I was not alone. Many have taken to the idea that Groege Couros has shared and have implemented Identity Day at their school. I have read blog posts, watched George do a presentations on the impact the day had on his staff and students. I have also seen many educators from all over the globe take part in Identity Day! Reading all of these reflections still did not prepare me for the powerful impact the day would have on our class.

Our Identity Day took place on June third. It was the only assignment all year that was turned in on time by every single student. The students walked into the room excited to share what they had created. I loved seeing kids connect on this level. They were learning about each other. I had several gymnasts, motor-cross enthusiasts, animal lovers and we were even treated to a piano recital preview. It was a great day to be in room 300! We were all learning more about each other and we found out that we have a lot in common with each other. Since my class was the only class in the school to do this, we did get to share our paragraphs with each other. We put our desks in a circle and we watched and listened to each student. I did not make anyone present that did not want to, but most chose to share their passion with the rest of their friends. The students kept saying that this was the best day ever! My students loved learning about each other and they also thought it was cool that I brought in my own stuff to share.

As I reflect on the day I wonder if next year this would not be a good way to kick off the year. We learned so much about each other that it may be something to think about. I do think the reason many students felt comfortable sharing their passion is because we have been together for eight months. We do A LOT of work in groups, and it is my goal that we see each other as a team so we develop a relationship with each other. Relationships are the most important thing to build in my room. I believe we have to not only connect with our students, but we need to find a way to have our students connect with each other. That is where we build acceptance of others and that is what will help with all the bullying that takes place in our schools.

Identity Day shows how powerful social media is and how it can create the change in education we so desperately need. Thank you George Couros for always sharing your thoughts on education. You along with all my Twitter friends have made me a better teacher this year, and I am sure the learning will continue. Thanks for sharing the idea of Identity Day with our Twitter Family. If you have not tried to have an Identity Day of your own, I encourage you to do so next year.

This slideshow does not show the love and acceptance that filled our room that day, but it does show the cool projects and the tarantulas that paid a visit to our room!

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