Finding Their Genius

When I finished my student teaching in Lexington, my cooperating teacher, Len Swanton,  gave me a wonderful book, Starting from Scratch:   One Classroom Builds Its Own Curriculum by Steven Levy.     Since 1998, this book has served as like a bible to me.  I have used parts of it, adapted parts of it, and retread parts of it for the past 15 years.   Levy describes this as “How can I create an environment that allows every child to express and develop his or her true genius, the essence of who he or she really is?”  Levy goes on to explain that “genius” does not mean that every child is a genius, but rather “that everyone has a particular character or essential spirit.”  Like Levy, I try to build my learning colony to enable every child to “manifest the genius that he or she brought to the classroom.”

So, over the course of the first part of this school year, I have been watching the children.  We have now been in school for 30 days, and for many of those 30 days, I have focused on  finding the  “genius” in each student as well as for the entire class.  What makes them tick? What excites them?   How do they like to learn best?    What makes them  squeal in delight?  What are their strengths?  What are their weaknesses?  How can I set up our learning environment to make it one that the children will take risks. will love learning, and will own their learning?

Water Filters

Water Filters

Together, our Learning Colony has really melded together to define what makes us tick as learners.  Our first science unit on Water Filters shed a lot of light onto this Learning Colony’s genius.  They loved the building of the water filters, they loved testing and improving the water filters, they loved applying “QCE” to this process, and they loved using technology to create iMovies, Pic Collages, and Explain Everythings about their water filters.  I loved hearing the squeals from the children as their dirty water came out clear after passing through the water filters.  I loved witnessing the incredible

Notebook with Filter Design

Notebook with Filter Design

conversations between group mates, and I loved how engaged the students were in their learning.

We then ventured onto Big Maps.  Again, the ability to design the maps on their own was another “genius” point.  This moved onto designing a village on the banks of the

1013 Village

1013 Village

Assabet in 1013.  I was impressed with the amount of detail, the amount of thinking, and the amount of creativity displayed in their maps.  I am looking forward to going outside and building some of our village attributes.

Our second science unit, Rocks and Minerals has provided similar enthusiasm for learning.  I showed the students the skills that they were suppose to master during this unit.  We then brainstormed investigations

Some of our Tools

Some of our Tools

that would help students meet the standards while at the same time, would incorporate their genius points.  Students were introduced to certain “tools” such as hand microscopes, rulers, magnifying lens, and pan balances.  Instead of copying the worksheet found in the curriculum notebook,  students created their own attributes while looking at the rocks and mineral specimens.  Again, the

Rock Investigation Details

Rock Investigation Details

engagement in the room was wonderful.  The amount of detail in notebooks was great.

Another “genius” point has been collaboration and creativity.  During band on Thursday, I asked a student who was not in band to show the remaining students in the room how to do Scratch.  I know a few basics, but this student took about 13 students and in a 45 minute period, had them creating wonderful creations on Scratch.  She remarked about their ability to just play around and find out some neat things.  Finally, our last day before the three day weekend allowed

Collaboration During Scratch

Collaboration During Scratch

students to employ both collaboration and creativity.  This particular group has loved learning and using iMovie on the iPads.  I have a group of boys who have made movies during sleep overs and then have asked to give up their recess to make movies.  So, on Friday, as we headed out to our morning recess, they once again asked to be able to take an iPad out to recess.  Two other groups also asked to do the same activity.  It occurred to me after witnessing enthusiasm for about 15 minutes that perhaps I was going to switch up my writing lesson to something a little different.  I called all 23 students over and gave them a challenge:  In 15 minutes, they needed to all shoot video footage.  Then they would have another 15 minutes to edit their movie before showing it to the entire class.  Off they ran to plan out their movies, and shoot many versions of the trailer “Super Kids”.  Each group put their own spin on their movies. Before showing them to the entire class, I asked what skills did we use in producing these.  Their answers surprised me, “team work, collaboration, time management, creativity” were some of the skills that the class came up with about our little film challenge.  These were all what I would call “Applied Open Circle Skills” and the class did them well.

So, here is what the students and myself have discovered to be genius points for this year’s class:

Create/Creativity

Engineer:  Build, Test

Investigate

Technology

Tools

Collaborate

It promises to be an exciting year!

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The Power of the Digital Refrigerator

Over the first 13 days of school, the students have been learning to make book trailers on a book that they read over summer vacation.  It hasn’t been the smoothest of processes as having to accomplish numerous beginning of the year assessments took precedent.  I started by showing the students some book trailers made by past students.  We talked about the goal of the project was not to write a summary, but to instead try to entice viewers to read by the book by making it exciting and/or suspenseful.  The tool to plan out these book trailers was a sequencing brain frame for their storyboards.  Students needed to have between 10 and 15 “slides”.

So, the project felt like it was dragging until this past Tuesday.  I needed to review each storyboard, and in many cases, needed to send the student back with some direction on revising their first storyboard.  On Tuesday, I was able to give a minilesson on finding

Our iMovie Genius helps out a fellow student

pictures.  I had some help with this; the students who aren’t in band, have been hard at work becoming iMovie geniuses.  So, they also had some good tips for the other students.  By Wednesday, about half of the students had moved onto the iMovie part of the project.  As a teacher, this was extremely hard since I needed to review storyboards and wasn’t able to provide a lot of instruction on iMovie.   But, that’s where the summer “Tech Boot Camp” paid off big time.  One of my new students had taken what she had learned from a now sixth grader and had gone home and spent a lot of time really perfecting iMovie.  So, I set EC5 off to being the iMovie consultant.  She was confident and took her teaching role very seriously.  She was invaluable.  She was able to give quick minilessons to students who had never used iMovie and she was able to problem solve.  So, the morning was very successful due to the help of our iMovie Genius.

The next day, Thursday, I declared this was the last day to get this project done as I needed to move onto new activities in writing and reading.  The room took on a room of seriousness as students were totally engaged in either trying to finish their storyboards, working on iMovie, or putting the finishing touches on by adding music from Incompetech.  I still had a huge line of students clutching laptops.  Now, we were onto the part where I needed to review/edit their movies.  Once the movie passed “muster”, I uploaded the movie onto our YouTube Channel.  When the students reached this point, I think I asked them to just read quietly.  I couldn’t take the time to figure out what the finished students were doing as I had too large a line of students to still edit their movies.  I looked in the back of the room where two students were looking at one of our desktop laptops.  What were they doing, I wondered.

This is were the magic came into play.  What those two girls were doing was that they were looking at our You Tube Channel.  These girls wanted to see what everyone else had done. One of them said,  “It was cool to see what everyone had done.”  Suddenly, the rest of the students as they finished, rushed over to the computers, or stayed with their laptops and were watching each other’s work.  It was a magical moment.  Suddenly these “newbies” weren’t

Looking at a classmate’s book trailer

consumers, but producers.

After lunch, we processed what the students were feeling about this experience.  Some of their comments included:

  • “The whole world could see our book trailer and it could go viral.”
  •  “It’s kind of cool to think that people all over the world could see our work.”
  •  “I liked it because you could see your work and others’ work and admire what you did or other people did. You could learn from them.”
  • “It made me really giddy to know that everyone out there could like it or not like it.  We are letting people look at our work, not just other peoples’ work.”
  • “It felt good making a book trailer, anyone in the world who has a computer can see it and maybe it would convince them to read the book.  A book publisher may like it if this convinces people to buy more of that book.”
  • “It feels good to have my book trailer on You Tube, It is really exciting to share something with the whole world.”
  • “When I grow up, I want to be a director, so this is good practice.”

Our youtube channel

As the afternoon went on, and Friday morning and afternoon came and went, students kept on going over to the desktops to see how many views they now had.  This type of “digital refrigerator” that was discussed at BLC12 had come to life in our classroom after 14 days.  I have to admit I feel “giddy” too with this type of response from the students.  This is a great start to our school year for sure!

Just What the Doctor Ordered: Thoreau School Genius Bar aka Tech Boot Camp

From Google images

After what seemed like years of doing as my son Christopher describes as “scut work”, today was what the doctor ordered for this teacher who is not quite ready to give up summer.  Students.  Engaged Students.  Students owning the learning.  I was jazzed about this morning all day long.

Today, my teaching partner and myself decided to introduce a Genius Bar training or a Teh Boot Camp.  Our departing students were tech whizzes.  We decided to hold kind of a boot camp to introduce our “newbies” to some of the tech tools that we frequently use in fifth grade.  But the twist was that instead of us doing the teaching, the departing fifth graders would mentor the incoming fifth graders.  I love the model of students teaching students, so we thought that this would be a success.

And a success it was.  After some initial awkwardness, you would have never known that the two groups of students did not know one another before this morning.  The room was buzzing with excited students, both the “teachers” and the “students”.  It was like my nine new fifth graders who were able to attend jumped in to a new situation without missing a beat.  And my nine sixth graders were equally engaged in being mentors.  It was a magical two hours.  Students excitedly wanted me to view their iMovies, their SAM animations, their scratch games.  I saw a wonderful team player, learning the iPad.  I was suddenly re-energized and totally jazzed.  It was students owning their own learning big time.

With 15 minutes to go, I had the students reflect on the experience.  This was a newer experience for the fifth graders.  They definitely thought the two hours was really worthwhile.  One student said she felt coming into this morning, that she didn’t feel confident in technology, but after her “mentor Zoe” worked with her, she felt really confident.  (she went on to make several i-Movies).  They all want to be involved as a mentor in next year’s training.  They already got this model after two short hours.  Students teaching students.  The 6th graders were more use to reflecting.  Some said it felt good to be back in the room.  They liked being the teacher.  Another felt that it was a good way for the fifth graders to preview what the year would be like.  And another said that it was really fun teaching these students and she felt that they picked up the technology faster than they did. This statement stayed with me after everyone left and I was reflecting on the morning.

I kept thinking why did these students learn more quickly?  Probably number one, was I taught them some of these tools as a whole class.  So, instead of a 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 ratio, it was a 1 to 22 ratio.  So, being able to individualize learning seems to be a key component on student engagement.  Ms. Howard, our tech specialist, has gone to this model more and more.  No longer does she do whole class instruction, she teaches a few students and lets them teach others.  I think the other real key is that the “mentor” students owned the learning and passed it onto the new 5th graders.  The new 5th graders chose what tool they wanted to learn.  They were invested in learning from the year older students.  They were proud of their accomplishments.  You can check out some of the projects at our Erickson LC You Tube Channel (and some of you have already done this!)  and a cool Scratch project.

You are going to hear me talk a lot this year about “Who Owns the Learning?”  I think that we are off to a really great start in determining the answer to that question.

Before signing off, I would like to thank the nine 6th graders who donated their time this morning.  As I have said all along, you guys are rock stars.  Become the tech leaders at the middle school.  The world awaits you.  Do good things.  Continue to ask good questions.  Continue to push yourself to get the best out of yourselves.

For my new 5th graders, after today, I am so excited about the possibilities.  I will be writing you all a blog this weekend about my hopes and expectations for you.

Thank you all!

Musings on the First 27 Days of School: A Series of Short “Blog-Says”

Changing grade level has left me much busier than I thought it would.  The curriculum has changed since I last taught 5th grade.  My classroom too has changed (physically) and that too has been more of an “adaptation” than I thought it would.  Getting use to the students, since I have 21 out of 23 from last year, is not so much of a change.  But they have changed.  They are now the “top of the food chain” and that in itself lends to a change in some of their behaviors.  Reminding them to be “role models” since they are now the role models is a change.  Looping has its many benefits, but one perhaps non-benefit is that the students are use to some things in a too comfortable fashion.  So, I’ve had to change up beginning of the school year activities since they already know my bag of tricks.  It is a change getting use to the new activities that fifth graders get to participate in.  It’s a change only having about one hour and twenty minutes of instruction time after lunch compared to having just about two hours last year.  You get the picture, there have been a lot of changes.  I haven’t had the energy to blog for awhile.  I miss it.  One of my colleagues told me that if I was inspired, I would do it.  There’s been a lot of posts running around in my head, but due to the fact that life has got in the way to my actually doing the writing online, they have stayed in my head.  So today, I decided to write one post, and since we are doing essays in class, to create a series of short “blog-says” on some of the posts that have been running around in my head.

A quick note about the photographs.  Before starting my writing, I went onto my iPhoto library to look for some pictures that I had taken.  In my library, there was a roll of images from one of my students, who took these during a trip to Cousin’s Field this week.  They are spectacular and much better than any of my current images.  I am not sure if this one child who gave me his camera is the photographer of all of the pictures (there may be more than one student’s work), but I do want to credit one of my fifth grade students with these photos.

Photo of a Flower at Cousin's Field from an Erickson 5 Student

Blog-Say One:  The Importance of Providing Different Tools for Student Learning

I am a firm believer in having students be able to express themselves in different manners.  Over the past two years, first with the “Digital Farm”  and then with “CBL and DPC” last year, I have been so blown away with giving students the freedom to present their work in different manners.  Students who didn’t like to write with pencil and paper created web sites, video games, and movies.  Students who are not exactly the best with drawing taking gorgeous digital pictures (proof — the picture at the right).  Instead of book reports, students this year created beautiful book trailers, incorporating and evaluating music for their movie as well.  Watching the students themselves become bloggers is equally satisfying.  One post last week talked about how at that point, the class had created 399 posts on their Kid Blog site.  (and I thought I was a hot shot with 110 blog entries on this site).  I have seen the students interact with one another so respectfully on this blog site, encouraging one another about a story that one boy has written, to another one pondering big questions like why do politicians keep insulting one another.  Through their own blogs, they have found that our classroom extends beyond the physical space of our room’s walls.  A coming attraction in our room is the arrival of the iPads this week.  On Friday, the students became editors of each other’s September writing sample.  I approached three students and asked them how we were going to get everyone their comments.  One started off that they could cut the paper up into strips.  I kind of shrugged at that suggestion.  “What about doing a podcast with the comments?”  The wheels of our mind started turning.  I rushed over to get my new iPad, told them about Audio Boo, and we were off. “We could create Vokis, we could do this, we could do that.”  Then I heard one child say, “why don’t we just write it down?” and another one quickly said, “Because Mrs. Erickson wants us to go ‘digital'”.  I want my students to be able to leverage all different types of platforms to display their learning.  To strengthen this argument, my oldest son will be graduating from college this spring and is just starting the job search.  Over a cup of tea last week with a dear friend, I mentioned that he had a phone interview.  She just sent me an article entitled “Your New Job Security Starts Here:  A stable work future isn’t about finding a lifelong employer.  It’s about being able to land the next professional opportunity – which means mastering the digital job hunt.”  This article includes making your own website, a video biography, being ready to have a video interview, becoming a blogger, and stepping it up with social media.  These are all tools that we use to enhance our learning in my classroom, and it seems like learning these tools is essential in the workforce that my students will one day be entering.

Another picture of Cousin's Field from an Erickson 5 Student

Blog-Say Two:  When Just Good Enough is not Good Enough

During this past summer, I blogged about the passing of my band teacher Al Yesue.  At Back to School Night, I dedicated my year to him.  During our first personal essay unit, my model for the children was about Al.  My three main points were that Al taught me to believe in myself, that he taught me to go outside my comfort zone, and finally he taught me that “good enough is not good enough”  This paragraphs reads as follows:

“One lesson that Al taught me was that “good enough” is not good enough.  You can get by in life by putting the bare minimum or you can get the most out of life by putting in your very best effort into everything you do.  I remember that hot summer night in July.  Lined up on the parking lot at Riverside Park, we returned to “the line” once again to play the opening measures of Holst’s “Jupiter” once again.  I couldn’t understand why we were sent back again and again to re-do it.  It sounded good enough.  But to Al, it didn’t sound “good enough”.  He wanted it to sound great.  He wanted us to play it with feeling.  He wanted us to play it liked we meant it.  So back to the line again. And again. And again.  For three, long hot hours we kept going back and repeating those three measures.  At the end of that night, we weren’t necessarily happy that we spent three long hours doing the same thing over and over again.  But in the long run, it taught me to always put 100% into anything I undertook.   Thirty-five years later, I am still practicing this life lesson. “

In teaching, I don’t feel it is right to “be just good enough.”  I always am looking at better ways to engage my students.  I am always looking for new things to learn.  I never teach a unit the same way twice.  I am quite comfortable going outside my comfort zone for the good of my students.

But this week, it was the students’ turn to learn this lesson.  On Friday, October 7th, we took our first unit post test in math.  The day before, we had reviewed the material for the test.  I told the students that there would be a “challenge” problem that I couldn’t tell them about but that as a whole, they were excellent math students and they would do fine.  I told them about how much I enjoy watching them consume “Dynamaths” and how much I enjoy them being excited about “tiny tests”.  I overheard one student say “She’s giving us a pep talk.”  The next day, I handed out the tests, reminded them that they could do this, but to be careful.  A week later, the corrected tests were returned to me.  I was dismayed as I looked them over during lunch.  The scores overall were not good.  Concerned that I had not done a good enough job teaching the students, I went upstairs to ask our math specialist her take.  “The tests are full of silly mistakes,” she told me.  “It’s not that they didn’t know what to do.”  I suddenly now knew why Al made us keep playing those three measures for three hours.  I now knew how dismayed he must have felt by our complacency, we were champions, but he believed we could be better than just “good enough”.  I had to approach the children gently, as for some of them, they had never received such a low score.  I talked with them that at time our failures lead to our best learning.  This was a new beginning.

And two days later, we took a pre-test in our next unit.  For some, more of the same carelessness.  But for one student, who had done quite poorly on his post-test, he was almost perfect on this one.  I pulled him aside and told him how well he did on this one.  And he said to me, “I know I am better than a student who got a 59% on the last test.”  He got the lesson that “just good enough is not good enough.”  I marveled at his insight in learning this lesson at such a young age.  And I hope some of the others also catch one for as a teacher, this was one frustrating experience, when you know your students can do well and then they don’t.

Blog-Say Three: Parking Valets, Eye Technicians, Respect, and Confidence.

Two years back, I wrote a post called “Japanese Flower Arranging, A Glaucoma Eye Test and Teaching”. I concluded that “I need to be reassuring, and make sure they fully

Another Plant at Cousin's Field by an Erickson 5 Student

understand what we are doing and why.  I need to scaffold tasks for them at times and then gently sit beside them as they attempt it on their own.  If they are nervous about doing something, I need to acknowledge their feelings, while at the same time encouraging them and providing them with the information for them to be successful.  I need to laugh with them, and nod and smile at them.  I need to remember what being a learner truly feels like.”  Last year, due to the unfortunate incident with my elbow, my eye appointment did not happen.  So on September 27th, when I headed off to that appointment, I was feeling confident after the experience that I had the last time I was there.  (in case you don’t read this old post, I hate that Glaucoma test more than any other medical exam) .  I was late leaving school and was already flustered when pulling into the Emerson parking lot.  Since my foot was in a boot after an unfortunate encounter with a large tree root, I debated about using the valet to park my car.  But the line was long, and I was already running late, so I headed to the parking lot.  If you have ever been to the Cummings/Emerson parking lot, you will know that it is a nightmare on most days and hours.  And the minute I pressed that button to get the ticket, I had begun to regret my decision not to valet.  I headed down one long aisle of cars and then up another where I saw a car leaving its spot.  Up that aisle I swung and quickly pulled into the spot.  Then I realized, that I was much too close on the passenger side to the other car’s driver’s door.  There was no way they could get into their car.  And looking at how close I was, there was no way I was going to be able to pull my car out without hitting the other car.  Panicking, I hobbled over the the valet and asked him “Can you help me?”  This young man calmly asked me what he could do to help me.  I told him I had parked too close to another car and that I couldn’t get my car out of that spot.  Seeing my distress, he said, “Lo0k, you must have an appointment.  Just give me your key and I’ll take care of it.”  Hobbling into the building, I thought his mother would be proud of how he helped this damsel in distress.  My calmness had eroded over the past fifteen minutes.  I was hoping for Marian, the same technician that I had the last time for my eye exam.  But instead of Miriam, a young technician called me in.  I explained that she was going to have to talk me through the exam, hopeful for the same success that I had two years ago.  But she did not have the same bedside manner.  She was impatient with me,  and I could not sit still when the machine came towards my eye. I jumped again and again.  I could sense her aggravation building towards me.  “Let me try it one more time, ” I asked her.  “No,” she said, “I’ll have to have the doctor do it.”  Sitting back out in the waiting room, I felt like a failure.  Tears, not from the drops, ran from my eyes.  My ophthalmologist was wonderful and we were able to get the test done, but my confidence had deflated.  Heading back outside to the valet station, I remembered that I had left my computer in the car, something I never do if my car is unlocked.  I went over to the valet who told me he would go and get my car.  The cost for valet parking is $5.00.  When he came back with my car, I handed him a twenty dollar bill and told him to keep the change.  He asked me if I was sure, and I said I appreciated how much he helped me.  He was respectful of my situation, he didn’t say “lady, I can’t do that.”  He just did it.

This mere 90 minutes reminded me of the importance of respecting my learners and of inspiring my students to be confident.  The valet respected my distress while the eye technician did not respect my fears and left me feeling like a failure.  I will keep this lesson in my on when working with my students who are having difficulty with a topic.  I need to be respectful of who they are as learners as well as trying to get them to be confident in themselves and their abilities.

This year in class, we have instituted a “respect” card as well as a “confidence” card every day.  This has been rewarding to watch the students helping one another.  They are respectful of each other’s learning styles.  I love seeing a quiet student speak up confidently while answering a math question or saying “I think I nailed this math facts quiz.”  We have now weaned it from my selecting the person to them nominating one another.

Confidence and Respect.

Yellow Flower with Bee by Erickson 5 Student

 

It felt really great to get some blogging done, before heading back out to do some errands.  I guess my short “blog-says” could have been three different posts, but I think as a trio, they fit well together.

Awake, Passion, and Calm: “I’m So Blogging About This!”

Yesterday morning at BLC11, Alan November told the crowd that Thursday’s keynote speaker was not going to be able to speak, but in her place, he was calling on a friend of his, Marco Torres. That news was wonderful. Hearing Marco speak last year at BLC was a transformative experience for this teacher. Yesterday at one of the sessions that he presented, I went up to him yesterday and thanked him for his words last year that had changed my teaching so radically last year. He was humbled by the compliment. So, I was really looking forward to what he had to say this morning.

Analog versus digital. Staying on the question. His goal to be a cello player in a subway station. A heart drawn in his coffee at a small shop in Australia. Latte art.

True to Alan November’s intro that Marco does a brilliant job connecting the dots, Marco started connecting the dots. The story of Danica, the waitress in Australia who clearly loved what she did, led into that you need to create an atmosphere where you have voracious learners. Not students, but learners. You need to have an interest in learning and a commitment to being a learner. Like Danica’s community of latte artists, your colleagues do not need to be all people at your school. You need to have your own group of Yodas that you can connect with.

Make remarkable moments. Let students grow. Give students options. Bring the world to your students. You can quit, complain, or innovate. Make chefs and not cooks. Turn our classrooms into problem solving spaces. Choose the appropriate tool for the appropriate message. Love what you do and love your students, be resourceful, and find like minded folks. Embrace challenge. In your classroom you have your 23 students to why you need to be better and to be a better person. These words just spoke to me and affirmed to me to continue to look for ways to better engage my students.

But what Marco showed at the end with a series of four pictures was what was truly memorable. One picture showed a jungle, the next a simple path, and another a two lane highway leading to a mountain. He said to ask yourself on the first day of school to look at your options. Do you want to continue on the same old path? Do you want to head on the highway towards the destination that everyone else is heading to? Or do you want to be in the jungle with a machete, a place where not many people are heading? I think I’ll stay in my jungle where I feel is the best place to do the best for my kids, so thanks for reminding me to stay this course.

I couldn’t attend another talk after this, so I stole a line from one of my students, “I’m so blogging about this!”. Stopping to get a cup of tea, there were three specific choices that I feel sums up Marco Torres:

Awake: A tea of boldness, depth, and character, invigorating any time of the day.  Marco once again showed his great character and love of kids, the depth of his passion, and the boldness of his ideas — like why keep changing the question?
Passion: A magical blend  It is quite evident from the standing ovation that he received at the end of his keynote to the way that his students talk about him that Marco is indeed a magical blend of some many great ingredients.
Calm: A comforting blend  To this educator, hearing what Marco has to say is comforting.  His passion will make me want to stay in my jungle.
So, Marco, thanks again for all the inspiration you provide to both students and educators.

Reflections

White Cedar Swamp in Wellfleet

The White Cedar Swamp in Wellfleet is a magical place for me.  The trail starts off at the parking lot for Marconi Station in Wellfleet . As I wrote in an earlier blog post,

“The next day, we were off to one of my all time favorite spots — The White Cedar Swamp at Marconi Station in Wellfleet.  If you are in this neck of the woods, this is a must visit spot.  One might think a swamp would not be so mystical, but they have not seen this swamp.  Leaving the parking lot, you travel

down a dirt path, which travels downhill, over roots and down stairs.  It is a place that is extremely quiet, except for the calls of birds and the rustle of the pine branches in the cool April breeze.  After about a ten minute walk, you arrive at the entrance of the White Cedar Swamp Boardwalk.  Surrounded by white cedar trees, the

swamp glistens like rubies on this sunny April afternoon.  All is silent as I quietly walk along, snapping photos as I walk slowly and deliberately along the board walk.  In a usual school day, there is often no chance to ever go slowly and deliberately.  To take in all that is going around you.  To appreciate the world around you.  Here in this magical swamp, I could do all that.  I could suck in the cool air, the beautiful colors, the smoothness of the boards as I snaked around the board walk, the richness of the green moss on the banks, the unusual striped bark on the cedar trees.  With all the craziness, I have not had time to reflect on the DPC award, to reflect on what wonderful learners my students have become, to admire their advocacy for the Blanding’s turtles.  The silence in the swamp gave me an opportunity to be thankful for all that I have.  I could well understand why those Chinese poets craved their retreats in the mountains.  The silence and the beauty of the swamp was helping me put things into perspective.”  

While my retreat was a wonderful respite, I found once back at school, my reflection of my educational journey was not complete.  I was asking myself, what matters most to me educationally?  Others were asking me, “What next after this year?”  “How can you top this?”  I shook my head and didn’t know how to answer.  I needed to journey, to search out what mattered to me, to talk to others, to explore other paths.

And this exploration led me to what does matter the most to me.  What makes me tic as a teacher?  What is it that I am most passionate about?  And after some really hard thinking and learning, I think I have come up with my “manifesto”, not quite like Jerry Maguire’s manifesto on sports management.

Moore State Park, Paxton

1.  From Jerry Maguire:  “The key to this business is personal relationships.”  The personal relationships that I have formed with my students over the past 12 years is extremely important to me.  From one girl who hugged me for every day of the 360 days that I was her teacher to watching my former kids perform on various stages to the current student who thanks me every day for teaching him, these relationships mean the utmost to me.  Being able to be part of a child’s life is a gift like no other.   These relationships comfort me when I’m down, delight me in watching these seeds turn into beautiful flowers, and inspire me to be a better teacher.

2.  Interdisciplinary Connections:  Teaching in a connected manner is the only way this brain’s synapses seem to connect.  This year, “Operation Blanding’s Nation” exemplified what a connected curriculum should look like.  It connects kids to a central core subject.   It allows them to see learning as connected, instead of isolated subjects.   If I was designing a school, this would be the number one guiding theme to student learning.

3.  Project-Based Learning:  Very similar to interdisciplinary student, project based learning lets the students wrap their learning around an authentic problem.  It allows me to be more of a facilitator rather than the “sage on the stage” model of education.  This year, I traveled into Challenge-Based Learning, which was just an incredible experience for all of us.

4.  STEM:  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics:  I have often said that the Lego Robotics unit that I teach is the very best thing I teach.  It integrates all the best 21st century skills that there are:  creativity, collaboration, critical thinking skills,  and communication.  After hearing from a parent today about Massachusetts being the robotic leader in the country, it is a must for our children’s education.  Robots are not for the future, they are here for the present.

So, after much soul searching, I have come to what matters the most to me when it comes to educating children.

Proud

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote a post called “Note to Self”.  I was re-reading some of my earlier posts recently and came across that particular entry.   The following lines really talked to me today:

  1. Be flexible. Just as you learned this weekend, you may have to try several different ways to reach different students. For your turtles, you needed to try different turtle food and a different method to feed them. You might too need to try different ways to reach a reluctant writer or reader or a student who says they stink in math. Be persistent and don’t give up. Remember what your new principal said at the staff meeting. This is important. You can do it. I won’t give up on you.
  2. Rejoice in watching your students and turtles. Observe them carefully. Find out what makes them tick. Enjoy them.

So, pretty much six months to the day that I wrote that post, I felt inspired to go back to it after this morning’s activity.  About four weeks ago, I was contacted by a person working for Concord CAN about attending a conference that they were sponsoring on Saturday March 5th.  They wanted me to have my students to set up a display on sustainability.  After a little bit of thinking, I said yes, we would come to present about our Blanding’s Turtle project.

Throughout this project, the words that my principal said at her first faculty meeting have resonated in my class.  This is important.  You can do it.  I won’t give up on you. I have witnessed some amazing learning from all of my students during this school year.  They have owned that it is important to be advocates for members of our community that can not speak for themselves.  Even when things weren’t working right, they kept plowing through.  With this project, I have given responsibility to kids who needed that shot of confidence in their arm that they too are great learners and can accomplish incredible things.

But today, re-reading what I had written in September:  “Rejoice in watching your students and turtles. Observe them carefully. Find out what makes them tick. Enjoy them.” really came into play.  At 8:00 a.m., my first group of eager students arrived at Willard School, set up the exhibit, and got to work talking to people about their project.  I just stood back and really watched them.  I watched these nine and ten year olds interact with folks that they had never met before.  I saw the excitement in their eyes as they showed the brochures, magazine, movies, web site, video games, stories, and the blog.  I heard them tell stories about Bowser, I heard them talk about data.  They enlisted another person to come to turtle night.  Myself, along with their parents just marveled at what we were witnessing.  As one of the parents told me, that he goes to trade shows and does the same type of things that these students were doing.  The confidence and enthusiasm was really evident from all six of the students who attended this event.  I couldn’t have been prouder of them.

With a slate of public events upcoming, others will also have the opportunities to share their knowledge and commitment to others in our community.  Challenge based learning  is an experience  that is authentic and that has incorporated every piece of our curriculum.  And most of all, it has made this one teacher one word:  proud.