So Proud!

Tonight, 31 of my past and present students and parents attended a Natural Resources Meeting.  Attending these types of activities offers such great learning opportunities beyond the four walls of our classroom.  This type of learning really jazzes me in so many ways.  Before vacation, we worked hard on developing our new MAD COW project.  The new kids picked up where the old ones left off:  Moore’s Swamp.  We were using fractions and percents, our persuasive writing skills, our knowledge of food chains and food webs, and our new data driven dialogues to present a compelling case for Moore’s Swamp to be preserved as is for a Blanding’s turtle habitat.  This past Saturday, six students, six parents, and one grandfather, joined me for a 90 minute walk around Moore’s Swamp.  Again, their questions and observations were outstanding.  They didn’t care that it was cold with a little snow on the ground.  They were interested in learning.  Outside our classroom walls.  And today, Dr. Windmiller came in once again to talk with the students about looking at different view points around an issue.  And again, the questions asked were amazing.  Just like my students from the past two years, they owned the learning.  They were engaged and invested in the topic.

But then, tonight, it got even better.  Shortly before 7:00 p.m., they started arriving at 141 Keyes Road.  Six of my former students, taller, some with deeper voices, but still as poised and passionate as ever.  Seven of my new students, some dressed quite sharply, entered the meeting room, totally unruffled for what lay ahead.  It was a long meeting, a contentious meeting, a learning meeting.  They listened patiently.  They listened to varying viewpoints.  They sat still, they stood up against walls, they stood in the doorway.  Probably well past their bedtime, but they stayed.  They listened.  They waited for their turn.

And then, one stood up, stated her first and last name and her address.   I was so proud.  And then another did the same.  And another.  I marveled at the confidence of these ten and eleven year old children, confident enough to stand up in a room full of strangers and state their point.  Some of my old kids were also ready to speak, but didn’t get called on. But I was proud of them just the same.  I was proud that they were still committed enough to show up to a long public meeting to make sure that the town understood their passion about this project.  I was proud of the students and their parents who brought them to this meeting.  They showed that they support their children’s learning 100%.

This type of learning to me exemplifies learning at its best.  I am grateful to have yet another crop of students who will put themselves out there to be the voices for turtles who can’t speak.  I am grateful to parents who support us in this endeavor.  I am grateful to Bryan Windmiller, for giving of his time, to talk with the students and to be wowed by the students as well.  All I can say is “Wow!” and stay tuned for more MAD COW!

The Art of Feeding Turtles

Turtle 1029 eyes the pellets

We are lucky to be head-starting two Blanding’s turtle hatchlings once again this year.  And like students, the year three hatchlings are very different from Bowser and Yertle, and Kame and Kachua.  One is overly active, climbing on the log and rocks like a mountain climber scaling the Alps.  The other turtle likes to hang out on the heater, floating there like a small child who is holding onto the dock while practicing their flutter kicks.  Their tails seem much longer than the past hatchlings.  They seem to be getting use to the noise of 22 students in the classroom and are responding to my talking to them when it is quiet in the room.  But the one thing that is very different is that we have had them for ten days and they are not good eaters.

Turtle 1029 eyes the food

This year, when we received the hatchlings, we also received “turtle jello” that Bryan Windmiller made.  Turtle jello consists of  unsweetened gelatin, tuna fish, greens, turtle pellets and sweet potatoes.  The thought was that this mixture would be more appealing to young turtles.  Not our turtles, they swam away from it like it was a predator.  I initially had a lot of water in the tank, but was told to try a very small amount of water.  Still no luck.  I decided to try the straight pellets.  Turtle 1038, the mountain climbing turtle, swan to the direct opposite side of the tank.  Turtle 1029 was mildly interested, but not so to eat.

Almost have it!

As days went on, I became more anxious that they weren’t eating.  I know in the wild, the hatchlings don’t eat until spring, but this experience was different than what I had experienced before.  I had a couple of days that previous hatchlings had not eaten but never a week.  On Thursday afternoon, after the students had left, I tried putting a few pellets in the big aquarium and much to my surprise, turtle 1029 went after a pellet.  I went home that night pretty happy that one of the two tried eating.

On Friday, I received an e-mail from Bryan about “my fussy eaters”.  In addition to trying the “crawfish smelly jelly”, Bryan said I could try:

“Another possible direction is to make up your own batch of turtle jello with something more appetizing than the tuna that I used.  I would try canned salmon, maybe some chopped up earthworms, and if that still doesn’t get them (and yoiu don’t mind) some chopped up frozen baby mice.  Just make up as per the recipe that I attached to the protocols.”  

I decided to take the turtles home and try to do a little more experimenting with Juvenile Aquatic Turtle Diet that I had good experience with Kame.  So, after a walk and a talk about robotics, the turtles loaded were loaded up and came with me to get some more coaxing from me to eat.

So, how is the art of feeding turtles like teaching my 2012 – 2013 students?  Well for the first thing, for the first time since Bowser and Yertle arrived in 2010, I have a class of brand new students.  They all have very distinct personalities.  I need to try some different tricks to teach them since they are different students than the last two years.  The one thing that I really want them to do is to “own the learning.”  But, like feeding these fussy eaters, it will be a process to get to that point.

So, gently, I coax both my students and my turtles.  Little by little, I see both becoming more comfortable with me.  They both have their own distinct styles.  I have to put behind me how my past turtles ate and my past students learned.  On Friday, I declared it to be “FUF” short for Finish Up Friday.  There were four assignments I wanted to get done heading into next week.  After the students came in on Friday morning, I asked them what they thought “FUF” stood for.  One student thought it meant “fun”.  I responded that “There’s no time for fun in fifth grade.”  One boy’s eyes lit up and said, “Fifth grade is a lot of fun.”  My heart melted a bit.  Later that day, another student came up  and showed me what he and his partner had done regarding an air, soil and water contamination project.  On their own, they had taken an iPad and wrote their notes on Evernote, completely independent.  They were already starting to own their learning.  While I sat correcting their multiplication fact quizzes on Thursday night, I was struck at the rapid improvement in a week’s time.  Clearly these new students take learning pretty seriously.  I admire their work ethic and will work even harder to be the best teacher I can be for them.

Got It!

So Saturday came and I tried talking and encouraging the hatchlings to eat.  1029 clearly is now eating pellets.  1038 still is not interested in the pellets, despite climbing up the rocks and the floating log in their “home” tank.  While buying the juvenile turtle formula for them, I did spy the frozen mice.  I hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it needs to happen, I will do it.  Just like I will do with my new students.  I will do whatever I have to do to engage them fully in their learning.  New turtles and new students.  It’s going to be a fun year!

 

The two hatchlings enjoying a Sunday morning breakfast.

Post Script:  On Sunday, I tried a new “trick” to try and feed the turtles.  I noticed that when feeding 1029 in the tank, the turtle liked to hang onto the floating plants to grab the food.  So, I put both turtles into a small feeding tank, added some floating green plants and added a few pellets.  Suddenly, my not so interested in eating turtle began to snap at the pellets.  Finally success!  1038 also seemed to enjoy some of the turtle diet as well.  As I sit down to plan for the upcoming week, I look forward to trying out some new tricks with my new students as well.

A Day at the Zoo

Operating Room at Zoo New England

When one thinks of a zoo, they probably think of visiting exhibits comprised of lions, gorillas, exotic birds, and giraffes.  Today, March 7th, a beautiful spring day, I spent the day at Zoo New England’s Franklin Park Zoo.  But except for a 20 minute stint outside, I spent the day “behind the scenes” in a cinder block building at the back of the property — the zoo hospital.  Today was the day that the Blanding’s tutles were going to be “scoped” to determine their gender.

Last year, our turtles Bowser and Yertle went off to New England Aquarium to have the same operation.  Only one turtle came back, Yertle.  Bowser had been accidentally administered the wrong dose of the medication and he never woke up.  This was an extremely sad time for both the students and myself.  Having the privilege of being a head-starting classroom again this year, with the same students as I had last year, we have grappled with the decision to send Kame and Kachua to determine their gender this year.  Dr. Windmiller gave us the choice – to do the operation or not to do the operation.  And up until a week ago, the jury was out on what we would decide to do.  Finally, we had a big conversation about the operation.  The students had some questions for Bryan, and he sensitively answered both question quickly.  We discussed the purpose of the program and how it was important to determine what gender you were putting back into the wild when we released the turtles.  We finally voted.  The final tally was 13 votes that we should do the operation and 8 votes that we should not.  I notified Bryan and he offered that I could attend if it would make everyone (the writer here included) more comfortable.  So, I put in for a personal day and got prepared mentally to go.

It was difficult looking at the turtles for the past two days.  They couldn’t be fed and unfortunately, they have become creatures of habits – a meal in the morning, a little “afternoon snack”.  Since I was going, I personally got to bring them this morning to the Zoo.  I met up with Bryan and the other 8 turtles and headed into the city.  We arrived without any problems, got let in through the back gate, and were warmly greeted by Sharon, the Manager of the Hospital.  Entering the building, we had to stop on two mats, and then step into a tub of water.  We entered the operating room, where we were met by Susie Bartlett, the veterinarian who would be conducting the scopes.  John B. arrived from the Stone Zoo, carrying their 7 turtles who would be scoped as well today.  They set up the operating room and we were ready to go.  An incubator was set up as a holding tank, and another was set up for those turtles who were sedated and those who were finished with their operation.  John weighed and I recorded the weights of his group.  Then it was time to start.  For me, this was the tense time.  Bowser had been the first turtle up out of his group.  I watched as John held his first turtle as Susie showed Darcy, the “extern” how to administer the anesthesia.  Back into the sedation tank for ten minutes, and then they checked to see if they were asleep.  A shot of lidocaine followed in the area where the incision would be made for the scope to enter.  Sharon gently held the turtle on its right side as Suzy started to put the scope into the incision.  On the computer screen, we got to see the turtle up

It's a Girl!"

front and close.  Intestines, lungs, fat, blood vessels, complete with being able to see the red blood cells moving rapidly through the blood vessel.  It took awhile on the first turtle to find what we were all here for… was this a male or a female.  “It’s a girl!”  someone excitedly called out.   Since female Blanding’s turtles do not reproduce for about 20 years, it is an important goal of this program to find out what gender is being released.  One confirmed female, 16 more turtles to go.  The next six Zoo turtles were also female.  This news was quite unexpected.  Now, it was time for Kachua and Kame to undergo their scope.

Bryan helped me get Kachua out of the holding incubator.  I held its front leg out as Darcy gave a shot first in one front leg, and then another.  I spoke to Kachua softly as I put her back into the sedation incubator.  Within a short time, it was time for Kachua to be brought to the operating table.  I brought her over and Sharon took her.  Being the largest of all the turtles, it took some maneuvering for Susie to find her way through some of the fat.  After what seemed a long while, there again was a set of ovarys.  Kachua is a female, which proves that weight doesn’t mean male.  Kachua got placed into the “recovery” incubator and then I brought Kame over.  Since Sharon had stepped out of the room, I got to hold Kame on the turtle as the lidocaine was administered.  Sharon came back and it was easier this time to determine what gender Kame was — another female!  She groggily got put back into the recovery tank and it was time for another turtle.  I admit, that I was still a little uptight until I saw Kame flick her eyes open and look around.  Kachua seemed to snap out of it fairly quickly and really had her neck out looking around.

By the end of the day, there were 14 females, 2 males, and one undetermined.  When we arrived back in Concord, I heard the familiar clunking around in their carrier tank that I hear when I transport Kame and Kachua home.  They can’t go into water until Friday, so when I put them back in their tank, they were looking at me, looking for the food.  They don’t look any worse for the wear after their big day.

It’s funny that when I first got the turtles back in September 2010, I didn’t want to name them since I didn’t want to get attached to them.  In September 2010, I welcomed a new batch of students who I wasn’t emotionally ready for after a particularly wonderful year the year before.  But, we named the turtles, and I became attached to both the students and the turtles as the year went on.  We lost Bowser and welcomed Lynn-D.  We won 2nd place in a national contest.  I was asked to go to 5th grade, along with these students.  We released Yertle and Lynn-D into Moore’s Swamp and we welcomed a new group of turtles, that I knew, that I would become attached to once again.  And those students, I am very attached to them.  I can’t imagine life after June.  In June, I get to release both the turtles and the students.  Not a moment that I am particularly looking forward to, but I know that the cycle goes on and on again.  20 years from now, I hope that a group of 4th or 5th graders will be looking at a spreadsheet of data and say, look at all the hatchlings that turtle mother 224 and 232 had this year.  That then will be the true circle of life.

So thanks to the folks at the Zoo today for having this teacher present today.  It was awesome to see alveoli, ovaries, intestines, and red blood cells up close and personal.  It was wonderful watching Susie the teacher guide Darcy in doing the 16th turtle of the day’s scope, as well as glow when she spoke of how much she loves her job.  Sharon is also such a wonderfully committed person to animals of all sizes.   Their compassion and skill handling these 17 turtles was amazing.  It was tiring both physically and emotionally, but an overall wonderful day.

Of Signs, St. Augustine, and Storm Drains

Turtle Crossing Signs That Will Be Placed Around Concord

Today was an interesting day with a capital I.  It was a short day for me having after having an appointment with my arm doctor.  When I arrived back at school, laden down with bags, one of the noon-aides told me she had brought a package down to my room.  I admit it, I was grumby since my room is already over crowded with stuff.  There are garlic mustard plants, Norway maples, Purple loosestrife, water testing supplies, books, and stream tables already strewn all over the room.  After settling in, the kids reminded me I had a package.  Expecting more bottles to collect water samples, the box instead was too thin to host water bottles.  I saw the return address — from Stay Safe Traffic.  Suddenly a lightbulb went off in my head.  The kids excitedly gathered around as I opened the box.  Finally, the last piece of tape was off and I was looking at the back of a big metal sign.  Excitedly, I turned it over.  A hush went through the room.  The kids eyes were wide open, their jaws dropped.  Suddenly, a round of applause exploded over the room.  Grins were a mile wide.  “These are real signs,” the kids said.  Proud faces were the order of the day.  It was like Christmas, but instead of the kids receiving a present, they were instead giving a present to the town and to the turtles.  It was indeed a moment to savor by all of us.

After lunch, it was time for social studies.  We’ve just begun our study of Colonial America, and our flipped classroom assignment was to watch some videos on St. Augustine.  My in-laws used to “winter” there and had once offered us to buy out their time share (which we didn’t).  We never got down there and now I regret that.  In the curriculum, the Spanish settlement that we were suppose to focus on was Santa Fe, but I felt St. Augustine might be a better fit with the explorers that we just studied.  So, I started to research St. Augustine, finding that the first Thanksgiving was held on September 8, 1568.  So, I posed this question to the students, why don’t we know about this Thanksgiving, only the Plymouth Thanksgiving.  This led into a great discussion about using different lenses when studying history.

Dry Water Discharge

And now storm drains.  I have to admit it, I am just fascinated with this aspect of the project.  Talk about looking at the river with a different lens!  Today, we needed to get down and do our January river writing.  Once the kids got settled in, I wandered over to the storm drain.  Once again, it was running when it really shouldn’t have been running.  I called the three girls who are studying this area.  They excitedly ran over and started asking all kinds of questions.   I’m not sure where this storm drain study is going to lead, but boy has it been fascinating!

So, it was an incredible three hours of school today!  Signs, St. Augustine, and Storm Drains.

“Happy Turtle in the Mud”

I’d Rather Be a Happy Turtle (Chinese) from “3 Timeless Parables For Regaining Perspective” (http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=4871&fb_source=message)

Assabet River June 2011

Zhuang Zi was a brilliant philosopher and strategist who lived in ancient China. His abilities were many and several rulers sought his services. One of them, King Wei, sent his courtiers out to Zhuang Zi’s pastoral home to invite him to come to Wei’s court and be the leader’s chief counselor. They found him there fishing by the river bank.

Seeing his poor situation, they thought Zhuang Zi would jump at the chance for status and reward. Yet when they made their proposal to him, he said, “Once upon a time there was a sacred turtle, which was happy living his life in the mud. Yet, because he was sacred, the king’s men found him, took him to the royal palace, killed him and used his shell to foresee the future. Now tell me, would that turtle prefer to have given up his life to be honored at the palace, or would he rather be alive and enjoying himself in the mud?”

The courtiers responded that, of course, the turtle would be happier in the mud.

To which Zhuang Zi replied, “And so you have my answer. Go home and let me be a happy turtle here in the mud.”

A friend sent me this parable a week ago.  It’s been a very hard month for me and this parable really spoke to me.  But, 23 progress reports to write, numerous assessments to correct, a new graduate course to teach, a paper to write for a course I am in, three after-school meetings, and two broken hearts to soothe, put this blog on the back burner.  But I promised myself when I finished my progress reports, that this post would be my reward.  So, instead of researching the Colonial America unit, checking grad student responses, or working on foundation stuff, I need to respond to this parable.

Storm Drain Behind Our School 1/27/2012

For the past two weeks, I have spent a lot of time in storm drain areas.  The key to getting water samples from these outfalls is that you need to be out there when it is precipitating.   So, myself and three students have done just that.  We have been out in rain, snow, and sun.  I’ve also spent some time before the sun comes up gathering samples from other locations for the students to analyze.  To some, this may not seem like a good time, but for me and my three students, it has been exhilarating.  The students also blogged about this:

My most memorable experience was going down to the Storm Drain when it was freezing cold and raining. This probably doesn’t sound like much fun, but we got to see and take samples of what it looks like when the water comes out of the drain, and where it goes.”

 

 Reflecting back, even though I learned a lot every time we conducted experiments or visited the river, there was one time that really stood out that I learned the most from. The time that we visited the storm drain when it was raining really increased my understanding of my group, the other factors of the SuAsCo Watershed. When we marched down there, the storm drain was full of mucky water and there was a streams of polluted water heading towards the river. This raised my understanding of my group because before that, I thought of a pollutant as a simple fluid or solid or gas that makes it harder for plants and/or animals to grow. But here I was staring down at this filthy water that contains all of the town’s contaminants sitting in an area of ground with absolutely nothing alive. Now I knew what pollutants we were dealing with more than ever.”

The most memorable experience I have had so far is going down to the river for the first time to get samples when it

Following the Path of the Storm Drain 1/27/2012

was pouring rain. We went outside and there was snow and ice and we were expecting only a few drops of water to be coming out of the storm drain but we got there and found a huge pool with water rushing out of the pipe and a fast moving stream of runoff leading into the river. We were all cold and soaking wet while taking the samples but when we got inside the things that we found were definitely worth the trip.”

 

Standing in a pool of water, watching the water rush out of the rusty outfall pipe has been an incredible experience.  I have been going down to the river for six years behind our school, but I am now looking at it with an entirely different lens.  But even more than a different lens, it has reinforced my belief that I am like Zhuang Zi:  I’d rather be a happy turtle in the mud than just about anything else.  And the funny thing is that some of my students are also becoming happy turtles in the mud as well.

 

Moore's Swamp June 2011

Over the past year, I have had the privilege to watch Blanding’s turtle hatchlings hatch, release two turtles back into a swamp, track nesting female turtles, look for released head-starts, and sink a six-foot PVC gauge into the middle of a vernal pool three (soon to be four) times.  Each of these experiences have provided me with a huge rush.  Like standing in the pouring rain collecting samples from numerous storm drains, to feeling the cool water in a swamp, to sitting on the banks of the Assabet River, this teacher is totally happy when participating in these types of experiences.  For me, there is something liberating, something that really makes me feel alive when I’m mucking around out in the natural world.  There is something joyful and soulful while I am involved in these experiences.  One of my students wrote about sinking the vernal pool gauge for the second time:  My memorable experience during the project was sinking the gauges. Even though this was due to the fact that it got stolen, it was still fun to go trudging in the mud and sink a gauge. It was just exciting to go in water/mud that was about a 2 feet tall and sink a gauge. Now don’t ask me why it was fun it just was.

One of my favorite songs from the show “Glee” is “Singing in the Rain”

I’m singin’ in the rain

Just singin’ in the rain

What a glorious feeling

And I’m happy again

I’m laughing at clouds

So dark, up above

I’m singin’, singin’ in the rain.

 

Great Meadows July 2011

This parable came from a blog entitled “3 Timeless Parables to Regain Perspective”.  Standing in the middle of a downpour yesterday in a stream created by the storm water helps me regain the perspective of what is important.  This allows me to appreciate that life is glorious, that simple things like being out in a driving rainstorm can make me happy.  The greatest gift that I can give to my students is to also pass on that it is not the status or reward that Zhuang Zi passed up, but it is the simple things in life; the ability to appreciate things like storm drains and catch basins and muddy vernal pools, the joyfulness of standing in the pouring rain, the ability to be a happy turtle in the mud is the only status that truly matters.

Why I Am Glad That I Did Not Win the Lottery

Last June, I spent some time and some money buying lottery tickets.  I was in the mourning part of the teaching profession, giving away a marvelous group of students.  If one was going to retire, this would be the group to say adios to teaching.  So, I bought Scratch tickets and Mass Millions ticket in the hope of hitting it big and going out with these students. (Mind you, I entered teaching late, have two kids of my own in college and can retire no time soon).  By the end of June, the students had left, and the only other change was that my wallet was a little lighter from buying the tickets.  I was going to have to go back to teaching and this new class would have a hard act to follow..  I blogged about this both in June and in August before the new school year started.   The new school year started, and I, fresh with new ideas from BLC10, started teaching again.

And then, a funny thing happened.  A great new idea called CBL (Challenge Based Learning) caught on like wildfire with this new group of then 21 students.  I started seeing the spark in their eyes, the enthusiasm in their voices.  Our two Blanding’s turtle hatchlings, Bowser and Yertle, amazed us all.  In early November, we decided to enter a nation-wide contest, Disney Planet Challenge (DPC).  On a long November afternoon, as I listened to the children’s discussion on creating a goal for DPC and then developing guiding questions.  This afternoon was a turning point for me as I started to fall in love with another class.

DPC was a simply amazing experience for us all.  Students who didn’t like to write, were writing webpages.  Students who were naturally shy were standing up in front of town boards talking turtles.  A real deadline united us all with getting our portfolio done.  Students who wanted to be in a certain group were fine with being a team member and doing what needed to be done to meet our deadline.  This project gave learning a new purpose and these students rose to this challenge beautifully.

Along the way, other magical things were also happening.  Blogging.  The kids blogged all the time and responded to one another so naturally in such a respectful manner.  Writing.  Trips to the river made the students’ writing more and more descriptive.  As the seasons changed, so did their writing.  Confidence.  Watching the students blossom as they progressed throughout the year was extremely satisfying.

The year also had its share of trying moments for both me and the students.  Our turtle Bowser died during his laproscopy.   During the fall, a series of freak accidents left me with a severe nerve injury that later required surgery, and a concussion that left me rather dizzy for a bit.  This spring has been particularly trying for me after being asked to go to 5th grade, a change that I am very excited about.

So, today was day 179.   At 6:50 in the morning, my buddy and I both cried over this particular student’s blog

(http://kidblog.org/Room305b/Alexander230/1520/  At 7:45 a.m. was our robotics demonstration.  Wednesday’s dress rehearsal was as bad a dress rehearsal that I have ever witnessed.  Needless to say, both myself and Ms. Howard were very nervous.  However, in front of quite a panel, the students’ performance was flawless.  As I sat scrunched on the floor, I beamed across the auditorium at Ms. Howard as group after group

My beautiful gift

totally nailed their presentation.  After the last group, my room parents came up with a huge box.  They said it had really special meaning.  Tracey was right on with that assessment.  As I unwrapped the box, inside the bubble wrap, was an absolutely stunning ceramic platter that was personalized with 22 different turtles.  This platter was complete with the DPC logo as well as quotes that the kids said about DPC.  I was stunned beyond words.  It’s not very often that I am speechless.  But this did it.  Tears welled up in my eyes, and as my principal came over to see my gift, she noticed I was pretty emotional.  She hugged me and said, “isn’t this the best job in the world?”  It was pretty easy to agree with that statement.

At lunch, I went to walk one last time with my fifth grade student Justin.  His teacher asked me if he could hang out with his class, which was a pretty easy question.  I’ll be walking with him this summer.  So, I started back up the stairs, when four students from last year, Owen, Henry, Trevor, and Julian, asked me if they could have lunch with me.  I quickly said “sure”, and we headed upstairs.  I got to tell them that they were a special group for me and that they were going to do great at the middle school.  Trevor, who moved in during the school year last year, thanked me for doing what I did for him to welcome him into our class.  Jason joined us with his yearbook for me to sign.  It was a wonderful lunch and during it, I received a call from the office saying that

Gift from David and Sam

someone was coming up to see me.  I wondered who, and soon enough, Sam and David strolled into my room, carrying the canoe paddle that they had used in the Community Chest Challenge.  I had sponsored them, and at our reunion several weeks back, they thanked me for sponsoring them and said they had a paddle for me.  I forgot about it until just then.  It just seemed like the other day that I had these two boys as 5th graders, and here they were, both heading off to great colleges, back visiting their old 5th grade teacher.  Sam had written on the  paddle “Thanks for teaching and inspiring us from 5th Grade onwards;” and David had written “Thank you for everything.  Your mark on me is deeper than a pen on paper;”

So as this school year is coming to a close, I have to honestly say that I am glad that I did not win the lottery last June.  This year has been full of challenges, both good and bad, but as Kelly said, this is the ultimate job in the world.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  I overheard one of my students tell his father during our slide show, look how the turtles have changed since September.  I think its safe to say that both the students and myself have also changed throughout the year.  Their river writing on Wednesday, was extremely reflective.  http://riveredge.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/the-river-and-me-june-2011/#comment-265  Just as the river never stands still, my students past and present continue to inspire me to be a better teacher next year and to keep moving to find new ways to engage them as learners.

Have a great summer and I’ll be blogging about all the great classes and conferences that I will be attending this summer.

“I’m So Blogging About This!”

Dear  Mr. Utecht, Ms. Howard, and Yertle:

Blogs.  Blogging.  Blogger. Whether a noun or a verb, the b word is an essential part of my life, that has now also transformed my students as writers as well.  Last summer, when pondering whether to continue as a blogger or not, I was lucky to attend a transformative talk at BLC called “Building Student-Centered Blended Learning Environments”.  Quickly Mr. Utecht described blogs as a container, as a platform to reflect on learning, and that his students were writing constantly.  I left that workshop and vowed that in September, my students would also be blogging on their own blogs.

Next up, Ms. Howard, our “Superhero” Instructional Technology Specialist.  After attending the above talk, I of course went right to Sue and said that I wanted my kids to each have their own blogs.  Throughout the years of our work together, I am always the “we’ve got to do this now” part of the team, while Sue, being is more the voice of reason.  “You can’t use this platform because it requires each student to have a e-mail address and legally they need to be 13 to do this.” she explained to me, “but I will look at other platforms that may let you do this.”

Meanwhile, since I had already shot my mouth off to the kids, I set up the Room 305b Responds blog as a way for them to have a semi blog.  But this blog would still be controlled by me in that I selected the posts for them to respond to.  One night, when I opened up my e-mail account, there was a plethora of red flags, meaning I had a lot oaf e-mail to answer.  To my delight, it was a very different type of e-mail.  The students were naturally discussing about their responses, but on-line.  I blogged about Room 305B’s responding in a post entitled that in November.

In early January, the 4th and 5th grade teachers were introduced to a tool called e-Pals that had a blog tool.  However, DPC took over our learning lives and we didn’t get a lot of chances to explore.  Then, it was March and the day of our long composition test.  Looking at the hours of work put into this test, I thought that after this, the kids would hate to write and who could blame them.  I again went back to Sue and inquired about the blogs for the students.  She was already on it and looking at different formats.  My students have wonderful memories and asked me one day after the MCAS, what about those blogs you said we were each going to have?

So, Sue and I sat and explored.  Yes, e-Pals did have a blog function, but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be for the students.  We thought we were onto something with another platform, but we were disappointed with several aspects of this platform as well.  We got a lucky break, when a colleague, who was collecting information for another project, gave us a sheet of resources.  On it, was just what we were looking for.  Sue excitedly set up accounts for each student.  She came up one morning and we unveiled their new blogs.  The students were very excited and we quickly came up with a list of topics that they could blog about.  Being the day of Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton, there were several entries about the wedding and the unique hats.  There were some students who really took to blogging like a duck takes to water.  Soon, I started to find out information about my students that I did not know through the first 140 plus days of school.  One student was an incredible photographer, another girl wrote about her feelings being a new student; and yet another student wrote about her hobby of collecting proverbs.  Still there was some students who really weren’t utilizing their blogs.  Or until the past Friday that is…

This is where Yertle comes into play.  Mrs. Kablik, our Science Specialist, had brought in some aquatic creatures to try with our Blanding’s turtles.  Yertle had been fairly stubborn when it came to eating live prey, while Lynn-D loved eating her fresh worms.  Yertle was first put into the tank with two crayfish.  The battle ensued and within ten minutes, Yertle had ended his pickiness about eating wild food.  The students were gathered around the tank in the middle of the floor, writing about what they were witnessing.  While observing, one of my quieter students yells out, “I’m so blogging about this.”  So, instead of continuing with the social studies I had planned to do, the kids went and got out their laptops and did just that.  Blogged about what they had just witnessed.  All I heard was the tapping of laptops keys as the students eagerly wrote about Yertle meeting up with the crayfish.  As they finished up their own blog, the students would go on to each other’s blog and comment about their post.  “I like how you summarized how their eating habits have changed”, “I like how you acted like Yertle was a monster”, and “You definitely showed what Yertle and Lynn-D’s feelings were.”   The students were giving good feedback to their classmates about their posts.

“I’m so blogging about this…”  I came home after a very trying week and thought about this line.  I was so excited to have my students feel like how I do when it comes to blogging.  There are so many times that I have a new blog post stewing in my head for days, I just don’t have the time to get it down.  Maybe a lesson learned here for me is to allow myself that time to write when I feel like writing, just like I allowed the students time to blog on Friday.  So, about 52 hours later, I now am “so blogging about this” transformative experience.