The Joy of Teaching

These days when I venture out into and around Concord, I am asked a lot about school.  However, these questions are not about the topic that I focus my energy on:  teaching.  As I have written many times before, teaching is an incredibly hard job.  If I had stayed with my government job, I would be able to retire in two years.  With teaching, I probably won’t make the 30 years needed to recoup a lot of my pension.  But while I really liked my old career, I love my new career.  My students, while at times demanding and complex, offer me what the other job didn’t:  joy.

Joy can be described as:  the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.

Over the past month, best described as “March Madness” at its best, moments of joy constantly surround me during the day.  I want to share some of these joyful moments that give the madness meaning.

Mrs. Brewer Style:  Several weeks back, we were outside at recess on a pretty chilly Thursday.  Several of the girls were complaining about the bitterly cold wind when Mrs. Brewer suggested to them that they dance.  So, they danced.  I marveled in Mrs. Brewer’s ease at just bogeying around with these girls.  Watching them, I remembered that Mrs. Brewer would be celebrating a milestone birthday that weekend.  On our way in the door, I mentioned to the trio of dancing girls that perhaps they could write a song to “Gangham Style” for Mrs. Brewer.  The trio were our Thoreau “newbies” and they were thrilled to be tasked with this job.  So, off to work they set.  They collaborated with our music teacher Mrs. Swain, and by the end of recess, they had a first draft in hand.  I needed to get a “dress rehearsal” in with the kids, so I sent Mrs. Brewer to copy many MCAS packets so that we could escape to the auditorium to try it.  It was an awesome dress rehearsal and to further throw Mrs. Brewer off, after leaving the auditorium, I did a “walk around” the school, saying the students needed to practice walking in a straight line.  When she caught up with us, I pretended to be mad at the students and told her that they were misbehaving.  The next day, on the snow storm day, we had planned that the kids would ask what would be the Friday video and could they watch Gangham style.  They were appropriately pesty and we all kept straight faces throughout the day.  During social studies, the students were suppose to be comparing Jamestown and St. Augustine.  They kept pestering me about the video.  Finally, I “relented” and said they could watch the video, if they went back to work afterwards.  They promised they would and I brought up the soundtrack to Gangham style.  One of my newbies jumped up onto the table and shouted “Brewer Style” and joy spread across Mrs. Brewer’s face.  Before long, the majority of the class was dancing on the tables.  We were all dancing and it was joy at its best.  When we finished, we went dancing through the office, down the halls, up the stairs, and into Mrs. Dillon’s class.  I can’t remember a happier time, a more joyful time.

Sketch Up and Turtle Art:  As I have also blogged about before, I firmly believe that students need to own the learning. Currently, I am taking an online course at MIT called Learning Creative Learning.  I learned about a program called “Turtle Art”.  I was excited to have the students try this out since it combined Logopaths and Scratch.  So, one Monday morning, when the other students were at instruments, we held a “PT” (Playtime).  My attempt at Turtle Art yielded a little flag, but before long, students were creating incredible graphic designs.  Watching the atmosphere of children calling each other over to look at what they were doing was awesome.  They were learning from one another, they were trying new skills and they were having fun. They were happy and engaged.  It was another instances of joy during learning.  About a week later, I was trying to extend our Lime Moving project by making it a “STEAM” lesson and I was discussing what each letter represented.  The “A” is for art.  We discussed how art could be integrated into this project, when one boy raised his hand and mentioned “Sketch Up”  I remembered hearing about this program at BLC and thought it sounded rather cool.  So, I mentioned it to Ms. Howard, who did a little research and then told me it was okay for the students to try this.  Several days later, I needed to attend a meeting.  I told the students they should work on their STEAM project.  When I returned an hour later, two students excitedly ran over to me, beckoning me to come over to their computer.  Seems like while I was gone, some of the students started playing with Sketch Up.  It was amazing to see the 3-D designs that they had created.  Again, there were no directions or expert in the classroom.  They used each other once again to learn and share.  Students who typically aren’t in the spotlight, were leading the way.  For this teacher, there is no greater joy to see engaged students who own their learning, who  are willing to take charge, and who are gleeful about what they have created.

Brackets:  Another joyful moment during our own March Madness Month actually involved NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball team brackets.  Yes, we are doing brackets.  A few people have walked in during this activity and have asked “You are doing brackets?”  Yes, we are.  It’s been great, because it has been a great extension of our fractions, decimals, and percent learning.  I have broken the class into four groups that represent the four divisions.  They were initially tasked with determining the fraction that represented the total wins over the losses and wins, then figuring out the decimal that represents the winning percentage and round it to the nearest thousandth, and finally, coming up with the actual winning percent of each team.  We decided to study theoretical probability and select teams on their winning percentage to see how this would come out against the experimental probability.  Lots of great math involved, real life connections, collaboration, and awesome predicting going on. (we are not doing badly with the theoretical slant)  When I watch how engaged each group is, it once again brings a smile to my face, reminding me why I teach.

Cemeteries, Swamps, and MAD COW:  I have wanted to get my class to a cemetery over the past two years.  Sounds a little strange, but ever since Dr. Klar dragged my grad class to a cemetery, I have been fixated with the type of learning that can occur here.  Several times back in my teaching career, I’ve done a project called “Talking Tombstones”.  It was an awesome learning experience and I’ve really wanted to go back.  But due to a change in field trip policy, this was no longer possible.  I so believe in the value of community based field experiences.  I’ve resorted to my weekend mini-trips to fill this void.  But this year, I was fortunate to meet up with Michael Goodwin of CCHS who is running a really cool new program called Rivers and Revolutions.  Since a large part of their learning is experiential, we have been able to go out with his students through their stewardship programs.  So, this past Wednesday, we headed to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery on a beautiful spring day.   The activities were pretty engaging to the students.  While I went from station to station, I spotted Moore’s Swamp below.  Moore’s Swamp is the big project that we have been working on for about four months.  I scoped it out and asked the CCHS students if I could have about 15 minutes to bring the students down there to check out some of the things that they had written about.  So, we descended down a steep hill into the low part of the cemetery that is basically even with the swamp.  Much to all of our amazement, we found the culvert blocked — with piles of sandbags.  Quickly, I texted Bryan Windmiller with the students’ questions.  While we were examining the area, we were lucky to be able to spy ten Blue Heron, and two different types of woodpeckers.  Again, watching the students ask great questions while at the same time, exhibiting elation over seeing the birds was priceless.  This 15 minutes of examining this part of the cemetery and swamp again provided us all with a deeper understanding of the area.  It provided us with a good perspective of the issues about Moore’s Swamp.  It provided us with some great information that we would need a mere 48 hours later.

On Friday morning, I heard from Bryan that the DPW was not going to change its position about draining the Swamp (see my post on January 2nd).  When I mentioned this to the children after lunch and that we would need to come up with a plan on Monday for the Wednesday meeting, they swung into action.  They asked me to let them work on it right there and then.  One child said that “originally this was just a learning experience, but now it is personal.”  So, I let them work.  Grabbing their Mac Book Airs, the groups gathered and started compiling their position points to present at the meeting scheduled for next Wednesday.  Everyone was on task, everyone was writing their positions to present.  They were so engaged they even forgot about the extra recess that I offered them earlier in the day.  We did select a Friday afternoon video, the Duck Song and went “waddling” off to the buses.  Another joyful day.  Another day of inspired students.  Another day of students owning their learning.  So, if folks want to ask me about teaching, I am more than willing to share these moments of joy with them.


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!

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.

Reflections from the Farm

It’s been over a year since we started the Digital Learning Farm in Room 305B.  Over a year since that opening day assembly featuring Alan November that got me so excited that I got back from the high school, went onto the November Learning website, and changed up quite a bit of my curriculum.  It’s funny how when you least expect something big, when you are truly open-bowled, that you can let all kinds of new thoughts in your mind.

The production of "River, Rails, and Revenues" in October 2000

I’ve long done digital storytelling projects, starting in the fall of 1999.  The first Erickson class produced a movie was about the History of Thoreau School.  The second one, produced in 2000, was called “River, Rails, and Revenues” about the history of West Concord.  This video won a student video contest in 2001 as did subsequent movies, “Talking Tombstones” and “CEI – Concord Ecological Issues” did in 2002.  In 2003, my class produced a 40 minute movie called “Shoes for the Soul” .  In 2004, after watching a Ken Burns documentary, I decided to switch from live video to having the students produce documentaries, created from still photos from the Colonial period of U.S. history.  Colonial Storytelling then morphed into Egyptian Storytelling and China Storytelling.  This went on for a number of years until that fateful day in September 2009.

So what’s different now?   My students are still creating digital products, right?  How could this farm project changed my view of learning so greatly?

In the digital farm, I really let go.  I let the students collaborate more with one another, infuse their product with their own brand of creativity.  I let them decide the type of product in which to display their knowledge of a certain subject area.  I decided that I did not need to know everything.  I remember in the past, I felt like I needed to be an expert in iMovie, in Robolab.  Quickly, I found out that the students bypassed my level of knowledge so quickly.  It is okay to say “I don’t know how to do that.”  No longer was I held back by my own fear of failure, instead I created an atmosphere of it was okay to take a risk and it was okay for my students to take a risk.  Fortunately for me, I have always had principals and administration that allowed me to take risks to improve student learning and student engagement.

Speaking of engagement, I found that student engagement is the key to classroom management. Engaged students are that – engaged.  If you read some of my earlier blogs, you will find time and time again my amazement at how many different things were going on in the classroom and how totally on task everyone was at any given time.   Whereas before, I only wanted one way to present information, now I had iMovie, Garage Band, Activ Studio, Keynote, a blog platform, and a webpage design activity going on at one time.  Never was it chaotic.

Finally, I became co-learners with my students.  We would learn together, sometimes get frustrated together, and often rejoice in their work together.  I learned to better value their time.  For example, the students had written these incredible realistic fiction stories.  When it came time to a rewrite, I thought, “Would this be a good use of their time?  What is the main purpose of this experience?”  Instead of rewriting 20 plus handwritten pages, the students created book trailers about their stories.

So this week in Room 305B, the new farmers set off to display their CBL knowledge by using some new farm tools.  It wasn’t totally chaos-free.  My techie partner was out, I had lots of storyboards to review and students to set up on different programs.  I challenged the students to try something new, to stretch themselves, to help one another.  By 3:00 p.m., one student had deleted all her photos, but she was still smiling, another had tried ActivStudio, totally outside her comfort zone, and another was still trying to figure out how to do something on Garage Band.  But, they were all challenged and engaged for the entire afternoon.  For me as a teacher, it is both liberating and energizing to be a farmer.  I look forward to learning new skills alongside my newest crop of farmers.

Three-Twenty in the Afternoon and All is Well in Room 305B!

It’s been a busy day in Room 305B.  Starting off at 6:50 a.m. when I walked into the classroom, I’ve moved along from one thing to another, not stopping long to reflect, enjoy, appreciate.  Two student movies needed to be uploaded, the room needed to be cleaned for company, and I needed to make sure everything was just “so” for our upcoming lesson.  Sometimes in this profession, days and weeks do go by without my ever coming for air.  New things to teach, new things to prepare, notebooks to go over, blogs to update.  Today, although a busy one, did give me an opportunity to reflect, enjoy, and appreciate.  During our writing lesson, I shared with the students some of the stories that I have written to work with them about what is a thesis and how can we derive one from our personal narratives?  The first one I shared was about a day off for a doctor’s appointment and how I had time to savor the sunrise, the ice on the bushes and the reflection of the trees on the river.  “What do you think is the big idea?”  The students answers were profound, “You looked at winter in a different way, you stopped and looked around you.”  My next piece was about climbing the Great Wall of China and how physically hard a task it was.  Again, they nailed the “big idea” — nothing worthwhile is easy, you sometimes need to really struggle to reach a goal.  Really great insights from a group of nine and ten year olds.  Next up, Lesson and Lunch.  When I changed the lesson from the Compliments Open Circle lesson to the Logopaths lesson, I was hoping it would go over well.  A parent said to me before we got started — “laptops wow!”  I stood back for a moment and thought, we are indeed very lucky to have the support of the taxpayers so we can do all these incredible lessons with our students.  Mr. C strolled in while you were all busily working and commented on how engaged everyone was and what a great lesson to do with you all.  I told him we should all have the t-shirts that say “Life is Good” because, indeed it is.  After the lesson was over, and lunch had begun, I enjoyed looking out over parents and children talking and being together.  Often this time of year is crazy, and I was happy to be able to provide some quality time that you and your child could learn together and eat together.  After recess was over, the children came up, got out their assignment books, and waited for their homework.  “It’s a lot of homework,” I announced, “we need to get to a certain point before vacation.”  (There was never a lot, I was just fooling them).  I wrote on the white board, “Have Fun!”  It felt great to do this, they work so hard all the time and have just come off of a really tough week last week.  I enjoyed watching them shout out their ideas on what they would do to have fun this afternoon!  During the afternoon, the students set off to work on their DLF biography projects.  Ms. Howard was present, and she and I had the opportunity to just sit back and reflect on this project.  The students were all engaged in creating their biography movies on the newest version of iMovie.   They barely had any questions, they were working cooperatively in creating these mini-movies.  At the end of the day, I asked one group at a time to bring up their laptops and connect it to the projector.  We watched several of the works-in-progress, critiquing each one respectfully.  It was another enjoyable experience — great work, presented in a manner that our digital natives just eat up!  The end of the day came and the students wanted to keep in sharing.

So, despite the craziness that this season offers, today gave me a great opportunity to reflect, appreciate, and enjoy all that happens in this classroom on a daily basis.  May you all have a wonderful vacation, with time to reflect, appreciate, and enjoy your wonderful children.

National Technology Standards and Global Education in Room 305B

Both on Friday and on Monday, I have spent time discussing with two colleagues how our classes can communicate with one another.  Now, if these were colleagues here at the school, it would be pretty easy:  go into one another’s classroom to discuss a subject, or have the kids talk and discuss at lunch and recess. But these colleagues weren’t across the hall, instead, they are on other sides of the ocean:  one from St. Michael’s School in Ascot England, and the other from Onuma Elementary School in Nanae Japan.  We’ve been busy arranging for our classes to meet via the use of technology.  Our Global Elementary Educational Technological Summit will be held the week we get back from the Thanksgiving break.   We will discuss student-arranged questions with our colleagues from England on December 1st and 2nd.  On Thursday evening, December 3rd, we will be Skypping with our penfriends from Onuma Elementary School.  It’s just amazing to think how our students will have this incredible opportunity to meet students from all over the globe.  I’ve been trying to arrange the Japan opportunity for about a year, but for the English students, one of our Digital Farmers set it up.   Our DLF project nicely ties in with so many of the National Technology Standards.  I’ve copied the second standard for you to all learn what our students should be doing in this age of Digital Learning.

2. Communication and Collaboration

Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.

b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.

c. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.

d. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

Blown Away

It’s almost five hours since we left the computer lab and I still feel like my head is spinning (in a good way:)) I stayed behind in the lab for a few minutes to reflect on the 55 minutes of learning with Ms. Howard and both of us had the same spinning feeling.  She is simply amazed how much these digital natives have come in knowing this year. So, in a one week period (okay not even that technically), we have produced:

  • 3 Book Trailers, produced on iMovie
  • 4 Quick Time movies, filmed by the students, on Jewelweed.
  • 3 Ask the Expert segments
  • 3 ActivStudio flipchart movies on math topics
  • 3 KeyNote presentations done on low income entrepreneurs
  • 1 four minute interview with Mr. C, edited and published through Garageband.

Six different pieces of technology utilized.  Six different groups doing six different projects.  The amazing part is until last Thursday, not one of them has been used by these students before.  A week after starting, we should have all of Round One projects posted, and are moving onto Round Two of the projects.  When the groups switch to another type of project (we have decided to keep the same teams as they are working well together), the students that learned the technology previously will teach the new team how to use it.  Never in our wildest dreams did we ever envision being able to undertake this type of learning environment so early in the school year.  The other day, I was teaching the students how to create an Excel spreadsheet for their data investigations.  Again, no-one had really done Excel before.  By the end of math class, not only had they created their graphs, but they would have made a graphic designer proud.  Today, as they sat with their end products and were doing a conclusion about their study, Mr. C walked in, looked at one student’s graph, and asked if he did that.  Yes, the student replied.  Mr. C left the room shaking his head as well.  I love being able to give the students the freedom and creativity to design such great projects.  I love this type of head spinning:)