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.