As Good As It Gets

It’s been a hard stretch.  These are the days of MCAS, the days of MCAS prep, the days of pre-adolescence angst, the days of recognizing that the school year is coming to an end.  I’m seeing behaviors I’ve either never seen before, or that I haven’t seen in a while, I am seeing students gaining on me in height, I’m seeing students getting short with each other and I am seeing students really bonding.  I’m witnessing attitudes, witnessing some students checking out, and witnessing the continuous chatting that prevails morning, noon, and afternoon.  But despite all of these changes, I am proud.  Tonight’s meeting at the Natural Resources Commission was about as good as it gets.

With Math MCAS, reviewing for Science MCAS, and Science MCAS, the 16th snuck up on us.  I put out a request for the parents to sign up on the Wiki if their child could attend about ten days ago.  Delia Kaye, the Natural Resources Commissioner wrote me a week ago requesting our report by last Friday.  In between tests and make-up specials, each group of students got their write-up done and I put it together and sent it out to meet our deadline.  Then it was Monday the 14th and time to get our presentation together.   11 had signed up by the Friday deadline, so I broke the presentation up into groups.  By the end of the day on Tuesday, two more signed up and needed to be inserted into the presentation.   During MCAS on Tuesday, I took all of their powerpoint slides and inserted them into a master power point.  Wednesday morning, I had scheduled a practice time.  As each child got up, some incredible things happened.  They were ad-libbing.  They didn’t need to totally read off their scripts.  One of them asked me if it was alright if they didn’t go right off the script.  “Absolutely” I replied.  I was in awe of how these students have grown over the past two years.  My two new students in the class got right up there and looked like seasoned veterans as well.

Wednesday night, every one was there right on time, attired “smartly” in professional dress.  One student had brought a pointer.  They were excited to do this, no nerves at presenting in front of an audience who consisted of their parents, the commission, and other guests.  I played “Vanna” and advanced their powerpoint.  And they shined.  Again.  Watching them, my heart swelled once again with pride.  Their poise, their passion, their knowledge, their ease in presenting was incredible.  They answered questions thoroughly, they spoke clearly, and it was evident that they care about their world.

Leaving the building, I said to one of the parents, “this is as good as it gets.  I ought to start playing lottery tickets again as I don’t know how I am going to replace these kids.”  It’s been a heck of a ride with these students over the past two years.  As one student told me the other day, “I’ve had you for 336 days.”  I know that despite some of the behaviors mentioned in the first paragraph, that I am going to cherish the next 23 days with these students.  It is about as good as it gets.  And yes, I bought that lottery ticket on the way home.


The Perfect School Day

It seems like I have written this blog before, and I have  This perfect day didn’t happen on a Saturday like the previous one, but instead took place both during the school year as well as afterschool.

The day didn’t start out so perfectly.  Some students forgot to do their reading homework.  Others didn’t do the entire math assignment.  Facing both an end of the unit math test this week, MCAS Math next Monday and Tuesday, and MCAS Science the following Monday and Tuesday, I will admit it, I am a bit stressed out about all of this and I am sure I am passing on my stress to my students.  It has been a very difficult year in many aspects with the new mandated assessments.  The students are feeling the heat, as I am.  I’ve been told by a close friend that I get grumpy around MCAS season and she is true.  I am grumpy about it all.  The upcoming middle school transition is also weighing heavily on both students and teacher.  So, I needed something to break the tension, to show me what good learning really looks like, and luckily at 11:30 this morning,that thought came to reality.

Testing the water

We were fortunate to have some guests from the EPA today come and teach us about testing storm water, a topic that the students have been researching during this year.  I love to have outside scientists come and work with my students.  This allows the students to witness scientists at work in their field.  Dr Bryan Windmiller has been an awesome role model for the past two years.  He has permitted the students to come along while tracking turtles, and tracking down nesting turtles.  Brennan Caverhill, from the Toronto Zoo generously skyped with the students for over an hour.  Peter Alden came and talked about invasive species at our Watershed WISE Night.  Lee Steppacher talked about topics that we have been studying this year.  Sue Beede has given throughout the years to many of my classes.  Matt Burne has come down to the vernal pool to help us with species identification.  All of these scientists have so greatly added to my students’ knowledge and today, Dan and Lisa from the EPA followed these great examples.  In the pouring rain, half of the class ventured down behind the school to visit the storm drain.  I’ve been bringing classes down to the river since 2006 and this class has taken a different lens and look at storm water.    So, we were outside for 30 minutes in the pouring rain, learning about what these environmental scientists do with storm water.  The students. as usual, asked great questions.  No one seemed to mind that we were out in the rain watching the water gush from this clay pipe.

Back at the room, 16 students elected to stay on a half day Tuesday and participate in the Great Garlic Mustard Challenge.

Pile of garlic mustard that was picked.

After a lunch break, we ventured down to Cousin’s Field to pull Garlic Mustard.  The students split up into five groups, I assigned each group an area to focus on, and they were off.  I will tell you that originally, I was a little nervous since I thought that some of the group may do more fooling around than actual work.  I was very pleasantly proven incorrect.  All 16 went to work with great enthusiasm.  I couldn’t had been more proud watching them labor on in the light rain on a very raw day.  After about an hour and 15 minutes, I asked them to gather up their pulls and bring it back to a designated area.  I was in awe of the work that they had done.  They were muddy and cold, but I never heard one complaint.  They knew they were doing a good thing for the environment.  Our next problem was how we were going to get it back to the school.  I let them problem solve how to do that best and off we headed down Prairie Street.  One group, wheeling the big trash barrel had numerous problems and every one helped them out.  We were all filthy, cold, and wet, but fulfilled.

So the second part of the day was perfect.  Students engaged in authentic work.  Students engaged in community service.  Students engaged in problem solving and group work.  Even though I am now exhausted and should be trying to figure out how to best prepare them for Science MCAS, I am so proud of the learners they have become.  May we have a few more days like this one before school ends for the year.

Pollution River Project

An example of one of our rivers
An example of one of our rivers

Today in class, students constructed from 19 puzzle pieces their ideal river.  This is their comments from today’s activity.  We learned that if cows “poop” in a river, then it needs to be cleaned up before people do anything with the water.  In Brazil, people don’t drink the tap water because it has germs in it.  Recently, one student who has another home in Gloucester was also effected by dirty water.  We discovered that the most common problem doing this was where to put the waste and water treatment plants.  It felt like we were creating miniature worlds, and it seemed like it was impossible for everyone to have clean water.  One town or city would have to have polluted water, but we managed to make it clean.  There seemed like there was always a problem because we had to keep switching squares.  It felt like to me that we were making man-made rivers, but we needed to make sure that when the river got to the ocean that it was clean so the sea creatures wouldn’t be killed off.