June: A Blur (in many ways!)

The month of June is like the confluence:  the joining of two or more bodies of water.  But instead of bodies of water, in my case, it is the joining of two or more bodies of students.  And in the event of this particular month, it was the coming together of multiple bodies of students.

First up, was the 22 lively students that I had in front of me every day from 8:50 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.  Fifth grade can be a time of great angst and this spring was no exception.  The transition to middle school, where for some, Thoreau had been their only academic home for the past six years, can be a frightening one.  Just when they have figured out my expectations, their classmates’ personalities, and things like where the bathrooms are located, they are now facing a switch to a new school, where they now face the prospect of not having a “friend” with them (new middle school strategy) to having multiple teachers and multiple locations during the school day.  No longer will just one teacher be running after them for missing work, there will be multiple teachers with different demands on them.  No longer will there be a tubby to place their belongings, they will face the prospect of moving every 48 minutes and with that move will be their possessions that have to also travel with them.  With more blossoming of those lovely hormones, personalities that were sweet for most of the year, became pretty sour in the last weeks of school.  It was a time that sometimes it was a struggle to get through the day with all of the chatting, which is a hallmark of middle school behavior.

But amongst the angst, was some great learning going on.  How many times can I express that Robotics is the best thing that I teach?  In case you haven’t heard me say that before, I will say it again, “Robotics is the best thing that I teach.”  Robotics pulls in the best of learning.  It blends creativity, critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and collaborative work in with whatever curriculum that I decide to mix it with.  This year’s theme was Lewis and Clark.  Students needed to research the obstacles that Lewis and Clark faced and design a robot that would overcome these obstacles.  As one student noted “This is Lewis and Clark meeting the 21st century.”   Almost immediately after introducing the project, a lot of the angst disappeared.  Students who had a not so positive attitude about robotics at the beginning were asking to stay in for recess to do some programming.  Students whose expertise was more in the hands-on area of building robots, became the “go-to” students.  Students challenged themselves to accomplish some tricky maneuvers that I personally thought couldn’t be done.  Students stuck with difficult challenges.  They didn’t throw the towel in when something didn’t work as they wanted it to.  By the morning of our demonstration on the second to last day of school, the students were ready.  They were dressed for success and calmly got up in front of a room of their parents and other guests to present their robot.  The name of this project was “The Journey  Project” and it was a fitting name for the journey that many of them had taken throughout the school year as learners.  I am very proud of where they traveled through the year to become better writers, better readers, better mathematicians, better scientists, and better social scientists.  But most of all, they had become better people.  I am M.A.D. will go down as the hallmark of this year’s group.

Second group of students up:  the graduating class of 2013.  For the past five years, the Thoreau School faculty has hosted the graduating seniors.  Most have gone onto Concord-Carlisle High School, but others have moved, and others have gone onto private schools in the area.  It is always fun to see what your old 4th or 5th graders have turned into as young adults and what the next chapter of their life holds for them.  For me, I had this group as 4th graders when we had just moved into swing space at the old Alcott School.  By the end of the year, I had only ended up with 15 of them.  While 15 is the typical number of students at a private school, it is a little small at the public school level.  And this 15 could be a little on the difficult side.  So, I was eagerly awaiting  their arrival in the Thoreau School Library to see how they have morphed into young adults.  Right before the end of the day, one of my current students, whose brother was among those graduating seniors, mentioned that his family would be hosting a student who attended Thoreau but had moved in 4th grade.  That student was one that I had, Nick, and he had moved in the middle of the school year to Colorado.  I think I had originally heard a bit about him, but had heard nothing for years.  Max told me he was coming for the graduation and I was disappointed that he wouldn’t be here for the reunion of Thoreau Alum.

When this group of students arrive though, they are no longer the 4th graders they were when I had them.  A few looked identical to back in 4th grade but were taller and resembled an adult version of their 4th grade self.  However, most of them needed a name tag because they were really morphed.  One handsome young man walked over to me and said “Mrs. Erickson?”  On his name tag was “Nick”.  It was my old Nick.  I had misunderstood Max, he was there for the graduation, but also for the rest of senior week.  It had been 8 years since I had last seen or heard of Nick.  And there he was standing in front of me, reaching into his backpack and pulling out a scrapbook.  He went on to tell me that this scrapbook, which the class had made for him when he moved, meant the world to him.  It kept him up during some really down moments.  I have to be honest, I didn’t remember doing this.  A seemingly simple measure, have the students write him a note, and put it together in a scrapbook, had meant the world to this student.  The fact that he dragged it across the country to show me, meant the world to me.  No matter how tough the day, the month, the year had been, disappeared in this realization that as teachers, we have an incredible impact on a child’s life.  I am a teacher.  That’s what I do and that’s what I love doing.  The difference this made in Nick’s life made a profound impact on my life.  This made my day, my week, my month, and my year.

Group Three:  From time to time, there is a group of students that stay connected to me.  The first group just finished their sophomore year in college.  The next group, was my “replacement” group for that group of girls and they just finished their freshman year in high school.  These five girls were really tight as 4th graders when I had them as students.  In 5th grade, they use to come see me on occasion for lunch. In 6th grade, when the group was split into two different schools, they started to drift apart a bit, but would still come by after school for “tea”.  I could always count on Rose baking something pretty sophisticated for her age, and I could also count on the gang of them being pretty silly.  Sometimes almost too silly!  But year after year in middle school, some of them still wanted to come by.  I would enjoy hearing their stories about this student and that student, about their Bat Mitzvahs and siblings, and about their summer plans.  Slowly, there were growing up and the silliness started to subside.  So, Larissa had written to me in the spring and asked about getting together in June.  Rose, who had moved onto a private school, would be out of school early and could come during the second week of June.  So we selected a date and got it on the calendar.  They arrived after school.  A few of them tower over their former teacher now, but otherwise, they all are the same kind and neat kids they were when I had them in 4th grade.  Both Rose and Katherine backed something for this “tea”.  It was great catching up with them.  What I always admired about this group was that they are happy in their own skin.  They are who they want to be.  Five years later, they all have very different interests.  It was great hearing about their activities and their summer plans.  They are morphing into young adults and I am really looking forward to following them on their path.  I left that tea happy to see them and pleased at where they are in the world.  I am sure I will write more about them in the years ahead.

Group Four:  Past students who are now in middle school:  This year, I duplicated Karen Hoyt’s having former students who are in 6th grade, come back and speak to my current students about middle school.  I admit, I only originally invited four 6th graders and two 8th graders.  The two 8th graders were two of my finest male students and I thought they could offer a “big middle school picture” to the 5th graders.  When I had these two boys as 4th graders, I knew they would grow up to be fine leaders, and I have been correct on that assumption.  Their two sisters, who I had for 2 years, were also going to come, along with another girl who was going to ask two boys.  However, Karen asks back her entire former class and when word got out, suddenly, I had e-mails from other students asking if they could come.  At this point, it was easier to say yes than no, and that proved to be a good decision.  They were to meet us at 2:30 in the auditorium where we were doing robotics.  Thunder rumbled overhead as the middle schoolers filed in, completely drenched.  And it was quite a line up of students!  There was one that I was worried about, but have seen several times publicizing his own lawn business, which is an awesome thing!  They spoke extremely respectfully to my current students. answering their questions honestly and humorously.  After 35 minutes, we needed to end, but I was very proud of this bunch of students.  I look forward to “tracking” them in the future as I know they will be doing great things.

Group Five:  SuAsCo River Schools Network:  After about five years of brainstorming on how to make this happen, on Monday, June 10th, after school, about 10 of my current students welcomed about 13 students from Lowell to officially kick off the SuAsCo River Schools Network.    A total of 23 students, ranging from 5th graders to college students got together to discuss the importance of studying and preserving our rivers.  As one student from Lowell said, “I like studying about rivers because it shows us how we are all connected.”  Watching the students analyze water samples from around the watershed to exploring the Thoreau School River Trail was an awesome moment to showing how students from different areas and backgrounds could be connected over a common thing:  in this case, the rivers.  I look forward to growing this program over the next year.

And finally Group Six:  I don’t really know this group of students.  Currently, they only exist as names on my class list for the upcoming school year.  We start receiving this list early in June and it is tweaked until we receive our “final” (in that students always move in during the summer) list on the last day of school.  It can be a confusing time, looking at the future, while dealing with the present, and having the past all involved at the same time.  Yet, I find myself already thinking about the possibilities for the next year.  How will I do things differently with this group?  What are they like as learners?  What inspires them?  What will they grab onto?  Those questions will continue to be asked up to day 180  of the 2013- 2014 school year.

A blur.  A confluence of students past, present, and future.  Students who are MAD.  Students who have morphed into wonderful young adults.  Students who want to help the environment.  Students on a list.   A blur.


BLC12: More Questions and Stories

BLC 12:  More “Questions” and “Stories”

This summer, I was once again fortunate to be given the opportunity to attend the BLC (Building Learning Communities) annual conference in Boston.  These three days are chock full of incredible speakers, great ideas, and a pace that is life in the fast lane to say the least.  There is no lunch break and you can pretty much count on going full throttle ahead from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  And as a good conference should do, it raised more questions in my head on how to do things differently for my students in the coming school year.  If I had to describe BLC12 in two words, it would be “stories” and “questions”. 

In fact, coming into BLC12, I had a lot of questions.   When you switch grade levels as I did the past year, you are basically one step ahead of the students all year in learning the new curriculum.  I was blessed with having the same students for a second year in a row, so at least I did not have that learning curve.  But, with having the same students, we had a very close relationship and they were not happy with some of the approaches I was taking with the curriculum.  We were skimming the surface in content areas, the assessments were not performance based, and the pace was very quick in order to finish all the content.  I had already spent some time doing some reading this summer by Jeff Utecht, who I had heard during my first trip to BLC in 2010.  Some of the articles that stuck with me were “Flipping History” (http://www.thethinkingstick.com/flipping-history/) , “The Evolution of the Lecture” (http://www.thethinkingstick.com/the-evolution-of-the-lecture/) and “Lecture as Content Delivery is Dead” (http://www.thethinkingstick.com/lecture-as-content-delivery-is-dead/) to help me with some of my questions.   Jeff spoke about lectures that “don’t deliver content, but instead inspire, tell stories, and push ideas.”  So, coming into July 18th, I had a lot of questions on how to better engage my students, how to integrate their questions more into the learning, and how to use stories more effectively, both by myself and my students.  A pretty tall order to fill in three short days.

From Google Images


One of the recurring themes during the conference was “The First Five Days” and the importance of establishing a culture in your classroom during those first five days.  Greg Whitby from Sydney Australia spoke about the importance of finding out “what’s your story?”  Marco Torres followed that introduction by discussing about what matters the most to students is a relationship between students and teachers.  What are the students passionate about?  What matters to them?  After this keynote, I went to a session by Marco Torres called “Lights…Camera…Learn!”  As a longtime fan of creating videos in the classroom, this type of media can definitely tell many different stories.  Some new story ideas that I may try as a result of this session would be to try the trailers in iMovie to create a teaser about coming events in the classroom, to create a “First Five Days” movie about what is important to the student, create a “One Day” 30 second video, and a math video.

From that session, I then went to a session called “Gaming in the Classroom” that was conducted by Michael Beilharz.  Using Minecraft, a video game in the classroom, his students created video stories about cities and time periods in history.  This would be another way for students to demonstrate their learning utilizing  a technology that they find very appealing.

While these two sessions focused on using stories in your classroom, the last session of the day, “iSchool Initiative:  Becoming a Mobile Learner” was an incredible story.  Travis Allen, a mere 20 year old, is the President and CEO of the iSchool Initiative.  This entirely student run company is based on the premise to inspire students to become lifelong learners.   Travis spoke about as a learner, it was important for students to be able to find, filter, and apply.  Students do not want to just memorize information; it is more valuable to find the information yourself and apply it than to be told the information.  Travis also had a pretty great strategy for a 20 year old on what you can do to change the world:

  • Work hard, fail a lot, but learn more.
  • Have an absolute love of learning.  This leads to a life of significance.
  • Lead the way.  You can’t always change others, but you can change yourself.

I felt that Travis’s story was really inspiring and it fell into my theory about children being the “Seekers of Knowledge.”  This was an awesome story to end day one.

On Day Two, the “stories” theme continued.  I went to a session called “Storyfinding” by Darren Kuroptwa.  His talk reminded me of what Jeff Utecht had written about

Integrating stories into the classroom.   Darren spoke of how students react to the line “Once upon a time…” and how important it is to make our teaching sticky and our students learning sticky.  He spoke about that adding a picture to a fact increases the ability to remember the information dramatically.  You can tell an awesome story with just one photo.   You want a mundane subject to become a story that is worth watching or learning about.   Darren showed a video of how to make walking up a flight of stairs at a subway station interesting (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SByymar3bds)  In teaching, we need to search out way is a Trojan horse for learning, it opens the door to let in all types of learning.”  We need to look at the history of the subjects that we teach, collect stories, and find out about the personalities of the people that you are teaching.  I also took away that this year, I am going to assign one student a day to write about what we learned in math – to tell the story of that day in math so that we have a running journal on what we learned in math throughout the year.

In another session, “Teaching Empathy Through Literature and the Web”, I learned about to extend the stories that children are reading in the classroom.  By doing this, it would create a richer experience for students as they are reading.  Photopeach (http://photopeach.com/) is another resource to create digital stories.  A great suggestion on how to expose students to different stories is to have the students create book trailers, then have them running on a flat screen television to promote kids to read more.

Through these sessions and by doing some other reading this summer, I feel that I need to integrate more stories into my everyday teaching.  It is important to know your students’ stories, for the teacher to tell more stories, and for the students to also create stories to display their knowledge.  So, storytelling will be one of my own goals for the upcoming school year.

from Google images


On Day One of BLC, I attended “A Flipped Classroom” which was presented by Aaron Sams.  Mr. Sams and his teaching partner were one of the first teachers to “flip” their classroom.  After doing some flipping myself with my partner this past year, I had a lot of questions about this approach.  We utilized Discovery Education videos for our students to watch at home on a variety of topics.  However, I learned that Sams and his colleague create their own videos as he feels that students prefer to hear the teacher’s voice.  He also raised the point that the videos can be used at different times in the learning process.  They can be used to engage and inspire students and kick start a unit.  They also could be used in the middle of a unit after the students have done some inquiry about a topic.  But what I found really intriguing was the concept of Universal Design Learning.  In this type of model, the teacher needs to give the students multiple ways of doing things and they can demonstrate, using different means of what they learned.  I wondered how this could be used in a classroom where the current trends seem to be moving towards common assessments where all students take the same test.  I was also questioning the teacher being the creator of all of the “flipped” content.  I had wanted to have the students find more content last year.  I remember when my students went nuts finding articles and resources about Blanding’s turtles.  How could I engage them more in finding resources to support learning?  A question to ponder for sure.

On Day Two, Alan November’s talk “Who Owns the Learning?” further created more questions for me.  Alan is a master at creating chaos in my mind (in a good way) and this talk certainly accomplished that.    In this talk, Alan continually emphasized that students need to own more of the learning.  Some of his questions were:

  • What does it mean to own the learning?
  • Who is working harder – the teacher or the students?
  • Who should be working harder?
  • How can we shift the workload?  What can we off-load?

All of these are really great questions, questions that should be talked about as a faculty and as a system.  According to November, “Owning the learning does not mean that you are not teaching to the standards.  You are also not teaching to a test.  It is all about control and the shift of control from the teacher to the students.  Students should be finding their own answers as well as asking themselves deeper and deeper questions.”   I also found November’s suggestion about teacher evaluations really intriguing.  He said that when an evaluation is being done, the teacher should be asked to leave the room.  The evaluator should see if the students are self-directed without the teacher being present, that everything is still operational, and that learning does not stop jut because the teacher is not present in the classroom.   In November’s talk, he also discussed that kids need to be able to effectively use search engines.  He talked about Google’s own customized search engine, as well as Diigo, where students can read information and build their own customized library.  Students should be introducing content as well as being peer instructors, and have a global voice.  In this type of environment, students will truly “own their learning” and as Kuroptwa said, it will make the learning “sticky.”  I am a true believer in having kids own their own learning and November’s talk re-emphasized that point as well as put some good questions into my own thinking on how to continue to do this better with my students.

Day Three brought another session that raised a lot of questions about my own practice.  In “Creating 21st Century Assignments:  Self-Paced Mastery Learning in a Flipped Digital Environment”, Garth Holman and Mike Pennington described an environment where team teaching took place 40 miles apart; where students created their own knowledge; where students were more concerned about learning than grades; and where wrote the essential questions that guided their learning.  This talk almost seemed like the perfect culmination of all of the talks that I have highlighted in this post.  These two teachers created a vessel (a wiki) where the students built their own resources.  There was autonomous mastery learning where students move through at their own pace (seems much like the Parker Charter School model).  I loved how they stated that you “want to instill passion, it is much greater than just knowing facts.  You want students to think beyond facts.”    The students would move through a web-quest from a certain point of view.  I tried this during our colony unit, where each pair represented a specific colony and it worked well.  Students would blog about their learning as they went along and they had “blog buddies”.  They too utilized Diigo (I need to ask my CCHS media specialist friend for a good primer on this!) to build their own learning networks.  I loved how they had the students develop all of the big questions.  I have used this technique when I use to do topic work as well as during our past two DPC projects and it works really well since the students have developed the questions, they own them.  This talk was really wonderful and I left it by thanking both presenters and then thinking how I could replicate this type of learning in my fifth grade classroom.

So, as usual, I left BLC completely drained, but brimming with questions.  Here’s my To-Do List to ponder on the summer days I have left:

  • How can my classroom be “flipped” where it is more in control of the students?
  • How can I better integrate stories into my curriculum that excites the students to independently want to learn more about the topic?
  • What is Universal Design Learning and how can we use this strategy in our classrooms?
  • With a new class coming in, what can I do during “The First Five Days”’ to really set the tone for a year of “Questions” and “Stories”?
  • How does one cover all the content while creating a learning community that is built on student questions?

I have to give kudos to BLC 12 for once again causing me to walk away with more questions than answers on how to create a true learning community for my classroom.  “Questions” and “Stories” will indeed be my theme of the coming year.

The 125th Blog Post: Dedicated to My Fifth Grade Students 2011 – 2012: Blue Joy, The Art of Moving On, and A Summer’s Morning in NoHo

Sometime ago, I read somewhere that publishing 125 blog posts is a big deal for a blogger.  I started writing this particular blog in August 2008.  Initially, it was just a way to let parents know what was happening in the classroom.  But somewhere along the way, the teacher morphed into a writer and the blog morphed into a reflective journal.  My first blog of this school year was my 110th and I spent the year with this milestone in mind.  Sometime during the year, I told the students about this milestone.  And about a month ago, they asked me if I had reached this milestone yet.  “No, I’m still one away,” I told them.  They wondered what my holdup was.  I told them that this had to be a special post, a meaningful post.  And then a light bulb went off in my head.  For two years, I had assigned them topics to write about.  This blog would be turnabout is fair play, they could assign me the topic.  Excitedly, they set off writing down ideas for me to write about for this blog.  They put them into the TOT box and I pulled out one slip of paper.  While there were many great ideas, the “winning” topic was for me to write about what it was like teaching you for two years.  So, since that time, I have been formulating this blog in my head.  It started off just being called “Blue Joy”, then on a nice Sunday afternoon, I added “The Art of Moving On” and finally today, after a walk to Moore’s Swamp to get into the mood for blogging, I added the third section.  So here goes….. the 125th post of this blog.



So, on the eve of the 180th day of 5th Grade, I am writing about an interesting topic.  Blue and Joy.  Two words that describe pretty accurately how I feel about being your teacher for almost 360 days.  Blue and Joy.  Usually, you all are a pretty astute group.  But for the past two weeks, you haven’t picked up on a pretty big clue about how I am feeling about you all.  I am pretty blue.  I’ve been wearing blue for the past two plus weeks because that is how I am feeling about your leaving Thoreau.  You have been an incredible group for the past two years.  But, I have to be honest with you.  Initially, you were a group that I didn’t want.  Having seen a great group go off to 5th grade, I feverishly played lottery tickets to be able to retire on this group.  Didn’t work and in you walked into Room 305B.  You weren’t easy initially.  But about six weeks into the school year, I knew that you all had a thirst for knowledge and were willing to try new things.  So, CBL became DPC and you know what happened there.  Yes, we were second in the nation, but the real story was how you became really Seekers of Knowledge.  You became the voice for the Blanding’s turtles.  You stood up in front of rooms of strangers and talked.  And talked.  And talked.  During each of these presentations, my heart swelled with pride.  It gave me so much joy to watch you talk about these turtles.  Your poise was incredible for 4th graders.  After we won, the Superintendent asked me “how are you going to top this?”  And you know, I didn’t know.  I began to think maybe it was time for me to change what I was doing.  I did a lot of soul searching.  And then an opportunity presented itself, to go back to fifth grade, but to go with you all.  It was a no brainer.  Moving was horrible, but I knew that I would have you all again and that gave me comfort.  We moved into our new room, made it our own, and picked up where we left off.  We were fortunate to have two new students added to the mix who mixed right in.  Many class discussions led us back to doing DPC again, and while we didn’t finish like we had the year before, you again gave me so much joy as we trudged outside to collect water from the storm drain in the pouring rain, as you presented at an All School Assembly, and as you talked to the NRC about the vernal pool.  Although you are probably the most accomplished class that I ever have had the privilege of teaching, the moments that gave me the most joy were the less flashy moments that happen in our classroom.  They are the moments when you sit on top of the climbing structures like sloths, they are the moments when we are scheming to prank Mrs. Dillon’s class, they are the moments that you help one another with a task, they are the moments when something spontaneous happens, like dancing to Double Dream Hands.  So, while not every moment of the 360 days has been joyful, you need to know how much joy you have brought into my life. So, knowing that I need to start all over again, I am feeling pretty blue.  The magic of teaching is that every year (or almost every year), you get to hit the reset button and start all over again.  When I have students like you all, who can do so many things, this can be overwhelming to think about starting all over once again.  So, I will be grieving your leaving for a bit, while at the same time, rejoicing in watching what you have become.  Blue Joy sums it up pretty well in my book.

The Art of Moving On

Kachua on the Move.  Several Sundays ago, I had Kame and Kachua home with me on the weekend.  Since they have been on their exercise program, I have tried to bring them home and get them outside.  They both enjoy the opportunity to walk around on the grass, dig a little, and investigate their surroundings.  On this particular Sunday, Kachua was particularly interesting.  While looking at her cruising around the yard, it hit me, she’s ready to move onto the wild.  Just like you all, you are ready to move on to 6th grade.  I shot this video of her.  She looked so confident of herself and it reminded me of you.  I remember when I first gave you a multiplication facts test.  You freaked out.  Now, when you just had a facts test two weeks ago, you weren’t ruffled whatsoever.  No issues.  Confident, just like Kachua in my yard.  You are ready to move on.  You are ready to tackle more complex academics and social situations.  You are ready to take what you have learned and apply it in a more deep manner.  Just like Kachua, you are ready to move onto a larger “pond”, where more opportunities present themselves.  You need to continue to be confident in yourself.  Even when you are not quite sure, just walk like you are sure what you are doing.  No negative self-talk.  In the book of pictures you gave me, there was a great Thoreau quote about change.  “Things do not change, we change.”  Just like Kachua has changed from September to June, you too have changed tremendously.  It is incredibly rewarding as a teacher to be witness to your changes.  Those who doubted their abilities are soaring, those who could never even look me in the eye are talking to me on their own free will.  Sure, you are all taller, but your inner changes into mature, caring students has been extremely gratifying.  So, you are ready to move on.  The world awaits you.  Do good things.  Continue to ask good questions.  Continue to push yourself to get the best out of yourselves.  You don’t deserve any less. Continue to re-invent yourselves.   As my college coach once wrote to me when I was transferring to another college, “good-bye is not being said in this letter.  I will say see you later.”  And you know kids, last June, about 23 years after I last saw my coach, I did see him again.  So, the art of moving on consists of the fact that I am not saying goodbye, but see you later.  As I said today, you will always be my students even though you won’t be in my physical space again.  You will always hold a very special place in my heart, but both you and I need to open our heart to new students, new teachers, new spaces, and new opportunities.  

A Summer’s Morning in NoHo

Last summer, my husband and I went for a weekend to Northampton, known as NoHo to my son.  On a hot early Sunday morning, I went out for a walk.  On my way back to the hotel, I passed a shop where this artwork was in the window.  I was mesmerized by it and when the store opened, I went back to see how much it cost.  I thought it would be a great addition to our new classroom.  However, it cost $350.00.  I could not justify spending that amount of money.  But I loved the message.  I took numerous shots of it with my iPhone.  I think it totally speaks to me on my last words to you:

Remember when you go into the world to keep your eyes and ears wide open.

And be kind.

Love one another.

Take care of each other.

Tell the truth.

Always do your best.

Listen to the big people and the little people.

Explore new paths.

Have fun.

Know that you are loved like crazy.

I love you all and will miss you next year.  But, I know you will accomplish great things in your lives and I can’t wait to hear and read about you all!

I hope you all enjoy this 125th post 🙂


My official mourning period has begun.  After thanking the audience for coming to Watershed WISE Night, I noted that this would be our last exhibit type of night unless I went on to 6th grade.  The kids started a “6th grade” chant, which I quickly put an end to.  So begins a period of transition and sadness for all of us.

Two years ago, I blogged about this quite a few times (one example)  I played the lottery on a more regular basis, hoping to hit it big and retire with this particular class.   Since I didn’t win, back in the classroom I needed to go.  I mourned this particular class for months.  September came, and I admit, it took me a bit to warm up to my “newbies.”  Often I may do something only once with a particular group, and in this new group’s case, we tried an approach to learning called Challenge-Based Learning.  This caught on like wildfire, and soon, CBL became a way of our class’s way of learning.  CBL turned into DPC and that was an awesome experience for all of us.  I was never so proud of any group of students than I was of this group, who I wasn’t ready for a few short months ago.  I remember our Superintendent, Diana, coming by and asking me, “what are you going to do next, how are you going to top this?”  Honestly, I didn’t know how to top that experience and I seriously started to think about what to do next since these”once not so wanted”  kids would soon be leaving me to go to fifth grade.  But then, an opportunity arose to go up to fifth grade with these particular kids.  So, we packed up our old room, moved into our new room, and watched the magic unfold once again.

Could they make me even prouder again this year?  I’d say yes.  Watching Bryan Windmiller and his wife evaluate the turtle graphs the kids made was awesome.  They were so impressed with the breadth and depth of their knowledge.  Trudging out to the storm drain, in rain storm after rain storm was

exhilarating.  Watching the kids’ excitement with spending an entire day on DPC in early December was awesome.  No, we did not place as well this year in DPC (although nothing is wrong with being a runner-up as one student said), but I felt that the real prize was that the students really took charge of the CBL project and became experts on the topic.  Last Wednesday, the kids presented as part of the EDCO Technology Showcase.  They were incredible.  Adults said that they were the high point of the four hour presentations.  I was absolutely thrilled to be a co-presenter with four of my students.  What a privilege to be standing next to them in front of the auditorium.

And then tonight, Watershed WISE night.  I have to say I was disappointed that more of the community didn’t come out to support this incredible work.  But what I wasn’t disappointed about was the way these students conducted themselves in yet another public forum.  They were awesome.  Rock stars.  Real scientists.  During the presentation by Lee Steppacher of the National Park Service about problems facing the rivers, one of my students turned and whispered to me “this is everything we have been studying.”  He’s right, and if you talked to each one of them during this night, you would know that they had also become experts in their specific area.  I want them to be able to show off their work again since more people need to see what can happen when you empower students with real problems and let them develop real solutions.  It’s powerful.

I am bursting with pride and I am bursting with sadness.  I said to my colleague Sue, “what are we going to do next year?”  She could not even fathom what next year will look like and neither can I.

So, we stand here at a crossroads.

“Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

So take the photographs, and still frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth it was worth all the while

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.
I hope you had the time of your life.

Thanks kids for giving this teacher a teaching experience of a lifetime.


Sweet and Sour

Over the past few weeks, it has come back to me about fifth graders this time of the year.  Sweet and sour sauce, a combination of sugar and vinegar, may sum up what’s been happening in the classroom.  This is a time of great angst as students, some who have been at Thoreau for six years, begin to realize that it is almost time to leave the nest and move onto the middle school.  With a discussion about having all of the sixth graders at one school going on for the past several months, the angst has been somewhat delayed.  But it is certainly an undercurrent in the classroom.  The fourth graders that I had last year are gone.  The students are taller, more able to do even more things, and some have begun that descent into pre-adolescence with a bang.  Some of what I am seeing is how they are starting to separate themselves from being elementary students.  (Keep this in mind parents for that summer after they graduate from high school.  It is not the prettiest of times).  It reminds me of Dicken’s quote from The Tale of Two Cities:  “”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it ws the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”

Sweet and sour.  Some of the things coming out of the kids’ mouths these days are both sweet and sour.  Here’s a sampling below:

Sweet:  “Mrs. Erickson, even though you can teach 6th grade, I don’t think you would like it because you like variety and to connect things.  I don’t think you would like 47 minute blocks.”

Sour:  When the students were told that they were acting like real 5th graders (and that was not meant to be a compliment), one student stated “at least it took us to March to start acting like this.”

Sweet:  (while writing a historical fiction piece):   “Do goats have their coats shaved for wool?”

Sour:  While I was talking about a topic, I noticed one student doing something that didn’t look like it had to do anything to do with anything we were learning, I asked the student what they were doing.  Answer “Don’t worry Mrs. Erickson, I’m listening to you.”

Sweet:  At the Technology Showcase today, the kids were rock stars!  One student, who had created an elaborate presentation about DPC, showed his work to a participant.  She listened to everything he had to say and then asked him who created his presentation.  “I did,” he replied.  I think these adults were just amazed by the poise the students exhibited today.

Sour:  When walking to the bus last Friday, a student asked me if I was going to the Cake Walk on Saturday.  “No”, I replied, I’m going to a track meet.”  The student answered back:  “You’re too old to run track Mrs. Erickson.”

Sweet:  After hearing the above comment, another student piped in “Mrs. Erickson, I bet if you set your mind to it, you could run track again.”

Sour:  After coming in today with gym shorts and a t-shirt (instead of the tie and shirt), “What do you mean it’s today?”

Sweet:  At conferences, several of the students brought to my attention that they didn’t like the way I was teaching social studies.  So, I spent several hours tweaking a lesson for today.  At the end of the day, one student says “This was the best lesson ever!”

So, I expect over the next two plus months to see similar roller coaster behavior.  The nice thing about Sweet and Sour is that it is a smooth blend when it is mixed correctly.  In one bite of food, you can taste the sweetness along with the pungent sourness.  You just have to savor both flavors and appreciate both the sweet and the sour.


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.

12 Hours: 3 Blogsays that Capture This Day

Striking Out or Batting 1000?

An interesting shot from the day

To many people, my morning would have been considered a complete bust.  Leaving my house at 6:30 a.m, before the sun started to rise., I quickly got across town to CCHS where I would be picking up a vernal pool gauge to replace the one that was stolen from our vernal pool site.  The streets were mostly quiet, as was the parking lot at the high school when I pulled in.  A few stray students carrying poster boards quickly scooted across the lot into the quiet school.  Heading down to find S-1, I thought about how quiet it was.  Finding the door, I tried to open the door and it was locked.  I turned the corner and tried the other door.  Locked.  No custodian in site.  I turned and headed back to my car, thinking of a Plan B to get the gauge.  6:45 a.m and I needed to be at Ripley at 7:30 a.m. to give the accountant some money to pay for our turtle crossing signs.

45 minutes to kill.  What was I going to do?  I’ve wanted to do a blog about the TOT box.  So, I headed back to Concord Center, where I headed to Main Street Café.  I thought a cup of hot tea, a muffin, and 45 minutes of free time to write my blog would be great.  And it was.  A steaming cup of Bombay Chai tea and a delicious raspberry mocha muffin in a quiet café were just a delightful treat.  Sitting at a window seat, I started to type up the blog that has been in my head for about five days.

35 minutes later, I decided I ought to head over to Ripley to both deliver my transcript and to deliver the cash for the signs.  Again, a quiet building awaited me.  Sitting down at the circular table in the waiting area, I started to leaf through a wonderful collection of student writing.  Folks started to trickle in, looking at me puzzled to why I was sitting at Ripley on a weekday morning.  So, I told my story to the first two colleagues.  Then Diana walked in.  “So good to see you, what are you doing here,” she inquired.  I told her my story once again and she said for me to give her the money, that she would deliver it to the accountant so I wouldn’t be “wasting my time.”  I thanked her and headed out the door pondering that line, “wasting my time.”

As I headed back to Thoreau, unfashionably late for me, I came across a wonderful scene of old farm equipment laying in a frosty field.  Yes, I should have stopped and photographed it.  But that seemed much too decadent on an already laid back morning.  The morning to most would be a bust.  I didn’t get my gauge, I didn’t give the money to the person I was looking for.  I did manage to give my transcript to HR.  (but that could have been ponied over).  But maybe it wasn’t a bust.  Being able to sit and write a post, enjoy a cup of tea and a muffin, read some wonderful student writing, observe some beautiful scenery gave me an almost Zen start to the school day.  Maybe I didn’t strike out.  Maybe I gained a quiet hour of time to just sit back and relax.  Maybe a waste of time is what we all need to do from time to time.

As I sit here typing this, a mere 15 minutes before the students arrive, I again feel slightly guilty that I should be doing more.  But, perhaps this waste of time, this quiet, is what the doctor would order during this crazy season.

This is next the blog that I wrote during my 35 minutes of down time:


Totally Off Topic Box (TOT)

Totally Off Topic, TOT.  I don’t really remember how we got this saying, but this fall, a student will raise their hand, and preface their comment by saying, “This is totally off topic but…”. I am also guilty of the same offense, mainly due to my 50+ year old’s brain not being able to recall what I need to tell them five minutes later.  Sometimes I can answer their totally off topic comment, sometimes I need to keep talking about what I am teaching at that moment and I can’t answer that question.

So, several weeks ago, one of my students raised her hand and said “Can we have a box for our totally off topic questions?”.   Our TOT box was born.  A student volunteered to decorate a box, I pledged that at the end of each day to do “TOT” time, and a great idea was born.

The next day, a beautiful red and white striped TOT box appeared with the student.  We placed little note pads at each table group.  At the end of that school day, we held our first TOT time.  The range of questions is quite wide from what is Kyla’s favorite cheese (Kyla is my dog) to why do students learn different ways of doing math than I did to why is kidnapping known as kidnapping when it’s not always a kid who is taken.  I never know what to expect when I pull out a slip of paper other than the question intrigued one student enough to write it, so it will be interesting to see what they wrote.

So, why do the students love TOT time?  I asked them about what they like.  “There’s the ability to ask questions that don’t necessarily fit into a subject area’, “It’s fun”,  “We can have fun and learn at the same time”, “It lets us be more social”, “we can expand subjects to learn even more things that we want to know”, :It gives us time to hear the teacher’s opinion on unrelated topics”,  “It’s a great way to end the day”, “Some of the information could be useful later in life”,  “It gives us a way on suggesting how to improve our class.”

The last time I used a box in class, it was a problem box.  I had one class that loved to fill that up with sometimes really trivial problems.  The TOT box has been such a positive addition to the class, and the students initiated it all.   TOT – sometimes it’s great to let ourselves go totally off topic!

And the last blog of the day:

A Delightful Day Continued…..

So, my hour of “free time” this morning was a completely wonderful way to start my day.  And the wonderful day continued once the students arrived.  If any of you have seen Jerry Maguire, you might remember his manifesto about sports management.  Not all the words apply, but some of these words do ring true:

  • “You and I are blessed, he said, “we do something that we love.”
  • “And to those young agents who never met him, Dicky Fox always said the same thing when asked for his secret. “The secret to this job,” he said, “is personal relationships.”
  • “Love the job. Be the job”

Today, I had the opportunity to live all three parts of that manifesto.  Today was what I envision education to look like and feel like.  Today was DPC Day in the class.  Time to take advantage of the snow-free ground and run some real life experiments.  Not experiments in a box but real experiments created by the students.  Questions that they formed.  Questions that they care about.  Questions that led to more questions.

Before we started though, we had a real treat with an author/illustrator Brian Lies during our library time.  I got to come during the last part of it and was struck by his message.  “Practice makes better”, “pick something that you really enjoy and pursue it.”  All great messages for young people to hear.

So, a little after 11:00 a.m., we set off to the Great Outdoors.  Meeting under the gazebo, the expert groups gathered their equipment and set off to start their tasks.  One group tallied the amount of students that ran up and down the hill during all the recesses during the day.  In addition, they measured the rate of water as it ran down the steep eroded hill.  They started doing some outreach with the younger students about erosion and started to graph their data.   Another surveyed all the invasive species on campus, pulled garlic mustard (why is this stuff still so green?) and ran soil pH tests.  The River Experts calculated the flow on the river, analyzed the temperatures and pHs of the water and evaluated the types of rocks on the river’s bed.  The Path and Stone dust Experts completed very thorough experiments, conducted pH tests and created wonderful visuals to their results.  Finally, the storm drain experts “unearthed” a lot of debris from the storm drain pipe, tracked the path of the water as it flows to the river, ran pH tests on soil and water, and came up with a slew of new questions. Watching my students take charge of their learning, be totally engaged and interested in their learning was mesmerizing.  I continue to marvel at their growth, their confidence, their enthusiasm.  It was a wonderful day that integrated all that I feel good teaching and learning should encompass.

Twelve hours later, the sun is well down and I am back in a quiet house.   I have an inbox full of vokis and blogs to review.  But for now, I am allowing myself the luxury once again to finish writing, to pursue something I love to do (blog) and to reflect on how much I love what I do in life.  This day was one where I was batting 1000 for sure!