The Best Laid Plans Go Astray

As I have found out in my own personal life over the past week, sometimes the best laid plans certainly go astray.  Back today, I have carefully laid out what I wanted to accomplish with the students today.  By 11:00 a.m., it was pretty evident that my plans for the day certainly would not happen as originally planned.  I felt the need to talk about our pencil project that we had started planning last week before life got in the way, so to speak.  Our class discussion suddenly consumed our writing time.  The rainy day once again afforded a great opportunity to get some posters done so we could start our pencil cart during Friday’s lunches.  Recess was over and I stood mesmerized outside the classroom door for ten minutes, watching some incredible learning take place.  One group worked on a book trailer, one group worked on a flyer, while the other 16 students cranked out posters.  It didn’t seem right to stop them.  They were engaged, caring citizens.  Suddenly, the plan to do some experiments on the water cycle didn’t seem to be as important as the investment in being caring students.  One group of students sought out Mr. C. to ask him permission to hang up folders.  Another two went down to print out the flyers in color.  Yet another group worked with Ms. Howard to get their movie posted on the school website.  And the rest of the students eagerly hung up their posters, informing other classes about their project along the way.  We need more posters, they decided and they eagerly and silently went back upstairs to do more.  The room was MCAS silent, the scribbles of skinny markers the only thing I could hear.    “We’re working together and it will actually be worth something, it’s fun, we’re raising money for people who need it, just like Kiva boxes, we’re having fun for a good cause, we’re helping people who need help.”  were some of the comments.  Sometimes, you need to have your eye on the real ball — whether it is helping out family or helping those who have lost so much.  Yes, the water cycle is important, but in the grand scheme of things, what is the more important thing for the students to learn?


“Stones into Schools”: One Moving Journey

Vacation affords me a luxury that doesn’t usually exist in the school year:  the ability to sit back and read without any guilt at not getting other things done.  This vacation, several of my friends gave me “Stones into Schools” by Greg Mortenson.  I had read “Three Cups of Tea” way before it became popular and I was struck at the ability of a small group of people who made a difference (aka Margaret Mead).  I loved this book and was looking forward to sitting down with this follow-up.  Sometimes the second book of a “series” doesn’t always measure up to the first.  Luckily, this book more than exceeded my love of the first book.  Inspiring without a doubt.

So, what do parents in Afghanistan and Concord have in common?  Both want their children to have access to education.  While reading this book, I was struck by people in a country who have been under a constant state of unrest for over 30 years to know the importance of education.  I am lucky to work in a district that values education.  However, there are many district here in this state, in this country, and in the world that do not value the importance of education.   All children should be afforded the same opportunities that my students are lucky to have.  Today in this world, over 120 million school age children remain illiterate and are deprived of an education.

There were several passages that just jumped out at me.  On page 319, Mr. Mortenson told Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Building relationships are just as important as building projects.  In the height of the Taliban’s power in 2000, less than eight hundred thousand children were enrolled in school in Afghanistan – all of the boys.  Today, however, student enrollment across the country was approaching 8 million children, 2.4 million of whom are girls.” As someone who  loves numbers, those numbers jumped out at me across the page.  What an incredible difference this group of committed humans has made to the children of this region of the world.

Another passage that was particularly moving was:  “The thirst for education over there is limitless.  The Afghans want their children to go to school because literacy represents what neither we nor anyone else has so far managed to offer them:  hope, progress, and the possibility of controlling their own destiny.”

When I finished reading this evening, I thought about what my students had been doing this year with (you can check out the Thoreau CARES team by pressing on the link)  At times, it is really easy to become centered on what is going on in our own classroom.  However, I think it is so important to teach students that they are part of the bigger picture, whether it be taking care of the environment or taking care of our fellow humans all over the world, or in our community.  I hope 2010 brings a renewed commitment to being citizens of the world, and not just of our own corner.

Indoor Recess — Usually Not a Happy Time for Anyone

I could write about a lot of things that have happened this week.  On Monday, we constructed our Solar Dream Homes and tested them on the one sunny day that we’ve seen.  Tuesday, our Digital Learning Farm Teams went back to work on round two.  We had our second workshop with Steven Ratiner, who again, is amazing.  But, no, tonight’s topic is going to focus on today’s indoor recess.

Indoor recess is usually a time that both teachers and most students disdain.  It’s noisy, the kids are off the wall without their being outside to blow off steam, and the room often looks like a disaster area when it is over.  Today’s rain brought us an indoor recess much to the dismay of some of the students.  However, yesterday in our DLF teams, our Social Responsibility group had presented the entrepreneurs that they had selected to the class.  The team had decided that they wanted to support three entrepreneurs.  The class voted on three after their presentations and they set off to work on how to raise the $75.00 they would need to do this.  I heard mention of bake sales, raking yards, and making crafts to sell.  I talked to them about selling Thoreau CARES pencils and we set out to look at that.  At that point, another student walked over and said, “you know, perhaps we could make Kiva boxes, like the Unicef boxes to bring out trick or treating.” My Social Responsibility Team thought that was a great idea and immediately set out to design a box.  Since one of the team members was on the Size and Shape Solar Home group, she quickly had a prototype box designed and constructed.  The trio made plans to come in Wednesday during lunch recess and assemble the boxes.

So, today dawned quite rainy so it was definitely an indoor recess day.  Before leaving for lunch, the trio polled the class to see if anyone wanted to help.  An good amount of the students volunteered.

I had lunch with the trio to go over their plans on how to make this successful without it being chaos.  Within a minute, I was convinced that they were in perfect control, had great ideas on how to organize groups and where ready to go.  One o’clock quickly came and the rest of the class poured in.  The Social Responsibility trio organized the volunteers into three groups — the box designers and producers, the handle groups, and the label group.  It was evident within 30 seconds that the volunteers were completely committed to this project.  They were invested, engaged, and cooperative.   While I usually like to run when they come back upstairs, I found myself drawn to being an observer.  What I saw was amazing!  As one girl said, “this is real teamwork!”

The box design team goes to work!

I asked the students to describe their indoor recess experience.  Here’s what they had to say:

It was really exciting!

It was fun and we were helping people.

This was a terrific recess.

It seemed like we were a real factory.

Labels are then put on the boxes

We did a lot of working together.

This was exciting and a lot of teamwork.

This was really fun to get together as a class to do something to help other people.

It was fun to work together to help others.

This made you feel like you are helping people that you don’t know and you feel good about doing that for other people.

Finally handles are added, completing the process

At the end of the recess, 19 boxes had been designed and created.   The students felt a tremendous amount of self-satisfaction during this indoor recess.  14 out of 18 children participated.  I know they are really excited about helping others that are trying to better their lives.  As their flyer will says “Please help peoples lives take a turn for the best by donating to Kiva.”  These kids clearly get it.  They clearly embody Thoreau CARES.  I was so proud to be an observer of this wonderful learning experience today.  You should be proud of your children!