Friday, September 21, 2018

Critical Thinking with Mondrian

I truly believe that art is an important part of our curriculum. Children should not just be taught to be creative, but they should have opportunities to see what that looks like. They should be given opportunities to express themselves in different ways. My students go to art once every 6 weeks and even though it's not part of our district curriculum's focus--I find ways to sneak it in.

Today we learned about the artist Mondrian and about primary colors. The students looked at works by the artist and we learned a little bit about him. We looked at his paintings and talked about how it made us feel, what it made us think of. Then the students made their own versions. I did cut out the shapes and lines, but I made various sizes and thicknesses so they really had a lot of latitude in their creations. When they were done I asked them to think about why Mondrian used line and primary colors the way he did.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

If I Could Build A Car

I expect a lot from my students! I am often pushing them to the top of the Bloom's Taxonomy concepts and asking them to invent or create something new. Since they haven't had a lot of experiences doing this, it is really challenging for them. We did an activity recently-we read a story about a girl who made a doll out of an apple. I asked them to write about a new way we could use an apple-not a doll, not to eat, not to cook. I would say about 90% of the class wrote that we could use it to eat or for a doll.

So I realized I need to give them some context, some inspiration. We got a bunch of titles that encourage the maker spirit. I read them:

It's a story about a boy and his ideas for a car he is inventing. The vocabulary was a little above the heads of my Kinder students, but it had a catchy rhyming pattern so I think it still worked.

Then I put out various materials and asked them to build a car with a new invention on it. Some did like the story and made a car that went on water. Some made flying cars (hello Jetsons anyone :). But I think giving them that scaffolding first actually helped them not feel so overwhelmed when I said "invent". I also gave them some pictures of vehicles they could use to see how everything worked.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

Celebrating Dot Day

I was in a technology training years ago and the presenter read this book to us. It became one of my all-time favorite stories to share with my students.

Just make your mark and see where it takes you.

The author has created a day each year to celebrate this story and our class, along with many other classes around the word celebrated this story. I dressed up in my dot dress and set up cups and plates for them before they came in. You would have thought I planned the best surprise party ever-their faces when they walked in! They were so excited.

We read the story and discussed it and then they made their own dots two ways. First we drew them simply with crayons. And then they made dots with food coloring on tortillas-because who doesn't enjoy activities with food, right?

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018


I listened to this the other day and it really got me thinking.

I have read other similar studies done in high schools where poverty is an issue and where it isn't. The teachers just plain expect less from the kids if it is a poorer school. I was in a training once and the speaker asked how many of us believed our students would go to college. I was one of the only people who raised their hand. It made me sad. If you don't believe it, guess what-the students won't believe it either.

I work in an area of low economic development. Like you worry about having to leave the building after dark. My students have faced many obstacles before they even started school. Many are speaking a different language at school than they speak at home. Many have multiple siblings and parents just don't have time to sit down with them after school to complete homework. I would say over half have at least one parent who is incarcerated. However, this does not change my expectations for them. I expect them to learn just like the kids across town who have been given every advantage. I still introduce them to the concept of college and truly have hopes that they end up attending.

I think this applies not only to the expectations we have for our students, but also for our faculty members. The school I left last year really set the bar high for teachers. We were expected to teach not just the required curriculum, but also to introduce the upcoming year's objectives. Rigor in our lesson plans was a requirement as well. We pushed our students and made sure they were challenged.
My school now just doesn't have the same culture. The general consensus is that everything has to be cute. It's just a different mentality. This school also does not have what I would consider to be good test scores-they slide by. Now, whether that is due to the family circumstances or the curriculum-I can't say for sure. But I believe that with this administration the expectations are being raised and that will help teachers raise expectations for their classes.

I tell the story often of my dog Ruby. She was 3 months old when I adopted her from a shelter. From the drive home that day she was pretty much a holy terror. The 2nd day I called my mom and asked if they did exorcisms on dogs. :)  I brought in a trainer to help give us tips on how to train her. They observed her at the first session and at the end the woman asked "is she always like this?". Like what? I asked. "Does she not jump into your lap and cuddle with you?" -No. I responded. "Well, I think you should return her to the shelter, she is never going to be the kind of dog you want her to be".  I was flabbergasted! If she as a trainer didn't believe this puppy was going to learn..... needless to say we found another trainer-one who wasn't ready to give up so easily and let me tell you 9 years later and she's the perfect companion for me!

Keep those expectations high-I think the outcomes will surprise you!

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Parent Communication

I believe the relationship between teachers and parents is paramount to a child's success. I have had my share of parents over the years who were unhappy with my class. And I really take that personally, it feels like I failed them in some way. I think one of the hardest things that we do is find a balance to try and please all the parents of our students. Each family enters this process with different expectations. Some families want a lot of homework. Some families have busy lives with dance classes and choir practice and are thankful for teachers who do not assign homework. I worked with a teacher once who had a parent volunteer one day and that mom went to the administration to complain that it was too hot in her classroom. She was told by admin to turn the air up and make it cooler. Well, then she had kids going home and asking to wear sweaters (in Texas!) and parents wanted to know why it was so cold in the classroom. It's not always an easy balance to strike.

I try to contact my parents before the 1st day of school. Sometimes the rosters are not ready or they are still making changes, but I really try to reach out. There are parent newsletters coming home every week and I have a class website.

But I wanted to share what I do in addition to that.

Seesaw Digital Portfolios-This app has pretty much changed my life! Not only can I post pictures of the activities we do in class, but I can also explain the activity. When you teach in early childhood, your students are not going home and saying we discussed the ethics of the Giving Tree today. Parents look at the work that we are doing, it is authentic work, but they don't know what we did. I used to get complaints from parents that I wasn't challenging my students, and you know that is my passion. I finally figured out that if I share what we are doing daily parents can see the rigor in what we do.

Parent Dialogue Journals- Years ago I had a parent who was extremely unhappy with me as a teacher. I was venting to an administrator and she said--you are blaming the parent, look at your practice, what can you do differently? I was in a training and they were talking about doing dialogue journals with your students and a lightbulb went off.

I buy composition notebooks when they are 50 cents at Wal-Mart over the summer. I create a journal for each family and every Friday I send home a note about their child's week. It sounds like a lot of work but I take half the notebooks home on Wednesday and half on Thursday. It takes me about a half hour to write all the notes.

Some parents really appreciate this and write back every week. I actually had a parent tell me once that it was like receiving a hand-written letter about her child every week and she really looked forward to that. Some parents will just sign that they read it. Some parents never respond and I don't know whether they are reading it or not, but I continue to write the notes anyway.

How do you communicate with your parents? Always looking for new ideas. :) 

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Friday, September 7, 2018

Rigorous Family Trees

I am always looking for ways to challenge my students and foster creativity. Family Trees are a great way to show how families grow-but they are so Old School! I asked my students to invent a new way to track their families. I think they came up with some very creative ideas. Remember these are Kinder students and this is only the 2nd week of school. :)

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