Exploration and Discovery

Exploration and Discovery
The Outdoor Classroom

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Olmec Exhibit

Had the great good fortune to go to the Olmec exhibit with Libbie today; Libbie who knew more about it and has a passion for Meso-American history and art. Who knew? Whenever I try and further my education I become keenly aware of how much there is to learn about and how, after all these years, I am still just beginning.

Libbie shared her theory that the Jaguar babies and the curling upper lip was probably a cleft palate. After she said that I looked at the heads more closely and had to agree . But then I was struck at how African and Oceanic many of the heads looked. When I came home I Googled the origins of the Olmec and found there is much debate about the origins of the Olmec. Scientists blast the Africa theory because there have been no skeletons found that would support it and because, supposedly, Christopher Columbus brought the first Africans to the continent. I learned so much poking around these articles- maps, time lines, references to other pre-Columbian cultures. And I had some point of reference to tag these learnings onto. So it was like building a puzzle out, filling in a little more of the picture.

How great to come back to school from a field trip and spend the next couple of days pursuing follow up questions and deepening the learning. The debrief seems even more exciting as a jump off point than the pre-field trip study, because the kids are building on their seed of knowledge. The kids that are intrigued by the rocks used could pursue that, the students who want to know more about the language could learn about that...and then get back together and teach the rest of the class...

Sounds good in theory.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Waiting For Superman

I had heard so much negative about this movie from teachers and staff  in the lunchroom that I was afraid to see it. I generally avoid seeing movies that I know will make me SO angry, or SO sad, that I can't function for a few days, or even weeks. I am overly sensitive, and knowing that, I am careful. But the opportunity arose to sit in bed and watch it from the comfort of my nest. It was not what I expected; I heard a less critical message than I was led to believe.

 First thoughts:
Geoffrey Canada is amazing. He is so bright and so committed. Harlem is lucky to have him. His vision could save a whole generation of kids and turn their lives around. Wow. It made me wish, once again, there were more men of color in all levels of the educational system- particularly in the front of a classroom.

Michelle Rhee is arrogant- I once again can't fathom how she was ever given the authority or put in the job in the first place. When I saw her go into a classroom and ask a student, WHILE the Teacher was giving a lesson, "What do you think of your teacher- you think he is a good teacher?" I just found myself wanting to say How Dare You - I also thought of how when you get a new manager, in any profession, they should spend the first three months WATCHING before they change anything...and ask A LOT of questions. It is not surprising that she failed and that Washington schools are still picking up the pieces.

I did not hear the same message that many of my teacher friends had, that Guggenheim was saying charter schools are the answer. I heard time and again that reform was needed and that it was clear that some schools had found a way to make a difference. He (Guggenheim) was honest in saying that only 1 in 5 charter schools are seeing results.

A couple of key points that were not articulated, but make a huge difference in why these schools are successful. The families of these kids have made a choice to commit to their child's education by entering in the lottery in the first place. That support and commitment at home already sets these kids on a more hopeful path. The reason these lotteries are so competitive is because there are a limited number of openings BECAUSE THESE SCHOOL HAVE SMALL CLASS SIZE! A known key to success... and one of the reasons they attract good teachers, who know that the only way to TEACH effectively is when you have the ability to connect with your students.

My oldest son attends a charter high school. One of the most important things they have instituted at this school are "Student Success Days". Before the end of the report card period students who have missing work or failed assignments MUST attend a session after school to complete the work. The school and the teachers "WILL NOT ACCEPT LESS THAN SUCCESS". I am committed to adopting this in my classroom wherever I teach and whatever grade I work with. Parents need to buy in, but I also have to put in the time to insure all my students are at least given the opportunity to catch up and get on track.

San Francisco is not Washington DC or New York. Our system is in need of repairs, no doubt about it, but in my experiences in classrooms and schools around the city I see more amazing, inspired teachers than not.
One disheartening fact reinforced in the film was that one year with a bad teacher can keep a kid back 1-2 years for the rest of his academic career. That is not fair to the student, to the families, to fellow teachers who come after and have to spend that much more energy to bring a child up to speed.

I am not sure politicians will ever get it right. The one statement that Michelle Rhee made that I agreed with is that so long as they make it about the adults, we will be failing our kids.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

preparing the library

Spent some time yesterday covering my growing paperback collection for grades 4-6. Having recently read, and been deeply inspired by, The Book Whisperer I am excited to build a diverse and rich library. My problem is I have no idea what grade I will land in. So I continue to gather books aimed at K-2 and 4-6. I mostly buy hard backed books for the younger grades so they will last and because, generally speaking, they are books of beautiful illustrations which benefit from the larger format. I have not limited myself to Newberry Award winners, but after covering 6 or 7 books, I realized most of them bore the gold seal on the front cover. I am really enjoying reading them as well. Trying to categorize them by genre and make notes on who the book might appeal to. Sometimes I think about getting my masters and becoming a teacher librarian, but I want to spend a few years in the classroom first... getting to know the kids, developing the relationships, and becoming a really good teacher. 3-5 years. at least. I LOVE READING and really think all kids can get turned onto it- they just need the right book- for them.

Ended the night by finally watching Waiting for Superman...I am still processing and decompressing internally.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

After Months of Subbing

Well, I am happy to report I LOVE teaching. I love the kids...even the "hard" ones. I am learning a TON about myself. One thing I have recognized is that I am a "nester." I guess I already knew this at some level, but working in other people's classrooms I find myself planning what I will incorporate into my own. One of the greatest opportunities of working in so many different classrooms is the ability to chronicle what some great teachers are doing, and have created.
The frustrating thing about subbing is that I usually only have one day with a class- so I don't get to reflect and re-tact and try a new way with a teaching or a way of interacting and winning a particular student over. I have read it is not the job of the teacher to be the friend. I get that. But I also realize that unless there is some connection there is less motivation on the part of the student to be engaged. Especially true as a sub. I have put special effort on learning kids names. I think has been my most effective sub skill- the kids appreciate my effort to learn their name, and if I know their name I can quickly put them back on track if they are getting distracted.