Exploration and Discovery

Exploration and Discovery
The Outdoor Classroom

Saturday, June 25, 2011

sIck in bed, but getting ready for fall

I have been SOOO sick with the bug that has been playing tag in our family, running its two week course with just a little overlap from one victim to the next. For the first two days I could just lay in bed, and groan, and have weird dreams, but by day three I felt well enough to resume the homeschool routine that I have been insisting on this summer with my youngest son. We do about a half hour each of social studies, math, spelling and speech, and then he reads a chapter or two in a novel related to the period in history he will be studying in the fall. This week, since I am still sitting in bed and he is raring to go and gone after the lessons, I find myself preparing for teaching in the fall.
I sometimes refer to the fourth and fifth grade core curriculum standards and look for interesting and engaging sites that support the social studies curriculum. There are plenty. And then last night when I was watching Charlie Rose, from my Robitussin stupor, he had on the editor of TIME magazine; the whole issue is devoted to the Constitution! Oh Joy Oh Rapture. An intelligent timely discussion about what was written, how was it intended to be used, how should it be used today, is it still relevant and necessary? I got so excited I ordered a copy of the constitution to frame and put in my nonexistent classroom.
This is what excites me about teaching, social studies in particular, but everything really; it is that moment when what you are teaching/learning becomes relevant to now, to each child, to their understanding of the larger world they live in, so they can explore what they think about it, how they feel about it, and whether they think or feel strongly enough to actually prompt them to take some action, whether it is to write an essay/letter to express their opinion or join a local group that is doing work on an issue. Anyway, I got on an extended stream of consciousness research web search and found some amazing sites.

http://blogs.nysut.org/sttp/The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights created Speak Truth To Power Lesson Plans and compiled educational resources, based on a book that Kerry Kennedy wrote of the same name. There was a play written and performed in NY that I am trying to get a copy of. The book is a collection of biographies of a number of human rights defenders :
Oh, to be able to inspire young people to be politically aware and advocates of justice.

Which led to my next tangent-the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I had known, maybe, thought that somewhere, maybe, there were guidelines that laid out what the UN would stand up against/for. It struck me that I might be able to find this on line (have I mentioned how much I LOVE the web!) and lo and behold. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

and then I found myself wondering if there were any sites for kids who wanted to get politically active and found
I am not crazy about the site layout and have not had a chance to explore all the links, but what I love so far is that you can plug in your zipcode and find grassroots local efforts in your area that kids can get involved in. I started running out of steam after this, but I have a plan to compile a list of 10-15 local efforts that  a fourth or fifth grade class could adopt and make a commitment to help...starting with their "own backyard" of course.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Teaching in the Age of Technology

We are so lucky to have a seemingly endless source of information and inspiration only a finger tip or two away! Everyday I find new mentors on the web, people who have been teaching for years and have sifted through their experiences, and then share what they have learned. I just discovered a site
written by a guy who taught history at the middle school level for a number of years, then taught at a small liberal arts college for a few more and is now working for the state of Kansas doing staff development and training...and even though I am not a full time employee of SFUSD, and despite the fact that I don't live in (and am not sure I have ever been to) Kansas I can access this man's wealth of experience.

There are websites to create your own timelines-
It could be helpful for a student to create their own so you can see what they thought was important and you can see
  1.  what interests them 
  2. what they need to know, but didn't embrace 
  3. what you need to go back and review.
I have been previewing 7th grade history with my youngest son this summer and it has been helpful to build a timeline for every couple of chapters we cover and then to go back and see how the timelines intersect and cross over...what was happening in Europe and the Byzantine Empire at the same time as the Islamic Expansion and how they intersect. This has allowed him to see the relationship between the two histories which are covered very separately in textbooks.
  • There are videos and computer generated images to make history come alive for kids today. 
  • There are websites like nutshell math to help explain something a number of different ways so each child can learn the concept at their own pace and in their own academic language. 
  • NY Times has an online Learning Network that suggests lesson plans based on today's paper and features a student opinion section that students can write to and have their work published. How awesome is that!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

preparing for 4th and 5th grade curriculum

I had reason to hope that I might be teaching this fall, not sure what will happen at this point, but figured I would keep preparing as if I was. I decided to focus on 4th/5th grade Language Arts and Social Studies because I see that as where the greatest potential for cross curriculum instruction lays. I have come across a ton of information about the American Revolution, and our founding fathers, but I wasn't finding the same multiple media sources of information on the Native Americans and the many tribes of North America. I searched out a movie called 500 Nations, hosted by Kevin Costner, and got a copy from the SFPL (OMG I LOVE THE LIBRARY!). It is Wonderful!. The music is a little dramatic, but that seems to always be the case in these kinds of presentations. I love that the featured selection tool allows me to focus on one tribe, or tribes from one part of the country. There are actors reading original texts, as well as computer generated images of what the ruins looked like in their majesty. One thing that Costner says in the intro gave me pause. When you think about how much time our kids spend learning about Greek, Roman, and European culture and then you realize how rich and advanced the Indian cultures were here it is shocking and disheartening that we don't spend equal amounts of time learning our own country's remarkable history. The shame of destroying the Indian culture should not keep us from now acknowledging, celebrating, and honoring the depth and breadth of the Native American civilization.

One of the greatest benefits of becoming a teacher is that the more I continue to learn, the more I can bring to my work and to the kids.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Summer Homeschooling

I have been planning out the schedule for getting Jimmy ready for seventh grade in the fall; three b's and two c's do not cut it in my mind. Seventh grade curriculum is actually great- medieval period. Interesting though, it is not just knights and crusades, but medieval Africa, China, and Japan, as well as early  cultures from the Americas- Mayan, Aztec. Should be interesting. I have a copy of a seventh grade California social studies text, the core standards in social studies and language arts, and some ideas about topics for persuasive and comparative essays. What I am trying to put together now are some good reads and maybe a movie or two to make it a little more Jimmy friendly. I found a book entitled The Samurai's Tale that looks good- he started it and seems interested. The other title I had recommended was Catherine, Called Birdy.It appears to be a diary format which would make for an easy read- though I am not sure that a young girl's diary will be compelling for Jimmy. I will have to read a little of it and see. I was thinking of the movie "Shogun", though it is long, maybe we could watch it as a family and break it up over a couple of nights.

What I have been realizing as I have been pulling our schedule together is: 1) how important it is to know what the curriculum/standards for the grade level are, 2) how great it has been to have a few weeks to think beyond the text book for other mediums and formats to help make the material more compelling and accessible (The Magna Carta is at the Legion of Honor for another week- I am hoping to have Jimmy at least go and see it with me), and 3) how if you were allowed to teach the same grade for a few years you could really make it come alive for the kids, by incorporating art projects, field trips, guest speakers, drama/theater- layer upon layer.

Math is not my forte, but I sense at this point what he needs more than anything is drill and kill on multiplication and division of decimals.

How am I going to do this if I find out one week before school starts what grade I am teaching?!