Friday, January 29, 2010

phase two: weaving projects

If we can call our months of exploring, examining, and experimenting with weaving (messing about), phase one, we have definitely moved into phase two. Each primate has chosen a method of weaving, (some have used multiple methods) and is working on a project. I included simple braided friendship bracelets to appease frustration for those who wanted to quickly create multiple products...for example, one primate makes two friendship bracelets a day and gives them to different friends. I am encouraging her to choose a longer term project as well, one that will be more challenging. Time to take a risk since she clearly has established a level of comfort with this new skill.

exploring tools

We spent some time exploring some weaving tools (and learning the associated vocabulary, ie loom, shuttle, needle, "threading the needle"). We also examined some examples of weaving from the Native American culture (connections to our earlier study of Native American traditions), and some amateur woven items. Primates immediately began comparing their knit sweaters and cotton sweatshirts to the woven items, and we began distinguishing between knit and woven artistry.

We also experimented with winding the warp on one of our class looms and using the shuttle--which is really a meter stick, but works the same way.

we are weaving!

I'm really overwhelmed and swamped and drained, but I don't want to fall too far behind on our weaving progress so this will be short on words and heavy on visuals. The primates LOVE weaving, much to my delight! Things are running more chaoticly than I had planned, but we are moving forward. We are collaboratively working on the big wall loom pictured above. The demands of 22 students has limited my time to monitor and guide this weaving, and at Portfolio night, our weaving consultant parent pointed out that we have several rows that are off track, which will affect how the piece stays together. We have some unweaving to do, and hopefully the arrival of our new student teacher will allow me to get out there more often. Even still, the primates are enjoyed the act of weaving, the process. They aren't really concerned with a final product with this piece. Interestingly, it is three of the least likely primates that are the most frequent contributers. Good example of why it's so important to pay attention to their interests and proclivities!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

too much to do, too little time

A terrible, recurring struggle I face as a teacher, (and I believe there are many teachers that can also identify), is too much on the plate. We have about 3 weeks til Feb break. I have not started report cards, we are just starting buddies with a 3/4 class, we are in the midst of this major weaving project, the overwhelming demand for mid-year testing primates is in full swing, I planned to run our annual dog biscuit fundraiser for Valentine's Day, and yes, there's Valentine's Day. Now I've also committed to a new committee at work and I'm teaching a course for undergrads at SSC, and most heavily weighing on my mind and sucking all my energy and anxiety is my daughter's first day of preschool in a couple of weeks and where in the state of Massachusetts my son will attend kindergarten this fall.

This is a regular occurrance prior to vacations--there's always, always a million things spinning at once. And the clock is always ticking.

I suppose this is why I view school vacations as necessities rather than perks of teaching!


We had the wonderful pleasure of seeing Yo Yo Ma last week performing at Symphony Hall. Truly an amazing genius--and I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with that statement. However, who is to say his genius is any less than a scientific genius or a mathematical genius? It's all in the way we were trained to think of "true" genius married exclusively to academic domains.

Even though I think many would call Yo Yo a "genius", the way value is placed on his genius compared to that of a financial genius, for example, is different. Using an MI lens, the difference between the two lies in the domain rather than the value.

"Intelligence is the ability to solve problems and create products that matter to society"--a simplified version of Gardner's definition of intelligence, and something I keep in mind always. This definition of intelligence changes the way I teach, learn, view the world. In my next post, I will address a great example of how we value "genius" and intelligence in the classroom affects curriculum and learning experiences for primates, and an example of my learning as a teacher--also tied to my view of "what is smart". Listening and watching Yo Yo Ma with an MI lens left me in awe of his ability to solve problems and create products that matter to society.

I also have to add that in my excitement before the concert, I played several Yo Yo Ma songs for the class, and I can proudly say each day since I have received a request for Yo Yo Ma from different primates. It's nice to hear a request like that from seven year olds!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

quick check in

Tonight was our first Portfolio Night of the school year--a wonderful evening as usual, but I am exhausted so I just want to jot a few notes to expand on later...

1. more on portfolio I use it, how it reflects MI thinking (for students & teachers)

2. got some advice on our big loom from our class parent art teacher, aka weaving resource

3. our new MI question of the session: what matters to you? what is important to you?
* responses
* the power of semantics when attempting to assess understanding

4. a new problem: too much to do, too little time

5. Yo Yo Ma--genius/intelligence/music and what we value

I hope to address each of these points(or cryptic notes as I'm sure they seem!) in my next few posts, with a bit more energy, after a lot more sleep! more soon....

Monday, January 11, 2010

things are not always what they seem

It occurred to me as I was reading through my last few posts: this classroom sounds so wonderful and pleasant and interesting....and it is all that...BUT, there is also frustration, confusion, desperation even! Last week was a really tough week--just lots of social issues, demands from all different directions, and too many deadlines looming. Many late nights and early mornings. And it is difficult to come off a vacation and hit the ground running at 90 miles an hour!

But this is teaching. And learning.

I was able to scrounge up a videographer for my weaving demo. After watching the tape, it suddenly dawned on me that most, if not all, of the videos of teaching I've ever seen--are so staged, so unnatural. The primates all respond appropriately, everyone pays attention, there are no interruptions, and the teacher never loses train of thought. That is about as opposite from reality as it can get! My tape is not perfect--several inappropriate responses, at some point everyone's attention strays, there are interruptions, and I lose my train of thought. But that is what it's like. That is the reality. And I think because of all those "real" moments, it is critically important to journal and reflect, otherwise all the frustration/confusion/etc is too consuming. And watching videos that edit out the "real", puts an unrealistic pressure on new teachers, on all teachers. It creates an illusion of what teaching and learning looks like. Juggling all those "real" moments, while weaving in some learning, truly is an artistic endeavor. Watching myself on video inspires me to appreciate that a bit more.

Here's to a new week!

Monday, January 4, 2010

diving in

Last session we "messed about" with weaving:
- reading about Native American traditions
- learning paper weaving (over and under, over and under)
- experimenting with kumihimi (Japanese braiding)
- visual observations of weaving "tools" (yarn, various looms, etc)
- weaving dreamcatchers with yarn
- spiderweb paintings
- making "human spiderwebs"

Today I announced the official beginning of the weaving project. I explained that we would explore several different ways to weave, a variety of materials, various examples of weaving & patterns, and weaving "words". Each primate will create their own final woven project, and then we will include a writing piece connected to the woven item. I introduced the words "warp" (which is the up and down string on a loom) and "weft" (the right and left weaving). I asked if anyone noticed something about what I said. Several hands went in the air and a primate eloquently said, "You made a rhyme--weft and left." (mental note of that primate recognizing and identifying rhyming words in a different context, ie authentic understanding!)
We posted "weft" and "warp" on sentence strip cards in the classroom, and began our first activity, which consisted of three steps:

1. explore: look through piles of patterned fabric strips
2. choose: pick 2-4 different strips and make a pattern

3. re-create: copy the patterns on each of your chosen strips onto paper strips

We will use these strips as a guide when we begin weaving on the wall loom tomorrow-I am so excited!!! I will take small groups of 7 into the hall during snack time and project time tomorrow and demonstrate weaving on the big loom. I should really have someone videotape...I'll have to work on that first thing in the morning...
Weaving on the wall loom will be a choice for 2 primates at a time during snack time, and possibly other times of day. Primates will attempt to follow the pattern they created today, using the paper strips as a guide. I explained to the primates that the piece we create on the wall loom will be a collaborative work of art--meaning it is one piece to which we will all contribute--and we will decide as a group what to do with it....use it as a rug or blanket or wallhanging or something else entirely.

Finally we sorted the like patterns together in boxes. This organizing will make it easier to find the strips we need.

I have to say, I was feeling pretty blah about being back to work--missing the family, missing shutting the alarm clock OFF--but writing these entries has me energized and really looking forward to our day tomorrow. Writing this blog is not only a great way for me to reflect on my teaching and learning, but it's also therapeutic! Of course, I also just realized I have a new reading group starting tomorrow and no prep time all day isn't over yet!

catching up, happy 2010

Is there anything like the holidays to make time just fly by? I'm still recovering from the last few weeks...and yet, here we are, back at school!

So, to catch up....we did set a "brownie trap" of flour (to catch footprints), around a bowl of milk on Friday, and what a mess we walked into on Monday! (I have pics but will post separately). Chairs were piled up on tables, our baskets of weaving fabric strips were strewn all around the room, the daily schedule was crazy, and he left a note!

Many primates arrived late that morning (I think it was snowing), so as each one arrived those who discovered the mess excitedly retold the story--embellishing a bit at every retell! There were many guesses as to why our brownie reacted so negatively...maybe he doesn't like milk? maybe he doesn't like us trying to catch him? maybe he has transformed from a mischievous brownie to an angry, disruptive boggart (much like what happens in The Spiderwick Chronicles). We decided to write the brownie a note (AFTER we cleaned up the big mess).

We asked him to please NOT make such a mess in our room and if he would prefer we left him a snack of honey (which we read in another book is a favorite of brownies). One primate asked if "he" was a boy or girl...this led to a nice discussion of pronouns, and we also reflected on reasons why we assumed the brownie was a "he". We added that question too.
After lunch our brownie left us a written response, asking for honey, but not revealing "it's" we are left guessing. Honey graham crackers were all we could find, so we left those out at the end of the day.

The next morning there was no mention of the brownie, and only one primate checked to see if he ate the crackers (he did not). I'm sure the impending holiday was too overwhelmingly exciting to think of anything else and since we've been back (is it really one day?....feels like we never left!), no one has mentioned the brownie except to note that the crackers remain uneaten. It will be interesting to see where, if at all, this leads us as the year continues....

So where is the learning?

Clearly this was quite engaging to the students, and took up a moderate amount of class time, so the question is fair--was this a valuable use of learning time? Here are my thoughts:

* valuable informal assessment of the primates' memory from last year's fairy/Spiderwick project
* vocabulary building (mischievous and mysterious)
* spontaneous exercise in imagination (completely child-driven)
* research skill development (the primates poured over all of our fairy/faerie books to find more information on brownies for days)
* experimentation (setting the trap and then trying again with the honey)
* letter writing (whole group instruction/collaborative activity)
* responsibility for class materials (cleaning up)
* discussion of pronoun use (he/she)
* discussion of gender stereotypes (why did we all assume the brownie was a "he"...still pondering that one!)

Wow! I didn't even realize how valuable this divergence from the norm was to our learning. As Raising Z commented, these are the best days--when you let them lead the way and drop everything. These little digressions are so powerful in allowing primates to take ownership over their school day and learning experiences.

Traditional teaching and learning does not allow for the time needed to explore and delve into the unexpected. What a shame, because these often are the most exciting moments in teaching.

Sitting in desks in rows, following prescribed programs strictly, and linking everything that is said or done to a "standard" takes away the exciting, surprising twists and turns along an educational adventure--and these can only come from the primates, not a curriculum guide. Of course, as a teacher, these spontaneous variations are much more fun and move along more smoothly because of experience and flexibility. I can link these experiences to standards...but I'd rather spend my time reflecting on the experience in this way and thinking of what the primates are showing me about their learning as we move through the experience. Personal reflection: it's nice to be at a point in my career where I am comfortable with, and even anticipate these moments!

Final analysis: time well spent, and I can't wait to see where it will take us next!