Sunday, May 30, 2010

always busy

It always amazes me how many things we have happening simultaneously...for the past few weeks we have raise, observed, and recorded the metamorphosis of five caterpillars to butterflies. This week, we took advantage of the beautiful weather and released our butterflies. We sat in a circle and watched them take flight in front of the school, by a rose bush. Then we performed "butterfly life cycle yoga" in four poses (egg, larva/caterpillar, pupa/chrysalis, and adult butterfly). I planned to return to the classroom to do this to music, but one of the primates suggested doing it outside--and it was perfect! Many primates even experimented with extending their "proboscis" into flower heads to drink nectar. They got to experience and "play" the life cycle, as our real live butterflies flew around us. nice moment!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

on my mind

my teaching philosohy...eloquently illustrated in this poem by Loris Malaguzzi:

The Hundred Languages Of Children
The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marvelling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

Loris Malaguzzi
(translated by Lella Gandini)

from the mom

Teacher aside for the moment, as I am consumed by my current agony over kindergarten. Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds. I truly do. However....

the situation at hand is that I am an early childhood teacher of 13 years, and now I am also a mother of a magnificent kindergarten eligible boy...and I am living in a school district I am NOT comfortable with entrusting him to.......for a variety of reasons, but honestly and most truly because it is not the school or even the school district in which I have devoted the past 10 years of my life. we are hostage in a home we have outgrown, in a school district which is not an option, and the possibility of my district granting permission for my son to attend is slim to none...and in light of the budget, leaning more heavily towards none. we can't afford to move (and this is a hard reality to face) without risking our entire financial well-being, yet fall 2010 is fast approaching and we are not registered ANYWHERE for kindergarten. so private school is our only option. and it's not a terrible option, it's an expensive option...but much less risky than renting or selling or...ugh I can't think about it anymore. we have turned over every stone. we are stuck.

I'm going down with the ship...I will hang on to that minuscule scrap of hope that he'll get into my district....I will dream he'll get into my school....I have to believe everything happens for a reason.

Lots of people have said, "it's just kindergarten", and in many ways I know this. In the grand scheme of life, this is a very small blip.

But what I believe as a teacher, as the teacher that I am, is that it is not "just" kindergarten. these early years are the most critical, of the utmost importance. these years lay the foundation, set the course, pave the way. and to not have my own "primate" experiencing these pivotal moments in my school, is personally devastating. I'm an early childhood teacher, and I can't provide what I feel is the best educational experience for my own child. it hurts.

And I don't think I could be the teacher I am without believing that. we'll just have to work a little harder, shift dreams and expectations, and set off on different paths.

everything in perspective: I am a very blessed person and I am grateful for all I have and all I am able to give.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

where we are going...

I have to say....NEVER have I jumped into a project so deeply and expansively to last an entire school year...and we still have 3 months to go...(did I mention we are extended July...more thoughts on that later...). Our final district mandated curriculum strand is: Insects. We have translated this (using all the standards/essential questions and understandings that are mandated--for all the standards-based-learning lovers out there!)

Our class will explore and learn about insects by focusing on "not an insect"--spiders...conveniently also known as "nature's greatest weavers" in my class. We began with some "spider yoga", in which we discussed what we know about spiders, casually, conversationally...not like a traditional teacher directed discussion (not that there's anything wrong with that!). We did a spider egg pose and a spider egg sack pose--real yoga poses embellished by primates' ideas. Next we looked at some pictures of webs and discussed the differences between spiders and insects: body parts, number of legs, the ability to weave. Older primates led the discussion and provided the facts, along with a song/movement thing to help remember the names of the body parts.

Many primates asked for The Spider and the Fly, the book we read in the fall at the start of the project. They are pouring through bug and spider books during free reading time. And below, we did the work of spiders: creating webs with frame and capture threads--identified respectively by color. We worked with yarn, glue, water, and waxed paper.

Next we will begin a reading/writing project based on the African folktales, called spider tales. We are also reading chapter book as a whole group..I forget the title/author exactly...will post's called something like, "The Spiderweb Mystery", and is part of a old one. They love it--me too--(sharing a long story with a group is fantastic, we exchange ideas, share perceptions, predict, make connections, wonder together--kind of like the adult book group version--we are using reading in a real way--the way adults use it in real life).

We will also create spider models using clay--they must be detailed and anatomically correct. We will continue spider and insect yoga, and as a final product, each primate will choose one species of spider (should be reflective of their clay model--this requires attending to detail and will exhibit individual learning), and will create an information card including specific details on their chosen species of spider. I introduced the term "arachnid", and we will continue to refer to this new vocabulary word in our discussions.

It feels great to STILL feel this level of engagement in this project.

weaving in the real world

Yes, we are still weaving! A wonderful parent brought in sunflowers for us to plant, AND also a new weaving project that has challenged my little experts! Our sunflowers have sprouted and are ready to go into the ground, and our woven sunflowers are worked on daily and are in process of completion. I've noticed real learning with this sunflower loom: it's HARD to weave in a circle, and after several failed attempts, the primates shoved them in their drawers in frustration. Adopting my "Zen teacher" mode, I said nothing, and as days passed by, i noticed the sunflower looms appearing at choice time. First primate to proudly complete his sunflower (and interestingly--he was also the first to give up!) rang the bell (our original tradition when someone completes a weaving project), and the crowd cheered as he showed his sunflower. Since, finished sunflowers are celebrated daily. PERSEVERANCE!

This is just a perfect example of supporting classroom learning from home--and it's not the only one this project inspired! Several parents have purchased and/or made looms for their children at home--at the primate's request! This reinforces the idea that what they are doing in school is VALUED by their family--and those are the people the primates learn most from, and what they learn elsewhere is filtered through their personal lenses, which are developed at home.

The parent who brought in the project and made a connection to the season of spring and the natural world (planting, growing, caring for living things--side note: every morning the primates line up at the sink to individually water their flowers. Some have written and sketched in their journals, some have measured and recorded growth--with NO direction from me!!! THIS IS LEARNING!!!!!! THIS IS MI!!!! THIS IS REAL!!!!)...anyways, that parent teaches us that there is more to learn about weaving and gives us a new perspective on connecting nature to art, via weaving.

The families who have encouraged continued learning at home by providing looms teach us that this skill is valued, and that they are proud and inspired by what we have done. Isn't that the approval from our parents we spend our lives chasing?

Finally, and this was the first "home connection", one parent took her family to the textile museum in Lowell. Her son is a self-proclaimed, "weaving maniac". He brought in his own loom--a different one!--and a book, and this quiet, newest member of our group was suddenly the center of attention. Every primate gathered around him as he showed his loom and the potholders he'd made--they begged for him to teach them, and he did. This also sparked an interest in him to work on our wall loom in the hallway that had been dormant for weeks. Within days, and with the help of others who followed his lead, we had 3 finished pieces on the wall loom, and they were begging for more.

This just reminds me of that cheesy poster, (one that I do secretly believe) that says something about throwing a pebble into still water to create a ripple, that creates a wave...etc....this blog makes me increasingly aware of exactly how sappy and sentimental I can be...I suppose it balances out the cynical, defeated teacher I have been known to play at times!

2much good stuff

My primates visited the exhibit several other times throughout the week with other classes, which gave them the opportunity to practice talking about their work and the whole experience. One of the kindergarten classes wrote us a beautiful thank you and asked if we'd teach them how to weave. My primates were impressed that the little ones were so excited about learning to weave, so we wrote back saying yes, we'd be happy to teach them. I sent 2 primates to deliver the note, which the K teacher read in front of my primates, and when they returned to me, they were white as ghosts and said, "They ALL want to learn how to weave and this is going to get crazy!" Still makes me chuckle...we passed crazy awhile ago!...ahh the joys!

more exhibit

I loved watching the primates examine and consider their own work and the work of their peers as we listening to Yo Yo Ma and nibbled on cookies, fruit, and cheese. It was quite the sophisticated event! I made a little yarn-ribbon pin for each primate, so they would be recognized as the weavers/writers featured in the exhibit. Yes, colors reflected our "Pride" theme! (see THIS is why I love Martha so--kindred perfectionists!)

We also provided a "guestbook" for visitors to sign. Of course, it is filled with beautiful sentiments from families (most endearing are the entries from older siblings and grandparents!) and others who admired our work throughout the week.

exhibit cont'd

Each primate's typed story and woven piece (some in progress still!) was displayed on a board. Some primate's chose to type their own stories, while others preferred I type. Either way was fine, but I ended up including my typed version on all since the primate versions still contained inventive spelling. I feel allowing them to work independently without my facilitating dictionary spelling (aka correct spelling), produces work that illustrates their ability authentically--and that is what I prefer to see. We had nine boards in total that displayed the work of 22 primates.

good 2 b back

LOTS to catch up's tough to know where to begin, so this may be a bit out of order, but I'll start with our WONDERFUL exhibit...

These are the first and last of 6 documentation boards that chronicle the journey of teaching and learning our group traveled this far! Rather than post pics of each board, I'll copy/paste some of the text with pics, but the effect of all the boards together was amazing for me...I felt astonished by the evidence of where we began, the different paths we chose, obstacles we faced, and successes--so many successes we achieved.
And YES, those are PRIDE colors forming the color scheme for our display. The colors of Pride symbolize the caring, effort, teamwork, and responsibility we utilized throughout this project, and reflect those same four precious values that drive our school. Here is data evidencing these values at work.

As I was dismantling the exhibit, (which was on display at the college for a week), a professor stopped to tell me how inspiring the work was...that is was "the buzz" on campus all week..great to hear that feedback. Then she asked me what research project I was part if things like this only happen in research projects....and sadly, I realized, for the most part, that is true. We never see or celebrate the journeys our teachers and their students travel in a year. We look at numbers to make us feel good. I am not part of that "we", and I take tremendous pride in the fact that no, this is not a research project, this is what you get in 1st and 2nd grade with me as a teacher. This is what "WE" should all be doing, because amidst this terrible school year, THIS is what sustained my passion, energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and joy. And without all that, teaching is a deeply depressing thing to do in this country.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

quick reflection

I hope to blog later tonight in more specific detail...but right now I am engulfed in preparing my documentation boards of this project for Monday night's exhibit--a task made THAT much more difficult thanks to my perfectionist tendencies...however...

I have to stop for a moment and just reflect on the profoundness of this project for myself as a teacher and learner. I am literally typing through tears of wonder as I sort through pictures, student work, observational notes, etc starting back in September. For me, this work is a beautiful illustration of a journey I have taken with a group of magnificent children, and I am so proud to be a member of their learning group.

Out of what by far has been THE most difficult year I have ever experienced in my teaching career has evolved the most amazing work I could ever imagine. And in this documentation I see the struggles, the laughs, the questions, the discoveries, the mistakes, the success...and the love I have for what I do. Just want to appreciate how lucky I am to love what I do and be able to share this enthusiasm with others. Would this project have the same results if the individuals in this group were different? No, because this work is reflective of THIS group of individuals. Not to say if I repeated this project it would be any less, just different, and keeping in mind one of the themes of learning in my classroom--different is good--I am happy this work is what it is, and I am so proud and excited to share it with the extended members of our learning group, our families on Monday.