Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Only Cosmetic? I Don't Think So...

Amanda, artist extraordinaire, who painted our
"think bubble" outside our classroom.
Last night was our elementary school's open house. You know, the big event when parents and students come in to investigate the classroom, get a feeling for the room's vibe, meet the teacher, find the desk and locker, and see who else is (or isn't) in their class. It was fabulous. It left me entirely and completely exhausted.

Our fourth grade girls' bathroom, with artwork by Jody
You see, this summer has probably been the busiest of my life. I have attended and/or presented at more conferences than ever, have been working on restoring my 1973 Super Beetle, and coordinated a wedding with TWO receptions. On top of that, we (the teachers) decided to paint all the bathrooms in our school, and then concluded it was so cool we should also paint the outsides of our classrooms to help create a more kid-friendly environment. We worked hard and had lots of great help from other staff, from current and former students, and from the community.

Yes, there's a Lochness Monster in our girls' bathroom!
Please understand: I am NOT complaining! On the contrary, mine was the first "non-white" classroom in the building. Several years ago after reading some research on colors and learning, my principal gave me the go-ahead to paint my room. I bought the paint myself and did the painting on my own "time off." The front is a nice blue (helps with concentration and mood) and the other walls are a calming color of green. Parents and students were happy campers and many would make some sort of happy comment or sigh as they settled into the room. I know it makes me feel a little happier and content. When I was given a different classroom, I painted again. This time I asked my artistically talented older daughter to add some quotes on several of the walls, which she happily completed. This sweet addition delighted me and my students. A little joke then started around the building that I was going to be moved again and again until all the rooms were painted. It was funny. But then I really was moved. It wasn't so funny. I painted. Again. I thought I was done painting. I was...momentarily. Until this summer. No reprieve. Not even one year. *sigh*

Love how he went around the corner with this one...
...and this one, too.
Instead of painting around windows and heaters, this summer I painted around toilets and urinals. I remember thinking to myself (as my face was centered over an open toilet) that my kids would know how much I loved them if they could only see me doing THIS. We finished the base coats in both the boys' and girls' bathroom and then our artists came in to make it way cool. And I do mean way cool. The boys' bathroom has graffiti art, done by Josh (who did the amazing "Choose Kind" artwork in my classroom). Jody, a former student, did kids from around the world in the girls' bathroom. She brought in her mom, sister, and brother to complete the work. Dr. Seuss' line, "The more you read the more you'll know; the more you know the more places you'll go" will dance across the top of the wall when Amanda can squeeze some time out of her busy schedule. Both bathrooms are tour-worthy. As a matter of fact, during our open house I sent girls into the boys' bathroom and boys into the girls'. They loved it.

I think this is the one I need to remember most!
So why paint classrooms and bathrooms?? Not because I have nothing to do during the summer, that's for sure. Not because it's my personal taste. Not even to cover up the ugliness of the old dirty white paint.  Really, it's because I want my kids to feel great when they're in this space. I want them to remember school as a wonderful place to be. A place they felt good about themselves and people around them. A place where some of their most precious memories are. I want them to feel like they can curl up in a comfy chair and read a book or have a rousing debate about an issue in my classroom and be completely safe doing so. I want them to know that their teacher cares about them enough to make the bathroom fun and kid-friendly. I want them to know that every part of their life is important. That people care deeply. Go the extra mile for them. I want my kids to grow up knowing they're so very important.

Two of Josh's "tags" from the fourth grade boys' bathroom.
Open house means we're into the new school year. Summer is over and it's time for a new group of kiddos to love on, to nurture, to prod, to encourage, to challenge. This year, our building is ready at a whole new level.

I can hardly wait!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Taking the Bull by the Horns: Technology in the Classroom

Okay, so I'm type A. I get that. Sometimes I get ahead of myself because I am more than a little enthusiastic about something, especially if I think it will help my students. I get that. So I get excited about using technology with the kids in my classroom, and using technology as a teacher to engage them and to make life a little more manageable for myself. It is part of my DNA. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Sometimes I fall flat. But even then I'm at least moving forward.

Today was an incredible day of learning for the Jackson (Michigan) County Intermediate School District teachers and administrators. We are leading the way in technology not only in our county, but in our state. It was exciting to be part of this incredibly talented and smart group of dedicated professionals who are not afraid to become a part of a culture born (in many cases) many years after they had already reached adulthood. I am included in that demographic, but have to admit that my personality has a lot to do with my risk-taking.

Our ISD technology put together a day call EdTech, in which some sessions had pre-set presenters and some sessions were based on attendees' desires, much like EdCamps that happen all over the place these days. There were sessions about Twitter, Googledocs, tech for encouraging reading and writing, iMovie, blogging, iPad apps, and the list goes on. There was even a very cool announcement about a new iPad app that was created 100% by students ranging from 4th grade to high school seniors and is now available for free! In fact, my students were involved in the creation of that app, so it put a lump in my throat when they brought the kids up and made the big announcement!

I am so very proud that our building principal, Ben (@benjamingilpin), led a session for educators (including administrators!) who want to become a part of the twitter educational community. I am so very proud of my fellow fourth grade teacher, Breanna (@studiobree), who engagingly spreads the great news of how accessible iMovie is for teachers and students alike. I am amazed that a one-year teacher, Lisa, is willing to share her expertise on Weebly with a room full of veteran teachers and administrators.

This evening I feel very proud, encouraged, and blessed to be part of a team of people who are completely committed to moving forward. While not every endeavor we attempt is a success, it is gratifying to know we are all willing to make that attempt, we have permission to make the attempts, and there are people around us who readily offer encouragement and listening ears when we need them.

By the way, if you're interested in knowing more about what our JCISD technology team pulled off today, here's the link to check out the day's events. It includes names of presenters and links to some of the resources from the day's sessions. There's plenty there!!

JCISD EdTech Home Page

Saturday, August 3, 2013

We Need to Talk...

This week I spent three days....well, actually two and a a really expensive conference. It was fabulous, even though I have a problem with the how much they charged.

One of the biggest take-aways I had from this conference is that I need to be more specific in knowing and having my students know what the targeted learning goal is for whatever we're working on together in class. For several years now, my kiddos have written down their learning goals and we've worked toward mastery on them. Often, though, it would be written down and then not looked at or talked about for several days or even (embarrassingly) longer. We would be working on the learning target, but that goal wasn't probably always in the forefront of my kids' minds. I don't know, maybe it stuck there because we were working on it, but it would be much more effective for them to ALWAYS have that learning target in their brains so they achieve total, deep, and complete mastery of that targeted learning goal.

For example, I know my fourth graders must master two-digit by two-digit multiplication. This is a skill we laser-focused on and twice a week had kids in small groups according to mastery (or non-mastery) for intervention and enrichment. I sincerely believe this fall when they begin multiplication in fifth grade, the fifth grade math teacher will NOT send up a moan because half the kids don't get it. Hopefully, instead he'll high-five the kids (and their fourth grade teachers!) because they have complete mastery and deep understanding of this essential skill.

However, that one learning target is just one of how many?? There's my dilemma. We are seeing and hearing that we need to focus on deep learning, not on "inch deep and mile wide" learning. Pick the important things and ensure every kid understands them deeply. That is the objective.

So what is important and essential in learning? The "I Can" statements from the common core include every one of the standards. That, obviously, is NOT going to get at the imperative learning. There are twenty-two standards in reading alone! If we were to "focus" on each of those, the kids would have to gain mastery of each one in a little over a week. Keeping track of them would be a nightmare. That doesn't even touch on the standards in writing! Plus that, I want my kids to love reading and writing. I don't want them to be bogged down with tracking twenty-two plus learning targets. So which of those standards are ones they HAVE to know and which ones are NICE to know?

(Caveat: I've read the standards and I teach them. I intentionally blend more than one together to get a bigger bang for the buck. However, that's not the point I'm struggling with.)

What I'm having a hard time nailing down is how I get my kiddos to understand,

"This is what I need to know and this is how I can show I know it." 

It's that meta-cognition of the targeted learning.

I work in building with 100% dedicated professionals. I'm VERY fortunate. Our principal is extremely supportive and motivational, and he's also a lifelong learner. I am also very fortunate to know through twitter, Nerdy Book Club, and other professional connections some really smart teachers. So I would like to get some dialogue going through twitter, or whatever means we can. Here is the question I'd love to see us all wrestle with and dialogue about:

In your grade level, which of the standards do you deem as the top two, three, or four, non-negotiables for our kids to learn at their grade level?

Our goal is to ensure that every student learns at high levels. Our assumption has to be that the teacher(s) from the previous grade level was operating under that same goal.

Could we talk about this? Please send feedback here and/or on twitter! @suz_gibbs #edessentials