Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weather Day and the Milwaukee Brewers

Today we took half the school to a Milwaukee Brewers game.  The event began with TMJ4's weather day where the kids learned a lot of interesting facts about meteorology.  The kids were very engaged in the presentation and especially enjoyed learning about the technology used by meteorologists and television production.

The students also really enjoyed the game.  I was surprised to learn that many students did not know how to read a ticket to identify their section, row, and seat number.  In the future, I would include this information in my discussion of expectations prior to the event.

I was so proud of how well the students behaved.  Our students were being polite and were having a really great time.  I noticed one of my peanuts even went up to a man to politely inform him that he had mustard on the back of his shirt.  Another highlight was when one student decided it was his goal to get on the big screen.  He led the students in cheers and the wave and just as we were about to leave, the whole group made it on the big screen.

I had a few personal take aways from this event.

  • Going over expectations and content with students increased the enjoyment of the event. 
  • Double check EVERYTHING before leaving for an event.  We discovered that we had only grabbed half the tickets (!) but this was quickly solved.
  • Having procedures in the classroom is really a benefit when traveling outside the classroom.  We marched to the stadium and when we needed to have the students shift out of the way, it was very easy to give a side-step direction that is commonly used at school.  I was also able to quickly gain student attention by calling out 'Marco'.  Students respond with 'Polo' and then pay attention to the speaker.  These types of procedures make for a smooth event.
  •  I had a student ask if he could journal about the event.  I think I will rework my lessons for tomorrow to reflect and connect yesterday to our curriculum.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dream Classroom

Recently I have seen several interesting posts by teachers reflecting on what their perfect classroom would look like.  If I were to create the perfect classroom it would include
  • Project Based Learning.  I was reading Star in the Storm aloud to my students today and the phases of the moon were mentioned.  I saw the students were a little confused, so I set the book down and drew a model of the orbits on the board and we talked about how the phases occur.  This led the students to further questions and I pulled up Google Sky on my phone and showed the students where some constellations and the moon were at that very moment.  We talked about how the recent earthquake in Japan shifted the axis of the earth and the literary and scientific meaning of the phrase "blue moon".  At one point a student raised her hand and said, "Wait Ms. Smith, are we doing science now?"  I laughed a little and said, "Life kinda mushes all of the things we study together and when you think about it, it is a little odd that we have to split them up so much in school."  She agreed. 
  • Student Choice.  I am currently using a modified Daily 5 model for my literacy instruction.  In my ideal classroom, I would expand my knowledge and implementation of this strategy.  I love mini lessons and use them in all subject areas to support my student's Individualized Learning Plans.  I have also been utilizing strategies found in the book The Strategic Teacher.  This book has been a great resource as I continue to implement research-based best practices in my classroom.
  • Technology.  Currently I work in an environment that offers very few technological options for students in school.  However, life offers them a plethora of tools, skills, and decisions.  As I currently work with middle school peanuts, I know how important twenty-first century skills and digital citizenship are.  As they are just beginning to create their digital footprint, I would love to teach them about the various tools available, and how to select the right tool to fit the job on which they are currently working.  This also includes teaching students how to vet a source.  This skill is important off-line as well, but is so much more important when reviewing online information.  Obviously, a 1:1 classroom would be ideal.  I would also love mp3 players to listen to lectures and podcasts, recording devices for audio and video, and adaptive technologies for students who need technologies to meet learning needs.
  • Mobility.  Learning should not end at the threshold of my door.  I would love bicycles, kayaks, and a webcam.  Digital field trips would be a great way to supplement local expeditions.  This way my students could experience their local community and the world.
  • Organization.  I am a certified, card-carrying member of the Type A Club.  Currently, I have a color for each class.  Binder tabs, background paper for bulletin boards, magazine holders - all color coded to keep me sane.  I have to thank my sixth grade teacher, Ms. H. for this one.  She was the queen of organization, and although I didn't know it at the time, she set me up for a lifetime of organizational success.  She modeled organization for us in so many ways.  I learned how to organize my notes, my desk, and an English paper.  I have obviously modified her organizational tactics and made them my own, but she gave me a blueprint.  I hope to provide the same model for my students.
  • My Grandma's Sofa.  My Grandma was always my biggest fan.  Sadly, she passed away a few months before I got back into a classroom position.  By the time we were ready to sell some of her furniture, I knew I had a classroom to call home so I brought her couch along with me.  It now sits in my library area and I dutifully yell at students when they put their feet up on the couch.  But the kids love that I have it in the room.  Sitting on the couch is a highly coveted place.  I love that I have a comfortable space that welcomes students and other staff.  I have counseled and counseled on that couch, just like Grandma did for me.
  • Authentic Assessment.  Learning, in my humble, should be relevant and rigorous.  My goal is to make students be able to be successful in the "real world".  Projects should be multi-disciplinary and incorporate a wide variety of Gardner's multiple intelligences.  Too many teachers talk about the virtues of the "real world".  Let me tell you, I have worked in the "real world" and I never turned in a project past deadline.  However, if I did, I don't think my boss would have taken off 10% per day it was late.  I don't know if I would completely commit to a no-homework policy, but I definitely believe in a limited-homework policy.  
  • Digital Picture Frames.  I would love for each student to have a digital picture frame where they could load inspiring pictures, photos of projects, photos of family and friends, and anything else they felt expressed or inspired them.  Digital picture frames are pretty cheep on Black Friday, so this dream may become a reality next year!  I think the idea of digital picture frames also represents having an aesthetically pleasing classroom.  I want my classroom to have a comfortable feel where students have a sense of ownership.
  • Parent Communication.  Just as it is important to create relationships with students, it is equally important to create relationships with parents and other stakeholders of student success.  Ideally, I would have weekly communication with each parent.  This could include face to face contact, a phone call, or an e-mail.  I would also like students to take ownership of communicating their learning to stakeholders through daily blogging, videos, or updates to a classroom Facebook page or Twitter account.
  • An Open Door.  Just as no man is an island, no teacher should be an independent contractor.  My ideal classroom would support co-worker collaboration through common planning time.  I would also like to explore team-teaching and guest speakers.  Parents, community stakeholders, and other educators have a wealth of knowledge.  I would be remiss in my commitment to the best interests of my students if I did not tap these great sources of information.  Technologies like Skype and digital field trips would also allow students to meet with other experts from around the world.
Hat tip to Helping Young Minds to Grow and Tartan Learning for the inspiration to write this post. 
photo © Michael Jastremski
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