Saturday, October 18, 2008

teacher research

Some of our new teachers have joined our school's teacher research group. I'm impressed with how they are already taking responsibility for their own professional learning and growth on top of all they are managing as a new teacher. I'm even more impressed they know an activity like this will help their teaching and ultimately help their students. As a young teacher, this sort of self-exploration wasn't even on my radar. I mean what sort of capable teacher would still have questions about teaching once they were awarded a teaching credential licensed by a state's department of education? Who would want to expose their practices, their instructional strategies and their professional vulnerabilities for all to see?

Teaching is a living, breathing process. Our research is already such a part of our day. We are always making adjustment for things that work and don't work with students. We know we are lucky. Lucky we are in a county and a school that acknowledges the value of this work. We are allotted time during our work day to work on our project, space in a nice conference room and experts at our beck and call for the sole purpose of asking and exploring questions we have about our practices. Thinking about our teachers embracing this... maybe we've made our luck.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

five random things

My friend at Snippety Gibbet has tagged me for a meme to share five random things. I'm honored because I just think she's so boss. (I am determined to revive "boss" as a cool superlative.) Jan is one of our art teachers whose good work with kids goes way, way beyond her job description. Her own art is incredible. I love paper anything and her artistic cutting is serious whimsy. She also just got back from a 270 mile, four day ride from Pittsburgh toward DC. Did I mention it was on two wheels? With only pedal power? So of course, I will answer her tag.

Anyway, my five random things:
1. I spoke Japanese til I started kindergarten when my mom decided it would prevent me from speaking English and doing well in school. We just didn't know. Can hardly say ko nichi wa now.

2. I've had thirty different jobs in my life not counting mom, and including "cook" on a llama ranch in Gilroy, CA (town named for my family).

3. Two foods always in my refrigerator- lemon and cilantro.

4. I owned a dirt bike in the desert as a teenager til I had a bad crash.

5. I love violin music.

Monday, August 25, 2008

kindergarten buddies

It was revealed in our school improvement plan survey at the end of the school year that teachers wanted staff development to improve their math instruction. We want our math instruction to be as comfortable a fit as our literacy instruction. When requests like this come in (ground up) our administrators and specialists listen... and respond. As a result our math resource teachers helped organize us and twenty-four teachers formed a focus group to improve our math teaching skills and knowledge. Books were bought. Time was creatively carved so we could have an hour during the work day six times a year to collaborate and discuss the bones of "numeracy." Half our group is working on primary conceptual development and the other half is working on multiplication and division.

How do we do it? One week the primary numeracy group meets and sends their little guys to an upper grade class which is part of the multiplication/division group. We "buddy" the students for 1/2 hour at the end of the school day and dismiss them from this class while their teacher spends that 1/2 hour and 1/2 hour after school dismisses to learn. On another week we swap... older students go to the younger students. Brilliant.Last week our class had our first swap. We partnered a kindergarten student with a third grader. They each drew a portrait of their buddy. Third graders interviewed each kindergarten student and shared what they discovered. Later they swapped portraits. It was a very fast 30 minutes!
Things seen and heard:
K boy: I have flames on my shirt.
3rd boy: Uh, I know. They're cool.
K boy: I have flames and words on my shirt.
3rd boy: I know. I was just about to put the flames here.
K boy: Uh huh...don't forget the words.
3rd boy: Shaking head, eyes looking sideways at his buddy, smiling with no teeth showing.K girl: This is you on a sidewalk.
3rd girl: What am I doing?
K girl: Walking to school. You're going to be late.
3rd girl: That really looks like my outfit today.
K girl: I know. Did you hear me say you're going to be late.

A good time was had by all.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

happy anniversary!

Today Blink and Bridge is one year old. I didn't intend to take a sabbatical over the summer. It just happened. It's interesting how the urge to post and read blogs has been creeping up the last few weeks. I attribute it to being back in the "condo" (my classroom) with students and my mind responding to all things infused with school and teaching: new third graders, new curriculum, my own college student going back for a second year, my high schooler readying for junior year, my oldest working with fledgling kindergarteners, my teammates rallying to get to know their new students, the "drive-by" teacher meetings in hallways, the staff development already going on, the collaborative support surrounding individual students, the hunting and gathering of materials and furniture as we create our environments for learning, administrators and staff working to welcome a huge increase of students. It's a hubbub of pedagogy. Can't wait to write about it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

student run blogs

I recently reactivated a class blog called Third Grade Thoughts that I started last October. Between then and now my hope was that our students would be writing and managing our news on this site. Today I added photos of our recent field trip to a beautiful county park on the Potomac River. I also added a podcast of students making daily observations about their butterflies in various stages of their life cycle over the last two weeks. Prior to that, I added a podcast of our field trip and a lesson that kicked off our butterfly unit. Sounds productive but, I have a little teacher's guilt about it.

I didn't achieve my original goal to have students directly produce the blog. They are indirectly "writing" the blog by adding their voices in podcast form but... Okay, so I have hopes for next year. I spent about a month and a half on a language arts unit of study last quarter informally titled, "writing for the web." The writing objectives, drawn from our district and state objectives, were all geared toward publishing on a website. Our technology resource specialist co-taught some of the lessons. Our students had great ideas: a food column, a winners column, a games column, a favorite animals column, etc.

I loved these kid-centered themes and the kids mostly loved working on a team to produce a bit of the website. There was a lot of collateral learning on this project. I learned a lot about my students and how they work. I realized we have a lot of strong personalities who need lots of support to work on a team project like this. Students learned they have strong personalities and have to sometimes let go and work toward consensus. It's all good, but, this unit was much more time consuming than I expected. So, now after many weeks, after abandoning the student blog idea, and working to get in other reading and writing lessons, I have caved and put our news online, without student help. I don't like the idea. I am determined to work next year to help students get their own news online. In the meantime, student's voices on a couple of podcasts are helping me assuage my guilt and reconcile the fact that the blog is not as pure as I'd like it to be.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Olympic Torch Relay- Slice of Life

The other morning I woke to a piece on NPR about the Olympic Torch Relay finally getting on Chinese soil. Today it is on the mainland enjoying quite a following. To say this ritual carried from the ancient games has ignited more than the current Olympic flame, which began March 24, 2008 at the ancient Temple of Hera in Olympia, is an understatement. Every leg save the current legs in China have been accompanied by huge crowds protesting against human rights violations, the sovereignty of Tibet, and the political support Chinese has offered the Sudanese government. Accompanying the protests have been intense security, tactical diversions, and hot media. Now that the torch is in China the protests are gone, the security is more relaxed (or is it?) and the media is state run. So if there are protests we might not know. Hmmm. The AP has headlined an article, "Olympic Torch Enjoying a Smooth Relay" (May 7, 2008). Well, there are around 100 legs of relay ahead til this symbolic flame reaches the Olympic venue in Beijing. Personally, I'm waiting for televised coverage of the Mount Everest climb. Historic in so many ways.

The image in this post is my torch from the 1984 Olympic Torch Relay. The Relay traveled the United States, starting in New York City and ending at the Los Angeles Coliseum, traversing 33 states and Washington, DC. The torches (each runner keeps theirs) in the relay were only carried by runners on foot, covered more than 9,320 mi (15,000 km) and involved 3616 different runners, including 200 runners from the sponsoring company AT&T, and one runner from San Jose, CA who won her one kilometer leg in the San Jose Mercury (love that paper!) 10K road race. None of my memories in that kilometer, which I milked for every second I could, included protests, zealous security or left out media. If there was a protest somewhere, I missed it. The Olympics are a political event after all. After a much delayed start (actually scheduled for 8pm) due to the crowd who came to watch, I ran at midnight on a country road in bucolic Carmel Valley, CA. Friends ran beside me along with some AT&T employees, escort cars, and a few local police. I really felt I was part of the Olympic Torch ideal; I was "spreading the Olympic spirit, the message of peace and friendship" and helping to "ignite the passion of the people around the world." There was no stress. Just sheer joy! As I watch the relay via online video I only hope the runners have that same sense of Olympic spirit and joy as they dodge a multitude of distractions.

Monday, April 21, 2008

what (punctuation) sign are you?

This, evidently is the "punctuation" I was born under! Thanks Megan (at Read, Read, Read) for this fun look at ourselves.

You Are a Comma
You are open minded and extremely optimistic.
You enjoy almost all facets of life. You can find the good in almost anything.

You keep yourself busy with tons of friends, activities, and interests.

You find it hard to turn down an opportunity, even if you are pressed for time.

Your friends find you fascinating, charming, and easy to talk to.

(But with so many competing interests, you friends do feel like you hardly have time for them.)

You excel in: Inspiring people
You get along best with: The Question Mark

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

third grade character -slice of life #2

Teaching good character traits is an important part of our district curriculum. In fact it's in our Strategic Governance Plan under Essential Life Skills. Our third graders are instructed in a set of lessons presented by our guidance counselors and those are reinforced in the classroom and home by teachers and families. First, both our guidance counselors are goddesses. Along with the usual support counselors provide, they are great teachers. They know how to activate schema and engage students through discussion, role-play, rehearsing, and writing. I saw this in action today.

The lesson was about perseverance. I was in and out a bit with teacher chores, but, I did see and hear the last ten minutes of the 30 minute lesson. Groups of three and four students scattered in various spots all over the classroom carpet were abuzz as they responded to a set of questions that challenged their thinking about what it meant to persevere. These open ended, higher level prompts challenged my own thinking as I listened surreptitiously to the calm, thoughtful, back and forth discussions inhabiting these groups of third grade students.

Seen and heard:

Q: Rome was not built in a day. What does this common saying say about the importance of perseverance? A: Rome had a lot of perseverance to build such a big city and empire. The Romans were so great. The empire took years to build but, the Romans stuck to their plans.

Q: Perseverance is a virtue. But are there times it is a mistake to persevere? A: If you are hurting yourself. If somebody is better than you at something and you are jealous and want to keep snapping back at them. When someone is annoying you, they shouldn't persevere with that behavior.

Q:When in your life have you just given up? How do you feel about giving up? A: I have never given up (then, from a classmate: "Well, if you ever did give up how do you think you would feel?") I feel dissappointed when I give up because I can't reach my goal. I couldn't accomplish my goals. I would be very unhappy to give up on things I'm trying to do. I would never have a chance to see some things happen.
Q: Has anything bad really ever happened to you or to someone close to you? How did you or that person cope with the situation? A: What is cope? (after "cope" is explained) When my goldfish died I was sad but I got over it by hugging my mom and thinking happy thoughts. My cousin had perseverance because she broke her arm and didn't give up. She was three years old. She just tried and tried to play hand games with her cousins until she could do it. She never complained.

Q: You have a friend that can't seem to win. She never seems to succeed. She is feeling blue. What can you say to motivate her to not give up? A: You can tell her something nice or give her advice like, "don't give up." You could tell her she's a special person.
Comments we can all live by.

Monday, April 14, 2008

today's staff meeting

We had a late breaking staff meeting this afternoon in the library. One of our very capable, highly respected assistant principals brought our school family together to make the announcement that the other very capable, highly respected, assistant principal is going to become a principal at a nearby elementary school in our district. We couldn't be happier for her even though it means we lose a quietly powerful leader who loves our kids and has a pretty good sense of humor. She had previously been a school principal and it was only a matter of time before that calling had to be served. We were very, very lucky to get her. Timing was right for her to come to our school when we needed an assistant principal. But there will be no crying in baseball or school about losing such a skilled administrator. This happens once in awhile to us.

I don't want to say we're used to it. I don't think anyone wants good people to go. Our last assistant principal also left to be a principal at a school that needed her. She has now spent the last few years helping to make good things happen and her school and staff are growing professionally. Before that we lost our beloved principal so she could be the Director of Elementary Instruction for our district. I guess that's a pretty good job to have. With over 135 elementary schools it's a big job. We can't think of a better person for that position. Sure we could whine, but we all, and I mean all, from teachers to instructional assistants to custodial staff to specialists, to volunteers, understand good citizens leave our school not to leave us but to do good things beyond our walls. Each of those educational leaders have been part of and contributed to positive transformations for staff and school. We're better with each departure in a weird sort of way. We know that and so, it's easy to say, "Good luck," We'll really miss you," "You will do great things in your new school," "Those kids and that staff are so lucky to get you," "Thank you for all you've done to help our students," "Thank you for helping me grow as a teacher," and mean it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

not on the test

Our art teacher just sent this. Timely as we are starting to enter review season for testing in our school. It's a music video by Tom Chapin (2006) with a pretty catchy tune reminding us of some other very important things. Rock on for Arts Education, which by the way, is not on the test.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

the calm over writing workshop - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
Yesterday for about an hour I quietly watched 17 third graders writing and sharing during workshop. It was our first day back together after a three week break. I didn't have high expectations because we were so out of routine. I was going to be happy if they could find their pencils, notebook, word book, and folder. I was going to be thrilled if they gathered those goods within five minutes. I couldn't even remember what our last workshop before break looked like. I expected to have to make desk to desk stops to support writers getting started. Today's workshop focus: visit your notebooks for ideas and pieces of ideas you started. If something inspires you, plan and write the beginning of this next great piece.

Well. Within 4 minutes, the class had their tools. Within the next few minutes they were writing. Second looks all around to be sure writers were on task. Third looks, ready to nudge relunctant writers. None needed. Seen and Heard: rereading, bookmarking, highlighting, coloring, adding to writing hearts, quiet whispering about an idea for a story series titled "A Visit to...", advice offered student to student in quiet whispers accompanied by a smile, story mapping to plan a story (worked on this before break to deconstruct fiction we were reading), a wonderful lead: "It was a hot, sunny day in July. The waves were shining. It was a perfect beach day," lists of new ideas generated by the old idea, "my birthday," a travel piece begun about Disneyworld (I could have used this a few years ago), calm.

I sensed we would need extra time for sharing. There would be much to talk about. Selfishly I couldn't wait to hear the comments. After 45 minutes we came to the meeting area in a circle. The prompt: "Reflect on your writing today. What made you feel successful or what made you feel pretty good about your writing." A response: "Can we pass?" Mental, unseen sigh with a smile. "Yes, but still take a moment to think about how you were successful today." Seen and Heard during share: story maps detailed with characters, setting, several plots, "I forgot I had some of the ideas I had in my notebook," that great lead about the beach, how the idea for a series of stories came up- "I have so much to write about and I thought a theme would be a good way to do it." "I like the funny stories like Junie B. Jones so I wanted to try something like that (spontaneous mentor texting), "I liked having the time to create my characters today," "Can I read my beginning?", "I passed earlier, can I still share?", "I liked writing today."Me, too.

Monday, March 31, 2008

using nonfiction for writing- slice of life day 29

I'm really on vacation this week. I have a few more days to sharpen the saw and think of stuff other than good instruction, students, and teaching. And I would have done that today. Except, I missed this workshop a few weeks ago (forgot!) called, "Using Nonfiction to Teach Primary Grade Writing," and I had another chance to attend. I had a very blink moment about this workshop when I read the description over a month ago. Something told me it would be good and worth attending even now during my vacation. I was right.

The teacher presenting had literally written the book. I sat down at a round table in the library with two other teachers in what would soon become a standing room only crowd. I didn't really notice the nonfiction resources, colored pencils, glue, paint, water, and paint sponges that were going to be my tools for the next hour and a half. It was a library after all. I met my colleagues and turned to see these beautiful, student authored/illustrated books all around the bookshelves. They were written by first and second graders. I recognized the curriculum. Is this what we were going to learn how to get our students to produce? Yee ha!

An agenda was given and then we were directed (one of the few she gave) by Ms. Groeneweg to not take notes on it. We were to take notes in the white covered, blank, 8" x 11" hardbound book she was placing in front of us so we could create our own, individually meaningful versions of her presentation. Brilliant! Our student eyes lit up and we caressed our new books, as we considered all the possibilities. A few people weren't too happy their's had smudge marks on them and they were soon traded in so everyone could have a clean slate. Ms. G. demonstrated one of her techniques for beginning a unit and eliciting interest, using a gift wrapped book. We all got brightly colored tags to place on our first wrapped book of the future. She had a teacher cut off the ribbon and tear a little piece of the wrapping to expose a bit of the cover. Who doesn't like to rip open large gifts? Excitement was building. Another teacher came up and tore a bit more paper. The sound was great. We noticed how she strategically tore in a place that might reveal the title (an assessment for concepts of print?). More anticipation. Finally, after some brainstorming, more tearing, deducting, and discussion, the cover was revealed. Yeah! Butterflies are Born! Ms. G asked us to now do a quick write in our new books, (she showed us hers) including pictures, about unwrapping the book. Our first notes and nonlinguistic representations. Marzano would have been proud.

An interesting thing happened while we were writing. Teachers wanted to copy hers. "Like this?" they asked. Teachers were a little afraid of drawing or noting something wrong. Teachers queried, "Is this right?" Ms. G assured everyone to just start writing/drawing, to relax, to just put in whatever they liked; it was all going to be good. Teachers still tried to steal a peak of her page but soon the room fell silent as we got busy making sense of our new knowledge.

The workshop included a field trip to Ms. G's classroom in the building. It was stimulating, alive, and rich in content. Every adorable student produced item had an academic purpose. Writer's notebooks were full of mentor texts, author ideas, drawings, and story starts. Interactive notebooks had prepared notes and important vocabulary, each complete with a student's nonlinguistic representation . Marzano again... this time at it's first grade best. The daily Venn Diagram elicited both a response and provided assessment about essential knowledge. Markers with names were placed by students in the appropriate set circle (or intersection) to show if "I know if a carrot is a root or a plant" or "I know what a verb is" We kept adding to our notes.
We came back to do the covers of our books. (We would actually do this part first with our students.) Our books included titles, headings, table of contents, our notes, dedications, a back cover picture and caption, and pages dedicated to one feature of non-fiction text. We saw more student produced non-fiction writing. A newspaper, a dictionary, an alphabet book. We took more notes. In the end every one of our teacher produced books was awarded a Caldecott. Ms. G. apologized for the compacting of the workshop. Who could complain after winning a Caldecott? We hadn't even realized the time. We walked out and were presented our own copy of "Unwrapping a Book" by Nicole Groeneweg (Creative Teaching Press, 2006). Good stuff.

weekly slice of life challenge starts tomorrow

A new weekly Slice of Life Challenge starts tomorrow. If you have been reading the posts on this blog this past month you've noticed the SOLC title or tag. It was my effort to find the skinny sliver to a big chunk of cake subject to write about everyday. It has been a great practice on practice and I've added a whole new clan of blogsites to my reader. So jump in! If you want to see the origins of March's SOLC click here. Our inspiration: Two Writing Teachers. Thanks ladies!

an A+ story from the Big Apple

This was sent from a colleague today. It originally aired March 12, 2008. I had to share. It's a compelling story on several levels. My favorite part is when this young novice principal modestly downplays his role in the school's incredible transformation and says, the teachers, parents and students took back their school.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

tech store demographics- slice of life day 27

Saturday is a day of errands. On my to do list yesterday was "pick up free flash drives for Grandma at Micro Center." Every few months I get a coupon in the mail offering a free 2G flash drive or a 1G SD memory card. I also get one to give to a friend. Redeeming requires a name, address, etc. Okay, so maybe it's not really free. Maybe it's just a clever loss leader. Anyway, in an effort to get my mother-in-law comfortable with her digital camera, my daughter and I walked in to each get a flash drive for grandma's picture storage. She recently transitioned from a camera requiring film to a digital. Problem: She wasn't sure where to put all those pictures on her camera and she wasn't sure she wanted to delete any. Solution: a flash drive.

I took ten steps into Micro Center and noticed my daughter and I were the only females in this section of the store. We walked on and started looking around. No girls. No women. All the employees were male. Got to the entrance of the "computer" room. A few women were trying out computers. I started counting female customers, totally fascinated with the ratio of male to female. I wanted the men and boys to stop walking so I could really get an accurate count for my ratio study. They were browsing so many products I couldn't keep up my count. I decided to just count the female customers. After an hour in this very large, Office Depot sized store, really looking around (love those loss leaders) and consciously looking for fellow females, I never counted more than ten female customers. No kidding. Even as I walked out with my new drives and yes, a purchased product, I continued looking for another girl in the store, mesmerized with this phenomenon. I just didn't expect this.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

ancestral convergence-slice of life day 26

I had another serendipitous family moment today. My last slice of life post detailed the unexpected reunion with my mom's family documents. Today's slice covers a bit about my father's side of the family. I got it while listening to a piece by Sasha Khokha on NPR's Weekend Edition this morning called "A Native American's Last Testament: Opera."

There is a town south of the San Francisco bay area that is named for my ancestor, a Scottish immigrant who reportedly jumped ship as a 19 year old sailor while docked in Monterey. He evidently made his way to Rancho San Ysidro during the Spanish land grant era and was baptized Juan Bautista Gilroy (taking his mother's maiden name) at the nearby San Juan Bautista mission. He was the first caucasian settler in the Santa Clara Valley. This town's origins were in ranching and agriculture. At one point it was the Dairy and Cheese Capital of California. My great-uncle Ben was a dairy farmer. The ranchers of Gilroy took the imported French prune in the 1920s, made it a regional economy and the town became the Prune capital of California. Many of my relatives grew up "cutting" prunes as a livelihood. I picked walnuts for 25 cents per crate. Growing up with this name was always interesting to me. Interest in the name grew beyond my own large paternal family when it became the Garlic Capital of the World sometime in the 70s. Garlic was first brought to the area and cultivated by the Japanese immigrants in the area around WWI.

At least 1200 years before John Cameron Gilroy married the Rancho San Ysidro owner's daughter, and long before the Spanish settlers came to the southern end of the valley in the 1700s, the Ohlone Indians inhabited the area. A band of the Ohlone, the Amah Mutsun tribe, from which I descend, eventually worked at the ranch and at the the mission, which brings me to the NPR program today.

In early February I received an email from our tribal leader. She has been working for over 30 years to achieve federal recognition for our tribe. The bill was put on hold by Congressman Honda a few years back (HB3475) after some controversy over tribal leadership, land development, and tribal record-keeping which ultimately divided the tribe politically. The tribe continues its efforts to reintroduce the bill. The email gave notice about the world premiere of the cantata, Ascención, a work started 20 years ago by Helene Joseph-Weil, a professor of voice and music at Cal State University, Fresno, about our ancestor Ascención Solórsano de Cervantes, whose family is intertwined with the Gilroys. It was to be simulcast on a San Francisco public radio station. Until that email I had no idea of this historical project culminating in this innovative musical form. The project's origin is described here (from the Ascención Project website):

Inspired by Ascención Solórsano de Cervantes’ oral history taken down by Smithsonian ethnologist J. P. Harrington, this multi-media cantata honors the life of Ascención Solórsano de Cervantes (1854-1930), the last of the California Amah-Mutsun (San Juan) tribal band to retain complete linguistic and cultural fluency of her people.The cantata recounts myriad aspects of Amah-Mutsun cultural history: tribal creation stories, combined with pre-contact daily life, basketry and foods, segue into a lamentation for the enslavement and genocide of Ascención’s people under Spanish, Mexican, and American governments. The cantata’s closing scenes honor Ascención’s renown as The Saint of Gilroy and share Harrington’s moving elegy for his revered consultant.

The project's website provides the slide show and some haunting music among other things. "Divided into 14 scenes with one intermission, this two-hour multi-media work incorporates pre-recorded sound effects/music (recordings of bells and choir), projected images, light effects, spatial sound effects, and live solo performances with mezzo-soprano and piano." Today's NPR program talked about how the cantata was composed and how Professor Joseph-Weil is working to set other Native American oral histories to opera. It is becoming known as her art form. As stated in the program, I too, think it is an authentic form for these stories. What a great surprise today. Hear the program here.
Photo: Ascención Solórsano de Cervantes (1856-1930), in her burial dress. Photograph by J. P. Harrington.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

a life in beautiful tissue paper- slice of life day 25

It' s tax season and I came home to research some information requested by our tax guy, dreading this homework with a capital D. I hit the file cabinets, the piles of folders in the corner, the loose papers that have yet to be filed and anything else that looked like it had numbers and the date 2007 on it. Just as I was getting overwhelmed by the paper artifacts of our fiscal life I found some paper that completely took my mind off my chore.

I have a thing about paper. I like good paper. And not so good paper. I hold myself back when I see a new design at a stationery store. I have a collection of stationery and cards that was probably started 25 years ago. I have just the right color, texture and quality to fit any hand written message. I come by it genetically. Japanese paper makers have crafted beautiful papers from the most interesting plants for thousands of years, the finest still used for conserving and repairing the most delicate and historical of items. The papers I found were in a faux wood grain vinyl (remember when that was popular?) portfolio with an insurance company's name on it. I unsnapped the binder to see numerous opaque, sleeved pages filled with sheaves of brown and white tissue paper, neatly lined top to bottom with kanji, hiragana, and katakana in beautifully handwritten columns of print. Japanese writing has no spaces and is very difficult to read. I don't read Japanese but I know it is a mix of three main systems. Kanji is borrowed from the Chinese; Hiragana and Katakana (kana for short) represent endings and phonetic symbols and combine to produce an artform of expression. This art was written on the softest, thinnest paper I've seen.

The old portfolio contained my mother's somewhat faded, worn-edged family documents. I forgot I had them. I haven't looked at these items for at least fourteen years; the last time was when my mother died and I really didn't look closely then. I easily put aside my work to leaf and read through my mother's papers. Her Japanese passport, issued in 1959 just before she traveled out of Japan for the first time to come with her husband and daughter to the United States, contained the story of her travels in stamped dates and curvy signatures. Her birth certificate and marriage certificate were there. Her divorce papers were there. Her U.S. Citizenship certificate was there, which she finally sought, studied for and earned after living in the U.S. for thirty years and after her divorce. She had stashed her children's and grandchildren's birth certificates, our religious education documents and my college graduation announcement in the portfolio. My favorite find was her adoption papers. These multiple, odd sized pages are translucent tissue paper, partially hand stamped with an ink template and filled with a handwritten narration about her adoption. At some point after living in the states and not keeping in contact with her family through many military family moves, she lost contact with her sister (also adopted) and parents in Kyoto. She made an effort to find them in the early seventies so I got to read the translated documents from this attempt. I can see her birth parents names revealed as well as her lineage back to both sides of her birth and adoptive grandparents. I'm very curious about her seemingly open adoption. I didn't appreciate her history when I could have asked about it. Now I suddenly want to know about that and more.

Mitsue's life deserves a post all of its own. I didn't know that until this slice came my way. The proverbial flood of memories flowed out of all that gorgeous paper and now I really have to do something with it. Maybe some non-tax research?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the architect's story-slice of life day 24

This slice is about the hour (less the eight minutes spent on a fire drill) we were devotedly and literally at the feet of a community expert. Exposing students to experts from various professions is important when you are hoping to develop a big picture of possibility for students, especially those who don't have many experiences outside their neighborhood. One of the moms of a former student came in to share a few things about her professionional life in architecture this morning and she was a smash hit. She walked in with a large, beautiful red leather tote filled with papers, books, plans, and pictures. I admit to a little tote bag envy. She saved the artifacts for last starting her presentation by answering questions students had. There were the usual, "How long did you go to college?" "Do you like your job?" "Where do/did you work?" "Did you draw a lot as a child?" "Is your job hard?" kinds of questions.

I could tell there was engagement because after the first five or six set questions, students grew new things to ask based on her answers. A few things heard (not quoted here entirely word for word) today: Student: What do you like to research? Mrs. H.: I like to know about architects. I have some favorites. Antoni Gaudi based his work on nature, worked in a natural free style, has a flowing form. Frank Lloyd Wright also based his work on nature. He encouraged architects to go back to nature. In architecture we imitate nature a lot. I'm also always thinking about the design of things. Student: What were your favorite subjects? Mrs. H.: I liked art. In college I really liked history. Studying history and cultures teaches you how they contribute and influence things today. (I loved this because we are always telling our students how important it is to learn about the contributions of the ancient cultures we learn about!) Student: What makes architecture so interesting? Mrs. H.: You get to translate a person's ideas to paper and then to a 3 D building. You think about the rhythm of a building, the proportions. We don't like things out of proportion, usually. I like to think about the light that enters a room, the perception of the room when you first walk in, and the purpose of the building. Student: What kind of architecture do you like to do? Mrs. H.: I used to think I would like to work on churches. I love churches. Many magnificent buildings are churches. Now I work with residential buildings and I like that because I can take a person's ideas and feeling and bring them to life. I like modern architecture more than classical. I like clean, simple lines, streamline shapes. Our last ten minutes we looked at plans she brought, drawings of a house that were done quickly (beautifully proportioned and done free hand!), tools of the trade, a book on world architecture, and a construction drawing book. She let the students hold, touch and turn pages. They were thrilled.

Mrs. H. led us on a field trip that ignited so much interest and thinking. Thank you Mrs. H! We really have to do this more often.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt- slice of life day 23

Today's slice is a meme from Jenny at Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It, called a Passion Quilt. I first heard of it a few weeks ago at Read, Read, Read who actually tagged Jenny who tagged me. Talk about six degrees of web separation (or less)! So here is my passion.
I want students to know how to work in teams to creatively solve problems, gain confidence, and have fun.

Passion Quilt Meme Rules:
  • Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
  • Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce

I offer this up in a cyber tag to:

My Many Colored Crayons

My Year Abroad

Kevin's Meandering Mind

BLK Reflections and Reviews

If You Want Kin, You Must Plant Kin

Monday, March 24, 2008

older students-slice of life day 22

Whew! I made it. Not that I thought it would be bad at all, but it's been a few years since I last taught upper elementary students in a math class during intersession*. When you teach 3rd grade on a daily basis, ten and eleven year olds might as well be middle schoolers. I was going to have to adjust. Given that most of us didn't know one another, our first day of Exploring Design through Architecture went pretty well. We had an ice-breaker, talked about idioms, and discovered all kinds of non-mathematical things about one another. Students explored the classroom, checking out all the manipulatives and materials they might use for designs and the books they might use for research. The budding architects created drafting books for notes and drawings. We also worked out logistical stuff like how to set up the smartboard and projector, how to check out books from the classroom library and where to find office supplies. I remember a few students from their third grade days and I have a few siblings of my own students. I tried hard to not make any assumptions about how it would go this week. I thought it was a lot like the first day of school- that great honeymoon time. The day went so quickly. Fifth graders don't need as many directions. They reminded me about a few procedures. Good thing. They need a bit of reassuring, but who doesn't. We didn't have to establish a bunch of rules. We talked about treating one another respectfully and about the importance of communicating politely. I didn't have to add much to that. I have high hopes for the week. Not just for the students- had that; but, for me.

*our 1-2 week optional school sessions that fall between our quarters during our modified (year round) schedule

Sunday, March 23, 2008

appetite suppression- slice of life day 21

I can't keep up. It's like having a table groaning with all the goodies you've always wanted to try sent over from some amazing chefs and they are all there for the tasting. I need help with portion control. Today I opened a post by Tim at Assorted Stuff about the XO and Classmate comparing the differences between these two sweet computers. Made me want to see them in action. Still love the premise of the XO and hope its mission will be accomplished. Then I read about podcasting book reviews at Kevin's Meandering Mind (a blog that has come to me via the Slice of Life Challenge). He even tells how easy it is. I registered for a free podcasting account months ago but have yet to use it with my students. KMM also shared some very hip animated videos created and produced by students who are teaching some aspects of how the XO works. Makes me want to get my kids using more animation... some animation? The students work via Nortel Learn iT. I had to explore the site after seeing it and eventually had to stop myself from reading all the lessons, all the articles linked to them and from watching all the videos. Then I checked out because I will be teaching a 5th grade math class for the next week and wanted to see if there were any Mathcasts I could use. These are instructional lessons produced by students. Definitely can use Rounding Decimals. Had to stop myself from looking at all of them. Don't think I need to share how to find the equation of a line though it looks pretty interesting! There are only so many hours in a day. Appetite suppression.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

we are the ship- slice of life day 20

In My Breakfast Platter Amy S writes a beautiful open letter to author/illustrator Kadir Nelson, sharing the powerful impact his latest book, We are the Ship, has on one of her at promise students (thanks TWT for sharing this term) whose reading has taken off despite his homelife challenges. The story in the letter is compelling. But what other response can come from this incredibly illustrated and magically crafted story about the Negro Leagues once that book gets into a kid's hands? It's so truthful. I felt this post went beyond the letter, though. It illustrated Amy S' professional acumen in her life's work, teaching. As I thought about her responsiveness to her student, I thought about 99% of the teachers (not scientifically calculated by the way) I know who have had experiences of the ilk she has had with her student. 99% of the teachers I know help their students think more, see more, feel more. 99% of the teachers I know have created environments where a student can trust an adult, feel respected, and grow. The general public may not think this, but Amy S' teaching is stereotypical of what is happening in many schools. In a way, teachers could be considered a ship too.
Hear more about Kadir Nelson and this book on npr.

Friday, March 21, 2008

a good read- slice of life day 19 (a bit late)

This slice is from one of the final moments of my day. I'm on my way upstairs so I can open to page 33, sip on my steaming hot mug of Good Earth tea and nibble on my ration of dark chocolate. The tea and chocolate are the perfect accompaniments to Susan Vreeland's portrait of Renoir's famous collective portrait titled, Luncheon of the Boating Party. La vie moderne has especially come to life for me since hearing Susan Vreeland a few weeks ago. In a slide presentation of masterpieces and peppered with her humor and history, she told how the book was born (she always loved this iconic painting), how she developed and researched her story and what she added to the poetic lives of the models (his friends) Renoir painted at the restaurant of the boating club that overlooked the Seine. I have been patiently waiting for this moment since 6:00 am when I hit the road in MA to return to VA. It's been worth the wait.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

perks for third graders- slice of life day 18

I was thinking about Google today and their 20% free time policy. Is it really free? If you are working on new ideas are they automatically Google ideas? Does Google get to keep them? Does a person really get to work on their passion? Anyway, I want to have a Room 210 Free Time policy. I'm not sure if I can justify 20% free time yet, but I'm hoping to work this out. As I read a few vignettes about this free time perk I realized there are lots of opinions about this policy. (see first few sentences.) I do think it's important to have time to pursue what we want to pursue. I also think we can't release our minds from the routine of work to further develop creativity if we never practice it. A comment on a blog about the 20% free time policy that struck me:

20% slack time is scientifically proven to be useful, especially for knowledge workers. Knowledge workers (like software developers) tend to produce good quality code when they are in relaxed environment. Google's strategy would produce good ROI over a period of time.

What would the effect be if students (i.e. knowledge workers) were given a free time policy? I think we teachers have to give our students a chance to be self-learners. Isn't this what we are as adults? Don't we problem solve what we don't know everyday? Students won't become self-learners if they never get a chance to practice. I think a free time policy may help.

teacher reflection time- slice of life day 17

I'm trying to remember how I taught before our school went to a modified calendar (i.e. year round school) almost eight years ago. I'm on spring break this week which will be followed by two more weeks of break before we go back for fourth quarter. Report cards are done for my third graders and sent home for third quarter. I have a fresh start in a few weeks. I have some real time to recover my sense of humor and my sense of self. I have time to think thoughts. More importantly I have a chance to look at each student with a fresh look and give them a fresh start. I brought home learner profile cards I keep for each student. I want to refresh and add to the portrait of them. I want to look again at the profiles based on a self-assessment students did on the Renzulli Learning site. I hope to better address their learning styles and preferences and see how they may have changed over the last quarter. I hope to look at my instructional practice and see where I can work in a little more technology and a lot more choice. I want to look at the learning objectives in each content area and see what I've missed to date. I want to look at the units left to teach and be sure I have good assessments of the formative and and a few of the summative, ilk. How the heck did I do it before without this extended reflection time?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

kodak moments- slice of life day 16

I am spending a few days with various in-laws or as we four sister-in-laws call ourselves, the outlaws. As I've gone from house to house visiting, sharing meals, and sitting in amazement over how tall kids can grow in a few months, I've really noticed our family photographs. Hundreds of them. They are on book shelves, refrigerators, pianos, side tables, bulletin boards, wall units, key chains, calendars, souvenir mugs, and even on walls. They are framed in natural and painted wood, brass, fake brass, silver, chrome, plastic, fabric and cardboard. The frames are oval, rectangular, square, magnetic, matted, and double matted. Some frames are definitely dollar store products (I may have sent a few photos in these now that I look at them) and some are quite obviously purchased from one of those good gift shops where one might even register for china.

As my daugher and I have gone house to house we've taken a great walk down memory lane looking at all the pictures. She's noticed she wasn't in some of the large group family photos. I explained the timeline. She is fourth youngest of 12 grandchildren who range in age from 11 to 29 years old. We took lots of pictures before she came along. I've really had fun telling the stories behind the shots. I really hate to admit this. Especially as I think about how resistant most of us were most of the time to having many of the photos taken in the first place. Are all families like this? You know the situation. We have a family gathering. We're having a good time. Grandma waves and insists everyone huddle together and smile so she can get a picture, capturing a moment she thinks is special just because we are all in one place. We sigh, roll our eyes, whine, "Grandma, not again!" while she repeats, "Oh come on, come on" and we humor her out of respect for her age and desire for memories, arrange ourselves, smile, crack a few jokes, and she snaps away. We thought she was a little overzealous with that darn Kodak.

Now, I'm actually having happy thoughts about each of those pictures. As I'm writing I'm in a living room and there are over 100 photographs I can see. My three girls have their own shelf and this isn't even at Grandma's. I'm beginning to feel a little guilty because I don't have 1/5 of this collection in my living room. Maybe not in two or three rooms. I certainly haven't given my three nephews their own shelf space. I don't like too much clutter, but do these photos qualify as clutter? Am I depriving my relatives and my own immediate family of happy moments by not framing those images and displaying our history? I'm really pondering this.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

spring break- slice of life day 15

Drove 400 miles through seven states today. Made great time. Isn't this what we always say when we drive this kind of distance? My daughter and I are spending some of our spring break week with relatives in western Massachusetts. It's a scenic part of New England. It's also scenicly cold. I forget how cold it can be in March until I am here. You'd think I would remember the April 1st snowstorm in 1997 that dumped three feet of white stuff all over Boston by morning. No fooling. I was such a rookie at weather then. You'd think three years in Cleveland would have prepared me. I stayed home from my little job that day never dreaming the faculty, thousands of grad students, the mass transportation system, and a bunch of tourists would be unencumbered by a few feet of snow. Today I left sunny Virginia with jeans, t-shirt and a fleece sweater this morning. I got to overcast Massachusetts and remembered I did in fact, have a pair of gloves in the car. Good thing. There's a possibility of snow tonight. After all, it's still March and it's cold here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

results dribbling in- slice of life day 14

Pardon the poor photo composition. Flashed a shot right out of the back of my car after dribbling, tapping, and reverse-sticking my way around a field yesterday. The image is proof of a few kid-like, deliriously happy moments with my hockey stick. Today I am less deliriously happy. In fact, I'm a little sore. But, it's such a good sore. It's the kind of sore that comes at my age because you overdo it a little or use muscles you aren't use to using. I didn't realize I was overdoing it at the time. I was realizing the rhythm and sound of a plastic (use to be leather) ball crossing in front of me while I kept the stick in contact with the ball, controlling possesion of it as I swayed side to side. I was tapping the ball on the end of the stick setting new records for taps every few minutes as I worked on eye-hand coordination and an even height for each tap. I dribbled the ball around a turf field, working to keep my head up while pushing the ball forward using my peripheral vision to maintain contact and "possession." My legs remembered the rhythm of four strides to each touch on the ball that began in my college playing days of almost thirty years ago. My lungs however, had forgotten and signaled my legs to slow down with each big gulp of air. My core muscles have evidently forgotten a little something too, because that's where I'm feeling the results of all that work. What fun, though. It's been over six years since my last club game but, the great joy of playing around with a ball and stick just for the sake of playing is still there.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

setting the table- solc day 13

The Splendid Table is one of my fave NPR programs. In our area it runs on Saturdays from 2-3 pm. As the program starts I am often sitting in the car, happily waiting in the parking lot for my daughter to come out of swim practice, secretly hoping her shower will take a long time so I can hear more of the show before she opens the door. As I listen, I sit hanging on the Sterns' every word about local eateries of places I may never get to or I take notes about Josh Wesson's bargain wines or pinots to pine for with the promise of a more glamourous food life ahead. I love this show. Today's program included a couple of connections for me all in one piece. Mexican food and Nebraska. Not your typical food pairing I know. In a nutshell I am half Mexican and I lived in the Cornhusker State for three years while in middle school. I grew up knowing well about Mexican food from my father's side of the family. My grandmother had Mexican restaurants for years. So the intro about Rosita's, a restaurant in Scott's Bluff, NE intrigued me, from well, the intro. I had never considered that Mexicans would choose Nebraska as a settling place. Seems they have emigrated to the midwest since the 1920s. Farms bring workers. In this case, the workers brought incredible foods, opened incredible restaurants and have been a mainstay of culinary delights for almost 100 years.

I loved that the show focused primarily on the corn tortilla and its multiple ways of showing itself on a dinner plate. The Sterns and Lynne Rossetto Kasper (host) bubble on about the virtues of this tortilla as a chip, as a base for nachos, as a shell for delectable meats and veggies. I can relate. I knew what they meant when they said when crisped by hand it became a 3D food as opposed to the 2D chips you buy in a bag. I make those chips. Lately I like to shake Old Bay on them and dip them into hummus. Anyway, it's a tasty piece. Take a listen here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

crazy hair day- slice of life day 12

Crazy Hair Day. Need I say more? Yes, those are bags of Sweet Tarts in my ponies. My new motto: Life is short, wear candy.

Photo courtesy of Iris.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

literacy collaborative- slice of life day 11-2 (missed 10?)

I left school thinking about my coaching session during reading workshop and kept on thinking right through dinner eventually dominating our family dinner conversation with my reflections. Poor husband. Poor 16 year old. As an athlete I loved being coached. Sports came naturally and coaching encouraged and reinforced my preference for all things moving on a field, court, in a pool, on a road, indoors and outdoors.

Coaching sessions no longer involve e) all of the above but, instead facilitate my development as a teacher of reading, writing, and word study. So I am back to finding the right gear to best fit each activity, stretching past the point of comfort to grow, strengthening by progressively overloading my "muscles", training on a regular basis to maintain (rather than lose) my fitness level, and assessing as I go to keep in touch with how I feel, making adjustments so I can maximize my "practice". It's just that now all that involves literacy.

My literacy coach is also my instructor so she comes to see how we apply our lessons in our practice. At first I thought what I did and what she observed should include all the stuff she taught during our last few classes. I thought this would please her. All good mentees want to please. I wanted to have a good evaluation, after all. Well, crammed too much in to the read aloud. Knew I was doing it. Couldn't help myself. I waited for the post observation feedback. Good thing it's generally an hour or so later. You have time to let go of a few things. Maybe. Well, the feedback came but, only after some good questions had been asked about what I thought happened, which of course brought me to some good self-assessment and what is the farthest from evaluative as one can get after being observed. In fact, if done well, a cool thing about being coached is we learn to do stuff on our own with just a few good questions, some "here's what I saw," and "what will you do with what you know?"

And this is how it happened with my lesson. In a pre-observation meeting I let her know what we would be doing. I wanted to know if my questions were exposing my students toward several levels of text processing. Between my lesson and our post observation meeting my coach typed up the questions I asked during guided reading about the book, Frindle. Not sure how she did this so quickly! With this tool she prompted me to analyze whether the questions were within the text (W), beyond the text (B), or about the text (A). To my surprise I actually had a good balance. More importantly I had a chance to explore my own practice through self-assessment. I feel like I just learned how to control an errant backhand in my tennis game. Thanks Coach!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

more math! slice of life day 11

Algebraic thinking came to me about 6th maybe 7th grade. I'm not sure if I was exposed to it earlier with anything other than an unknown variable a la 42 + ____= 63. It certainly didn't look like: 4x + 2= 3x + 9 in third grade. This is what our students get to work on with Ms. G who comes in once a week for Hands On Equations. I'm seeing and hearing mathematical thinking and organization that I hadn't seen in other units of study. Even if my students can't write a complete sentence because they are learning English, their creative thinking and expression comes out in this class. They are becoming the experts and sharing various ways to isolate x (they don't call it that). They are realizing instead of writing x + x + x + x (4x) they can chunk by using doubles (2x + 2x) or go all they way and multiply! They are building flexibilty in their thinking without even knowing it.

I hope they are building a love for math and mathematical thinking. Some things heard today: "When you take away the pawns from both sides it's like working with a mirror, you have to do the moves equally." "I can check to see if my 'x' is correct lots of ways. I can count each one; I can skip count them, I can multiply them." "I can try lots of numbers for the pawn but I make sure the sides are balanced and equal."

They work hard to line up and match the teacher version of the balance. I think this kind of matching may even help them when tracking on a standardized test. A lot went on in 30 minutes today!

Monday, March 10, 2008

teaching math- slice of life day 9

Our students are reviewing math strategies for adding multidigit numbers. There are guaranteed to be 18 strategies for finding a solution when there are 18 whiteboards and brains working. The hard work for them isn't getting the answer, but sharing their process; the HOW they did it. The photos show a couple of students working on partial sums to find the answer. Students weren't given anything but the problem in horizontal format. There were no strategies prescribed for solving. Students just went to it. We have worked this year on how mathematicians and scientists and other inventors have to know how to express/share their findings or the world will never get to use their great strategy, proof, invention, product. In our class, metacognition of their processes has been developed since the beginning of school. Hopefully this awareness will be something that will help them pull out a strategy as needed and eventually they will see how those strategies will help solve more complicated problems. More often than not, having been a kid who grew up memorizing algorithms to solve, watching students show their thinking gets me to open up a new avenue of thought about a problem. Love that!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

a dress- slice of life story day 8

I wasn't sure if my oldest daughter would want to wear this dress when she made her First Communion at Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church (still my favorite name for a church) in 1994. I hoped she would. It fit her perfectly. The crinoline petticoat was a little itchy, deflated and outdated, the chiffon was a little shiny, the elastic in the puffed sleeves a little dry and stretched out, and the white lace a little less bright than when it was originally purchased and worn, 15 miles down the road at Saint Columba's church in 1967. But she did wear it and a tradition was born. Who knew when my mom bought that dress for around $10 at Sears in Mission Valley that it would become a bit of an heirloom and adorn three sisters of the next generation for this important sacrament? There was never an intention to rewear it when we boxed it up in blue tissue. The idea just evolved as each girl came to needing a dress. It just seemed like the right dress. Is that just my memory? I remember loving the petticoat! This dress has been brought out of it's tissue in Oceanside, CA, Belmont, MA, and Gaeta, Italy. It has fit each girl almost perfectly (a little long on the last sister) and to me looked timeless on each one. Crowning accessories varied from the orginal white veil, to a satin bow and two versions of a white headband. Each girl made the dress hers on her day. I wonder if it will have a chance to be unwrapped again?

Friday, March 7, 2008

family time- slice of life story day 7

We are home just relaxing together. It's Friday and presently no one in my house has plans. We are happy to have a quiet night together. There aren't any high school games to go to, no elementary school events, no work parties, no one up for the latest movie releases or a dinner out. Although I give my college aged daughter home on break a few hours before her pals begin to call for a late night gathering. In the meantime there are three computers on for three family members who are home. If my husband wasn't traveling he'd be at the kitchen counter with a fourth computer. Two of the laptops are on in the same room a few feet apart. There are three family members and one friend hanging out and all heads are looking at a computer screen. There's an occasional head that pops up and sharing of what someone is reading, who they are talking to, listening to, or watching. Who'd a thunk it? Between "You Tube" videos, emailing, Facebook, blogging, writing lyrics, checking out a friend's photos online, listening to music, and reading the Boston Globe, being with friends is an afterthought. Or is it?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

good grades, steep curves- the road to progress SOLC day 6

I'm trying to get started on my students' report cards. Our third quarter ends next week. I teach at a "modified calendar" school so our students attend school for nine weeks, have a few weeks off and come back for nine more and so on. Our students begin school the first week of August after a five week "summer" and end the middle of June. Love the calendar... not hep on report cards. I didn't even like them when we attended school September through June. They're in front of me as I write. They are beautifully organized scan forms with areas on the right signifying "final mark" in teal blue, not to be mistaken for the third quarter mark area in white. They will entail bubbling 58 bubbles per 18 students. Those perfectly shaded with number two lead pencil bubbles will include six coded comments that will describe the attainment level of our content area and behavior habits objectives worked on this quarter. Six bubbled comments! Six sets of bubbles for this really aren't enough, but who wants to add to the 40 or so before that point? How can a 80% gray shaded bubble concisely explain the achievement level and pure effort of a boy who went from not ever saying a word in discussion to softly sharing compelling ideas in a group? I can't find the area to bubble that shows a girl's progress made in mathematical thinking and flexibility in using various strategies to solve problems. Hmmm... maybe there is a code for that. I know there aren't comment codes for "blows me away with his mature analysis (not just retelling) of the novel he is reading even though he reads below grade level and rarely turns in homework" or "is just plain charismatic." So, I'm still staring at these darn things and hoping I can make some progress filling something in that doesn't begin to show what my students know.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

(inter)cardinal sin- slice of life day 5

I got the call from my friend at 5:05 pm letting me know her metro commute had ended and she was downtown just as I turned onto 8th Street. It was five minutes after I said we (two other friends and I) would probably be at the corner of 8th and Pennsylvania at the Starbucks to meet her for dinner before we were off to hear novelist Susan Vreeland speak about her latest, "Luncheon of the Boating Party." Rare perfect timing. It is always questionable when driving into our nation's capital during rush hour. We hadn't picked a restaurant yet, opting instead to choose from the ten cuisines, various decors, and as many price ranges once we got there. Perfect parking karma. I had a spot in front of a Thai restaurant and considered this a sign. Just had to meet our friend across the street and lead her back to our pick. We scanned the crowd as we walked across the street. No friend. We scanned the crowd of commuters coming out of the metro stop. No friend. I called her back. She was in the Starbucks on the corner. Great. Walked in. No friend. Uh oh... a sinking feeling as I mentally read back my email sent earlier confirming our rendezvous time and place. I couldn''t remember putting SE after 8th Street. I committed the tourist's ultimate sin of navigaton in Washington DC. I didn't specify the quadrant! Doesn't help there are 92 Starbucks within a five mile radius. I called my friend. "Uh, are you at 8th and Pennsylvania, NW?" "Yes." I dropped the SE word on her. It's always good to refresh one's Italian driving technique. I actually hope sometime to use it again on real Roman roads. With my best autostrada skills I drove north and west on Pennsylvania past the Library of Congress and the Capitol and a few Capitol police cars, past the Botanical Gardens and the National Museum of the American Indian, crossed the National Mall and swung left at the National Gallery. We were a scene from National Treasure. Without the hanging from a van door of course. We arranged to pick up our hungry friend at the National Gallery EAST, drove back to First and C, SE and found a cozy, quick Mexican restaurant for dinner before heading to 12th and Independence, SW. Good times.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

baseball, hotdogs, and a virtual waiting room- slice of life story day 4

Today was the first day single game tickets went on sale for my local major league baseball team. Although our family is part of the Red Sox Nation we are magnaminous enough to root for our hometown National League team. I got on the website this morning to add one ticket to the two we already had for a game in April. Our family shares two season tickets with some folks and we needed a third for our birthday girl. My husband and I plan to rotate into the single seat so the birthday girl could go to the game with both of us. Buying a baseball ticket was a little more complicated than I thought it would be. But then again, baseball isn't just a summer game played on grass anymore. Granted this is the inaugural season in a state of the art, media-enhanced, eco-friendly, fan-friendly ballpark in our nation's capital that also has a great view of historic landmarks and a scoreboard with more square footage than my house. But, geez. Should it take this kind of multi-tasking? I was on the phone redialing the ticket office while I was in a virtual waiting room for online ticket buyers all the while keeping the ballpark seating chart up so I could see the sections closest to the tickets we already had. Don't let the "12 seconds" left in the "waiting room" fool you. That button refreshed every 15 seconds and I "sat" in the room long enough for about 120 refreshments. I'm not talking hot dogs. At long last... one great seat on the first base line just past the home dugout. Play ball.

Monday, March 3, 2008

cleveland rocks- slice of life day 3

Today as I was driving on the Capital Beltway during rush hour en route to BWI Airport, I salved my commuting soul with a little NPR. All Things Considered had a great piece by David C. Barnett about an historical radio show originating from Cleveland in the 30s and 40s. The nationally successful program, Wings Over Jordan often documented and discussed the racial struggles of African-Americans as part of the sermon and between gospel singing, way before television proposed to report it. This is a story worth listening to or reading.

The part that caught my attention and flashed a memory during my drive was:
"Wings Over Jordan was born in the sanctuary of Gethsemane Baptist Church on Cleveland's east side. In the 1930s, the city was a collection of ethnic neighborhoods — Italian, Polish, Slovak — and each one got an hour on the radio. "

I will never forget and have often told people of my first visions driving north on I-71 to downtown Cleveland when my husband and I first moved there in 1986. I saw church spires everywhere. I was astounded by the population of churches in the old neighborhoods surrounding Cleveland. They were all practically walking distance apart. I grew to realize how those neighborhoods were (and continue to be) the center of social and spiritual life for the European immigrants and subsequent generations that came to work the farms and factories. The three years I lived there I loved how each neighborhood/church had maintained its own ethnic identity, festivals, feasts, and foods.

Hearing the program today made me curious about the programs these churches must have aired. I'm sure they were in Polish, Italian, Gaelic... maybe even had some news from the old country. I wondered who paid for airtime and how much it cost.

The rest of the quote above follows: "But Gethsemene pastor Glenn T. Settle found no such program for the local African-American population. He went to WGAR, and in the summer of 1937, The Negro Hour hit the airwaves, with Settle delivering homilies between the hymns." What incredible vision and courage Reverend Settle had to promote civil rights in that time period. The fact he had to search for air time, that it wasn't offered is telling. What a great picture of one of my favorite cities today.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

comfort food- SOLC day 2

Today my best galpal and I went to have a comfort food lunch. Meat loaf, steaming hot biscuits, mac and cheese, lasagne, and buttery mashed potatoes might be what you mentally conjure when you think comfort foods, but for me, it's oyaku donburi (pictured). Japanese to English translation: chicken and egg rice bowl. Oyaku means mother and child in Japanese- thus, the chicken and egg. I don't care which came first when I eat this delicious food with a cup of very hot green tea and crisp radishes. The tea I gingerly hold with my hands cupped only at the bottom as is the custom. The second we walked into the little restaurant, heard irrasshaimase (welcome) and saw the sushi counter, the wood, the paper decorations, the limited menu, the crowded tables, and then, smelled the wafts of miso soup under our noses, we knew we were in the right place. My friend isn't Japanese but she has lived there twice and loves Japanese food. I came by it genetically. I grew up eating osoba (noodles) or rice with pickles for breakfast. Sometimes before school on a cold day I would pour my green tea into my rice to make soup and sprinkle with furikake (Japanese dried seasoning). Sometimes I still do. Much like a hot crusty baguette, rice is my staff. We read the menu with indecision. We wanted it all. Once we decided we couldn't order fast enough. We had "kid, hobby, education(we both teach), what's new?" talk as we swapped plates and bowls after every couple of bites to be sure we had completely indulged our palates. All the while as my chopsticks picked up morsels of food I had thoughts of childhood, school, meals with my mom, and smells from our kitchens past. That is true comfort.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

slice of life story- day 1

Saturdays are Kerry's days. She is our 16 year old and much like her two older sisters did, usually has a sport practice, game or meet. I got to take her to basketball practice today. (Dad usually gets this pleasure.) I'm glad I got to go. I didn't know it but it was the last practice of the season and I wouldn't have gotten to scrimmage in the parents versus athletes game. Picture 20 kids and as many parents on a court at once. It was also good to see the parents, many of whom I wouldn't see regularly til next fall when our group of Special Olympic athletes will play soccer together. I realized today this team started out when most of the kids were eight years old and now they are teenagers! I realized our kids have played soccer and basketball together for the last eight years. We've gone from getting our kids to hold or dribble a ball to getting our kids together for a movie and pizza. Time flies.

slice of life challenge

Two Writing Teachers posted a challenge to share "slices of life"... you know those ordinary things that on closer look may be more interesting than you think. I'm going for it. In fact, I can't wait to see what pops up during my day. It's also being used for student writing. Brilliant.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Hallelujah! Today our class wrote their introductory text for a web article they are going to post on our blog/wiki (haven't worked that part out yet). Most teams were able to put together a draft paragraph in 15 minutes of the who, what, why, where, how, when of their topics. They are working in teams of 3-4 students to develop ideas, format, media, topics, and schedule. This is their first semi-independent foray into writing for an audience as a team. Usually by holiday break, my previous classes of students have produced a team research project. Well, this class has taken a little longer than previous classes to get to a point in group work where they can respectfully disagree, consider an idea outside of their own, and offer positive feedback. I call it "intellectual tug o' war". Some might call it arguing, having a hissy fit, being controlling, or just having a verbal knock down, drag out. Anyway the last few days, teams have actually produced great ideas, positive discussion, and some specific compliments- and that's just between the students. Today they also produced some writing! Content aside, they are learning so much!
image citing:

Friday, February 22, 2008

kid vs. adult perspective

A few days ago Mr. S (tech resource specialist) and I were facilitating our class' development of a website. After an intro to blogs, wikis, websites, and media, teams of third grade students brainstormed ideas about what types of things they wanted to share and put on their site. One of my instructional visions was to put stuff on there that parents, families, and other elementary students would like to read, i.e. news about curriculum, books they're reading, events going on in school. You know, typical newsletter stuff. Our students however had different ideas. They expertly came up with the following main topics: games (electronic, strategy, and outdoor), winners (of student council spirit days, local taekwondo competitions, jump rope competitions), cooking (featured recipes, surveys of fave foods, contests), poetry (original, fave poems, fave poets), and fun stuff (jokes, riddles, you know... fun stuff). I had forgotten how creative and capable students could be when left with something they really want to work on. Their topics quickly reminded me.

more winter poems

Seems appropriate to share more winter poems on a "snow day".

Days of Winter
Waking in the cold snow
And freezing slush, Seeing
dim light that used to be
So bright
Snd now it’s a quiet
And silent in the dark. I can
Barely see the white of the
Trees and a leaf drifting in
The sky and the last thing
I heard was splash.
by k.t.

The Feeling of Winter
White cold snow drifting down upon
My face making me want to freeze.
Freezing cold wind blowing slush, snow
On the roof and splashing to the ground.
Drip drip drip drip drip drip.
Then as the quiet trees dance in the nice wind animals hide
In their shelter in the dark until spring
With the wind, whoosh.
Then suddenly
A bright light came, animals came out.
Spring is here. Happiness is everywhere.
by m.l.

The snow in winter is cold.
The wind chill in winter is freezing.
Also when it snows it may rain, and cause
Snow to slush. In the silent nights, the snow
Is drifting very quietly and also in the dark there
Is always a bright light and that light makes a bright
Reflection in the ice to a leaf.
by a.g.

Winter Snow
White snow
cold air
white shy silent place.
Everywhere is a quiet white day.
by j.a.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

memories, mobility, and random thoughts

I went to elementary school in California in the sixties. I have a multitude of fond and obscure memories of kindergarten through sixth grade. I should. I attended six elementary schools. I remember my two kindergarten teachers, my awesome first grade teacher, Miss Mattos who knew how much I loved to read. I remember her crying the day President Kennedy was shot. We were coloring mimeographed pictures of Thanksgiving turkeys when the news was announced on the intercom and my heart was breaking for her. I later loved that my first school was named for famed modern architect, Richard J. Neutra. The military housing I lived in could have been designed by him. I remember never eating lunch in an indoor cafeteria. In California it is warm most of the year, especially in the desert where I attended 2nd and part of 3rd grade. Cafeterias were outside in all my schools. They were covered as were our walkways. Covered areas like this ironically were considered square footage and when a school outgrew its classroom space the school often couldn't qualify for new space due to its "covered" space. Weird. I spent 3rd grade in three different schools. Somewhere in that mobility I had to teach myself multiplication facts and states and capitals because I missed all that in the moving. In fourth grade Ms. Sally Saville read "Island of the Blue Dolphins" and that story inspired me to create a mosaic of a cormorant that year and I learned how smart girls could be. That was the same year I was selected to work in the cafeteria. The weeks I served my classmates (remember Wacky Cake?) I got to eat hot lunch in the cafeteria free and wear a hair net! A big deal since I brought lunch everyday. No way we'd have kids serving our yummy USDA food now. That year I ran for Student Council Scribe (secretary) and said my whole campaign speech in one big breath, I was so nervous. In fifth grade I had Mr. Pedersen who sang Norwegian songs and encouraged us to sing loudly even if we couldn't sing. Sixth grade meant two more schools and frankly, teachers I can't really remember. Hormones? I do remember the SRA reading program, tetherball, cliques, dances, and science camp with banana slugs in the Santa Cruz mountains. The constants in all the moving: recess, tetherball, good books, being new for a week or so, recess, eating outdoors, finding ways to fit in (usually recess), and learning how to make friends 101 ways.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Our district held a reception for newly minted and research-sharing National Board Certified Teachers last week. I attended as a newly minted. Guests were congratulated and asked to recall a special teacher and share with tablemates what made that teacher so memorable. Great stories abounded. Each teacher mentioned seemed to have the ability to bring out the best in their students. A premise of the National Board for Teaching is effective teachers help students achieve no matter the challenge because they have high expectations for their students. The common thread woven through all our stories was in fact, the high expectation placed on us by those master teachers.

The teacher I remembered immediately- Virginia Hamilton (not the author) of Goodrich Jr. High School, Lincoln, Nebraska. I had her for 7th grade English. She was passionate about mythology. She wasn't chic like our mini-skirted Miss Adams, who was a runway model in the off-season. She wasn't hip and cool like Mr. H., our long-haired, liberal minded student teacher in social studies who let us call him Bruce and who was subsisting on $1.00 a day for food because he wanted to experience what people below the poverty level (this was 1969) were experiencing. She wasn't smart-alecky and witty like Miss Michaels our crazy art teacher. She was a little corny, middle-aged, suited, hairsprayed, had a high pitched voice, and had the nerve to insist we do our readings (yikes) no matter how archaic the language of the text (Beowulf...double yikes). She had the ability to light Olympic torches in our literature-feeble, middle school-aged brains. We read Beowulf and pictured Grendel, the great hall, and drank non-fermented mead. Just thinking it could be fermented was tantalizing. We read Greek and Roman mythology and learned about love, scandal, hubris and tragedy in the world of gods, goddesses, and humans. Tabloid news before tabloid news. We found that year in English class interesting, relevant, and unexpectedly fun. We rewarded Mrs. Hamilton's efforts by naming the mascot of our newly opened school, "The Olympians" in her honor. As she reminded us, Goodrich was perched on a hill (Mt. Olympus to us) called Belmont whose name had Latin/Roman origins. It's almost 40 years later and these images are fresh. Her lessons and passion are fresh.

As teachers it's not often we get feedback on our abilities from our biggest audience, our students. Here's your chance. Share your story about a great teacher who left you with indelible memories. Comment on!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

gifted comments

My third grade class is a diverse group. Name the category: socio-economic, ethnic, academic, behavior, language, sense of humor... and the word diverse fits. The demographic breakdown: 18 students; 50 % Hispanic, 11% African-American, 39% Asian-Pacific Islander, 56% free and reduced lunch. All but four primarily speak another language at home with their families and are English language learners. This data doesn't seem significant considering our school demographics: 42% Hispanic, 15% African American, 26%Asian Pacific Islander, 61 % Free and reduced lunch, 53% Limited English Proficiency, 31 % mobility. That is until you know the class is a self-contained class for high ability learners. Some might call it a gifted class. We're steering away from this label. We think it's a placement that is just providing what kids need. We're providing intellectual stimulation and nurturing. The nurturing part is really important as we consider the experiences of our students or maybe I should say, the lack of experiences. Tamara Fisher, a teacher of gifted students at an Indian reservation in Montana in her blog, Unwrapping the Gifted, describes well the difficulty of recognizing gifted behaviors in students who don't have typical middle class American experiences and resources. She also describes how it can be done.

We wanted our high ability classes (one each 3rd, 4th, 5th grade) to reflect our general school population. It began with efforts, school-wide to raise awareness of student behaviors that indicate giftedness. These can be demonstrated by students even though English language is emerging, reading is below grade level, or behavior challenges are present. We've had to swerve from the indicators of giftedness we grew up with, i.e. high test scores and great grades to looking for giftedness as demonstrated behaviors. Test scores and grades are a part of our criteria, just not the only criteria. Potential giftedness might show in a student through their exceptional ability to learn, exceptional application of knowledge, exceptional creative/productive thinking, and exceptional motivation to succeed*. Specific behaviors include frequent translating for a parent, learning a new language at a rapid pace, persistence with challenges, high interest and passion in a subject, quickly learns and adapts to new cultures, highly developed reasoning, problem solving, keen sense of humor, fluency and flexibility in thinking, highly curious, advanced connections... and more.

Our district provides a great system for identification for our gifted and talented programs. Our adminstration supports any staff development we need to further our knowledge about how to serve our underrepresented populations in exceptional programs. Together with the grassroots efforts of our classroom teachers recognizing, referring, and defending their students abilities, we have been successful in providing our students access to programs that would have been unavailable to them in the past based on a narrow criteria for giftedness. Along with all our work to provide for emergent learners in our school it feels good to know we are nurturing learners who are ready for more challenge.

*from our district's Gifted Behavior Rating Scale