Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What School Is

As you have probably noticed, the media doesn't particularly like school or teachers right now. Neither do politicians. And as a result, the general public doesn't seem to either. Normally my blog is full of cutesy stories about how awesome my kids are (and they are!!) but today I have to get on my soapbox for a minute. *Clears throat*

I've recently come across an increasingly frustrating number of Facebook posts, news articles, poems, memes, etc. in the past weeks and months about "what schools don't teach you", "how schools fail to educate students", "what your teacher didn't tell you", "what teachers/schools are doing wrong", or some other iteration of the failure of school to teach you everything about life that you (or politicians, or test writers) think you should know.

Here, in a nutshell, is the reality of schooling. Put your listening ears on, okay? Sit up straight, criss-cross applesauce, and look at the speaker. Ready?

School is not designed to be the beginning or the end of your education. School is simply a jump-off point for you to go and educate yourself. It is virtually impossible for teachers to teach everything they are supposed to teach you, everything they want to teach you, and everything you want to learn in the brief time they have to spend with you. The most important thing school should teach you is how to educate yourself. 

We teach you to read so that you can read novels, memoirs, blogs, newspapers, magazines, subtitles, financial reports, legal briefs, or movie scripts and look at them with a critical and/or appreciative eye. We teach you to write so that you can write a book, start a blog, or become a journalist or professor. We teach you mathematical concepts and skills so that you can balance your budget and manage your finances when you start your own company (or run someone else's).  We teach you history so that you can understand the present, avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and forge a better future. (We teach you literature so that you'll know it was a book before they make a movie out of it.) We teach you art so that you can see the beauty in the world around you, and create beauty in places where none is apparent.

You are in charge of your own choices and no matter what your school experience, it's up to you what you do with your life. So take the foundation you got from your schooling, combine it with your dream and run with it. School doesn't change the world. That part, my friend, is up to you. 

*Steps down*

Friday, April 19, 2013

I'm rich!

At 2:00 pm each day, I send a fourth of my students to after school activities, a third of the remaining students to parent pickup and drop the rest off at their buses to go home. The ones who stay after school have this adorable habit of bouncing back into my room at every available moment between 2:00 pm and whenever they go home (or I do...or do I? Sometimes I feel like I should just set up a cot next to my desk and call it a day). 

Yesterday, M bounced in and asked, "Ms. M, are you rich?" I wasn't quite sure how to answer, which was fine, because she answered for me. "Yep, you're rich," she said, "because you have markers, and notebooks, and pencils, and folders, and books, and cubes, and paper from the school." Wow, man. I didn't realize how valuable notebooks and folders were to a little person. 

I can honestly say, though, that every so often, at least once a day, I stop and look around the room. There are kids writing, kids reading, kids counting and drawing, telling stories, laughing at stories, and playing together, hugging me and hanging on my arm and showing me their loose tooth again, and I truly do feel rich. The abundance of love from my little people each day makes me feel like a millionaire. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Accountably Hilarious Talk

So I've been teaching my kids accountable talk--how to converse with each other. They've actually made a lot of progress in the past week or so, which is really exciting.

Today I had two girls, M and A, sitting with me talking about place value--what the one in 14 means, and what the 2 in 24 means. M was struggling, quite vocally, with the concept that the one didn't mean just one thing. She kept changing her mind over and over. She'd say, "I think the two means thirty. No, it means fourteen. No, it means two." Then I'd ask A, what do you think? Before A could get a word in edgewise, M responded, "I disagree." I said, "How can you disagree with your friend, if she hasn't said anything?" Her response: "I disagree with myself."

I couldn't help but laugh.  Children are hilarious.

Oh--and she figured it out (as did her friend). The one means a tower of ten. Smarty pants!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Trying New Things

I had the opportunity to observe and chat with some awesome teachers recently, which set the wheels in my brain spinning. It inspired me to make some changes to the way I teach math. It may be April, but hey--no time like the present, right? I wanted to move toward a more constructivist math class, so I tried it out this week. I'm really excited about the results, so I wanted to share!

First, I dug into this great book:


Then I decided to try something they suggest, which is teaching the majority of concepts through story problems. The cool thing about doing that is that you are teaching multiple things at a time: reading comprehension, how to show your thinking, writing in complete sentences, using composite strategies, explaining your strategies, and self-evaluation all at one time.

I wanted my kids to work on their doubles facts and use known facts to solve story problems, so here's how we did it. First, we used this poster to learn how to talk (and listen!!) to each other. 

In the far right corner, that's supposed to be a question mark--it got cut off. Sorry!

Then we read this book together:

(My sight-translation skills are getting better...)

 and we learned the definition of the word duplicar, which we reviewed daily. We solved lots of 2- and 3- addend story problems with doubles in them. Then I gave them some number strings with doubles in them. Every day we spent time talking with each other in partners, small groups, and large group about our strategies.

As we worked together, four amazing things happened:
1. One of my shyest, most struggling children stood up in front of the class and bravely explained how she solved a problem.
2. Another student who is similarly shy and has trouble with math jumped from counting by ones to independent composite thinking, just by talking with a friend.
3. My kids have these intense debates with each other about what they think and why--the moment I'm done writing the problem on the board.
4. My students went from doing this:

to  this:

to this:

In. One. Week.

Teaching rocks. 'Nuff said.