Sunday, December 16, 2007

Little Drummer Boy...and girls...

I was given the best compliment of all. One of the high school students told my husband that "Mrs. Smith is the coolest teacher of all." What did I do to deserve such praise? I didn't torture the high school class with a long drawn out Christmas Pageant! Don't you just hate those pageants that carry on for hours at a time, where children are crying, and parents are ''oohing" and "ahhing" at how cute little Johnny is, even though he's got his finger up his nose?

Originally I had planned on reading a book that told the Christmas story, while my little class acted out the scenes. I wasn't even able to get them to stand still for 5 seconds while I directed them on what to do. Nor could I stop them from giggling. It didn't help that my "helpers" kept commenting on my choice for Mary and Joseph. With only two boys in the class, J. was the only choice for Joseph as I surely couldn't use little 3-year old N. for the part, especially when his older sister was Mary! And so J. and N. (big sis) were Joseph and Mary. I might as well have said they were dating or something. Even in the primary grades, kids get silly over such pairings! And all the K5 girls wanted to be Angels. Four angels, One Mary, One Joseph and a lamb. Hmmm....somehow I don't picture the manger scene looking quite like that.

So I opted for singing and performing one song. Just one. And one that lends itself to some kind of performance. What better song than my all time favorite: The Little Drummer Boy. I searched my house until I came up with at least 7 ice cream buckets (the 5 quart size), covered them with paper and had the children decorate their drums. Then while I sang the song, and those who could joined me, the children marched into the room, drummed their drums, took a bow and the show was over. Thus earning me the title of "coolest teacher ever". Simplicity wins every time.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gingerbread Houses

Christmas was interesting this year. I had no plans on doing anything really dramatic in school with my class, but then the high school teacher showed up with a full blown gingerbread house and announced that her class was going to make gingerbread of course I couldn't let my class be left out of the fun! I have done these before and know from experience that actually making gingerbread (the real stuff) was too time consuming, potentially frustrating, and not what I had signed up for. So I took the easy way out and had the kids make houses out of Graham Crackers.

Because I was working with one 3 year old and three 5-year olds, a 7-year old and a 9-year old, I wanted to make the process as painless as possible. While my helpers took the kids out for lunch time recess, I assembled the houses using an end of a Capri Sun Juice box (the 10 pack box) as a form, Graham crackers and Royal Icing that I made on the spot. When the kids came in I used my one icing bag to pipe icing onto their houses and then had them attach the candies as they liked. It was the easiest, least messy way to deal with 6 kids at once.

Here are the results:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I tried to start out today with a positive attitude. I greeted the kids enthusiastically when I entered the classroom, even though I was feeling kinda grumpy. You know, TOM grumpiness.

I have been wanting to move on with the K5 girls and start trying to teach them to read by helping them to put the sounds of the letters together that we've been learning all year. They seem to know all their letters now and can readily identify them. They know the basic sounds of most of them. I think we have only Z to cover in the ACE phonics books I've been using. So yesterday I put together some Abeka vowel worksheets and made a 4 page booklet for the girls to do today.

After explaining what we were going to be doing and then handing the booklets out, I began to assist the girls in doing the papers correctly. M. has a habit of just plowing ahead, appearing to know what she is doing and doing it with confidence. I've observed that she has been doing this for all of her seat work. Finish it as fast as possible so that she could go play. Today I decided that enough was enough. Even if she "gets it" faster and can zoom through the paper, she was going to have to sit and color quietly while the other girls finished their paper. Whenever she finishes first, she doesn't just go play quietly, she rushes off, loudly calling out, "who wants to play...??" with no regard to the rest of the class. The truth is sometimes she "gets it" and sometimes she misses it completely. Today was one of those days.

So the tables were reversed. While the other girls had the papers discussed, line by line and learning took place as they discovered where the vowel sound was and what pictures to circle, M. spent the time randomly circling whatever, with no regard to instruction. The result? The other 3 girls were able to play and M. had to sit an extra 10 minutes while I helped her correct her papers.

At math I began the lesson on such a good note. I had read in Eric's Alpha Math-U-See book to use a grab bag game to help teach the children the colors of the blocks. We have been working with the unit blocks for the first quarter but had moved onto the colored blocks depicting numbers 2-9 for the past month. So I loaded up a paper bag with various unit blocks then had the children take turns reaching into the bag without looking, feel a block, tell me the number it represented and what color it was. They had to get all right in order to "keep" the block. All of the kids, including my K3 boy, were successful. All that is, except M. She was too quick to count the blocks and I had to help her on her last turn in order for her to guess correctly. She's a smart girl, but just in too much of a hurry.

From the block game I went on to do a few rounds of "guess what's in the bag" and filled the bag with a variety of items found around the room. I need to do more of this as the kids just loved the game. Guess I'll have to break down and make a real "feely can" - have to ask someone who uses the big coffee cans to save me one. What you do is glue gun an old shirt sleeve, large sock, or other nicer material (you can even sew a tube like sleeve with a draw string top, or elasticised one) to the top of a large empty coffee can. Decorate the can in any way you want. Fill it with different common items - plastic animal toys, cars, glue stick, eraser, sponge, stick, paper clip, safety pin, etc. etc. and the child puts his hand into the can and has to feel to identify the item. Great for teaching reasoning skills, tactile manipulation, imagination, and identification skills.

Today was also chapel day so I did a special felt board story as our lead in to discussing the birth of Christ next month. The Tale of Three Trees. This is the story of three trees who had big dreams of what they wanted to be - one a treasure chest, another a beautiful boat, and the third wanted to forever grow to show God's majesty and point the way to Heaven. I'm sure you know how the story goes. I'll have to leave you with that and have you read it on your own someday. My version of the Tale of Three Trees didn't quite match the Story Time Figures to Tell set that I had, but I managed to improvise enough. ST actually has the story included in the set that works better with the figures, so sometime next week I'll retell the story again and see if they kids can notice any differences. That would be a good exercise for the older kids.

Though it had it's moments I'd say today was a good day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

It's Turkey Time! This past two weeks we have had a definite Thanksgiving/Fall theme going on in the classroom. Last week Friday, the school had its annual Thanksgiving feast. Lots of turkey, ham, dinner rolls, stuffing, mashed potatoes - you know the traditional thanksgiving fair - along with some not so traditional foods only eaten on Guam - Chicken Keleguan (chopped chicken, coconut, green onions, lots of lemon juice, hot peppers and salt - mixed together and served with tortillas), barbecued ribs, fried chicken (almost as good as KFC!), red rice and pies galore! We managed to have only one or two near disasters with food plates; otherwise the kids did okay.

The classroom is decorated with the fall artwork. Construction paper leaf people hang from the ceiling, crayon leaf rubbings adorn the wall, seed collages are displayed on another, and our non-traditional egg carton caterpillars (usually a spring project) stare at me in a row from atop the computer monitor. The kids have been coloring turkey pictures, pilgrims and Indians, and cornucopias - but these have all gone home now. In fact we had a big "clean-up" of the class yesterday before dismissing them for our 4 day weekend break (which I am sorely needing!). I sent home all the blankets, miscellaneous clothing items and toys that somehow make it to the class, and threw away all the half-drank juice containers that were accumulating on our lunch shelf.

It has been a trying month as I work on figuring out the classroom dynamics. We had to make some major adjustments so that things could progress smoother. Our first change was to bring Eric back home again. School, or the traditional classroom setting, just didn't work for him. Even though I allowed him a lot of freedom in doing his work, he works better on his own agenda. He is sensitive to noise and distractions and sometimes a classroom is just full of those. Once we let him chose what days he wanted to come to school and when to stay home, my happy creative boy returned. He has learned more in the two weeks we have taken him out of school than he had learned in the past two months of school. Math was a big issue. He was so frustrated and so far behind his fellow 2nd grader (though she is admittedly doing 4th grade work and so we really can't compare). Since coming home he constantly talks about math and does his own problems and actually wants us to give him oral quizzes on math questions! At school all he would do was cry about math.

Let's face it. Some kids are just not cut out for the school setting. Eric is such a kid. It's too bad most parents don't have this freedom to homeschool. Another thing to be thankful for in my life.

Well, coffee is calling me and pumpkin pies need to be baked. Hope all my readers are/will have a wonderful thanksgiving day!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

PTC and other stuff

Well, I don't want to set a precedent for only one blog a month so thought I'd better get blogging! Tomorrow is Parent Teacher Conferences - my first one as an elementary school teacher. I'm used to being on the other end of such conferences so am unsure exactly what I aim to do. I actually get to start the PTC today as one family wasn't able to make it tomorrow. As I only really need to see three families (I PTC with my DH on my own two kids daily LOL), that leaves only two for tomorrow. Guess today will be a trial run at this. Maybe I'll even shock myself and blog more on this subject after tomorrow!

I was working on report cards and trying to come up with a format that reflects what we do in class. You can imagine how hard that would be. Can play be a category to grade on? How about block building? Lego? Go Fish? Or the current popular and favorite game of the 2nd graders, Eye to Eye Jr. edition?

Eric and N. are thoroughly enjoying playing Eye to Eye daily. This game comes from Simply Fun, a game company I joined last year but decided not to renew this year after having a difficult time competing with the low cost games you can find at Ross here on Guam. In Eye to Eye you are given a question that you must find three answers to and then compare your answers to the other players. The idea is to "think alike" and match your 3 answers with your fellow players. If you are a unique thinker, this counts as points against you. The points are tracked using wooden cubes that are stacked in a five by five pyramid. The first player to complete his/her pyramid loses. Questions cover such topics as "Star Wars Characters", "Things you eat that are messy", and "Foods that are brown". The Junior version has more kid appropriate questions than the regular version. It requires quick thinking (you are timed if you want to be), creativity, using your imagination, and trying not to be too unique. Ideally you need 3 players to play or it will always end up in a tie game, unless Eric is keeping score. He has the ability to sneak in points against the other player if he/she is not looking! I suppose that would be called cheating, but he sees it as creative scoring.

After my PTC today I'll be rushing over to the Guam homeschooler's support group meeting where hopefully I'll be in time to share my Story Time Felt products with the few moms who stay to the end. I'm hoping to sell a few felt dolls and maybe a toggle book or two. With the dolls on sale this month, I'm hoping they will sell themselves. It would have been nice if the order I placed at the end of September had arrived and I could then share even more great items - like the calendar and felt bible collection I'm eagerly awaiting.

Anyway, pray that I'm able to come up with creative ways to tell the parents today that their sweet K5 child is bossy, an instigator of fights, and doesn't follow directions - oops I mean assertive, knows her own mind, and independent.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Professor Eric

Lately Eric has been drawing detailed pictures of the innards of dogs and cats. The large white board in the classroom has become one of the popular free play resources. I tried to fight it to save my dry erase markers, but have faced reality and realize you can't squelch creativity.

You can view my Picasa Web Album to see more pictures of what we do in the classroom. Just click on the link to the left.

I was amazed at the details Eric puts into his drawings. You can see the valves on the heart and the shape of the bones. He even includes the blood cells and what a broken bone looks like. He needs a few more lessons in anatomy as he has the dog's lungs located right under the jaw bone. But I love the "stuffy" nose on the poor dog! You can even see a pup in the dog's "stomach" (Think it's time to teach him where the baby really comes from?)

His cat picture is just as detailed and hilarious. It is pretty obvious that this boy is a cat lover!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Does it look like school?

I'm still trying to figure this teaching stuff out. Each day I try to make sure that some form of learning is taking place in the classroom. I have filled the shelves with all my discovery toys games, Usborne books, Lets-read-and-find-out about Science books, Story Time Felt stories and dolls, and various other educational items. I have set times where I teach a "lesson" - usually introducing the sounds of the letter of the day, or some math concept - interspersed with plenty of free play time. I worry that it looks like we play more all day than actually learn. So I've started to take "snapshots" of moments in the class to see what is really happening.

I started this snapshot idea when the principal and high school teacher, entered my class to get something out of the file cabinet. I wondered, at that moment, what the class looked like to her. Was learning taking place?

Looking around I saw my 2nd grade girl playing a game of Tooty Fruity (Discovery Toys) with one of the aides. This game is similar to "Snap" where the players turn over their top card simultaneously and if the same fruit or the same number of fruits appear on each card then the player that rings the bell first, gets the cards. Learning skills: counting, color recognition, cooperative play, sportsmanship (can't cry if you're not first), fine motor skills.

In another corner two of the K5 girls were playing with the Story Time Felt dolls. Learning skills: cooperation, matching (outfits), creativity, imaginative play, sharing.

On the floor the K3 boy and another K5 girl are building with lego. Learning skills: fine motor skills, dexterity, cooperation, sharing, creativity, imaginative play, color recognition (they were sorting legos into color groups).

The 6th student, my 2nd grade boy, was working on a math pace, using popsicle sticks to figure out addition facts. Learning skills: counting, number recognition, addition facts, writing skills.

If you look hard enough, children are learning at all times. It may look like play, but in reality there is learning taking place.

Friday, August 31, 2007

They're Gone!!

Finally, after three weeks of stress, my Japanese exchange students have all gone home. When I first agreed to teach the elementary class at this small Christian School, I had forgotten about the foreign exchange students that always come each year. And I had forgotten that usually it was the elementary class that took them in! I do not speak a word of Japanese. I can barely pronounce their names...though by the end of the three weeks I have to admit that I think I figured it out. I even said my DH's wedding boss's name today and got the pronunciation right!

It's been such a tough three weeks and not a good way to start out school. I feel like having the disruption of foreign students in the class has set a precedent for unruly behavior with my own kids. With mixed ages as well, it is hard to teach to everyone's level. And not being able to communicate just made it worse.

Many days I would spend the majority of the lesson time writing words on the board for the Japanese students to copy onto their worksheets. Is this cheating? I do the same for Cassie and Eric and anyone else who asks "teacher, how do you spell.....?" I could tell them to "sound it out" or ask leading questions like "what letter makes a "K" sound?" but honestly, writing the word out is so much easier. Especially when I have the K5s crawling under the table or trying to climb shelves to reach books/puzzles/games etc that are put out of reach for a purpose.

I remember one day leaving the room to make some photocopies and coming back to discover 4 kids writing on the white board with various markers - not all of them dry erase pens! One was even a permanent marker!! This was done under the watchful eyes of my "helpers". Needless to say a lecture erupted out of me on what exactly the children were allowed to touch/climb/do and who needed to be monitoring this when I was out of the room! Thank God for Magic Erasers!

It is Labor Day now and back in Canada, school would officially start on the day after Labor Day. With my class finally free of the Japanese children, I feel like school will really "begin" tomorrow. These past three weeks have been the "assessment" phase. In other words, tomorrow is a new day!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tigers and Elephants

Unschooling at school takes its toll on me. From one moment to the next I have no plan, just a vague direction I think I want to go.

The day starts with just getting the children settled, chairs found, packs put away. I clean off the board and gather markers and bible book, quickly glancing at the title and accompanying drawing to see what the story will be. It's always a surprise for me, just as it is for the kids.

"Is it about tigers?" calls out Whiskers, our current tiger obsessed 2nd grader, AKA Eric my own son.

"Not today. It's about..." I say and then hear a sweet voice say, "Elephants?"

"Did you peek?" I smile. N's shy nod confirms, and it's an elephant I get to draw today. Nino to be exact. Apparently Nino strolled off of a circus train, had a chat with some forest friends, and then realized he was lost, but then was found.

This bible story book had appeared on the bookshelf the first day of school. It's been a life saver. Each story has some kind of picture you draw to help illustrate it. The kids love it when I draw on the white board. It doesn't mater how well I draw. Whiskers will always give his professional opinion of my art work and is more than willing to assist me in my endeavors. Unfortunately I can't quite trust him yet not to behead poor Nino the Elephant or perhaps sick a tiger on him. But in time I hope I can count on him.

I had a special project that really made his day. As mentioned in a previous blog I found a comic book template on Enchanted Learning (my current life-saver lesson plan site) that I printed out and made several copies of. I gave it to Eric in hopes it would appeal to his artistic nature. I first told him about it in the car on the way to school. That might have been a mistake. Maybe I overplayed how cool it was. Anyway, he took one look at the comic book pages and announced "It's not what I expected!!" in a high pitched wail....his signature cry. I cut him off with a sharp look and that threatening under the breathe "Ericcccc" with the "c" part drawn out between clenched teeth. I don't want to deal with hysterics before my coffee has fully kicked in. Diverted by passing out worksheets to the rest of the class, when next I look up, Eric had completed the title page and cast of Characters and came over to tell me his first scene.

"It's where Science Cat teaches Whiskers how to catch lobsters without being pinched." Some day Science Cat is going to pay for my retirement...or at least that's my dream.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The "Help"

My biggest problem with teaching (aside from foreign exchange students...but that is another story) is my aides. I have two 20+ year old aides - both special needs students who graduated from the school a few years ago and now come in to help in class. They have the mentality of about an 8-year old, with little or no common sense. I'm not putting them down, just stating facts. Both are very sweet girls, but they aren't really aides for me....rather more of liabilities. They do provide some very basic help for taking kids to the bathroom, helping with snack and lunch issues (opening bags/bottles, etc.) - but unfortunately not able to help with cooking anything that needs to be heated up (microwaved) least not yet in my eyes; nor can they do photocopying for me or help me do lesson plans. Most of the time they are just another body in the room that I have to try to maneuver around in an already overcrowded room.

One girl has some physical disabilities as well, so when she sits on the floor she has a hard time getting up (as do I, but at least I have the common sense not to sit on the floor!), her back is often sore and the noise level in the classroom makes her have a headache. I'm not sure how pleasant it is for her to be there...but she does love the kids and is always asking for prayer. The trouble is, in class when I ask the class for answers to a question, she is always saying it out loud or saying "I know Mrs. Smith!" I usually just include her in the answer process rather than fight it, but it gets irritating when I'm targeting a specific child and she interrupts.

The other girl is a bit more capable and can actually help kids with paper work, but she needs to be constantly prodded to help, or she will sit in a chair, right in front of whatever area I'm trying to get to (like bookshelf, desk, white board, door, trash can....) and not move until I ask her to. It just makes my job a bit more exhausting than I had anticipated. Today they did go down into the playground and played with the kids, allowing me to clean up the class in peace. I keep telling myself that for "everything there is a purpose".

Make it Fun!

We made pig puppets this afternoon and did an impromptu variation on the 3 little pigs with volunteers. We had 3 girls, so of course the 3 pigs were sisters. Eric had turned his pig puppet into some kind of Frankenstein monster Pig so instead of a big bad wolf blowing down their houses, it was "Monster Pig". The kids loved it. I, of course, narrated the story while the kids acted it out. I do find I have a knack for just making up stuff on the spot and the kids think I'm really wacky. But that's good. Les's advice, when I agreed to do this job, was "just make sure to have fun" so I act as silly as I want. I think I even crossed my eyes today....

Age Doesn't matter

My primary class often gets to interact with the middle school kids and I love to see how they all get along. It honestly is like a big family. There are 5 middle schoolers - 1 6th graders, 3 7th graders, and Stephanie, my other daughter in 8th grade. There is also one 11th grader that likes to hang out in the middle school class as the high school class intimidates her. Stephanie has fit in well with the class and is already friends with the two girls in her class. She has no problem with the PACE booklets and even claims to be learning something. Last night's lunar eclipse was especially interesting for her as she had just had to do a unit on the moon in science. She did get frustrated during a math quiz (though she aced the first one) because she couldn't remember how to divide and was trying to solve the problem by guessing and multiplying. I think she finally remembered out to divide now. She was the only student to get 100% on the reading quiz - the next highest grade was less than 50%. All in all I'm proud at how she is showing my pastor (who is her teacher) that homeschooling didn't damage her. She's becoming more outgoing and has already established herself as the classroom artist/writer. She's even instigated a reading day and was excitedly picking out books to share with her classmates to try to get them interested in reading. Her book choice included: The Princess Bride; Brian Jaques: Pearls of Lutra (her favorite of the Redwall series); The Little Prince; A Terry Pratchett book that Adam recommended (can't remember the title); and Brian Jaques: The Castaways of The flying Dutchman.

The Strew Method

The Strew Method:

I'm using the "strew" theory in my class right now...just "strew" all kinds of educational items in front of kids and eventually they will learn. Today at least an hour was spent with several children working together to stack all of the peg board pegs into a tall tower.(Discovery Toys) It involved cooperation, balance, and interaction amongst kids aging in range from 3-8 years of age,including one of my 21 year old aids. This was completely child instigated and was a big hit as a "game" to play. I loved watching them figure out that the person standing on the chair, trying to reach the top of the column, could only reach so high and a taller child was needed to take over.

Eric, my own child, needs constant attention. I have to find specific things to keep him occupied, or he wants to be the center of what is going on. Even if this means getting negative attention. I did find a cool comic book template on (My $20 membership is finally paying off!)and gave this to Eric yesterday. It occupied him the entire day, with various times for snack/play/recess/lunch etc. But basically he was engrossed and excited and made a super cool comic. I plan on scanning and putting it online soon. It will need a bit of explanation notes for non-Eric comic book connoisseurs to understand...but it is really cool. He started a new one today and we read his first one in class. It has prompted some of the older children to create their own comic too.

I also had to allow him about 15 minutes of alone time in the class during lunch, while the rest of the class played outside with the middle school kids. He really needed this "quiet time" on his own to regroup and calm himself. He can be quite boisterous and loud in class - both when he is excited about something and when he is disappointed. Which is often...sigh.