Motion and Design
Give a bunch of kids some K'NEX building pieces (tools, not toys!), a little guidance, and some safety goggles (because they make us look so cool!), and you have our Motion and Design unit, one in which students have designed vehicles to meet specific challenges and learn specific principles. We've been working way behind schedule in this science unit, but we are almost finished. Our next unit is Electric Circuits.
Time to Change
Before this becomes an issue - before the weather gets warmer and before the hormones fully kick in - we need to talk about hygiene and body odor. One of my least favorite tasks is to teach hygiene. If I had my "druthers" I would avoid the topic altogether.
Sometimes parents and kids don't realize it, but kids are going to be making a transition to puberty soon, and with that come changes that tend to sneak up on us. The biggest issue they presented on The Brady Bunch in the 70s was the time when Peter's voice changed. They even sang a song about it.
This is a relatively harmless message considering the massive list of changes these kids really face. The chorus of the Brady Bunch song even makes it sound like everything is just as natural (which it is) and simple (which it is not) as it can be.
Autumn turns to winter,
More than voices change. Please understand that body odor does not need to be a problem. Bodies, hair, clothing (including underwear and socks) can emit unpleasant odors when kids do not keep them clean. Soap, shampoo, and deodorant are must-haves in the battle to avoid being offensive in this realm. Please discuss and instruct your children about keeping clean. After all, it could be a health issue, as well.
If that headline sounds strange to you, it's because you're not familiar with Educationese in the 21st Century. You see, these days, we're trying to keep students engaged; that is, we're trying to keep their attention while increasing their thinking, communication, and problem solving skills.
Sometimes that means the teacher has to get out of the way and let kids talk, wrestle with materials and information, and struggle against obstacles. I've written recently about losing the art of teaching to the science, concerning the current trends in our profession, but engagement, in my opinion, must lean heavily on a teacher's ability to creatively guide students and provide freedoms without losing control of the class. All the data collection in the world will not allow for that kind of magic.
Speaking of collecting data, however, we even have the opportunity for more of it in the area of student engagement. Some of the staff in our school take the time, a few times a year, to roam from room to room to analyze how deep students are getting, how engaged they are in conversations, and how high their thinking levels are when provided tasks. After this, the collected data is pooled and reported to the teachers. We discuss it and think of ways to improve upon it for the future. We make suggestions to each other about how more teachers can achieve more engagement for more students.
We don't always stay at the highest levels since some instruction is best presented during direct instruction, but we want to avoid times when the class is disengaged completely. Whenever possible we want to push the envelope and let students do the thinking.
So, if your child reported to you that we had a bunch of people visiting our class, Monday, this was the reason. They were collecting data to see how engaged we were.
The following is a message from Kid President to all of us -
because all of us need to be "pep talked".
The world needs you to stop being boring...Everybody can be boring, but you're gooder than that.
How is it possible to keep from being bored? Is it possible to keep from boring my students? Believe me, there are times when it is a struggle to stay awake, to stay focused, to stay interested. Sometimes it's hard to care. What do I, the teacher need to do to keep my students engaged in the many lessons and transitions that we experience each day? What do students need to consider in order to stay on task?
If life is a game, aren't we all on the same team?
We get glimpses of this in our classroom, but we're certainly not 100% there. In fact, last Friday, there was a moment when one of our classmates needed to feel some love and support from more than just another adult. The moment came, and (with a lump in my throat) I made a big deal about it. I think it was a time when the whole class felt the magic of eye contact and serious talk. We came together with one goal, and we felt it.
You got air comin' through your nose. You got a heartbeat. That means it's time to do somethin'.
I get it: sometimes I don't want to do anything, either...but life is not a Bruno Mars song. Kid President, you have correctly identified the best proof we have to do something. As long as we are breathing and our hearts are beating, let's continue to learn and improve. Let us continue to help one another.
What if there really were two paths? I wanna be on the one that leads to awesome.
I happen to believe there are more than two paths. I also believe that only one of those many paths leads to "awesome". Sometimes we find it hard to find the right path, but it's there. It may be a narrow path, a "road less traveled," but it still exists, and if we are persistent searchers we can find it. I love that Kid President identifies the destination of that path as "awesome". Whether you believe that path leads to a tangible reward, an intrinsic reward, a successful career, a happy family, or Heaven itself, awesome is a destination to shoot for.
It's like that dude, Journey, said, "Don't stop believing...unless your dream is stupid. Then you should get a better dream."
What is it I repeat almost daily in the classroom? Learn from mistakes. That's right. We often make inferences and predictions that turn out to be incorrect. Does that mean we were wrong? That we failed? Absolutely not. It just means we stop, adjust our sights, aim again, and keep going!
What will you create that will make the world awesome?
Hmm. That's a great question. It's also a call to duty, isn't it. We could all answer that differently. I don't want to say the possibilities are endless, but they're probably pretty close to it.
We were made to be awesome.
Agreed, Kid President. The alternative would be to acknowledge that we were made to be pitiful, lazy, and immoral. The alternative to being awesome would be that we were made to be pathetic losers. I happen to think I am "gooder than that". Aren't you gooder, too?
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls,
and it looks like work" (Thomas Edison).
M4+H LE46UE Contest REsults
Awaiting the Awards Assembly
Saturday was the first Math League competition for Cecil Floyd's 2013 team. Students boarded the yellow Joplin Eagles school bus, early Saturday morning for the trek to Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri.
After only a handful of coaching sessions, students faced this experience with gusto and dignity. Once on campus, students were escorted to a nearby little-theater classroom, where they answered questions on two tests, the first in Math Concepts and the second in Problem Solving.
While Mr. Culbertson and I were proud of BRENDEN who received Honorable Mention for his performance on the Concepts test, we were especially impressed with the attitudes and behavior or all of Joplin's competitors.
Parental Support Appreciated
Joining us on our journey were students from Stapleton Elementary School and South Middle School. We rode together, waited and tested together, ate breakfast and lunch with each other, and cheered for each other when the awards were issued.
It makes me proud to see our students know how to represent our school district with decorum and sportsmanship. I watched our students as they cleaned up after themselves, treated one another with respect, and accepted each other as peers (and I can't say the same for some other schools). Among some 375 competitors, our mathletes put forth a noble effort (All scored reasonably on the tests.) and made the day pleasant.
Our appreciation is extended to the parents who supported their children by attending the competition with them. Your involvement does not go unnoticed!
Now we look forward to our regional contest in the spring. Weekly tutoring continues, this Monday and Tuesday.
In addition to the fourth graders, we also took a fifth grade team to this contest. They competed in Concepts and Problem Solving, as well as a team round. Also (Proud Dad Alert!), if you will indulge me for a moment, my own daughter, independently representing herself, brought home an eighth place ribbon in Concepts and a third place trophy for Problem Solving in the third grade division.
Science Vs. Art
The "third annual" Cecil Floyd Art Walk is scheduled for next Tuesday, January 29. I am so glad, and have always been proud, that Joplin Schools still values the arts of all types for our students. Nationally, however, teachers are struggling to keep the art of teaching from being overshadowed by the science of teaching.
Sometimes we wonder if student assessment numbers are more important than the students themselves. Are we more concerned with scores than we are with motivating students to wonder, explore, and discover? Is the same consideration given to a teacher who has a special spark with students? Or, at the risk of mixing metaphors, do we "paint ourselves into a corner" in our efforts to get everybody "on the same page"?
“Each morning, waking, the soul should feel the urge to rise to the ideal
person one ought to be from the person one is” (Leroy Brownlow).
Usually, on Fridays, students in our class have the opportunity to recognize the people surrounding them. These recognized students are then issued a little button to wear during the day, so adults and other students in the school can see they have exhibited good behaviors. As the teacher, I do nothing to influence these rewards, and truth be told, I do not always agree with the decisions made by the students. They are solely based on peer opinions, and I don't always see the things they see.
These awards, pictured at right, are for a variety of behaviors. I try to stress that if they want to receive one, they need to work on it throughout the week and not simply leer longingly into the eyes of their classmate as they choose a recipient. I have also stressed that if they wish to win someone over to conducting himself or herself in a civil manner, they may want to reward little improvements rather than select only the person who is the most or the best at something.
It's just one more way I try to reinforce positive behaviors in the classroom, but I thought it would be interesting to allow the class to have the influence in selecting the recipients.
...to our class, Kyndel!
You shall henceforth be known as...
Work + Play = Plork
Here's a bonus video from last Thursday's surgery.
Golden Apple Nominations
Nominations are still being accepted for the annual Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Golden Apple Awards. The awards, presented by Empire District Electric Company and Missouri Southern State University, recognize excellence in the teaching profession. The nomination deadline is February 4.
I was the first Cecil Floyd teacher to receive this honor, in 2004. While I am not eligible to receive it again, I will help by proofreading your letters to nominate another teacher.
Nomination forms are available at all Joplin public and private schools or click on the link below. All nominees will be recognized at a reception on Thursday, February 28, and the four award winners will be announced at the Chamber's annual banquet in April.
History: Complicated and Ugly
Remember: there is no school Monday due to the national celebration of the contributions of people like Martin Luther King Jr. This man was instrumental in bringing forward the issue of discrimination in our all-men-are created-equal nation. In our class, I have attempted to raise the issue of treating people equally, and not discriminating based on skin color. We have done so when discussing President Thomas Jefferson and his struggle to define equality when writing the Declaration of Independence. We have also talked about the way he wanted the native peoples in the West to be treated when he sent his representatives, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore unknown territories. All the while expressing the desire to get along and maintain positive relations, Jefferson struggled with the fact that his own family owned slaves and depended upon them to live.
Besides the big idea of unfairly treating our fellow man, two concepts have been brought to the forefront in our class. First, the United States history is often ugly, and second, themes in history are definitely more complicated than they appear. Whether talking about the Civil Rights Movement, the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands, or the Japanese Internment Camps during World War 2, we must understand that we will not pay justice to the topics with fourth graders. Sometimes things are just too ugly or too complicated for young minds to understand, but that doesn't stop us from beginning the conversation.
"A Class Divided"
While you are out of school, Monday, and as long as you're looking for something to do on the internet, why not check out the Class Divided website? Click on the "Watch the Full Program Online" button, and think about how lessons, classrooms, and attitudes have changed - or not changed - since 1970. In the video, a teacher in an all-white school in Iowa conducts a lesson with a class of third graders. She purposely injects discrimination into her classroom, not to be cruel, but to simulate the consequences of prejudice for her students. Within 15 minutes, she says, her class became a microcosm of society, demonstrating the plasticity of our children's beliefs and attitudes. Once you get to the classroom part of the video, it will be hard for you to stop watching.
Look at how frankly those students speak about the issues and the connections they make. Wonder how their belief systems were developed. Who influenced them to believe such things? Notice the forlorn faces of the students who are assigned minority status. I'll warn you upfront, though, you may get angry at the teacher, and you may be upset with the choices some of the kids make. You may also be unhappy with the inappropriate names that are expressed when dealing with the topic of black people. I am in no means endorsing the use of such derogatory language today, but the brief inclusion of those words in the video wholly demonstrates a culture shift from 1970 to the present.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Funeral Wagon
It was an interesting time. As I reflect on my own childhood (I was only three or four years, and a couple of states, away from being in the Class Divided.), I realize I never was in a class with an African American until college. I realize there were only a couple of black students in my elementary school and none in my middle of high schools. When my mom spoke with other moms about their feelings about busing, I didn't know what they were talking about. Not long before, Rosa Parks had inadvertently begun the Montgomery bus boycotts, the Freedom Riders had been viciously beaten in Mississippi, and nine black high school students were escorted by the military to attend a previously all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas. King was killed when I was three, long before I became interested in American history or politics. It was a long time before I knew anything about discrimination or racism - though I never liked being called four-eyes.
Since then, I have given a lot of thought to the Civil Rights era. I have seen documentaries and fictionalized movies and TV shows. I have read books and magazine articles outlining many of the issues.
I have made connections throughout history, from the Gullah Islands, Uncle Remus stories, slavery in the American colonies, and the treatment of slaves in the Deep South. I have stood in the courtroom of the infamous Dred Scott Decision right here in Missouri. I have walked in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, at his house in Springfield, Illinois. I have touched cannon and bayonet used during the Civil War. I have been in President Grant's house, have ridden on Huckleberry Finn's river, and have seen Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church.
When I had the fortune to visit the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, last spring, I took a few hours to drive to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. While there, I fixated on one object for several minutes - an old, weathered wagon. I learned from the room that surrounded me that this was the wagon that carried King's body to the cemetery. King wanted his funeral to be yet another opportunity to preach about inequality and humility. Drawn by mules, the wagon transported his body through crowds of mourners. All the other items in the museum - the video screens, oversized photos, and the statuary - paled in comparison with this single, real icon.
Our history is still in the process of being written. When I consider the ongoing current world issues involving discrimination - religion, gender, orientation, and politics being among the most obvious - I realize the past, present, and future have been delicately intertwined and can not be simplistically isolated. Our history is ugly, and without a doubt, it is complicated. As we move forward, may our children make righteous and informed decisions.
Playing doctor in school? That's what happened in our class on Thursday. Students entered the classroom to find it had been converted into an operative room. After doing some research about Thomas Dooley (on his birthday) students donned their scrubs, gloves, and masks, before approaching the challenge of organ transplant, cutting words (organs) to stitch (glue) into waiting patients. Thursday morning should prove to be very memorable.
There is always discussion about how to teach reading. We try and try to find a "magical" program that will solve all the problems for struggling readers, but there is no program. We try and try to make reading into a science, but it is not solely a science. Reading is made easier by experience, by interest, by practice.
That's where Joplin Schools enters the picture. Below you will find a list of 100 words we call "sight words". These are words that are not spelling phonetically. They are words that sometimes break the rules of the English language. They are words that are a common part of what fourth graders read. Our school district has dubbed these as "No Excuse" words. Perhaps that's a harsh title, but that's a debate for another time. The fact is, students should be capable of reading the list in under a minute.
I'm not a big advocate for reading a random list of words for speed. I'm not even big on reading words in context for speed. I understand that people who read fluently enjoy and understand it more. That said, I also understand the thought process behind this initiative. Since these words are so common in fourth grade literature, being able to identify them is crucial to becoming more fluent.
Would you work on these words at home? Perhaps you could make flash cards and time your child as s/he reads through them all. Come up with ways to remember their spelling, their shape, and their sounds. Use the words in written sentences. If you're like me, you probably think these are pretty easy, but you may still be surprised when your son/daughter struggles with some of them.
SOPHIA and JAH'KI will be our representatives for the Cecil Floyd Spelling Bee. After several preliminary rounds, five students battled for the final two spots, some working extra hard at home, during their own free time.
Our finalists will now need to study the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade spelling lists before the school contest at 1:30 on Wednesday, January 30.
Happy Birthday, Missouri!
No, it is not the day Missouri was created, founded, or bought. It is not the day Missouri gained her statehood. Instead, it is part of a trial program I came up with, one we are sampling to see if if has the desired effect.
If you are interested in seeing this developing unit, move over to the Happy Birthday, Missouri! pages on our ever-growing website. There, you will find an explanation and some links to the January and February birthday celebrations.
The first celebration was last Friday, to recognize the contribution of Marie Watkins Oliver, who designed the Missouri state flag. Students were able to use the provided websites to conduct basic research, work some math problems, practice with building words, discover interesting history, and create their own school flags, using symbolism in their designs. Some students commented that they enjoyed learning in this manner.
Each of the Missourians, naturally, has a different talent or achievement that made him/her important to our state. Therefore, each birthday celebration should have a different focus, with various activities planned by the teacher. The next celebration, this Thursday, will be in honor of a man named Thomas Dooley.
The Hoggatteer Revolution
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