Wednesday, October 26, 2011

brain talk

I look over to see a student intently staring at me.

Student: "I'm saying something to you in my brain right now. I'm telling you that you're beautiful."

Too cute :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Engineering is Elementary

I had a wonderful experience last week - I travelled to Boston for work to attend the "Engineering is Elementary" workshop at the Boston Museum of Science. Since traveling is definitely *not* typical in my job, I was absolutely thrilled to go! I learned so much during the workshop and was in great company. The three women I traveled with made the whole trip memorable and exciting.

It is not often that I get excited about curriculum materials... but EiE is truly a refreshing and novel concept for elementary classrooms. Besides incorporating rigorous engineering challenges into the classroom (fun!), students are introduced to the engineering design process -- ask questions, imagine, plan, create, and improve. Talk about authentic and meaningful experiences! Of the 20 units, some of my favorite challenges included building walls with a plethora of earth materials (and of course knocking them down), toying with a play-doh recipe (balancing liquids and solids), and designing a fan-propelled windmill. You wouldn't be surprised to hear how engaged and involved we were in the challenges, as adults!

As if EiE was not already after my heart, each unit begins with a multiculturally-based storybook presenting an engineering problem (I'm such a sucker for a good story...) Best of all, the main characters in the book are children, illustrating a powerful core value of the program - anyone can be an engineer. 

I think the most valuable thing I came home with was inspiration. The whole concept of integrating engineering in the classroom - even a kindergarten classroom - was invigorating and exciting to me! My "wheels began to spin" as I realized all the ways my students are already engineers - on the playground, at the blocks station, and in life. They are naturally curious problem-solvers, and now I feel more prepared to guide and foster these natural characteristics within the engineering design process.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Too much?

Something happened today that really made me reflect -- really made me stand back and consider some important factors.

I pride myself in being a rigorous teacher. My classroom expectations are high -- and usually, my students rise to them. People who do not work with kindergartners on a daily basis are always amazed by what they can do!  As I always tell my students' parents, most of the time, if you expect a lot of children, and provide them the support they need, they will rise to your expectations! 

My district is well-known for high standards in academics. Our "kindergarten" is truly like first grade in some places! By the end of the year, my students are readers and writers -- they are problem-solvers -- they are self-motivated for learning. I am so proud of my students everyday. They're daily achievements are milestones in my eyes.

But, today, I had an eye-opening reflection... and it's got me thinking.

I have a challenging class this year. But I love them dearly! I know that this year, they will make me a better teacher with more strategies up my sleeve, and as I always say, "I'll take them how they are!" I accept each of my students for the little people they are, and we "work with what we got!" Each one of them start at a different point, and will progress to a different point. We are all learning, growing, and changing. But, my little ones are a challenge this year. :)

I've had to pull out every trick up my sleeve this year -- every tool in my toolbox. At the end of the day, I am exhausted... to say the least! I love my job and extract endless joy from my career, but it definitely isn't easy.
Well, today, we had a special drill planned for the afternoon. Instead of our intense writing, math, and social studies routine after lunch, our schedule was altered. We would be walking to a nearby park -- and with this being planned for right after lunch, I was a little worried about getting everyone to the bathroom. So, we watched a "story" (animated storybook) right after lunch while everyone had a quick bathroom break. With our remaining 15 minutes before the drill, I read a book and the students decorated folders for their parents to bring home papers from this week's conferences. 

As I was helping a student write her name on her folder, I took quick look around the room. Every single one of my students was concentrated on their folder. Some drew dinosaurs, some drew butterflies, some even wrote "mom," "dad," or "my folder." But, the true surprise was that every one of my students was in their seat, working hard -- and it was nearly effortless. I saw students using their letter knowledge in meaningful and authentic ways. 

It made me think... is this the problem? Are we pushing them too hard? Are we trying to fit too much into one day? We added 30 minutes to the school day this year... how much of that is playing into this challenging year? 

I have no intention of "lowering my standards" or expecting less from my students. Rigor is the foundation to a successful, engaging classroom. We will still be readers, we will still be writers. But, this moment today makes me sit back and think of some ways I can give my kids breaks. Alongside academics... in what ways can I encourage my kids to just be kids? What can I do to help my students be more successful with this exhausting day? If I am exhausted at the end of the day... how are my five-year-olds feeling? And most importantly... sometimes I just need to stop and look around. And reflect.

And that is the best part about being a teacher -- constantly reflecting, changing, and adapting to be the best I can be!