Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why I Teach...

Today I read the story Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney to my second graders. The beautiful story encourages readers to find a way to make the world more beautiful. Miss Rumphius does so by planting lupines everywhere. As we finished the story, I told my students that I hope each of them will find a way in their own life to make the world more beautiful. "We've already started, Mrs. Arnett," stated one of my children. I asked what he meant. "We are helping the orangutans and helping make less trash in the lunchroom. All of our projects this year..." His comment gave me the shivers and I felt a lump in my throat as another child said, "You planted the seed."
I could have scooped them all up and hugged them at that moment. This is why I teach...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Most Powerful Teaching Site on the Internet

Yesterday was an AH-HA day like no other in my second grade classroom. If you will read through my ramblings about that day, you will discover at the end of my blog, a resource to create many days like this one in any classroom!

We began the day discovering that after only five students returned orders for our DVD called LearningFrom the Past - The Elder Project, we had already raised $175 in donations for the local charity called Christmas for Seniors. The students interviewed their grandparents and great-grandparents over the past months. We made videos of the interviews and added student created digital stories of tales from their grandparents to create the DVD.

A trip to our school arboretum followed. The kids worked along with a visitor from the Bureau of Land Management to identify and band trees for the Shout Learning project. They will take measurements of tree growth to add to a data base from students around the world to study the impact of climate change on trees for the next three years. The local expert was so pleased with the project that she asked to return in four weeks to join us when we take the first measurements. She wants to teach the kids more about each tree.

After lunch we discussed our current class project inspired by Interrobang . After studying the problem of school lunchroom trash all week, the kids finalized their plans for making next week a trash free lunch week for our class. There were a couple of obstacles to overcome for the kids having hot lunch at school and the answer came in an email. Earlier in the day the kids emailed the head of food service for our district with concerns about the use of disposable styrofoam trays and the many prepackaged foods served. She responded quickly and positively. The old plastic trays will be delivered to our school this weekend for use next week. She also told the kids she would work toward making that happen for next year as well! She also gave them an update on an issue of palm oil in Uncrustable PBJ sandwiches they have been serving. She is in contact with Smuckers concerning that ingredient and is working on changing lunch choices in the future to make sure no palm oil is served in our school. The reaction to the email: "We did it!!!"

The discussion of palm oil reminded one of my students that he had something in his backpack to share. He had been reading a magazine when he found an article about orangutans. He shared the picture and map from the article and recapped the content for the other kids.

When we finally got ready to complete some more typical schoolwork (math papers) the kids reminded me that we actually had already done math for the day. "Yeah, remember, Mrs. Arnett? We did lots of math in the arbortetum!" And in fact they had as they measured and marked the trees for the bands.

As the kids spent the rest of the afternoon completing unfinished writing, grammar, and math for the week (we call it finish up Friday), I saw something remarkable happening. They were so uplifted by the successes of their day. They had raised more money on the first day of DVD sales than they had anticipated making in all and could see the potential for that project helping many more local elders than they dreamed possible. They felt so important and connected to the world as they participated in a project for the Smithsonian and realized their work would have a global impact. The quick positive response to their request for help from the food service department in reducing trash in our lunchroom was unbelievable and empowering to them. The reaction from the kids for all of the success of the day was total engagement in their work. They sat straighter, worked harder, celebrated personal success in their assignments, and smiled. I did not have to ask a single student to work harder or get back on task.

We MUST make learning real for our students. All of the text book reading and testing in the world cannot inspire the motivation in students that a real project about a real life issue can. With the online connections available to our students right in our classrooms there is no reason not to involve them and empower them in the world. My ah-ha was how doing so engages and builds confidence and motivation. We ended our day singing along with a song written by our friend, John Farrell. It is called "It's the Little Things" and sums up perfectly the projects we have been doing in class.

I have had a year filled with personal and professional successes. The result of that for me has been an increase in my motivation and effort to improve my teaching. I am engaged and constantly learning to better myself. My students are equally motivated by meaningful successes. It is my job to present them with opportunities.

I titled this blog "The Most Powerful Teaching Site on the Internet" because I have discovered a wonderful site that will help me continue involving my students in real learning. Any teacher can go to the site to find ideas for project and problem based learning. Making changes in the way we teach is not easy, but this site will help any teacher at any grade level get things moving in the right direction. The site? Interrobang . It is filled with opportunities and possibilities. Check it out and engage your kids!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Assessing the Gingerbread Village....

The Gingerbread Village stands complete in my classroom. The children did it their way, working together and totally engaged for about 45 minutes a day throughout the week. The next step is time to simply "play" (although they would tell you that is what they did all week). Before I turn them loose to enjoy their creation for the sake of simple play, however, I want to assess their learning to see if the time spent on the project was worthwhile.

As I reflected on their dialogue during the assessment I had only one thought for the next time I do this activity. Rather than limiting my students to boxes, construction paper, and a city on the floor, I hope that the next time I am able to allow them to create the town in the way they choose. Perhaps it will be a virtual town on the computer that they can all access and interact with. Who knows? I'm learning new things along with my students everyday.