Monday, October 12, 2009

Buzz Buzz education ideas

Education then and now

Are we moving in the right direction?

Happy Columbus Day! or not

As a teacher I enjoy Columbus Day. It is a chance to catch up on sleep, do some work in advance, and even go back to the gym. Yet, as a child I remember Columbus Day differently...

When I was in Kindergarten someone asked one of my teachers, at a private school, who Columbus was and why he had his own day. In some words my teacher told us exactly who Columbus was and explained that he probably didn't deserve his own holiday. While the discovery of America might have been important 1. there were already people here 2. Amerigo Vespucci (I'm sure I just butchered that spelling) was also pretty important.

I might be blending memories, but this idea was a recurring theme through out my childhood, the history focused on was less than wrapped up in any sort of American spirit. Now as a teacher I wonder, what do my students think about today. Should I be candid about the history or like most kindergarten classrooms make boats out of paper and sing some songs.

What sort of history should we be teaching our students?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Two meanings of differentiation

Differentiation has become a buzz words. It can mean very little when just thrown around or it can mean a lot, but today I read the word in a whole different way. 

In a chapter for a course I'm taking the book discusses differentiated instruction in terms of differentiated tracking courses that took place many years ago between general education students, poor performing students, special education students, and that often related to different races and cultures. 

Nowadays this word is all about how we cater lessons to suit different students in our class. Always remember, differentiation means holding all of our students to the same standards and making sure all of them can reach, grab, and learn 

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Back in the Blogging Game

As I'm about to start my second year of teaching, and after taking a serious break from blogging, I feel ready to delve back into my understanding of the maze. 

I don't have the full big picture yet, but I am starting to answer a few questions here and there. 

Important point 1: Being a teacher is expensive. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

7 days...

In seven days my first year of teaching will be over. In seven teaching days I will have spent one year in the real world. 

I made a to do list for my week long break before I start my summer school course for my masters...and my to do list is very long. 

Any tips on how to spend my slightly more free time? I know that I want to spend a lot of time working, but people keep telling me to that a word in the vocabulary of NYC DOE teachers? 

Summer, summer, summer...what do you have in store...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

To which I initially want to respond "duh", but then I remember that most people don't really think about this unless they are in one of these schools or working with the neediest kids. 

McGuire Writes,"According to the research, teacher experience is at least a partial predictor of success in the classroom and, at present, one of the only approximations for teacher quality widely available. Experienced teachers tend to have better classroom management skills and a stronger command of curricular materials. Novice teachers on the other hand struggle during their initial years in any classroom."

She is right. Through out my first year of teaching this year I have found myself looking up to those teachers who have been there the longest. I have found myself admiring their management skills, their understanding of material, and being amazed at the growth their students make. It is important to have quality teachers in school with the neediest students, and experience is certainly part of that. Special pay to work in urban schools might help, but I think there are a lot of other factors. 

Schools in urban communities with consistently low performing students are under certain pressures that are not wholly felt at other schools. When I went to public school testing was there, and it was important, but I never spent a single class preparing for tests. The culture is very different in consistently high performing schools. There is no dark gray cloud that somehow, the school will fail. School culture is am important factor I believe in keeping teachers at a school, and I am not sure that the neediest schools provide the culture that keeps teachers. A happy teacher is much more likely to stay at a school with needy students. 

I think another important factor is the general retention rate of teachers. I don't know any statistics, but I know it is hard to keep teachers in general. Teachers come and they go, but keeping them in the profession itself is important. Does this go back to culture? I think so, it also goes to creating links between community, school, and politics. 

I'm just a newbie, I have very few answers. What I do know as I round out my first year in a public school is that I'm coming back. I feel more prepared for my second year of teaching that I thought I could. I am still learning, and still progressing myself as a teacher and it will take time. 

Note: McGuire did NOT mention Teach For America in this article which I find strange considering that TFA only places core members in "needy" or lower socioeconomic schools. Considering I believe the true goal of TFA is to create people who work towards educational change towards policy and administration (less than creating life long teachers) I do see a difference, but it still must be said that teachers with less than existent student teaching are placed in the classroom yearly across the country, why, because often no one else wants to do it. We have to have SOMEONE in the classroom, why not put someone there who at least wants to be there. 

Thanks to "This Week In Education" for helping me find this article. 

Million Dollar Grant

There are a lot of things I want for my classroom. An unlimited supply of quality crayons, new books, and even pillows for a reading corner. There are some things I want that I think of as less typical, more special finds. So I bring to you for your reading please a new feature...Things I would buy if I had a million dollar grant... 

C.L.A.W Pencil Grip: order of 500

I'm having trouble finding a picture, so stay will me through this description. Most pencil grips are pieces of rubber or plastic padding, children can still revert to holding the pencil incorrectly the moment you leave. Not with the C.L.A.W grip. The C.L.A.W has three finger slots, kind of like a thimble, where the fingers must stay. The grip has a hole that is slipped through the pencil and then you slide your fingers into the three holes. No movement, and more importantly no awkward grip. I have found kids feel at ease with this grip, and after only conferencing with them one time on how to use it they can adjust the length on their own and fix the grip after they erase. Most of all, they don't have to think about where their fingers go, there are three perfect spots. 

I'm in love, but more importantly it has really helped my students handwriting. It has built hand strength and stamina, and most importantly the students who use them can also hold a pencil correctly without the grip now, and isn't that the point? 

So, please order me up enough for all of my students in the fall and for crayons, markers, colored pencils, and paint brushes. Just send the bill to my million dollar grant. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Uniting Kids Through Common Standards

I can list of the New York City kindergarten standards as fast as I can list off my mom's birthday and my address. In one year these standards have become ingrained in my head.

Students come and students go, but in my class the standards are constant. Unfortunately they are not constant through out the country. Even the level of rigor is unclear through out the city. Students move between boroughs and I find myself wondering, "what have you been learning this year?" 

Jim Rex, South Carolina's superintendent of education, discusses the possibility of national common standards in today's Huffington Post. There are a lot of concerns: the government taking too much control and making standardized tests, lowering standards, and my biggest fear is who these "best minds" would be that create the standards?

I think high, yet, achievable standards that are developmentally appropriate are needed. I think standards that are specific, citing exemplar work, are necessary. I think there are a lot of important things, and while I think common standards are a great idea in theory, I fear about who would be in charge of creating these standards. Standards does not equate to standardized tests, but to a higher level of national achievement. Standardize goals, but not the path to get there, because all kids are different. Ready for a buzz word, differentiate. 

Also, can I help write the standards?  

Nacho Day

 The Chicago Tribune released a horrifying piece of information. The second most common entree in Chicago public schools is nachos...does that even qualify as an entree? 

I think one of the best parts of my private school education was the quality of food. As I grew up in Chicago I was always a hop skip and a jump away from a nacho lunch. When I think "nacho" I think of side dish, appetizer, and snack, not main meal. Today I ate lunch with my students and I was a little scared of their food, I almost felt mean trying to convince them to eat more of the least it wasn't nachos. 

P.S. I tried really hard to make a pun about this and failed. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I am obviously not very good at updating this. 

But, I have epic, yes, epic, plans for the summer. One of which includes returning to the blogging world. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My growing list of people I admire.

So, I have for a while had a running list in my mind of people who possess talents, drive, and passion that I admire. It is oddly male centric, and full of writers. 

1. Dave Eggers
2. Mo Willems
3. Maurice Sendak
4. Anna Freud
5. Virginia Axline

This week I found a new person to add to my list.

6. Augusten Burroughs

I read Running With Scissors in three days and I'm just about done with Magical Thinking. Oh, and I also found his blog. His writing is captivating and I was glued to each book through out the airplane ride from NY to Chicago. I have about 45 pages left of Magical Thinking... and then I have another one of his books waiting for me...I love vacation. 

I think my list of people I admire is quite a hodge podge of different jobs. The link? All successful writers in some form. There is a variety of non-fiction writing (a lot of memoirs), Children's Literature, and psychology. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Taking the Role out of Role Models.

Thanks Russo for putting a comical spin on it all. See, in my interpretation TFA corp members are the models and charter schools are like the exclusive fashion parties. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why is this puppy sad?

Mo Willems, one of the best authors of all times, has drawn a sad puppy.

Why is this puppy so sad? 

1. He lost his bone
2. He is not dirty enough 
3. Merit pay
4. I don't read Mo Willems books to my students nearly enough.
5. Classrooms need more money...for books...that Mo Willems has written.

Monday, April 6, 2009

TFA versus Boston Teachers

Dear Joanne Jacobs, thank you for an unbiased approach to a touchy subject: Teach For America and the Boston teachers. 

Teach For America has been stereotyped, 

" They come from places like Harvard, Yale, and Brown, inspired to share their energy and knowledge with public school children..." 

They have one part right, Teach For America is full of individuals inspired to share their energy and work with real children, but this elitist stereotype has got to go. TFA is filled with individuals who are often incredibly motivated to move mountains, and often do. Teaching has one of the biggest turn around rates of all careers, and TFA members are no exception. Still, there are many individuals who stay in the field, or at least meander around the realms of education for some time afterwards. 

Boston seems to be rejecting TFA, trying to throw it out before it gets there...but it is coming,  and when the new teachers get there they will be joining a union that seems to hate the sheer entity that is TFA.

What do you see when you think about Teach For America? Do you see an elite rich white student who has never worked with children and suddenly thinks they can change the world? I don't, and I'm tired of people stereotyping Teach For America. Get to know the teachers, the individuals, and then make your decision. The Boston union is doing these incoming teachers a disservice by rejecting them before they come in, no one wants to walk into a negative work environment, and remember, in the end, what the union should be thinking about is the students, and giving them the best possible education. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Literacy and Math

Math is no longer just about numbers. I know kids tend to dread those word problems, I hated them myself in high school, but the connection between literacy and math is very important. In New York an integral part of the state math assessment involves writing about your mathematical thinking. It is no longer enough to produce answers, but you must explain them. 

How do we start those math connections? First, we talk to kids about their answers. How did you figure that out? Why is that correct? What strategy did you use? Those are questions that should be included in every math lesson kindergarten and beyond.

Second, we read to our kids about math. Books about math are everywhere, and I find that there is no better way to get a student engaged in a math lesson than to read them a book to start. 

Here is my list of my favorite books to start a math lesson with...

1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. (don't be confused, this book is commonly used to teach probability to kindergarten students. It is engaging and helps students to articulate possible, not possible, and definite). 

2. Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. I love love love Leo Lionni to begin with. This delightful book about measurement is a great way to introduce what standard measurement is to young students. 

3. Pictographs by Bodach and Vijaya K. Honestly, this whole series about graphing is absolutely excellent. There are bright graphics and simple stories that help to illuminate what most people would think is a hard concept for kindergarten students to understand. 

4. Pattern Fish by Trudy Harris. My students made some excellent patterns (in cut out fish) after reading this book. 

5. The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns. Well, I couldn't end this list with out a Marilyn Burns book. She is an amazing math educator and writer. You can't really go wrong with on of her books. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My worst nightmare...

I have disliked Dora the Explorer for some time now. There is something irritating about the formulaic nature of the show. Granted, I haven't watched since my babysitting years...but I don't think you could pay me enough to try watching it now. 

Now, a tween Dora the Explorer? Someone help me. 

Best Sign EVER

Click this link to see the best/worst sign ever. 

Now, not that I'm perfect with spelling...but I think it should be a rule of thumb that you check things like that before it is up and about for the world to see. 

A Book Revisited

For a while I very much disliked the book Fancy Nancy, for some reason I felt it gave off a negative vibe, pushing children into a certain way of thinking. Today I sat down and reread the book...and I really liked it.

Fancy Nancy does two things very well. First, it uses high level vocabulary in an effortless manner. The use of new vocabulary is defined within the book and is great for young readers. Second, Fancy Nancy sets up the story of a child that many of us know, or have been. So many girls go through that phase of wanting to be fancy...and I think the solution to my original problem might be, don't give the book to a tomboy. 

So for all those fancy kids out there, go read Fancy Nancy, an excellent children's book.

Note: I also reread Pinkalicious and I still did not like it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

S-N-O-W D-A-Y!!!!!!!

I grew up in Chicago, where snow and windy weather were just the norm. Imagine my excitement as I was pulling on my extra layers this morning that today is a snow day! A day to relax, a day to nap, and a day to catch up on work and blogging.

The first snow day in five years! Hooray! Huzzah! I hope that kinkos is open...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Vacations I Want to Take

Cape Town, South Africa is apparently a bargain to visit now. As a former study abroad resident of the beautiful city reading this article makes me drool, just a little. I'm not even sure the article does justice to the sheer beauty and cultural diversity that is Cape Town, South Africa. The article boasts having fun for less than $300 US dollars a day. This mere $300 includes a car, hotel, food, and various athletic type activities. 

As a less than athletic individual I managed to have fun without hiking or riding a bicycle. I might have been able to have fun for $250 a day! In fact, you can have fun just walking around, going to the markets and looking at the beautiful architecture that almost blends in with the mountains. 

While you are there, make sure you do something that might be a little harder to stomach. While South Africa is often over looked because it has taken such strides towards equality considering the end of Apartheid there are still a lot of fundamental inequalities in the country. Namely, education is still suffering. Go visit the townships, and try, as hard is it might be, to not act like a tourist and to actually see the way people live (I recommend not wearing a big camera around your neck and taking pictures of strangers). Go to small restaurants and talk to people, they are very friendly and the food is just as good as the nicer restaurants (none of which I've ever been to) that the article boasts. Go to Robben Island and listen to the personal story of your tour guide, see where Mandela slept, and try to wrap your head around a complicated history. Leave the city and see what the country side is like. It is much cheaper to stay in a single room along the backpacking routes than in Cape Town and equally interesting.

I know a vacation is supposed to be fun, but I find it impossible to imagine visiting this historic city without taking in some of the reality of life in South Africa. There is beauty and pain in South Africa and it would not be fair to yourself to not experience a little bit of both.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Sendak Surprise

I have for some time now been quite fascinated with Maurice Sendak. His art, words, and even his speeches have moved me to find deeper meaning in what so many people consider a trivial field. Imagine my surprise as I was browsing at Strand to find a Sendak book I had not heard or, or at least one I had never read. 

How Little Lori Visited Times Square by Amos Vogel and illustrations by Maurice Sendak stood out to me from a section of New York inspired books at 9 pm on a Friday night. I'm always surprised by each Sendak book I look at. The continuity of his illustrations and the themes that carry over from book to book strike me each time. Sendak, as many of you might know, is from New York, and the detail that he pays to each feature of New York life is spectacular. 

Also, the main character looks like Max...not that I'm surprised. 

So, if you are from New York, a Sendak lover, or just like a good kids book go pick up...

How Little Lori Visited Times Square by Amos Vogel pictures by Maurice Sendak

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Researching the obvious

"Recess Found to Improve Behavior"

Duh. Did you know that breathing is found to improve breathing and drinking water to improve thirst? You know what some of the stimulus plan for education should go to... building playgrounds in inner city schools. 

Let's do an experiment, give half of the schools money to set up data systems and half of the schools money to build playgrounds and see which one has happy well functioning students who are behaving well enough to learn new content. I would put a lot of money on the playground.

I started paying for the internet....I'm back.