The Monthly Miscellany: October

These past few weeks have been a blur — I keep telling myself that my to-do list is going to get shorter, but things just keep piling up higher and higher. My real goal for this month is to start being a bit more laser-focused on working on what’s critically important and leaving (or being okay “just okay”) with the rest.

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Monthly Learning Topic: Iceland
I have now acquired a small stack of books about Iceland. I’m excited to start learning more about the island.
Thoughts From Iceland
Iceland: Land of the Sagas
The Little Book of Icelanders in the Old Days
Tales of Iceland: Running with the Huldufólk in the Permanent Daylight

Professional Development Books: Designing GroupworkStrategies for the Heterogenous Classroom by Elizabeth Gilbert and, if time allows, Many Texts, Many Voices by Mary Shorey

Teaching Focus: Creating a structure for a reading workshop dominated by 1:1 reading interviews with my students that will function effectively and allow everyone to get the teacher time that they need

Fiction Reads: If Today Be Sweet by Thrity Umrigar, The Appointment by Herta Muller, and continuing to make progress in Vanity Fair, which I am enjoying thus far.

Non-fiction Reads: Tackling the Iceland books listed above

New Recipes to Try:
Fall weather is slowly but surely arriving here in Maine. I’m excited to try out some new, hearty recipes.

Italian Vegetable and Gnocchi Soup
Quinoa Black Bean Chili

Wellness Goal:
Carving out time to read for at least 20 minutes each evening.

Monthly Adventure:
Being immersed in new teaching ideas at an upcoming technology conference. I’m also designing some activities that involve “Bee Bots,” which have been a lot of fun to envision and conceptualize.

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A Hive of Activity

My Curious Questioners have been stretching their scientific reasoning muscles over the past week and a half. This impromptu bee and wasp unit has brought me so much joy as an educator — my students are engaged, curious, and making rich connections between their learning and the real world.

To ground this inquiry project in real-life experiences, I started our study of bees and wasps by having students write and draw about what they remembered from the encounter with the swarm of angry insects. Their work, on the 8th day of 2nd grade, really impressed me! It was particularly interesting to observe the way that some students automatically gravitated towards making predictions about what it was that stung us. When introducing the task, I explained how scientists try to remember details that would help them later on as they try to make sense of an experience. I expected students to write things like, “they were yellow and black,” or “they came out of the ground,” which I did get, but many students went further and made a hypothesis.

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After capturing their recollections of the event, the students got divided into four groups, each assigned to examine a suspected stinging insect. I set up four stations in the room — one about the life cycles of stinging insects, one about the anatomy of stinging insects, one that had students compare bees and wasps, and a final station with me that involved reading a nonfiction article about their insect.

As students rotated through the stations and developed their background knowledge, spontaneous scientific thinking and evidence-collection erupted. “I know what it was! Only yellow jackets nest in the ground.” My burgeoning scientists impressed me with their abilities to stay focused on the question at hand and to seek genuine evidence to support their hypothesis — one student was adamant that we re-watch a video 3 times to ensure she could get the screenshot that showed a yellow jacket nest in the ground. “See?!” she excitedly exclaimed.

Yesterday, my student groups shared their completed posters about their stinging insect. I subdivided each group into 4 roles (love a class size of 16!), so that each student would have a particular focus area — appearance, behavior, nests, or interesting facts. Their posters exceeded my expectations in terms of focused, relevant facts and specificity of detail in their drawings of their insect.

Tomorrow they’ll tackle the last part of this inquiry project — choosing which insect they now believe stung us and defending their choice with the evidence they’ve learned along the way. I can’t wait to see their work!

Serendipitous Mayhem

Untitled 2.pngThe part of my revised curriculum that I’d most been looking forward to was Nature Study. Our first few lessons went swimmingly — students wrote and drew pictures in their notebooks of their observations, they were noticing unusual plants, and there was a keen interest amongst the class in getting to explore lots of different outdoor spaces around our school.

On Thursday afternoon, we went out on a cleared trail for Nature Study. Students were working on a 5 senses observation. We’d been out for almost all of the 20 minutes I’d allotted when, suddenly, this scene emerged: clipboards being thrown in the air, bloodcurdling screams breaking the serenity of the woods, and my 16 second graders scrambling back towards the school.

Yep, probably the worst case scenario — one of my Curious Questioners stepped on a yellow jacket nest, sending a swarm of angry wasps after us. Half of my students got stung at least once and one student began to have a reaction to the stings. (Fortunately, I somehow avoided being stung — that would made things far worse, as I have severe reactions to stings of any kind.) In short, utter mayhem reigned as I tried to ensure that students who had been stung got taken care of and had their parents notified against a backdrop of extremely over-excited and frightened 7-and 8-year olds.

Everyone was okay and things had leveled off by the time Friday arrived. In fact, by the end of the day, many students were citing “the wasp incident” as their favorite part of the week. Additionally, many of our questions of the week were inspired by wasps — a popular one was, “Why do they sting so hard?”

After the students left on Friday, I let out such a sigh of relief. The stress of the past couple of days finally washed away and now we could move on. But then, an idea nagged at the back of my mind — what could be a more clear example of a “teachable moment” than this episode? An opportunity to engage my students in meaningful inquiry about a topic in which they had a vested interest had come right up and “stung” me.

So, scrap the lesson plans! I spent the majority of yesterday designing an inquiry unit around the question, “What stung us?” I’d used the word “wasp” to describe the incident when talking about it with my students, but this word doesn’t pinpoint the species of stinging insect that attacked us (yellow jackets). So, I haven’t answered the question for them, leaving it wide open for exploration.

Tomorrow, when my students arrive at school, they’ll be assigned to a group that will be researching one of four possible stinging candidates — honeybees, hornets, yellow jackets, and paper wasps. I’ve created readings and some other bee-related centers that students will rotate through, learning about their assigned insect, but — most importantly — looking for evidence that might help determine whether or not their species is the culprit.

After groups complete their readings in a small group, they’ll work together to create a collaborative poster highlights facts about their insect’s appearance, nesting habits, and behaviors. Each group will share their findings with the class (and with families during our community meeting this Friday) and students will have to synthesize the information to create a scientific case for which insect they believe attacked our class.

I can’t wait to see them working like real scientists on this inquiry task! While I do wish that we hadn’t disturbed those yellow jackets, I am excited that something meaningful and likely memorable can come out of the chaos.

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The Monthly Miscellany: September

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Monthly Learning Topic: Iceland
My two-year wedding anniversary is coming up and planning for our deferred honeymoon (planned for summer 2018) is getting more focused. Iceland will be the first stop on our journey across the pond and I’m eager to start learning everything I can about Iceland, including where I can find the best versions of Icelandic yogurt/skyr, which I love, and may be a vegetarian’s only chance to try the native cuisine.

Professional Development Books: Visible Leaners – Krechevsky et. al (2013) and, I’m sure, some of the textbooks for the first class in a proficiency-based education certificate program that I’ve decided to add to my plate.

Teaching Focus: Implementing math talks and creating low-floor, high-ceiling math tasks

Fiction Reads: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, Seeing by José Saramago, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg, and starting Vanity Fair by William Thackery

Non-fiction Reads: Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (I didn’t get to this last month) and Teaching with Conscience in an Imperfect World by Bill Ayers

New Recipes to Try:
Last month’s PB breakfast bars were transformative! I make them every week now.
This month, we’ll be starting an apple CSA from a local farm, so it’s apples, apples, apples in the recipe queue.

Apple Almond Quinoa
Apple Pie Layer Cake
Apple Cinnamon Mini Monkey Breads

Wellness Goal:
Getting to bed at a reasonably-consistent time each weeknight.

Monthly Adventure:
Camping and hiking in Acadia National Park!

My 2017-2018 Classroom Space

I’ve long been inspired by the Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches to education — particularly by the attention devoted to setting up the classroom space with intention and simplicity. I’ve tried harder than ever before to keep some of those ideas in mind while setting up my classroom space. This is my favorite set-up of the four years I’ve lived in this 2nd grade room. Things are “zoned” this year into four areas — the library/writing area, the science corner, the geography/cultural space, and the math section.

Here are some photos to show you how things look!

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The doorway to my classroom features our class mascot “Q.” 

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The view looking in from the door.

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Our writing and grammar area. The little drawers contain parts of speech sort cards that I purchased from a Montessori company over the summer.

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Our classroom library! I’ve finally got my books under control this year. I still might have too many, but the baskets can actually accommodate them all.

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Reading buddies and cubby seats in the library. The kids ALWAYS end up sitting in our extra cubbies, so I’ve gone ahead and made them official with pillows.

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A more zoomed-out view of our library section and our “storage” hallway area.

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The Peace Corner is possibly my favorite spot in the classroom. I hope that my students will soon be able to use this space independently to monitor and process their own moods and emotions.

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Our STEM corner. I am SO fortunate to have received a grant this summer to get a 3-D printer.

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Our fish miraculously survived a summer at my house with two very intrigued cats.

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Our bird-watching station is brand new this year. I’m hoping we’ll have some birds soon!

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My art supply shelf is a major improvement over the set-up that I had last year. 

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Our geography/culture corner. I’m excited about the incidental learning opportunities built into this space. 

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My cosmic address boxes — inside each box are materials pertaining to each of the settings.

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A view of my newly-painted large wall. The lefthand side is for students to post work that they want to share and the righthand side is our “Wonder Wall,” for posting our weekly wonders.

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Our family photos shelf. I can’t wait to fill the frames with photos of my students’ families. I think it makes the space feel warmer and more welcoming.

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This is our wonder workshop inquiry shelf — students will store materials for self-driven projects in the containers. 

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My milk crate stools have survived their first full year of student use!

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One of my math shelves — finally organized in a way that makes sense and leaves the materials accessible.

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The second math shelf.

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Our yoga mats and my teeny, tiny teacher space.

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The rug, in the heart of our classroom, is where we’ll spend extensive time this year gathered as a classroom community.

The reaction to the classroom space from the students has been great thus far — they’ve treated things with care and have been fascinated to explore the many nooks and crannies in the space. I can’t wait to watch how they make the space their own!