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!

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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!

3 Big Goals for the School Year

A new crispness can be felt in the evening air here in Maine, which can only mean summer is coming to a close. I’m just a handful of days from welcoming a new group of Curious Questioners and I’m feeling more energized and calm than I can recall being at this point in any other teaching year.

In between all of the small tasks — labelling mailboxes, finding homes for all of the random items in my classroom, and meticulously measuring for wall hangings — I’ve been trying to keep a focus on the big picture, the real reasons I pursue teaching. Having time to think about these things is a luxury that I’ll find harder to come by in just a few days.

I came across a quotation this morning while I was reading Working in the Reggio Way by Julianna Wurm and it reminded me how important it is to be rooted in a particular philosophy of education and to name it, if only to yourself.

“It is not a question of right and wrong answers, but of determining what you really believe about children and education, and then making sure that all of the millions of decisions you make as you work with children reflect that vision to the best of your capacity” (Wurm, 2005, p. 13).

With the idea of firmly aligning my practice with my views of children and education, I’ve crafted the following three big goals for the school year.

  1. Create a classroom grounded in discovery-based learning.

    “When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself” – Jean Piaget

    I am strongly in the constructivist camp, and I am committed to letting my students figure out as much as they can for themselves this year. I’ve worked more and more in this direction over the years, but I think I’m ready to allow room, time, and opportunity for students to uncover learning, to create their own connections, and to let students follow their thinking, wherever it might lead. I’m most interested in pursuing this in math — the subject that I think often is considered the least open for discoveries.

  2. Leave room for and honor wonder.

    A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had an influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over all children I should that her gift to each child in the world would be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last through life.” – Rachel Carson

    Leaving room for wonder was an area where I thought I was doing well — until I read a few books this spring and summer that allowed me to see how much further I can push the foundations that I’ve laid in this area of my practice. I’ve always honored student questions and spent time exploring them, but this year, I’m making wonder a solidified part of our schedule. We’re going to have “Wonder Workshop” on Fridays, where students will begin by writing their wonders of the week, which I will display on our “Wonder Wall.” Each week, I will select one of these questions to be our “Wonder of the Week” and students will be able to use Post-Its to share their thinking about that question. Finally, during “Wonder Workshop,” students will be working on exploring their wonders and creating projects and products that matter to them. Wonder Workshop is very open and I cannot wait to see how the students will shape it and where they will take it.

  3. Maintain an ever-present curiosity about my students.

    “Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.  –
    Loris Malaguzzi

    Working with kids is exhausting, frustrating, and exhilarating. Too often, I’m  finding myself falling into the trap of being very closed towards my students after a while, making assumptions about their motivations or how they’ll react to certain things. I think this is natural, but want to work a bit more against this instinct by finding more time to be an observer, to document what I see, and to pay closer attention to what my students are trying to show me, what their behaviors reveal to me. This will be a bit of challenge for me, particularly in terms of documenting my observations, but I am eager to see what insights such a change of perspective and practice will provide.


Having these three big goals defined makes me feel laser-focused as I begin the school year. Now comes the hard work of making sure that, as much as I can, the decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis align with this vision of teaching and learning.

The Monthly Miscellany: August

There’s a preponderance of research that shows that when you go public with your goals, you’re far more likely to accomplish them. Here’s my first monthly round-up that highlights what I hope to tackle in the next few weeks.

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Monthly Learning Topic: Solar Panels
The local college recently put in a massive solar panel installation about a mile from campus. I’ve biked by it throughout the process, and it’s been fascinating to watch it take shape. It’s prompted a lot of wondering on my part, from how solar panels actually capture sunlight, to how that energy is going to get from point A to point B.

Professional Development Books: Number Talks by Sherry ParrishWorking in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm

Teaching Focus: Developing meaningful, inquiry-based math activities and developing a routine for implementing Number Talks

Fiction Reads: The Guest Room & Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands (both by Chris Bohjalian), The Whore’s Child and Other Stories by Richard Russo

Non-fiction Read: Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

New Recipes to Try:
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Citrus Protein Green Smoothie
I’ve been a vegetarian for a couple of years now and I’m always looking to find interesting new recipes to try. I definitely need to come up with a quick & easy breakfast routine for when school starts again — I’ve been spoiled with all of the time I need to make eggs, toast, or even pancakes during these summer months.

Wellness Goal: 
Getting in the habit of blocking off one complete day a week(end) to not even think about school work!

Monthly Adventure:
Moving my parents into their new home & cycling in the Maine Food to Fork Fondo (33 miles)!

Epistemological Humility

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Explorations with Sewn Circuits & Makey Makey at Constructing Modern Knowledge

My primary activity this summer has been learning! I spent time in May developing a comprehensive summer learning and professional development plan and, as a result, my brain is bursting with new ideas, connections, and an even-longer list of things that I need to spend more time exploring. It is this familiar run-in with the need for epistemological humility that has me most energized about going back to school and working to help broaden the perspectives of my Curious Questioners to show them that the world contains more information than they could ever learn in six lifetimes.

Here are some of the highlights of my summer learning:

  • Constructing Modern Knowledge – For four days this summer, I was immersed in 21st century MAKERspace land at the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. The learning space allowed me access to all of the technologies that I’ve read about but never seen — Raspberry Pi, LittleBits, Arduino, Lilypads…the list goes on and on. There was no set schedule during these four days, so we were free to dabble and create. Many of the other attendees worked on large, complicated projects, but I was so overwhelmed by the choices that I didn’t want to limit myself to one idea. I spent most of the time exploring sewn circuits, finally figuring out how to use my Makey Makey kit, and integrating projects into Scratch. The experience was rich, tremendously uncomfortable in its uncertainty (in a wonderful way), and inspired me to continue pursuing constructivist tasks and projects with my students. Learn more about this amazing un-conference at http://constructingmodernknowledge.com/.Oh! At CMK I also got to talk about my question mark project (above) with Alfie Kohn, one of my educational heroes. I still can’t believe that actually happened!

 

  • Online Course: 
    • Leading Change: Go Beyond Gamification with Gameful Learning
      It remains flabbergasting that the edX and Coursera MOOC platforms offer such high-quality content for free. In this course, I’ve been learning about techniques to make learning “gamified” in ways that leverage student motivation and encourage risk-taking. The course explores what video games do so well — primarily personalized scaffolding — and how these ideas can be brought into the classroom to create more compelling learning environments.

 

  • Reading:IMG_0400 I’ve had the wonderful fortune of choosing excellent professional development books to explore this summer. No ho-hum or basic ideas here! A Place for Wonder and To Look Closely inspired my Nature Study program, which I cannot wait to begin in the fall. Hello Ruby is just the tool I needed to introduce my students to programming in an accessible and engaging way. Finally, Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets, which I’m still reading, is making me rethink nearly everything I’ve ever done in math. Revamping my approach to math is my focus for curriculum work in these last few weeks of summer.

I feel so fortunate to have a career that allows me the time to continually push my pedagogical thinking. At Constructing Modern Knowledge, we talked about “taking off our teacher hats and putting on our learner hats” — this summer, I’ve been able to do just that, and it’s been invigorating.