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!

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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!

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.