Draw a Scientist 2014

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One of the primary  goals that I have for my second graders in rural Maine is to become more aware of the world around them. As someone who is interested in social justice, I also aspire to have them recognize injustices and to envision a different world than the one that we currently inhabit.

I try to educate my second graders about stereotypes throughout the duration of the school year. The first lesson that I do on this topic coincides with our study of science beginning in earnest. Prior to beginning our first science project, I ask my students to pause and to picture what they think a scientist looks like and does in their heads. I then ask them to draw that image and collect and display their images in a “scientist gallery” for everyone to see.

Once the images are hanging, we have a discussion about what we notice about our images — how they are similar to and how they might be different from one another. This leads into a discussion about how the stereotyped image of a scientist — of a crazy-haired, older male chemist is, in fact, just one narrow version of what scientists actually do.

This is the second time that I’ve done this lesson and I was pleased when I saw that this year’s bunch had much less stereotyped versions of scientists, at least around gender. In a class with more boys than girls, there were 7 pictures featuring female scientists and 7 pictures with male scientists. This was significantly different than last year, when only my drawing and two others featured females, even in a class heavily dominated by girls.

In terms of what the scientists were doing, however, “potions” continues to rule the day. My students had 9 scientists using potions and 6 doing “something else,” with some of those something elses being awfully close to the lab scientist image. Hopefully we will expand on these notions of “what scientists do” by the end of the year.

I follow up this activity by reading aloud “Me…Jane” by Patrick McDonnell. The students are always captivated by this charming text and it really helps to affirm that stereotypes are narrow and often limit our thinking about what the possibilities are for ourselves and those around us.

Our Classroom Vision and Being “CURIOUS” Learners

Things are continuing to go smoothly at school — I am quite pleased with the work that my students have been doing and how they are starting to adapt to some of the routines and procedures that we’ve jointly created for our classroom.

This week we spent some time brainstorming what our classroom vision would be. We looked back at our “best classroom” activity from last week and thought about what would need to happen in order for us to make that vision a reality. The result was the vision, which we brainstormed together: “In our classroom, we will become smarter by being kind and caring, being respectful and responsible, being happy, and working together.”

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The students spent time decorating our vision poster and then, this morning, spent time reflecting on what our vision means to them by drawing and writing about what our room will be like if we all act in a way that allows our vision to be a reality. Their answers were pretty impressive — ranging from simply things like having straight lines, to everyone being happy, to everyone being curious and asking questions.

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After creating our vision, we spent a lot of time talking and thinking about rules. My students’ first homework assignment was to list the rules that they need to follow at home (also a good way to potentially find the pulse of what’s going on at home for my students). They then completed a Venn Diagram where they compared their rules at home to their rules at school. Next, we chose a word to create an acronym for our classroom rules — they chose “Curious” because we are the “Curious Questioners.” Finally, the students had the opportunity to propose rules and then we held a class vote to determine which ones we would use.

Here are our resulting classroom rules/beliefs:

Conquer challenges
Use kind words
Respectful and responsible
Inside voices
Okay to make mistakes
Unusually hard workers
Set a good example

The students worked on writing and creating images to represent our rules.

photo 3Overall, my students were pretty engaged during these somewhat-lengthy community-building experiences. I am positive that we are getting off to a stronger start than last year and I am excited to see how the students’ investment in and accountability to our classroom rules and policies are impacted by their increased involvement in their creation.

Next week, we are beginning a new unit of study — “Being Good Learners.” My students will first be learning about whether going to school is a right or a privilege.

Classroom Tour 2014

My school had our Open House last night and it has me so excited about the upcoming year! My new students were so excited to see our room and to have their parents meet me last night. Additionally, many of my former students popped back down to our room for a visit — it was bittersweet to see some of them. I can’t believe that they won’t be in my room anymore come Tuesday!

I’m just about ready for the first day of school and my room is definitely the neatest that it will be all year. I’ve moved a lot of things around since last year and am pretty happy with how things are as I plan to start the year. (Maybe I won’t have to move everything around every month this year.) My classroom space has a lot of built-in things, which are nice, but they can also be pretty limiting in terms of options for arranging furniture. But, I think I’ve got things organized in such a way that the space will grow with our learning — there’s lots of room for displaying student work and storing their projects!

So, without further, ado, here’s a tour of my space.

doorThis is the door to my classroom – our class mascot “Q” remains prominently exhibited.

supply_cart

Our supply cart and paper station are just inside the door.

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Here’s the view of the room when you walk in the door.

timeline

This is my desk (constructed from three student desks!) and our huge classroom timeline, which is one of things that I am most excited about heading into the year. We’ll start by putting the birth dates of my students and their parents and grandparents and then we’ll add on key dates and events as we learn throughout the year.

book_nook_corner

This is a view of our book nook, our center station, and our Morning Message Board.

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This is what the book nook looks like. The cubbies are being used by each “team” of students to hold their academic materials.

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Here’s our Morning Meeting/game station, our “caught being kind” apple, and our book display. The start of school theme for the book display is books that reflect curiosity, questioners, and wonder — a perfect initiation for my new group of Curious Questioners!

clipboards

This is the “Where?” team table. Behind it on the wall are the clipboards that I will be using to display work that my students choose as their favorite tasks and “best effort work.” Right now it has things they wonder about, an activity that we did together during step-up day last June.

wonderment

This is a work-in-progress, but it will be our “wonderment station,” a place where I exhibit things that are interesting in order to invoke my students’ curiosity. Right now, there is a globe, a coconut from Hawaii, and some magnetic rocks.

front_board

At the front and center of the room is the white board and our rug area, where we gather for all sorts of learning activities.

jobs_schedule

This is where I post the groups for Morning Work Centers, where we’ll have our class jobs once my students brainstorm what they should be, and where I display our daily schedule. (Day 1 is already up there!)

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Instead of counting up the school days, I am going to have my students count down.

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This is a close-up of just one part of our classroom library. I have way too many books in my classroom (though I doubt that’s actually possible!) — so many of my bins are nearly overflowing now.

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Two more shots of the classroom library — the bins have taken over all of the nice built-in shelving unit in my room! But, honestly, what’s more important than books?

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Here are some more-zoomed out pictures of the room. You can see the “What?” and “Who?” student work areas and get a sense of how the classroom is laid out.

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And one of my favorite parts of the room — the “Past Curious Questioners” gallery that shows all of my former students!

School starts on Tuesday — I can’t wait to start filling this space with my students’ creative thinking!

Back to the Classroom and an End-of-Summer Trip

After exactly two months out of my classroom, I spent two marathon days in my room at the beginning of the week. It was a little odd to be back after so long away, but I have quickly found my way back into “school mode.” The past two days have been full of sifting through all of the papers that I held onto during the year, organizing materials, and shifting furniture. I will post some pictures of my new classroom layout at some point next week. I am already being much more intentional about making sure that my classroom arrangement and design lines up more smoothly with my personal theory of learning — I’ve put almost nothing on the walls to ensure that the students have plenty of room to display their creations and I’m situating their seating arrangements far differently than I did last year. I am hoping that it will be a learning environment that will grow with us during the year, rather than confining us and our thinking.

We had a school staff meeting on Monday, so I was also able to get all of the scheduling information that I needed to plan my schedule for the year. I’m going to be trying out a few new things in terms of shaping the learning time, including an “Independent Learning Time” in the afternoons, where students will be able to work on any project of their choosing or continue to work on other things that they may have started earlier. I’m also going to be making sure that I do one Spanish lesson a week with my students — my school doesn’t offer foreign language, so I’ve been studying up so that I can teach them myself!

My weekly schedule breakdown looks like this (at the moment, anyway). We actually have a pretty long school day, but I’m already feeling really worried that I won’t have nearly enough time to fit everything in — my units tend to be long, interdisciplinary, and quite involved… We’ll see how it goes!

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I start my official staff requirements at school next week. As a final summer hurrah, I am heading on a trip to Canada this weekend. I haven’t been since I was really young (and have no recollections whatsoever about the trip), so it will be exploring somewhere new for the first time, which I love. I’m going to be visiting Quebec City and Montreal. It should be a great way to wrap up the summer!

The End of One Adventure…The Start of Another

Well, it’s official — I’ve survived my first year as a classroom teacher. And, boy, did I have a lot of reasons to be glad that the year was finally coming to an end. This year has truly been a “trial by fire” and I’ve been assured numerous times that the class and chaos that I inherited this year was incredibly abnormal.

Yet, despite everything, I was still really struck yesterday by the fact that the year was truly coming to an end. It really upset me that all of my students wouldn’t be there for our last moments together today. Before yesterday, I had sort of shoved our farewells out of mind, assuring myself that I would see them all in the fall as they move onto third grade, but then I realized that it really will never be the same, that I’ll never say, “Okay, Curious Questioners…” and have it be this group of students who responds. As they were leaving today, I felt like I still had so much to say to them, so much more to teach them. But alas, we’ve really reached the end.

And I really don’t have much time to process those departures, because tomorrow I am driving directly from my staff in-service day to my summer position at Upward Bound. Upward Bound is a program for high school students who are either low-income or will be the first in their family to attend college (or both). I’m going to be teaching junior English and I am feeling invigorated by the challenge of transitioning from teaching fourteen 8-year-olds to teaching four sections of eight 14-year-olds. My course is framed around the book “Feed” by M.T. Anderson. Here’s a look at the questions that we’ll be exploring during our six weeks together.

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In addition to teaching, I’ll also be working closely with an advisory group and living in a dorm with the students. I’m really excited to get to have a teaching experience that will feel refreshing and and be rejuvenating (at least I hope so!) I asked my second graders for advice on working with high schoolers and they recommended “giving more homework” and “teaching them division.”

So, for the next few weeks, my posts will revolve around my experiences jumping into this very different teaching situation. Who needs summer vacation?