Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Reader's Field Trip

The Book Whisperer. Have you read it yet? This wonderful book by Donalyn Miller is a must-read for all teachers, not just reading or literature teachers. I read it last summer and it completely changed the way I think about teaching literature with seventh graders. And that's a good thing.

A very good thing.

On the first day of school this year, I informed my new students that their goal for the year is to read forty books of their own choosing. I expected groans and grumbling, but heard none. I did hear one student whisper, "Yes!" which surprised me...happily.

The sixth grade class at school is also aiming for forty books read by each student by the end of the school year. Sadly, they are way ahead of us! And my students know it. They actually brought it up in class yesterday, wanting to know what we are going to do about it. I wasn't really sure what they expected me to say, except for, "Well, we could read more!" (I'm sure my tone included a great big "Duh!!")

That wasn't good enough for Lexi. "No! We need a goal!"

We have a goal...forty books.

"No! We need a 'we're going to beat the sixth graders' goal! And I think it should be we read a thousand books more than them by spring break!"

A thousand?

"Yeah! A thousand more than the sixth graders. By spring break!"

A thousand? By spring break?

"Yes!!" She was probably thinking I'd had a stroke or some sort of mental breakdown since I kept repeating what she'd said. But, seriously....a thousand?!

Um, why spring break? Why don't we say 'by the last day of school'?

"No, it has to be spring break!"

Why?

"Because then we can set a new goal to beat them again by the end of the year!"

By now, most of the class is completely behind Lexi. Except Joey. Joey just kept rolling his eyes.

That's a lot of books, Lexi.

At this point, Adriana throws her hand up in the air. "OH! Miss McMillan!! I know!!!"

Yes, Audi?

"I know what we should do! We should take a field trip to the library! We could check out as many books as we want and then just stay there and read! All. Day. Long!!"

Actually, Audi, I love that idea!

A roar went up from the class, except for Joey. Joey just shook his head.

It looks like I'll be contacting the library over Christmas break to see if they do field trips. The new library in Walnut Creek is amazingly beautiful...we just have to go there!

Now, this is my kind of field trip! Plus, look at all the cool places to sit and read the day away:





There's even a gazebo!



So...who's with me?!?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Great Gobs of Giggliness!

Seventh graders are weird! I'm just putting that out there. For those of you who have worked with middle schoolers, this will come as no surprise to you. They are just great big goofballs...and they know it. And, quite frankly, they enjoy it.

So did I, today.

I have a very lopsided class this year: 26 girls and 8 boys! The silliness today had nothing to do with gender...it was just all weird. I got called over to one table because Ali wanted me to hear Dylan speak in a weird voice. Another table called me over because Shelby needed to share her random fact of the day with me (apparently this is a tradition with her). Just to be clear, everyone was getting plenty of work done...we were just having plenty of fun while we worked! Nothing wrong with that, right?

At one point, I interrupted them and said something to the entire class. What it was, I can't remember. I do remember using one of my weird voices. I did not expect to be imitated by someone I had previously thought was the shy, quiet type. It got very quiet, very quickly. I looked over at this poor child who was turning bright red and said, "Kalena, did you just imitate the teacher?" And she started giggling.

Well, I lost it. I started laughing so hard while at the same time trying to maintain my control and not laugh...can I tell you how hard that is to do?!! The trying not to laugh just made my eyes start tearing up and before I knew it tears were streaming down my face.

In the front row, poor West hadn't heard what had transpired, so he kept repeating, "What happened? What'd I miss? What's so funny?" When I could breathe, I said, "West, you kinda had to be there."

West cried out, "But I WAS there!!"

I almost had to leave the room after that. Seriously...I couldn't breathe!

Not a bad way to spend a day, wouldn't you agree?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Let Us Begin

It is that time of year, once again. Time for the whining to begin anew. "But I don't wanna go back to school!!" "I just got out of school, it can't be time to go back!!" "Please, oh please, can't I have a few more weeks?!" And that's just the teachers!

Yes, even teachers whine to their mothers. Somehow, whining to someone who is retired about having to go back to work just isn't all that fulfilling.

I'll admit it...I'm not looking forward to going back to work. I enjoy sleeping in, getting dressed only if absolutely necessary, eating lunch at a time other than 12:15, and, in general, being a lazy bum. I loved doing a little traveling this summer, a whole lot of learning, and meeting some of the most wonderful people I've ever known! (even though I knew them before I knew them!) I loved watching television, reading magazines, visiting bookstores, and having long chats with friends (online and on the phone), all without having to worry about the lengthy list of items that need to get done for school.

But I am most definitely looking forward to seeing all of my friends on Tuesday; the people who help create the wonderful community at our school; the people who keep me sane on a daily basis...or at least try to. It is for their sake as well as mine that I make the following statement:

Each day, upon waking, I will remind myself that I am a person of value. I have something wonderful to share with the people in my life, including my students. My attitude is my choice. I choose to begin each day feeling positive about life. I choose happiness.

Now, it is very easy to say that from where I sit at the end of my summer vacation. I know it will be much harder to maintain after, say, Tuesday morning when the alarm goes off for the first time in two months. I'm sure I'll need help in maintaining my positive outlook. Fortunately I have some wonderful friends who will help me with this whenever I need it, either with a supportive shoulder or a good swift kick. They always seem to know the right thing to do or say...even if I don't want to hear it.

But I thought I should have a back-up plan for when my friends aren't nearby; something to go to and find a bit of positivity when I'm in desperate need. So I Googled it. "Positivity," that is. The first site listed was The Positivity Blog by Henrik Edberg, a "30 year old guy from Sweden" (his words) who managed to make some pretty significant changes in his life, the first of which was to move from "a generally pretty negative attitude to a much more positive one." Well, that's exactly what I'd like to do. So I think I'll check out his blog from time to time (or whenever he adds a new post!) There are several blogs linked on my blog that I haven't viewed in quite some time. Why is that?

Actually, I think the question should be why do I take so little time for myself during the school year? Why don't I ever make the time to do something I love to do? Do I really think that I hold so little value as a human being that the needs of everyone else should come before the needs of this teacher? Those of you who know me well already know the answer to that last question. But I'm working on it.

My dear friend Teryl put out a question to our PLN (Personal Learning Network) the other day: "What do you do well outside of education?" As teachers we spend so much of our time (yes, even during our summer vacation) consumed with all the things that need to be done for our students, for their parents, for our school, that we can get lost in the process. But when asked that question, "What do you do well outside of education?" the answer should not be, "Umm..."

That was my answer, by the way. It's not that I feel I don't do anything well other than teach. That wasn't the problem with my answer. The problem was I had to think about it! "What do you do well...?" could also be interpreted as "What do you love to do?" That should not be a question that requires a great deal of thought. That should be the easiest of questions to answer.

"Umm..."

Ok, Teryl. I get it. We all need to have something outside of our careers that makes us happy. Just us! Something that we do only because we love it and it makes us feel like we are a person of value. Or it's something we do because it's a challenge and we know we can overcome it because we want to. I need to start exploring ideas, look at potential hobbies, try something new. Try something positive.

Umm...I'm open to suggestions.

________________________________

One quick side note. I was out running errands today and was struck by the number of people who crossed my path on this beautiful Sunday morning who seemed to be in wonderfully cheerful moods. It was infectious. From the mother and young daughter who were having a rather amusing debate in Target over which small whiteboard was "cuter," to the clerk who rang me up and just really seemed to be enjoying her day, to the young woman at the drive-thru window at Wendy's who, when I pulled up, greeted me with a very cheery, "Welcome to Wendy's!" She had the biggest, most genuine smile on her face. It was beautiful!

"Oh, um...thank you," I chuckled.

She handed my lunch to me with a, "Thank you so much! Have a wonderful day!!"

"Thank you!" I chuckled again.

She was just so cute! And sweet! And so sadly unique. At least that's what I thought at first.

As I drove away with a smile on my face - happy people will do that to you, if you let them - I started thinking that she really isn't all that unique. Kind, good people like this young woman whose name I did not manage to notice are really the norm in life. There are far more of them than I think most people want to admit. We seem to want to believe that mean, unhappy people outnumber the rest of us. Those are the people who make us miserable at work or who take the last parking space in the lot as we waited patiently for it; the people who hurtle themselves down the freeway at breakneck speed and cut you off and then make rude gestures at you. They aren't bad people, per se. Just unhappy. Or unknowledgeable. Yes, I know...I'm making up words now.

But think about it...of all the people you had to deal with last year - co-workers, parents, students - how many of them caused you grief? Which party represented the greatest majority? Those who were easy to deal with or those who were not? Of one hundred people in your working life, how many would you say negatively impacted your life? One? Two? Five? Ten? Even if it was ten out of one hundred people, that means that ninety percent (90%) of the people you worked with in one capacity or another last year were good people who positively impacted your life. I can live with that. How about you?

Try this experiment. The next time you go out to run errands, greet everyone who crosses your path with a cheery "Good morning!" (or whatever time of day it happens to be) Hold the door open for people. Let someone else go ahead of you in line at the supermarket. Sure, you'll get a few stares from people who might be thinking "Oh, crazy woman! Just smile and walk away!!" But for the most part, happiness will be met by happiness.

Try it. And let me know what happens. More importantly, let me know how you feel afterwards!

William James said, "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes." What would happen if many human beings altered their lives by altering their attitudes? What kind of change would we be able to make in our world if we just believed we could?

So, here's to a new school year! May it bring us joy with little sorrow, playfulness with little toil, and a wonderfully positive outlook with little negativity.
_________________________
The sun shines and warms and lights us and we have no curiosity to know why this is so; but we ask the reason of all evil, of pain, and hunger, and mosquitoes and silly people. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I'm A Genius!

Yesterday, while working with the eighth graders, I was the one who learned a really good lesson. It was more of a reminder, actually. So often I think we tell ourselves that young people know everything there is to know about technology; they are the "Digital Natives" after all, aren't they? Today I was reminded not to make that assumption.

Yes, most of my students can perform great feats of magic on their cellphones or iPods (at least from where I sit they can). But how much do they know about the practical aspects of technology? Do they know how to use a wiki to present a research topic? Do they know how to use their cellphone to take notes or write themselves reminders? How about keeping a calendar on their phone? On Google? Anywhere!

My students may adapt quickly to the technology they find themselves sitting in front of, but they are not born knowing how to do such things as work with HTML code. They don't have an innate sense of what is safe and/or proper online. What they do have is a lack of fear when it comes to technology. They'll try anything, do anything, without worrying about what might happen. I'm not sure that's exactly a good thing, but I do admire their willingness to try anything.

So, there I was, working with eighth graders on their Civil War wiki, and Andy asked me if I could help his group add some music to their page. "Sure, no problem," I said. "Let's see if we can find a widget that'll work and then we can just embed it into the site."

~blink, blink~

"It's really easy," I continued warily, "we just need to grab the HTML code and copy and paste it into the wiki."

~blink, blink~

"Andy?"

"Um, Miss McMillan, I didn't understand a word you just said there."

Why on earth did I ever think he would? Just because he knows how to use a cellphone? Seriously? So, I did what I'm supposed to do...I taught him. I walked him through the steps, trying my best to keep my hands off the computer, and watched as he put all those crazy words his teacher had just said together with a fairly simple process. It was a wonderful moment.

And then he said, "Miss McMillan, you must be a genius!"

Yes, yes I am. Now, can you help me get the pictures off my cellphone?

Friday, April 16, 2010

It's Friday!

It has been an incredibly long week. There have been far too many moments of frustration this week, including yet another pointless faculty meeting. Especially the pointless faculty meeting. But I've tried very hard to find at least a few moments of joy. Does it surprise anyone that those moments became easier to find the closer I got to Friday?

I didn't think so.

Yesterday afternoon, during my prep time, I walked over to the office for a meeting with the boss. She wasn't there. She forgot about our meeting that she'd just made about 30 minutes before. I took a deep breath and walked back across campus toward my classroom passing my seventh grade boys who were playing volleyball during P.E. (well, I'm not sure "playing" is the right word to use here, but it'll do until someone comes up with a new term that describes what the boys were doing).

"McTeach, come on! You HAVE to play with us!"

I don't have to do anything.

"Come on!! You know you want to!"

I know no such thing.

About five minutes after I got back to my classroom (did I mention it's a long walk from my room to the office?), the boss called and asked me to return to the office. I took a deep breath (or ten) and headed back over.

"Yay! McTeach changed her mind!"

Not exactly.

My "meeting" lasted all of about 30 seconds, and could have been accomplished via email. Or even a phone call.

When I started heading back across campus again toward my classroom, I heard Devin call out again, "Come on, McTeach...just one serve!!"

Oh yeah, I thought to myself, I'm ready to hit something!

I wound up playing volleyball with the boys for about ten minutes and had a wonderful time! Granted, I was the only one who seemed to know how to hit the ball, but that just made me feel even more like a rock star!!

Pretty cool way to end my day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What a Lovely Shade of Red

I'm just sitting here in my nice quiet classroom trying to do a little reflecting on my day, and I'm really not sure what to make of it. Today had moments that made me want to pull my hair out (which I'm really trying to avoid as I'm letting my hair grow out right now), moments of joy and laughter, and moments of total embarrassment for the teacher. Well, just one embarrassing moment, really, but it was a good one!

Where to begin...

I began my day by introducing the seventh graders to a new website that I think is pretty slick for research, and showing them a quick video that explains some of the new changes in Google Docs. I'm not sure which one we were more excited about! Google has finally added a chat feature for Docs, so now my students can chat while working on a document. You know middle schoolers will love anything that includes the word "chat"!

We're also very excited about now having real-time collaboration abilities in Docs. My students will be able to see the changes their group-mates are making on a document as they're making them. We've had too many issues with students writing over one another in Docs because they can't tell where another person is writing at any given time. That has been changed! This is the video I showed my seventh graders this morning that explains these changes as well as the addition of Google Drawings:



I'm not sure what it says about me, but the fact that Google is adding rulers and tab stops to its documents made me happier than the new chat feature made my students. [It is NOT necessary for any students of mine who may happen upon this blog to offer their opinions of what this says about their teacher! Thank you.]


What I showed the kids next is a website I can't wait to start using with them! I'd heard about this new search engine when it came out, but the best I could do at the time was to bookmark it for checking into later. Late last night I watched one of the videos posted on the WolframAlpha site that explains how teachers can use this new tool. I found my way there after clicking on the link that Shannon Smith shared on Plurk. Turns out, Shannon and her mom, Nancy Brachbill, are two of the teachers in the video which I just thought was too cool for words! You can find the videos at WolframAlpha for Educators.

After watching one of the videos last night, I decided to play with the site a little bit [it was almost midnight...I really should have been asleep by then, but you know what they say about us edtech geeks and our new "toys"!] One of the first things I searched for was my date of birth. I know, I know...it's all about me, isn't it! So, I typed in this:

And the first thing I saw:


Oh, come on...you know it's the first thing you're going to do when you check out the site, aren't you!

Well, one of the first things that Shannon mentioned in her video was using WolframAlpha to search for vocabulary words. What a great idea! So, this morning when I was demonstrating the site for my seventh graders, I asked one of them to give me one of their words; you can see the results here:

As someone who enjoys writing poetry, I was especially excited to see, and show my students, that the search results include a list of words that rhyme with the search term. [Stick with me...this will come back to bite me later in the morning.] Of course, mentioning to my seventh graders that it provided rhyming words led at least one boy to call out, "Type in 'orange'!!"

Oh brother.

My seventh graders are currently finishing up giving their presentations about Africa. Each student researched a different African country and created a powerpoint to share what they'd learned in their research. I'm so proud of my students; they have done an amazing job with their presentations! But it took me all of about 30 seconds using WolframAlpha to realize that their research time probably could have been cut in half if we would have been using this wonderful tool. Here, try this and see what information just one search can provide you:

I'm sure you'll have roughly the same reaction that my seventh graders and I had this morning. Whoa! "Dude, that's totally awesome!!" Yeah, thanks Devin.

I tried to avoid the gazes of those students who were shooting me death glares. "You couldn't have found out about this before we spent 50 gazillion hours on this project???"

Sorry.

Fast forward about two hours...time for eighth graders. They are currently working on a research project about the Civil War, so I wanted to share with them this same website. I shared with them the birth date search...middle schoolers just love hearing how old and decrepit their teacher is. Then I asked for someone to give me a name to search for. "Bob."

Sigh.

I think I need a little more than that.

"Robert."

No, seriously. I swear I live in a cartoon. I'm just waiting for that darn anvil to drop. [It's coming, by the way.]

I decided to show them how to search for their vocabulary words. I asked an eighth grader to give me one of their words, and the first one that came to mind was "vex." [Don't get ahead of me, here.]

Now, picture me standing there in front of my ActivBoard, sharing this wonderful new website, thinking it's just the coolest thing since the invention of the modem; I haven't a clue. No, it doesn't even enter my mind that I am about to show a list of words that rhyme with "vex" to 34 soon-to-be giggling eighth graders. No, no...I proceed with "so if you're writing some fabulous poetry and you need to find a word that rhymes with 'vex'..."

That's when I saw it. The word that shall not be named. At least not in my blog that would eventually be spammed by who-knows-how-many who-knows-what-kinds of websites. I kept my face turned toward the board for a moment or two, but I'm sure the bright red glow from my face bounced right off that board toward all of my now-giggling students.

I tried to make like I had planned that all along by quickly adding, "Of course, I'm not really sure any of us wants to see what kinds of poems you can create with these words." But my brain was already composing a limerick or two while they continued to giggle.

Ok, one last search...somebody give me the name of a battle. [Quick!!]

"Wilderness!"

God love ya, George and Zane!


Joy and Laughter

There were at least a few moments of joy and laughter today. One of my favorites occurred during lunch recess. No, I wasn't shooting hoops, although I really wanted to. I had my camera in hand, and didn't feel like risking dropping it. I was taking some pictures when Kate ran by me, chasing after another student and yelling in a "we're just regular kids having some good old-fashioned 'tag you're it' kind of fun." Well, she nearly took out the teacher as she ran by, so I yelled out "Kate!!" That's when this quietest of quiet, reserved to the point of being almost hidden, students stopped, turned, ran back to me, threw her arms around me, and yelled "I love you, McTeach!!"

Oh, geez. "I love you, too. Now, get off!"

Laughter ensued.

"Oh, McTeachy!!"

Sigh.

Just another typical day in middle school.

Monday, March 29, 2010

March 29: The Madness Continues

I hadn't really planned on shooting any hoops today, although I am determined to get better at this. But as I was walking back to my classroom during recess one of the kids tossed me the ball. "Take a shot, McTeach!" I couldn't help myself...I think I'm addicted. I would have stayed out there all day shooting hoops if I could figure out a way to teach grammar to thirty-six screaming seventh graders at the same time.

I'll work on that.

Anyway...I took the shot and...

Clank.

Great.

"No, no, no! We talked about this, remember?!"

Wait...which one of us is the teacher?

Taylor proceeded to give me a review of how to properly shoot the basketball. Elbows in, knees bent, jump and shoot. Got it.

Boy, did I get it! My second shot...SWISH!!

They probably heard me screaming from the office! What a great feeling! Thanks for the lessons, Taylor!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

March 25th: March Madness CTK-Style

I'm not sure how to begin to explain the negative mood I've been in for awhile now. My seventh graders are getting to that point where they start looking at each other as more than just the classmates they've known since kindergarten. It's the whole boy-girl thing. The girls are maturing faster than the boys, so they want to talk everything out. The boys just want to throw things. Preferably AT the girls.

The girls would like to hold on to this sense of family that they've created, especially since our visit to Camp Caritas in the fall. The boys just want to throw things. The more they focus on any one problem that they think the class has, the more of that problem we stumble into.

And then there's the teacher. I spend so much of my energy focused on schoolwork that never gets completed, that I feel like I'm losing my sense of self. And, of course, the more I focus on the negative aspects of my job, the more negativity finds me. So I talked to the kids today about this and I told them that we need to let go of the negativity and Find the Joy once again! I mean, it feels like it's been far too long since I made my students laugh...something that has always brought me joy; something that I'm really good at! But I've been so unhappy lately, that my sense of humor had even failed me.

As I was speaking to the kids this morning about letting go of the negativity, I realized that I wasn't really saying it for them. I was saying it for me! I'm the one who needs to Find the Joy again. It needs to start with someone; might as well be me!

So I took matters into my own hands today...literally. During lunch recess, I was walking over to the office and decided to stop where a couple of the boys were playing basketball. I took the ball from one of them and took the shot. It wasn't pretty. "Hey, Miss McMillan, try again!" Another ball was handed to me and I took another shot. Clank! Ooops.

Before I knew it, almost the entire seventh grade as well as a few eighth graders were surrounding me, cheering me on. And each time I'd miss, someone would throw the ball back to me. For future reference, it really pays to try and keep track of where every basketball is at any given time. You never know when one might come flying in at you from a totally unexpected source and hit you...where you don't want to be hit. All I can say is it's a good thing I had my sunglasses on, because the tears started welling up right away. That hurt!! It still hurts! But I didn't want the boy who hit me to feel horrible, so I picked up the ball and started shooting again.

Clank!

Oops.

"Try again, McTeachy!"

"Yeah, you can't give up!"

"What's with the elbow, McTizzo?"

Wait...what's wrong with my elbow?

"It's way up in the air. It should be tucked into your side."

Ohhhhh...I've gone back into softball mode and am holding a bat with my elbow up!

"Well, don't."

Thanks, Taylor. Good advice.

Well, I did manage to stink up the place, but I had a wonderful time doing it. The best part was the reaction of the kids. Each time I'd miss (which was every time!), the kids would shout out "Ohhhhh!!!" And then they'd throw me the ball and say, "Try again!" And I did...over and over and over. And, for a few minutes, we just had fun. Me...my kids...and some hoops.

Great stuff!

I did have one shot - my last shot - that was heading right for the basket. I could almost hear the "Swish!" when another ball came flying in from the right and...WHAM! knocked my ball right out of the line to the basket! The same boy who'd hit me with the basketball had thrown another ball toward the same basket and prevented the most beautiful swish ever!

So I chased him off the court.

Laughter ensued. What a beautiful sound!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23rd: Goofballs, All Y'All!

Ah, seventh graders. So often they make me want to cry. Whether it's because they're so frustrating or because they're so endearing is a toss-up on any given day. Today it was definitely the latter. Well, for most of the day anyway.

How can you not feel good about yourself when you're being followed by three seventh grade girls who are arguing about which of them loves you the most!

"I love you, McTeachy!"

"No, I love you, McTeachy!"

"Well, I love you more than both of them!!"

This conversation lasted the entire walk over from the office to middle school; that's several minutes of my life being forced to listen to adolescents stating how much they love me! I'll take it!

Then there's the student who has been teaching herself sign language, and has learned it at a remarkable rate! Yesterday she informed me that she's figured out how to sign "McTeachy." Ok, actually, it's more along the lines of "McTeacher" but it's close enough. I'm not sure how I feel about her teaching ALL of her classmates the sign...I'll have to get back to you on that.

By the way, what do you do about a student who raises her hand in the middle of a discussion on African history and, when called on, says, "I love you."

Answer: "I love you, too. Now, can we get back to the Shona Empire?"

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22nd: Kindnesses Abound!

I think I'm just going to have to accept the fact that I can't keep up with two blog posts per day. And I'm okay with that. Part of being a grown-up is knowing my limitations, right? Not wallowing in them and letting them get the best of me, but knowing how much I can handle and not pushing myself beyond it. This I can live with.

I do still try to focus on at least one positive thing per day; that was my goal when I began this project and that continues to be my goal each and every day. I'm just running out of time each day to get everything done AND get some sleep. [It's 11:15 p.m. as I'm writing this and the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. I may not be a math teacher, but even I can figure out that those figures don't add up to enough sleep!]

I love writing, however, and I love being able to share parts of my day with those who happen to stop by here. So I will continue to write as much and as often as I can.

Let's start with today. Last week was Random Acts of Kindness week. To celebrate, I asked each of my seventh graders to make one card. Actually, they were more like large notes...one for each and every person who works on our campus. The notes were to be anonymous and had to contain some sort of positive message for all the people at our school who make a difference in the lives of our children. We would deliver them in secret, hopefully, leaving them someplace that their recipient would find them and, again...hopefully...enjoy a moment of appreciation.

Each of my students drew a name out of a hat. Well, not so much a "hat" as a small cardboard box that I just happened to have on my desk. I made note of which student had each member of the faculty and staff, and the students set about making their cards. While I was walking around the room, one of the girls asked me if my name was in the box. I told her I'd kept my name out as we had more grown-ups on campus than I had students.

Care to guess what that student did?

Wait...I'm getting ahead of myself. More on that later.

So today we delivered our notes. All over campus! It was quite amusing to watch these goofy seventh graders trying to tape large notes to classroom doors without being spotted! I even had to run interference for one pair who was trying to tape a note to the Health Room door with its recipient sitting about two feet from them! The two boys got the biggest kick out of that. You would have thought we were secret agents or something.

One of my favorite moments came when I was standing in the computer lab and watched as three of my students delivered their notes to the small office off of the library (we call it the Hot Dog Room for some reason). These students were practically giddy as they snuck into the small room. I had thought they were just going to tape their notes to the door, as we had discussed, but they decided to take advantage of the fact that no one was in that office at the time. They taped three notes to the door and then ventured inside to deliver two more notes.



We had our note adventures late in the day today, so we haven't yet heard any reaction from anyone on campus except for our school secretary. The student who drew Mrs. Wilson's name actually taped her note to the large window that Mrs. Wilson sits behind. Nothing secret agent-like about that one, I'm afraid.

Tomorrow I'm going to ask my students to write a reflection on this experience and then ask members of the faculty and staff to share their thoughts as well. You can count on hearing more about this...hopefully tomorrow!

Oh, I guess before I sign off I should share with you what was waiting for me on my door when we got back from computers:


McTeachy. [sigh]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10th: So, Where Was I?

I've gotten a bit off-track with this blog, and I have to let myself be okay with that. Life has been quite crazy lately, and I've not been able to fit everything in. Last week was Catholic Schools Week which is just craziness defined. Add preparing for a big presentation at the end of that week (totally unrelated to Catholic Schools Week, it was on Personal Learning Networks) and you can imagine how exhausted I was by Sunday morning.

So, this morning I have a two-for-one offer for you. Two positive thoughts for the cost of one blog post.

Monday

Monday morning I arrived at school, still exhausted, still wanting to be in bed with the warm, cozy blankets pulled over my head and the even warmer furball named George next to me (the closeness of which is determined by how hungry he is), and I discovered someone has decorated my classroom door. Two of my seventh grade girls had been at school on Saturday for some sports-related activity, and they came over to my classroom to see if I was there and to say "hello." I am quite often in my classroom on Saturdays, so they were sure that they would find me there. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), I was at East Bay CUE giving my PLN presentation, so I missed their visit. They decided to leave me a note or two. I don't know where they found the materials needed to do this (I don't know any seventh graders who carry around masking tape!), but it made my day, Monday!! Imagine starting not only your day, but your entire week seeing this:

...and this...


I don't know how "McTeach" became "McTeachy," but I'll take it! So my Monday began with a big smile which, I'm sure you'll agree, is a major accomplishment! Oh, and just so you know, I took a Sharpie to their sign. The pencil they'd used originally didn't photograph well.

Tuesday

Tuesday's positive moment was brief, but it made me smile, once again. I was walking back to my classroom as the lower grades were returning to their classrooms after lunch. As I started to walk past the first graders who were waiting in line for their teacher to come retrieve them, young Michael stopped me, saying, "Hi!!!" in that sing-song kind of voice that lasts for about five minutes. Michael comes into my classroom about once a week for Faith Families activities; he is just the cutest thing! The last day before Christmas break Michael showed up wearing nicely-pressed pants and shirt, and the cutest little Christmas tie!

But back to yesterday. After he stopped singing, "Hi!!!" I stopped and responded, "Hi, Michael! How are you?" And this was the best part...he answered me with, "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?"

Thank you.

How are you?

Isn't that just the cutest thing ever?! Such a polite young man...I hope I get to see that same polite young man when he arrives in my classroom in five or six years.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

February 4th: Love Is Flying Everywhere!

A wise man (and his three wise friends) once sang, "All You Need Is Love." [I'm sure "and chocolate" was implied.] This week at school our gospel value is Love, so I've been talking to my seventh graders about how we let our friends and family know that we love them. I asked my students, "When was the last time you told your parents 'I love you'?" About 90% of my class of 36 had said those words that very morning. As it turns out, they say those three little words on a daily basis to their parents.

I find that quite remarkable.

Well, since this initial conversation, they seem to be making a point of telling each other "I love you!" loudly enough so that I can hear it. Or they just come up to ME and say, "I love you." And then they wait.

Now, to be honest, I've never been all that comfortable with that phrase. And I'm not sure if hearing it so much this week has made me more comfortable, or if I've heard it so often in the space of a few days that it has become commonplace. But if I step back for a moment and take a look (and a listen) from a detached observer's point of view, I think it's pretty cool. My students are so comfortable expressing their feelings (unlike their teacher) that it gives me hope for their future. I hope they carry this open-heartedness with them throughout their lives.

Even though I don't say it very often, my students do know I love them. They tell me that all the time, "You know you love us, Miss McMillan!"

No, I don't.

"Yes, you do!"

Don't argue with me! I'm the teacher!

"Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh, Miss McMillan, you're so funny!"

-sigh-

This afternoon a few of the girls decided to leave me a little message on my whiteboards. Normally I frown on the kids writing on my boards. I have thirty-six students; if one writes on the board, they all have to write on the board. I don't have that much board space! But I have to admit that this was pretty gosh darn cool! Although the coolest part of my day was yet to come.

One of my seventh grade girls has a younger sister in second grade, Becca. Now, apparently my loud and obnoxious self can be just a wee bit intimidating to the younger kids. I say hello to Becca whenever I see her, and she responds with eyes filled with terror. I may be projecting just a bit. After school today, Becca was in my classroom with her sister Emma and friends. The girls were being their regular goofy selves and talking eighty million miles per minute at me. I looked down at Becca and she rolled her eyes. We were united on this one: seventh grade girls are weird.

I finally managed to convince the girls that it was time for them to leave, and they started throwing the l-word at me again. "We love you McTeach!"

Yeah, ok...get out of my room!!!

"Ha! Ha! Ha! You know you love us!"

I know no such thing! Get out!!

"Oh, Miss McMillan! You're so funny!!"

-sigh-

[Stick with me, here. The best part is about to be revealed!]

As they were walking across the blacktop, Becca turned around and yelled back at me, "I love you, McTeach!!" I was so shocked! It took me a moment, but then I just started howling with laughter! I mean, doubled over, tears streaming down my face, side-splitting laughter! Just to be clear, it wasn't what she said...it was how she said it. She said it exactly like the goofy seventh grade girls I see every day.

This is how they become so goofy, you see. Their training begins early!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

January 31st: Feeling the Love

Open House! Now that it's over I can breathe a sigh of relief. I spent all day yesterday in the classroom cleaning and setting everything up, and I have to admit that my room looked awesome! It's actually a point of pride for me that my room always looks great; I must get that from my mother. But I also know that I function better in a clean, well-organized classroom, and I know my students do too.

Back to Open House. It went incredibly well! The parents had nothing but wonderful things to say to me about the classroom and the student work that was on display. A few even pulled me aside to thank me for making this such a great year for their child. They even shared with me the impact I've had on their seventh grader. There's a part of me that still doesn't want to hear that; a part that doesn't want to believe that I've touched anyone. After all, I still don't believe that I am doing this job the "right way," whatever that may be.

So today I just tried to listen and accept the praise that was being given to me. Why is that so hard? Would it really be easier to accept if I just believed what they were saying? Am I supposed to be striving to be the teacher I want to be or the teacher my students need me to be? This is now my fourth year of teaching, and I still have more questions than answers.

When do I get answers?

Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29th: Let Go and Let Students

I don't know why I've always been so hesitant to let students take more control in the classroom. Unless, of course, we start talking about my own control issues. But let's not...that won't be a pretty conversation!

One of my personal goals for this school year has been to work on my control issues by letting students make more decisions about their own learning and, more importantly, helping to implement those decisions...that's the hard part.

One of my weakest areas as a teacher has to be the dreaded bulletin board. I have seven of them: six in my classroom and one in the office hallway. For the most part, the boards in my classroom don't really change all that much. But I really needed to do something about one of them because it looked so bare.

There was more to the board than this; I had pictures of a few books on the board
with yarn attaching them to the appropriate genre on the poster. I just don't have a
picture of it...probably because it wasn't worth the effort of getting my camera out!


As we're getting ready for Open House this weekend, I decided to ask my students for their ideas of what should be on display for their parents to see. Several students mentioned our Hope Notes project and could we do something with that. Bianca suggested each student make a new Hope Note or two and we combine them all to form one large Hope Note Quilt. I loved that idea! Then Colleen suggested we use my pathetic bulletin board (my words, not hers) to display our Hope Notes. Awesome idea!!

Later, I asked Colleen if she would take charge of creating our new bulletin board. I had to remind myself several times that she was in charge...not me! When she first shared with me her idea, I was hesitant. I just couldn't see how it would work.

"Um, remember," I said to myself, "you're not the creative one here!"

Right. I knew that.

Colleen solicited the aid of Carrie and Sierra; she was going to need it. The project got bigger than I had anticipated.

"It's okay," I reminded myself, "they are the creative ones."

Right. I knew that.

I stopped by the back table where they were working to check in and see how they were doing. They'd come up with a new idea and were explaining it to me. My inner non-artist critic couldn't see how it was ever going to work, and I started to stop them.

"It's okay," I said to myself again, "let it go. All will be well."

Right. I knew that.

I repeated the phrase, "Whatever you decide will be awesome," several times to the girls. But I think it was really directed at me. A reminder that I had given up control of this project to those who were born with the creative gene that I was not.

And here is the finished product:


The letters in "Hope" were created by using individual Hope Notes (made on colored index cards). I need to change the border since the board no longer has something to do with literature, but I just love what the girls came up with!

"You see," I told myself as I was taking this picture, "you see what can happen when you give up a little control? Something amazing can be the result!"

Right. I know that...now.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 27th: What Comfort Zone!

Ok, I'll admit it. I don't exactly live well with the phrase "Change is Good." I like my comfort zone. I can kick back and relax here...in my comfy clothes, eating comfort food. Don't bother me kid, I'm complacent.

But I took a chance today. I stuck one toe into the "Change is Good" camp, started to draw it back when things weren't going as planned, but wound up, eventually, with both feet planted firmly in Camp CiG!

Let me explain.

I've never used a video camera before. A still camera, no problem. I can figure out a still camera without much effort. But a video camera that records not only the action in front of the lens, but the potential cursing from the teacher behind the lens? No thank you! That's the last thing I need. But I needed to think like a teacher today, and consider, first and foremost, what was best for my students.

And after all of the hard work they've put into their recent social studies project, I knew it needed to be captured on video. Especially when I found out that one of the groups had written an entire musical! That's right...Umayyads vs. Abassids - The Musical. "Umayyad, my lord, Umayyad..." (Think Kumbaya)

Anyway...

This entire project pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone. Let's start with the fact that I let them choose their own groups. I've never done that before, always preferring to arrange the groups myself to assure best possible work. There was always this little voice inside my head saying, "But if they work with their friends who have similar interests, they may be able to tap into their creativity and create a better project."

Shhhh. Silly inner voice. School is no place for creativity!

Step One into Camp CiG: Students picked their own groups.
Result: Awesomeness!

Once they'd chosen their own groups, they were allowed to decide on their own project. All I told them was they needed to somehow summarize the current chapter in their world history book, "The Rise of Muslim States." We brainstormed some different ideas: posters, timelines, skits, videos, even the dreaded powerpoint.
  • How
  • many
  • bullet points
  • can
  • you
  • fit
  • on
  • one
  • slide?
In the end, most groups are doing skits, videos, or a combination thereof. One group, my artists, decided to create a very large map of the territories once controlled by the Abassids or the Umayyads. They did a good job on their project, but they had an awesome time creating it.

Step Two into Camp CiG: Students chose their own project.
Result: So far, so awesome!

The one requirement I placed on their projects was that they had to use Google Docs to write their scripts. That way they could all work on it from home without having parents send the dreaded "I can't believe you're making my child work on a group project outside of school!" email to the teacher. Of course, having them use Google Docs also allows me to see who is doing what portion of the writing. I don't think they've caught onto that yet.

Shhhh.

Step Three into Camp CiG: Students use Google Docs to write scripts.
Result: Way cool!!

Okay, so using Google Docs with my students wasn't really a step outside of my comfort zone. But it was for some of them, and the teacher has to deal with that. So, Step Three it is.

And then there was the video camera. I went over to the media center at lunch to retrieve the camera and the tripod from our tech coordinator. Anna was also kind enough to give me a quick tutorial on how to use the camera. A tutorial, it turns out, that somehow got deleted from my brain as soon as I walked out the door.

Fast forward to me standing in the back of the classroom, fumbling with the tripod and then trying to figure out how to use the camera. "Wait," I said out loud to myself, "what did Anna say to do?" The little voice inside my brain returned. "This is just not going to work! It's time to give in. You'll never get this figured out. And have you noticed the chaos around you? Students are swinging from the light fixtures; spitwads are flying everywhere; someone just ran through the room screaming, 'Miss McMillan is stupid! She can't do anything!'"

Ok, that last one was just me. And my classroom still has its hanging light fixtures, and my walls are spitwad-free. But I did think about giving up..."It would be so much easier," was the thought that entered my brain. Just give up and move on.

But I had promised my kids! And after I made that promise, they decided that they could sell DVDs of the movie to family and friends and donate the money to Haiti. So now if I gave up, I wasn't just letting my kids down...I was letting all of Haiti down!! That's just too much pressure!

Whenever I train new people on using the Promethean ActivBoard, I always say the same thing, "If you have any trouble or can't figure something out, just ask the kids!" Genius!! Within a few minutes of asking the question, we had it figured out and were ready to roll!!!

Step Four into Camp CiG: Figuring out how to use a video camera
Result: I haven't seen the video yet, but I'm hoping it will be total awesomeness!!!!

I shared with you in another post that I discovered one of the groups was incorporating something I had said in class about the pronunciation of "apricots" (it's not spelled APEricots!) I had seen it in their Google Doc, so I knew it was coming. But it still caught me off guard when they said their lines about APEricots.

So, for just a moment, picture the teacher standing directly behind the rolling video camera, trying her darndest not to laugh! I wanted so badly to do a little LOLing, but also didn't want my rather loud, obnoxious laugh (or even my softer Scooby-Doo-like giggle) to drown out the girls on the video camera. Well, the harder I tried not to laugh, the more the tears poured down my face. And, of course, the more the teacher tries not to laugh, the more her students will notice her not laughing causing them to laugh even harder, which makes it harder for the teacher...

See where I'm going with this? It ought to be quite interesting to listen to the video.

The two skits we were able to see today, a courtroom scene very cleverly written, and Umayyad vs. Abassid - The Musical, were both wonderfully done. I'm so proud of my students! And, yes, I'm feeling a little proud of myself tonight for having taken a step or two outside my comfort zone. And now I'm ready to incorporate video into my classroom more often. I'm already composing my letter to Santa for next Christmas: "Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is a class set of Flip cameras!" That's not too much to ask...is it?

Monday, January 25, 2010

January 25th: That Was One Long Day!

Today was one incredibly long day. Mondays usually are, but add in the beginnings of a cold and the day seems doubly long. It's my own fault, of course. I had a massage client on Saturday and I actually said the following words out loud: "Well, I can't remember the last time I was sick!"

Brilliant.

I've been alternating between blaming my seventh graders who have been sick a lot lately, and blaming George who hogs all the heat around here:

Before I fall into my Nyquil-induced coma, let me share with you the highlight from today. After school today, one of the moms stopped me when I was walking back to my classroom. She asked me if I'd gone to church on Sunday; for a second I thought I was talking to my own mother! The reason she asked was so she could ascertain whether or not I'd heard our priest's sermon on Sunday. I hadn't, so she proceeded to summarize it for me. She said that Father was talking about the importance of having people in our lives that make us laugh, and the importance of laughter. She finished by saying, "You are that person for our children, and I just want to thank you for that."

It was really touching. It's not often that we teachers hear such positive feedback from parents or students or the powers that be. I know that this two- or three-minute conversation made a huge difference in my day. I wonder what a difference it could make in the educational realm if more teachers heard something positive each day. I wonder how we could make that happen.

I wonder a lot of things.

Like what happened to yesterday's post. That's easy. I didn't write one. I had a lot of work to get done on a Sunday: lesson plans, grading, progress reports, creating a wiki for an upcoming presentation, more grading. And I just decided that it was okay to skip one day. No guilt. No worry. It's okay!

And now...off to bed!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January 23rd: Can I NOT Think About School Today?

Apparently not. Apparently it's all I think about...well, almost all. I was so sure that today's Thought Post would be about something other than school. And for most of the day it was. I had a massage client in Danville today which assured me that I would at least get out of the apartment and enjoy our first no rain day in a week. Before I left, I made sure to grab my camera. I was determined to get pictures from someplace, any place, other than school.

On my way back to Pleasant Hill, I decided to take the scenic route, rather than stay on the freeway for the entire drive. What a great decision! One of the benefits of all this rain has been the greening of our California foothills. It made for a beautiful drive. I've taken this route home many times since moving to Pleasant Hill more than ten years ago, but I have never stopped at the overlook at a place called Dinosaur Hill Park.

I had this idea in my head of a picture I wanted to get for today's 365 Photo Challenge, and something told me to stop at Dinosaur Point. And I managed to find exactly the picture I was looking for:


Of course, I couldn't stop there! I wandered around the foothills for awhile, taking pictures and lots of deep breaths. The air was so clean after the recent rains; it just felt good to be out in it. And to be doing something I have such a passion for - photography.

By the way, does anyone still need mistletoe:


So, back to why I was thinking about school again...or is it "still"? My seventh graders are currently using Google Docs to write scripts together for an upcoming social studies project. I've given them a tremendous amount of latitude on this project. They were allowed to choose their own groups for the first time with me, and so far it's been pretty awesome. The only real assignment I gave them was that they had to summarize the chapter about the Abassid and Umayyad Empires. We brainstormed a number of possible ideas, but this is a group that really likes to do skits! So I have one group that is creating models of Abassid and Umayyad markets (which sounds oh so cool!), and the rest of the class will be doing a combination of skits and videos.

The one requirement for the skits and/or videos is that they have to write an actual script using Google Docs. It's been a lot of fun for me, as their teacher, to pop in on their documents and see what they've been creating (can't wait to see Abassids vs. Umayyads - The Musical).

I should probably stop and give you, my reader, a bit of background on me. I say things weird. Make that "weirdLY" (silly grammar teacher). Take this word, for example: apricot. How do you pronounce it? Do you say APP-ricot? Or APE-ricot? I say APP-ricot. Don't ask me why. I just always have. Well, for some reason, I said APP-ricot in class the other day and I got that look from some of the kids; that "Miss McMillan is so weird" look. So, I grabbed my ActivBoard pen and wrote on the board:

A...P...R...I...C...O...T

while saying, "It's spelled APricot...not:

A...P...E...R...I...C...O...T"

Well, they just thought that was hilarious. I didn't know how hilarious until this evening. I was checking in on my students' Google Docs scripts and I discovered this:


Seventh graders! They just think they are soooooo hilarious! But, can I tell you...I absolutely LOVE it! It made me feel special, somehow, that they would include me in their skit like this. And I know that the rest of the class will get quite a kick out of it.

Not a bad "non-school" day, eh?

Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22nd: Am I Smarter Than A Seventh Grader?

Probably not. At least not when it comes to all things techy. I often tell my students that we are smarter together than we can be separately, and this morning I asked them to help me figure something out...and they were brilliant!!

We've been using Google Apps for Education this year, and I, for one, have been loving it! My students use Google Sites for their blogs, I use Google Forms to create surveys, and we use Google Docs, but definitely not to their fullest capacity. So I asked my seventh graders this morning for more ideas of ways we could use Google Docs in the classroom. It was a little quiet at first, but once they got rolling...as they always do...they came up with some amazing ideas! Here are just a few:
  • Brainstorming: working together to come up with ideas for projects or fundraisers;
  • Student council: the class reps could share their report with their classmates and then ask for feedback or questions;
  • They could post math problems and then no one would have to take their textbook home (I don't know about that one);
  • They could create a class study guide for the next test;
  • Literature Circles: I'm still thinking about this one! Looking forward to trying to use Docs with literature circles. Should make it much easier for groups to collaborate;
  • My Favorite: Teachers could make forms available to students now that we can upload to Google Docs. That way, there's no excessive waste of paper, students could look at project handouts and rubrics online whenever they need it (like after they've lost their handout AGAIN!)
I absolutely loved getting geeky with my seventh graders this morning! This class is amazing in that they can always come up with great ideas!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21st: The Supercool Factor

What an interesting day it turned out to be. My morning began with an amazing conversation with my seventh graders about identity. I posed the question, "What is an identity?" It didn't take them too long to come up with "it tells who you are," "it explains how you're different from others," and "it's who you are to everyone else."

Colleen added, "It's something to be recognized or remembered by or something that's associated with you."

Dominic offered, "You can change your name, but your identity remains." He gave the example of Chad Ocho-Cinco, which made quite a few students, and the teacher, groan.

And that led to an amazing debate!! They had so many thoughts on this subject, and I kept throwing more questions at them to spur them on. Quite a few people disagreed with Dominic, saying "If you change your name, you DO change your identity," or "You can't change your identity, but you can add to it." But Devin is the one who gave us our new seventh grade mantra:

"Identity is like a pizza. You can change the toppings or add more to it, but you're still a pizza."

Dude!

I love how these kids debate an issue! If they disagree with a classmate, they'll raise their hand and begin with, "I have to disagree with..." Then, of course, the person they're disagreeing with will usually raise their hand and say, "Rebuttal!" They are also very polite when they agree with a classmate. "Going along with what so-and-so said..." or "adding onto what that dude said..." It's pretty darn cool!

Two more quotes from our conversation about identity:

Nick: "Your identity changes when you change."

Matthew: "It's difficult to be someone you want to be, but it's easy to be yourself."

Can you imagine?! I get to have conversations like this every day!!

The supercoolness continued in eighth grade later in the morning. I re-introduced Diigo to the class, which was a lot of fun for me. I saw a few faces light up with that "Oh, I can so totally use this!" look. They've already started bookmarking sites for their research.

After we were done with the Diigo introduction, I set them to their next task. They will be working in pairs to summarize the events before, during, and after the French and Indian War. I'm trying to encourage more multiple intelligences work with my students, giving them more varied options for completing a project. Some students are making posters that basically list the events, a couple are making maps with key events on them, and there will be a few (hopefully non-painful) powerpoints. I was happy that they at least let me talk them into using Google presentations for this. Knowing they could work on it at the same time from different places was a big selling point.

But the coolest thing...absolutely beyond supercool...that happened was when Jacob and Nick came up to me, hesitantly I might add, and asked if I would consider letting them use Google Wave to summarize the events of the War. I practically started yelling, "OHMYGOSH!!!! YES!!!!" Seriously, I think they both took a step backward! I must have told them a dozen times in the span of about ten minutes, "I just CAN'T WAIT to see what you come up with!!!" How cool is this going to be!!!!

Ok, one other quick supercool moment from today. About ten minutes after Jacob and Nick asked me about Google Wave, I was getting ready to take my seventh graders up to the gym to pick up their lunches. I looked outside to discover that it was POURING! But through the rain I could see something large and white on big lawn (where kids play soccer or football or baseball). At first I thought it was a crane! But later in the day I did some research, and now I'm thinking it's probably an egret! Whatever it was, it was taking advantage of our swamp-like field for a few minutes, perhaps waiting for the rain to stop.

It was a wonderful moment to just stop and think what a marvel nature is, always ready with a gift to share with us...if we'll only open our eyes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20th: They Inspire Me

My students. They make me laugh; they make me cry; they make me want to yank every hair from my head! But most of all, they inspire me. They inspire me to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better reader, even a better photographer. Most importantly, they inspire me to be a better person.

I have some amazingly talented artists in my seventh grade class. Today, during art awareness, the students were working with paints trying to replicate some of the work of Wayne Thiebaud. Thiebaud is famous for paintings of delectable bakery items, cakes, pies, and yes, even cupcakes. Each student today had a cupcake that they were to paint. I wandered around the room with my camera, mostly just observing these artists at work. As I was passing Dom and Devin, I heard Devin whine, "I can't do the frosting!!" I stopped and was about to say a negatively-phrased platitude like, "That's not what I want to hear!" Before I could say anything, thankfully, Dom quietly said, "Dude, sure you can! Just do this." And he proceeded to demonstrate a few strokes of the pencil.

I didn't think much of it at first. It needed time to percolate in my brain. A few minutes later, I was back at Dom and Devin's desks, and these two incredibly talkative boys were focused so intently on their paintings that they didn't even notice me taking photographs. I looked at Devin's painting and, sure enough, he'd done a wonderful job on his frosting. The few positively-phrased words that Dom had used worked so much better than what I was going to say.

What a wonderful lesson for the teacher today!

Devin's Cupcake.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19th: When The Rain Comes


Phew! What a day! We had everything: wind, rain, thunder, lightning, sunshine, rain DURING the sunshine. There was even a bit of hail as well as a double rainbow! Beautiful!!

Thunder and lightning is not something we get a lot of here in Northern California. So when it does arrive in full force, as it did this afternoon, it's quite noticeable. Especially when you're teaching a special class after school with students who have attention issues. Fortunately for them, their teacher also has attention issues.

I know the proper response as the teacher should have been to keep them in their seats and convince them that there was nothing for them to see. "Stay focused on your work, please." But who are we kidding? I was the first one who headed to the window to spot the lightning! It didn't take long for me to figure out that this was something that's fairly rare for my students, so why not enjoy it with them!

Rather than hide us behind closed windows and doors, I threw open the blinds and opened the door. The lightning didn't last long, but it was just long enough for us!

Monday, January 18, 2010

January 18th: Imagine the Possibilities

It was a lovely, stormy day here in Northern California today. The kind of day that is best spent inside, under a warm blanket, with a fire going in the fireplace.

Or...if you're like me...you enjoy getting out in the storm, feeling the wind and the rain on your face. It may sound odd, but I always feel more alive when Mother Nature is in close contact! And it looks like I'll be feeling more alive a lot this week.

Wandering around in the storm today, taking pictures, gave me plenty of time to think. My thoughts today were centered mostly around education and my place in it. Mostly what I came up with were just more questions: What is my part in education? Am I supposed to be in the classroom? Is that the best place for me to affect change? Should I be thinking more along the lines of working to change education on a different level? And what would that look like? How would I get there?

Perhaps I'm already on my way there, and I just don't realize it yet. I've had some wonderful conversations recently with other educators. Conversations that make me feel hopeful that I am on the right path. I may not know exactly where that path is heading, but I have to learn to trust that I'm heading in the right direction. It's the journey that matters, not the destination.


Photo: Storm! by Liebedich

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 17th: Kids 4 Haiti

It may seem rather ironic, but today's positive thought stems from tragedy. Specifically, the recent tragic earthquake in Haiti. I was listening to Conversations this morning, expecting to hear a conversation about why one would become a teacher. Instead, the topic never strayed from Haiti. At first, the talk was all about how horrific the situation is in Haiti, and how the people there must be suffering.

And then the topic turned. At Christmas, I told my uncle "You know you're meant to be an educator when you realize you're always looking for ways to turn everything into a lesson." And so it went this morning. The topic went from tragedy to hope in a matter of minutes as we started planning ways that our students could make a difference for those most affected by the earthquake. By the end of the hour, we had the start of a plan, a wiki was created for the project:

Kids4Haiti

We even had our very own motto:

Connecting the world, one wiki at a time.

No, I don't expect that we'll save the world...or even Haiti...with our project. But it's exciting to at least feel a part of something great. Something that has the potential to change lives...maybe even our own.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

January 16th: My Saturday Morning PD

Ah, Saturday mornings! A chance to sleep in and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the ever-expanding list of chores. Of course, when you wake up to that face, your first thought might be "Oh, holy cow! I have got to get out of here!" I assure you, his glare is worse than his claw.

Well, no...not really.

Anyway...

I had been looking forward to this morning all week, and not just because it meant a little quality time with Mr. Warm and Fuzzy. Every Saturday morning I try to catch the latest Classroom 2.0 Live session. I was especially eager to attend the session this morning as the guests were Jim Beeghley and his daughter Sarah. Sarah is a remarkable young lady whose interest in the U.S. Civil War spurred her to create the award-winning Civil War Sallie project. Sallie Ann is a stuffed bear that travels around the country visiting classrooms and battlefields (hopefully they don't prove to be one and the same!)

Listening to Sarah this morning was absolutely inspiring! I left the session with dozens of ideas for future lessons, but also with a renewed sense of purpose. I need to do more for my students in the classroom. I need to be a better teacher for my students. And I know I can be. Quite often it seems too overwhelming, and I know that at least part of that is because I make it that way. Something to work on!

But then I hear someone like Sarah and I am reminded that I really can do this job. I have good ideas, I just need to work on my follow-through. And I need to get my students involved in more projects like Sarah's. I hope to find a way to help them create their own projects. Something Sarah said this morning has stuck with me throughout the day: "Find something you're passionate about, and have fun with it." I am passionate about education. But I have not been having fun with it. It makes for very long days when you're having to trudge through them.

And what about my students? What are they passionate about? How can I help them find their passion? How can I harness that passion into something they'll remember? Into something that will make a difference? To them and the world!

That's a lot to think about. But that's a good thing! Thank you, Sarah, for reminding me that I have a purpose. I can't wait to have Civil War Sallie come visit our classroom!

If you're interested in learning more about Civil War Sallie, check out the following links:

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15th: I Survived!

I made it through another week of middle school and found Friday at the end of it! And as far as Fridays go, this one wasn't too bad. Normally Fridays just drag on and on. But today went surprisingly well. Perhaps the prospect of a three-day weekend kept us all, teachers and kids alike, saner than usual!

At recess today, two of my eighth grade girls came running into my classroom. They were obviously excited about something. The eighth graders watch the CNN Student News every day, but they were caught a bit off guard when Samantha started screaming "That's my comment!!!" Turns out, she had written a comment on Carl Azuz's blog and he actually mentioned it during the show. Needless to say, Samantha was beside herself!! The best part? She couldn't wait to come into my classroom and tell me about it!!

How cool is that!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 14th: If We Build It...

My seventh graders and I had a nice long chat this morning about the earthquake in Haiti. It isn't where we started the conversation, but it's where we wound up. I often like to ask my students for input on what we're doing in class. They usually have some great ideas, and my hope is that it makes them feel like they have some say in where their education takes them. It is their education, after all.

This morning I asked them for some ideas on a project for social studies. One of the first ideas that came out of the conversation..."we should do something about Haiti!" Well, what do you mean by "something"? "We should raise money to send them supplies and stuff!" Stuff. Any other teachers out there who've banned the word "stuff" in their classrooms?

In the span of about ten minutes, we went from a bake sale to raise money for "stuff" to holding a triathlon to raise money to build a community center in Haiti! The kids would even like to design the community center!

Hmmm.

Part of me kept wanting to stop them and say, "You know, you're talking about a lot of work, a huge commitment, and who knows if we can even pull any of this off." It was really hard to be supportive of their big ideas, but I managed to fight off my inner pessimist. My kids can change the world. They just need me to step out of the way!

My favorite moment this morning was when one of my students raised her hand and said, "Um, we should probably do some research first."

Really??? What a fabulous idea!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13th: Moments of Hilarity

Today provided me with several moments of laughter, and not just from my own students, either. I was in the health room during the lower grades' recess, when two second grade girls walked in. It was fairly obvious that young Nadia had hurt herself out on the playground; she came in fully-equipped with tears and everything! I, of course, had to ask, "Nadia! What'd you do???"

Nadia: "I did something on the playground, and I did something to my arm, and now something hurts."

McTeach: "Wow, that's a whole lot of something!"

Nadia: stares at McTeach. Little kids don't get me.

Walking back towards middle school I watched as a first grade girl Irish-danced her way across the schoolyard. I thought to myself, "Now, there's something you don't see every day."

And then there was the lunch-time visit from my eighth grade girls! I think I may have even gotten a few words in today! I don't think anyone heard me...but I at least put something out there!

The entire conversation began with them peppering me with questions about their high school recommendations. They knew the teachers had met this morning to talk about all of them and they were more than just a bit nervous. They have no need to be, but I wasn't divulging any information so they moved right along.

Funniest moment: Now, don't ask me how the topic got here, but Katie told us that her mom always tells her that she doesn't worry about Katie being kidnapped.

Katie: "She says I talk so much that the kidnappers would get irritated with me and bring me back!"

Megan and Makenzie: "Well, it is true."

Katie: "Oh, I know it is, but still!"

Now, that's funny!