Space! (And Other Things, Too)

Our kids really love building rocketships out of blocks, so we decided to do a space study! Since my co-teacher is great at singing with the kids, we started with The Family of the Sun (sung to the tune of Farmer in the Dell, and which was apparently written by two men from the National Air and Space Museum). During our circle time on Monday, we had a brainstorm session where we asked our students to tell us things they already knew about space or the planets. Throughout the week, we used our circle times to talk about space and planets – a few facts about each planet, the three layers of Earth and the moon (I used felt to create a ball of layers, which the kids got to take apart!), rotation and orbits, and stars. During our circle sessions, we always let the kids collaborate and share their knowledge, and they have to give us a fact they’ve learned before they transition to centers or lining up to go outside. We also started with an art project on Monday, since our kids love to paint! We used styrofoam spheres and orange, silver, and black paint. The students shared the painting duties, so even though we only had 9 balls to paint, everyone got a turn. On Tuesday, we laid out all sorts of accessories – beads, pipe cleaners, feathers, tissue paper – and let the kids decorate however they wanted. Then we hung it up on Wednesday! We did have to talk about rules for the mobile, since it’s low enough that they are tempted to jump for it. Every so often, someone gives into the temptation, but they’re pretty good about not treating it like a piñata :)

Painted & decorated by our students

Painted & decorated by our students

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Painting with Flowers

A few weeks ago, we noticed that our kids were really getting into digging for worms in the rock pit, so we decided to do a flower/worm study in the classroom! One of the art projects we did was to pick flowers from around the school, and use them as paintbrushes for some collaborative painting. It was a big hit! Our kids love using odd objects to paint with (to date: cars, dinosaurs, flowers, and string). Next time, I’d love to try extracting colors from flowers (hello, Pinterest) and using those to paint with!

My students picked flowers from around the school, then used them as brushes to paint!

My students picked flowers from around the school, then used them as brushes to paint!

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Mixing Colors

Inspired by the book Mouse Paint, my 3-year-old student was experimenting with color mixes as she drew pictures. “What does green and yellow make? Ugh, nothing!” This was said in all good humor, and she continued her color experiments! (Her next discovery was that all of the colors combined made brown.)

Experimenting with color

Experimenting with color

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Oceans

Last week, we did a study on oceans! We started the Friday before by brainstorming animals that live in the ocean – my kids came up with quite a list! Some of the animals they mentioned were sharks, dolphins, fish, octopuses, seahorses, jellyfish, stingrays, whales, starfish, and pufferfish.

On Monday, we read An Octopus is Amazing during our morning circle, and then the students had to tell me an octopus fact from the book before picking their center. For our art project, they created an ocean backdrop – poster paper with blue and silver glitter paint, blue glitter, and blue sand. The kids had a blast, crowding around the art table to paint and glue! I also started with more students than supplies, which meant that they had to practice sharing and taking turns.

 

Painting our ocean!

Painting our ocean!


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Choosing My Battles

As a first-year preschool teacher, I’m on a learning curve for just about everything-from how to handle tantrums, to planning and implementing curriculum, to parent communication. Today, I want to talk about something that I’ve just started to realize I need to work on…choosing my battles. That is, learning how to decide which behaviors to comment on and correct, and which ones to let go.

I’m honored to share that I wrote this as a guest post for Megan Allen (2010 Florida Teacher of the Year, teacherpreneur, and fellow redhead) on Center for Teaching Quality! I was lucky enough to have Megan as a professor during my senior year of college, when she served as Educator-in-Residence at University of Central Florida. Since then, she’s been a mentor and enthusiastic guide as I’ve begun to traverse the wonderful world of teaching! Please check out the full post on the CTQ website - I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

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Insights

Hello, blog old friend. I realize that a lot has happened since my last post in August, and I’ve been in such a whirlwind that I haven’t had time to sit down and write! This post is going to skip over some beginning things (I’ll talk about those in my next post), but I had such a fantastic revelation about myself today that I needed to write it down and look at it.

Important background for this post: I’m a teacher now! About 3 weeks after moving to Portland, I was hired as lead teacher at a childcare/early education center; the center serves families with kids 6 weeks to 5 years old, and I work with an adorable preschool class of 3- and 4-year olds. 

I had a meeting with LT today, who is an early childhood mental health consultant. She works for a child and family services group in Oregon, and serves the children at our preschool. Part of her job is also to do observations and feedback for the preschool teachers for our center. We were talking about goals and strategies for my room, and some classroom management ideas that I could use to rein in some of my more energetic kids.

My class ranges from young 3-year-olds to almost 5-year-olds, which means there is also a range of emotional and behavioral levels. Some of my students can be highly active, but know when it’s time to settle down and sit (mostly) quietly on the carpet to participate during our circle time. There are a few students who consistently need extra help to refocus their energy or attention in a more positive or respectful way, and there’s one student in particular who I feel like I butt heads with a lot. I have tried extinction – ignoring the behavior, so he sees that it doesn’t get him the attention that he wants – but he can keep it up longer than I can ignore it and still keep the rest of my kids calm! Removing him from the active environment (e.g. sitting in a chair if he’s too distracting on the carpet) will sometimes work, but he often works himself up into a tantrum that’s just as distracting as his negative behaviors.

He’s not the only child that acts this way – these are 3- and 4-year old kids, after all. They are still learning how to behave and react – when it’s okay to run, and when it’s time to be quieter; how to accept “no” or “not right now” as an answer; how to be respectful. And although he struggles more than some of the others to control his behavior, he’s certainly not the only one who is having trouble regulating physically or emotionally – I definitely have a  few other students who need about the same level of redirection and intervention as he does. But for some reason – there’s no other way to say this – he just gets under my skin. And that makes it hard to sympathize with him. It’s tough to dig down for that little extra bit of patience and understanding that he needs.

But today, when I was talking with LT about my classroom goals, it hit me – a sudden flash of insight, like a lightning bolt. It was totally unexpected, and it staggered me. It’s not really that this student is so bad - it’s that I look at his negative behavior, and feel like I’m a bad teacher.

Time for a deep breath. I found this thought entering my mind, and then saying it almost simultaneously. And as soon as I said it, I knew it was right. When my kids are participating during circle time, or discovering and playing during centers, and this one student is yelling or talking back or running around – I see that one and feel like I’m failing. If I was a good teacher, wouldn’t all 20 of my kids be on task? If I was good at classroom management, wouldn’t I be able to get this one student to lay quietly during nap time, or sit quietly on the carpet? Wouldn’t I be able to have a more lasting impact on helping this one student turn his negative behaviors into positive actions? I have been letting the behavior of one student dictate how I feel about myself as a teacher.

As soon as I said it, I felt relieved; a weight lifted off of my shoulders – off of my heart. I hadn’t even known that I’d been feeling this way, but somewhere in the back of my head, I had felt like I was failing. LT and I talked about it some more, and her feedback helped me realize that I’m not failing, not a bit. I’m a first-year teacher working her butt off to reach all of my kids, and help them to learn and grow as best they can, and I’m actually doing a pretty darn good job. And now I can do even better when I go in tomorrow, with a fresh head and heart. Without the pressure and guilt taking up space, I have plenty of room for the extra empathy, the little bit more of patience and understanding that this student needs from me.

I’d love to hear from other teachers – what “aha” moments did you have during your first year of teaching? What are some experiences in the classroom that helped you focus and improve your teaching style? 

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Devour the World

“I think it’s part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality. There’s hardly a scientist or an astronaut I’ve met who wasn’t beholden to some romantic before him who led him to doing something in life.

I think it’s so important to be excited about life. In order to get the facts we have to be excited to go out and get them, and there’s only one way to do that — through romance. We need this thing which makes us sit bolt upright when we are nine or ten and say, ‘I want to go out and devour the world, I want to do these things.’”

Ray Bradbury, in conversation with Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. Via Brain Pickings, by way of It’s Okay To Be Smart.

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Begin As You Mean to Go On

“If we want professionals to be confident, contributing leaders in society, we should take every care in making sure that the educational system encourages confidence (not defensiveness), empathy (not self-centeredness) and teamwork (not a star mentality).”

Thompson Penney, FAIA, 2003 American Institute of Architects President, via http://henriettaswift.tumblr.com/

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How To Help Your Student Teacher Feel Prepared

I mentioned the Center for Teaching Quality in a previous post, and how the community there has been a great source of advice and support. (Have you checked them out yet? Go ahead, I’ll wait :) ). One of the Collaboratory members started a discussion about mentoring tips for teachers hosting an intern during the school year. I was really excited about this topic – my senior internship was just this past spring, and it was such a fantastic experience! I really wanted to share how my supervising teacher became a mentor to  me, and why the internship was so important to preparing me for success as a teacher. As a result of my contribution, I was asked to expand my discussion post into an article for Education Week Teacher! It was a lot of fun to write, and I really appreciate being able to offer my voice and share my views as a new teacher. You can check out the article here, and please share your thoughts – I’ve love to hear them!

And for you recent interns out there – what experiences during your student teaching do you feel helped prepare you for the “real world” of teaching? If you think something was missing, what do you wish you’d have been able to experience? Comment on this post or on the article to share!

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So roll on, Columbia, roll on

Five days. Ten states. A whole country. A new life.

After a year of dreaming, a month of packing, and a week of driving – we have arrived in Portland, Oregon! It feels so amazing, and still doesn’t feel quite real. We drove into the city on July 1st, and it’s been an adventure ever since! We’ve gone hiking in Forest Park with Frank, who has discovered the joys of splashing around in the creek. We celebrated America’s birthday on the Hawthorne Bridge with our friends (and what felt like half the city!). We’ve eaten falafel, tacos, ice cream sandwiches, more tacos, and pizza – all local, all delicious. We’re watching Shakespeare in the Park this weekend, and Star Trek in the Park in August. We’ve discovered urban foraging – our neighborhood has dozens of fruitful trees – plum, cherry, Rainier cherry, pear, apple, fig, and hazelnuts; not to mention blueberries, strawberries, giant asparagus and rosemary forests. We’ve seen a dinosaur garden and a dog in a sidecar. And to top off this fantastic adventure, everyone here is so. darn. nice! Portland is just full of friendly, fun people – it’s wonderful!

Admittedly, there is one drawback to our adventure, and that is my lack of a job. I’ve applied to open teaching positions in the surrounding districts, and have also reached out to some local Kumon centers. I am hoping, hoping, hoping that something comes through, and a little bit stressed that it won’t. In the meantime, however, I’ve had some great chats with some amazing people – the Center for Teaching Quality* and Lisa Dabbs’ New Teacher Chat*. Both of these groups have been a continued source of advice, information, and support – I highly recommend both for any teachers looking to expand their horizons and have meaningful interactions with smart, insightful, helpful people! I’ve found so many ideas for lessons, activities, and technology to use in my own classroom (ahem, Portland school districts) – my Pinterest boards are growing!

We’ve made it through the first week of our new life here in Portland – and I am so excited to experience the rest!

Welcome to PDX

Josh, my husband and co-adventurer… excited to be in Oregon!

*You can also visit Center for Teaching Quality on Facebook here, and Lisa Dabbs’ group on Facebook here. And every Wednesday at 8pm EST/5pm PST, you can join in Lisa’s New Teacher chat with the hashtag #ntchat. 

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