Hypothetically Speaking…

At last week’s Education Innovation Lab presented by BEST NC, a question was posed that got me thinking —

What do you want education in North Carolina to look like?

I sit and ponder this question with great intentionality.

There would be more technological resources, as well as old school resources (because honestly, children basically eat at least one glue stick a day and take the markers home for snacks). There would be more human capital in schools to work with students, such as social workers or therapists, in order to meet the mental health needs of all students. There would also be human capital like TAs to help with daily tasks so teachers can focus on actually doing their job (which is teaching in case anyone forgot). Standards wouldn’t be so constraining and there would be a huge focus on soft skills/people skills in curriculum.

(Side note: do we even need science and social studies standards, anyway? I understand language arts and math standards need to be a little tighter based on developmental needs, but why can’t we just let kids choose which topics within science and social studies they want to learn about? This would allow for deeper content knowledge and the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice somehow with an application phase of coursework perhaps. Just thinking “out loud” here and would love to hear some of your ideas with this, too!)

Essentially, everything would be centered around a problem. Students would have to find solutions to real world problems in a PBL setting in their classrooms. Everything would be framed around relevance for students, with an emphasis on current events, too.

I’ve always been a believer that I want my students to leave my classroom better people, not just better students. I care more about them learning how to collaborate with one another than whether or not they remember how earthquakes occur — that’s why all of my projects are in a group/partnership setting.

There are studies showing that many high schoolers don’t feel prepared for ‘adulthood’ when they graduate because school didn’t prepare them for the real world. That, to me, is an extreme disservice. Our schools should absolutely be preparing students for what’s to come down the road, whether that’s college or instant career experience.

Needless to say, you can bet that I’ll ask my students this question upon our return from fall break next week.

So now I ask you, friends, both in and out of North Carolina: what do you want the future of education to look like?

Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.

We’re back from break and we have nine straight weeks of school.

Nine. Straight. Weeks.

If this doesn’t make me glad about having my whole week of spring break, I don’t know what will. My break was so greatly needed that I ran into another educator friend from out of town and all he could say was I looked “recharged.” Holla. Praise.

No workdays, no breaks, no delayed openings — just nine straight weeks of powering through the rest of curriculum, taking EOGs, and celebrating another year of school completed.

(Yep, batteries needed recharging to handle all that.)

Last week was the first week back and it was a great week. I was absolutely thrilled to start a new biliteracy unit I’d been working on, integrating states of matter and poetry (because who knew THAT could go together). I spent all of last week doing science demonstrations and hands-on activities with my classes, and the kids LOVED IT.

Go figure, kids love science and actually engaging in what you teach them!

One of our opening activities before starting any of the demonstrations was simply brainstorming everything we knew about solids, liquids, and gases (this is review science content from second grade, which was helpful). Here’s what my brilliant babies came up with:

Our States of Matter science content board, complete with word wall words, a color coded chart, and a sentence starter!

Our States of Matter science content board, complete with word wall words, a color coded chart, and a sentence starter!

 

Here's a close-up of the chart -- each color represents a different one of my classes.

Here’s a close-up of the chart — each color represents a different one of my classes.

 

How awesome, am I right?! Love keeping those kids accountable for their learning, and they love showing what they know! It was especially great since I saw some of my second language learners having great success with this when they drew pictures of what they knew to be solid, liquid, or gas.

The demonstrations we did were so fun (and educational, of course). I felt so alive teaching these kids science and entertaining their millions of questions — I’m such a sucker for their questions, and I honestly love when we get off on tangents because I truly believe that’s where some of the most authentic learning happens! A kid asked me what state of matter fire was last week — what a great question! And kids started asking about lightning, too, so of course we talked about PLASMA for a hot minute in class, and how rewarding it was to see their eyes light up learning something they wonder about in class. Moments like these remind me that teaching students and their learning should never be constrained to the strands of a standard, but rather be completely open and vast and full of curiosity.

I mean, how fun does this look!? Melting a Hershey's kiss in your hand & learning that your body is a source of HEAT?! Yes, there were many poop jokes in class that day. Worth it.

I mean, how fun does this look!? Melting a Hershey’s kiss in your hand & learning that your body is a source of HEAT?!
Yes, there were many poop jokes in class that day. Worth it.

Learning the difference in applying heat to a solid -- the closed hand makes the kiss melt while the open hand doesn't see as much melting. So many questions about why and how, so little time! Led to great class discussion :)

Learning the difference in applying heat to a solid — the closed hand makes the kiss melt while the open hand doesn’t see as much melting. So many questions about why and how, so little time! Led to great class discussion 🙂

We closed the week last week with a Bill Nye the Science Guy video about the states of matter and my kids loved it so much they BEGGED me to send the video to them on their school Gmail accounts. Naturally, I obliged.

Eight weeks left and this week has provided its ups and downs and it’s only Tuesday.

Yesterday we did an interactive read aloud about states of matter using the book “What Is the World Made Of?” by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. The kids enjoyed the book and it was a nice way to start bringing together our knowledge of the states of matter. Today, I tried my hand at an LEA to wrap up the science portion of the biliteracy unit. The first class grabbed our shared experience activity and RAN with it, and I couldn’t have been more excited to see this happen. We synthesized information (because yes, you can use these words/phrases with eight-year-olds), I wrote what the students said word-for-word, and they corrected their own errors. One student even asked me if I had had my coffee this morning since she was concerned about the spelling and grammar mistakes I was making. Bless.

The first class also was really excited about revising the collective writing piece. They got to work right away and were so focused — it was absolutely beautiful!

The second class struggled a little more, and I sometimes wonder if their sheer level of intelligence gets in their way sometimes. This particular group of students is, by data standards, the highest performing group I see every day. Once they got the hang of the LEA, they caught on with coming up with sentences to bring their knowledge together after the turn-and-talk to help them recall their learning. When I gave them the assignment to work on revising the writing piece, some of the kids complained that the task was hard.

GOD FORBID STUDENTS MUST USE THEIR BRAINS SOMETIMES. (GASP!)

I smiled upon hearing this and simply said, “Good!”

…does that make me the worst? I explained to them that sometimes it’s good for things to be hard so that they can stretch their brains and grow in their learning, just like they do when they become taller. Once they knew I wasn’t planning on backing down with the assignment, they got to work and started enjoying fixing the writing on their own terms. It’s so cool watching kids take ownership of their learning — “Miss Stewart, there aren’t any PARAGRAPHS here, what are we going to do?!” — “Well, that’s a great observation, you brilliant student, you! Why do we even HAVE paragraphs in writing?!” — “To organize information!” — “EXACTLY. Now, make that happen with what we came up with on the board!”

Boom. Educated.

My last group is my smallest class and, by data standards, the lowest-performing group I see. The time is after lunch and recess, and it’s a bit of a shortened period since the students dismiss at various times at the end of class.

It’s funny, because so many people think that the smallest class should hypothetically be the easiest to manage and teach since there are fewer students. Honestly, I hoped that earlier this year. Too quickly I found out that it doesn’t matter how many students are in my class, when the needs are as high as they are in this class, the job will always be a little more difficult.

Trying my hand at the LEA with this group proved much more challenging. I was observed by the literacy coach during this time, which I was beyond okay with considering my first two classes went so well. I started the LEA activity and felt like things started unraveling before me by the time we were just a few sentences into the writing piece. Students were losing focus, students weren’t giving their best work on the carpet, and some students just seemed completely lost, even with guidance. This was incredibly frustrating and disheartening for me, especially since I had someone I respect watching me teach.

Upon reflecting and discussing with the literacy coach, she told me there was good in the lesson. Of course I’m always going to be my toughest critic, but it was not easy for me to find good in that 30 minutes. I found there were three good things about the lesson:

  1. There was high student participation — I heard from some students who rarely volunteer their ideas, and that was really incredible to see how excited they were to share what they knew about solids, liquids, and gases.
  2. My students were actually USING the vocabulary we spent so much time learning and talking about and experiencing, and they were using it properly. Seriously the coolest thing hearing a third grader say, “To change a state of matter, you need to apply or take away heat.” I guess all of the TPR worked — yay, success!
  3. The students all picked up on the errors I presented in the writing piece. I intentionally misspelled some words or forgot commas, and in this last group was the only student to comment that I forgot to indent my first paragraph. Brilliant!

Now, I also learned three very important things from this lesson:

  1. The LEA activity seemed to be a little long for this group of kids. Some were getting fidgety and some were just generally losing focus. If I want to reach these kids, I need to make the activity pack a punch and have it be short and sweet and to the point.
  2. Maybe I should try to use picture support more with this group during the LEA. This particular class has 11/17 students who are second language learners, so the pictorial support might be something to make our learning transitions smoother.
  3. Contemplating whether or not a partner work component during the LEA would be effective. We started the activity with a turn and talk to rev up their minds about states of matter, but maybe this group needs more than that to be successful.

I was really kicking myself this afternoon about this lesson, but after stepping back and really looking at the way things went, I think there are positive take-aways from it. Grateful for those who help me step back and realize that.

The rest of this week we’ll work on poetry, which I love. I can’t wait to have these kiddos get their hands on some poetry tomorrow! They’re exploring the genre tomorrow and working in groups to brainstorm how poems are different than other genres they read, and later this week they’ll get some experience reading poems with different rhyme patterns. I also have to mention that I’m super excited to teach some new TPR. TPR is one of my favorite ways to teach kids vocabulary, and they love every minute of it (seriously, I have kids wanting to make up TPR moves for EVERY.SINGLE.THING)!

Like I said, I had a really lovely spring break, and I’m beyond thankful that I had a whole week to relax. I mean, how often do I really get to sit outside with a coffee and a crossword? Answer: not as often as I’d like.

Even though we have a full seven and a half weeks left of school, I’m legitimately looking forward to what those weeks hold. This part of the year sometimes seems to inch by day-to-day, but the weeks certainly FLY.

Before I know it, I’ll be hugging 57 third graders as they leave my classroom and become fourth graders. Ain’t no stoppin’ us now, it’s fourth quarter of third grade and we are about to KILL IT (no spoon).

A Time of Transition.

It’s been about a month since I last wrote anything, so I figure it’s high time to return from my blogging hiatus. A lot has happened in the last month, so bear with me while I mentally explode all over this post.

First of all, let me say this: I officially have a year under my belt as a teacher. I complete a full year teaching third grade all by myself at a public school in Durham, NC.

I DID IT.

It’s unbelievable knowing that a year has already passed. Everyone (and by everyone I think I literally mean everyone) always says how fast time goes when you get older — this is not me saying that I am old, by the way — and I think they’re all right. My life is different now than it was a year ago after I graduated from UNC.

Now, I live alone — ridin’ solo as I prefer to call it. This whole one-bedroom apartment living is something I know I will adjust to in due time, and for the most part I like it a great deal (why wouldn’t I like playing my guitar and watching Mad Men whenever I so desire!?), but dinnertime is the absolute worst. I’m used to eating breakfast alone and having lunch at school with no other adults, but dinner was always that sacred time where I was able to eat with someone my age — someone I could talk to and laugh with and all those lovely things. Like I said, I know I’ll adjust to this in due time, but summertime can be hard for that when a teacher isn’t as busy as she is the other ten months out of the year.

I also won’t return to my school in Durham next year — world, this was an incredibly difficult decision to make. A friend of mine mentioned to me sometime back in January that a dual language magnet school would officially open in Chapel Hill for the next school year. This news caught my attention, and I was easily intrigued. I would ask her a little more about it periodically until I finally decided to just go observe the school with the project based learning model. I haven’t taught PBL before, and I wanted to see what that large portion of the school day looked like before committing to an interview. Needless to say, I loved what I saw and got my name down for an interview right after spring break. The interview went well and I was tentatively placed on their personnel list for the following school year until things were clear for the principal to refer me for hire. One thing led to another and here I am, officially on staff to teach 3rd grade dual language!

Sometimes I would think that leaving Durham to return to Chapel Hill was a cop out — leaving students who truly need me, saying goodbye to a place desperate for consistency. My heart hurt for those kids and for nothing else, and I felt almost guilty that I would leave to better myself instead of stay and better them. I felt selfish. Fortunately, a revelation occurred and I realized that in decisions like these, I, Miss Stewart, need to be a little selfish. I need to do what’s best for me as a teacher and find a place where I can grow professionally and develop my skills so that I can be the best teacher I can possibly be. I hate to say this, but I felt like I couldn’t do that in Durham, and given the chance to work in a Spanish dual language setting accompanied with project-based learning where children will learn science and social studies curriculum through experiences and creation, I couldn’t think of a better place for me to be. After months (seriously, this decision took me months to make) of deliberation and prayer, I realized how perfect this opportunity is and how God opened all the right doors at the exact right time for me. My year in Durham was certainly not a year wasted — rather, it was a year where I gained invaluable experience. Experience I didn’t even realize I would ever need. There were people who supported me often and I truly can’t thank them enough, and I hope they all know how much they helped me in my first year (which, if you’ve been keeping up with this blog for the last year, you know it wasn’t easy!). I definitely think this career move is a step in the right direction, and I cannot wait to work with people who share my educational philosophy!

School starts in about a month and a half and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my summer thus far. It’s amazing to know how good it can feel to relax after working so incredibly hard for the last ten months. Speaking of relaxing and enjoying my summer, my attention was drawn to this article on Twitter earlier today. I encourage you to read it and reconsider any comments you will make to me (or any other educator you may know) concerning the fact that “teaching is easy” and that “it must be nice having summers off.”

I really like this down time that I have right now — I leave for the beach tomorrow to spend a week in pure vacationing bliss! I feel as though I will be very ready to get back to school when the time comes in August for that first workday, but for now I think I’ll continue to revel in my low-stress lifestyle of sitting poolside and playing guitar every day.

I also really like this transition time that I am currently experiencing. Living alone and changing jobs and having a retirement plan (?!) and paying bills — it’s all part of growing up. I’m realizing how much I’m growing up and becoming more reliant on myself and it’s kind of amazing. This is truly an “I’m a big kid now!” type of realization. Evidence? I took the Jeep to get an oil change and tire rotation this week. I also bought a lamp.

Oh, hello adulthood, nice to see you again.