Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pro/Con/Pro: A Look at My Week

Sorry I skipped a week! I've had a weird case of writer's block all week in regards to my classroom. There are lots of things taking up my mind space, but I feel like instead of focusing and reflecting on what's happening right now, I'm really occupied with what's upcoming in my life and allowing it to take over too much room in my brain.  So rather than a cohesive, solid reflection of one particular moment in this past week, I just want to share a few little reflections of things that struck me as important to my working life and the lives of my seventh graders.  My friends and I share about our weeks together over the weekend, and we like to use the pro/con/pro model, so that's what I'll use here.

PRO: Our current unit of study that I've been writing about, focusing on civil rights, is probably one of my favorites that we teach all year.  Most of all because we do a lot of interdisciplinary planning and teaching with our social studies teachers.  Our students have been immersed in learning about the Civil Rights Movement, nonviolent protest, Mahatma Ghandi's teachings, and the continuing struggle for civil rights for all.  This week I was grading some assignments in which students had to analyze and compare Langston Hughes's poems "Dream" and "What Happens to a Dream Deferred?" They then had to draw connections between the poems and their study of the civil rights movement so far.  High level thinking for seventh graders! As I was grading, my heart leaped for joy when I read so many responses in which students were combining their social studies work with the work we've been doing in English class, discussing Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the 14th and 15th Amendments, Brown vs. Board of Education, Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, sit-ins, and other demonstrations.  It was so refreshing and exciting to see such synthesis coming out of my students! Definitely a pro in my week. 

CON: This week, I've been super antsy.  Don't get me wrong, I love my job, and I love my students. I've just been really craving an opportunity to branch out and do something new with my work.  Don't read this as anything serious. I just have a case of work wanderlust, like I need to adopt a new plan of action with something in my classroom. Or like I need something new to dive into in some aspect of my work. Right now, I'm looking at using Curriculet to move my short text instruction online, and I'm really looking forward seeing how my students respond.  I've been loving the way that piloting Google Docs is working out, and I'm thinking about adding the rest of my classes to the pilot during 4th quarter instead of waiting until next year to fully implement.  Anyway, what I'm saying is that I need to branch out into new territories.  I think this CON was why I struggled to write this week.  I was just feeling kind of bored and disconnected, like I was in a rut. I needed to create more time for myself to create this week. 

PRO: Toward the end of the week, I overcame my antsy-ness and snapped out of my slump, so I could do some BYOT vocabulary work with my kids.  I felt bad that my slump had turned into a little bit of slump for them, too.  We all just got a little bored on Tuesday.  To make up for it, we did some cooperative vocabulary work with their devices, identifying key words in a nonfiction text and determining the best search terms to locate the most information about each word.  It was so fun to see them so engaged in their work and really owning these new words. Here's some pictures of them hard at work....

Overall, I had a great, productive week, and my kids showed a lot of new understandings.  Sometimes, that one "con" in the week can really affect my psyche, and I lose my perspective on how wonderful my work really is.  I'm looking forward to a new week and to challenging myself to really engage and focus on the "pros."  Maybe next week my list will be a pro/pro/pro.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Not Cool, Robert Frost!

The poet Robert Frost once wrote, "You can't get too much winter in the winter." After the winter we've been experiencing this year, I must beg differ.  In response to his quote, I would like to quote the young but wise Kid President who said,

This winter is definitely not cool with me.  It's been cold and gray and unpredictable, and it's taken over everyone's thoughts.  We can't get through a class period without debating whether or not we'll be at school all five days during any given week.  I'm all for staying positive, but this weather is really bringing me down. I'm ready for spring and sunshine, please and thank you!

I guess I've been spoiled.  Living in Arkansas has led me to expect mild winters, and compared to places like Minnesota, that have seen lots of negative temperatures, our weather has been downright pleasant.  I guess the biggest difference between our weather and their weather is our reaction to our weather.  Last week, several districts dismissed early just because of the threat of snow, and we all heard about what happened when it snowed in Atlanta and Birmingham (#chaos #snowpocaplyse).  Clearly, we are not equipped in the South to handle winter precipitation.

I've been reflecting a lot recently on all of this winter weather, so I asked my homeroom students if they had anything they would like to say to Mother Nature.  Here are a few of their responses:

"Bring on some hot air!"

"If you're going to make it snow, make it snow on Saturdays!"

"Mother Nature, you need 3-4 inches of snow to make a good snow man."

In reaction to both the weather and the TV special about The Beatles last night: "Let It Be....SUMMER!"

While we all love a good snow day, I think even the kids are tired of Mother Nature cutting into their summer break.  The weatherman says we're supposed to see 50 degrees later this week, and I sure hope he's telling the truth!  I think the kids do, too.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Choices and Opportunities

Yesterday, my students had an excellent debate in class.  I posed the following questions:

For things to be equal, do they have to be the same?
Are there situations where it is ok for people to be treated unequally? Name these situations and explain why it is ok.

At first, many students said that, of course, "equal" and "same" are synonyms, so things that are equal must be the same.  But several students offered rebuttals to this thinking...

"I mean, think about in math.  A balanced algebraic equation has be be equal on both sides but the expressions don't have to be the same."

"What if a mother took her two children to the grocery store?  If one wants a chocolate cupcake and the other one wants a vanilla cupcake, they're receiving equal treats, but those cupcakes aren't the same."

"What about in school? We all deserve an equal chance to do well on a test, but some of us need glasses and stuff to have an equal chance.  That's not the same, but it's equal."

We've worked on Socratic, student-led discussion all year, so I had the wonderful opportunity to pose the original questions and then sit  back and listen to all of this thinking and debate.  As the conversation continued, each class eventually got to a place where they were debating what should be equal.

"Well we're all humans, so we should all be treated equally."

"Yeah, like equal rights, but not necessarily like equal things.  Wouldn't that be like socialism or something?"

"Right! America is a democracy.  We all work and go to college and stuff a different amount. But we all have equal choices to do that."

"And opportunity! We all should have equal opportunities in America!"

Guys, this exact conversation happened in one of my classes. It was like music to my ears, hearing them think beyond their initial thought, reason with each other, and come to new understandings together.  I totally agree with their final concensus.   We should all have equal opportunities and equal choices, and I think that those are things we should be able to guarantee.  Some people have to work really hard to take advantage of those equal opportunities, while others seem to have an easy road from the beginning, but those opportunities are there, regardless, waiting to be taken.

I feel like this conversation offered me a lot of wisdom, or at least some things I needed to hear.  Yesterday morning, my principal asked me if I had heard about the anti-Common Core demonstration at our state's capitol over the weekend.  I told her I had not, but I wasn't surprised by it.  Like I've said before, people love to hate change, and there's a lot of misinformation out there about the CCSS.  As the day went on, I began to think about that conversation in connection to my students' discussion.  All of those protesters have an equal opportunity and equal choice to be involved in the education of their children.  They can choose to go on defense, to exert lots of time, energy, and anger in their fight, or they could come across the battle lines. A colleague said to me yesterday, "Man, what if those people put all that time and energy into being in our classrooms and supporting our instruction! Think about the amazing things we could do together to help and support our kids."  What a lovely thought. Yes, we definitely all have equal choices and equal opportunities.  It's what we do with those choices and opportunities that can make all the difference