Thursday, November 24, 2016

Week 15: Squanto and Thanksgiving


This was my favorite week of student teaching so far, and also my last week student teaching all the subjects alone. Next week is my last week, period, and I'll be phasing out so the teacher can phase back in.

I am so blessed to have gotten the placement I have. The teacher is creative, tech-savvy and allows me to use my own creativity in teaching. She allowed me to go full-tilt on Thanksgiving enrichment this week and the kids and I loved it.

This was a coloring page I used this week.
For social studies, we wrapped up getting our Native American "museums" ready for display next week. I have two student movies edited and am finishing up editing one more. I'm so tickled with how they turned out and so are the students. I'll post them next week.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we focused on Thanksgiving by studying the life of Tisquantum, more famously known as Squanto. You can read about his ordeal here: A Lesser Known Atlantic Crossing.

I have always loved his story. It fascinates me that he was able to put aside feelings about his captivity by Europeans and reach out and help other Europeans who settled on his tribe's lands--the people we know as the Pilgrims.


Now, I realize there are progressive attitudes out there about the pilgrims. There are claims that they were simply lazy puritans, but I have a different view. I believe they were city people with no clue how to work the land. They'd not grown up doing it and had no idea how to do it. We picture people of the 1600s as all being farmers. But the fact is, many people, especially those who knew how to read, held jobs in the cities and bought their foods at a market just like most of us do today. They weren't builders, either. They were people who worked more with their heads than their hands.

But that's another blog post for another time on another blog. Back to student teaching.

I used these resources to share the story of Squanto with the children:

This is my favorite resource, but I didn't read it word for word as it makes many references to God and that's frowned up on in the public schools. I do like the way this book tells the story, and the pictures are beautiful. I mostly used the pictures to create a timeline of Squanto's life for the students as I flipped through the pages.

Beautifully illustrated but wordy. I used the pictures in this book, too.

Squanto Webquest 

Squanto Graphic Organizer

Squanto's story gave us the opportunity for fascinating discussions about forgiveness, prejudice, slavery and generalizing/categorizing people. We're blessed to have a culturally diverse class and students from many ethnic backgrounds. I'm often reminding them to be proud of their skin color and reminding them that what they look like doesn't define who they are.


"If someone who wears purple bullies you, does that mean all people who wear purple are bullies?" These are the types of conversations we had.

The fact is, all races have enslaved humans at sometime in history. It happens still today. Even the Native Americans enslaved people of other tribes. Unfortunately, this flaw of human nature isn't something we can attribute only to the Europeans. (Again another blog post for another time. But it applies to teaching because we are to be culturally sensitive.)


We ended the week in social studies with the movie Squanto: A Warrior's Tale. This has long been a movie I've watched every Thanksgiving for years. And the kids loved it! It really brought home the things they've been studying in their Native American unit, too, since Indiana's natives also lived in wigwams and were woodland Indians like Squanto. Since the movie is historically innacurate in many places, I was able to help the students compare and contrast the movie with the primary documents about Squanto, and help them understand how the movie was fiction based on fact. They've been reading a lot of books of the same type of genre. (They are especially fond of the "I Survived" series of books.)


In Math, I did a regular lesson on Monday on multiplying up to four-digits by one-digit and solving word problems. This math class is a very active, loud group. They have such a difficult time attending to lessons. So I was relieved that my supervising teacher allowed me to use Thanksgiving-themed games to keep the students engaged on Tuesday and Wednesday. I also had my last student teaching evaluation on Tuesday. This time my clinical supervisor observed me teaching math.

I created six stations for students to rotate to (click on the descriptions for links to where I got the game):

  1. Multiplication Jenga. Each Jenga piece had a multiplication fact on it. When they pulled the piece they solved the fact on the piece before placing it on top.
  2. Fall-themed multiplication color-by-number. (I changed the pictures on day two.)
  3. Thanksgiving Roll & Cover
  4. Turkey Times. Students drew a card with a turkey and a number, and covered two connecting numbers that when multiplied, equaled the number on the card.
  5. Catch a Turkey. Students rolled dice, multiplied the two numbers, then placed a marker on the game board next to a turkey. Whoever put a marker on the last number circling the turkey won that turkey.
  6. Frantic Turkeys. Students rolled dice to move on a board of multiplication facts. They solved the fact, covered the number answer in the middle of the board. 
  7. Thanksgiving math mystery pictures. (I changed the pictures on day two.)
  8. Gobble Multiplication Bump
  9. Turkey Dominoes (I made this myself and I was in a hurry so it's not all that great, but feel free to use it.) Students draw a domino, multiply the numbers, and then cover the answer on their card in the same way you do in a BINGO game. There were four students in each group, so two students shared a card.


I divided the students into six groups for the six different stations. I set the timer on the iPad and when the alarm rang, they rotated to the next station. They spent about ten minutes at each activity. I changed out the games the next day except for the Jenga, as it was the favorite. Some of the students goofed off, as usual, but most of them were engaged and really enjoyed it. 


I decided to take two days for the rotations because there were so many students and they were only getting ten minutes at each station. This gave them the extra practice they really need concerning their math facts. From what I'm observing, failing to memorize these facts is what is holding some students back. 


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I'm really happy that my supervising teacher allowed me to use it as a vehicle for engaging the fourth graders this past week. 

Next week is my last week, and I have mixed feelings. It's been hard work but very rewarding work. I've grown terribly fond of these students. That's a weakness of mine and always has been. I remember how I bawled like a baby when I said goodbye to my first Kindergarten class when I was teaching at a private school. It's just how I am. 


Teaching is such a work of love and yet, we're expected to let our charges go and fly to other teachers, places and destinies. We teach with open hands and hearts. I think there's probably an art to doing it gracefully, but I've yet to figure out how to say goodbye without the sting of melancholy, tears and plenty of kleenex. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Week 14: In which I get made fun of, sassed at, and challenged


I think there's got to be something about week seven when it comes to bonding with kids. I say this because it was about the seventh week when I was student teaching at the high school that certain students got comfortable enough with me that they sassed me.

This is week seven of my journey in fourth grade, my 14th of student teaching. Today a student sassed me in front of the entire class. I felt awful for the student because as soon as he did I saw his face melt into a look of horror. The words flew out of his mouth before he had time to stop them.

I couldn't let it go, though. Everyone was watching.

Another student told me that her twin sister was making fun of my looks in the hall. I found that hilarious, and assured this student that I could take it, that I like the way I look, I am pretty and nice and that's all that matters. That seemed to reassure her.

The math class this week was unruly. I think it was the supermoon because even my homeroom students were uncharacteristically ornery. Either that, or, they are just comfortable enough with me now to be awful and know I'll still care about them. (Science doesn't support my theory about behavior being affected by the moon, but it sure is interesting that when there's a full moon, kids are more rowdy...)

Wikipedia Image
Since my math class wasn't all that into math, on Thursday, I played like I was a mean old teacher. I gave the students an uexpected test which meant they had to have zero voices for the last half of the class. Then, I documented what I saw. And after my observations, I can understand why that class has a difficult time staying focused. Out of 25 students, twelve were daydreaming, wiggling, and doing just about anything except their math test. They did it with great stealth, too.


And about seven of them couldn't sit in the chair properly. So, that was telling. This class is more body smart than pay-attention smart. They want to move and talk and play. Which, I realize is normal. But this group seems a little on the immature side of fourth grade that way. And it makes it difficult for the students who do pay attention and are quiet. I feel so bad for the ones who are studious. Most of the students in that class just aren't.

Fortunately, next week is Thanksgiving week, so I have the freedom to do math activities instead of plowing through the curriculum. I say plow because that's how it feels sometimes. The state has set standards of what these students are to learn. And if we don't cover certain things on time and in time, the students won't be prepared for the tests.

I have always said we should teach children not curriculum. In a private school this is much easier to accomplish. I was differentiating curriculum for students long before it became a buzzword in education. And yet, even though we are to differentiate, and the classes are already differentiated by ability (I have the mid-level ability class), there is still such a wide range of abilities. We're teaching multi-digit multpilication by one digit and yet, there are still students who don't know their math facts. They're still using multiplication charts and their fingers.

The old-fashioned teacher in me wants to drill these kids until every single kid in the class has these facts down. But not only is drill frowned upon, it's not even possible. There's not enough time. And there aren't enough teachers to help students who are lost. That, I think, is the frustrating part about teaching a large group of students. I want so much to make sure each of them understands what's been taught before they leave the room. But it's not possible. At least, not the way the system is set up right now.

Other things that happened this week included wrapping up the social studies projects the students are doing for their Native American museums. I'll be posting pictures and videos about that in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here's the newsletter I sent this week:



I'm really proud of the work the students have done on their social studies research projects. Today I filmed a little movie two of them wrote. It's fun to see talent blossom in fourth grade. It's just starting to emerge here. Kids are just learning what they're good at. I love having a front row seat!

Today I had another teaching evaluation. I only have one more to go! Then I have tons of papers to write. But that's the easy part for me. Sometimes when I'm walking through the hall at the school, I can hardly believe that's what I'm doing. It's such a privilege to get to work with these eager, thirsty minds. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do.  
I was offered a good-paying job doing something else last night. And I really don't want to take that position because all I really want to do is write and teach. I can't imagine that I'd be happy doing another job no matter how much it pays. I have a lot of thinking to do, but I'm pretty sure I know the answer. Teaching is my passion. It's not going away. And if I leave it to do something mundane for tons of money? I think I'd feel cheap and useless. 


Teaching is what I do best. I might be good at other things, too, but just because I'm good at them doesn't mean I should do them. Teaching and writing -- my two passions -- touch the future. I've always wanted to time travel and this is one way to do it. I can't imagine being truly happy doing anything else.





Saturday, November 12, 2016

Week 13: Flying Solo


This week was my first week teaching all the subjects alone in fourth grade. It wasn't nearly as overwhelming as I thought it might be when I was thinking about what it would be like. It's not as if I haven't taught before. In fact, teaching a class of 25 typical students is a piece of cake compared to teaching a dozen or so kids with autism and ADD/ADHD or other behavior issues as I did at my cottage school for six years.


The week started out with a mock election that the school held. The school I'm in is 4th - 6th grade. The student council ran the election. The students went to the library and they voted in study corals on a computer. There were students who conducted exit polls. It was really set up very well and was very much like it is to vote in real life.


As soon as the students arrived that day, they started to break my heart. One student who is very tender-hearted and has autism, approached me in tears. "I don't want Donald Trump to win. If Donald Trump wins my mom says there'll be World War III and then my uncle has to go to that war and he'll be killed."

My grandma instincts kicked in and before I could think, I hugged him and said, "That's just not going to happen. Don't you worry about that. He doesn't have the power to do that."

Why do people talk about such things with kids? Is there no sense any more that childhood should be a time of carefree innocence for at least a little while? Why do we dump the cares of the world on developing minds?


Another student in the class was going desk to desk campaigning for Trump and asking everyone about who they were going to vote for that day. So, in light of those things, I talked to the students during the morning announcements and informed them of their right to keep their vote private. That no one had the right to know who they voted for. Their vote was their secret if they wanted to keep it.

I also told them to vote for their choice, not a choice someone else wanted them to make.

I was tickled pink when most of the students left the voting booth and declined to answer the exit poll! And then, I had to giggle when one of the students wanted to answer but turned to me and said, "what's that lady's name again who ran for president?"


Not surprisingly, because this is a red county, Trump won the school election that day. But no one in my class over-celebrated or rubbed it in. I kept emphasizing from the beginning of the day that no matter who won the election, in the end, we were all Americans. We were to live in peace with one another. And I was very proud that my class did just that.

The week ended on a pretty exciting note, too. We had a Pioneer Day afternoon on Friday. Here are some of the amazing photos from that event:







The 4th grade teachers each had a station. My station was the "writing with a quill pen" station. I taught the same lesson every 15 minutes from 11:30-2:00. That's ten times! I learned I don't want to be a museum tour guide. At least not one that has to say the same thing over again every 15 minutes! (Yes, that's me below in the black and white poncho...)


Here are a few more pictures from that afternoon:




That morning we had an assembly to honor Veterans and I was impressed how well the students paid attention to the speakers because it wasn't really an assembly geared toward keeping kids' attentions. I was proud of them! The 4th grade spelled out USA on the gym floor. Different classes wore different colors of the flag. Our class wore blue. I don't have a picture of that but if I get one I'll post it here.

The thing that impressed me the most about this past week was how the 4th grade teachers at this school collaborate so well together. Everyone pulls their own weight. Everyone is generous with resources and time. And they genuinely want to see kids succeed. I like that a lot. I hope someday I can work in the same type of enviroment. It makes all the difference in the world for the students. 

Week 13: Flying Solo


This week was my first week teaching all the subjects alone in fourth grade. It wasn't nearly as overwhelming as I thought it might be when I was thinking about what it would be like. It's not as if I haven't taught before. In fact, teaching a class of 25 typical students is a piece of cake compared to teaching a dozen or so kids with autism and ADD/ADHD or other behavior issues as I did at my cottage school for six years.


The week started out with a mock election that the school held. The school I'm in is 4th - 6th grade. The student council ran the election. The students went to the library and they voted in study corals on a computer. There were students who conducted exit polls. It was really set up very well and was very much like it is to vote in real life.


As soon as the students arrived that day, they started to break my heart. One student who is very tender-hearted and has autism, approached me in tears. "I don't Donald Trump to win. If Donald Trump wins my mom says there'll be World War III and then my uncle has to go to that war and he'll be killed."

My grandma instincts kicked in and before I could think, I hugged him and said, "That's just not going to happen. Don't you worry about that. He doesn't have the power to do that."

Why do people talk about such things with kids? Is there no sense any more that childhood should be a time of carefree innocence for at least a little while? Why do we dump the cares of the world on developing minds?


Another student in the class was going desk to desk campaigning for Trump and asking everyone about who they were going to vote for that day. So, in light of those things, I talked to the students during the morning announcements and informed them of their right to keep their vote private. That no one had the right to know who they voted for. Their vote was their secret if they wanted to keep it.

I also told them to vote for their choice, not a choice someone else wanted them to make.

I was tickled pink when most of the students left the voting booth and declined to answer the exit poll! And then, I had to giggle when one of the students wanted to answer but turned to me and said, "what's that lady's name again who ran for president?"


Not surprisingly, because this is a red county, Trump won the school election that day. But no one in my class over-celebrated or rubbed it in. I kept emphasizing from the beginning of the day that no matter who won the election, in the end, we were all Americans. We were to live in peace with one another. And I was very proud that my class did just that.

The week ended on a pretty exciting note, too. We had a Pioneer Day afternoon on Friday. Here are some of the amazing photos from that event:







The 4th grade teachers each had a station. My station was the "writing with a quill pen" station. I taught the same lesson every 15 minutes from 11:30-2:00. That's twelve times! I learned I don't want to be a museum tour guide. At least not one that has to say the same thing over again every 15 minutes! (Yes, that's me below in the black and white poncho...)


Here are a few more pictures from that afternoon:




That morning we had an assembly to honor Veterans and I was impressed how well the students paid attention to the speakers because it wasn't really an assembly geared toward keeping kids' attentions. I was proud of them! The 4th grade spelled out USA on the gym floor. Different classes wore different colors of the flag. Our class wore blue. I don't have a picture of that but if I get one I'll post it here.

The thing that impressed me the most about this past week was how the 4th grade teachers at this school collaborate so well together. Everyone pulls their own weight. Everyone is generous with resources and time. And they genuinely want to see kids succeed. I like that a lot. I hope someday I can work in the same type of enviroment. It makes all the difference in the world for the students. 

Mrs. Akins, You Taste Like Soap

Pretty sure this will be the title of my next book. Teaching students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities and students with auti...