Noticing and Appreciating

Yesterday my husband and I were out, and we had to stop for a train that was approaching. The first thing my husband said was not, “Bummer — this looks like a long train.” Instead, he said, “Hey, get your camera. There are some great pictures of graffiti on this train.”

You see, last week I had asked him to stop the car so I could take the picture above, because “graffiti” was one of our themes for August in the #T365Project photo group.

Well, I didn’t really need another graffiti picture, but I started snapping pictures anyway. They are in the mosaic below.

We watched the long train go by, commenting on and enjoying each new artwork, watching in anticipation of what would come next. We actually were a bit disappointed when it finished!

This was another reminder of the many benefits I’ve received from taking pictures and sharing them on Flickr: I’ve relearned to notice and appreciate all the beauty around me.

Besides both my husband and I doing more noticing and appreciating, I have also added over 2,000 Creative Commons photos to the pool of images available for others to use. My students now do the same, and we have also learned to properly cite photos of other people’s when we use their Creative Commons images.

There was a time not long ago when my students and I just Googled any images for our own use.

There was a time not long ago when I had heard of Creative Commons but didn’t know what it was or how it related to me.

There was a time not long ago when I wanted to properly cite images, but I didn’t even know where to start.

Well, now, a year later, I’m doing it! I don’t even know how I learned really, except I do know that mostly it came by doing — by creating and contributing. I joined Flickr, and I began to figure it out. You can too.

I posted the train graffiti mosaic picture in a group called #TFotoFri. It’s for teachers to post one picture from their week. If you are like I was not so long ago, maybe you’d like to join the #TFotoFri group to get started on your next adventure in learning.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Yesterday was Poem in Your Pocket Day. Started ten years ago in the mayor’s office of New York City, this fun event has people talking about, reading, and listening to poetry for a wonderful day in April.

I read about it on Twitter on the very morning it had already started, so I didn’t have much time to prepare. I saw that there was a hashtag, #pocketpoem, to follow and share the poem you had in your pocket.

On my way to bus duty I grabbed photocopies of some short kid-friendly poems. The K-3 students gladly found a poem they liked while they waited for their bus. They put them right into their pockets and took them out to read to each other.

Later, with my 7th and 8th graders, I had them find a poem they loved and put it in their pocket too. Some chose ones they had written themselves, and others found theirs in a book and wrote them out by hand or got a photocopy. They read them several times to classmates. It was such a beautiful spring day, so one class went outside and formed two concentric circles. Facing each other, they read to the person across from them, and then rotated after each reading and listening.

The poem in my pocket was written over twenty years ago by Roald Dahl in a letter to my second grade students.

Poem in Your Pocket Day was a fun poetry activity, and I will definitely try to notice earlier next year so I can do more with it.

Ah, Friday! Australia Treats

I’ll never forget about six weeks ago when three girls came running up to me, telling me about their next genius hour adventure. “We are going to send chocolates to people around the world, so they can taste our chocolate. Then we are going to ask them to send us some chocolate from their country. We can compare the tastes and packages.” So, they were off!

Thanks to some of the students’ friends and relatives, plus members of my awesome PLN, the students have received packages from South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, France, and, the latest, from Australia.

I met Lyn Howlin last year when we completed the teacher’s blogging challenge together. Later my seventh graders hosted her third graders’ Flat Stanleys. Now we’ve been Flickr photo friends and email penpals. She’s now retired, but she’s still a teacher. Look at the beautiful letter she wrote, engaging my students in learning about the world.

Thank you, Lyn!

(Students are still working on their comparison and taste test.)

This post is also published on The Global Classroom Project blog, “A Letter From Oz.”

Do We Learn Most of All By Our Mistakes?

I’m a pretty good cook. People say so, anyway.

Do I have a natural aptitude for cooking? Maybe. Did I have good teachers? Perhaps. But, most of all, I was allowed to be curious and learn from my mistakes.

Like the time in junior high when our little kitchen group in cooking class turned up the oven to 450°F degrees to hurry the banana bread along. Earlier, when Mrs. Gies had told us we would have to bake it one day, and eat it the next day, we thought she was wrong. I suppose we were disappointed and suspicious enough to go against her directives. We cranked up the oven (Marlene was the instigator), and the bread raised and browned. It was a beautiful, perfect banana bread, beckoning us to eat it. Ha, we said to our teacher (under our breaths, of course). She was so cautious, and for nothing.

We set the table, poured the drinks, and placed our beautiful banana bread in the center of the table. We knew we were the envy of all the other expectant cooks in the surrounding seventh grade foods class kitchens.

However, when we sliced it, the raw goo, along with any vestige of our cooking cockiness, ran out onto the cutting board. I don’t believe Mrs. Gies “punished” us for going against her instructions. She was a wise woman who knew we learned more from our ruined banana bread than any scolding she could give us.

Another learning experience came the first time I tried to make a favorite family recipe. It was a disaster. The recipe was called Hamburger Pie. I missed a key instruction: brown the hamburger. Yes, I used raw hamburger in this recipe, and it was inedible when it finished baking. Because my older sister patiently explained to me what went wrong and helped me recook the filling so the ingredients weren’t wasted, I was able to learn from my mistakes.

I could go on and on about the mistakes I’ve made in the kitchen–uncleaned shrimp, egg whites that don’t whip in a blender, etc. etc. I am quite sure I have learned more from my mistakes than my successes.

I need to remember this in the classroom. I believe in student-centered learning, lifelong learning, student choice. I believe in STEM education, genius hour, and everything that would say YES to letting students be curious, get dirty, and make mistakes. I have to remember how powerful this kind of learning is.

I hope you are giving your students room to make mistakes!

How have you learned from your mistakes?

Noveling, the Common Core, and More

NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program is a growing part of my eighth grade curriculum. We wrote rough drafts in November.  In February, we started on what I thought would be a one-month journey of revision and editing, but it is turning into more like two months. That’s three months in all, and the jury is still out on whether this has been a good use of our time, so I needed to do a little reflection.

Previously with Novel-Writing 8th Graders

Three years ago, NaNoWriMo was a voluntary assignment, with about 2/3 of the class participating. The rest of the class did other writing assignments. A bit more than half of the novelers chose to continue with the work of editing, most of it on their own. Proof copies were ordered in the summer.

Two years ago, 100% wrote first drafts in November (it became an assignment for everyone that year), and 85% edited (much in a short exploratory course and then some on their own). We ordered proof copies by the skin of our teeth, and celebrated our accomplishment the last week of school.

Now, this year, with three months on the line, is the experience worthwhile enough to take English time to get the process done for everyone?

Noveling and the Common Core

I compared the noveling, revising and editing curriculum to the Common Core standards in Language and Writing,  and the students have really grown in the standards I looked at. The following five images are the complete standards for eighth grade in Language and Writing. I made notes in red regarding student work on this project:

Language Common Core

Writing Common Core

More than the Common Core

Clearly, with this project they are doing the work of writing and developing written language skills. In addition to these important skills in the Common Core, the 8th graders are also learning to…

  • follow their dreams
  • believe in themselves
  • recognize their creativity
  • know they are a genius, and the world expects their contribution*
  • make decisions about what to do in school
  • develop passion for their own assignments, not mine (On an aside, one of my greatest sadnesses as a teacher is when a student says, “Is this what you want?” I can honestly say, in three years, no one has ever asked me that question regarding their novel. It is strangely theirs from start to finish, even though I have many benchmarks, requirements, and, come editing time, I comment all over their Google Doc like an overachieving street tagger! I am constantly having conferences and mini-lessons with individuals. [Note to self: Next year bring in backups–parents and retired teachers who can help.] BUT, they do the work and want to. They know they are getting a proof copy and want it to be good. No student has ever said, “That’s OK, I’ll just keep this plotless wonder with all its mistakes.” I back off when I realize I’m asking too much. When one has 339 errors of the same kind, it can be a bit daunting, so I help as much as possible and we’re becoming pros at using the find and replace feature.)
  • and so much more

Maybe the jury is closer to a decision than I thought! I’ll let you know after we get all the books ordered!

Additional Resources

For more on my experience with NaNoWriMo, here is an index to additional blog posts about it.
Download Common Core Standards.
* Angela Maiers

Ahh, Friday!! Anyone!

This week in science we are building beams. It’s a structural engineering competition we do at Technology Students Association. I asked the seventh graders to write three people in their class whom they would like to work with. One student wrote, “anyone.”

Guess who a majority of the students had on their shortlist? Yes, the same student who wrote anyone! What a gem!

I Am So Proud of My Students!

We are busy–up-to-our-eyeballs busy–getting ready to host a K-8 Relay Recess for the American Cancer Society. Junior high students come early to school, work during recess, and then some more at home–creating genius ideas, editing handouts, making gifts for survivors who will join us.

I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of them and the REAL-LIFE work that they are doing this month. We are all energized and excited. This is what school should be about! It’s been fun to see in action the principle: Never Work Harder Than Your Students. They are definitely working as hard as, or harder than, I am! I will share more next week after the Relay Recess, but today I have a picture of one of their fundraisers, The Tree of Hope, which is hanging in our entryway at school.

In addition, here are some of their blog posts about our fundraisers.