Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Unimportant thoughts about Importance and Important Unimportant Things

Vogue Magazine tweeted this:

all-important manicure

and at first sight, I laughed quietly and kept moving on, which, no offense to the writer, is probably what it deserves. In whose reality could a manicure possibly be important, let alone “all-important”? Even a manicurist or a hand model could skip getting one without anyone really noticing. Of course a fashion magazine would talk like that, but that line doesn’t even deserve the respect of an eye-roll, right?

“Important” is just one of those words that morphs along with us; we redefine it based on our surroundings. Just like someone who considers a manicure important while planning a New Year’s party might easily ignore it if they were planning for a week long hike in the woods, and the mere thought of recreation might go out the window if they were struggling for the necessities of life, “important things” slip in and out of relevance as easily as our changing circumstances.

It’s easy enough to dismiss people who attribute a high priority to their nails, but reading that tweet made me kind of aware of where I am right now. You may have noticed I said that was an email- meaning, I follow Vogue on Twitter. I actually really like fashion, and I even started fashion blogging a little (You can see it here, if you’re interested.) I like that blog, and every now and then I want to go work on it. I just can’t though- I just absolutely cannot.

I started blogging because having a creative outlet is “important” to me, and it seemed like a fun thing to do. I wanted an outlet and a new medium. As it got going, though, since I occasionally illustrate for people, having an online presence meant that I had a brief and personal sort of informal portfolio for potential clients to look over. That’s important to me, but it got shouldered out of the way big time about ten months ago.


Meet Scratchy. He’s the mascot of MIT’s fabulous free online educational programming software for kids. He’s also the current redefinition of “important” for me, as I have had my nose on the grindstone working him into a set of lesson plans. Pretty much all of my other “important”s have gone to the wayside, and I just realized that I haven’t posted since October. A small handful of patient friends and family are waiting on me to get something done for them, and to each of you, may I say thank so much.

This all went through my mind as I pondered the immediacy of priorities, and how badly I often juggle my own. I hope you all know how much I appreciate your patience and graciousness toward me. I also probably shouldn’t tell you this, but you’re kind of my new year’s resolution- to juggle the many things that matter better and finish what I’ve started…

Happy new year, everyone.


Happy Mother’s Day

For all of you ladies out there who have stayed up late at night with a sick child, or wondered how to help a kid overcome a stubborn bad habit, or poured over an academic assignment and fretted about finding the balance between pushing too hard and insisting your son or daughter put forth their best effort, thanks for modeling patience, gentleness and character for us

mother and baby ducks

Happy Mothers’ Day!
I know I could never really pay my mom back or list all of the ways that she sacrificed for me in my upbringing, but thank you anyway, Mom.

I love this poem. You can read the full text here.
“And here is your lanyard,” I replied.

Hidden Picture Paper

When I was a kid, I loved getting a new issue of Highlights and finding the hidden pictures puzzles. The joys of scanning the intricate images for a toothbrush tucked away in the grain of tree bark or a tea cup sneakily incorporated into the stones of a walkway… Some of my first grade computer students have trouble with certain vocabulary words (they keep referring to the monitor as the “computer,” etc), and I thought this would make a fun way to review.

hidden pictures smaller

I chose twelve words in all and sketched up an underwater coral reef scene. All those plants and fishy shapes made it really hard to hide the boxy shapes and straight lines in the vocab words I’d chosen, but the end result was pretty fun. You can download and print out your own by clicking here. I tested it on a pair of kids this morning- a brother and sister who are eight and nine, and they handed them back to me with their approval and assurance that they didn’t think it was too easy or too hard as well as a few notes scribbled on the backs about who finished first. I’m going to use it in class in another week, and will see then how the first graders handle it. I’m hoping it takes them a little under ten minutes to complete, while working in groups. If you try it, let me know how your kids fare.

Reblogging Some Thoughts on Homeschooling

I heard about this family through a homeschooling friend and wrote about it for Literate Little One. Being a teacher myself, it is a constant occupational concern that my work remain current, new, enthusiastic, and all the other stuff that work generally isn’t once you’ve spent enough time doing it that you know what you’re doing. We can try so hard to keep the lesson materials all shiny and fresh, but the fact is that my twenty kids are sitting in one room for most of the time they are with me, and I have to use multiple different teaching methods to reach as many different learning styles as possible.

I wouldn't go so far as to say classroom education is as bad as this, but it's very easy for it to become so.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say classroom education is as bad as this, but it’s very easy for it to become so.

This means that, necessarily, the kids aren’t going to have their own personal optimal learning style catered to for the majority of the day (and that’s fine- they can certainly learn a lot from having to adjust to learning someone else’s way for a while). The reason this story struck a chord with me, though, is that this family seems to have removed that element from their kids’ education entirely. The kids stay motivated all day with learning as a way of life because their parents can afford to concentrate all their energy on them. There aren’t twenty other kids among whom they must divide their time and attention, and just look at the results:

From Literate Little One:

The Today Show featured an eye-catching story about the incredible success one family has had as homeschoolers. If you haven’t already seen this, you should really check out Bob Dotson’s coverage of it on NBC, but then come right back because we have things to discuss.

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding pose with their children

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding pose with their children

Parents Kip and Mona Lisa have really showcased the benefits of one-on-one attention, haven’t they? The kids are starting college before they hit their teen years! The first one doing university level schoolwork, daughter Hannah, now holds a master’s in both mechanical engineering and math and has a job designing spacecraft. The others listed in this piece are doing equally auspicious things even though the last third of the article builds the case that, not only do the parents consider their children to have average intelligence levels, but their days are spent having fun. Somewhere along the way, work has to come into the mix- it just has to, but it certainly is an easier pill to swallow when your priorities are to find what a student is inclined to learn, what they enjoy, and encourage them to explore that, non? Quoting the father in the article,

“The expectation is that you’re going to have a fun day,” Kip says, watching his children play. “Not that you’re going to come home with A’s.”

Seth Harding in the middle of a "lesson" about the Middle Ages

Seth Harding in the middle of a “lesson” about the Middle Ages

No mention of test anxiety here, no drudging through required typing courses, just find what you love and spend the day on that.

“By the time you get down to number five, number six, they just think learning seems normal. We find out what their passions are, what they really like to study, and we accelerate them gradually,”

so says their mother. If, like me, your first thoughts were that “going to college” is not for twelve year olds, however grand it may sound, consider that the kids are living at home, and certainly not in dorms, and they aren’t launching into it with full courseloads in their first semester. Learning just seems normal for them. Considering the strain of attending a full class day, and the relief of finally stepping back out of the classroom, this is a refreshing perspective. It’s no wonder they’re seeing such brilliant results: learning isn’t the odious task of filling out papers and completing projects in a classroom, it’s just the way of life.

What do you think about this? If you were reared in a traditional classroom setting, do you think you would have gone farther, faster too if you had been able to study this way? If you were homeschooled, did you feel like you had an advantage in the flexibility of a more taylored educational program? How do you feel about starting kids in college work at such an early age? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Another Round of Kid Art

I initially started this post with this cute little pencil family in mind, but I saw a few other masterpieces while I was photographing them and decided to expand. These three people were made by a fifth grade class who collaborated on a business venture. One cut up the pencils, one made the furniture… etc. They sold them for a dime apiece.

a bed

I think these are pets- a turtle, a bird, and a bunny

here are some clothes for the people- I got a shot of a few dress shirts, but there was a whole wardrobe for each person

Here I’ve set some of the up. Carpet, table (with a cheeseburger), baby in bed, mother in the chair…

I mean really. Isn’t this the coolest thing ever? I remember doing stuff kind of like this as a kid, but the whole class got together for it.

So here’s the rest, and what a collection this is. These are pieces from my personal gallery of kid gifts from work. Many came at Christmas, and some have just come to me along the way.

This was made by a four year old. A little girl in my class who likes to draw drew this, colored it, and cut it out by herself. It may be that an older girl helped her do the drawing- it’s hard to tell, the way four year olds talk, but I can at least vouch for the fact that this kid can draw that well. She has amazing motor skills.

A third grader made this. I think it was intended to be a wall decoration, but it’s hard to say. I don’t know what the big person asking the little person for food (and being denied) is supposed to mean.

This bird cutout was included along side of the above wall hanger thing.

This was drawn by a sixth grader. I think he plays too many violent video games…

More four year old stuff- this was just cute cuz it’s supposed to be my family- me, my husband, mom and dad, and when I asked the kid what the writing said she told me she didn’t know and that I’d have to read it to her. Hee hee.

Also by a four year old- she likes dinosaurs, her favorite being “rex” (Tyrannosaurus Rex), and she stenciled this one but added the bow and eyelashes to make it a girl dino.

Snowman Made from a Sock

Every year I do this project with my preschoolers, always to roaringly positive critical acclaim. The kids love this (and it’s relatively easy).

Here’s how you do it!

The supply list consists of ten items:

  • plain white socks (any size will do, but I use ankle sized or smaller)
  • rubber bands (three per snowman)
  • a few orange pipe cleaners cut to 3/4″ lengths
  • glue gun
  • white bottled glue (I like to put it in a little cup with a craft stick, but that’s not necessary)
  • round sequins for eyes (black fish tank pebbles also work well)
  • flat buttons (the ones pictured are star-shaped, in case you’re wondering)
  • pom poms
  • dried pinto beans (I use two lbs for a class of twenty)
  • cotton balls

And the process is as follows:

Gather your supplies.
Have the child put about ten handfuls of beans into the sock. Supervise closely! I have them keep the sock over the beans in a large hat box.
The first segment should be a little smaller than a tennis ball. Wrap a rubber band tightly around the sock above the beans and have the child repeat the process to make two round segments.

After you’ve rubber banded the second segment, have the child put about five cotton balls in the top. Wrap a third rubber band around that, leaving as much of the neck of the sock free as possible.
It should look like this now. Fold the open top of the sock down to look like a knit cap, and have the child glue on the eyes, buttons, nose and pom pom with white glue. Remember to glop a lot of glue on if you’re using heavier buttons and things.

Put some hot glue around the rubber bands that connect the body segments. Done!

My colleagues have done this many different ways, with different levels of student involvement. Some like to put all the beans in for the kids, some use rice, some do all the gluing with a hot glue gun, etc. The point is, the process is easy to vary, depending on what your kids can handle and how much you’re willing to do for them. I can do three or four kids at a time like this, at an average of fifteen minutes per group, and I like this method because it involves them doing most of it themselves. Whatever floats your boat.

Hope you have fun!
PS- Leave a comment below and tell me what you think. I know there are a lot of different ways to make this project, and I’d love to see what different people out there are doing.

The World’s BEST Coupon (via Read it to the class!)

I’m in the middle of a buncha stuff- here’s some brief reblogging for today’s post. I could use these in my class- the kids would love them.

The World's BEST Coupon Wouldn't it be great if this were a real coupon?  I'd save it for double coupon days.  … Read More

via Read it to the class!

Secret Message Crafty Thing for Kids

I found this cool craft idea today and thought my kids would like it. As it is, you can download the templates for the little glasses and the Valentine’s Day cards, and they’re printable and super easy, but I thought it would be cool if you could use them for more than just this one holiday. I made a little hexagonal patterned page of my own that you can download and print by clicking here and also I made some non-heart-shaped glasses, since I have a lotta little boys in my class who would probably consider them less than manly.

Giuseppi made his name. It took forever.

Here's Giuseppi holding the red cellophane over his name.

It’s pretty easy to do- I had to practice coloring in a few grids before I could make it look like anything, but here is Giuseppi with his name. He was a lot more patient than I was. We used Prismacolor colored pencils: first blues, greens, purples and some shades of brown for the letters, and than oranges, pinks, yellows and reds for the camouflage area to be colored around it.

Some things I picked up from doing this are:

  • Practice with the colors and cellophane first- see what the colors look like with the red over them and which will stand out best or disappear best. This doesn’t take too long.
  • Decide on a simple image first- heart, star, first letter of your child’s name, and map it out by making light blue or green dots on the patterned paper. You might want to make one by yourself first so that you know that it will work.

  • Do the shape first, then color the camouflage part around it. This step takes a while and is a little bit of a pain in the butt, but I found that if the shape is okay, the camo part doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Use as much of a variety of colors as you can. Having different colors makes it easier for your eyes to get distracted, which enhances the whole “hidden message” idea.

A Gift Fit for an Elf

One of my kids gave me this amazing opal pendant necklace. I was so tickled by the adorable little box with the jingle bell, and then I opened it up and saw the contents; oh, so cool. The stone is about an inch long.

I love my job.

So, today I’m in a classroom full of third graders, merrily imparting the knowledge of the Spanish language into their eager little minds when a tragedy interrupted me: my penguin bracelet broke! BOO HOO! I loved that thing! I could probably remove a link and fix it or attach a ring to it or… something. My hubby gave it to me a while back, so I’m not ready to give up on it; but after class was finished and I was getting ready to turn things over to the next teacher, one of the students called out to me and gave me the paper bracelet in the bottom picture as a replacement. Awww… My heart just melted with that. I could go all realistic and call it a likely case of brown-nosing, but I think I’d rather say the kid was just being sweet. I love it. This is going to be kept for a long time.

It has stuff written all around it like “You’re the best teacher ever” and so forth.

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