Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Green Eggs?!? (and ham!)

Image 48/ 365: Some (very) green eggs and ham!

Image 47/ 365: Enjoying a green eggs biscuit sandwich

Image 46/ 365: An excited breakfast crew!
They could barely wait for me to take the picture!
Sponsored by the NEA (National Education Association), Read Across America Day is an annual celebration of reading and literacy in the United States. This year it will be on March 1, 2013.  Many schools around the country celebrate during the week with wacky and wild activities to share a love of reading, and to honor the whimsical author-illustrator Dr. Seuss.
Theodore Seuss Geisel used the pseudonym (pen name) "Dr. Seuss" to write 44 books, which have been translated into 15 languages. He claimed that silly hats helped him write silly stories, so of course, one day during the week is Hat Day. His book "Green Eggs and Ham" provided the inspiration for today's yummy breakfast, but it also has an interesting origin. Some say that Dr. Seuss' editor bet him that he couldn't write a book with only 50 words--and, well, the rest is history. The challenge was accepted and we all know how successful his resulting book is/ was!  (And if you want to know what the 50 words are, click here for a handy list, printable, I'm sure, for your next trivia game!)
Many of his books, although whimsical, also have serious messages, such as environmentalism in The Lorax. Others may or may not have been based on actual people, such as Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! with its uncanny timeliness with Richard Nixon...And he has admitted that the Grinch was a loose self-portrait of his grumpy holiday ways.

Image 45/ 365: Activities for the week
Image 44/ 365: The Cat in the Hat was here!
So, you see, Dr. Seuss was an intriguing man, knowledgeable and full of whimsy, so join us in celebrating not only his well-loved literary achievements, but also of the joys and power of reading. Read out loud, with your family, at school...read a book, a magazine, an e-book, or a comic book. Donate a book, visit your library, or make reading pledges with your friends.

And if you ever get stuck wondering what to do, don a silly hat, and see what fun ideas come to mind!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Awesome of PS207 Strikes Again

I realize I'm a bit behind since Valentine's Day was last week, but here's another dose of Happiness and #Edugood in our schools. Valentine's day has been dubbed "Generosity Day" at 207. They usually wear uniforms but on the 14th, the kids were permitted the choice to make a donation to Stars of Hope and "dress down" for a cause! They were instructed to wear red shirts. Our school doesn't do anything like this, and our kids were intrigued by the idea, but they're very glad not to be wearing uniforms! :)

The generosity day comes with some incentive. Teachers have generosity cards, and if they see students demonstrating generous deeds throughout the week, those student names go on a card and in a bag for a drawing Valentine's afternoon for a prize. I'd say the whole staff needs to receive a prize for modeling steely resilience and rising to the many challenges they have faced since Hurricane Sandy! Especially for fostering such a positive atmosphere. Love it!!

Apparently the kids were very excited and it makes me wonder how we can spread this idea....How about other readers? Do you have similar incentives for a cause? We'd love to know!

Image 43/365: PS207 rocks an incentive for a cause.

Image 42/365: Pay it forward!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The 21st Century Still Needs Snail Mail

Image 41/ 365 Days of Awesome: Some seriously happy kids--just goes to show 
how big the impact can be when you personalize an act of kindness. 
There are those who insist on how critical it is to have tech-based projects in the classroom, and that "old-fashioned" paper projects are a thing of the past. Well, today's Pure Awesome demonstrates how education can blend the two in simple ways for impressive impact.
Read this post from December for background details on how this project came to light. What the post doesn't clarify is how a variety of connections interwove together to create the proverbial bow that wrapped it all together. Once the kids in my cooking club decided that they wanted to help a school affected by Hurricane Sandy, the wheels started to roll.
 After a couple of "fails", I contacted a friend I had met by happenstance this past summer in Florida--who lived in New York. I used social media to contact him, and he, in turn, used old-fashioned legwork and his social media connections to find a class for us. He didn't know the teacher whose name/ address he had passed on, but had been sent the info electronically.
We had a name, an address, and the knowledge that her 4th grade class had been displaced--without a single voice conversation.  This all happened within 48 hours.
We sent our new friends a care package pre-Christmas, and they sent us pictures, as well as thank you notes on the backs of New York postcards--an absolute thrill for my students!
It has now gotten to the point of personalized correspondence---snail mail style! It's not as fun as face to face, nor as quick as electronic communication, but there's still something wonderful about opening a package and finding handcrafted notes and pictures with your name on them. It is indeed a heartfelt reminder that small acts of caring have BIG impact.

Lest you think that YOU can't impact today's learners, think again. What you know or who you know might just be the final strand a teacher needs to weave his/her magic in the classroom.

If anyone still has beef about the irrelevance of old-fashioned, hands-on projects, snail mail "pen pals", or the fact that the characteristics of kindness, patience, and empathy cannot be measured through standardized testing, please feel free to contact me by snail mail or personalized email.
Better yet, let's talk face to face, and you can meet my excited students as a bonus. :)

Image 40/ 365: When I pulled these out of the
envelope, Wilson exclaimed that "Strangers
can really become friends!"

Image 39/ 365: She danced around the
room as if she'd just won the lottery!
Image 38/ 365: Look at the detail in this one!
The kids loved passing them around.
Image 37/ 365: Even the boys hand-carried their Valentines on their way home 
rather than put them in their bookbags!  
Image 36/ 365: Feeling the love from
New York's PS207!
Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

100 Days of School= 100 Kindnesses

Image 34/ 365: Honoring kindness 100 different ways.

Image 35/365: Kindness comes in many shapes and forms!
In honor of surviving reaching 100 days of school, I thought it would be nice to have my 3rd graders each write one or two ways they could be kind as a writing/ thinking warm-up during our literacy block. My kids came up with some good ideas like sharing pencils, erasers, shoes (?), and paper. Other ideas were things that they could do for others like get medicine, take care of baby sisters/ brothers, smile, say "good morning" to others, make them laugh, wash someone's car, or even take someone's dog for a walk. Some offered to help their siblings with homework, while others promised to do their homework everyday--a kindness to their teachers, I suppose? In all, it was a nice way to start the day, thinking about things that we can do to impact those around us in a positive way.

The questions I have for my blog readers concern the actual difficulty several of them had in doing this. Some kids wanted to spew out 5-6 in a matter of minutes, while others were stumped, and claimed they truly couldn't think of anything nice to do for someone. Excuse me--couldn't think of anything nice they "wanted to do" for someone. :( And that was surprising to me. So, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if there was something I can model more explicitly in my classroom for this handful of kids so that the thought of doing something nice for someone else is not such a chore or anomaly. And is not dependent upon reciprocity.

Is it linked to the idea of responsibility? Or the understanding of cause and effect--how one of our own actions propels an action or reaction in someone else, whether for the positive or negative? What are some successful ways some of you have had breaking through to those whose kindness and thoughtfulness are not so abundant? What are some hard-won insights you can share with us?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

They're here!! China Comes Alive Through Art!

Image 29/ 365: Artistic renderings of the Opera regalia, busy streets in
moonlight, and a nurse taking good care of an elderly grandma when
no family is there to do so.

As promised, our classroom partners in China rewarded us this past month with quite a visual feast of insights into their culture! As mentioned in an earlier post, I worked with Mrs. G’s second grade class to conduct an art exchange, to demonstrate how art can communicate culture. And since most of our students are language learners,  this focus on creating a piece of art, with all of its naturally nuanced details, was a decidedly welcome change of pace. And far less daunting than trying to capture so many aspects of our respective cultures in extensive and detailed writing.

Our exchange partners are 10 years old, 2-3 years older than our 2nd graders, and needless to say, our kids were entranced by the artistic content and skills of our faraway friends.

Image 30/ 265: Some more culturally aware 2nd graders holding art
from their peers in China. 
We placed all the artwork around the room, and had students work with partners to analyze the art as objective observers. We guided them with questions about what they saw, inferences about what was happening in the picture, why that event/ object was important enough for the artist to draw, and what they liked the most.

The next step was to turn the art over and confirm (or not) their thinking. On the back of each piece is an artist bio, or description sheet, with information about the artist and the art—from a description of their picture to their own personal interests and goals. Students were then asked to present their findings to the rest of the class. Our Chinese friends will be reading similar bios about us.

As these discussions and presentations took place, Mrs. G and I frequently pulled up images and further information to clarify or extend understanding of various cultural traditions, like brides wearing red (the girls loved photos we found of exquisitely-dressed brides in red!), and information about the Spring Festival, their sports, food, and writing.

So, what were some observations and takeaways from our analysis of the art? The kids noted some visible features of culture: “they play different games like a stick with a circle”, “they write a different language”, “they have a special color for good luck”, they “use paper lanterns for happiness” and they have “different clothing and hair”. All pretty straightforward, but this was the first time we have discussed features of culture, so it was nice that they seemed to get it.

Image 31/365: Preparing for the Spring Festival, with red as good luck, and
Chinese writing invoking Happiness in what may come!
Invisible features of culture? We thought this would be tougher than it was, but it goes to show that we can’t make assumptions about what our kids will understand! They said that “family is important”, “exercise is popular”, “nature is special”, “shelters are different”, and “celebrations are a big deal”!

As far as values that the child artists believed were important? Our kids thought their Chinese partners valued parties and celebrations, taking care of other people, playing with friends, being able to drive/ travel, and getting married.

Image 32/ 365: Children celebrating Spring Festival with their family,
with red lantern decorations, and eating rice balls. The bottom picture
shows the students' love of exercise and sport at school. Such rich detail.
And some things about the artists themselves that they found most interesting? Most of them had only 3 people in their family (unlike many of our students with large extended families), they don’t like homework (like our students!), a lot like exercise and sport, some like to dance, they are "super good" artists, one wants to be a soldier and another a musician, but almost all of them wanted to be a teacher!

Questions for our partners ran the gamut, from inquiries about the weather, many asking if they could teach us some Chinese, whether they ever eat with a fork, if it snows in China, and if there are black children in China.

One word that comes to mind about their country? Most of our kids wrote “red”. The word that comes to mind about the USA? Interestingly, out of 18 responses from our English language learners, all but 3  wrote either freedom, eagle, or community.

I know this is a long post, but it was a fascinating project, and an unforgettable way to lower our language learners' affective filters, and integrate art into the curriculum.

Image 33/ 365: Preparing for Spring Festival--note the language,
 the red lanterns, the rockets/ fireworks to usher in the New Year.
Top right: a bride prepares for her wedding and she is beautiful in
red, but nervous! The bottom right shows the beloved panda, and
the kids' love for animals...the ubiquitous red lanterns in so many
of the pictures became a sort of "Where's the Red Lantern?" game
for our 2nd grade budding art analysts.