Tag Archives: learning

Bubbles

With the school year coming to a close, I wanted to come up with an activity for students that felt like play–like a party–and still provide academic content to satisfy my ever-present need to make use of all available instructional minutes. (Yes, even in the last week of school)

So, when I came across a blog post about making giant bubbles and bubble art, I knew I could turn this into a meaningful day of learning and fun…all wrapped up in a soapy bubble! I’m pretty fascinated by bubbles. I’ve spent quite a bit of time photographing giant bubbles at the beach and I’ve written about the “bubble man” a time or two (or more). I know that the trick to great bubbles is the solution–so prior to having my students explore and experiment, my husband and I tried our hand at bubbles over the weekend.

The basis of all bubbles is soap and water. But if you want the bubbles to be big and to have a bit of staying power, a bit of corn syrup and some glycerin need to be added to the mix. Using smoothie straws and yarn, I created a bubble wand that my students would be able to make on their own and started dipping and waving in my own attempt to create bubbles. This bubble thing is harder than it looks! I didn’t immediately get big beautiful bubbles flying from the wand. But with some patience, some tinkering, and some exploration of how to get a thin film filling with air onto my yarn…bubbles happened. At that point, with bubble solution pre-made, I was ready for a day of bubbles with third graders!

We started with a very interesting TED Talk titled, The Fascinating Science of Bubbles, from Soap to Champagne. We learned about surface tension, the geometry of bubbles and so much more. (If I were to do this in the future, I think I might devote an entire week rather than a whole day to bubbles!) Then we made our bubble wands and headed up to the field to make bubbles.

In spite of warning students that making these bubbles would take patience and experimentation, there was plenty of initial whining that “it’s not working!” I reminded them to keep trying. And then it happened…the first child experienced success! Like wildfire, bubbles emerged, filling the air with irridescent spheres.

The soap solution ran out before student interest waned, which is probably the best possible result! We headed back to the classroom with soapy hands, happy hearts and filled with visions and language about bubbles.

These young scientists are also prolific readers and writers, so after studying Valerie Worth’s short poem, Soap Bubbles, we created a list of bubble words and a list of potential bubble metaphors and then set the magic 7-minute writing timer and started writing. Like bubbles, colorful, delicate, evocative poems floated up, emerging from the points of students’ pencils.

Here’s a couple:

To complement the poetry and the elusive, temporary soap bubbles, we got out paper, pencils, water-based markers and some water and created bubbles…as art! Each artist created their own composition, tracing round shapes, adding a space where a light source reflected off each bubble. Then they added marker and finally, using just water and a paint brush, urged the marker to follow the water, creating beautiful dimensional bubbles on watercolor paper.

There is so much more we could have done with bubbles–including exploring the mathematics of spheres. Overall, it was an amazing day. Students could not believe that an entire school day had passed before they even realized it. Engagement was high, work quality was inspiring…it was an amazing last Monday of the school year! Based on this success, I know I will be working some bubble science into future teaching and learning!

Chasing Ladybugs: SOLC #30

Today was the last day for students to attend school in our hybrid AM/PM schedule. They will be remote for the rest of the week to allow time for parent conferences and then after a week off for spring break, the class will unite and become one whole class that attends school all 5 days together. I look forward to this coming together–and hope that the two halves of my class will complement each other.

The PM group is the half that NEEDS their fresh air break. They burst from the classroom doors when it is time, unleashing the energy that they have tried (not always successfully) to contain in the classroom. Today started no different. Most of the kids skipped eating a snack and headed straight for the playground equipment. But a couple sat on the grass to eat a bite…and before I knew it, they were chasing ladybugs.

And catching them.

Gently cupping them, they lifted them from the grass to bring them to me to photograph. (I love that they know that I will want to take photos!) They transferred these brilliant red polka-dotted beauties from the cupped palm to rest on the arm so I could get close for a clear, close up photo with my phone. Somehow they could find these tiny gems when they were not visible to others. Like jewelry, they wore these insects as they danced around the field. Sometimes the ladybugs rested patiently on the arm, other times they spread and fluttered their tiny wings in a blur of red.

These kids never stop talking. They kept up a torrent of descriptions and theories as they ran and collected these friendly insects. One theory they floated was that the number of dots was equal to the age of the bug. (Were they thinking days? Insects don’t tend to live very long lives!) Luckily I had just read an article on ladybug varieties, complete with gorgeous photos (who knew that would come in handy!), so I was able to talk to them about the large number of varieties of ladybugs that exist.

An impromptu break chasing ladybugs was the just right way to end this current mode of teaching. Moments like these remind me how much I enjoy the exuberance and energy of children–and the ways they fuel my teaching and my own learning.

A Pandemic Field Trip

We want what we don’t have. At least I do.

I’m craving travel, exploration, connection, shared experiences, the opportunity to get out of the rut of the ordinary. So are my students.

Living and teaching during a pandemic is no picnic. But all of you know that. Uncertainty and change are the only constants…along with masks, hand washing, and physical distancing.

After three weeks of distance learning, my students came back to school last week. Sort of. Part time. I love, love, love having my students in the classroom again. But…

I have half of them at a time. One shift in the morning and a second shift in the afternoon after the janitorial staff comes in and disinfects the classroom. The AM group works independently in the afternoon from home, the PM group does the same in the morning before they come to school. And I am exhausted trying to keep up!

In spite of this hybrid schedule, I want students to have a rich and meaningful learning experience each and every day. I want them to think deeply and for curiosity to be an insatiable itch that only more reading, writing, observation, and investigation begins to scratch. I love to combine rich content with opportunities to explore, create, and connect. Science is often my go-to.

With the Pacific Ocean outside our door and plant and animal adaptations on our list of science standards, it makes all kinds of sense to study our local kelp forest. Macrocystis Pyrifera has become the basis of our study, the algae on which we build our knowledge.

We’ve done some reading, watched a video, and looked at some photos. Most years we head down to the beach and take a close up look or a parent heads in with a bucket full of these amber jewels. But not in coronavirus times.

So what could I do to breathe some life and variety into the learning in this hybrid classroom? What could I do to energize my own planning and teaching?

I decided on a field trip. Wait…the virus, the pandemic. I’m not even allowed to have all my students in the classroom at the same time!

Virtual field trip to the rescue.

My students don’t come to school on Wednesdays. I host a morning Zoom meeting with the entire class and then set them off to work independently for our minimum day. But this week, Wednesday became our field trip day.

I remembered that the Monterey Bay Aquarium had live cams and a huge kelp forest tank, so I headed to their website to see what kinds of opportunities might exist for my students. I uncovered a wealth of resources! This is a place I had always wished I could take my students to visit, but it is halfway up the state…well out of reach of a field trip even in the best of years!

So how would I organize this virtual field trip so my 8 and 9 year old students could access these resources independently? After some trial and error, I decided to create a slide deck to guide them through a variety of activities. I assigned some specific activities and offered choices for others. And to slow them down and encourage close observation and focused attention, I provided a paper packet for note taking…with a reminder that we will use these in class next week.

I know I was more excited about this virtual field trip than they were–there was great disappointment when they learned we weren’t actually going anywhere! But first indications suggest they did have fun…and learn some things. I’ll know more on Monday!

In the meantime, maybe you are in need of a field trip and an immersion into in the kelp forest. Here’s a link to my slide deck.

So, I didn’t get to travel…but I did get to explore and dig myself out of my usual lesson planning routine. I watched sea otters frolic, jellies undulate, and giant kelp sway. And I’m plotting how to put my students’ new found knowledge about the kelp forest ecosystem to creative use in the classroom next week.

I’m also already thinking about that next virtual field trip. Where should we go? What should we study? If you have great ideas about places with a variety of resources, I’d love to hear all about them!

What I Keep Learning: NPM20 Day 4

This piece in progress was inspired by What I Learned this Week by Angela Narcisco Torres. While it doesn’t yet feel finished to me, it does have some ideas that I am happy to have captured.

What have you been learning as we all do our best to shelter-in-place? Those of you who are teachers, what are you learning as you work to support students through some kind of remote learning?

What I Keep Learning

What matters when your students are names on a screen

Rather than physical beings that you see and interact with each day?

When you hear the echoes of their voices 

Through typed comments

That pop up continuously throughout what used to be the school day.

Quiet students are still quiet

Rarely leaving a trail of their thoughts or needs

And body language is no longer

A text to be read

The chatterers still chat

Loud and long, filling my inbox

With every possible question, ‘sup, and emoji 

They tap their chat to me, to each other, to themselves

Filling empty ears with imagined sounds of school

Assignments matter now more than ever

I see the ways the mundane

Assignment-for-assignment-sake

Deflates, dissipating energy

Leaving us all unsatisfied and wrung out

Like that washcloth left on the edge of the sink

We need learning opportunities that connect us

Build on experiences and passions

Each student holds close

Allowing ideas to soar and words to take flight

Writing matters, that’s what I keep learning

®Douillard

SOLC Day 29: Tasting the Nurturing

I don’t cook. Lucky for me, I married someone who does…and does it well. And he not only cooks, but uses food preparation as a way of nurturing, a way of showing his love.

Most days, breakfast is a grab your own system. He makes coffee, I grab my yogurt from the fridge, dress it up with granola or fruit or not and eat as I check those early morning emails before I leave the house (back when I left the house). That routine is still in place on the weekdays. But on the weekends, breakfast is always something more special.

This morning was homemade buttermilk biscuits.

I love biscuits. Light and fluffy with a slight crunch, slathered with butter and honey. Perfection. And it takes some work. He starts with a fork and butter into flour, eventually adding wet ingredients until it is ready to roll.

He’s learned this folding and rolling technique that creates space between the layers of the biscuit that contributes to the light and flaky texture. When it is rolled just right, he starts the cutting. with the biscuit cutter we bought on a trip to Nashville (where the biscuits are good)!

Transfer to the pan and into the oven they go until they come our golden brown with just the right crunch on the outer layer.

And to balance out this decadence, scrambled eggs with cheese and turmeric and some orange slices round out the breakfast plate.

In each and every bite, I can feel my husband’s love and care. I hope my students can feel that kind of nurturing in the work I ask them to do. Especially during these remote learning days, when I am not able to teach my lessons through my voice, my body, through the interactions of students with me and with each other, I am carefully constructing and deconstructing my own plans and planning process to convey energy, motivation, and reasons to engage to my students. I want them to taste the sweetness in the writing I ask them to do. I look for ways for us to connect–through video, through images, through words, through text. I want them to taste the love and nurturing just like I did this morning when I bit into that homemade biscuit…with honey dripping down their chins, hungering for more.

SOLC Day 11: What’s Your Angle?

As we swam through the complication of terms used to describe and classify angles and triangles, it became clear how unfamiliar this language was to my third graders. How many adults know that there are three kinds of triangles that can described by their angles: right triangle, acute triangle, or obtuse triangle. Or by their sides: scalene (all sides of different length), isosceles (2 sides of equal length), or equilateral (all sides the same length).

There’s nothing like a novel tool to make learning more fun–and so, we pulled out the protractors and set to work creating and measuring some “angle fish.” After a quick demonstration, students set to work…trying hard to remember to trace and draw a semi-circle on the fold (there were only a couple of oopses!). I gave them each an angle measurement on a post-it note…and they used their protractor to measure the designated angle to cut out as the mouth. And then the fun began as students used scraps to create colorful, unique fish with definite personality!

We later sorted the fish into their angle category–discovering that my careful distribution of angle measurements (dividing the class approximately equally into acute and obtuse angles) didn’t quite work out in practice. Using a protractor actually means you have to know some things about angles before using the tool. It’s quite easy to measure 110º and end up with an acute angle instead! But the point was the learning–not perfection, and learn they did!

To top things off, we started singing a new song…another one penned by the Bazillions called Triangular Triangles. Songs are always a fun way to learn new information and my students are not shy about belting them out!

My angle in all of this is to convince my students–all of them–that math is fun! Everyone can learn math and make continual improvement if they engage with the ideas. My students were already suspecting that I would be having them do some writing (as I do with almost every kind of art we make)–I’m also always working to convince them that writing is both fun and meaningful. My students know I always have some kind of ulterior motive for my lessons–and I guess they are right! My goal is to impact each student I teach in ways that positively impact their success as contributing members of society, whatever they decide to do in their futures…and of course, to make learning enjoyable each and every day at school!

SOLC Day 9: Finding Faces

Last week I wrote about my students and their foray into photography under the influence of Ansel Adams.  Going a bit deeper into both photography and activism, this week we’ve turned our attention to Dorothea Lange.  Starting with Ansel Adams felt easy.  He focused on nature, using Yosemite and other National Parks as his playground.  His photography feels akin to mine, paying attention to beauty in nature, noticing light and shadow, marrying photography to walking and hiking and moving around outdoors.

Dorothea Lange and her photography pushes me.  I seldom photograph people–with the exception of my three grandsons–feeling awkward getting close, zooming in to capture expressions of genuine emotion.  (Weirdly, it doesn’t feel awkward with my grandsons.  I’ve been photographing them since they were born–and they’re still little.  I think they just see my camera as an extension of me–they are fascinated with it and the idea of photography when I am around.)

So today…maybe to avoid the awkwardness of photographing one another, my students and I set out with iPads in hand to find faces.  I asked them to find faces rather than make faces or take photos of faces on a mural.  I hadn’t pre-scouted the campus to see if I could find faces, instead I just trusted that my students would be creative and find something interesting.

Because of Monday’s schedule, I haven’t yet seen what my students came up with, but I did capture a few of my own found faces.

Here’s one I noticed from a sideways view hanging out on the playground equipment.

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And there was this face, complete with sombrero!

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Looking up, I caught these eyes looking out over the playing field.

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And heading back to the classroom, I noticed this shy face hanging back behind the shrubbery.

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I’m not really sure where we will go with these photos…what writing we might pair with these found faces.  I do know that our next step is to consider how to use a photo to advocate for something that needs our attention…so stayed tuned.  There will be more to report soon! (I hope!)

SOLC Day 4: LeadLearn 2020

I have to admit, I don’t love a mid-week conference.  And yet, I spent yesterday evening and all day today at LeadLearn 2020.  It’s a conference for the California Subject Matter Projects put on by the California Subject Matter Projects.  This year’s theme was developing teacher leadership…and lucky for me, the conference was right here in San Diego!

And in spite of its mid-week-ness, I did enjoy the conference.  A couple of our local UCSD professors provided the keynotes:  Alan Daly talked about networks and the essential role of social capital in making change–including metaphors the the super chicken and murmurations of starlings and Mica Pollock reminded us all of the importance of language–especially the language choices we make in talking about and to students and how our talk impacts their school and future success.  (If you want a great resource, take a look at her book Schooltalk.)

After lunch I was part of a presentation on recruiting, developing, and sustaining teacher leaders along with colleagues from the science project, math project, and reading and literature project.  It was a lively session that offered a variety of perspectives…including those of teacher leaders from our sites.  I was surprised at the energy of this after-lunch session–and it was so much fun presenting with my CREATE team.

All in all, I left today feeling full.  I had some interesting conversations, enjoyed meeting new people with similar views on teaching and learning, and have some new ideas to think about.

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Learning from Writing: Reflections on the Poem-a-Day Challenge 2019

After 60 days of daily writing, it’s time to reflect on all I’ve learned from writing every day.  My first 30 days were entries classified as “slice of life,” vignettes and stories from life as I lived it. The second 30 days were poems, one each day of April as part of my classroom poem-a-day challenge.

The first and most important lesson learned is that daily writing makes daily writing easier. The more I write, the more I have to say.  That is not to say that writing is easy.  In fact, writing is work.  Every. Single. Day.  I have my share of “writer’s block,” but when I expect to write every day, I look for strategies to push through it.  Throughout my day I find myself paying attention to words, images, interactions…everything I encounter is potential fodder for my writing.

A tiny, furry caterpillar scurrying across the sidewalk grabs my attention and I stop to take a photo or two, knowing that there’s a story or a poem or a musing about life somewhere in that fuzzy body.  I’m reminded that attention to tiny, perfect things primes me for daily writing.

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I’ve also learned that my students need me to give them tips, techniques, and inspiring mentor texts to nurture them as writers.  They need to see me as not just their teacher, but as a fellow writer who also experiences challenges and successes, who starts and stops, and even stalls sometimes during the composing process.  My scribbles and scratch throughs show that writing takes effort and that it is worth the effort.  Being a writer in a community of writer breathes wind beneath our writerly wings.

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I’ve learned to see revision as a gift rather than a chore.  Writing doesn’t have to be perfect as you lay the words on the page.  Revision invites opportunities to revisit and re-see, allowing for new ideas to reshape that thinking on the page.  I especially love what revision offers my students.  Once they push past the idea that “done” is the goal, they are willing to rework their writing, especially when they have specific techniques to experiment with and concrete feedback to focus the reworking.

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say a brain surgeon.  You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.  Robert Cormier

I leave this post saying now what?  60 days of blogging challenges have kept me accountable to my daily writing.  Will I write tomorrow without a challenge to motivate me?  Will I invent a new challenge to keep myself going?  Can I keep up a daily writing practice without posting publicly?  And what will keep my students writing?  They will spend time over the next week or two curating their poems: selecting and revising to create a book that showcases ten of the poems written in April.

Habits are hard to form and easy to break, so I’ll be working to keep this writing habit alive…for myself and for my students.

 

 

Something Fishy: SOLC 2019 Day 27

Just when we thought the week couldn’t get any fishier, it did!  You already know about the angle fish and the wire fish…today was all about real fish.

Wednesdays are our science lab day and our science teacher always goes to great lengths to make things relevant and hands-on for the kids.  I knew that she’d gone to a grunion run last weekend…and the grunion were running.  If you’re not from coastal southern California, you may not know about grunion.  They are small silver fish, about the length of a dollar bill…and they’re pretty special.  They are the only fish who come onshore to lay their eggs in the sand and they are found only along our coast from northern Baja to southern Santa Barbara.  They spawn from March to June, riding high tides onto the shore to lay their eggs.  A couple weeks later, at the next high tide, the eggs are washed back into the ocean, requiring the wave motion to hatch.

I remember grunion runs from my own teenaged days.  Since grunion only surf onto the beach late at night, it was the perfect opportunity for groups of preteens to head to the beach, hanging out in the moonlight, trying not to scare off the grunion.  (I don’t know who talked the adult drivers into that duty!)  If you’re under 16 you don’t need a fishing license to pick up the fish…not that I can ever remember wanting to pick them up!  Lucky for us, our science teacher was able to collect some grunion (and eggs) on her grunion run last weekend for our students to study.

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Students were able to touch the fish (yeah, they were dead), measure them to determine their age, and gently squeeze them to determine whether they were female (if reddish eggs came out) or male (if a milky liquid came out).

As you can see, they were eager to handle them, some with gloves and some with their bare hands.

We also took the opportunity to present our science teacher with a gift of fish from us. Each student contributed one of their wire fish (Calder inspired) to our collective fish mobile.  The best part was that each student figured out their own fish’s balancing point, tied a piece of fishing line to that point, and then small groups hung their fish together.  We tied each string of fish from a piece of drift wood that I found on one of my beach walks. The result was stunning!  I’m including a photo–although it doesn’t begin to do it justice!

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Next week students will string their own individual fish mobiles…and continue their study of grunion.  If we’re lucky, we will be able to get some of those grunion eggs to hatch…right in front of our eyes!