Dipping our toes into the Gulf

oil spill question
I started out Day One of the school year with a discussion around what my sixth graders know about the oil spill in the Gulf and what has been happening in the recovery and recapping efforts over the summer months (later that same day, I found out about the explosion of another platform). I shared with one of the interactive maps online that shows the spread of the oil from May to August.

I explained to them that throughout the course of the year, we will be doing inquiry projects and environmental-themed writing that centers around these issues as part of the Voices on the Gulf endeavor. My hope is to touch a wide range of issues as we move forward. I explained this to my principal the other day, and he was very excited about it, wondering how we could use Skype or videoconferencing to connect with other students, particularly those who are involved who live along the Gulf Coast region. I’m going to work on that, I told him.

But first, I asked my homeroom class: What questions do you have about the oil spill? I took their answers and created a Wordle of the responses, which is now posted up at the Voices on the Gulf.

You, and your students, are also invited to join us on this collaborative project. You can read more information about what is required (it all depends on you) and how to get started.

Peace (in the starting),

PS — I’ll leave you with a song that I wrote during late August about my feelings around the Gulf’s recovery. I shared it at Voices on the Gulf, but I was on my blogging vacation back then.

Listen to Ocean Dreams

Wordling Our Way into Day One

I am always curious to know what my new sixth graders are looking forward to and what they worry about. I had them use a Google Survey to gather responses to those two questions and used their answers to generate a few Wordles.

fears 2010

looking forward 2010
Can you tell which is which? Hint: MCAS is our state standardized test and Quidditch is our version of the Harry Potter game.

Peace (in the wordling),

And Now Some Inspirational Words from Colleagues

Today, our students arrive. Yesterday, all of the staff in our district convened for our Convocation Ceremonies as a way to getting the year off to a start on a united front (we are a regional district) and the superintendent this year invited fellow teachers and administrators to be the speakers. Hearing those voices was a great way to begin the year, I thought, so kudos to our superintendent for passing the buck to the staff to motivate, inspire and lead us into the new school year.

Here are a few highlights:

  • My own building principal talked about coming into education as an idealist (and jokingly admitted how that idealism sometimes runs smack into reality when trying to bring ideas to fruition). He noted that no other professional addresses the needs so such a diverse population, and no other profession has a more meaningful goal in our society. Every day is a challenge. Yes. But that challenge is what we relish. “I pity the cubicle dwellers,” he said, to laughter.
  • A mom, who teaches kindergarten, and her daughter, who teaches third grade, took the podium collaboratively and in a very down-to-earth way, they talked about becoming inspired to be a teacher. The daughter: “I thought she (the mom) was the best teacher ever and I wanted to be just like her.” There were more than a few “awwws” in the audience. The two also did a funny bit about teaching styles today (ie, checking out lesson plans online) versus slightly more older teaching styles (ie, pulling out the old mimeograph copies).
  • Another third grade teacher, who had a career in the environmental sciences, told his story of how he went from that career into teaching, mostly because “it’s fun.” But that’s not all, he admitted. “Doing meaningful work has always mattered to me. One thing that charges me up … is knowing what happens in my classroom matters. I know this is a cliche, but what you and I do is important.
  • A high school math teacher took the stage to admit she is a full-fledged “math geek” who was a student in our district and came back as a teacher. She noted the many ways that colleagues helped her during her first years, and how she now tries to return the favor to her younger colleagues. And she loves seeing that spark with her students, noting: “I love to see students finding success where they don’t think it is possible.”
  • Another high school teacher, who teaches social studies, winged his talk a bit, and told of teachers from his Catholic school days who made impressions on him. One teacher was brilliant, and he still draws on those memories to inspire him as a teacher. Another was brilliant but could not connect with students, and was unfair in grading and unhelpful in nurturing young minds. “He expected a lot of his students but he did not expect a lot of himself. He had the ability but not the desire.”
  • Finally, a retired superintendent who now works for our state department of education concluded the Convocation with stories of her teaching days in Texas, and noted that so much of teaching is desire and drive. She also said that building a supportive school community, for staff as well as students, is crucial. “Our job is to be there for each other — to hold each other up. And when we take that as inspiration, we hold up all of our kids up, too.

What a great way to start the year!

Peace (in the words),

Making Webcomics before the School Year Begins

Normally, as the start of school approaches, I include instructions in my summer letter home that asks my incoming students to write at our classroom blog a bit about what they did over the summer. This year, I am going to have us use Bitstrips for Schools webcomics, and so I changes my writing venue from the blog to our classroom webcomic space. It’s been pretty fun to see what they can do, particularly since they are on their own (for the most part — we don’t start school with kids until tomorrow).

Here is a snapshot of our “classroom” page. You can see that many of them are already creating avatars of themselves.
comic classroom 2010

I hope they view the activity as fun and engaging.

Peace (in the comic world),