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Do Schools Kill Creativity? January 31, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Food for Thought, Teaching.
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Do you have 18 minutes?  That’s how long the speakers at TED  “Ideas Worth Sharing” have to give the talk of their lives. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) was started in 1984 to bring together the best minds in these fields, but has since expanded its vision.  I first viewed this link on The Critical Thinker, which you’ll find on my blogroll (Thanks Mark!).

This 18-minute talk by Sir Ken Robinson is a joy to watch.  It’s a laugh out loud stand-up comedy routine that raises serious questions about how we educate children.  Okay, I don’t really believe that all those kids with ADHD ricocheting around classrooms will grow up to be dancers, but I could be wrong.  Actually, I’d love to be wrong.  

I teach at a school where there’s an “emphasis on the arts” (though no funding for them).  Yet ultimately, it all comes down to The Test and that ever elusive API score.  I wouldn’t say I’m drowning in data, but my new computer password is “Data Hari.”  

As educators,  we’re always looking for answers when sometimes what we need to do is stop and rethink the questions.  Ken Robinson raises some very interesting ones.  Do you have 18 minutes?

To view some of the other amazing people who’ve spoken at TED, click on this link.    TED

Fortune Has Arrived January 26, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Personal, Politics.
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The mother of one of my students, who’s Chinese, came in Friday to talk to students about Chinese New Year.  I love the color red so I was already sold on the holiday.  Several years ago I didn’t have time to send out Christmas cards but saved face by sending Chinese New Year’s cards instead.  She read stories and brought beautiful Chinese dolls and a gorgeous woman warrior puppet wielding a sword,  “A woman can be a warrior,” I informed the skeptical boys (brandishing my own verbal sword).

She explained how it was important to clean everything to prepare for the luck and good fortune that a new year brings. (It’s the Year of the Ox, in case you didn’t know.)  All of my “Dragons” cleaned the entire classroom along with two students who were born in the Year of the Rabbit.  Because they were born at the end of the year, we learned they are officially “Rabbit Tails.”

I was also given the character fu above which means good fortune in a general sense – wealthy, happiness, success (a green card?).  The character is to be hung upside down. (Like I would know the difference!)  When turned upside down, the character creates an auspicious phrase (Chinese for pun) Fu dao le that rhymes with the character for “arrives” or “comes.”  So you’re expressing your wish that fortune be directed to wherever the upside down character is found.  That’s why you’ll find the upside down character throughout the year and why not? Everyone needs good fortune heading their way.  When good fortune comes, you turn the character right side up to signal its arrival.

I love symbols or maybe it’s the ritual, as so much of modern life has been stripped of ritual (other than the ritualistic stop at Starbucks).  It seems to me that just about everyone I know could use some good fortune, including our new president, Barack Obama.  Boy, does he have a big mess to clean up, and I think he’s going to need some help from the likes of you and me. Just to be on the safe side, Obama needs to hang up a really big upside down fu above the steps to our nation’s Capitol.

There are lots of people I know and love who could use some good luck. They cling to Hope while they await its arrival.  I’m thinking tonight of my sister-in-law Jane (“Janer”).  At 47, she’s already survived two marriages, one to a narcissist.  She has nine children (eight still at home) and learned just last month that she has breast cancer. Tomorrow she’s having a double mastectomy.  I know she’s scared, but chooses to focus on the positive (“I’m getting a tummy tuck and they’re going to use all that extra skin for reconstructive surgery.”)  Know this.  A woman can be a warrior.

Yes You Can – Obamicon Me January 22, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Monthly Mao, Politics.
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Hey, it works!  My friend Elisse sent me a link to obamiconme.pastemagazine.com.  You can upload a photo and choose the perfect word to go with then have it rendered in the style of Shepard Fairey’s iconic poster.  

There’s an on-line gallery of all the images people have created.  The only caveat is that you can’t upload graphic sexual images (Like who in the world?)  You have to create an account using your email address, but it’s totally free and after you’ve created your “Obamicon” you can download it or post it on Facebook.  My pets are submitting their headshots, but they’ll have to wait.  First I have to “Obamicom” all my Republican friends.

Yes We Did – Watch the Inauguration January 21, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Politics, Teaching.
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I woke up at 5 a.m. worried about one of my students, who’s often tardy.  I shouldn’t have bothered. When I arrived at school, he was already in line and eager to let me know he was the first one at school.  I breathed a sign of relief.  So far, so good.

I’d left a note on the classroom door.  Any student who arrived late had to be personally escorted to the restaurant where we were going to watch the inauguration or go to another teacher’s classroom.  The plan was to leave directly from the playground where we line up so as not to miss Obama’s swearing in.  The Start bell rang.  We had exactly 14 minutes to walk to the restaurant if we wanted to see Obama take the presidential oath. 

We speed-walked in a single file line.  Several of my students, giddy with excitement, said they felt like they were in “Make Way for Ducklings” (one of the stories we’ve read) and that I was Mrs. Mallard leading the parade.  We arrived just in time to see Joe Biden sworn in as Vice-President. They piled their backpacks in a corner and found seats.  We had the front room at the restaurant, and my students quickly settled in to watch Barack Obama sworn in and listen to his speech, while they were served orange juice and muffins.

Then out came the real food.  Hot trays with three kinds of eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and pancakes.  There were beans and meatballs and even baklava.  One of my students who’s African American brought her mother and her grandmother (who was still younger than me!).  They brought me the bracelet in the photo above.  I have a wonderful photo of them  – three generations – watching the inauguration.  In one photo, my student’s grandmother is wiping away tears.  It’s a beautiful image. 

As I looked out over my students, I saw the faces of the future. My students are Asian (Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese), Latino (Mexico and El Salvador), African American, Armenian, Bosnian, Pakistani, and my token white student (I have one every year), who’s excited that he’s learning some phrases in Bosnian.  In short, they are the faces of American – and our country’s future. If my class is any indicator, our country is in good hands.

Yes We Can – Watch the Inauguration January 17, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Politics, Teaching.
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My third grade students almost missed watching the inauguration of Barack Obama.  Last Tuesday it hit me.  Although I have a TV in my classroom (won in a raffle), I’ve only used it to show videos and DVDs.  Because of the mountains in Southern California, you can’t get decent TV reception unless you have cable or a satellite dish. So how were my students going to watch Barack Obama take the presidential oath?   No matter your political bent, this is History with a capital H!

I  talked to my husband aka “Tech Support” about our options.  On any given day the internet is down in my classroom.  (To be fair, when we got a new school superintendent, he was appalled at the sad state of technology in our district, but that’s Another Story).  I know teachers who are taking Tuesday off because they don’t want to miss this historic event.  How sad is that?    .

I emailed my room parent to ask if she had any ideas.  (And no, I don’t name names, but I am arranging to have her face carved on Mt. Rushmore.)  I was willing to invite my students to watch the inauguration at my house (and yes, I would have obsessively cleaned for third graders), but parents aren’t allowed to drive students on field trips.  Dedicated teacher that I am, I wasn’t willing to put my job security on the line and commandeer a bus (not in this economy).

My room parent is one of those “can do” people, who can move mountains. (I just point to where I want it moved.) When my sons were in school in New York City, I was always a room parent, and I’d like to think that my sons’ teachers thought of me in the same way.  But then I was never “put to the test.”  I excelled at collecting money from parents and making sure there were enough cupcakes for class parties.

Within 20 minutes of my email, my room parent had come up with a plan.  I had to (take a deep breath) call my principal at home to get the okay.  My principal thought it sounded “fabulous!”  The very next day, each student received a personal invitation to the presidential inauguration.

So I don’t know how you’re spending Inauguration Day, but this is what my “future leaders of tomorrow” will be doing.  As soon as the Start bell rings. we’re going on a “Walking Field Trip” to a restaurant three blocks from the school.  My room parent knows the owner.  Although the restaurant doesn’t open until lunch, they’re letting my class watch the inauguration in the back room on the big screen TV AND serving them breakfast. (My room parent said she’d take care of that.)

One of my students is bringing her mother and her grandmother, so you’re welcome to join us.  All of the permission slips have been returned, and the students are psyched.  Because they’re third graders, now they want to know about the really important stuff – like what’s to eat?

Why is this so important to me?  This year I have a cluster of English Language Learners (ELLs) and most of their parents are here on student visas or aren’t citizens, so they didn’t even vote.  And unlike in years past, I only have three African-American students this year.  But I understand the significance of the election of the first African American president for ALL Americans.  My students (who are 8 and 9) might not fully appreciate this now, but years from now I want to them to remember how they spent this day, and that they shared it with me – their teacher.

On Friday, as they got ready to leave, I asked my students, “Are you going to come to school on Monday?”  I got a resounding NO.  They all know it’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday. (Third graders are SO smart.)

“Are you going to come to school on Tuesday?” I asked.  “Yes!” they said in unison, barely able to contain their excitement.  “Don’t be late, ” I reminded them.  “We have a date with history!”

Note to Teachers: So many teachers have read this post after plugging in the search term “inauguration lesson plans for third grade.”  My amazing room parent also bought me a subscription to edHelper.com. so I was able to put together a four-page Inauguration packet filled with puzzles and activities.

Bugs Don’t Bug Me January 14, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Gardening, Teaching.
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I’ve always been fascinated by six and eight-legged creatures. Yeah, that’s me as a kid holding a jar with one of my insect friends.  On a hot humid day in Nebraska, there were bugs aplenty.  I spent a lot of time punching air holes in the tops of jars and stalking grasshoppers out by the tomato plants. I remember watching them “spit tobacco” and especially how my hands smelled after I’d handled them.

After I read Charlotte’s Web, I was all about spiders.  I can’t think of a better way to spend one’s time than to watch a spider spinning its web (though I have yet to see one write a cryptic message).  Did you know that most spiders take down their web every day only to spin a new one the next?   I relate to spiders.  Some days, I, too, feel like I’m back at Square One.

I’m always surprised when a student’s first impulse when they see a bug is to want to kill it.  At my old school, lots of nature wandered (or should I say crawled) into our classroom, as it was on the ground floor.  One of the most coveted class jobs was “Creature Comfort.” Job Description: “Gently return animal visitors to their natural habitat.”  

I hung a stuffed purple spider (with those wiggly eyes that make everything look cute) from the ceiling.  On the counter beneath it were the Tools of the Trade – a clear plastic cup and an index card.  I demonstrated how to put the cup over the insect and then slide the card beneath it.

By mid-year, I’d hear a student shriek then shout, “Creature Comfort!”   I didn’t let any of the girls, some who thought bugs were oh so yucky, off the hook either.  We’d set the cup on the back table and gather round to observe the bug. After a while, my students could identify most common bugs, and we kept a log of the number of “visitors” to our classroom. The bug was then returned to its “natural habitat” – a patch of weeds surrounding one very sad looking tree just outside our door.

I will admit that after living in New York City for 11 years, there’s no love lost between me and cockroaches (See Cockroach Confidential).   And I’m upfront with students about ants in the classroom.  When you see one, it’s the tip of iceberg.  That’s what shoes are for.  

I love to tell students how some indigenous people in South America wore live jewel-like beetles in their hair for decoration.  Bug barrettes but not so French.  How cool is that?  

My friend and fellow blogger, Catherine Sherman (who’s on my Blogroll) shares my interest in creepy crawly creatures and turned me on to Bug Girl’s Blog

According to her About Me page, “Bug Girl has a PhD in Entomology. Her bug research involves using pheromones to try to control insect populations without pesticides. Essentially, she makes male bugs horny, and then prevents them from mating. (Please don’t extrapolate from that more that is warranted.)”  

I have a feeling that Bug Girl has lots of jars with holes punched in the tops and also knows what your hands smell like after you’ve handled grasshoppers.  I’m hoping I just might run into her out by the tomato plants.

My World is Flat January 7, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Blogging.
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I’ve always loved geography, especially if it involves sticking map pins in foreign countries that are then tethered in place with colorful yarn.  (But, that’s the teacher in me.)  Being a sucker for maps, I added the ClustrMap in the sidebar of my blog on Dec. 28th to show where visitors to my blog are coming from (geographically speaking, that is).  The stats upgrade daily (or almost), but the 12,194 visitors who came before I activated the ClustrMap aren’t accounted for.  I refer to them as The Missing.

According to ClustrMaps, every so often, a new cycle starts and The Map is wiped clean.  So one day The Map looks like it has the measles and then the next, there’s not a spot in sight.  This has freaked some bloggers out, so now Clustrmaps (which is free), notifies users ahead of time so they can prepare for this Cyber-geddon.  Bloggers, evidently, are a sentimental bunch and like to hoard copies of every measly (and measled) map on their hard drives.

I hope to see crater-sized circles soon, all but obliterating the earth as I know it.  (Sorry, but given Americans’ dunce status when it comes to world geography, I couldn’t bring myself to write WE).  

In the first week that I had The Map, I couldn’t help but notice that there were no dots on Africa.  My husband, who just finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s brilliant book Outliers, thinks this is because much of that continent’s population is busy gathering mongongo nuts (Gladwell) and having recreational sex (my husband).   No hits in Iceland?  Easily explained. Richard said they obviously lost all of their computers when the banks went belly up. And what about Alaska?  The only person I knew of by name from Alaska didn’t seem to be much of a reader. But, Richard is inclined to believe it’s because all those Alaskans are busy catching and gutting the few remaining fish on the planet.  The strange thing is that my husband is starting to make sense, which is taking some getting used to.

When I saw I a dot smack in the middle of Australia, I actually got out my atlas, as I knew all of the major cities are on the coast.  Could some aboriginal person be sitting atop Ayers Rock cruising the internet?  My friend Cathy had a different theory.  She imagined some poor sot working at a sheep station in the interior and the only other person within miles just happens to be a narcissist. (See Top Posts)  Then I wondered if a sheep could be narcissistic, and we didn’t want to go THERE!

So, wherever you’re coming from (geographically speaking or otherwise), welcome!  Thanks for stopping by my planet.

No Mo’ Snow January 3, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Blogging.
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needy-snowperson

Our friend Nora sculpted a trio of snowmen for us from Paperclay and we determined this one came across as the neediest. I'm just sorry that I can't make him talk the way Nora can.

It’s official.  The last Snow Day on WordPress blogs is January 4th.  My friend Elisse first told me about the “snow falling” feature, which I immediately activated.  I grew up slogging through snow and having my car spin out on icy roads.  I know all too well the smell of damp, sweaty wool.  

Since I’ve acclimated to California, I rather enjoy wandering out to the curb to pick up the newspaper in my bare feet  – in December.  Or complain that it’s FREEZING, when the temperature has plummeted to a measly 46 degrees. No sooner do the words come out of my mouth, then both my husband (who’s from Idaho) and I both burst out laughing.  What wimps we’ve become.

I’m sorry to see the snow go, as I liked having the power to control its direction using my cursor.  And come Monday, I’ll have 20 third graders to keep under control, with less predictable results.  Last night I fell asleep on the couch in front of a fire with the tree all lit up.  We’d already decided to take it down today so this was akin to attending a wake (something I’ve never done) or sitting shiva (something else I’ve never done).  In advance.

I’d taken some of the holiday decor down and was procrastinating about the rest.  Then yesterday I tripped on a wire reindeer made from coat hangers and meant to hold Christmas cards.  As I stumbled across the room with this bear trap with antlers latched to my foot, it all became clear.  It was time. So Christmas 2008 is a wrap.  No mo’ snow.

January Mao January 1, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Monthly Mao.
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