27 August, 2011

Plan B

Teachers deal with "Plan A" failures better than anyone I know.  Hmmm, maybe that is because it happens so often?  Please do not think this is because teachers often fail.  Rather it is because we have gone with the interests of the students, embracing teachable moments!

Example:  Just last week, I had planned a nature walk with my students. We were going to explore a specific area of the school grounds, and look for lovely leaves of all shapes and sizes - which we were then going to glue onto pieces of card stock, and press.  The results were to be the covers of the children's nature journals.  I pictures them sort of like this:

Instead of gathering simply leaves, my students joyfully gathered everything they could find that was interesting: leaves, berries, cicada shells, pebbles, nut shells, seed pods, flowers - pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. I didn't want to stop their investigatory work or dampen their enthusiasm so I encouraged them to pick up whatever they found that interested them. We discussed the flowers, looked at the shapes of the rocks, picked up some leaves (being careful NOT to pick any poison ivy), and generally learned a lot about our school environment.  The children were thrilled with what they found and happily glued for all they were worth, sticking all the items to their "nature journal covers."  

Now clearly, creating these fabulous pieces of art was a wonderful experience, but the items were never going to survive the pressing process nor would they make very good nature journal covers.

So I went with Plan B.

I photographed each of the students' creations, and printed a copy of each one on card stock.  Okay, it is not quite as fabulous as having real items grace the covers, but it preserved the integrity of the students work, and they were very pleased!  Plus, now I have their original work too, which I think I might have them make into a wood collage piece.  Bonus!

So if Plan A fails, consider the failure a teachable moment, and go happily with Plan B.  It will probably work out just fine.

Watercolor Sun Prints

A great way for children to get to know each other is to go on a walk, exploring the school grounds.  We did this, and as we walked we gathered materials to create sun prints!  We visited, explored, and searched and came back with lovely shaped leaves, twigs, and whatever else struck our fancies!

When we returned to the sidewalk area near our classroom, we set the gathered materials aside, and began creating the base of the print, the paper.

I set out a large tray with lots of individual containers of liquid watercolors, each with its own pipette.  The children "made little rivers" and squeezed beautiful mixtures, of the colors.  Then each child placed his or her found treasures onto the pieces of paper.  I covered each one with plastic wrap (squishing down the rivers a bit - in some cases.)

We weighted down the papers with sticks and rocks so they wouldn't blow away, and left them in the bright sunshine for the rest of the day.

The next day, I unwrapped the papers, and the children removed the natural objects, revealing . . .

I asked the children what they thought happened to make the paintings look this way.  One child said the leaves must have soaked up all the paint underneath them, and another child said that he could still see the leaf shape because the leaf was somehow stuck inside the paper!

I typed up their explanations, glued them to the back of the pictures, and put them in our Nature Journals for safe keeping!

I wonder what we will put into our Nature Journals next!

10 August, 2011

Creating the Classroom Environment, the Third Teacher

In Reggio Emilia classrooms and Reggio Emilia inspired spaces educators speak of three teachers: parents, classroom teachers and the school environment.

Keeping this ultimate goal in mind . . .

In my new classroom, I have been striving to clean out enough to make the space fit my teaching style, while also saving some of the fantastic materials that were there already.  I have also been working on making the space somewhat of an amalgam of Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio-Emilia inspired spaces.

Here are a few photos of what the classroom looked like when I arrived.  It was very colorful, vibrant, and full of exciting materials.

The problem was that the materials were not my own so I wasn't comfortable with them.  I needed mostly my things along with a few of the previous teacher's things, to get the year started.  With the blessing of my new school, I cleaned out, reorganized, and began afresh.  I stored some of the old items for later use, and brought out some of my old favorites.

I used my natural materials, Waldorf-inspired items whenever I felt it was appropriate.


Block Building

I have some Montessori practical life exercises, and some Montessori math and language materials. 

And some (hopefully) invitingly displayed art materials, ready for Reggio-Emilia inspired project work.  I also have a fabulous magnetic board in the block area ready for building project work!  It is to the right of the plain wooden blocks, on the wall.  It is 8 feet tall!  WOW!

and dear readers, the best thing of all is that my new classroom HAS A SINK!!!!!!

So I have 6 more days until school starts, but I have a few things ready to go!  What do you think?

A New Perpetual Calendar

The huge news in my life is . . . drum roll please . . .

I have a new job!  

I will be working in an independent school, in one of the two PreKindergarten rooms!  I am thrilled and very anxious to begin setting up my new classroom.  I have been working like a busy bee cleaning out and preparing, and tomorrow I will begin moving in my own materials! Fabulous!

One of the things I will be moving in is a brand spanking new, magnetic dry erase perpetual calendar.  I made it myself for very little money, and not too terribly much time.  You can do it too!

Why did I make it?

The real reason is that I am really picky about my classroom calendar.  It has to have certain elements, and not have others.  I know this is really picky, but honestly I have good reasons for each "required to have" or "required not to have" element

Required to have:

  • Dates must be listed for the entirety of the month at the beginning of the month 
This is so the children can see all the dates (numbers) in order any time they look at the calendar, and aren't fishing in a basket for a number they can say, but not identify in its written form.  That skill comes later in the year.
  • Each day of the week must be written out in its entirety (Sunday v. Sun or "S")
This is so the children become familiar with the days as they sounds and are written.  Abbreviation work also comes later, after children have learned the full names of the days
  • Each date must have room to write any special events that may occur such as field trips
This is so the children have a reference point for upcoming events as well as past events.  "How many days is it until . . . ?"

Required not to have:

  • velcro circles on empty circles, waiting for the children to put the date on
The velcro circles bother me from an aesthetic point of view, but as I said earlier, I think it is vitally important for all the dates to be visible right from the beginning of the month rather than having the children find the date each day
  • lots of bright patterns and colors
The individual markers for each day can be more fun and change with each month, but having the whole calendar decorated is too distracting

So with these self imposed guidelines in mind, I have always created a new calendar each month, like this one (below.)

I used poster board and wrote in the dates leaving room for any necessary notes.  Somehow however, the end of the month always seemed to coincide with 800 other things to do in the classroom, and making a new calendar was never very high on the "to do" list.  Likewise making 10 months of calendars, over the summer, didn't appeal to me very much.

So this year I finally worked on a new perpetual calendar!  It has all that it should, and none of the things it shouldn't!  Perfect right?

I made it with sheet metal left over from a recently closed manufacturer. The sheet metal company gave it to me!  How fabulous is that?  I am so grateful to them for donating to teachers.  Thank you ESM!  After I brought it home I . . .

  • peeled the protective coating from the metal
  • marked off the calendar grid with black artist's tape
  • sealed the grid with ModPodge
  • used number stickers to mark 31 wooden disks
  • glued magnets to the disks
  • sealed them with ModPodge - I am a big fan of the ModPodge as you can tell.  : )
  • marked the days of the week with stickers
  • added the month to the top with magnets
  • decorated with edge of the calendar with the "marker" magnets - to be used to mark individual days
Oh, and did I mention it can also be marked with dry erase markers?  Perfect!!!

Poof!  The whole thing cost me less than $10, and now all I have to do each month is adjust the dates, and make a new month label.  'Cause all teachers have better things to do than mark out a new calender grid each month.  Right?  We have baking projects to prepare, and paint brushes to wash, and children to inspire!  : )

What projects have you ticked off your list this summer?

Later this week:  Preparing the Classroom Environment: The Third Teacher