Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tears & Fears

A young man in my class came over to me sobbing with tears streaming down his face this afternoon, about fifteen minutes after they started writing.

(This must be read very slowly with many sobs in the middle.) "I can't think of anything to write about."

It should be noted that this assignment did not affect their grade in any way. To prepare for next week's state writing test, the students were given six prompts to choose from to do a practice essay. I said, numerous times, that my goal was for them to write to one prompt so that we could sit down together, just the two of us, to identify strengths and consider what they need to really remember next week. I tried really, really hard not to put any pressure on this.

None of that mattered to this student. I can't imagine what the actual test will do to him.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Science Experiment that Got Out of Hand

If you had been in our mod (our temporary building) yesterday you would probably have called the office with concerns about smoke and a burning smell. Most teachers on my hall did.

We've been studying states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) and how temperature affects them. The students wrote experiments to prove that increasing temperature will cause matter to go from solid to liquid to gas and decreasing temperature will do the opposite. I pushed my students to think about something else we could experiment with, besides water, to test this. They decided on marshmallows. So we put some water in a pan with a couple of marshmallows and melted them. We were all fascinated. Gradually we watched all of the water boil off. The students were able to figure out that if there was something left in the pan when all the water was gone then we would know that marshmallows don't become gas. So, this is what was left in the pan. We did talk about the fact that we couldn't get it any hotter to see if a hot enough temperature would cause it to become gas. Then we got interested in several other questions about marshmallows and began doing some research on the computer and smartboard. We left the pan on just to see what would happen. All of the sudden students got really excited and pointed over at the pan. It was bubbling up in a gooey mess and there was a lot of smoke. A couple of students ran over to open the windows (it was below freezing outside) and another opened our classroom door. I stood there waving the pan around trying to figure out how I would explain this to my administrators if we set of the smoke alarm and the whole school had to evacuate. We left the pan sitting in the room for the rest of the day (not on any heat, of course) and students kept stopping by to feel it and observe. I'm not sure what all they learned, but I'm sure they were asking questions, making observations, and behaving like scientists. Probably more than any other time this year.

And, it wasn't as bad as the HazMat visit last year.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A serious post, seriously.

A little bug has been tickling my ear. I think my technologically savvy classroom is missing some much needed curriculum.

My students know how to:
- use a search engine.
- go straight to the source, i.e. go to an art museum site when looking for specific works of art.
- identify the relative source of a site, and therefore discern the authority of the site, by the url address.
- title their discussion board comments so that their reader has a preview of their post.
- evaluate the usefulness of a website in terms of reading level.
- identify the best place to start when researching.

However, in the classroom, my students do this in a controlled environment. I limit their search engines to ones that meet my dirty test. There is an adult monitoring their computer use at all times. Most importantly, their computer time has a higher purpose. They are researching for a specific project, they are commenting on a content focused class discussion board, or they are exploring teacher picked websites. There is little wiggle room for play.

But what about at home? What about when there is no adult in the room? No teacher demanding content specific results? I have given them the skills to effectively use technology, why wouldn't they want to practice at home?

In my zeal for knowledge, I forgot to teach my students the most important lesson: safety. So, I currently enrolled my students into ATES 101: Stranger Danger and the Internet. The professor is a bit flakey and doesn't always have a plan, but it is better then nothing.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Delayed Opening with Hot Chocolate

In my haste to write the previous post, and thereby cleanse myself of some stress and guilt, I did not give proper credit for the brilliant hot chocolate idea. Organized Chaos was the genius from whom I got the idea. (Sadly, I'm not sure which exact post.)

I have to say that the process of making hot chocolate for the 17 students who are here today and all of us enjoying it as we read has done wonders for my insides.

What is my responsibility to my students?

We had a two hour delay this morning, which is typically a lovely thing. In fact, an hour into it I was still wishing they would close schools so that I could have a relaxing day at home with my daughters. Then things fell apart. The four year old and I could not do anything right by each other. There was screaming and slamming of doors. (For my personal shame, I'll not share who did what of that.) By the time I dropped them off with their babysitter I was a wreck. I drove to school in tears.

Having a two hour delay requires rethinking our schedule and plans for the day. As I was trying to do so, in the midst of feeling awful, I couldn't come up with anything I felt capable of doing. I wanted to just say to my students, "I'm having an awful day and I need you to get a book, get comfortable, and read." But my students deserve better from me. Not that reading is a bad use of their time in any way, but I can't just drop my teaching responsibilities because I'm having a bad day. That said, it takes a lot of energy and effort just to put on a happy face to greet my students when I feel like I do today, much less do any powerful instruction.

So, what is my responsibility? Should my students be completely unaware of issues I face? Should they know if I'm having a bad day? Does their age matter, older students being more able to deal with understanding their teacher's mood swings or such? Is it my job to teach my students well regardless?

As an aside, I've decided we are going to do some serious independent reading time today. I'm making hot chocolate for them and we'll curl up with bean bags, pillows, books, and our cups. But, after lunch it's back to serious learning.