Thursday, January 29, 2009

Put Your Stuff Away

Usually, teachers use little tricks to help kids listen and follow directions. Asking kids to put things away if 'they are wearing green' or 'line up if you have a sister" works wonders. It is amazing how kids respond to this. I think you could really say anything (get your jacket on for recess if you still wet the bed) and kids would respond to it. Anyway, using these sorts of methods to get kids to follow directions, and at the same time maintain some control of the classroom, work well to prevent mass chaos. You don't need twenty kids simultaneously putting their mealworms back in their 'bug home' or twenty kids racing down the hall for recess. The bottom line is that teachers need these divides in the group to help them to not go crazy.

Like I said before, almost every student responds to these cues-no matter what category I have called out. After Reading one morning I needed the kids to put the class set of textbooks away. We were gathered on the carpet (yes, the carpet had primary colors and all of the letters of the alphabet arranged on it) and I needed to dismiss them a few at a time. If I didn't, a situation similar to 'Black Friday' would ensue. But instead of adults fighting and pushing each other over a sale priced plasma screen, students would be shoving to put a used $50 textbook away like it had lice all over its pages. They would actually be losing something in process, unlike the adults trying to purchase something. 

So, I first called the boys to put their books away. It went smoothly. The boys put their things away and sat at their desks. I asked the girls to put their books away. A little more quietly than the boys, the girls put their things away and returned to their seats. When I thought my job was finished and that we could move onto something else, I noticed one student still on the carpet examining the ever exciting alphabet on it. 

I questioned her on to why she was still on the carpet. Her response shouldn't have surprised me. This same student was Darth Vader for Halloween, the first person to touch the mealworms and the student that most frequently came back from recess with cuts,wounds and tales of pretending she was a dragon the night before instead of studying for her spelling test.

 I told her I had called the boys and then had called the girls. No one should be left on the carpet.

She told me, "Well, you never called the tomboys, so I am just waiting here until you do."

Monday, January 26, 2009

I don't believe you

Sometimes kids have a hard time telling the truth when it comes to sharing stories. I think adults might be guilty of doing this as well. Being able to tell the best story in a circle of listeners seems to give the teller an imaginary trophy. Congratulations, you had the audience captivated. It is almost like you need to one up the story that was told previous to yours. If you do, you get that imaginary trophy. You are the most intelligent and interesting person in the room. 

On two different occasions I have had students raise their hand and lie in order to win their classmates' approval. Neither student seemed to have an sense of guilt after telling these lies. How do I know they were lies? Read the following quotes and see if you can pick out the two lies.

1. "I was on the Titanic."  

2. "I am going to be Indiana Jones for Halloween."

3. "I touched a star when I was on an airplane."

Choices 1 and 3 are the lies. Easy to figure out? Not in second grade. Those two students won the respect of their classmates with these stories. 

Here is my reasoning for why they are lies. 

Unless the student was either Kate Winslett or Leonardo Dicaprio they are not old enough to have been on the Titanic. If the student had  white cotton ball hair and the heart of the ocean hanging around their neck, I might have believed them.

For the second lie, I knew the kid was lying because he was still alive. Stars are hot. Survival after touching one seems like an unlikely outcome. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Schools usually participate in a variety of fundraisers and drives in order to help the community around them. It's a great way to teach kids the value of thinking of others. These events usually spark within the students a motivation to help others as much as they can.

Today, a group came to talk to the second graders about an organization that helped low income families furnish their houses with pots,pans,tables and anything else you can think of that you might need when you move into a new home. The man who started the organization was well over seventy five years old and shared many heartwarming stories about how people's generosity helped those in need.

When we got back to the classroom, I thought it would be meaningful to have the kids generate ideas on how they could participate in the donation process and what it really means to help other people.  The students had very touching ideas on why they should help others and why bringing things to donate would be meaningful to both the student and to the family receiving the help. I called on one final student to bring our conversation to an end. I asked what he would do to help others. He responded with the following:

"Well, my cousin was over this weekend and he left a lot of stuff at my house. I will probably just bring that stuff in to give away."

Kindness only counts when you are giving away your own stuff.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Guessing Game

The average school is day is full of transitions. Students need to switch classrooms for reading, make their way down to gym and need a few extra minutes in the winter to pile on their winter gear before recess. Sometimes, a teacher will misjudge how much time is needed to get from point A to point B and be left waiting-with 20 students behind them-while another class finishes up. Other classes are going on. Other teachers are trying teach. What do you do?
You simply become an entertainer of sorts. Teachers need to think on their toes and be skilled in many areas-one of these skilled areas includes 'The Art of the Game.' Have an extra five minutes? Get those kids to put their heads on their desks while other chosen students tap their thumbs to represent a student being 'picked.' When kids have all had a guess at who touched their thumb the game begins again. It's interesting that this sort of organized activity creates such enthusiasm and competition within the students.

So, back to the point. I was left with a few minutes to spare while waiting for my kids to go into their computer class. Hmm. I decided that I would think of an animal and have the kids guess clues to reach its identity. I am not claiming creativity on the choice of the game-nor do I think I invented it/that I should copyright it, but it's what I thought of for the time being.

The clues that were given were that it was red and black,smaller than a thumbnail and had spots. Keep in mind we just finished our insect unit. I was obviously thinking of none other than the innocent ladybug. I guess all ladybugs aren't innocent-Halloween costumes? So, I was sure someone would guess it right away.
The answer I got?

"The devil."

Yikes. Didn't know that the devil was pocket-sized.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mealworm Mishaps

In second grade, students learn about insects. They learn about their body parts, how they eat and how they help humans. They also learn that insects are fragile and that their heads will detach from the body if a viewing glass comes down on them at a high speed.

Working with mealworms allows students to see up close how insects act. Students can observe them and take note of why they are considered an insect. Part of the curriculum involves teaching students about the three body parts of an insect-the head, the thorax and the abdomen. No where in the curriculum does it list separating these body parts into individual pieces. During our first encounter with the mealworms-which consists of students having one on their desk and a viewing glass to get a close up of them-we had this happen. 

Sometimes I get nervous about second graders being out of control or unruly. I cannot imagine what the mealworms were thinking as they were handled-most likely sheer fear. I made my way around the classroom to help students identify the parts of the mealworm. I had to give students several reminders about how delicate these creatures are. Of course, little boys spend their summers lighting ants on fire with the heat of the sun and these reminders went over their heads. Then, I heard it.

"It's DEAD!!" 

Now, hearing this phrase from the particular student did not shock me. It probably didn't shock the mealworm either considering the last few moments of it's life were spent in an involuntary roller coaster of motion. I went over to the desk and picked up the viewing glass to get a closer look. Sure enough, the head of the mealworm had been completely disconnected from the body. The viewing glass allowed me to see the greenish ooze that came from the accident. I couldn't decide whether the ooze was the mealworm's lost lunch from the previous activity or its poor little insides. Either way-yuck.

In a fast thinking mode I brought the mealworm container over and held it up to distract the student and magically-out with the old and in with the new- a live mealworm had now taken the dead one's place. Call me the Harry Houdini of the insect world. There were no more deaths that day. Whew.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Testing reading and math skills of students seems to be a standard procedure in most schools. These tests allow you to track how students are doing in comparison with others. Some are written and some are oral. In the following situation, I was asked to read first graders a list of words. They were then supposed to define these words for me the best they could in a sentence. 

According to the dictionary the term robber means: a thief who steals from someone by threatening them with violence. Seems pretty standard. Robbers aren't usually good people and they generally leave you feeling worse than you did before they appeared.

 For a first grader, the term robber means something completely different. The following definition gives me hope that there is still some innocence in the world and that also, I should ALWAYS wear an identification badge of some sort when entering a school, the grocery store, the gym, my church and maybe even my own home.

Robber:  "Robbers are bad and don't wear name tags."

If this is true, always be on your guard and do not trust anyone unless they have a 2 inch by 4 inch laminated tag on the exterior of their clothing that shows you who they are. Don't trust that lady behind you at the red box, don't give your order to any waitress unless both their first and last name are on their tag and never let anyone carry your clubs on the course unless their social security number is displayed somewhere on their argyle sweater vest.

The plot

Kids basically say what they want. There is no way to bleep out what they say or put in one of those replacement phrases you sometimes see on televised editions of movies. Unlike a lesson plan, you can't plan what kids will say and how it will come out. Kids have no sense of the concept of censoring themselves. For example, who would think that 'David Hasselhoff' would come up as an example of something that is real as opposed to fantasy when talking about the difference between the two genres of literature?

This is a place for me ponder the thought process that went into a phrase or incident I encountered during my teaching experience. Both the mind and mouth tend not to have boundaries in the average elementary aged child.