Sunday, February 10, 2008

Random Thoughts

I've had some ideas floating for awhile that have cropped up during the course of my day. I thought I might share them. You should know that I am someone who believes that everything happens for a reason. We are supposed to learn. So I am trying to figure out what my learning was supposed to be.

1. A struggling student was learning how to do long division. She couldn't keep all the steps together, didn't know her math facts, and generally just couldn't grasp the idea. She handed in some examples, all done incorrectly, and we went through them again. Then I sent her off to try one on her own. She came to me later with them all done correctly! "What did you do?" I asked her. Her response, "I learned from my mistakes!"

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all be so brave as to admit we made a mistake and then learn from it? This is a hard one for me. I am not happy admitting to error. (Christine, stop laughing.) While I do learn, it takes time for me to admit to myself and others that the mistake was mine to begin with. So I thank my student for reminding me, once again, that step one is to admit you made a mistake.

2. Our school's lead teacher is out of the country right now. She is anxious to Skype with someone from the school. She tried me but I did not have my account opened at the time. So she sent a simple email to the principal with one line, "Want to Skype?" Now I love my principal. She loves everything we do with technology and supports us anyway she can. But she really doesn't understand much about it all. So she forwards this email to me with only three characters on it. "???" She had no idea what the lead teacher wanted and missed an opportunity to speak to her in the Philippines.

Language is important. Sometimes the simplest ideas and lessons are lost because we use the wrong language. I often forget that most of the teachers and administrators I work with are not as tech saavy as me. And it is even more difficult to remember that when I have a co-teacher who is right there with me and a husband who was my initial tech teacher. I must remember to use simple language when teaching new ideas or discussing old ones.

3. Sickness has been running rampant in the classroom. Last Monday and Tuesday, we had 8 children out! That's a third of the class. It began with one child and
Christine Southard, my co-teacher. Due to her illness and her daughter's, she missed a few days of school. We were lucky enough to have been given a substitute to replace her for those days. Usually they don't put anyone else in the room. So for a few days, I got to see the room through an outsider's eyes. Interesting.

Stretched across the back of the room is the mess known as skit props for the Tall Tale skits the children are creating. On the side we have a pile of poster boards for the Geometry Towns we are working on. In the front is the stack of books we have read or shared in the past few weeks. Drawers don't close, the closet overflows into the classroom, and the children themselves are a bit dishelveled. They talk without raising their hands. They don't often sit in their seats while working. They sprawl on the carpet, spread out in the hallway, and push desks and chairs around the room at will. This was all a bit shocking for the substitute. Also, the computer teacher wants us to use the laptops while the children on sitting at desks. She doesn't like them balancing the computers on their laps (having, of course, missed the whole point of the name entirely).

As one of my favorite bloggers, Brian Crosby, likes to say, "Learning is Messy." I am learning to embrace the mess, the clutter, the noise because the children are engaged and learning. And isn't that what school is all about. One girl, when I mentioned how messy the room was, said, "I like it this way. It shows we are busy." How true.

4. My mother is moving in with me in a couple of weeks. She is not very old (only 65) but is not in the best of health and I can no longer feel good about her living alone. So we have been working on fixing up an apartment for her in our house. It has taken a tremendous amount of time and money. I have essentially stopped doing everything else for the past two months or so just to get the apartment finished on time. This means that I have pulled back from my network - not really using Twitter, not turning on my Skype chats, not blogging or reading blogs, etc.

Two ideas came from this. One - sometimes you need to pull out for awhile. I was feeling very overwhelmed by what others were doing that I wasn't. I wanted to learn and try and just didn't have the time. This respite from my network has given me time to reflect on what I am doing and have done. And I am proud of all of my accomplishments, especially since I know it has really only been since April of last year.
The second lesson that I needed to learn is that my network is still there. I was concerned that, by not contributing for so long, my network would sort of fade away. There have been a couple of very important network friends that had faded from my online life prior to my leave and I wasn't really sure why. But mostly, everyone is still there, still learning and growing, and still happy to have me come along for the ride. How wonderful to know that.

5. Part of my curriculum for fifth grade is to compare the US with Canada and Latin America. Each year the children are assigned a place and must research that place, comparing it to what we learn in class about our country. So this summer, when I started building my network, I thought it would be wonderful to hook up with teachers in all these areas and connect them to the students. Talk about your resources. But it never happened. The teachers volunteered but nothing really came of it. In fact, the whole research project is sort of being pushed aside for other learning going on in the classroom. The children keep coming up with ideas and questions and research projects of their own. And it all takes time away from our curriculum.

What am I learning from this? Children no longer want to do the contrived projects. They are much more excited by their own choices. Even if we start the project and then let them choose. A perfect example is research we are now doing on the 1950s to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our school. We told them we were doing this research but they came up with the initial list of topics and each child chose which topic to focus on. They are very excited about doing the research and excited by their findings. Perhaps next year, we will allow them to choose their country or region. Maybe then they will be more involved.
What else did I learn? The best collaboration is unplanned. During a class discussion on hemispheres, the children said they heard toilet water spins in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. We immediately contacted a friend in New Zealand to ask if it was true. Chrissy Hellyer graciously agreed to find out. This question led to more and we ended up creating a collaborative wiki with another friend in New Zealand - Allanah King. (Chrissy didn't have a class on the same level as us.) This unplanned, uncontrived wiki just won the Chase Multimedia in the Classroom Award. This was not in our curriculum but the skills used to create, research, and connect are invaluable for the students. Great learning can occur when you give up control of the curriculum for awhile and let the children lead.

I feel as if I have learned a great deal. Now I just need to remember it all.


.mrsdurff said...

I'm wrong - you're right. I admit it always happens that way!

loonyhiker said...

I really enjoyed your examples followed by your thoughts. Great use of reflecting in this!

diane said...


You've given us a sterling example of teacher as learner.

By tapping into students' interests, you've given them a chance to do meaningful, therefore memorable, research. A good lesson for us all there.

I had no idea that you're life was so complicated at the moment. Let all of know if you need help or comic relief.


NJTechTeacher said...


Sometimes the projects that turn out best are unplanned. Not only did your students learn about the hemisphere, but so will others who view the wiki. I think it's a great example of collaborative work.

It's also hard to see what everyone is doing and try to run to keep up. I'm glad the break was good for you. It's so great to see your post. Every point in the paragraph strikes me at some level.

Colleen said...

Excellent post, Lisa. I can relate well to the learning in points 2 and 4. And I agree that it can be hard to remember these lessons. But I will try!

Mrs.A said...

I still so wish I had a teacher in my school to work with that does half as much as you do. I keep sharing your projects hoping the light bulb goes off and I can get one of my 5th grade teachers to start collaborating with classes like yours.

alicebarr said...

What a great post! I love the way you reflect on each of these points. You have an uncanny knack for putting things that are rolling around in my mind into perspective.
Point 4 is really important. I think one of the powerful parts of our network is that we can choose to come and go and most of our network continues to collaborate on helping us grow and learn! It's been great to see new learners come on board as well. May the global collaboration continue and we continue remembering our lessons!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post. You're an excellent teacher and motivator of children. I'm very jealous of your passion and how your children fight with you when it's time to stop a project for a special or even lunch. That's a rarity. You are a born teacher and know how children learn best. If all our teachers were like you I have no doubt that our educational system would be the best in the world. I know I'm biased but I also don't give compliments when they aren't deserved. You're children are so lucky to have you as a teacher and mentor.

Teaching Sagittarian said...

I am blessed to be a part of your personal learning network! Never doubt your ability to inspire, motivate and mentor those around you and it will always be ok for you to take a step back and do what you need to do, because "we" understand.

Karen Janowski said...

Catching up on my reader (seems like I'm always trying to catch up). Glad I didn't hit "mark all as read."
I love how you write and share so much of yourself in your posts. Someday I hope to see you in action with your students; you are an excellent teacher who models the best in all you do!

Lisa Parisi said...

Durff, I'm glad you recognize the reality. Hee hee.

Loonyhiker, I actually liked the format, too. It was fun trying it out.

Diane, I could always use comic relief. Thanks for your support.

NJtechteacher, Colleen, and Alice, So glad you can relate to my points. It helps to know I'm not the only one. ;)

Mrs. A and Karen, Thank you for the compliments. I learn so much from both of you.

Chrissy, Did you know you were among the first in my network? How blessed I am to have you in it.