Tuesday, September 25, 2007

9/25 - Sad Reindeers and pink squirrels

Today was really good. Sumner joined me – I know him from Warped Tour, and he helps me out with shows and events locally throughout the year. He was sitting in today, wanting to check out what we do, as he might start teaching part time with us. It was great to have him – I noticed a difference just with another person being there with my 1st and 2nd grade group. They had a lot of fun today - they got to dig into their self portraits, taking the photos I took of them and cutting them up and manipulating them. We even busted out the glitter glue and stamps, though we haven’t quite got enough of system to delve into paint just yet. Their work turned out great though – I had each of them introduce themselves to Sumner at the beginning of class, we reviewed the ideas about community we had talked about before, then we talked about how their self portraits are suppose to be how THEY want to look and see themselves, not how other people do. The project turned out really great. Letting them get elbows deep in the art – and doing things that involve more than coloring – balances out the writing too.

Adrian rocks his self portrait!

My fifth graders came into the room with their team leader reprimanding them – they’d been having a rough day. I totally understand where their team leader is coming from, but it sets a tough tone for me to follow up with. They were a bit squirmy, and not all that productive on Monday, and since I was worried about their reluctance to write, I decided to drop my initial plan to have them work on their self portraits. I had them introduce themselves to Sumner as well, and then, without warning, went into my fun writing mode – I went from student to student, declaring them ‘something’: a dog with no hair, and angry clown, a purple pigeon, a pilot that was afraid to fly, etc. Then, as that character, they had to write an excuse note – it’s something I come up with last year, in part inspired by something I read of Frank McCourt’s, where he describes having a break through with his students, having them write fake excuse notes as a means to get them to write at all. Coming up with the characters was the result of some insomnia driven night of mine – and thus far, it has worked every time. The students initially laugh and are totally confused as to why I am calling Omar a Giant Ant, and why Brian is a little girl with arms that are wings, then they jump right into the writing assignment. I usually make it a bit of a competition as well – who can have the most out of control story without being gross or using guns. They totally got into it, they CAN write, they just need the right prompt - they need it to be presented to them in a way that is fun and shows potential. Considering how early it is in the year, I was impressed by how far they took it – we ended up spending the entire class writing then reading all the works together.

We also made up another analogy for the ongoing community theme in our class – our group thinks of ourselves as a group of astronauts on a space ship, and if we are messing around with glue sticks or talking, we’re probably gonna crash or burst into flames. A bit dramatic, I think, but who am I to judge…

Abel shares his story

Monday, September 24, 2007

9/24 - Still finding our balance...

Today was good – the 6th graders that had finished their poems the week before jumped into starting their self portrait pieces, manipulating a photo I took of them the week before. The other half of the class did their poems, to much success as well – I’m really impressed with how well they turned out, and the way that the students seem to take to them. I owe William Ayers a big thank you for that idea! Nice to feel like I am able to build on the literacy and writing stuff I did with them last year.

Self portrait project

My 1st/2nd group is still giving me a little trouble – we’ll find our rhythm soon enough, I’m sure, still just a tough group. The kids that finished their poem got to re-write them today on a big piece of construction paper and illustrate them – turned out really nice. The other kids that didn’t finish or were struggling a bit I had work on their poems – gave me a bit more one on one time with them that way. Still was a little chaotic, not as smooth of a class as I’d like, but we are slowly getting there. Have to be the ‘toughest’ on them out of all my teams, tough in the sense of keeping it really consistent and giving them a bit more involved work early on than I normally would, but in this case I think it’ll help them get focused and settled enough so we can be more flexible and loose as the year moves on.

My fifth graders did okay – they too started their self portraits, with a few of them finishing up their poems. They were just a bit scattered, still having problems with the writing part with them, need to bust them out of their mold.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

9/20 - Intellectual debate with Kindergartener's

Today I had two hours of Kinders, back to back. I was also winging it a bit – I was going to have them start their self portrait projects, but I wasn’t able to print up the photos of them that I had taken. Instead, we spent the day talking about community – I had them tell me their names (working to get them all memorized still!) and a favorite color, then we had a talk about how we need all of those colors to make a rainbow, and how if one person got mad and left, or if someone had their feelings hurt and left, or if someone got in trouble and left, we wouldn’t have a rainbow anymore. We then talked about how that was like a team, and then they told me about teams, and how in sports you need everyone on the team, then we connected that to community: how we were a community, what kind of things made up the community we lived in, etc. I was pretty excited to have a full blown discussion going with Kinder’s this early in the year, and it seemed to connect with them – it actually held their attention for a while!

Kinders working on their community project

After that, I had them copy ‘community’ and a short definition for the word. Then, we went through another follow up discussion of community and who all was in our community. After that, they got to make a ‘mural’, working together on a giant piece of paper, showing me all the things that made up their community. My favorite element was Tiana’s inclusion of the woodchips at the playground at the park. All in all, it went really well – looking forward to seeing what they do with their self portrait project next week!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

9/19 - Bug spray, more poetry and five year olds

Today I couldn’t teach in my room – we convert half of the cafeteria into our ‘art studio’ every year – because they were spraying for bugs. My 6th graders and I discussed if it was more gross that their cafeteria was overrun by bugs, or that the district was blasting the place they eat with pesticide. They were pretty much split in the middle, with a few declaring they were eating outside from here on out, even if it was raining. I don’t mind not being able to teach in there – sometimes we go outside anyway – but this early in the year I prefer to keep things consistent, but so it goes. I’m lucky to have a consistent room that I can teach, can store stuff, and hang up work in – it’s the first school - in eight years of teaching after school programming – I’ve ever had that set up, and I love it.

I had my two groups of Kindergartner’s today – little tiny guys only in their second week of school…ever! They did really good – had them copy and try to write a sentence about themselves so I could gauge what levels they were all at, then they drew me self portraits, showing me who they were and what was important to them, who they lived with, etc.

Student work - About Me project

It’s always funny to see them at this stage – they are all over the place in terms of personality and what not. I worked really hard to try to learn and remember all their names down today – I do that with all of my students, but I really make a concerted effort to try to get all the Kinder names down after my first hour with them. Usually takes me a few classes to commit them all to memory, but considering the fact I have about 80 students, the fact that I get them all down in about the first week isn’t too bad!

My 6th graders kicked ass on the poem project – they jumped right in, they got it, they even seemed excited about doing it. Don’t get how or why their response was so different from my 5th graders yesterday, but I guess in part I’m hoping it was because they did so much creative writing with me the year before. The response they had to the poem project in comparison to the 5th grade class was totally different – it really tripped me out. I hope this level of enthusiasm stays the way it is all year.

Azwaun working on his self portrait

My 6th grade group last year was a struggle to work with – I’m hoping this is a case of different personalities, and the result of my having a consistent relationship with them going on for two years now. Time will tell, I guess. Anyhow, their work turned out really good and it was a nice class – I enjoy getting to hang and do the projects with them.

Check out their poems:

Smart, funny, friendly
I love my friends and family
I hate family problems
I am afraid of any kind of spiders
I wish I had Starbucks

Mean, dumb, funny
I love hot cheetos
I hate coloring
I am afraid of my mom
I wish for me to go to Florida

Good looking, funny, athletic
I love basketball
I hate nothing
I am afraid of the belt
I wish to see God

Cool, sexy, hot
I love low riders
I hate loosing in video games
I am afraid of my God mom
I wish to get out of school

Funny, stupid, silly, energetic
I love to play soccer
I hate to write essays
I am afraid of loosing somebody
I wish for my sister to come back

Happy, tall excited
I love my family
I hate spiders, bees and worms
I am afraid of big roller coasters
I wish for a house with a pool

Friendly, nice, cool
I love pets
I hate when my sister pulls my hair
I am afraid of snakes
I wish I could go around the world

Happy, fun, energetic
I love my mom and dad
I hate spiders. Big spiders. All sizes.
I am afraid of any bugs that crawl on me except ladybugs
I wish for a laptop

Kheyli Tristen
Beautiful, outgoing, loving
I love my family and friends
I hate backstabbers, haters and drama
I am afraid of spiders and bugs
I wish for good things to happen

I love animals
I hate when I’m alone
I’m afraid of insects
I wish I was a celebrity

Nice and friendly
I love animals and my family and hearts
I hate nothing
I am afraid of snakes
I wish to see god

Some of them finished early, and since we couldn’t work on the stuff I normally have them do with down time – work in their journal, or the other ‘free time’ projects’ – I had them instead imagine they were famous fashion designers and they had a $50,000 budget to design a Halloween costume for any celebrity of their choice (I’m giving myself bonus points for thinking up that one on the spot!). Jequille brought Easy E back from the dead and made some sort of out of control suit that involved a lot of diamonds, Azwaun came up with an ornate cow costume for Chris Brown, Katie had a cute Jessica Alba outfit, and Chelsea, a new student to me, very quiet and what not – came up with an amazing cat woman costume for…Emma Watson. The other kids were very confused as to exactly who Emma Watson was, but Chelsea was happy with her work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

9/18 - Poetry

Had my 1st/2nd grade group today. There is something about this age I always find kinda tough – they’re sort of in an in between stage, not quite mature and as focused as they will be as third graders, but beyond the kinder stage as well. It can be hard to hold their attention and focus, at least for me – I really like and do great with the Kinder’s, and I love teaching 3rd through 6th, but something about 1st and 2nd is always a struggle. I’m working to get them in synch with what we’ll be doing though, and today we got started on composing poems about ourselves. It was an idea I took from William Ayers – I’ve been reading a lot of his work lately, and I got the idea from To Teach. I’m staring off this year by introducing them to the idea of community, and how we will be a community as a classroom, and we’ll connect with the community that we live in and then the world at large, but we are going to first start by understanding ourselves. We started that a bit with the ‘what I know/what I want to know’ project yesterday, and my next project is going to have them write about themselves, then draw a self portrait, then also make the ‘Picasso’ portraits, where they cut up a photo of themselves that I took, then glue it back together. I’m hoping/thinking these will turn out pretty cool.

Hard at work

Anyway, the nice part of the poem I idea I got from Ayers is that it’s formatted, which is how I usually start off creative writing with young (and sometimes older) students. I laid out the framework of the poem, which starts with their name, then three descriptive words, then they complete sentences that start with I love, I hate, I am afraid of, I wish for, then they close it with their last name. The 1st/2nd grade group got it in theory, but it took them a while to complete it – they actually seemed to be pretty excited about what they had accomplished with it when finished though . My 5th graders were able to grasp the idea fully – we did an example poem pretending we were their team leader, Mr. Justin – but they were also a little slow and apprehensive to get writing. They definitely associate writing with something negative, which bums me out, so I am going to specifically have to work with them to do some fun stuff to get them excited about it for future projects. I think next week when they get to do some real hands on stuff – cutting and pasting and painting and collage, etc – it will be easier to get them into the literacy aspect of the class.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Back to School - 9/27/07

Back to school!

Today was a bit of a whirlwind – got back in to town after being gone on tour for the better part of two months around 11am. Went home, dealt with mail, banking, and other random stuff, then headed straight up to school for our first day. Not the most ideal situation, but it worked! I was really happy to see my former 5th graders/now 6th graders – they’re a really cool group, I like working with them a lot and am excited about this year. I also had a group of 5th graders – all of whom I had pretty much never had, and a 1st/2nd grade mix, some of whom I taught last year when they were in Kindergarten. I like the continuation of being an after school teacher – in some cases, you get to work with the same students for years and years. I try to develop my curriculum with that in mind, setting it up knowing that some kids may have had you before and can build on what you already did, while others will be coming in new, and try to make it so that it will be equally engaging for both.

Today we got started with introductions, and I told them it was going to be an opposite first day – rather than me tell them all they had to learn, they were going to tell me all that they knew and all that they wanted to know. It went over really well – they got to work in big groups writing and drawing on the big scrolls of paper – something that is universally exciting, apparently – and came up with some really cool stuff. It took them awhile to grasp what I meant by ‘list what you know’, but once I got them started with my own stuff – brush my teeth, water makes plants grow, make my sister mad – they realized what I meant and took off.

Student work, 'what I want to learn' project

They surprised me with the ‘what do I want to know’ project – I expected them to stay somewhat reserved in their goals and expectations, but they took to it full force, listing everything from ‘spell better’ to ‘astrology’ to ‘be a lawyer’, ‘skydive’, ‘make money’ and of course ‘drive fast’.

What I Want to Learn project

Have a lot of work ahead of me – working to hire interns and a co-teacher, plus still have two tours going – but am excited about this year.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fall teaching internships available!

Summer has been a long blur of time on the road doing work for the ONE Campaign, Oxfam and (RED) - check out our tour blog for updates from what we've been up to.

The school year is about to start back up again for us, and we are very excited to be offering a very cool fall teaching internship on site at our Pasadena school location. If you are interested in joining us a few afternoons a week in the classroom for some hands on experience with an innovative program and curriculum, working with elementary aged students, click here.

Student photography

Thanks - we look forward to hearing from you - watch for classroom updates to start back up next Monday!