Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tug Of War

Today was our school's much anticipated Field Day.  It's an exciting day for little kids, and teachers don't mind it too much either.   At this point of the year, taking a classroom of excited kids outside is synonymous with "classroom management".   In fact, it's practically the only way to calm them down a bit.  Let them head outside to run around, play games, get soaked with water balloons and other assorted water games, eat an icy treat, run around some more, talk in loud voices, and be a kid.  Just have fun.   

After answering several hundred [exaggeration] questions about Field Day this morning, that I have answered every morning for two weeks, we settled in to our morning routine.  After math, writing, and a fun hands-on straw rocket science exploration, it was time for recess, lunch, and then FIELD DAY!   Everyone was so excited.   Many changed into their bathing suits in anticipation of the water games.   We reviewed the "rules" together before we headed outside:  

1.  Stay with your buddy.
2.  Have fun!

I headed to the field to run the Tug of War game, with bullhorn and clipboard in hand.  Awaiting me were eighty-five, hyped-up, green-shirted, screaming little ones, ready to get the party started.   

I held up the bullhorn and lined up two of the classes to begin their Tug of War.   One of the classes was mine, who were versing one of the other 3rd grade classes.   I went over the directions, reminded them to "let go of the rope if it starts sliding through their hands to prevent rope burn", and pick up the rope to get ready.

"3..... 2.......1..... PULL!" I announced into the bullhorn and a line of kids on either side of the rope began pulling and screaming.    

"Muscle up!" I yelled to my group of little ones as they pulled and strained against the rope.    "Come on... pull!" I encouraged the other class.   I didn't want to play favorites, after all.

My class lost (frowny face) and the winning team waited for the other two classes to produce a victor.    

Meanwhile, the temperature had soared to the high 80's and the humidity was a very unpleasant 98%.    I looked around at the playground at all the kids running and playing and laughing.  I saw the multitude of parents who volunteer their time so willingly to be a part of the festivities.   I am lucky I work in a school district where the parents support us, help us, and are there for us, especially on days like Field Day.  Parents run the games, help manage the kids, and make sure we all have a great time!

And then, my responsibilities over at the Tug of War, I headed inside to the air conditioning to cool off for a bit.   

The weather hasn't been too stable lately and, soon, the skies darkened and looked ominous. reported that severe thunderstorms were headed our way, with high winds, hail possible, and rain.  So, Field Day was called early, and the students rushed around the playground picking up all the game parts to bring inside.  The school wide Tug of War was postponed until tomorrow. 

Once inside, I counted to ensure I had all my little students back where they needed to be.  Three went home with their moms and the remaining students sat there awaiting instructions for what we would do next.   I glanced at my class and noticed one little boy was sitting in his seat, shirtless.   

"[insert student name], please go put your shirt on," I directed. 

"I can't find it!" he replied.  "I think I left it outside.  Can I go look for it?" 

Every head in the room turned to the windows and the now pouring rain, coming down in sheets across the playground.  The wind was blowing and rain was smacking against the windows.   

"Ahhhh....." I started.  "I don't think you want to go outside in this," I told him.  He nodded in agreement.    "But you really need some clothes on," I finished.  "I don't need a room full of naked children."  They all giggled.  

He laughed.  "But, I'm not naked," he said, as he stood up and pointed to his dripping wet shorts.  

"Whew!" I said, wiping my hand across my brow.  "Thank goodness!"

He sauntered out into the hallway where numerous other little ones were searching for clothes, changing shoes, or just milling about.    He came back in shortly with a sweatshirt on, zipped up to his neck.  He smiled.  

"Lucky for me, I had my sweatshirt here, so I'll just wear this," he told me and the class. 

I won't lie to you -- the afternoon was long.  We hadn't planned on being inside, teaching.  We had planned on being outside all afternoon.  But the students adapted and the teachers improvised and before long it was time to go home.  As the students were packing up in the hallway, I approached my sweatshirt-wearing student.  

"How are you going to explain to your parents that you don't have a shirt?" I asked him, smiling.  

"Well, I'll just tell them it was Field Day," he answered.  As if that would explain everything.    

At that exact time, I looked across to the 4th grade coat racks.  There, on the rack, was a dripping, green shirt.  I failed to mention earlier that 3rd grade Field Day shirt color was green, so clearly the shirt was not the property of any white-shirted 4th grader.  

"Is that your shirt?" I asked him, pointed to the dripping green mass.

He walked over.  He touched it.  He pulled it off the rack and turned it over in his hands.  He turned my way.  He grinned.  

"Hey!  Here's my shirt!"  he yelled as he rushed back to our room, cluching it in his hands.  

"Super!" I told him.  "But now how are you going to explain your soaking wet shirt?" I asked him.

"Simple," he said.  "Field Day!"   

And at that instant, the bell rang, and a mob of students headed down the hall and to the front door.   

And something tugged at my heart.  

I realized that I'm gonna really miss them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Free Fallin'

This time of the year, things are incredibly busy and hectic if you are a teacher.  You have mounds of paper work to complete, testing to finish up and score, numbers that must be entered into the computer.  You have forms and placement lists and reflections.  You have report cards, and follow-up meetings and non-stop activity.  This is all in addition to the normal rigor of curriculum, planning, teaching, and classroom management. Which, I might add, is no easy task with a roomful of squirming, excited-for-summer little ones.  

Some days, like today, I fluctuate from feeling as if I'm trying to stop a train moving head on towards me at a high rate of speed to a complete heap of exasperation.  Often during the day I feel like I'm weighless, without a parachute, moving too fast.

It doesn't seem that there will be enough hours and days to complete all that is on my plate right now.  I'm beginning to feel sad about my class moving on.  We've worked so hard together to create the wonderful classroom community we have in place right now.   It happens every year about this time.  

It's bittersweet. It's almost time to move on, but I'm not ready to leave just yet. 

So, I'll keep plodding away in my spare moments at home and at school to finish up the required things on my checklist.  I'll try and savor the remaining time with my wonderful students, even when they try my patience these final days.  

As I fall through these eleven days, I can't help but smile.  Because I know I'll  land on my feet in the glorious days of June, July, and August. 

Tom Petty: Free Fallin'

Tastes Like Chicken

You hear the funniest things going through the lunch line.  Picture a long line of little kids, holding on to their little plastic lunch trays, tummies growling, anxious to choose their lunch from the buffet of offerings encased in plastic containers.  This year, our school has joined in the national wave to encourage kids to eat a healthier lunch.  The chicken tenders are now baked, instead of fried, the pizza crust is whole wheat, and there are many more fruit and vegetable selections available.  Teachers escort their kiddies through the line and point out the delicious fruits and vegetables to challenge them to eat a variety of foods. 

A few weeks ago, I overheard one of my little ones declaring to his friend that he liked the lunches much better when they weren't so healthy.  He pointed out the rows of peas and pineapple and bananas for added emphasis.   He frowned. 

"Where's the good stuff, like the ice cream and the Pop Tarts?" he announced, to no one in particular, but everybody around him.  

"I know!" agreed another little one.  "My mom won't let me eat that junk at home, and now they don't even have it at school.  All there is to eat is lunch."
My interpretation:  [I guess everything that isn't a dessert/junk food  is just 'lunch' to him]

Today marks my all time favorite.   As we passed the healthy vegetable/fruit section of the lunch line, one of my little darlings picked up one of the little plastic containers.  

"What are these?" she questioned, moving and jiggling them around under their plastic cover.  

"I think they are a kind of bean," answered her helpful friend, glancing at them.  "I hate beans," she added.

"Those are chick peas," I informed them as I grabbed a packet for myself.  

"Chick peas!?" they laughed and looked again at the containers of small, off-white balls. 

"Want to hear something else funny?" I asked them.  They nodded.  "They are also called garbanzo beans?  So, you're right -- they are a kind of bean." 

"What do they taste like?" they asked at the same time. 

Before I could answer, I heard our helpful custodian/lunch server from behind the counter yell, "Tastes like chicken!"

And you know what?  They kind of do.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When It Rains, It Pours

Today started like any other school day.  I got up early and followed the usual routine to get ready for my day.  When I was trying to tame my hair into submission, it became very uncooperative.   I would blow dry a section straight and within mere seconds, it had crinkled and curled up, sticking out in all directions.  I was looking like a circus clown; the only thing missing was red dye in my curled up locks.  A day with this kind of rain and humidity was a losing battle, so I finished getting ready and headed out the door.  

The rain began to start on my drive, but I had no worries.  I always have an umbrella in my car.  I'm like a Girl Scout - always prepared.  Once at school, I wrestled my school bag from the back seat as I ducked my head inside my car to avoid the now pouring rain.  I grabbed at the usual umbrella spot and came up empty handed.  What? I searched frantically around the back seat as the rain began to soak my legs and back.  No umbrella. The rain picked up in strength and I figured I had better run for it and not waste any more time. 

Safely inside I headed to my room to start getting things ready. I was determined not to let a few bumps get me in a negative state of mind.  I knew that once the kids arrived they would fill me with joy and it would be a great day.  

Not so much. 

The kids did arrive.  They did make me happy to see their smiling faces and hear about their holiday weekends.  But by 9:25 when they were still arriving (late) and still talking about their holiday weekends, I wasn't feeling the joy.  I put on my "let's get serious" face although I'm sure many were wondering what on earth had happened to my hair.

"Boys and girls," I began in a firm teacher voice.  "School started over twenty minutes ago and the majority of you have not even started to copy down notes in your planner."  I paused.  For effect.

"We really need to get started so I'd like all of you to stop chatting and get busy," I added.  

At just this exact time, the rain started up again and it was pouring. It makes a sound on the school roof and vents that is hard to miss and this, of course, was noticed by all the students in the room, who were just looking for something to distract them.

"Cool!" screeched one little one, pointing out the window.  "It's raining so hard!" 

Three or four jumped from their seats and headed to the window to get an up-close look at the puddles forming around the swings.   

"It's raining harder than it ever has!" proclaimed one student.   A few more students began to get out of their seats for a look see. 

Before I completely and utterly lost control, I announced that they had to the count of five to get back in their seats and copy planner notes.   

"FIVE!" I started, pacing about the room.   "Four!"   And by then I scanned the room and saw twenty-two little darlings furiously writing in their planners.  Sometimes you have to use tough love.

The day had its ups and downs and was interrupted several times by bouts of pouring rain pounding on the pavement and the building.  Of course it was indoor recess.  The fact that there are only thirteen more days of school does not help matters.  A teacher has to remain on her toes all day at this time of the year.

As I left school today, I reached for my phone while I was opening my car door.  My big school bag of "stuff" swung around and knocked my arm, throwing my cell phone to the pavement.  Glass side down.  Argh!  Before I could utter a swear word, I picked it up, amazed at the amount of shattered glass.  I tapped it.  It still worked!  Although I could barely see the screen, it was working which is wonderful, since I don't have a home phone.  Just one more thing going wrong today, I thought to myself. 

After school, I had yet another vet appointment for my dog who has had an apparently antibiotic resistant strain of ear bacteria.   It took me ten minutes to bribe her into the car.  I think she's suspicious due to our weekly vet appointment the last five weeks.  No sooner had we pulled up to the vet, and I picked up my dog to carry her in, but it began to rain harder than it had all day.  Sheets of rain traveled across the parking lot. No umbrella.  Seven cars away from the door.  Pouring rain.   Super.  I ran for the door.  

The sunny receptionist, obviously amused by my sudden, frantic burst into the lobby, wet head to toe, smiled grandly.  

"Why, it's raining cats and dogs out there!" she joked, waiting for the expected laugh.  

Lucky for her she had a receptionist friend who roared at her funny joke, seeing as I was not amused in the least.   My crazy hair was now dripping wet and I couldn't wait for the results when it air dried.  My dog was dripping wet, shaking with fear, and crying.  Quite the pair we made I imagine.   And to top it off, I couldn't even text anybody to get some sympathy because every time I touched my phone screen, tiny pieces of glass became embedded in my finger.  Not worth the risk.

So, two hundred dollars and a couple bottles of ear drops later, we left with the sun nowhere in sight and the humidity on the rise again.   

I arrived back home to wait on hold for thirty minutes as I tried to figure out my options to get my phone fixed.  I think A T & T transferred me no less than five times to robotic sounding people who simply passed me off to someone else when they sensed my frustration.  I was told I had two options.  Go to the Genius Bar at an Apple store to see if they are in the mood to repair your screen or buy a new phone at an ATT store and fork over $500.  

"Well, that sounds like a great deal," I told the ATT customer service rep on the phone.  "Especially since I only paid .99 for the phone three months ago!"  

They couldn't have cared less about my bad day that had gotten even worse or the fact that ripping me off for a .99 replacement phone didn't make sense.  

"Can I help you with anything else?" the perky customer service person asked. 

Well, how can you help me with something else if you still haven't helped me with what I asked for in the first place? I thought to myself as I hung up.

As I headed off to the Genius Bar at the Apple store, I caught a news report that there was a tornado warning a few counties over.  I chuckled to myself as I thought that only a tornado could make this day even worse.   But then I thought of all the people in Oklahoma and their recent tornado disaster and thanked my lucky stars that I would not ever (hopefully) have to see something like that.  

I've visited the Genius Bar several times before, always with a positive outcome, so I figured they would be the ones to solve my problem. I was greeted by one of the more than fifty blue-shirted, apple-loving employees, who quickly and efficiently guided me back to my appointment with a genius.  Ms. Genius looked a bit shocked at my shattered phone, mostly because it was still fully functional even though it seemed impossible.  She carefully and skillfully guided her finger around the shards of glass to find my serial number, explained that she could replace the phone for me (for a much more reasonable charge than the ATT phone reps), and skipped off to bring me my new phone.  This was all accomplished within fifteen minutes.  Yay for the Genius Bar!   The only thing that would have made that trip better was perhaps an actual bar, if you catch my drift.

Ahhhhhh. Finally, things were beginning to look a bit brighter for me.  As I left the mall, the sun was breaking through the clouds.  The rain had stopped.  

And tomorrow is already Wednesday. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Free Ice Cream

Today was a banner day in my school if you are a little kid.  

1.  Every kid got a free ice cream at lunch.  Yes, I said every kid.  Not just the buyers.

2.  There was an "all school" extra recess. Grades K-4 outside all at one time.  Fun!

3.  It was declared a "No Homework" night for all.  I think the parents liked this one more than the students.

As one student exclaimed after the extra recess, "This is the best day ever!  Good things just keep happening.  I wonder what else good is going to come today?"  

Well....  I don't know.  Free ice cream, extra recess, and no homework.  

You can't really top that. 

Monday, May 20, 2013


It happens at some point every year.  A kid starts speaking pig latin and then another kid joins in, and another, and another, and before long, most of the class has caught on.  I play along and will either join in a conversation or make an announcement to the class such as I did today.

"Lease-pay isten-lay o-tay irections-day," I began.  At least nine of the little darlings turned to me and gave me that 'is she crazy?' look.   Six or seven bilingual ones smiled as they mulled it over in their heads and figured it out.  And the final five or six didn't seem amused in the least.

"Wh-at?" began one boy.  "You're not making any sense!"  He seemed a bit distraught.  And for goodness sakes, I sure didn't want to upset him.  Or anyone else for that matter.

"It's just pig latin - a silly way of talking," I started to explain to him.  

"But it doesn't make sense," he argued back.  I could see tears welling up and I needed to think fast.

"It does when you understand how it's done," I smiled at him.  "Who wants to exp-" and before I could finish three little ones zipped over to his desk and were giving him the rules.  Several others joined in and I allowed them some precious class time to spread the word and soon the entire class was speaking in silly sentence pig latin. 

In computer lab today, I introduced my students to a cool site where your kids can blog safely with one another and explore the word of blogging.  Since I am such a blogger this year, I thought it would be fun to let the kids give it a try.   They loved it and quickly figured out all the ins and outs of basic blogging.  We just played with it today, but I'll be using it for some more specific class assignments in the final weeks of school.  

Can you guess what one of the little cuties blogged about today?  

Yep.  That's right.  ig-pay, atin-lay.  The media may be different, but, just like when I was in school many, many years ago, some things never change. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May The Force Be With You

We have just started a science unit on force & motion so this morning I put a box containing a Newton's cradle on the back table.  Before long, one of my students pointed at it from across the room and said, "What is that new town box thing?"

I looked confused while all the heads were now turned staring at this new, interesting box on the table. I cocked my head and looked from the student to the box and back at the student again. 

"Hmmmmm...well it's called Newton's cradle and we'll find out later," I teased them.  "Right now we need to get started on math workshop before you go to gym."  

Obligingly, the students listened while I explained the objectives for math and explained the game they would play and soon they were off in their math groups, busily working.  I did notice a few students look over at the box and a couple picked it up and turned it around to read the box and looked more closely.  Nobody tried to open it.

I like putting something new out every so often and then just sitting back and waiting for the kids to notice it and try and figure it out.  Newton's cradle is something I set out this time every year as it definitely piques the students' curiosity and can teach them a lot about energy, forces, and motion.

At lunch time, I motioned for the student who noticed the Newton's cradle first to come over to the back table.  I slid the box over towards him.  

"Wanna open it?" I asked.  He smiled a big smile.

"Really? I can open it?" he said and I could hear the excitement in his voice.

"Yup.  Open away," I said.

He carefully opened the box and took out the cradle, packed in styrofoam to keep the balls from getting tangled in shipment.  He looked over at me, unsure of what it was. He gently removed the styromfoam and tugged on each of the five balls to release them on their wire. They clanged together, but he was being extra careful to not break anything.   

"Like this?" he asked once all of the balls hung suspended from the frame. 

"Perfect!" I declared.  

"Now what?" he said.  "What do they do?"  

"Why don't you find out?" I nudged him.  

I watched as he pulled one of the balls out and released it.  I don't think it did what he expected and he screeched with delight.  He continued, asking his wonders out loud as he pulled two balls, three balls, and experimented with different heights.  

Naturally, by this time we had drawn a crowd of inquisitive little ones who wanted to get their hands on this new, fun toy.  Several called out things for the boy to try.  

"Pull one back from each end and see what happens," suggested one.  As he complied, several laughed and clapped as they saw the result.  

"Wow!" exclaimed one.  "This is so awesome!"

I'm sure you can imagine at this point that every single one of the kids in the classroom wanted to get their hands on the Newton's cradle and try some things out.  When the recess bell rang, at least seven remained waiting their turn for a chance to experiment.  

After recess, I told them that the Newton's cradle would be available until the end of the year.  I told them I had only one rule.  That if they tried something and the wires became tangled to please stop and let me know so I could fix it.  I told them that last year, when I had a sub one day, the Newton's cradle had gotten so tangled up that I had to throw it away.  I told them I hoped they would respect my rule of stopping if it became tangled.  They all nodded vigorously in agreement.  

"I want you to think about what this has to do with science when you are playing with it," I instructed them.  "What can you learn from it?"

Sometimes the unexpected and new can create a powerful force for learning. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Read Any Good Books Lately?

I look forward to the times during the day when I read to the students and we discuss the story and talk about things good readers do when they read. Today, near the end of the day, the little ones were gathered around me on the carpet, sitting quietly as I continued with the book we had been reading as we learned about expository text.  We had reviewed the "Table of Contents" and I was letting the students choose the parts of the book that sounded most interesting to them to have me read first.  They were practicing stopping and asking questions, a skill we use to help with comprehension of both fiction and non-fiction texts.  Basically, I read a small section of text to them and they take a few minutes to think about what they heard and write some questions or wonders about the topic.  Then the students share some of their thinking and we have some discussions as a group.  It's usually a fun way to talk about literature as well as practice good comprehension and listening skills.

It probably would come as no surprise that the first section of the book they wanted to hear was the one titled "Vampire Bats".  In about sixty or seventy words, to a riveted audience, I read to them about the vampire bat. Seven or eight hands were in the air before I had even finished reading.  I patted my hand in the air, the sign to put their hands down and continued. When I finished I held up the book to give them the visual -- the pictures.  A few mouths opened as they looked at the photographs of the vampire bats, up close and personal.   

"Now, I know you probably have some questions and wonders," I began.  Several hands were in the air.  "Let's first think about what you heard and then write down your thinking and we'll share in a minute."   The hands grabbed their pencils and hunched over their journals.  Some kicked their legs out behind them, checking first to make sure they weren't going to bump anyone.  I let them get comfortable, within reason, as we read and work on the back carpet.  

After a minute or so, I asked them to share their questions/wonders with their reading partner.  Then I chose a few students to share with the class.   I wrote questions and wonders on the chart paper as they excitedly asked questions and chattered a bit back and forth about bats.  They are a terrific bunch of little thinkers.  One little girl asked why, since vampire bats drink blood from mammals like pigs and horses, they don't drink human blood.  "We are mammals too!" she explained.  A few heads bobbed in agreement.

This elicited lots of other comments and ideas amongst the kids. "Maybe they don't like our blood," guessed one little boy.  "I bet it tastes different than cow blood."

"Ewwwww," came the response from a couple of girls.  

"Yeah," added another.  "I saw cow blood once and it was purple!"

Sometimes, as a teacher, you leave things alone.  Cow blood is such a time.  I called on another little one and hoped for a change of direction.

The next student suggested we google it because he thought vampire bats actually do drink human blood.   The discussion continued with a couple kids remembering that we had read the other day about how scientists sometimes catch bats in nets so they can study them.  We had talked back and forth about how difficult it would be to catch a bat.  Although we were veering into the "land of off topic", it was an animated and fun discussion, so I let them run with it.

I called on another student, who although many times says off topic or silly things, looked remarkably serious and anxious to join in this "how to catch a bat" discussion. 

He cleared his throat.  "Well, I know how to catch a vampire bat!" he began with a big smile and a sure voice.  

We all looked at him.  Everyone was interested in how to catch a bat.  Especially a vampire bat.

"You go to a farm and get a pig and tie it up by the barn and you wait.  The bat will come," he stated, beaming.  

For some reason, this struck me and several other kids as funny.  Maybe it was the mental picture of tying up a pig and waiting for a vampire bat to come.  We all took a minute or two and enjoyed his suggestion and then we moved on.

Next, I gave them a choice between "Echo-echo-echolocation" or "Hey Baby".  It was "Hey Baby" with a majority so I flipped to that section of the book.  I asked them what they thought this section would be about and several said, "Babies!" in unison.  Like I mentioned before, they are so smart!  

We continued on with the reading and stopping to ask questions and discuss our thinking.  Although I don't find bats that interesting, when you talk about them with eight and nine year olds, it's a whole new perspective.    They all appreciated when I started reading the section called "Echo-echo-location" and repeated every word a few times, like an echo.  Some of them couldn't stop laughing.  

As I drove home today, I was thinking about reading with kids.  I was thinking fondly of the many times I would curl up with my daughter and we would read together and talk about books.  I always loved hearing her ideas and connections as we read.  I remember laughing hysterically at some books and tearing up when we read other stories together.  She's grown up now, but when she's home, she'll pass me holding her Kindle, absorbed in a book.  When she's not home, she'll sometimes tell me about a good book she just finished or suggest a book she thinks I would like.  

I'm lucky that I get to read to, and with, kids every school day.  We read about lumberjack camps, and talking animals, and real life events, and different cultures and places.  We read about Michigan and math and tornadoes.  We read funny stories, and memoirs, and biographies, and poems.  We read our own writing to each other.  We read magazines and maps and everything we can get our hands on.  All I have to do, at any time of day, is hold up a book and ask them if they'd like to hear a story.  They come running and squealing with delight.  Or I can just say, "Who wants to read to me?" and before I can finish the sentence, at least six or seven students have zipped across the room, book in hand, anxious and ready to read to me.

I know we're all busy with so much to do every minute of the day. But, If you're fortunate enough to still have little kids at home, find some good books, snuggle up, and read. To kids, any book is a good book if you read it together.   Ask questions, read all genres, and talk. 

Read with kids.  It's time well spent.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Star On The Map

Today was the big day!  The 3rd grade trip to Lansing, our state capital.  It is a trip that the little 3rd graders anticipate since September and it's never a disappointment.   This year, each class got to bring along six parent chaperones - a real treat!  Due to the number of volunteers interested, we had to hold a lottery, of sorts, and pull names out randomly for the "winners".

So, today, at 8:30 a.m., a full half hour before school normally begins, the little ones began arriving.  They had packed a little backpack of toys and books for the trip.  They had dressed up to look their best while in the capitol building.  They were excited and anxious to get on the bus and get going on our day of adventure.  The chaperones stepped up, took responsibility for their group, and were wonderful in every way.

8:45 a.m.  Departure time and we were loaded on the bus.  Forty-two third graders, two teachers, and twelve parent chaperones.   Just one small problem.  There were only fifty-five seats on the bus.   I'm left standing at the front of the bus, by the bus driver, a nice gentleman by the name of Jim.

"Well, looks like there isn't room for me to go!" I begin, loud enough for the first fifteen rows to hear me.  "No problem. I've got plenty to do back in the classroom. You'll all be fine - I'll see you later today."

At this, a mom in the second row, stands up, and grabs onto my arm tightly as she pulls me towards her.  "Oh my God!  You are not leaving us here!" she pleads with me, clear desperation in her eyes. 

At this, my new friend Jim, points to a pull out "jump seat" and tells me that I can sit there.  Great.  This way I can be 4 inches from the front windshield and six inches from the doors.  Perfect. Especially speeding down a highway at 70 miles per hour.  I pull the seat down, buckle up, and smile feebly at Jim.  

And we're off!   Within two minutes three kids have asked me when they will get their snack and when the movie will start.  Seriously?  We are not even out of the parking lot.    So, I put the movie in, hand out bananas and return to my seat at the windshield.    A calm settles over the bus as the students settle in, eat their bananas, and watch the movie.  Books and toys are removed from backpacks and the kids are clearly enjoying their comfy seats on the charter bus.   

About thirty minutes into the trip, the students begin to want to check out the bus bathroom.  Although we've talked about this prior to the trip, and I've explained to them that it's much like an airplane bathroom, and my suggestion is to wait to use the restroom at the museum, the majority of them want to see for themselves.  There is some thrill to going to the bathroom on a bus; it's expected.  

Before long, we arrived at the Historical Museum.  Our wonderful bus driver dropped us off at the entrance and we entered the building, greeted by a large white pine tree.  The students gathered around me, excited to see the tall state tree and be in the museum. It's wonderful to see their excitement and energy as we hear the orientation from the docent for the museum.   

I caught up with a group of my students in the mining area of the museum, a kid favorite, and just as we're headed to the logging area and looking at the Big Wheel, an alarm sounds in the museum and they announce that everyone needs to exit the museum.  There is an emergency.  The kids and the chaperones look to me, and I look to the docent, who is waving us calmly over to the exit doors.  Several of the kids are visibly upset, worried that there is some sort of real emergency, so I hold their hands and tell them not to worry. I explain that it's just like a fire drill or tornado drill at school.  I tell them we are just practicing.   But, in realty, I am wondering what is going on.   We exit the building, and in the rain, head away from the museum.   The kids were terrific.  I know they were scared, but they followed all the directions and listened to the adults.  

Within ten minutes, we were moved back inside the museum, but, unfortunately, we had lost precious time for touring.   I made an executive decision, with my new friend Jim the bus driver, to have everyone eat their lunch on the bus as we drove to the capitol building for our 12:30 tour.   The kids loved it!  Eating on a bus!   It was raining, the museum eating area was full, and there weren't a lot of options. 

Next up was the capitol building tour.  Lansing's capitol building is a historical landmark, beautifully restored, and an amazing building.   

The kids loved the part where they lie down on the glass floor and look up at the dome, 160' up with painted stars and the muses.  It's absolutely spectacular.  

Even an eight year old can appreciate the beauty of a building like our capitol.   I've been there four times and I'm still amazed every time I visit.  

The capitol tour continued with a visit to the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Governor's Office.  The kids were wide-eyed and interested as the docent relayed numerous facts and historical data.  

Near the end of the tour, one of my parents introduced us to a judge (her relative)  who works across the street from the capitol in the courthouse.  He invited us over to see his courtroom, so, of course we took him up on it.  They didn't even seem to mind when we all trudged through the doors and up the elevators to the sixth floor chambers.  The kids were thrilled to be sitting in an actual courtroom.  Hopefully this will be the one and only time any of them will be there.

After a brisk walk, we were all back on the bus, ready for the trip home.  Students yawned and talked excitedly about all the fun they had in Lansing.  I settled back into my jump seat and another hour or two of learning about Jim's life as a bus driver.   By the time we returned to our school, I could write a biography about his life.  

I'm hoping next time my students see the star on the map of Michigan, indicating the capital city, Lansing, they will be reminded of the wonderful day of learning and fun we had in 3rd grade.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Help Wanted

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a blog?  Have you ever read my posts and thought, "Gee, that was good, but I could have done better?"  

Well, here's your chance.  I'm looking for guest bloggers for the month of May.  The topic just needs to be related to positivity, classroom anecdotes, and keeping a good attitude.  I'm open to any fun posts about school, teaching, or trying to stay positive.

I'd love to have someone in the educational field from another country guest blog -- let's hear about life as a teacher somewhere out in the world!  If I can do it, so can you! You can leave your email in the comments section or email me at:

As always, thanks for reading.   Check back soon for some exciting guest blogs!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Sometimes, as a teacher, all you really need to do is just sit and listen.  Today, during Writer's Workshop, the kids were busy working on various parts of a writing piece.  It's a persuasive piece to their parents about a place they'd like to visit in Michigan this summer.  We study Michigan all year in 3rd grade and many of the kids are excited as we learn about all the cool spots in Michigan to visit.  

So, there they were, all twenty-two of them scattered around the room.  I let them write wherever they are most comfortable, so some sit or lay on the back carpet.  A couple of them curl up in the comfy chairs.  Others join empty seats at a different table group for a change of scenery.  Some sit on the floor or tuck themselves in a quiet corner.  And, most days, there are a couple students standing around the back table, where I normally sit as I edit with the little writers.  

Today had been quite a noisy day in my classroom.  The warmer weather and the anticipation of summer create a combination that exhausts most teachers by noon.  There is more talking, more silliness, and more chaos.  My class, in fact, lost any hope of an extra recess at 10:20 a.m. this morning.  So, when it was time for Writer's Workshop, I welcomed the sudden quietness and calm that began as the students worked.

Students checked in with me for advice, spelling help, editing, or to show me their beautiful handwriting on their final copy.  As I talked with one student, I noticed that one of the boys at the table was listening to the conversations and turning them into songs.  For example, one of the writers was showing me her final copy and I asked her to read back to me the first sentence.  

"Dear Mom and D," she read, stretching out the 'D' and looking a bit confused.  She looked at me.  "Oops!  I meant to say Mom and Dad, not d," she clarified with a smile. 

"Ahhhh!  I was wondering," I commented.

At this point I looked up across the table at the boy who was now singing, and quite animatedly, "Mom and D, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g...."

I couldn't help giggling and neither could the little girl, so we laughed a bit and she left with her revised writing.  The song now over, and the audience gone, the singing boy went back to trying to persuade his parents to drive ten hours through the state to see  the Keewanau peninsula over summer break.  One boy standing next to me at the table, hunched over his writing piece, and looked my way.  

"How do you spell boat?" he asked as he pointed to the word on his paper.  It read "boot".  

"Well, not like that," I said to him.  I pointed to the word and looked at him.  "What does b-o-o-t spell?"

"Boot! That's not what I meant.  You can't take a boot to Mackinac Island!"  he laughed at his error.

Naturally, this caught the singing boy's ear and he began another song.  "Row, row, row, your boot, gently down the lake.  Mac-ki-nac, Mac-ki-nac, Mac-ki-nac, Mac-ki-nac...."   This time he threw in some hand movements simulating rowing a boat. 

Hilarious.  I began laughing. As he took a deep breath for another verse, I tried to get serious and asked him to get back to his writing.   

Within minutes, another little one had approached with her Michigan map to ask me to help her check the mileage for her proposed trip to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.  We checked the map scale together and were talking about the trip in a car.  

"Twinkle, twinkle, little car, How I wonder just how far," came the whispered song from across the table.  It was too funny listening to him add words to familiar songs and pantomime.  It was reminding me of the old game show, "Name That Tune".  

He continued on for the next few writers, each new version of a song funnier than the next.  I couldn't stop giggling and by now, other students in the class were becoming curious as to why the three of us at the back table were having such a great time.  

Finally, I asked him to move somewhere else. I told him that although I found his songs amusing and hysterically funny, we had only fifteen minutes left of writing and I needed to focus and so did he.   He laughed, shrugged his shoulders, and shuffled back to his desk, notebook in his hands.  

I heard him quietly singing, "Baa.. Baa, back to seat, have you any writing? Yes sir, yes sir, two pages full."   His voice trailed off, but he turned to look over his shoulder and look my way and smile.  I silently clapped my hands together to show my appreciation of his lyrics and he bowed before taking his seat. 

I'm thinking I'm lucky I stopped him before his rendition of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall".  Because I might not have been able to stop laughing over that one.

Monday, May 6, 2013

You Know You're A Teacher If...

Your idea of shopping is going to Staples or Office Max and looking at office supplies

You see a crowd of little kids, but you don't run in fear, you jump in and start organizing them, directing them, and if needed, disciplining them

You can stand on your feet seven hours a day and even wear heels

You can figure out how to share one large birthday cookie with 23 students and no knife, plates, or napkins

You've learned to hold your bladder for long periods of time

You get excited when the "Back To School" flyers arrive and actually participate in back to school shopping for yourself

You know all the settings on the copier and can fix most paper jams

A day with 60+ temperatures means extra recess

Your job includes "Picture Day" and "Snack Time"

You pour over Scholastic book orders and teacher catalogs

You have twenty-five "kids" you talk about all the time to your family and friends

You watch the weather forecast in the winter and scream like a little kid when you have a snow day

You can quiet a student from one hundred feet across a gym during an assembly by just looking at him/her

You can hear the same question forty-five times and still answer it without losing your patience

You often forget to eat lunch, or you think three pieces of candy and a bag of carrots from the lunch line is good enough

You don't need to consult a calendar to know it's a full moon

You get joy from using a freshly sharpened pencil

You can tell who is talking in line without even turning around to look

You can fix boo-boos, calm nerves, build confidence, correct errors, inspire ideas, and motivate, all at the same time

You can accomplish more in twenty-five minutes than most people can in four hours

You wouldn't do anything else but what you do. 


Friday, May 3, 2013

O Degrees Of Separation

I spend a lot of time with kids.  I hear a lot of conversations and comments, some appropriate, and of course, some not so much.  I intervene when needed, put in my two cents when required, and am ever watchful to catch misconceptions or challenge errors.  Amazingly, I can do all this while also teaching, guiding, and generally going about my day.    

Case in point.  Today as I sat working with several students on perimeter at the back table, two students were huddled over the world map that was hanging on the back of our bookshelf.  I have found that kids absolutely love maps and I have them hanging around my room, as well as a "map basket" stuffed with maps from my travels and student travels around the country and the world.   So, the fact that, during math time, students were looking at a map didn't even bother me.  Heck!  Learning is learning in my book.  I figured something had spurred them into checking out the map and I began listening to their conversation. 

Anyway, while I waited for my table of future math gurus to calculate the correct perimeter of several shapes, I was listening to the two students looking at spots on the world map.  One had pointed out that he was going to Albania this summer to visit his grandparents and see other family.   It took them both a minute or two, but they managed to pinpoint Albania on the map.  Next, they began to look at and name surrounding countries and talk about where in the world they would love to go.   They talked about how far away Albania was from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.   Somehow they figured it would be "a 5 or 6 hour flight" and asked me if I thought that would be a long flight.  

Naturally, I answered, "It depends on how many DVDs you have or if you brought your iPad and your games."  The fact that they were way off on the duration of the trip didn't seem important at that moment in time.  But I added that they should recall that it is roughly a four hour flight from here to California (a conversation we had had weeks ago as a whole class).

I put my attention back to the perimeter people as they were successfully finishing up their numbers.    Then I heard one of the students at the map point out to the other student that it was really, really cold in Brazil.  My ears perked up as I listened in to hear the reasoning.  Both of them had their fingers pointed at Brazil on the map.  

"You're right!" confirmed the student.  It says it is 0 degrees there!" 

I chuckled to myself as I assigned the next few challenges to the perimeter group and excused myself to head over to the world map and teach them a bit about latitude and longitude.   I loved the way they connected the 0 degrees to the only thing they know about -- temperature.    I scooted between them and squatted down to their level (and the maps) and asked them if they knew what the climate was like near the equator.   Without hesitating, they both told me it was "very, very hot all year long".  I pointed to the equator and the 0 degree mark.  

"Then how in the world can this map be showing 0 degrees?  We know it's not cold there... ever!"  I prompted them. 

They both look stymied.  

"Well, whoever made this map, must have made a mistake," explained one, with a look of disgust on his face. 

"You think?" I asked.  "I paid good money for this map.  I doubt they would make such an error."  

We sat in silence for a minute, pondering the possibility of a map-maker making a colossal mistake on a map.  

"Have you ever heard of latitude and longitude?" I asked them.  They cocked their heads.  

"See these horizontal lines on the map?" I continued.  "Those are called latitude.  The lines from pole to pole are called longitude.  They are all measured in increments called 'degrees'," I explained.  "We measure temperature in degrees, but we also use degrees in geography and maps.  You've heard about GPS?" I asked.

Both nodded their heads.  

"Well, the next time you are using your GPS in the car, or on your phone, look carefully and you will be able to see the exact lines of latitude and longitude.   That is the spot where you are on the map. It's really cool," I told them.

"But who draws the lines on the map and how do they know where they go?" one of them asked.  

At just that exact moment, the perimeter people were becoming a bit restless and my attention turned to them.  The map students headed back to their desks to complete their math assignment.    A classroom is like that.  Things happen.  We stop and learn at all times during the day.  

And, just like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon game, in a classroom, all ideas can be connected back to math in just five or six steps.