Posts

Showing posts from 2017

Why So Serious? Laughter is Good for the Soul.

Farce, hilarity, wisecracking, three tools that are often neglected in the classroom. However they are useful ammunition. If used effectively they will not just brighten up a complacent learning environment but they will transform it into a haven of connection, cognizance, comfort and delight. This year, for me joy and mindfulness begin with a humble laugh and creating a humorous and compelling place where smiles occur daily and respectful banter is common place.

That first chuckle, giggle, guffaw. The moment their deadpan expressions turn into audible grins. This is the juncture when our classroom transforms from a stage to a society. Give-and-take becomes the norm. Quiet shifts to orderly networking. Each voice an interchange, communication seems like witty banter between characters, seamless and charged. The humor of a learning environment is a two-way street. An avenue of laughter, all the while, being one of academic attainment. Joking around may seem off-task but it builds rappo…

Magical Mystery Tour: A Calling Card Extravaganza

Image
It was about 1:30 in the morning, the eve of the first day of school. I was restless, couldn't sleep. So I just stared into the darkness of my room and envisioned a blank wall. I tried to imagine what a wall, that would encompass my mindful philosophy and student personalities, would look like. In the past, I have used 'All About Me' and other colorful handouts for students to share their backgrounds and interests. But, these stayed up for a few days, maybe a week and then ended up in the recycle bin (student choice). So I wanted to do something different this year. Incorporate the same basic idea, but also have it purposeful and relevant every day. A long-lasting and impactful design where students were building a community not just talking about themselves.
What came to mind was my UCLA quad community board. There was everything from lost cat signs to I need a partner to study fliers. It was always a messy, hodge-podge of student communication. This intrigued me. I knew…

A Student-Centered Classroom: Design with Students in Mind

Image
August 16th, a year that will live in merriment. A student-centered classroom becomes even more so by doing a few simple things. Colliding with science is my moniker on Twitter as well as our class blog and website. So it made sense to use it as our class motto. A vision is important and this created a sense of wonderment and magic as they entered the room. I also call our room a community and we start the year off with a group 'mingle' activity and creating our own motto's and logo's. These are then hung on the wall, on our community board. But, alas that is a topic for the next blog post.


When I was designing my wall space I decided to go minimalist. To leave the responsibility to my students so they feel connected to the community arena completely. The back wall of the classroom is a giant collision board where students will add articles, pictures and any other artifact they desire, to build the 'big picture' and make connections between concepts. I got it …

Overwhelming Becomes Integrated: Back to Teacher Mode

The feeling of being overwhelmed takes over, darkens the edges and creates a grainy, askew image of reality. Voices distant, hollow, speak and dissipate. Focus disseminates, scattering like the first semblance of morning light. The fog of hindsight ceases to lift, lingering heavy, every step leads somewhere but the journey is mysterious. Convergence of immediacy, procrastination, responsibility. The haze of summer meets the clarity of classroom life, yet how to begin remains aloof, just out of reach. The paralyzing effect of too much information in a minute amount of time. Expectations, vision, mission, goals, presented in rapid succession. A blur of data, I tell myself, just add it to the swirl of murk circling around me. People smile, greet and welcome, but in my head the vocalization of my colleagues remains a murmur, fighting to connect with my laden thoughts. This lasts for days, meeting after meeting, team building exercises, grade level discussions, planning sessions. I jot dow…

Things You Think of While Staring Out the Window on A Long Drive

I just returned from a month in Albuquerque. Returning home is always bittersweet, on the one hand you are home and you get to sleep in your own bed. On the other, you have to leave behind something. I left behind my oldest son, Gabrial who is now 18 and beginning college. He is living with my daughter Hannah and her husband and child. So I know he is safe, but it is my first son leaving the nest is stressful. I have three more at home, and saying goodbye to my oldest was harder than I could ever have imagined, it was heartbreaking. Lots of tears. So, beginning the sixteen hour trek home was a somber one. The car was quiet for a while, all that was heard was some sniffling. It was an event I had been dreading since our arrival in Albuquerque. But, I had to rip off the band-aid quickly so we didn't drag out our good byes. Hugs and kisses and off we went. Looking back now, only four days later, it still stings. But, I am so blessed to have such an amazing family and I know he will m…

Updates and Completion: 365 Days of Blogs

Today is my 365th day in a row of writing my blog. A full year. But I looked back over all the entries and about 13 of them never posted for some reason. They were saved as drafts, but never posted. So I just went back through my long expanse of writing and updated all the posts, sent the drafts through and now, at 365 posts I feel a sense of relief. Accomplishment. I am so thrilled to be at my destination #blog365 but the destination is merely a connection point to my new adventure: writing and discussing my classroom and how I solve problems and grow with my students. Nothing has changed-only the timing has caused me pause. July 27th, 2016 I began this journey and shortly thereafter I joined the Twitter universe. Both have changed my life. Have made me more observant and collaborative. Broken me out of my shell. I am grateful for everyone who has shaped me over this last year, my PLN and colleagues. My family and friends.

A new beginning....closure on a goal and the opening of so ma…

Edit, Play, Pause: What's in your Personal Documentary?

Movies, whether comedy, drama, horror, romantic-comedy, fantasy or Science-fiction impact us in different ways. We commit to 90 minutes or longer, we invest ourselves in the characters, put ourselves in the setting, feel a part of the action, why? They are visual escapism's. We go to release our minds from the daily grind, the stress of life and live vicariously through some of Hollywood's greatest characters. We become heroes and heroines for a few hours, all the while remaining safely in our seats. We laugh, scream, and cry in the dark as we watch our counter-parts save the day, experience sorrow and joy, love and fear. As their on-screen lives fulfill our farfetched fantasies and worst nightmares, we can conquer ours in the real world. If we can watch someone else achieve what we want to achieve maybe that will be the instigator to push us to do the same. These characters become a part of us, we use their victories to get us up out of our seats and active in our own lives. …

To Badge or Not to Badge: A Matter of Preference

Badges like all rewards aren't necessarily a good thing nor a bad thing. In life we have rewards, incentives and 'points' we earn from just about everything we do whether it is buying gas, airline miles, BOGO deals, coupons, even if you switch over to....get three months free. Every where you look we are being enticed by advertising. Many classrooms are using some sort of reward system in their design. Earning a trip to the mystery box is always a good motivator for younger children and older alike. I see why they can be successful. I choose not to use them however, because I feel a student-centered classroom operates best not from compliance but from community. I do not reward for what is expected. Students write the rules and goals. They enforce the behavior by making good choices. Of course they make mistakes but peer pressure keeps the community running smoothly most of the time. A little pressure and modeling of mindful strategies for both joy and personal motivation.…

Making a List and Checking it Twice

How can we improve our teaching? How can we ensure that this year will be better than the last? Reflection of course is one way to look back and recognize what worked and what didn't in the last school year. But, is that enough? Sometimes I see the things I need to improve upon but I never figure out how. I enter the new school year determined to change things up, try new things, take-risks but I never plan them in advance, they just happen. I have a 'big picture' personality. I write ad-hoc lesson plans but rarely follow them because I truly teach in the moment. Each class varies a little based on their needs & personalities. When a team member comes in and asks me for the lesson plan for what I am doing, because they like it, I have to verbally tell them, to their dismay because I rarely write it down. I just work it through moments before the bell rings. My mind is never at rest. I know the TEKS, I know the pacing, I know the content it is simply the presentation th…

Riding the Small Waves, Surfing the Big Ones: Remediation and Enrichment Circles

The Ripples Begin
"Spit it out, it won't taste so bad." I love to say this to my students. After a few weeks, I hear them saying it to each other. Like the salt water that enters your nostrils and throat after a wipe out, you need to spit out the failure quickly. Being from California, I use a lot of surfer slang, “Totally rad or Epic dude.” It becomes a part of the classroom vernacular. It is all about failing fast and reinventing your ideas to keep the flow. The bedrock of our student-centered classroom is flow: if it becomes stagnate, learning ceases. If the atmosphere is too tumultuous, it creates a sense of discontentment and upheaval. It is important, with any 'Goldilocks' design, for everything to be balanced, not to fast-paced, not to mundane.
The first day they enter our classroom, we talk openly about failure and mastery. We discuss how during both journeys, we may find ourselves struggling or excelling from day to day. Some topics are easy while others …

I Love the Smell of Ozone in the Morning

Image
The sweet, pungent aroma tickles my nose as I walk outside. The sunrise is pink and orange bringing to mind an image of carnival cotton candy. Swirling colors of spun goodness. The senses together form a sugary taste in my mouth, both honeyed and pleasing. It is monsoon weather here in the higher elevations of New Mexico. Down at sea level, in the Houston area we call this phenomenon hurricane season. Both areas flood, get tremendous thunderstorms and down pours, but the names bring very different connotations to mind. A monsoon sounds more deliberate, continual, natural. Whereas hurricanes seem punctuated, dangerous and spontaneous. Of course I know the truth, but watching the rain approach over the Sandia's just feels different up here in the clouds. At home in Texas the rain feels more forceful and ominous. 'Turn around and don't drown' the mantra on the weather channel in both locations, is a gentle reminder that Mother Nature has a voice and she spills over. We ne…

Constructing an Extraordinary Learning Environment: Believe in the Space

A learning environment will always be under construction, or at least it should be. Depending on the participants it can change within a short amount of time to accommodate the needs of the group. It must be pliable and workable. Unlike a laboratory, this dispensary of knowledge, must have tools of the trade but it also needs to be user friendly and accessible. A classroom must be stream-lined for learning and thus appear cluttered and disheveled due to usage. Scientists design their own work space. In order to conduct their experiments and dive deep into research they need their materials to be organized. Each device having its specific place, means both efficiency and regulation. Some teachers design their classrooms along the lines of a laboratory, these are often sterile and antiseptic leading to compliance and passivity. A student-centered classroom, however, must incorporate the demands and obligations of every student. A teachers persona should be apparent in the atmosphere, fo…

The Moment the Flow Begins and A Classroom Becomes Cohesive

The beginning of the year is always a scary time for me. I have six different classes to connect to, bond with and form relationships with. My quirky and loud demeanor incorporates easily into most classes but there is always that one, where personalities are quiet and my approach needs to vary. I never know what jokes I can tell or how nerdy I can be until I meet them for the first time. Don't get me wrong, I am always a nerd but, I have to 'know the room' tease and play in different fashions depending on the students. It may take a little longer in one class than in others, but to build a strong rapport and strengthen trust and acceptance, a community needs to be constructed. This community is based on student input and desire and at first they are shy and compliant and in order for them to be extroverted and engaged a little finesse has to be used. Joy and mindfulness is often quiet and unassuming and this is the bedrock of my classroom: to smile and belong to something…

Feeling the Disconnect

This morning the first of many emails arrived regarding the first week of teachers returning to school. Beginning a fresh, anticipated, mindful new year. Lots of meetings and planning and time to set up and get organized. A district wide convocation and many subject area sessions. A full schedule for sure. The rosters for our classes are visible in the system and it is nice to be able to see the names of all the students we will be meeting in a few weeks. I smiled as I read over my different class rosters, many of my students were in Quiz Bowl last year or tried out in June for the team so there are many familiar names. There are also many familiar surnames, I know I have taught their siblings in the past. Its always fun to see the similarities and differences among siblings. Not to compare or even share my findings with my students but for me personally to see these beautiful commonalities.

The house is quiet and I am in full-on teacher mode today. Drawing sketches of my classroom id…

I Laugh in the Face of Danger... Ha..Ha..Ha...

In the immortal words of Simba in the Lion King, "I laugh in the face of danger, ha..ha..ha.." In a school one of the biggest threats to the cohesion, positivity, and well-being of the school culture is negativity. It is what breaks the spirit of educators around the globe. Having a few bad apples in a bunch of shiny, delicious ones can literally spoil the whole barrel. I have been lucky enough to teach in three schools and each has had its fair share of difficulties in this department. I left my first two assignments because of this turmoil and drudgery, it was too wide spread and thick, it coated every aspect of the environment. I had to leave to keep my sanity. However, I am fairly certain that at my current school, with a little mindfulness and joy I can help to turn things around.

There will always be pessimists and those educators who need to retire, but there are also those who get lost in the shuffle, forgotten because they are in the far corners of the building. It …

Tying it All Together: The Power of Dessert: The Final Touches of a Student-Centered Classroom Part Four

The first three installments of this series were all about creating the flow of a student-centered classroom. Having an extensive, open-menu allowing substitutions. Creating an energetic, learning environment where student choice, independence and preference are the back bone of the classroom. If we, as teachers, remain patrons of the establishment, rather than host or chef we can create a place of anticipation and freedom. The conversations and support will appear organically, if we are patient. The most exciting part of a student-led environment is watching the cohesion of ingredients, each student adding their own, herbs & spices to the recipe. Hunger levels will change as activities and tasks are completed. Students may feel full but we can always tempt them with dessert. The out of the box, upbeat lessons that we always leave room for. A great meal is about the courses blending and instinctively combining flavors and sensations until the last morsel is gone. Eggs and toast bo…

Open-Menu: The Framework for a Typical Student-Centered Classroom: Part Three

Part one and two of this series was about the breakfast menu: the opening ceremony of a student-centered classroom. Maple soaked pancakes, the greeting at the door. Both enticing and alluring, a sense of wonderment and hunger. The oozing eggs setting the tone for the genesis of the lesson, the yellow yolk dripping over the onset of learning, bringing with it curiosity and intrigue for the rest of the meal or activity of the day. The main event, or entree comes layered integrating all aspects of learning: visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic. The menu still open, substitutions welcomed, anticipated. New creations appearing as collaborative efforts, bring together ideas, objectives and intentions. Students in control and tasks determined by necessity and desire much like our appetites direct us to our sustenance, interest and relevance lead us to knowledge.
As animals, humans, we eat for nourishment: to gain energy, endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. The chemicals that in…

Eggs and a Side of Toast: The Recipe for a Student-Centered-Classroom Part Two

In yesterday's post, I discussed the glory of warm, silky, crispy hotcakes. Pancakes: short stack or silver dollar when smothered in maple and topped with fruit and powdered sugar, bring to life any breakfast. They are messy and sticky but this only adds to their appeal. Style, flavor and garnish all determined by personal preference and taste. They are the ingredients of a student-led learning environment. Flapjacks are not the only element that charges up a classroom. Sweet and sugary these fluffy perfections tend to be on a separate plate, a side order, yet a morning fare would not be the same without them. They are the greeting at the door, the eye contact, letting our students see we are excited they have arrived.

The Core of the Meal:

The fundamental, cardinal item on a brunch platter is eggs and a side of toast. Constituents like these, are merely part and parcel to the bigger picture- the whole plate. These staples may seem typical but they have as many variations as pancak…

Just Like Flipping Pancakes: The Ingredients of a Student-Centered Classroom- Part One

The batter: baking soda, salt, and flour make up the basic ingredients of any pancake mix. Add some water and, voilĂ ! This powdery substance enters its initial journey into an amalgamation. But this template only gets you the squishy part of the breakfast treat. The cooking of the batter, sometimes sweetened with cinnamon or heartier with wheat or corn, is where the true magic begins. If the pan is the perfect temperature, just the right amount of oil or butter, this varies with preference, and the mixture is poured in evenly, then the most beautiful golden pancake, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside begins its formation. Then the timing must be just right. If removed too soon, it falls apart. Too late and it gets burnt. Next, it gets flipped, and if it lands spot-on, you end up with the perfect, circular pancake. A stack of them is a truly remarkable sight. Then the creme de resistance, fruit, or different flavors of syrup. There are just about endless possibilities here: c…

Striking Up a Conversation with Students

I have five children, all various ages, each with vastly different personalities. Much like students, beginning a conversation with them, at least an ongoing one takes some finesse. If I just jump in, they pull away. If I am too coy, they lack enthusiasm and just trail off topic within a minute or so. I generally commence a chat by just saying their name and asking them a question. "Hello, son of mine, Gabrial, what cha doin'?" This can instigate two results: one, he actually looks up from his device, smiles and says "hello mirm," his nickname for me, or he says fine, nothing and continues battling whatever he is trying to conquer in his game. So through out the teenage, technology era, I have resorted to beginning all my conversations with my children, "Please step away from the device, all tray tables must be stored in their locked and upright positions." Then "eye contact, please." Finally, after a little push back, they are focused on wh…

Sidekicks and Supporting Roles: Modeling The Minor Character

Every classroom is full of leaders, first responder's, accomplices, background performers even understudies but if given an opportunity, most students jump in to become the headliner. The name in all CAPS on the marquee. But as we have seen in superhero and action films, it is the sidekick or "friend" that comes to the rescue. They are the man in the chair, directing the hero to the villains lair, the scene of the kerfuffle, or the arena of the battle. Yet, when we model for our students responsibility and duty of participating in a group, leadership is what we focus on. We discuss how to be a leader, how to direct, how to organize and get the group functioning on task, but we rarely model how to be a sidekick. It is important though to make sure that situations change and on occasion Hulk is in the line of fire and protecting his team, while Captain America is playing a supportive role. They are both superheroes, both will leap into any situation to fight evil but they …