Monday, March 24, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Blimey the Leprechaun broke into our classroom on St. Patrick's Day and made a huge mess!

He even left a taunting note for the children to read.

They were not amused!

Upon seeing the destruction one exasperated little girl moaned with dramatic flair, "HE RUINED MY ENTIRE LIFE!"

She also suggested we behead him or pull him by the hair...a wee bit imaginative I suppose, but putting the room back together did take quite a while.

We asked the children what we should do.  There were many suggestions that involved setting a trap to catch Blimey in the act of being naughty.  So, they split up into small groups to construct a plan and execute the trap.

We were certainly impressed with their creativity!

"I will get you for this!"
One group suggested making a mock food table to tempt Blimey into the area so he would slip on pieces of colored construction paper. That would result in him tripping over the trigger line holding an overhead blanket and violá.  We got him!

There were many creative ideas but the one Blimey fell for was the trap above the rocking chair. He couldn't resist sitting there with a book and when he did...BAM!

Blimey did learn his lesson.  He wrote a letter of apology and left a few gifts for the children who instantly forgave him.  The enraged little girl from the morning went to Oni and quietly said, "I miss him. He was fun."


This post was written in conjunction with Onudeah (Oni) Nicolarakis, my team teacher extraordinaire!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Minotaur

"What?  I'm just standing here."
I can't even get over how adorable this Minotaur is, just standing there with wide-eyed perplexity wondering why everybody is staring at him.  I can hear him muttering, "Huh?"

This was a homework assignment in which we asked our first graders to draw a picture of the Minotaur.  We told them the story of Theseus and the Minotaur that afternoon.  They were asked to include details (notice the smoke coming out of his nostrils, the labyrinth surrounding him, the large horns on his bull head, the human form WITH SHOES!).  She even provided a reason and an example to support her opinion.  "Reason: He is evil.  Example: He could make you die."

It slays me!

We told the kids that they would vote on their favorite picture and it would be featured on the school website in our class page.  This picture didn't get the popular vote despite my best efforts.

The picture on the left came out on top.  It has some fine qualities but it doesn't make me laugh the way the other picture does.

It is obvious that both girls were paying careful attention to the story as it unfolded. The Greeks could really spin a yarn.

Later we looked at some drawing of the Minotaur in several books to see how others envisioned him.

The favorites included the Minotaur in Z is for Zeus: A Greek Mythology Alphabet by Helen L. Wilbur and Theseus and the Minotaur (Graphic Greek Myths and Legends) by Gilly Cameron Cooper.

I can't wait to see how they draw the Cyclops Polyphemus.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Døveskoler (Deaf Schools)

Students sharing a book in the reading nook.
Interesting stories are everywhere.

You just need to know where to focus your attention.

About three years ago a documentary film maker wondered if there was a story to be told at my school.

He arranged a visit to see if he could fashion a film around our unique setting. After spending some time in my classroom and talking with us, he felt certain there was indeed a story.

However, it was not one he could tell.  He simply couldn't decide where to look.

Happily, this wasn't the case when we were visited late last year by a crew of Danish filmmakers eager to capture our story.

Through interviews with students, teachers, parents and administrators they highlighted the joys and challenges inherent in educating deaf and hard of hearing children at a dual language (American Sign Language and English) school.

The part I found most fascinating during this experience was watching the cameraman.  Where did he point his camera?  And through his lens I began to see things I see everyday with fresh eyes.

I followed his gaze to a group of children sharing a book in our reading nook and thought, "Yes, that a story right there!"  What would I think about these children and the classroom environment if I only had this picture to go on?  It really does speak volumes about their ability to share, to learn, to engage, to focus.

In the thirteen minute film below I throughly enjoyed seeing how the camera focused on the small moments in the classroom.  The hands fingerspelling a word.  The inquisitive faces of the children. The motion and energy of the school.  Although the film is in Danish and sign language these things are universal.

I am grateful that it taught me, once again, where to look.

It turns out I am surrounded by some pretty amazing things.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The CookShop Classroom

Oni mixing the broccoli and cauliflower
confetti salad
Our latest school partnership is with the Food Bank for New York City and their CookShop program for nutrition education.

The program has me feeling a tinge guilty for the many years I spent promoting unhealthy food choices in Kindergarten Cafe.


Our preschool through second grade classes have incorporated CookShop lessons into the curriculum. CookShop "teaches cooking skills and nutrition information and fosters enthusiasm for fresh, affordable fruits, vegetables and other whole foods".

Their philosophy, as I understand it, is that food is fuel.  Unhealthy sugary foods generally provide a short rush of energy with an inevitable crash. Healthy foods keep the mind and body going.  This sustained energy allows children to focus on their work and become fruitful members of society.  It is long-term thinking.

Obesity and diet-related diseases continue to soar.  The Cookshop program hopes to ameliorate the situation.

After I attended the CookShop training a huge locker of supplies arrived.  They provided us with sundry kitchen items, from a can opener, knives and bowls to disposable items like plastic forks and cups.  Every three weeks we get a food delivery containing the ingredients for our Cookshop Chef Lessons.  It is very exciting!

Our latest recipe was Broccoli and Cauliflower Confetti Salad made with cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, corn, salt, honey, deli mustard and olive oil.

We teach the children how to safely use a knife to "saw" vegetables and fruits

I think the folks at the Food Bank would have been proud when it came time for "1, 2, 3, taste".  One little girl shared, "I thought it was going to be disgusting but it is delicious!"

And it was, it really was.

Go figure!

(Although I think I would still prefer a mid-afternoon cake pop.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Culture of Safety

The snow covered playground at Madison Square Park in New York City.

It is not exactly a newsflash to report that it has been one hell of a winter.

We've been bombarded by so much snow that even the little kid in me is screaming, "Enough!"

More importantly, the adult that I am is left scratching my head wondering at the Mayor's decision (past and present) to keep NYC public schools open when everyone around us closes due to inclement weather.

Former Mayor Bloomberg rationalized keeping schools open because parents need to work.  He seemed to publicly contemplate, "Who will watch the children on such short notice?"

Current Mayor Bill De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina posited that schools must stay open because otherwise children wouldn't have a hot meal.

There was some lip service paid to keeping children safe but they ultimately decided that safety was a parental prerogative.

On Wednesday night, before the last big storm hit, I attended choir practice where the weather was the central topic of conversation. Local schools in Trenton were already closed in anticipation of the onslaught. We talked about the fact that NYC public schools rarely close.  Our organist--an amazingly talented young woman who works as a nurse--was outraged by this because she has witnessed firsthand the consequences the lack of precaution has wrought.

She argued that we must foster a "culture of safety" instead of applauding individuals who brave the storm to get to work.  I thought of the postings in my school thanking everyone who fought the elements to come in during the blizzard.

Then she told the heartbreaking story of cardiothoracic surgeon who was one of the "heroes" until he slipped on the ice and suffered brain damage as a result.  He was never able to practice again and now spends his days in and out of a lucidity.

I couldn't get to work the next day due to the fact that I live about two hours away and commuting was out of the question.

When I returned on Friday I heard that a school bus carrying children to our school was in an accident.  The bus hit a guard rail because the roads were covered in ice and the driver couldn't stop the bus from skidding.

One little girl slammed her head into the seat in front of her causing her glasses to push into her face.  Her sister told me she is okay but her eyes are bothering her now and she has "marks" on her nose.

The news was filled with similar stories.

We always tell the children that our main priority is to keep them safe.

Is it?

Sometimes I question the decisions of those in charge and hope that they see schools as more than a babysitting service with a meal plan.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"I am the rock, you are the chain"

Andromeda and the Sea Monster
by Domenico Guidi, 1694
And so it begins...

We started teaching our first grade students those incredible Greek myths last week.

I always begin with Perseus and Medusa because it is a fantastic story that never fails to ignite the imagination.

Children love to dwell in that space of secure horror.  They know that the myths are not real but relish the possibility that perhaps Medusa may be lurking around the corners of their bedroom at night.  And they delight in the fact that they can defeat her.

It has been well documented that children play to understand the world and to cope with emotions.

We have certainly witnessed this firsthand in the dramatic reenactments our students enthusiastically presented for us.  On Friday they asked my coteacher Oni and I if they could act out the story for us.

Each child had a role.  There were the usual suspects, Medusa, Andromeda, Perseus, the sea monster, Cassiopeia, Athena, Pegasus, Hermes, etc. but once those all-stars were assigned the children got creative.  One girl happily became the rock Andromeda sits on whilst awaiting her imminent fate and another assumed the role of the chains Andromeda struggles against as the monster approaches.

It amazed me that in their eyes each role was equally important.

Talk about team work.

What an amazing group of children!

The impressive aspect of all this is that we haven't even finished telling the story.  At least not in detail and certainly not with the various twists and embellishments that have come with centuries of storytelling.

It makes me think of good 'ol Joe who wrote, "Living myths are not invented but occur, and are recognized by seers and poets, to be then cultivated and employed as catalysts of spiritual (i.e., psychological) well-being".


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