Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New York City is our Classroom

New York City!

I cannot imagine a better place to teach.  The Big Apple offers school children culture, history and a sense of wonder.

It breaths life into the words we read in books and helps children connect to the lessons in tangible ways through visual, tactile and kinesthetic modalities.

NYC lets kids get their hands dirty.  She encourages them to question and explore and offers a great many oohs and ahhs.

New York City is a great teacher.

This year we expanded the walls of our classroom with trips to Liberty Island and The Statue of Liberty, Governor's Island Learning Garden, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rockefeller CenterTop of the Rock, The Fire Zone, The New Victory Theater, Children's Museum of the Arts, Central Park, The Staten Island Ferry,  Green Meadow Farm Festival of Cultures and Lincoln Center.

Students gathering greens at Governor's Island Learning Garden
During our travels the children learned about nutrition, gardening, healthy habits, history, art, design, color, shape, geography, world cultures, perspective, transportation modes, performance styles, mythology, respect, rules, cooperation, fire safety, creativity, plants, life cycles and themselves.

Thankfully our principal is very supportive of field trips for the elementary grades and recognizes their value. For many of our students class trips are the only opportunity they have to experience first-hand the treasures that NYC has to offer.  That is true for me as well.  I had never visited Liberty Island before this year!

Next year we will continue to open our doors to venture out while continuing to invite New York into our classrooms through children's book author visits, theatrical performances and Broadway Books First Class.

With all this it is easy to sing out, "I love New York!"

The Rose

The One Hundred and Fourth Annual Commencement ceremony for our graduating Eighth Grade students included a recently added tradition called Presentation of Roses.

Each graduate stands on the stage and presents a rose to an adult they deem deserving of thanks and recognition for the love, support, and guidance they've provided.

The decision does not come without a lot of contemplative handwringing.

Last year, I was honored by my tearful little cupcake who was filled with such emotion that she could not finish explaining why she chose me.  This angelic child found a way to touch my heart one last time before she flew off into the world.

This year the scene unfolded a little differently but I equally moved.

First, there is a little backstory.

In 2012, the graduating Eight Grade class asked me to be their keynote speaker.  I prepared a brief speech outlining some life lessons based on Curious George.  As I spoke I tossed out a little stuffed George every once in a while just to make sure they were paying attention.

This year one of the 2015 graduates quietly asked if I had any of those stuffed Curious George toys left. The message was clear.  This really cool eighth grader wanted a Curious George stuffed animal. Adorable!  So, I brought one to the commencement ceremony to give to him afterwards.

It turns out that when it came time for the presentation of the roses he called my name.

On stage he handed me the rose and I handed him the stuffed George.  When we quickly hugged he said, "I love you man!"

These fabulous kids, they are killing me!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Catching Up With...Michael

Class Pictures
Top Left: Preschool 2000-2001 - Michael is on the far right in a white shirt
Top Right: Preschool 2001-2002 - Michael is top row, third from left
Bottom Left: Kindergarten 2002-2003 - Michael is top row, second from left
Bottom Right: First Grade 2003-2004 - Michael is center row, third from right

It is rare that an elementary school teacher has the opportunity to work with the same student for four years, but I did.  I had the happy privilege of steering Michael through two years of preschool, then kindergarten and first grade.

I first saw Michael when he was just three-years-old.  He was standing in the school lobby next to his stunningly beautiful mother and was clearly not at all happy about having to hold her hand.  He looked ornery and angry as he kicked at her ankles with his little feet.

I thought, "This boy is a handful".

Luckily, I like kids who are handfuls.  Instead of being deterred by his antics, I found him incredibly endearing.  He was just too cute to pull off that temper tantrum.  By the time we were introduced he was all smiles and over-the-top charm.  He even pronounced my name as "Gawy".  Somehow that just upped my fatherly instincts to protect and nurture this child.

Michael in Pre-K sporting
blonde hair
I have so many vivid memories of Michael as a preschool student but the story I am most fond of telling is the one about his nap time routine.

He slept with his head inside the pillow case and was not easy to wake up.

My co-workers Maggie and Marilla would often look to me to do the job.

It routinely went something like this...

Me: Michael, it's time to get up.
Michael: (silence)
Me: (gently shaking him) Michael, wake up.
Michael: (pokes his head out from the pillowcase, yells and slaps me hard across the face)

We all found it endlessly amusing and it only endeared him to me more.

Later, after four years as his teacher, his mom and I joked that I should just stay with him until he graduated.  She promised that she would keep in touch and one of these days I would attend his high school graduation and we would all share a very emotional moment together.

Through the years Michael would stop by for a visit. It is wonderful to see this little boy grow into a funny, kind, and stalwart young man.

In May 2009 and March 2012

This past June Michael graduated from high school.  He sent me a message the night before to invite me but although I wanted to attend I had another batch of children that needed me and I just couldn't work it out.

Michael started Brooklyn College this summer and is working at Potbelly Sandwich Shop.  He says he is "struggling to do school and work at the same time".  As a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) he is interested in majoring in American Sign Language and wants to do something related to sign as a career.

He added, "I remember how great a teacher you were.  You always connected with students with your high energy, passion and your sense of humor".

And then he slapped me hard across the face.

Monday, July 20, 2015

SmackDown!

I've had playful, theoretical Medusa vs. Cyclops challenges in the past but never the cage fight, badass, WWE SmackDown! aesthetic of the images Oni put together this year.

And bless the children.  The more graphic the art, the more invested they become.

This year we posed the above question in two different forums. First, to our class and then to the school community.

The majority of our first graders held the opinion that the cyclops would win...

" I think the cyclops would will win because he can feel around and if he feels Medusa's hair he can punch her.
That's why I think the cyclops is going to win. "

" I think the cyclops is going to win becasue he would eat Medusa's head off and she would be dead."
(Check out the cool speech bubbles - "Get out of my cave!!!")
Generally their take was Medusa is tiny and cyclops is big.  He could therefore "smash" her.

One girl posed a question I had never considered.  She asked, "What would happen if one of the snakes on Medusa's head looked at her and turned to stone? Would she turn to stone too since it is part of her?" Good question, discuss...

We also put up a SmackDown! bulletin board outside our classroom and invited students, teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and administrators to vote.  The majority vote school-wide was overwhelmingly in favor of Medusa coming out the victor.  I'd have to agree.  Medusa is much more strategic than the impulsive cyclops.

Below is a cool student tribute to Medusa.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Top Ten 2014 - 2015

A sample Top Ten list from a First Grade student
The Top Ten posts are my favorite to write because they serve as a time capsule showcasing the uniqueness of a particular class.  The books and the children's writing bring back memories of our time together and the dynamic moments we shared.

This year, as in years past, our students created individual top ten lists (see above) from the many books we read together.  Each book was then voted on by the whole class until we settled on just ten.

Number One
Number One: Washington Irving's The Headless Horseman (adapted by Natalie Standiford) topped the list this year.

Our class was so enraptured by the dark mystery of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that they created their own version.

It is a testament to the staying power of the story that it survived in the children's minds and hearts throughout the year.

It was as popular in June as it was in October and remained the number one selection for independent reading.  Luckily, this year I bought an extra copy so it cut down on the quarreling.

Marilyn wrote, "I think my favorite book is The Headless Horseman because the character Icabod is funny.  And I like scary stories. That's why I like The Headless Horseman".

Number Two
Number Two: Otto Has a Birthday Party by Todd Parr.

This book was read at every single birthday celebration this year.  Over time the boys and girls began to substitute their names for Otto's as in "Today is Gabriel's birthday, and he is going to make his cake all by himself" (That conceit became a little more complicated when a girl read the book and had to remember to change all the pronouns).

Speaking of Gabriel, he wrote...

"My favorite book is Otto has a birthday party because it was funny when Otto put a cootie bug and mud for frosting. I hope you loved my opinion writing." 

Number Three
Number Three: I used to take issue with Teachers Pay Teachers. I was of the opinion that teachers should share ideas freely and the thought of making a buck off of one another just did not sit right with me.

My feelings about the site changed this year when I discovered that there are many fantastic free resources.  Plus, the items that require payment are absolutely worth the small fee.

It was on Teachers Pay Teachers that I found a free reader's theater script for The Stinky Cheese Man.  I used it during small group work with children who needed to develop fluency. What fun!

They happily performed the "fairly stupid tale" for the rest of the class and learned some interesting vocabulary along the way.

Number Four
Number Four: Usually when we do a read aloud I sit next to Oni (my co-teacher) and voice while she signs.  However, we changed things up a bit when we read A Night in Santa's Great Big Bag by Kristin Kladstrup and Tim Jessell.

Oni projected the story onto our large SMART Board and stood in the front of the class to sign the book while I sat in the back and quietly voiced for those who needed it.  The large visual display made an impact on the students who interacted with the text in a way we hadn't seen before.  It drew them in and they didn't forget it.

Number Five
Number Five: This was a new one for me.  I had never heard of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett until Oni introduced it to me with fond reminiscence of her childhood.

It turns out there are three books in the trilogy (My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland).

We read all of the chapter books to a rapt audience over several weeks.  I don't think the children were ever so attentive as they were during those readings.

Number Six
Number Six: Greek Mythology makes its first appearance on the list at Number Six.

Let's Go, Pegasus! by Jean Marzollo retells one version of the story of Perseus and Medusa (we highlight that these are old stories and as it gets passed down through the generations some details change).

This is the myth that launches us into an in-depth study of Greek mythology because the story is chock full of intrigue and action.

Variations of Medusa's head by Elyssa
Elyssa wrote, "My favorite book is Let's Go, Pegasus! because I like the colorful pictures.  And the story. And it's interesting."

This knowledge is put to good use when we visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art to view and sketch the exquisite Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Antonio Canova and the equally stunning Andromeda and the Sea Monster by Domenico Guidi.

Andromeda and the Sea Monster at The Met

Number Seven
Number Seven: Oinky! Oink! Oink!

That means Happy Pig Day!

This charming book by Mo Willems was another reader's theater script I downloaded from Teachers Pay Teachers.  Honestly, I do not know what could make someone smile more than a bunch of pigs together celebrating the joy of simply being a pig.

The Elephant & Piggie books are a great resource for teaching about character and the use of speech bubbles. With a limited range of words they are easily accessible and non-intimidating for beginning readers.

Number Eight
Number Eight: Exclamation Mark! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is a bright, happy book centering on the journey of self acceptance.


Although it certainly works on that deeper level, it is also perfect for teaching young children the proper usage of an exclamation point...and a question mark.

The authors make their point in simple, clear terms that are extremely engaging.  A touch of humor is never a bad idea in a children's book!

Number Nine: The Chef and the Baker by Clayton Suttles with art by Nate Suttles and Christy Sexton is an as-of-yet unpublished children's book that I was fortunate enough to get my hands on this year.

Number Nine
This is the story of a chef and a baker (naturally) who are angsting over the imminent arrival of an intimidating food critic.  The conflict arises when they must decide whether to bake or to "chef".  Which delicious delicacy will the food critic prefer?

With humor and dazzling illustrations the message becomes clear - it is best to work together even though it can sometimes get messy.

It is a perfect lesson for children in First Grade to learn and that message carried over into our dramatic play area where they created a menu I simply couldn't resist.

Why was I cast as the flamboyant food critic?  Hmmm....

Anny wrote, "My favorite part of the story is when the chef and the baker  try to make the best food in the whole world!


Number Ten
Number Ten: I have a friend - and former college professor - who always tells me, "Don't forget about the goddesses!"

Well, Marilyn will be happy to see that Aphrodite: Goddess of Love by George O'Connor has made the Top Ten.  This is the first year that a goddess from the Olympians series has made the list but the gods weren't far behind.

Boys and girls were equally attracted to the story of Aphrodite but one little girl had more questions for the talented Mr. O'Connor.

Cydney wrote, "I like Aphrodite because she is beautiful.  And it is cool that she was born in the sea.  Is Zeus her father? Why does Ares love Aphrodite?"

I adore when they want to know more!

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who worked to create the wonderful books in our Top Ten this year.  We appreciate all of you!

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