Category Archives: Education

Storage, Take Two

The room now has a visible floor!

A while ago, I organized the storage closet at my son’s preschool. Today, during the snow day from school, I went to my daughter’s after school and did the same thing. I wish I had taken a before picture. The room had a narrow walkway half  the length of the room, and stuff was piled all over. Two others and I tackled the room and brought order using bins and shelves. Many hands do make light work. The finished room now has storage on one side for the preschool, storage on the other for the after school program, and some work tables down the middle. I know, as a teacher, that when these spaces are functional, it makes my job that much easier. Anything I can do to help other teachers’ jobs better, that is time well spent.

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Sentences

My daughter has started writing sentences on her own. Today as our friends were visiting, she proudly brought in two sheets of paper. The first proclaimed that she liked that they were here. The second gave the directions for making a flag.

To make a flag, first get paper. Then get sticks. You are finished.

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And We Didn’t Even Talk About the Santa On the Stage

Today, I took a half day to watch my daughter perform in the winter concert at her school and then have a talk with my wife, my daughter’s teacher, the school’s principal, and the family liaison. My daughter loves singing, and she was excited to sing for us, especially because her Saba was in town visiting. I loved seeing her on the stage with a wide range of other kids, and I loved seeing the movement incorporated into the performance. What was not so great was the heavy dose of Christmas capped off by a Santa dancing his way to the stage and “Ho Ho Hoing” to the kids’ singing. That is all that my daughter talked about afterwards.

The talk that followed was predictable given the Santa and the “Giving Tree” in the front lobby of the school. We framed the meeting with appreciations for them giving us time on this busy day and for all of the positives that we are seeing from our daughter this year. The teacher seemed very defensive initially only looking at the principal and the family liaison with only furtive glances at us. The principal did a fine job of facilitating the meeting, and the family liaison seemed to genuinely listen. It was clear, though, that they were all proud of the job the school was doing with multiculturalism. In the classroom, the teacher informed us that they spent two weeks on Chanukah with lots of books. The liaison chimed in that her son had come home talking about the holiday and playing the dreidel game. Moving past that, we started to broach the specifics of the Christmas items that had come home to ask about the specifics of how they were introduced in the class. Again, there was push back right away. The reading center story about a dog who thought he was part of Santa’s reindeer team sounds delightful, but it was encountered in a reading center with no adult intervention. Similarly, students were welcome to make their list of presents wanted for their birthday. All that was needed was to cut off the top of the paper that proclaimed it to be Santa’s list. The teacher reiterated that children have choice in these centers and don’t have to do the Christmas related options. Her example of setting out some stamps and that children didn’t have to use the Santa stamp though there were not other symbols from other religions made me fume inside.  This opened up one of the big topics: the unguided, institutional presentation of Christmas symbols. Their immediate response, and one that I often get, is that Santa, Christmas trees, reindeer, and the like are not religious symbols. To this I reply that for someone not in the Christian religion, they are definitely symbols. I think I said it more politely than that, and this is the point that I think one of the three seemed to think about. I mentioned that upon entering the school everyone is confronted by a pine tree decorated by hats and gloves and named a giving tree. To Christians, this may not seem like a Christmas tree, but to others it is a thinly disguised one. Again, I was more politic in the delivery. That idea did not seem to make much of a dent, so I didn’t even go into the size of it compared to the smaller religious displays to the side and how an institution features the symbols that it promotes. The American flag in front of the school is a symbol that everyone attending a public school in America at least has to acknowledge. The Christmas tree in the lobby, however, puts the weight of the school behind one religion and forces anyone who does not subscribe to it to face identity issues upon entering what should be a safe learning space. The icing on that cake, of course, was the Santa dancing down the aisle and joining the kids at the end of the concert, and we didn’t even get to that in our conversation.

At this point, this blog entry is not as coherent as I had planned all day, but I am still churning the ideas around in my head. My greatest hope is that this begins a slow, positive change toward true anti-bias work and celebration of diversity. My fear is that we are now tagged as the trouble family and that the teacher will be guarded toward or treat our daughter differently from other students to protect herself from us. The conversation results were not surprising but were disappointing at the same time.

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C Rods

As I was reading Invent to Learn, I was reminded of the tray of Cuisenaire Rods that inhabited the coffee table of my childhood. My sisters and I built things with them and played with them. I guess we learned about relationships between the rods and all of the other inherent properties, but since that time, I have run across quite a few nice resources that use C Rods to help develop basic math concepts. The ones I ordered arrived today. Now to find time to work those into the time I spend with my children.

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2.5 Out of 4

This year I had four curriculum nights as well as assorted back to school, parent-teacher conferences, and other events. These spread across all of the schools my family is connected to, and we are each at different schools. I have to prepare and present at my school’s events and attend those of my son’s, daughter’s and wife’s. In terms of curriculum nights, there was one at my daughter’s Kindergarten that I attended until I had to take my son out, one at my daughter’s afterschool program that I attended fully, one at my son’s school that my wife attended, and this evening one at my school. That makes 2.5 out of 4 attended.

Over the span of my teaching career which started in 1993, I have participated in many curriculum nights. In addition, I have had great conversations with educators about reforming this terrible beast. Recently at a meeting of educational technologists, we had a presentation on design thinking, and I would love to apply that to this situation. I would love to get all the stakeholders involved, find out what they really want from the event, and craft a functional, effective, and efficient way of achieving all of those needs.

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Double Booked

I have never been the best at avoiding double booking my time. This has only gotten worse since having kids and now going back to work full time while my wife is working hard on her two major projects. Tuesday, this came around to bite me in the form of my son’s parent-teacher conference at his preschool and the launching of student digital portfolios at my school. Having touched base with my son’s teachers recently and having had my daughter go through the same class two years ago, I feel really comfortable with how my son is doing and the quality of experience he is getting. His teachers are also keeping a wonderful blog that gives me a peak into the activities going on in the class. On the other hand, digital portfolios have struggled to take foothold at my school, and the art teacher identified a good candidate platform for running them more smoothly. She also did the groundwork to create a demo site,  a template, and a presentation on setting up the portfolios. That morning, I assisted her in getting all of the fifth and sixth graders set up with the structure of their portfolios, and I think this year it will work.

I hated missing the conference, but I really would have hated missing this important step in the evolution of student work at my school. I hope that I don’t have to make these types of choices often and that there is a balance of priorities between other things and my children.

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Curriculum Night Cubed

The obligatory tech malfunction before presentations.

I have presented many curriculum nights over the years. I now have the pleasure of attending them at my children’s schools. This year that means three different schools, and the effort of getting to them is not three times as hard, it is cubed. This is especially true when the curriculum night at my daughter’s school pales in comparison to many I have been a part of and attended. None, however sound as cool as the one my friend described in which the students created videos of the class curriculum, and nobody was bored to death by adults talking for hours.

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