Sunday, August 21

What Made School Really Cool

I always enjoyed school. You learn cool stuff, you get a break from home, and who doesn't love hanging out with their friends all day everyday? Sure, nobody likes homework or waking up early, but for the most part, when back-to-school time rolls around each year, everyone forgets about all that boring stuff and gets pumped while buying boxes of crayons, five-star binders, and bright-colored folders.

Now that I'm in a position where I get to make decisions that impact the school day, I've decided I need to bring back the best school memories and keep the beginning of the year excitement going every day. I'm not obsessed with back-to-school time or being a perfect teacher, but I do like having fun, hanging with kids, and imparting some sort of knowledge in the midst of all that. So, here's all the things I loved at school and how it translates into the my take on this school year.

It was sweet when...

... my teacher randomly decided to hold a class outside for the day. 

Orchard's got a 40 acre campus complete with a log cabin and fireplace (where I'll definitely bring a reading group when it's nippy outside); outdoor classrooms in the heart of the forest where squirrels scamper overhead and even the antsy kids sit still to listen to the trees sway; low and high ropes courses where we can take kids for team-building activities, a super geometry lesson, or some awesome physics 101; and wide-open grassy areas that just beg to be sat in while kids work through their multiplication facts, journal, or discuss a book in groups.

... I got to write on the board.

I've got a whole hoard of dry-erase markers in every color imaginable. They're sitting in this super cute old pail right by the board.

... we studied about things that were actually interesting like mummies in ancient Egypt, the Titanic, endangered animals, Australia, Greek gods, castles, electricity, mudskippers in the pond right by our school, and the Civil War. 

You can bet I'll be incorporating things like that into our curriculum no matter what. Last year, I talked about constellations and Egyptian tombs while teaching geometry to a bunch of 3rd graders. We also played with glow sticks--and yes, one boy did break one and his hands and pants glowed for the rest of the day.

... we could sit wherever we wanted.

I have the coolest swirly family-room chairs in my room. Between them is a table with a lamp. I've got a bookshelf packed with my favorite books (there are at least 5 copies of The Lightning Thief), beanbags, circle tables, and little nooks kids can sit to read, write, work on math, or just chill out if they need a break. Who needs desks?

... the teacher played music while we worked.

I have playlists on my ipod and computer of all sorts of sweet soundtracks and scores from movies. (If you've never listened to an amazing score while reading your favorite book, you are totally missing out.) The kids love it! Annnd I've got this neat noisemaker that plays sounds of rain and birds and waves and calming things like that. (You can guarantee I will NOT be playing the heartbeat noise though.... creepy...)

... we went on field trips.

In 3rd grade, the kids learn about Indianapolis history. How in the world do you make that cool? Our grade is scheduled to go on field trips to actual historical places, parks, and the Speedway in May. Yesssss!

... our class got extra recess.

The kids aren't the only ones who get Spring fever or want to play outside when giant snowflakes begin falling. Extra recess is an absolute necessity for me on a semi-regular basis. Plus, Orchard has sleds and a giant hill to use during the Winter.

... my pencils had those cool eraser toppers in different colors.

I've got a bunch of those too, and the generic yellow pencils are now sitting very pretty in pails on the tables with their fun erasers. (Sure, kids steal them and some even eat them, but that's why I got a pack of 200 :) )

... our class came up with a cool project to do together.

When I was in 3rd grade, we each picked an animal we wanted to become an expert on, and we spent the whole year doing various projects around these "specialties." When I was in 6th grade, we found baby mudskippers in the pond outside out school. Our teacher let us bring them inside, research them, study them, and do our own class science project.

When I was student teaching, a staff member brought in baby turtles that were hatching. Our whole class took a break from our regular routine to watch the tiny turtles. Afterwards, the kids all wanted to write about what they saw during Writing Workshop. Last year, when I was teaching 4th grade, the kids wrote a song about pants to the tune of the Potter Puppet Pals song. I helped them record it in Garage Band--and it was SO much fun! To this day, all of them still remember all the parts of a plant! When I was with 3rd graders last year, the kids were interested in finding out what crickets eat after reading A Cricket in Times Square. Together, we created a science experiment, and for the next two weeks they observed the 20 crickets I bought from Petsmart as they ate various items placed in their cage. Another group did an entire impromptu play about the book that had me laughing the entire time. It was one of the best assessment tools ever! The kids came up with all the main characters and events, took on the various character traits and personalities, and even used direct quotes they had remembered from the story.

I cannot wait to see what sorts of things the kids will come up with this year!

... I was pushed harder than I thought I could go, and I actually achieved something incredible.

Whether it's reconciling with an arch-enemy, calculating the perimeter of the entire school, getting the best kid out in dodgeball, trying green beans at lunch, writing a mystery introduction that could compete with best-sellers, learning how to spell 'definitely', actually reading a chapter book for fun, or memorizing the 7s times tables, what I really want to do is help kids overcome obstacles, develop a  faith in themselves that they never had before, and actually enjoy school.

Now that would be pretty sweet.

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