Another Indie Bookstore for the WIN!

Remember that post from San Francisco about all of the beautiful little bookstores I found? Well…I FOUND ONE AT HOME!! I’m so excited to tell you about this amazing little place my hubby found right down the street from us called Little Readers Bookstore.

Little Readers Bookstore on Hampton Ave. in South City

Yesterday’s grand opening meant an air of excitement, brightly frosted cupcakes and lots of money spent on new books to add to my ever-growing collection. I mean, come on—is it possible to have too many books?

The inside of the shop is small, but nicely decorated and clear on who’s important here: the little readers who fill those tiny chairs and spend time finding a new favorite book! There is definitely a South City vibe, which is great. And the best part? I can walk there! (Although I guess that does cause some trouble in that it limits the size of my book haul to whatever I can carry! 😆 Oh well, I’ll figure it out. Maybe a wagon??)

Speaking of “book haul,” let me show you what we bought!

I found two new titles I am excited to share with my kiddos, and one that is an old favorite—but in paperback!

I hope to be able to visit this little gem of a store for years to come and that they get to grow and grow, putting books into the hands of Little Readers all over town! Visit them, will ya?!

Gather in the Library

I have been busy in my new room, and yesterday I made a breakthrough! Have been working on getting the library–which is all around our meeting area rug–put together and the rough draft of it is pretty much done. I’m so excited to share what’s starting to take shape. There are many small details I have to fix, but I am so excited for our new class to gather in the library every day for learning!

Check it out! And I’d love to know what you think–leave a comment below! 🙂

3rd Grade is Kindergarten Again

I was thinking about a suuuppppeeerrr cute shirt that was delivered today:

Our team shirt for this year! Like it—order one for yourself from @MapleAndHen on Etsy! Love it already. ❤️❤️❤️

Of course, the first thing I thought was about how I already miss my old team, but also how excited I am about the prospects of a new one and what we will accomplish together this year. I thought of all the young teachers and learners that will start with me next month—and how I get to tell them all I’m their teacher on Monday!

And then I thought about how weird it feels to say “3rd grade strong” or “I’m on the 3rd grade team.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am totally on board with the strong and the team part, but the 3rd grade part feels very strange in my mouth. Saying it doesn’t yet roll off my tongue.

I’ve taught primary for lots of years, and always felt perfectly confident claiming the “1st and 2nd teacher” title, I knew exactly what the meant: I teach kids to read, lots of kids loose their teeth, I encourage independence and problem solving rather always looking to the teacher for help, there are still sometimes tears because we’re not first in line (this is of course not an exhaustive list 😀). If I heard someone else claiming the title also, I could immediately commiserate or celebrate with whatever story they were telling.

The same thing happens with “4th and 5th grade teacher.” I spent almost a decade on that end of the elementary spectrum, building on what had happened in primary—extending learning and challenging kiddos to do great things with those basic skills they had developed early on. I knew that being an “intermediate teacher” meant dealing with new hormones and drama, but also being able to be more sarcastic, have deeper conversations about books and current events, and teach a really great unit on multiplying and dividing fractions (really—I still miss working through that one with 5th grade mathematicians!).

That same thing doesn’t happen now. I know some of this comes from not actually haven’t been a 3rd grade teacher yet, but I think some of it is also the “between” nature of third grade. It’s not a primary grade anymore; I’ve heard all about how this is the year we begin to read to learn, since we’ve already learned how to read. It’s a year of great transition and growing, both socially and academically. Thirds graders are still little enough to really love their teacher and love school, but are old enough to push a little further, so harder things. But it’s not yet a true “upper grade”, and all that comes with that.

That brings me to the title of the post. I wonder if 3rd grade is a little like being in kindergarten again. Just like when kiddos bring their preschool suitcase with them to the primary grades—ready to be big kids and do “real” school—3rd graders are doing that same thing as they begin their intermediate journey. Their bags are fuller now: stuffed with reading and writing strategies, lessons they’ve learned about how to be good friends and have a growth mindset, math skills and memories of their “firsts”—when they did great things for the first time and were really surprised.

What does that mean for me as I embark on this journey with them, as a first time traveler as well? I’m at the same transition stage as my students, only I know both what has been and what will come a few years down the line. I wonder what this “between” time will do for me as both a teacher and a learner. What tools will I add to my own toolbox? What skills and strategies will be in my suitcase at the end of this year that aren’t there now?

You know what? Not knowing is kind of the best part. I’m heading out on a new adventure, uncharted territory of sorts, jumping into the deep end of a pool in which I’ve never swum (or is it swam?? Sorry grammar police 👮). I am going to do new things that I know will be hard and might feel impossible. I’m going to attempt things that will fail, but also accomplish things I never thought possible. Just like my students will. And they will be there to celebrate with me, cheer me on along the way and pick me up when I fall. And I will do the same for them. We’ll do it together. 😀

Behind the Mask

If you read my last post, then you know we were just on a family trip to San Francisco. Yesterday was a really long day of flying home (from San Fran to Burbank, then Burbank to Phoenix, and then Phoenix to St. Louis, because I know you were wondering 😉).

As I began each leg of the flight, I listened as the flight attendants (who are amazing group of people, I should add!) explained all of the safety protocols and what to do when and how and all of those essential things. It made me chuckle each time as they said the word “mask,” as I thought of how our understanding and use of that word has changed soooo much over the course of this last year and a half.

Yes, originally when that safety spiel was written, it referred to the yellow plastic cup with the rubber strap that I’m supposed to put on myself first and then on my child in case of a sudden drop in cabin pressure (which, thankfully I’ve never had to do!). I was further reminded during one presentation of the possible confusion when the attendant closest to me actually pulled down his fabric mask to demonstrate how you’d have an extra step now of removing one mask for the other mask to work appropriately.

Also there in my memory is how the word mask used to be relegated only to Halloween, something that I hated to wear a child because they were so hot (and you don’t really need one when you dress up as Laura Ingalls Wilder or Jem—shout out or anyone old enough to appreciate that reference 🤣), and that now I also know you’re not supposed to bring to school for the classroom parade but instead save for “real” trick-or-treating at home later that night.

Enter 2020 and COVID-19 and of course that word has a completely different definition and as well a different connotation depending on the wearer. (And no, dear reader, I am not going to spending time here on any political statements or judgments of right or wrong. I am simply going to tell stories about masks. Stories that I am sure will be highly entertaining, so I hope you stick around. 😉)

I remember the beginning of the pandemic when the whole idea of masks came up and my friend shared with me a tutorial on how to make one out of a dish towel or a t-shirt and how silly I thought that was. She was of course over-reacting, we were never going to need to know how to do that. Right?

Ha! Of course I was so very wrong. Let me stop a second here to show you how wrong I was. And when I say “wrong” I mean let me show you the first versions of masks we wore around my house, which were made of strips of fabric and ponytail holders. Please be kind as you enjoy this picture:

This photo was taken in April 2020. It was my daughter’s first outing, and our first need for masks in public. Those are terrible, right? At least they did the job. And since you’re wondering here, too–she had to go to the dentist to get a tooth pulled. Ugh, right?? We know how to have fun around here! 🙂

Instead of Halloween- or airplane-related, scarcely worn and foreign, mask is now a term that has become common place to all of us. But to me it’s also become an opportunity to express my creativity and also a bit of a fashion statement. Or at least an opportunity to match a new accessory to my clothes!

We went on like that with those strip-and-rubber-band masks for a bit.

Once we knew we were going to need more “official” masks, I had a choice to make. And since I’m definitely an “I’d-rather-make-it-than-buy-it” kind of person, I knew that meant I needed to figure out how to make some better fabric face coverings. Then I remembered the scrap fabric pile in the basement and decided we needed a little bit of an upgrade. The second iteration of the Bearden family mask stash was a little better than these, and at least has some sewn elements, thanks for a PLETHORA of YouTube videos on the subject. (I’m not kidding, check it out, I am pretty sure EVERYONE has posted a video on how to make a mask as home! When you find out how many there actually are, leave me a comment and tell me the number, will ya? 🙂 ). Eventually we had a small stash of masks that were at least presentable in public, but that were mostly adult sized. My husband was the only one leaving at this time, since we were all doing school at home and we decided it was best for the rest of use to stay in as much as we could. He and I shared these first masks, and of course washed them after each wearing. At that point no one besides him was even really needing them, so we had only a few through which we rotated.

This basically got us all the way through the summer, as we tried to steer clear of places where we’d even come in contact with people. Our kids stayed at home, and we really only went on short trips to the grocery store–as were most others, too. We even managed a beach vacation, where we stayed in our condo and played on the beach by ourselves and again only ventured out a couple of times to pack our fridge or sneak a quick ice cream treat from a stand nearby. It took me all the way to June to even find a picture in my albums of someone wearing one of those masks I sewed. Seems like by that time we at least were willing to venture out a bit, I think mostly because it was summer and we could be outside.

The big turn came when–gasp!–the decision was made to return to school in October. Now, not only did A and I need a mask for every day, we also needed ones that we were willing to be seen in. LOL.

That began my search for a better design as well as prints and fabrics that were more fun. I mean, hey, if you have to wear something you may as well enjoy it right? I think by now I’ve gotten this whole mask-making thing down to a science, and can hand-sew a mask in 25 minutes from 8″ X 8″ square to complete mask with straps and pleats–like these that I just added to the stash tonight:

25 minutes from start to finish. Great while-you’re-watching TV work! 😊 If I use my Serger, the time is only like 10! But then I have to move off the couch, so sometimes hand-sewing wins. LOL

As I’ve been working on this post, going back to find pictures to use, I’ve realized how FEW I actually have! Some of that, I think, is because of how little we actually left our house over the last year, hence we weren’t places where we’d both be wearing masks and taking pictures. The other thing is that when we were outside, we tried to stay away from others, therefore not wearing masks. But that makes our picture documentation of the pandemic and quarantine look a lot like others years–I wonder if that will be something I will miss in the future when I look back on 2020. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. 🙂

I mentioned earlier that the return to school meant that we all needed more masks, and so I needed to get busy. My first pile of additions were made with scrap fabric, but were inspired by some of our favorite colors, characters and prints.

Once my hubby finally went back to in-person school in January, he needed another set of new masks since he’d now need them every day of the week.

Eventually, we just started finding cute fabric and making more masks not because we needed them, but because they went with clothes we have, or just because they were cute.

Like I said, I’ve learned somethings that might be helpful if you’re making your own masks. There are many, many tutorials online–and heck, you could probably figure out how to do it on your own if you already know how to sew. I used several different versions. The first looked like this, with a filter pocket and long straps so that they could fit both me and my husband. We just tied slip knots in the ties if they needed to be a littler smaller.

The style I’ve landed on–both because they are easiest to make and also because they fit the best are basically like what you can find on this post by Diary of a Quilter. We use 8″ X 8″ squares a little bigger if they’re for my husband’s face or a little smaller if they’re for my daughter), scissors, needle and thread (for hand-sewing), and nylon stretchy loops like you made potholders with when you were a kid. I found this pack of 288 of them on Amazon and will have plenty for a long time to come. You cut them in half and use one for each mask. These have been our favorite straps by far because they are soooo comfy and soft on your ears. 🙂

Whew. Wow–who knew there were so many words to write about masks? I certainly didn’t. Especially last year when masks weren’t even things I even really ever wore. Now they are everywhere, and despite what you think about their health benefit, they definitely keep people from knowing if I have coffee breath in the morning or if I had onions on my salad at lunch. LOL And that, friends, is definitely a win-win in my book.

Happy Masking!

Can Out-of-Towners Become Regulars?

Some might say that my family and I are creatures of habit. I don’t know why….every Wednesday we order dinner from La Catrina (and most weeks the bag includes 2 chimichangas, a cheese quesadilla and an order of carnitas); every Thursday is raid-the-bakery-at-Russell’s day (although this may or may not happen now on any day that they are open, cuz it’s all so good!); Friday night is pizza-and-a-movie-or whatever-is-new-on-steaming night; and we’ve been to Disney World as a family close to 15 times. Some would say my family are creatures of habit. I think I’d just call it “searching for regular status.” Or maybe “people who wish to be regulars.” You know, like when you’ve been somewhere so many times they know what you want before get there to order it. Or like at Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

I’m sure that I’ve given some thought to the “why” of the whole thing tons of times; I am by nature a reflective person and probably ask “why” about far too many things.

One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that some of my fondness for familiar things comes from having so much change and uncertainty as a child. Without getting much into the details, we moved a lot and I went to several different schools, which made making solid friendships tricky. I often longed for the things I saw on TV (and then eventually in families around me)—big families, living in the same house you were born in, returning to the same beach for vacation with your cousins year after year. Don’t get me wrong (especially if you’re reading this, mom 😊)—I don’t have bad memories from my childhood, I just didn’t really form any memories. Or at least not the Hallmark-movie kind I had always wished for.

So as I got married, moved into adulthood and became a mom—and therefore in more control of my life—I made a decision to do some things differently.

Back to my question up there at the beginning….it seems that one of the major ways the whole “searching for regular status” manifests itself (besides that long list of dinner choices I mentioned before!) is in the way we vacation. I already mentioned our penchant for visiting Disney World; my oldest kiddo is 14 and has been there 11 times. When answering the questions of why we return over and over, it’s hard to nail down exactly one thing. I guess I could sum it up by saying it feels like home away from home (or insert the other oft-given answer of “Disney magic” 🥰). We know the way to get to all the things, we have our favorites, we know which parks to visit and when (and what restaurants to eat at when we get there)—there’s no map reading, wandering around with confused looks on our faces, no uncertainty about what to do or when or why to do it.

We do the same thing with our visits to the beach: same hotel/condo, same part of town, same ice cream shops same general daily routine. We know our favorite restaurants but are willing to branch out to new ones each time to add to the list.

Which brings us to now. As I write this, I’m standing in a longish, Sunday morning line for a yummy San Francisco breakfast spot. The restaurant is new, but the street I’m standing on is one we’ve walked over and over. It’s next to a park in which we’ve eaten dinner and dessert and smiled at all the cute dogs and babies. It’s on the way to Chinatown, to the bakery we’ve visited four times (and is on the list for today!), and is on the way to many of the other neighborhoods and hidden places we’ve been discovering for the last week. Since we’ve walked it over and over we know where many things are, which direction to head when we leave the hotel, and also what to expect up around the corner. We are by no means experts (of course 😉) after 8 days, but we’re familiar.

And so to answer my own question, I’m not sure out-of-towners can become regulars, but they can become familiar enough with a place that it feels like home, calling them back from wherever they may roam in the meantime. And that’s good enough for me.

Change of Plans

A plan is a great thing, no? I’ve learned over the last year that a plan is often just a suggestion (COVID, am I right?). Just as soon as I think I know what I’m going to do next, something–or someone–comes along and messes it all up. Or at least changes it up. The thing you thought was your next right step becomes differently prioritized. So instead of writing about my favorite past posts, I will tell this story instead.

I met with a friend today, to catch up over coffee after not seeing each other for a couple of years. We talked about our kids and what we’re learning about being moms of teenagers and how there’s just no instructional manual for those things (or if you have one that I don’t know about, will you share it with me?!). We used to work together and so the conversation eventually came around to what we’re doing now and what’s up in the education world. She told me about some amazing things she’s been doing in her program that were recently in the newspaper and how much she’s loving what she’s doing (which I hope that I can someday soon link to right here in this blog!). I shared about what’s been going on with me over the past year, and brought up how frustrated I have become with the pace at how fast everything is changing around me. Of course, change is inevitable (there’s a quote about something about change being the only constant, right?), but it seems like change is my only constant these days.

Because I am the only part of the equation I can control, I have had to think through the things that I might be able to do to get me back to my version of normal. Or at least to try to head towards that place where I am fulfilled and inspired enough that maybe the changes around me bother me a little less.

One thing that has disappeared from my routine of the last few years in this blog. Starting Over is evidence of that, right? Beyond the fact that I haven’t blogged for a bit, I haven’t been writing in any form at all. For me, writing (whether it’s in my notebook for me online for you), it’s how I process my world. It’s not that I haven’t stopped to think or reflect on anything since 2019, but I can definitely see how NOT working out my thoughts and feelings in writing has changed how I move through the world. I am less aware, less thoughtful, less likely to look for a new or innovative way to problem solve. Somehow for me the absence of that ritual has meant missing out on slowing down, stopping to really notice what’s going on around me and think about my place in it.

Another thing that’s been missing for me are my connections on Twitter. If you’re new around here, then you might not have heard the story of how I use Twitter to improve my practice, make connections and share my thoughts with other educators. Because I haven’t been doing that, I have missed so much of what has been happening in the world and seeing what others are doing. This one is a little trickier than the blog, though, because if you’ve spent any time on Twitter you know it can be a pretty vile place, depending on which threads you wonder into or who you read and follow. While I know that there was much YUCK that surely lived on Twitter in 2020, I also have no doubt I missed out on some really smart insight from a fellow educator that would have benefited me as I worked through that last year.

So what am I to do with this? I am in a weird place as a teacher right now, wishing for some things of the past and trying to look positively at the future through “change-colored” glasses. The pandemic has laid bare some of the things I hold dear as an educator, one being connecting with others and also feeling like my ideas are being validated. I cannot control what happens to me, but I can certainly have some influence on what happens with and in me. I can decide that I am going to write more often (remember the schedule I planned?), I can make time for Twitter and also connect with people in my real life (thank God for vaccines!). I can share my worries and frustrations with those in-person friends and let them help me work through them. I can listen when my kind, smart, AMAZING friend, Kerry, tells me how it feels when she comes in my classroom: how it feels safe, comfortable and alive, and how I make learning fun but how it’s still rigorous and full of language. I can listen when she tells me of how she’s doing such innovative and exciting things with her high schoolers, and cheer her on as she changes lives and inspires the next generation. And most of all, I can remember that all that I do in my classroom day after day (and all the hours and hours I spend at night and on weekends) is for the 20somethingkids. And for them, I will always be willing to change my plans.

Starting Over

Here we are again. Yup. That place where I usually start with a long explanation of why I’ve neglected my blog and how I’m vowing to start over and do better and how we’ll never end up here again. HA HA HA! Like I said: here were are again.

But, since I am not insane, I will not do the same thing I’ve done in the past at this point. Instead of vowing to do better, I’m going to completely start over. Most of you who are here now are probably not even aware that I’ve been missing from the blogosphere anyway because you’re new! So…since you’re new here and I haven’t been here in a while anyway, let’s take a tour of this little blog, and take a few posts to get acquainted and start a new journey together. Maybe a fresh start is what I need to make this blogging thing “stick” again and get us back on track. Cross your fingers, hold on tight and let’s get moving!

By the way, that’s me. I’m Jen and I’m the Kooky Teacher mentioned in the blog title. I just realized that this little blog started 10 years ago, and I’ve had such a great time sharing my school stories and sometimes some family stories (when I’m feeling indulgent). Throughout the 10 years of blogging, I’ve taught 5th grade, 1st and 2nd grade, all of which have been included in these posts: those are the 20something kids. :). And as I mentioned the “fresh start” in the beginning of this post, the new journey we’re on features a new group of 20somethingkids–3rd graders! Also, this fresh start will mean I’m going to do some things differently.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. Since so many of you are new here, I’m going to put up a few posts that acclimate you to who I am, what I’m about and what you can expect here.
  2. Speaking of what to expect, I think I’ve come to the place where I should finally set some guidelines and deadlines for when I will share my stories. In the past, I didn’t have a schedule for when I’d post; some weeks I’d post once and some weeks I’d post 10 or 12 new things! Needless to say, that made it hard for you, dear blog reader, to know when to check in with me, and also it made it so I often ended up with sooooo much content that I ended up not even writing it. There was time to do the things, but not time (or energy) to tell YOU about the things we did. This time around, there will be a schedule. 🙂
  3. In previous iterations of 20somethingkids, the posts have gone on and on and on and on. I have a tendency to use 25 words when you only need 3 and so often the posts I’d put up were so lengthy that I was worn out after writing them, and my readers were dead tired after reading (if they even hung around long enough to finish! LOL). This time I hope to be more concise with my storytelling and thoughtful in what I decide to share.

And so in a spirit of wanting to not overuse my words, I’m going to end this first post now, with an invitation for you to help me. If you are so inclined, would you take a little bit to leave a comment and answer these questions for me? I’d be forever grateful! 🙂

Here’s what I’m wondering…

  1. What you want when you read a blog? What are some features of your favorite blogs?
  2. What day(s) would you be most likely to read a new blog post?
  3. Since I’m new to 3rd grade, feel free to share any tips or advice you have and want to share! 🙂

THANK YOU for taking time to visit and comment, and hopefully I’ll see you around here again soon! I’d love if you went on this new journey with me!

Not-Quite-Viral Videos

It’s been almost a year. March 13, 2020. That was the last day we were at school before COVID-19 ROCKED our worlds–inside and outside of school. Eventually we did get back into school, but not until almost 250 days later in October, 2020. And over that time we were on our virtual learning journey, teachers like me worked soooo hard to figure out a way to try to make our online classroom a rigorous, engaging and welcoming place for kids to be. It was NOT the same as being at school in-person, but we did (and still are doing!!) what we could.

One way we pivoted (ha! I wondered how long it would be til I used that word!) to teaching virtually was to begin making videos of our curriculum content. It’s not rocket science by any means, but it definitely had a learning curve from how we had done them pre-COVID, partly because we started using a new tool in Screencast-o-Matic. Now that I know how to use it, I LOVE how it has impacted both my teaching and my kiddos’ learning.

  1. Recording lessons allows me to post content for kiddos so they can revisit the topic. Sometimes you just need to hear something more than once for it to “stick.” This is as true for adults as it is for kids! Especially when we were home doing virtual learning full-time, there were times when kiddos couldn’t be there for the lesson when it was “live.” Sometimes they were there, but it was hard to understand because of being on Zoom or because of distractions in the background–or for any of the countless other reasons people have a hard time listening. :). Since I had recorded the lesson ahead of time (and was then playing it during my mini-lesson time), kiddos could easily access it via our Schoology page and rewatch it. 2 or 3 times if need be! Then they can get on with whatever the follow up activity is.
  2. Recording lessons allows for my team to share the load. One of the BEST things we discovered during our virtual learning so far, is that it is A LOT for one person to do on their own. Differently than during in-person school, virtual learning has another level of difficulty–partly just because it’s new for everyone! I know we can all agree that teachers can do everything (well, almost everything LOL), but of course pandemic teaching was a whole new kind of hard. As a means to make sure we were taking care of ourselves and giving our students what they needed, our 2nd grade team divided up the work and everyone took a subject. We planned out the goals and objectives and which lessons and all of that, and then teachers focused on making “their” subject accessible to their students and the rest of the grade.
  3. Teaching through videos and sharing the load allowed kiddos access to ALL of the 2nd grade teachers. This was great because it gave our kiddos a teeny sense of “regular” school normalcy. In those long-ago, before-COVID times, our team did many things together and “shared” kids for experiences and group learning. This was especially helpful as we tried to differentiate and address specific student need. Welp, it was all gone once this stupid virus started messing everything up and it was obvious that kiddos were missing it. By using videos that other teachers had made during my mini-lessons–and then stopping along the way to explain or discuss as a class together–our 2nd graders still felt a little connection to their “other” teachers, even if they weren’t really there in person. Additionally, I think it’s a benefit for kiddos to hear how other teachers teach things. Just like how hearing something more than once often makes a topic “stickier,” hearing it from someone else’s mouth can be the thing that makes that concept finally understandable. Everyone has their own set of strengths and talents and I LOVE that we can spread the wealth and take advantage of what we all do best. :). Even though we’re in-person again, we’ve continued this because it worked so well!
  4. Videos allow me to focus on making a mini-lesson ACTUALLY mini! I know I cannot be the only one who sometimes teaches mini-lessons that go longer than they want them to. Yeah, maxi-lessons. Or I-was-on-a-roll-and-should-have-stopped-talking-15-minutes-ago lessons. It’s not just me, right? Well…since I am recording my lesson, AND since I know that other kids and other teachers are going to have to use my lesson, it somehow forces me to make sure that I am more on point. Accountability maybe? Focus on a sense of clarity? Something about making something for someone else helps me not to ramble. Ok, at least not ramble as long as usual.
  5. Recording videos helps me reflect on my own teaching. After the teaching/recording part of the lesson comes the editing part. Besides being about to take out dead air and ums and mistakes I made, it also allows me to see what I actually look and sound like to a kid when I’m presenting something. I have to admit, when I first started doing this I was surprised by how it didn’t always turn out the way I intended. Alternatively, though, sometimes it turns out even better and I’ll hear myself say something that I KNOW is going to hit kids them in a way that will really be impactful. And because it’s recorded and I have the luxury of seeing what happened, I can respond appropriately based on what comes out in my first draft. In my opinion, this is one of the best things I can do as a teacher–figure out what I do well so I can do it again, and also figure out where I struggle so I can work on making that part of my lessons better.
  6. Using videos from other teachers gives me instant PD and helps me to see how other people do things. Besides watching yourself teach, some of the best professional development comes from watching someone else doing something really well. I LOVE to see how my colleagues explain things and which parts of a topic they choose to enhance or highlight. I often hear phrases or questions that I would never have thought to say, that I can later tweak to use in my own teaching later. Sometimes it is tone of voice, sometimes it’s how different teachers use visual pieces to reinforce what they’re saying, and sometimes it’s just learning about a new book or teaching tool I haven’t used, but I ALWAYS learn something when I see what my colleagues are doing. It’s definitely a win/win!
  7. Posting videos for kids helps parents to know what’s going on, too! I have no expectation that parents are watching the videos I post (they are for the kiddos after all), but if they want to, they are definitely welcome to! I know that parents can feel a little out-of-the-loop, since their kids spend all day here at school without them, and we have experiences and learning they don’t know about. By being able to see how it sounds when I teach it also helps parents help their kiddos if there are questions.

I know we are all feeling some COVID fatigue and are super tired of all the changes this past year has brought us. After it all, though, I do think there are some positive changes that we have had to make—-and changes that we will keep even after COVID is a distant memory.

What experience do you have with videos in your teaching? How have videos helped you grow? What struggles or hiccups have you run into? I’d love to hear more about others’ experiences with virtual learning and/or videos in teaching.

Global School Play Day 2021: COVID Version

Many years ago, I saw a tweet about Global School Play Day.  Being one who truly believes in play as an important learning tool for kids (and adults!), and being one who likes to jump in with both feet when I see something that looks like fun (like I did with World Read Aloud Day, for instance), I knew that this was something I wanted to try.  And honestly, we have choice time and recess every day anyway, so it wasn’t that far out of our norm.

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And so even in the midst of this new COVID world at school, I knew this was a day we wanted to continue to observe and celebrate. We had all done GSPD last year as first graders, and so as I was announcing that it was coming up, all I had to do was start the beginning of the word GLOBAL and kids filled in the rest. They were NUTS! Besides the fact that play is always important in the life of a child (and lets be honest, adults, too!), it feels especially important now. Besides the fact that it is a child’s most important work, it helps to add a level of normalcy to their lives right now and helps add to the fun of school.

As we did last year, we started with the ground rules, and also the conversation around why GSPD is a big deal. They came up with this:

What great thinking, huh? I am sure that some of it was because we have had conversations like this before (including GSPD last year), but also, I think they are just really in tune and super smart kiddos! All of their ideas were right, and I had some additional ideas of my own:

1. Negotiation: By participating in free play, children get to learn how and practice what it is like to initiate play with someone else, as well as negotiate with that playmate about what to do, where to do it and how to do it.  They get to learn give-and-take, as well as how to work with others in a positive way (because unfortunately, if you choose NOT to do it positively, your friend may not want to play with you anymore!).

2. Problem Solving: Much like negotiation with friends, kiddos learn and practice problem solving in many ways when they play.  From what to do when the Legos don’t go together they way you want or you don’t have enough big blocks to build your castle, or even where to put the pieces of the puzzle you’re working on, problem solving is a crucial part of play.  Even choosing what to play at any given moment is a kind of problem solving in itself.  Letting kids figure these things out for themselves helps build and encourage grit and perseverance.

3. Winning (and losing!) Graciously: Child-directed play (including playing games) allows kiddos to learn how to win–and also to lose–graciously.  We all know an adult who didn’t get the chance to learn this when they were younger, and now has such a hard time knowing what to do when things don’t go their way.  That same adult might have a really hard time not being overly proud or boastful when things do.  Allowing (or even planning for) situations where students DON’T win are crucial!  Life is not fair, things don’t always go as planned and sometimes someone else does better than you.  How great that kiddos have a chance to learn to deal with these disappointments when the stakes are low, so that when they are higher, they’ll know the appropriate choices to make.  And yes, winning is a good thing that can happen occasionally, too (and how great that kids can learn how to deal with their happiness without sacrificing the feelings of others).

4. Creativity: A big pile of paper, blocks, Legos, cars or any other open-ended toys allows for such a great development of creativity in kids!  Being able to figure out what that pile of “stuff” can become is a great practice in trial-and-error, trying new things or even working with a friend to put two great ideas together to make an even better one.  This practice of creativity in free play can easily be transferred to learning, then, when a kiddo is given open-ended opportunities for both gaining information and showing what they’ve learned.  When they’ve had a chance to try out new things and take risks in a safe, play environment, many students will be more willing to take the same creative risks with their learning.

5. Beating Boredom: I guess this one is another idea that’s related to some others on this list, but being given free time to play is a great way to figure out how to entertain yourself (either alone or with a friend) and keep a kiddo from being “bored.”  Knowing what to do when there’s [seemingly] nothing to do is a life skill, really.

6. Respect, kindness and including others: Play is a great opportunity for kiddos to practice skills they’re learning about showing others respect, using kind words and helping make sure everyone is included.  Helping kids pay attention to who doesn’t have a playmate is a lesson in empathy and is definitely a bucket-filler for a friend who longs to be involved but is perhaps unable to initiate themselves.  Knowing how to speak to others kindly is a skill that can never be mastered and can always be improved upon.

7. Fun!: Um, how have I not mentioned that playing is TOTALLY FUN!?  Yep.  Should have mentioned that one first. 🙂

Ok, so enough of my rambling…I know what you really came to see were the pictures of Rm. 202 kiddos PLAYING!!  Here you go!!

One of the things kiddos were especially looking forward to was our class puzzle. We did one last year, too, and what a fun time we all had putting the pieces together to create something wonderful! Check out our hard work!

Another interesting thing to watch during GSPD is which kiddos play with whom, what they play with and for how long. Some kiddos stay super engaged for a llllooooonnnngggg time and some flit and float from thing to thing.

We started the day with kiddos talking about what THEY could learn, but Mrs. Nguyen (my student teacher) and I also had a great conversation about what WE could learn about our kiddos from this day. Besides what I already mentioned about how we can watch how kids interact and also what they choose to play with, we can learn some important things that can inform what we do in the classroom on “regular” days, too. It is obvious that in our class this year, that most of the time our community splits between girls/boys for play time. In general, the girls do artsy and/or more quiet things, and the boys (again, in general) like to participate in more lively, active type activities. Both groups, though, like to spend time building and creating things. It would make sense then, that we as the teachers prove opportunities for these types of activities in our “normal” school days to allow for fun, creativity and a variety of ways for kiddos to learn and show their learning.

I LOVE the reminders that this day provides for us that EVERYONE likes to and needs to play EVERY DAY!!

Mystery Skype: 2019 Edition!

We have been Mystery Skyping at Robinson for a while now.  It’s such a great opportunity for kids to learn more about their world, themselves, geography topics, asking good questions, and just have a lot of fun with something new.

In the past, the introduction and explanation was always done in person and honestly, I probably did too much talking.  Probably kids were confused and maybe unsure about what they were getting into. They were excited, of course, but since it was a completely new thing, they probably had a hard time envisioning exactly what I wanted them to do. First graders have always done a great job–eventually–once we got the hang of it, but there was usually a pretty big learning curve.

Then, this year, as Ms. Turken and I were beginning to put together our first Mystery Skype plans, she had a SUPER idea of introducing kiddos to maps and Mystery Skyping in a completely different way.

Rather than talk, talk, talk (which I seem to do too often!?), she started with a screencast explaining what we wanted kiddos to notice and note about maps in general.  The video was available to kiddos as a morning work job, and then we had some explicit teaching in small groups later on in the day, and they were able to watch the video again.  This time they also had a job related to it, and some guidance from Ms. Turken or I with an actual map in front of them.  Check out the first screencast she made here:

It was so great to watch how quickly kiddos seemed to pick this up (partly because of the video, but also because we had done some work previously with directions and maps in science).  Just having the visual that they could visit and revisit if necessary was an important support that we haven’t had in past experiences.

The second day of our Skype preparation involved the next steps of the process, focused on what to ask our new friends to help us narrow down where they are in the world. Again, there was a screencast that we shared with kiddos, allowing them to watch and review as necessary.

We did small groups again, with a mock mystery Skype that we practiced as kiddos tried to guess the state that the teacher had chosen.  Even after just these two days of practice, kiddos seemed ready to do the real thing.

The next day was our “real” Skype, and we did a SUPER job of finding out that our new friends lived in a very tricky northeastern state–Vermont.  Because of our focused and intentional work, they got it right in just 4 questions!  Thanks, Mrs. LaRose’s 2nd grade for playing with us!!

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Kiddos were SO EXCITED!!  Such a proud day in first grade and we’re looking forward to our next opportunity! Do YOU want to Mystery Skype with us??  Leave a comment and we’ll contact you, or contact me on Twitter (@jenbearden) and we can set it up!