Saturday, April 25, 2009

We Shall Remain

Hello all! No I haven't disappeared. Just been very very busy with a lot of things I can't discuss here. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous post, I've run into "teacher's block" (sort of like writer's block) and just haven't had too much to say. And of course, now that I'm in the mood to post, the little guy I'm doing respite for has decided that he MUST be out of bed and MUST have a snack and some playtime. It's waaaaaay past his bedtime. The stinker. :-)......

OK, problems solved with much giggling and even a couple of belly laughs plus a whole lot of cheese crackers on the floor, much to the dogs' delight. I LOVE this kid! Anyway, I mentioned that I was struggling with how to structure the rest of the regular school year for us and talked about doing something with the PBS series "We Shall Remain." That is indeed what I decided to go with. We got started a bit late so had to do two episodes last week (After the Mayflower, which is about the European "invasion" of America, and "Tecumseh's Vision" about Tecumseh's attempts to unite the Native American tribes into one nation separate from the white man). Both episodes were excellent although I will say we were all more fascinated by After the Mayflower (you mean the Pilgrims are actually the bad guys? How different would history be today if Massasoit had just decided to let those foolish Europeans die from their own ignorance). I'm using both the News-2-You and the website to create synopses of the episodes using Boardmaker which we read during Morning Meeting prior to watching the episodes (we watch during gross motor/standing time). One of my students, whose Dad is Puerto Rican, was fascinated by the pictures of Native Americans that I used and kept pointing to himself and then to the Smartboard, making it very clear that he thinks he looks like a Native American. Very cool. He got VERY ANGRY when the white men treated the Native Americans badly during the first episode and got really into it when the Native Americans fought back in the second. It was so neat to see him responding like this because he is usually completely disengaged from anything even remotely "academic."

We didn't do much of a project with After the Mayflower, although there are some nice Pilgrim and Indian crafts at and Kate also posted some great resources on her website. With Tecumseh's Vision we decided to make dream catchers. The project on dltk-kids did not work for us. It was designed by a teacher in the UK and we weren't able to lay hands on all the materials, particularly the mesh bags. We used this project instead. This is one of the most fun projects we've done, or at least one of the most popular. The kids enjoyed choosing colors and materials and the adults had a blast weaving (my group of students don't have the fine motor skills to do the weaving but had loads of fun checking the adults' work and criticizing, I mean commenting, on it). I think we have 20 or so of the things floating around the room at the moment. We made small ones. The challenging part was figuring out what to use for the rings. In the past we've brass embroidery rings but they are fairly expensive and we didn't have any in the supply closet (yes, this was yet another last minute project idea). What worked best was cutting the rim off of disposable plastic cups (the white, nearly transparent ones work the best). We also tried the rim off of plastic containers like cottage cheese and Cool Whip, but they were too flexible and didn't maintain their round shape. The rims off the LIDS however, worked great. However, the cups are cheap and there are lots of them available compared to the containers. For the string we used crochet thread (the kind used to make lace) for the smaller ones and yarn for the larger. We have a whole collection of various sized beads that we could string on as requested by the students. For the bottom the kids chose a feather (or 5) onto which we strung 3 pony beads (on the shaft end). These were then tied onto the bottom of the dream catcher either in a group or singly. They all turned out really neat. I forgot to take a picture of them but will add one later.

Next up we have The Trail of Tears, Geronimo, and Wounded Knee. I'm not exactly sure what projects we will do to enhance these topics as I need to keep things really simple. I do know we will be taking a trip to the Mid America All Indian Center which has recently reopened and is doing a bunch of stuff related to the We Shall Remain series. And there are more than a few good movies featuring Native Americans (and no, I'm not talking the John Wayne-type where the Indians are the bad guys). And maybe we can find someone from the Indian Center who would be willing to volunteer some time to come in and do drumming and storytelling with the kids. I also have a collection of Native American music we are listening to.

For those of you who would like to borrow my We Shall Remain Boardmaker adaptations:
Email me OR leave a comment with your email/contact information and I'll contact you about sharing. Some of what I have created uses copywrited materials owned by News-2-You so I have to be careful how I share. I plan to use this unit again in the fall closer to Thanksgiving with more activities.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Making Dust

A a kid we often went to my grandparents' farm. My brother's favorite thing to do, and later all the boys/cousins, was to put his bike up on blocks in the big shed, peddle as fast as he could and "make dust." That's how I'm feeling right now with school, like I'm just making dust but not getting anywhere.

We finished giving state assessments right before spring break. Because we use an alternate assessment system, this took up quite a lot of our time and structured our daily activities. We also implemented and completed a very involved unit on the Wizard of Oz (check the side bar under Projects). I had a plan with a goal: read the whole book and do related activities; gather all the needed evidence for state assessment portfolios. And now that we're finished with all of that, we seem to be just spinning our wheels. The day-to-day routines have become the "daily grind." Everyone, kids and adults alike, are bored with the same old same old. On top of all that we have had a constant in and out with absences from both students and staff, had one student move away resulting in a slight case of "over staffing" (I know I know, I should be happy and believe me I am NOT giving up a staff person until I have to; plus one of my paras wants to go back to college full time and will be making that move very soon) and not enough to do for everyone all the time. Add in some plans that haven't come to fruition quite as expected and some not-under-our-control interferences that have kept us completely out of routine, and well, I think we've hit the "spring doldrums." You know, that place where everyone is ready to move on but we're stuck with 5 weeks left of school before a brief break and new opportunities. We're not even all that motivated to fo out on community day, how bad is that? UGGHH!!

I need inspiration. This is one of those times that I miss NOT having a preset curriculum (creating my own curriculum is one of the things I love most about my job, but wow is it a lot of work!). How do I fill the last few weeks of school with fun, engaging, and meaningful activities? We're pretty well at a maintenance stage with most of our IEP goals. Where do we go from here? Kate posted some fun looking activities to go with The Princess Bride which look very intriguing, BUT do I really want to jump back into another extended study so soon after the Wizard of Oz extravaganza? News-2-You has an article on Native Americans and the new PBS series called We Shall Remain that I could do a lot of things with. Maybe we'll go with that, especially since the Mid America All Indian Center is reopening here in April and they have worked well with our special needs in the past. But that will take quite a bit of prep work and I have a number of time consuming commitments coming up (summer school planning, observing new-to-me students coming to summer school, grant proposals due, student recertifications due, progress reports, helping with a couple of professional development activities, grading state assessments, ......). Do I have time to do adequate justice to a Native American unit?

Any ideas out there anyone? Throw me a nice life preserver please!