A few weeks ago, returning to our classroom after Performance Arts, we found waiting for us a trio of visitors. The first we all knew as Mr. Ostrum, our principal. The second was his boss, Israel Vela, the Executive Director for the West Seattle region. The third gentleman, I didn't immediately recognize. Fahima, our concierge for the week, greeted them with "welcome to Mr. Gluck's class, how may I help you?" She reported back that they were just there to watch, so we got right back to correcting our spelling/vocabulary pretest. They left after a few minutes of observation. Checking my email at lunch, it dawned on me that the third guest was Interim Seattle Schools Superintendent, Dr. Larry Nyland.
After lunch, we gathered at circle. I told the class who the visitors were, and they were suitably impressed. One student commented that it was a little strange that they were waiting in our empty classroom when we arrived. I realized then that, as I explained to the kids, Mr. Ostrum was so impressed with us that he brought Mr. Vela & Dr. Nyland to our classroom to show us off and, not finding us there, made these two very important & very busy gentlemen stand there and wait for us.
Why am I telling this story? Because this class is amazing, and was recognized as such only three weeks into the school year. As a teacher, I don't think that I've ever before had the opportunity to work with such an independent & strong-willed group of students. These kids have come together as a classroom community faster than any previous class I've taught. I'm a believer in the four stages of team building [forming, storming, norming, performing], and while I know we'll still have bumpy patches down the road, this class is already moving forward by leaps and bounds.
Many of you will remember my remarks from Curriculum Night regarding my policy of making my classroom a "parent-free" zone for the first month, where I shared my belief in the importance of creating a safe environment wherein students can be comfortable confronting their own failures. The first month is crucial for building our classroom community, and during this time my students & I are deciding who we will be this year. This covers a lot of ground, including the setting of academic and social expectations. We learn how to function as a team, including how to walk in a line. We learn how to transition between spaces and between activities. We learn that when Mr. Gluck says "give me five," students have about 3 seconds to "give me ten." We learn that this response is mandatory, immediate, and universal. We learn that we all will be assessed and evaluated on a daily basis, and that we must learn how to participate in this process in a constructive manner. We learn that we are responsible for our own experience. We learn how to sit up straight and take three deep breaths, in through our nose, out through our mouth, all the way down to our diaphragm. Everything else that we learn, for the rest of the year, will be refinement.
Snacks! Yes, snacks. We'll need & want a number of things over the course of the year, and the one constant will be snacks. You will soon be receiving information from Stacey Upton, our Room Parent, regarding a subscription-based fruit & vegetable delivery service that we would like to utilize. Your children will be pushing their minds & bodies harder than ever before, and this amount of energy burns a staggering amount of calories. Lunch is too far away from both the beginning & the end of the school day, and we rely on you to help us fill the spaces in between. We are working to determine the best course of action regarding the scheduling of snack sponsorship; in the meantime, please feel strongly encouraged to bring healthful snacks for the class whenever you'd like. And regarding my standard for "healthful," I generally draw the line after Cheez-Its and fruit snacks.
While we're on the subject of sponsorships, my policy is this: whatever you can give, we'll take it. That goes for field trips, learning materials, volunteering, and pretty much everything else. I've taught in classrooms with dirt floors, two students to a desk and three to a pencil, and we made do with what we had. We here at STEM are not hurting for instructional materials, and while funding could be better (nationwide), we've yet to develop a black market for art supplies. That being said, sometimes a project will take us in new & unexpected directions, and maybe we'll need a 300 terawatt laser generator. For example.
What are we studying? Well, all sorts of topics, skills, and random bits. We're studying spiders from at least eight different angles. We're discussing the nature of numbers, numerals, digits, and symbols in general. We're developing context, both literal & literary. We're learning how we'll be learning this year. We've only just transitioned from basic training, having passed three essential milestones as a community. First, the class voted together, nearly unanimously, against a decision that I was promoting regarding our choice of read-aloud material. Second, they took the Silver Spoon, the trophy awarded weekly to the class with the cleanest lunch table [Update: two weeks in a row! Spooooooooooon!]. Third, they made their first communal decision in directing the course of study in our spider project, working toward our first production piece (we're creating storyboards for the myth of Arachne, establishing our understanding of narrative elements). What this means is we're ready to introduce the world to our community, and our community to the world.
So! What do you need to know? No, seriously, I'm asking. I'll share a bunch of random information with you here & now, but please contact me with any questions, comments, concerns, etc. Let's get started.
This is the foundation of our practice. We are developing the skills of life-long learners, and that means recognizing learning opportunities in every area of our lives. Students are expected to spend at least 30 minutes a day engaged in independent reading. Additionally, students are expected to spend 30 minutes a day engaged in learning outside of the classroom. Sometimes there will be specific assignments, especially in math & word study. The rest of the time, the sky's the limit. If a student can appropriately justify & document her learning, it'll count. As mentioned earlier, we are constantly refining our understanding and application of this process. This week, we will be testing out a new format for our weekly documentation, so please look for that in their Home Folder. The HF is red, and is expected to be carried home by the student every day, returning the next. In here you will find the Extended Learning Log [ELL], the reading log, and any other communications/items that need to be there. The ELL is to be signed by both the student and the parent at the end of a week, to be turned in on Monday morning.
Sharing Our Learning, Getting In Touch
(more on shared calendar, Google Drive, etc. forthcoming)
Messenger Pigeon: *coooo* *cooo* *squawk*
Want to come help out? Terrific! We have all sorts of roles for family volunteers, ranging from organizing & labeling library books to joining students in small group study. I will share your availability (as you described on the family information form in September) with Stacey Upton, who will oversee the family volunteer schedule. Please email her directly at email@example.com to schedule a time to come in! Also, please be watching for more information regarding expectations for volunteers in our classroom community.
Sponsorships & Donations
Sometimes, we need things. Sometimes we want stuff. There are many ways in which you can support these wants & needs.
• Water: We have a water cooler in the classroom, because hydration is important and the nearest fountain is a three minute round trip. We are looking for one or more parents to take on our water delivery service, usually running $40-$60 a month depending on season.
• Web hosting: Our class site costs $200 to host for the year. I've paid this out of pocket, because I very much want our class to learn how to create & curate an online presence, including creating portfolios of our work. A one-time donation to cover this cost will be rewarded with a thank-you from the class in the form of something made out of papier mache and/or construction paper.
• Technology: We want your unused tech. Got an old smartphone? Camera? Laptop? Printer? We'll take it. We're trying to get to a 1-to-1 ratio of students to web-capable devices, but in the meantime, anything you can send our way will be used in the process.
• Plants: We like plants. They clean the air and create a lively atmosphere. Especially hanging plants.
• Art supplies, office supplies, books, board games, tools, and anything else not nailed down: We'll take it, and if we won't use it, we'll find someone who will.
• Cooking & baking equipment: We have an oven. We're going to use it.
• Socks: For puppets, erasing whiteboards, and everything in between.
Immediate & Upcoming
Things to know & think about in the very near future, in no particular order:
• We need toilet paper tubes! Look for bags coming home, and please (if you can) take the bags to your workplace! We need around 2000. Seriously.
• Snacks!! Please!!
• We’ll be ramping up for NaNoWriMo as this month progresses. Much writing will be happening, as well as dramatic enactments. On a related note, please let me know if you have any sewing/costuming experience that you are willing & able to share.
• Students are now officially allowed & encouraged to bring in live spiders.
• We will soon be starting our biweekly walks to the Delridge Library. Library card applications will be coming home this week. If your child already has their OWN library card, please send it in & let me know if A. I can hang onto it or B. you’d like me to make a copy & send back the original. It’s important that I have all of their cards on file in some fashion.
• Every student should have a water bottle, for use both in class & on walks. And on that point, please start putting together & sending in a spare set of clothes for your child to be kept in storage here. At some point this year your kid is probably going to end up in a mud puddle, and math is no fun when you have cold & squishy socks.
Lastly, I am constantly updating & adding to the class website [www.mrglucksclass.net]. The “about” page now includes a class calendar and a link for various forms & logs. If you think of something that should be on there, please let me know!