We would like to present to you: THE MACHINE!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNopVnc70fg

What began as something of a new year warm up, a big fun engineering project to get us back in the groove of the school day, quickly transformed into an all-consuming beast of a problem-based learning  experience. The parameters were simple (and, per usual, intentionally vague): using the materials available, construct a path for a tennis ball to follow. Together, we planned the assessment tools by which we would measure success. We assigned point values to all materials (with a quick lesson in drawing 3D shapes) and developed the scoring criteria: completed projects would be measured in length, height, time taken for the ball to travel, and of course STP (Smooth, Tight, and Pretty, as all well-fabricated structures should be). The planning stage included a variety of loops, jumps, and the occasional ring of fire, all of which quickly fell to the wayside as the students realized that creating a direct path would be difficult enough as it was. Then, after about a day and a half of construction, one team asked another if they could combine their projects in a Voltron-esque attempt to take the top prize. Well, this conversation quickly spread around the class, and soon enough we found ourselves facing an entirely different challenge. With each of the four groups focusing on one side of the square, the students committed to building a singular structure that would allow the tennis ball to travel in a full circuit around the classroom. To be honest, I did not see that coming; for as much as I enjoy giving my students a fantastically challenging task and watching them squirm, I hadn’t realized that they were ready & able to collaborate at such a high level. These kids surprise me every day, and it’s one of the best parts of my job (along with recess & snacks). Summary: Watch the video, and pass it along. We’re doing amazing things here and we like to show off.

Onward & upward! Next order of business: You (hopefully) received a permission form this past Thursday describing a quickly-approaching field learning opportunity. Another class had been scheduled to attend this Friday’s performance of Don Quixote at the PNB, but had to offer up the tickets due to a scheduling conflict. Ms. Graves & I wasted no time jumping on the opportunity, which presents a number of challenges. The first is getting enough parent chaperones to sign up in time. We already have 3 on the hook, and we’re looking for 3 more. The second is transportation, as getting a school bus for an excursion is an expensive gamble even with the required two weeks’ notice. The solution? We’re taking the Metro. We can get on the 120 right outside the school, and it will drop us off at Seattle Center. This option is also considerably cheaper (with 2 classes going, it’s about 2/3 the cost of a school bus for the day). The best part is that, if our class can demonstrate the personal & communal responsibility necessary to take Metro into the city, the number of field learning opportunities available to us grows considerably. The students have been reminded of our expectations, and we had a very clear conversation on Thursday about the impact of classroom behavior on each student’s ability to participate in Friday’s trip. Additionally, we will be having a conversation today about dress for the occasion, so stay tuned for that (I’m hoping for a fancy dress day!). Because of the short notice, we don’t have time to put in for sack lunches from the cafeteria, so please send your child with a lunch & a snack on Friday. I always bring food just in case. Also, if you either need a scholarship or can provide one for another student, please provide this information with the permission form. Summary: Let me know ASAP if you want to chaperone for the ballet this Friday. Also, get that permission slip in by Tuesday!! That’s tomorrow!!

And finally, it has been said (accurately, mostly) that I am not the most adept at ongoing parent communications, even at the best of times. Call it a combination of nature & nurture. The same personal challenges that help me to connect with many of our students (being a poster child for ADHD, for one) also often result in difficulty attending to anything that’s not immediately in front of me (e.g., regularly sitting down to write emails and make phone calls because hey what’s that shiny thing over there). I am the type of person, and specifically the type of teacher, that finds success by throwing myself fully into whatever I am doing, often at the expense of less-immediate responsibilities. My self-identity as a teacher has always centered on the fact that teaching was, and continues to be, the driving force in my life. This has typically meant 60-70 hour work weeks, including weekend sessions in the classroom preparing lessons with an abundance of hands-on experiences. In the past year, I have found myself both a new house and a partner, and am still trying to figure out this thing that everyone keeps telling me about called work-life balance. As I’m not willing to sacrifice many (or any) aspects of the intensive collaborative curriculum that I build with my students, other pieces of the daily work of a teacher have slipped through the cracks this year. I am not trying to make excuses for slacking on an important part of my responsibilities as a teacher, but attempting to provide a bit of context & share some of my life with all of you. I accept that some of the misunderstandings that have cropped up this year have been the result of my lack of direct communication. You all, as a community, have been incredibly supportive of our work here despite the dearth of feedback from me, and frankly you deserve better. As such, I am committed to following my own directions to my students, to define my priorities and act accordingly. I am committed to my role in ensuring that consistent two-way communication, one of the cornerstones of student success, is taking place in a manner (and with a frequency) that guarantees that everyone involved in this journey feels heard, respected, and invested. Moving forward, please know that I am always open to discussion about your child’s experience in our classroom community (with the understanding that face-to-face meeting time still needs to be scheduled in advance). And as my students can tell you, I’m not nearly as scary as I pretend to be. Occasionally socially awkward, yes, but not scary.

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