Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Getting Ready for a Great New Year!

Oh my goodness gracious - It's been a loooong time, bloggy friends! After welcoming little Max to our family last Spring and closing out the school year with my geniuses, I think I just collapsed into a big lump of lazy. :) School starts again next week and I've been putting the "pro" in procrastinate! Time to get back into my room and make it welcoming for my new batch of fabulous First Graders! But first, I'd like to share my own little munchkins with you - They've been keeping me busy this summer!

Miss Emma is a very mature THREE years old already. She is such a lover and can't keep her hands off of her little brother for more than a few minutes at a time! She has the best sense of humor and makes me laugh every single day... Max is the happiest little guy you could ever hope to meet and he just smiles all day at everyone he sees! He's super ticklish and I just love getting him to giggle like crazy!

BUT... The time has come for me to let these two go to their ah-MAZING sitter while I embrace my 18 "other" kids, as I refer to them at home. :) I can't wait to meet them all and start their transformation from Kindergarteners to real Readers, Writers, Scientists and Mathematicians. I stocked up on some great teaching books this summer and finished out my Master's Degree, so I'm ready to roll! Now I just have to go pretty-up my room a bit and get ready for my next adventure! I promise to blog again soon... Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Missing My Geniuses!

It's been such a long time since I've sat down to blog... Don't you hate how life gets in the way sometimes?! Last week we had two snow days and got thrown off of our genius schedule a little bit, and I've missed school twice this week already for medical issues. I've decided that hospitals are only a fun place to be when they're actually delivering your baby. Not so great when they just repeatedly draw your blood like evil vampires in lab coats and inject you with enough fluids that you're pretty sure you'll never need to drink water again.

Although a Shirley Temple would be fantastic...

Back to the classroom! Last week we were Vital, Wise and Inventive. As you may already be aware, First Grade students don't need a whole lot of encouragement to be vital and full of life! ;) On Monday we talked about what it might mean to be vital - We decided with a little help from a Google search that to be vital we would need to be aware of everything around us and that we should try to have lots of energy. It was certainly an interesting atmosphere!!

We missed school on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday found us to be very wise. We all know we're geniuses, but today we discussed being special geniuses at doing certain things. We all have great knowledge and talents that we can share with the world, so I asked the kids to share them with our class. I'm hoping that if I can get back to school these next two days before maternity leave, I'll be able to have them write about and illustrate their knowledge! It was so awesome - Some of our kids are very wise when it comes to hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, drawing, reading and (of course) video games! They were so proud when they could share their wisdom with their friends - It would be extra special if I could get it posted here for you all to see!

Friday was a day for inventions. Mrs. Sigler's been having a hunch that baby might make an appearance before his scheduled date, so we decided to make up our Valentine's bags a bit early! After missing the beginning of this week, I'm glad we got started when we did! I gave each student a large paper bag with handles from the local grocery store and asked the students to use their imagination and creativity to create something new from this bag. I gave them all kinds of colored paper, some foam shapes, glue, staplers, tape and even some craft sticks, then let them go hog wild! One paper bag was made into a car, complete with wheels on the bottom and cut-out windows for the driver. One was turned into a person, with kinky arms coming out from the sides. Yet another became a house with a door cut in the bottom for cards to slip in! The possibilities were absolutely endless and it was so neat to watch it all come together.

I've been asked if allowing the students to demonstrate their genius in this fashion creates a hectic or chaotic classroom. Some days, the answer is no. The kids get so involved in what they're creating that you could hear a pin drop for 30 minutes at a time! Some days, the answer is yes. Big time. :) But you know what? I learn the most about my kids on those days. I learn about their passions and their dreams. I learn about who they really are and what motivates them. And most of all, I learn about myself. It's a great reminder of why I do what I do... I don't teach so I can control these little people and force them to do my bidding. I teach because I truly do want to change the world. If you've somehow forgotten that, let your children show you their genius. It just might inspire you to find your own!

Monday, January 31, 2011

My Wonder-full Day!

I was checking out Sarah Voyles' blog last night and it reminded me of a very important question that I should be asking myself every single day in my classroom - "WHY?" Does everything I do in my classroom have a solid reasoning behind it? Probably not. Should it? Of course! We've been geniuses for one full week now and while it's been incredibly rewarding, it hasn't been easy. Sometimes students want to take advantage of the more relaxed atmosphere by traveling around the room and constantly talking with other kids. While I understand that building communication and collaboration skills are essential, I also know that it is very difficult to maintain any semblance of control in such an environment. So today I wondered...
  • WHY is it necessary to give these students socialization time outside of recesses?
  • WHEN is the most appropriate time to give it to them?
  • HOW can I help them communicate in a way that preserves my sanity? (And that of my sub?!)
I truly love designing lessons that inspire and encourage genius, but I wonder constantly when I write my weekly plans... WHY? Why do I need to have busy work for my students to complete during Guided Reading? Is there any other option? If so, please let me know! Why do my students need worksheets to teach them symmetry? Can I ditch the book and use actual examples to teach them the same thing? Why do we have so many worksheets for Science and Social Studies and not nearly as many hands-on activities?

I guess maybe I'm more full of wonder today than my students, although their wondering was much more fun... :) We took some time to focus on different things around the room and wonder about their true purpose. We gazed in wonder at symbols of the United States and thought about what they mean to us and to our country. We wondered what made Brooke's tooth stay stuck in her mouth, despite her frequent attempts to dislodge it. We wondered why Mrs. Sigler kept stopping still in her waddle and breathing funny, and Mrs. Sigler wondered how in the world to explain the concept of contractions to First Grade geniuses!

All in all, it was truly a wonder-full day, even if we're leaving with more questions than we started the day with. Isn't that what learning is all about? And tomorrow (although this Iowa weather makes me wonder whether or not we'll have school!) we'll do a little research about our wonderings, because geniuses don't know all the answers, but the process of figuring them out is what makes us wise

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

Intuition? Psychic powers? Instinct? Premonition? Whatever it was, Alyssa Maske and Denise Krebs had it in spades today! Denise challenged us via Twitter to use our imaginations and discover the story within one of her 8th grade students' video blogs. Nicole's animoto was really neat, with alternating pictures showing fireworks, flowers, a diamond ring, balloons... and a baboon! The music in the background sounded like a Spanish love song, but my students were pretty fixated on the monkey. :) We were having a difficult time using our imaginations to develop a story that really made sense with the whole video (Most consisted of the gruesome death of a monkey thanks to our classroom of hard-core hunter boys...) and just when Mrs. Sigler was developing a bit of frustration, in flew an email from Mrs. Maske and her class of Sophomore Spanish students to save the day!

Mrs. Maske's class is just starting to discover their genius and they wanted to meet us via Skype! What a FANTASTICALLY TIMED email!!! We asked the Sophomore geniuses to decipher the song for us and we found out it was about a princess trying to find a prince to give her love to. When we Skyped them in this afternoon, they shared their thoughts with us about what the story could be. There was some fun collaboration between the students, and the Sophomores were so kind and respectful to our whole class. We saw that they were creative and curious about the story, just like us, and they had so much imagination to share today... True geniuses! They also used technology to share our final story on so we could see their great writing at work.

We later created posters to hang up around our building to tell other students and teachers about their genius. At one point, Ben came up to me and said enthusiastically, "I'm going to make my poster into a paper airplane and when kids open it, it will say 'YOU are a genius!'". I actually drew in a breath, fully intending to tell him that paper airplane posters are unacceptable and certainly not hang-upable (Mrs. Sigler is still learning...), then changed my words at the last minute to "Wow, Ben! That's very creative and I can tell you're using your imagination today!" It turned into an absolutely amazing poster - He even cut a pilot out of a notecard and stuck him in the plane. It's one of the neatest posters I've ever seen in my life and is totally guaranteed to make students stop in the hallway to read.

Did you ever imagine such great things could come from a simple change in the words you use?! On Monday we'll be full of wonder. We'd like to challenge you to open your eyes this weekend to the wonder around you... Let us know what you see!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Best. Day. EVER.

I had one of those moments today that just makes you grin from ear to ear like a total idiot for far longer than is socially acceptable. :D

My kids had Guidance class as a special today and while the teacher was in our room, I slipped out to prepare our flight field (also known as the old cafeteria...) for our big plane launch. This is the actual conversation that was taking place as I walked back into the room.

Student to the teacher: "Did you know you're a genius?"
All students in varying degrees of unison: "Yeah! We're ALL geniuses!!"
One student running to the whiteboard: "This is a list of what makes us geniuses!"

Alright... It was a pretty one-sided conversation and I'm not sure the Guidance teacher quite understood what was going on or why, but it totally made my life worth living at that moment - These students GET IT! They know that they have genius. They know they can make a contribution to the world. And now they want to share it. As an educator, I think this is about as good as it gets!

So. Tomorrow's genius word of the day is "Imagination". I think we're going to imagine all of the different ways we can tell other kids in our school about THEIR genius, then we're going to roll up our sleeves and start spreading the message. If you have any suggestions to get them started, please leave a comment! They ask every day if anyone has left them a new message, and the light shining from those little faces is just beautiful.

On a side note, I was planning to share our data with you about our test flight today, but two of our geniuses went home with suspected strep throat and we didn't want to do it without them! That may be a weekend project for Mrs. Sigler. :)

Thank you for reading with us, and make sure to tell your children or your own students every day about their genius, regardless of their age. If you believe it, they will too.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Not Your Average 12 Step Program...

Hello. My name is Kelly Sigler and I have an addiction. (Besides randomly talking out loud to Angela Maiers, who isn't actually near me at the time.)

I am ADDICTED to genius! Holy awesome, Batman. If you've been following my journey, you know that just a few short days ago, I decided to start speaking to my First Grade students differently. They are Readers and Writers, not "boys and girls". And if you ask any one of those kids how their teacher feels about them, they will promptly (and loudly) declare "We're geniuses!!!" We conducted collaborative research and found 12 words that describe who and what a genius is. This list is on our markerboard, front and center, and I refer to it daily. For example - "Wow, Bobby! I love the detail in this picture. I can see your genius through your creativity today!" or "Susie, I can see how you might be curious about how you'd look with a new haircut, but I really need for you to Put. The scissors. DOWN."

I just so happen to have 12 days with my munchkins before I take my maternity leave, so I've decided to dedicate each day to a cross-curricular study of one of the traits of genius. Yesterday's blog was about our creativity lesson... Today was all about curiosity. We discussed and practiced a variety of questioning techniques throughout our subject areas, and culminated with a little project. I told the students that I had noticed 4 boys made paper airplanes during our creativity "Genius Time" (I actually write that as part of our schedule now!) and that I was curious about which one might fly furthest and WHY. We started to talk about all kinds of variables that could affect flight, and we watched a few youtube videos showing us how to make a paper airplane. Then I gave the kids several choices of paper, a stapler, some tape, craft sticks and paper clips (You just never know...) and let them design and build their own planes based on their hypothesis of what makes an excellent aircraft. The 4 boys I mentioned earlier became our resident "experts" in case anyone needed help, and I've never seen chests puffed up quite that big! It was even more amazing because some of these boys had been kind of on the fringes of our classroom community until these airplanes came along. They are now in very high social demand. :)

Tomorrow's genius trait is Playfulness and our plan is to head to the gym at the end of the day and let the flight simulation begin! We'll keep some data for you about what makes paper airplanes float through the air like a ray of sunshine... and what causes them to keel over and die with no thought to the feelings of our poor engineers. Maybe we can even get curious about programs that can help us organize all of this info for posterity! Wish us luck!

Truly, if this is an addiction worthy of a 12 step program, sign me up. I'm hooked.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Do You See?

Creativity, curiosity, playfulness, imagination, wonder, wisdom, inventiveness, vitality, flexibility, sensitivity, humor and joy. These are the qualities of genius according to Runel Soria, and I'm inclined to believe him. I've decided that part of my "baby step" program is going to be choosing one of these qualities to focus a lesson on each day until my maternity leave. (What a coincidence that I only have 12 days left!)

We started today with creativity. I gave each student a piece of blue construction paper and the instructions to create something out of that piece of paper. They could do anything at all that they wanted to with this piece of paper. One student said "So I can just crumple it up if I want to?" Immediately I responded with "Well, that doesn't seem very creative..." (For shame, Mrs. Sigler.) A classmate quickly jumped to his defense, saying "Yes it is! He'd be making a new ball out of a piece of paper!" Touche, geniuses! :)

Now tell me what you see:

Paper airplanes built for the sole purpose of terrifying teachers?

Or future fighter pilots and engineers, ready to defend our country?

An interesting house with Christmas lights?

Or maybe a detail-oriented architect or carpenter?

A (super-awesome) whale with fabulous makeup?

Or a future marine biologist with amazing artistic ability?

A handprint turkey?

 Or future teacher? :)

A set of stars?

 Or maybe the scientist who will discover a new planet?

A heart?

 How about a nurse or caregiver?

A child with an army tank who plays waaaay too many video games?

Or the next soldier willing to risk his life for yours?

A princess crown?

Or the hat of a future leader?

Random bits of paper?

Or a multi-tasking jewelry designer?

An intricate race car?

Or the creator of our first truly eco-friendly vehicles (with style!)?

The funny thing is, a few weeks ago I would have chosen the first description for each of these masterpieces. I would have said something along the lines of "Oh, how cute!" or "What a nice house!" or "FOR PETE'S SAKE! WE DON'T BUILD PAPER AIRPLANES IN CLASS!"

And we most certainly are NOT going to build more and test them out tomorrow to see whose goes furthest and hypothesize about why. Because curiosity kills cats. It definitely doesn't nurture geniuses. Right? :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

What's YOUR Genius?

Monday. Back to the real world after my amazing weekend of reflection! I've been feeling the love from all of you fabulous readers for talking the talk... Could I actually walk into that classroom and make all those incredible ramblings work like magic? HA! I teach First Grade! Are you kidding me? Nothing ever goes as planned when working with small children. That halo of happiness and well-being was scrambling my brain...

My first step toward molding my children back to the geniuses they truly are was to tell them to move their own desks anywhere they wanted in the room. The only rules were that they had to be in groups of at least three, they absolutely could not refuse anyone who wanted to be a part of their group, and I wanted enough room in the middle of the class for my document camera to make his home. Then I planned to sit back and watch the collaborative magic happen! (In retrospect, that rumbling sound probably wasn't desks moving... It was God laughing at my naivete.) About three seconds into this auspicious new beginning, all I hear is "OW! You pinched my fingers!" "Mrs. Sigler! She said I can't sit here!" "Mrs. Sigler! He says he's the boss of our group!" "Mrs. Sigler! Mrs. Sigler! MRS. SIGLERRRR!!!"

Oh dear Lord.

We got our issues settled (eventually) and moved on to today's true purpose - telling my kids about their genius! This is where everything started to fall into place. I videotaped myself (as per Angela's request!) and had to laugh when I reviewed the playback. Flip cams are NOT kind to large pregnant women...

We started talking about why I had been gone for several days last week, and I showed the students Angela's website so they could see who had influenced my epiphany. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Angela told me something that just AMAZED me. Do you know what she said?
Kids: NO!
Me: She told me... (insert dramatic pause) that I am a genius! Can you believe it?!
Kids: (Collective gasp!)
Me: I know! Guess what else she told me.
Kids: What? What? What?!
Me: Angela told me that all of the kids in my classroom are geniuses, too!
Kids: (I'm not sure I can even describe the looks on these kids' faces... Priceless! Followed quickly by...)
Student: What's a genius?

Great question! According to my students, a genius was probably a smart, cute, kind scientist, but we couldn't be exactly sure. :) We decided to hop over to Google to check out what the rest of the world defined 'genius' as. We found words like curious, playful, imaginative, joyful and inventive and I asked the kids to tell someone at their new group why they were a genius. There was some fantastic collaboration going on, and I'd like to present to you the final outcome of our day's lesson:

These amazing 7 year olds have identified their genius: Feeding the world, tending to the ill, providing art to the masses... What's YOUR genius? And, most importantly, what will you do about it?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Three Small Things

So. Angela Maiers is my new best friend. We chat about the lives we've touched through our fantastic teaching strategies, discuss how we're going to change the world one "AHA!" at a time, and giggle girlishly in the Christian Louboutin shoe closet complete with personal masseuse tucked away in her basement. Hey... As long as I'm dreaming, I'm going to make it a good one!

In all honesty, Angela probably doesn't know me from Eve. She doesn't know that the three days she just spent in Cherokee, Iowa (Population: 4,663 - less than 1/3 of her Twitter following!) completely changed my life. In three short days, she gently guided me to the realization that I haven't been teaching for the past two years... I've been floating along on a sea of inadequacy. My words, not hers. My imaginary best friend is far too kind for that!

I've already waxed poetic about my incredible insights in my first blog post. The next question is "So what, Kelly? You've been redeemed! Your blinders have been lifted! Your fog-encased brain has been cleared! Now what the heck are you going to do about it?" This is where I stop and quietly, with dignity, smash my head against a brick wall. I'd love to run to my classroom tomorrow, throw all of my desks out in exchange for Lovesacs, tell my kids emphatically that they are all GENIUSES and that I love every single thought that crosses their mind, burn every darned worksheet I can find, and completely re-start our year as global, digital citizens who contribute meaningful work to our world. (Goal #2: Quit writing absurdly long run-on sentences.)

Problem? I've got less than 3 weeks with my students before I take my 8 week maternity leave. 

My frustration right now knows no bounds. How can I possibly expect a sub with 30 years of classroom experience to understand that I've thrown out all of my worksheets? Or that I keep my laptop hooked up to my projector throughout the day to model my thought process while we conduct research together? How can I expect a woman who more than likely has never listened to a podcast or used a youtube video in the classroom to help my students broadcast themselves to the world when they're inspired by a great idea? How can I convince her that my classroom is filled to the brim with tiny little genius children rather than walking, talking, trouble-making behavior disorders waiting to happen? How can I stop writing sentences with absolutely no structure?! Ugg.

I think if Angela were with me right now in her ridiculously cute spiked stilettos, she'd tell me to concentrate on the little things first. I can't possibly change the entire atmosphere of my classroom in one day anyway, so what are three small things I'm going to do tomorrow? Three small things to start my journey towards better teaching.

1. Treat my students like geniuses. Because they are.

2. Listen (TRULY listen) to what my kiddos are telling me. Because they are incredibly insightful.

3. Admit to my students that I'm not perfect. Even though my husband frequently insists that I am... ;)

It doesn't sound like much, but journeys aren't meant to be finished in hours or even days. The really fun and life-changing journeys take years. Years of wrong turns and brick walls. Years of frustration and years of pure joy. Years of "AHA!" moments and for my best friend and I... years of great shoe sales in Paris! (Methinks this will be my go-to fantasy during those years of wrong turns and brick walls...) Stay tuned for updates this week and feel free to leave suggestions for me - I'm excited to see how changing these three small things are going to launch my incredible new expedition!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Baby Steps

Confession time. My work day is planned out before I step into my classroom with no space for flexibility. I stand at the front of my classroom and expect students to listen to every golden nugget of wisdom that slips from my lips.  I frequently make the trek to our school office for the sole purpose of creating copies of worksheets for my kids. I scold students for talking to their neighbors when I have deemed it inappropriate.

If you're thinking to yourself "Well, what's wrong with that? Isn't that what teachers do?"... feel free to move on.

If you are sitting at your computer, shuddering in horror - Stay with me! If you're doing the same thing in your classroom and it's killing you inside - Stick around!

I've spent the last three days at an incredible "technology" conference with Angela Maiers. I came with the assumption that I'd be leaving here with a new way to build a unit of study around technology. I'm leaving with an invaluable understanding that technology in the classroom is nothing without the right point of view. I can slap a phonics worksheet on my document camera and say I'm using technology, but what in the world are my students actually gaining from it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I understand now that children are geniuses. Truly! What do huge companies like Google and Amazon and Apple look for in their workers? Innovation. Creativity. Confidence. The ability to play well with others. If that's not a Kindergarten classroom, I don't know what is! What is happening to these amazing little citizens between their first year of school and their last? We, as educators and role models, are telling them that it is NOT O.K. to color outside the lines. Purple trees don't exist and are unacceptable. Your writing doesn't have the prescribed parts I demanded of you - you fail. You absolutely may not speak while I am speaking, and if you dare to talk to another child about how to solve a problem, you're a cheater.

What have we done?! What am I doing to these precious children in my room? And most importantly, how can I change myself to give them what they deserve from me? That's what this blog is going to be all about. I'm embarking on a new journey. Not for myself, but for all of my students. And I do mean ALL of my students... I've only been in the world of education for two years. Think of the hearts and souls and minds that I will be privileged to come into contact with in the next thirty!

If you've made it this far, thank you so much for reading! I hope that you'll join our journey as a community of learners and give us tips and encouragement along the way. I can't wait to get started!