A Primer on Smooth, Efficient Transitions

Triathletes know that races can be won or lost not just during the swim, bike, or run, but during the transitions in between. During my first triathlon, I had just completed the 12-mile bike when I entered the gate to the bike racks and ran my bike towards my row. Only one event to go! As I approached my spot, I saw my mom and my husband cheering for me by the sidelines. I smiled hugely, waved exuberantly, and… ran right past my spot. I finally caught on as my dismayed family started yelling at me to stop and turn around.

Not my best transition.

Transitions in teaching are just as important as they are in triathlons. More important, because student learning (and not just my bruised ego) depends upon them. Continue reading

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Getting Started with Science

Being an elementary school teacher is hard for many reasons, not the least of which is you have to be a master of every discipline (as well a psychologistcaregiver, etc.).  One discipline that seems especially tough for people is science.  I often hear from colleagues that they feel like they lack the background knowledge they need to be effective science teachers.  Many colleagues who have science kits teach only those lessons, and colleagues who have less well-defined programs aren’t sure where to start.

There are good reasons to feel this way.  First, many of us had few experiences with science (and probably none with engineering) when we were in elementary school.  I remember hatching chicks in first grade, and that’s about it.  Second, women, who make up the vast majority of elementary teachers, have historically been discouraged from pursuing the sciences.  Third, while many of us read and write as part of our daily lives, fewer people see science the same way.  And if you live in an urban area, it may feel like opportunities for experiencing the natural world are few and far between.

I want to share some very simple, but profound ways to get started with science in your elementary classroom.  Or, if you teach from a science kit (I do too — there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel), I want to share some ways to get back to fundamentals and do science with your kids outside. Continue reading

Organization that Takes a Team

Thank goodness my school has tables instead of desks.  I remember my desk in elementary school.  Especially on the day when I was supposed to recite a poem, and I found it crumpled in the back, long forgotten.  Even if my classroom had desks, I’d still put them in clusters and prevent kids from putting anything inside them.

Silverware drawers are excellent school supply organizers.

Silverware drawers are excellent school supply organizers.

There are five tables in my room, and the kids at each table are a team that shares supplies.  We have the luxury of being able to provide school supplies for everyone, so no one is allowed to bring supplies from home.  We have what we need, and we’re all equal.  No one can argue they lost their favorite pencil because the pencils belong to all of us.

Every table organizes their supplies in a silverware drawer, which has a much lower profile than other classroom organizers I’ve seen.  The advantage: no one can hide behind a silverware drawer. Continue reading

Where to Begin

After writing my last post, I thought about what it’s like to organize a classroom you’ve inherited.  My first classroom.  And my second classroom.  And, yes — three summers in a row — my third classroom.

And I thought of how materials pile up over time, of all the times you throw something in the closet because you don’t have time to find a place to put it away.  You know you need to reorganize, but where to start?

So, for those who need to organize for the first time or reorganize after a long time, here’s some advice:

Take everything out of every closet, every drawer, every shelf and lay it out in the middle of the room. Wash all the empty spaces. Seriously. There are probably years worth of dust there, bits of glitter and hair… yuck. Throw out the garbage. Group your materials. THEN put things back in the places that make sense to you. Do this and you’ll know what you have, what you need, and where everything is.

— a. fox