Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thinking in and out of the box (day I)

Before starting this blog I want to make sure to give credit to Teacher Tom.  It is from his blog that I had the idea for this activity, although, as you can see, he did it on boxing day (December 26) making it twice as cool as doing it in January. 

Previous to Thursday, I collected several boxes, cardboard toilet paper and paper towel tubes, and some other odds and ends. There seemed to be no limit for the possibilities of the boxes.  

Two pairs of children made side by side houses in the dishwasher boxes, adding a smaller box to the front of each "house" for more space.  In the left house was inhabited by a girl and a boy, but the girl stayed in and the boy brought her anything she asked for in the "house" and kept other children from going in.  The pair of girls who inhabited the left side were very active; they went straight to work improving their home. 

Other children had very different designs for their boxes. 

One boy pushed this box up calling it a "skyscraper" but then changing mind, calling it the "leaning tower of pizza" instead when it was accidentally propped up on another box. 

He next realized that he could move the box and use it for a basketball hoop.

Other boys wasted no time in joining the game.  

Meanwhile, other children busied themselves coloring on various types of cardboard and styrofoam.  They loved the "squeeky" sound of markers on styrofoam, and the "bumping" sound of markers on corregated cardboard. 

Little Opal colored all of the really big letters on this box. While she colored she kept saying "not O, not O, not O."  I later heard her tell her friends she was going to color O's pink and all the other letters blue- there weren't any O's though.  

Many of the colored pieces of styrofoam were especially pretty.  

While the rest of the class was coloring, Tommy up-ended one of the "house" boxes, and decided he wanted to go down the top of the chimney (box) like Santa.

"Guys! Can someone help me get in this chimney?  I can't get in it."  No one came to help, so he made a new plan.

"Miss Elizabeth, I made steps and a railing to get into the box!" Unfortunately, they fell before he ever made it to the box and a few girls....

Figured out that you could just lift up the bottom of the box and climb under.  They claimed the "chimney" as a new place to color. (Whoever said boys were better at spacial problem solving than girls?)

 The boxes underwent several different arrangements and uses.  

One group found a way to to hold on to markers and toys that kept rolling away and getting lost under boxes and other materials.  

Another child took advantage of an empty box to "read a book" that she made out of a piece of folded cardboard. 

The children could have played at this activity for hours more than they did (which is why we did it again on Friday).  To help clean up they came up with the idea of sorting the smaller pieces into boxes- styrofoam, tubes, and small boxes- an excellent system.

I will upload pictures and write about the boxes on Friday soon!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Questions the teacher can't answer

Do you ever start out planning an activity in order for your children or students to learn or experience something and what they walk away with is something that you never expected?  It happened to me just yesterday.  Let me tell you what my class took away from the activity and then I will tell you how we got there.  My class has come to the conclusion that all our toys are made in china. 
The activity was simple.  I wanted to create a literacy game, so I asked the children to look around the room for toys that had words on them- a scavenger hunt.  They would find the words on the toys and I would race around the room on their heels writing down every word they could find. (Books were not to be included in this scavenger hunt lest they demand that I transcribe every story in our room). Now, what I was expecting was to find were words like "zoo" that is on a duplex man's shirt, or the words "wrong way" on one of our miniature road signs, the word "crayola," and "brown" on one of our markers, "Nemo" on a puzzle, "Little Tikes" on our tool set, etc.  We did find all of these word and more (we literally found hundreds of words).  We also found things like "patent pending," "ages 3+," "not for individual sale" and codes like "0XXI25LP," and signs of the person who donated them like "B.M.C.," and "this belongs to Ryan." The thing that I did not expect, (though perhaps I should have), was that the most common group of words on our toys was "made in China."  Nearly EVERYTHING that had a "made in" label said China.  Once, I was excited because I saw "Ohio" on a plastic clamp, but underneath OHIO, it said "Made in China."  We found two things that said "made in the USA"- one was part of a castle set, and the other was a puzzle.  
After we had found many of these "made in China" words, one of the children asked me, in a somewhat exasperated tone, "Why are all our toys made in China?"  Half the class looked at me waiting for an answer when she said this, and I had to say "I don't know."  
The truth is, I might have a vague idea about why, but I didn't think I should tell them that to my understanding, one of the biggest reasons was that toy companies that started here went to China where they could pay people very little, expect them to work long hours, and long work weeks, with little if any vacation time so that these companies could make more money from the toys that they sold.  I grant you that this is a complicated issue, that few people, (including myself), entirely understand.  Still, I have to wonder, what this says to young minds that grow up being read and reading "made in China" on some of the things they love the most? 
This made me question further; We are being told that our schools have to become factories because Chinese test scores are better than ours, but why does this matter and what are we trading for this choice?  Will having higher test scores make us more competitive in the job market?  I suppose it depends on what jobs you are referring to- but I wouldn't want the job of a Chinese toy manufacturer- many of them face inhumane work conditions.  In the mean time, we are sacrificing the quality of education to get these mystical "jobs" that I suppose will come from having higher test scores than a child in China who is forced to specialize in his/ her education at a young age and made to study like an adult working on a master's thesis. 
In the end, I don't know; I don't know the answers to my own questions, and I don't know the answer to the national question of "why is everything here made in China?" and "how do we fix it?"  However, I do know that I am not willing, personally, to sacrifice the development of the WHOLE child in the interest of manufacturing test takers like the Chinese manufacture "all of our toys." 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The worst smelling, best fun ever

I have a student that often tells me that the activities that we do are the "best ever." The day I let them go swimming in shaving cream was the "best ever," the day we spray painted snow for the first time was the "best ever," and the project I am about to tell you about was "REALLY the best ever."  At least that's what I am told.  
Inspired by an article by Bev Bos I set about preparing for a huge smelly purple cabbage juice experience.  
The inside of a cabbage is amazingly beautiful!

The first thing I did (as instructed by Bev Bos) was to chop 4 purple cabbages into medium pieces and boil it in two huge kitchen pots with water a few inches away from the brim.  

After the cabbage was floppy and the juice a very dark purple, I strained both pots into large bowls.  I combined the floppy cabbage into one of the soup pots and boiled it again.  I probably could have done this one more time before discarding the cabbage, but at this point I was up to my elbows in cabbage juice.  

I then used a funnel to transfer it to every available pitcher and jug we had in the kitchen. 

I haven't bothered to do the actual conversion to see how many gallons of cabbage juice there were exactly- but there were at least 10 (there are more jugs on the second level of the cart shown above).  The cabbage juice sat in my class overnight like this for use the next day.  To my knowledge this did not make it smell any better or worse than it did right out of the pot.  

I had over 40 plastic dixie cups set out with a tablespoon of lemon juice in each and over 40 paper dixie cups set out with a tablespoon of baking soda in each.  I also had 14 cups, (for 7 children that day), half full of cabbage juice set out.  THIS WAS NOT ENOUGH, and would have been even more insufficient if the 10 children that is normal for my class had been there.  They went through the cups of baking soda and lemon juice in about ten minutes and the cabbage juice cups in about half an hour.  It was an uphill battle from the ten minute mark on to keep the children supplied with all the baking soda and lemon juice they needed.  In addition to needing cabbage juice refills at the half hour mark, we ran out of the GALLON of lemon juice that we had and so, had to improvise with vinegar.  This was a good substitute, but vinegar, as you might imagine, is slightly more reactive with the baking soda than the lemon juice was.  It became a huge "who can make their cup overflow- competition,"  which was fine.  In the end we went through about a pound and a half of baking soda, a gallon of lemon juice, a gallon of vinegar, and hundreds of tiny cups. However, it was all worth it.  

Here are some pictures I managed to take before the shortages: 

You can see both the colors and some of the reactions from these pictures although they worked up some much more intense reactions.  As you probably could have surmised, when coming in contact with an acid the cabbage juice becomes bright pink red, with a base it become blue and then green because cabbage is an natural indicator.  The colors are really stunning.  

I had one little girl who came late, after everyone was done, and luckily I had set aside enough vinegar, baking soda, and cabbage juice for her to do the experiment.  She did this differently than any of the other children;  All of them, for the most part, spent their time dumping baking soda and vinegar/lemon juice into the cabbage juice, but she started by putting cabbage juice into the little cups that held either baking soda or vinegar.  

Hopefully you can tell, despite the poor quality of this picture, that she ended up with cups of bright pink and cups of dark green.  She then dumped them all back into the big cup and asked me to refill her little cups with vinegar and baking soda, which I did, and then dumped the now purple liquid in her cup back into each small one.  This time the vinegar cups were a magenta and the baking soda cups a dark indigo.  She repeated this procedure a few times before going the route all the other children did in the end- overflowing her cups.  

Needless to say the children were completely in love with this experiment.  They learned and observed so much.  I fully anticipate to be asked when we are doing this again for at least a month.  We will do it sometime again, but my nose needs a break from the smell of cabbage and this time I will know to have out at least a couple hundred cups of baking soda and lemon juice before starting.  

At the end of the day each child went home with a reused mini water bottle full of cabbage juice, and a note explaining to parents what this bad smelling drink was and what to do with it.  I know of at least two children who went home last night and relived the excitement of the cabbage juice with their parents and siblings in the kitchen, and hopefully more of them will tonight and tomorrow.  

If you are attempting this in the full scale project version some words of advice:

*Have a lot of materials in "unlimited quantities" prepared for them.  They fly through the supplies. 
*Double line several trash cans to have near the project site to make clean up easy
*Have a lot of towels prepared to clean up overflow
*Have as many adults as possible to help keep things running smoothly.  (We did this with two adults and really needed at least two more)
*Be prepared for your classroom to smell of cabbage juice the next day and be prepared with the appropriate equiptment


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kudos for Kiddos

Today I thought that I would share something that I do everyday in my classroom and absolutely love.  At school, I often run in to the problem (since I work 7-3:30) that I do not see parents pick up their children and so I am not able to tell them about their day.  I think it is very important, (specifically to the parents), that they get to feel asthough they are part of their childs day, even when they obviously aren't there for it.  My solution to this problem was something I like to call kudos.  

It's nothing fancy, just a sheet of loose leaf paper glued to a piece of construction paper. This is stuck to the wall with sticky tack so that it can easily be removed to write on, and then put back up. On the top, I write the child's name.  Everyday (that they child is there) I write the date and write something that this child did that was great that day.  It's not always something complicated- "Susan held the door for Miss Elizabeth," "Sarah really got into dancing today," "Tom had fun experimenting in the science center today," "Benny figured out how to use the art materials in a really creative way."  Sometimes I read what I write to them, sometimes I don't.  The purpose of this is two things.  First, it is for the parents, to let them know some part of their child's day; four year olds, like all children (after they have had lunch, nap and snack between the bulk of their day and being picked up), are not bubbling over with events that happened 3 and a half hours prior.  Second, the children get recognition for things that they do that are outstanding from their parents.  I want to make it clear that it is not really that children need to be recognized for things that they do that are great like "being creative with magnets;"  they know for themselves that it is great; However, it is a chance for them to have a dialogue with their parents about school and to have positive associations with their school day. I do not say things like "Joe made a beautiful picture today."  The definition of their projects and art is up to them. Rather, I try to highlight things like hard work, creativity, fun, joy, interest, experimentation, wonder, exploration, kindness, and consideration. 
(On a side note:) I have found this also helpful when, for some reason, you have to speak to a parent about a problem or concern in reference to their child.  To use a business term, this helps you build a kind of rapport with parents and more importantly a working, friendly relationship; This way, when you have to talk about something negative with  parents, they don't feel as though you do not acknowledge or notice all aspects of their child, the positive and negative.  The parents don't feel attacked, and can feel secure that you know their child and are interested in what is best for their child.