Thursday, January 31, 2013

Last Day of January, 2013


Some of the other centers we're running this week are exploring the use of scales. We've got three balance scales for the students to use and they intuitively know that the results found on one set of scales is likely to be the same regardless of the scales used.

Here Madilynn's father leads the students in predicting how many small plastic bears it will take to balance larger plastic bears.

In the cooking center students are baking biscuits. To me, this is almost a science project to see the biscuit mix change from powders to dough to quick bread. 

Rachael Zell led this center yesterday.

Camille, our student visitor from SRJC helped to lead this center today.

Madilynn's mom is helping students make wonderful little drawings that begin as thumb prints. More on this later.

Another art oriented activity is crayon drawings made on hot plates. I love the chance to do the activities right beside the students. Noah wanted me to draw him a red Harley Davidson, so here's what came of it.

During Buddies today, Nathan helped Curtis in a Lego project. They came up with a cool vehicle.

And the day ended with Kylie learning to ride on two wheels. She began this last half hour crestfallen that the training wheel equipped bicycle that she had hoped to ride today was already taken and that she would have to wait for her turn to use it.

I knew that she was ready to graduate to two wheels and Mrs. Everson was on hand to give her the confidence to learn. So she got her start on a 12" wheeled bicycle that was really small for her, but gave her the assurance that she could get her feet on the ground before toppling over. That was all she needed and she was soon off riding as you can see in the photo below with Mrs. Everson looking on in the background.

Ten minutes later, Kylie decided that she didn't really need to ride the too-tiny bike. Her confidence had grown enough that on her own she exchanged the little bike for a 16" wheel bike that fit her size much better.

Inside 30 minutes she had learned this skill.
She was glowing by the end of the session.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Power of Imagination

As you know, I talk often about the power of the imagination and the importance of exercising it every day.

Kindergarten classes, particularly, must take this seriously.

See how the power of imagination influenced my younger brother's life in this video he made about his life.

(I appear briefly in the home movie clip about 2:00 into the video. I'm the older brother moving the boat along in the wading pool.  In the bow of the pram is my brother Jim, the artist/author when he was a preschooler.)

New Centers

We brought up a new set of centers this morning.

In my corner of the room we were taking the tarnish off pennies with some common household chemicals.

We checked on our progress from time to time with the help of classroom viewers and a nice stereo microscope.

It's fun to be out from under the back room reading assessments and into the magic of the children's natural curiosity and spontaneous interest in everything around them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

We counted the syllables in our first names today and made this graph to show the results.

As the students could see, most of us have 2-syllable names, by a lot—12 more than three syllable names which came in a distant second place.

It was good to have the whole class back at school today. We had been missing Jayson, Nora, and Carley last week.

See you tomorrow.

Be well.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

 Thursdays have a way of going past in a blur. There's so much going on.

Mrs. Everson was the hit of buddies day today with her God's Eye weavings. You might think that this sort of work would interest only the fairer sex, but a look a who gathered at her table tells a different story. Fact is some of the world's toughest meanest people—pirates—did their fair share of sewing and macrame back in the day when sailing ships plied the oceans. There's something about hand work that satisfies a deep human need.

Today was Austin's sixth birthday. She brought two-bite cupcakes (the best size) to help us celebrate. The house band played her the happy birthday medley of songs.

Blocks are another perennial favorite activity on buddy days. These fifth grade buddies worked on a pagoda-inspired design.

We had a guest instructor in KIDS club today, Wyatt, who demonstrated good skills as a teacher. He took Mariana through the sixty or so sight words we've studied up to now. Mariana knows almost all of them.

Off to my ukulele meeting tonight. I know I'll have a good time, even if it hurts to sing.

Be well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Make Believe" Words

Three times a year we give the kindergarten students "benchmark" tests to see how their pre-reading skills are coming along.

One of the mid-year tests is to see how quickly they can sound out words which we tell them are "make believe" words. There is a real premium on speed. If a kid pauses too long on the words, his or her score will suffer.

One of my scholars was buzzing along reading these nonsense words with good fluency. Then he arrived at the word, "les" the fourth on line three and he paused for quite a few seconds—enough to drop his score. I thought that he might be thinking, as others have done, "Less is a real word. Why did Mr. Gurney say it wasn't a real word?"

Instead he said, "Les is a word. That's my cousin's name."

There's no way to add points to his score for that sort of flexible thinking, but there should be.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Classroom Pet

It was a good day back after a refreshing three day weekend. I had three days of fun: Saturday at a ukulele festival, Sunday hiking on Angel Island with my wife (and later, a concert), and Monday paddling on the Estero Americano. Life is good.

Madilynn's mom and dad brought us a classroom pet to enjoy—a prize chameleon. They brought in a deluxe set up complete with warming lamps, misters, self-watering devices, and a large terrarium habitat.

Here's what he looks like.

In centers today, Ryder made this God's Eye weaving. Ones this carefully done are evidence that Ryder can sustain attention and work carefully.

Congratulations, Ryder!

We visited the library today and heard a South African story called Abiyoyo about a boy with his ukulele, his father, a magician, and a fearsome giant named Abiyoyo.

Be well.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Power of Imagination

Here's a tip for teachers and parents.

The power of the imagination is something our elders have known for a long time. As a kindergarten teacher I regularly encourage my students to exercise their imaginations. It's one of those things I keep coming back to and use.

For example, before starting a painting, I often ask the class to imagine painting their pictures before they begin to handle the materials. Similarly, before attempting to write a letter or a word, I often ask them to imagine writing before picking up the pencil or the chalk. I've seen this technique result in better work.

Here is a video that presents a scientific interpretation of what's going on when the imagination is used.


And remember, treat your imagination to a little outing today.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Brrr. Cold!

With the cold nights we are having, here's something fun to try:

Add an inch or two of water in the bottom of a bucket or other container.

Place the bucket outside where the water can look up into the night sky. (Not under a tree or other obstruction.)

Check it early the next morning. We did this in kindergarten yesterday afternoon. This morning there was a nice layer of ice on the surface of the water. Here's a picture of Noah looking through the ice.

Enjoy the cold weekend. See you Tuesday.

Be well.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Halfway Through

Day 90.

Exactly halfway through the kindergarten year. Already.

I have seen a lot of growth in the class, especially in their fast-developing prereading skills. I am busy measuring these skills in center and in KIDS club.

DIBELS paraphernalia

We didn't mark the day in any particular way.

I said yesterday that I would post a few pictures of the winter scenes that we made to decorate the east classroom wall. Here are three of them. These pictures are evocative for me in a way similar to Thom Kinkade pictures, I guess.

Other art activities happening in kindergarten right now are Gods-Eye Weavings. Some of the fifth grade buddies took interest in these and made them while visiting kindergarten:

Kindergartners efforts are pretty good, not quite what a 10 or 11 year old can manage, but still good. Here are some Gods-Eyes made with kindergarten hands.

It was Austin's day today to bring snack and she did a humdinger of a job. Seaweed which was relished by quite a few of us (think HEALTHY potato chips) as well as Wheat Thins and hard-boiled eggs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wonderful, Wonderful

We were between centers today so we made some pictures of a snowy night to help decorate the walls left bare after taking down the holiday decorations.

I'll have some photos of those pictures tomorrow. I thought they came out great. Pictures tomorrow.

We're really perking along here almost halfway through kindergarten. The kids have learned so much about so many things, maybe most of all how to use their tools to be happily together in school.

After lunch there was time to play and it was great to see so much activity.

Robert and Ryder found a way to make a quiet place amid all the hubbub.

The camera's flash illuminated what was actually a nice dark refuge.

Best of all, when clean up time arrived everyone really pitched in. Before the song ended the room was back in order and left me in the mood to sing a song to fit the occasion, "I Think You're Wonderful."

That's because they are wonderful.

Be well.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Each morning as the first rays of sunlight begin to appear among the stars on the eastern horizon, my wife and I enjoy a cup of coffee and talk about the day.

Lately we've been looking not only out our windows but also at the iPad with its "Living Earth" app which shows us the real-time weather around the world. We are particularly interested in New York where my daughter lives and Athens, Georgia where my son lives.

I really like this app because it gives us a way of seeing the earth from a larger perspective.

Here's a picture of the app as it appeared at the end of school today.

I was showing the kindergarten this app when an idea for a better way of displaying the world map in my classroom dawned on me. I could pull it off the wall from above the white board and tie it to the wooden chart holder. That way, it would be where kids could really see it up close.

In the past I used to teach about the world map in kindergarten. Years ago, one of my former kindergartners, Joey Flora, was a contestant in the California finals of the National Geographic's Geography Bee. This class seems to be quite interested in it, so we'll work with it in the second half of the school year.

Be well.

Monday, January 14, 2013

News on Monday

At centers I am doing "benchmark" assessments to see how the class is coming along. Running kids through formal assessments have never been my favorite thing to do, but these little check-ups do tell a story. What story? In almost every case: a lot of progress in pre-reading skills. So in the end, even these activities are gratifying, if in a formal way.

The assessments have to be done individually. I take small groups into the quiet room and give the three students who are not with me something to do. Today this arrangement of rods was put together by one of the students waiting for his turn.

After, Noah approached me from around a corner and said, "Look what's on my shirt." I didn't know what he wanted to show me, but I did not expect to see this:

Hello, Mr. Bearded Dragon!
We finished the day bicycling in the cold winter sun.

A nice day in kindergarten.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Welcoming Austin

A new student joined us today. The class welcomed Austin for her first day at Dunham. Wyatt knew her from preschool and it didn't take long for her to feel comfortable.

Sorry, no photos as yet.

Really busy!

Have a good weekend, and,

Be well.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

When I wake up on Thursday mornings and remember that it's Thursday I know I've got plenty to look forward to in the kindergarten schedule.

Andy comes in with his string bass. So we start with a song. Today we sang "My Body Makes Music" and "Frog in a Bucket." We sounded great.

Then there's centers. My center is about assessing the reading progress that each child is making. And while there is nothing particularly fun about running DIBELS tests, it is gratifying to see how much progress the students have made since earlier in the year. A lot of  progress, let me tell you!

Speaking of which, please keep working on the sight words already given out. A little daily practice is better than intense sessions for most kids. Group the words by categories: (color words, number words, days of the week, months, etc.) until your child really knows the words they know. Then, gradually add a word at a time.

Thursday is buddy day. We washed the play dough tools and brought in a new batch of very green play dough that I made last night.

Others set up the doll house.

And others built a small room of cardboard blocks and filled it up with buddies.

Eleven happy kids in a small room...

We had drama today. Dana broke the class into small groups and then gave the students costumes to wear. Then they imagined stories to fit their chosen costumes. Imaginations were exercised.

And, of course, Thursdays are "green shirt" days, meaning that we ride bikes on Thursdays. The weather was good, although a little brisk.

A good day.

Be well.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Vitamin P

As we've resumed kindergarten after the winter break, we've included some time each day for the kindergartners to get some much-needed Vitamin P (for Play) at school.

They can hardly get enough Vitamin P.

I got out some plastic food items and gray plastic cafeteria style trays. These new playthings attracted much interest and provided opportunities to share and take turns.

Practicing social skills is very important. Children need many opportunities to learn how to get along in a safe, sheltered, place with helpful guidance when problems arise. I can tell that play like this is something that five and six year olds really value. They always welcome it.

Of course, we do more than play. At centers, Madilynn's mom brought in a Ball Python for us to see. All but two of the kindergartners held this guy. Snakes are really fantastic creatures, and I'm glad so many kids got to feel and hold his smooth, lithe, muscular body.

It is easy to see how Ball Pythons came by their name.

We also surveyed the class with regard to what pet they would choose to add to their household of pets if given the choice to add an animal not already in their household. As you can see, snakes finished in second place, just behind birds. I would think our snake's visit today did something to make snakes a such popular prospective pets.

The homework tonight is to practice using lowercase letters when writing his or her name. You do not need to turn it in tomorrow and, if you wish, you may use other paper to practice on. Don't stress, that's the main thing.

Archy got his name up on the wall in gray letters upper and lowercase. Your child can tell you about it.

Be well.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Names & Numbers

We're refurbishing the names around the room. I took down all the names displayed in uppercase letters. By the end of the week the names will be displayed in a more "first-grade" style—using a capital letter followed by lowercase.

The wall around the top of the room looks bare now, like it did on the first day of school.

Looks pretty blank up there.

Tomorrow we will glue the new names. Each student picked out the color for their own name.

 No centers tomorrow, but centers will start back up on Wednesday.

One of my kindergartners has an interest in numbers. He likes to think about multiplication and he's learned some of the multiplication facts. He wanted to know what six times six was, but wasn't sure. We used dominoes and arranged them like this and soon he knew the answer to his question.

Six times six is thirty six
We had a nice first day of 2013 in school today. The students seem to have grown since I saw them last.

Be well.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Punished by Rewards

Over winter break I read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards.

The title means what it says: Rewards punish.

When I began teaching I thought that rewards and punishments were opposites. Perhaps the reason that I made that mistake is that I had grown up in a household that took seriously a Biblical verse about “sparing the rod and spoiling the child.” My dad made wooden paddles, “Magic Wands,” he called them, to pass out at church. Magic Wands were paddles for spanking children. 

Magic Wands worked backwards on me. I became angrier and meaner. I got into more mischief than before. Magic wands motivated me to cover my tracks. I tried to get away with whatever I could. I hated them and resented the hands that wielded them.

Fortunately, as my dad began to escalate from wands to belts someone helped my parents to see that there was no magic in their wands. Whoever intervened, I thank them. My parents eventually gave up the “Magic Wand” enterprise. Their discipline style evolved into something less harmful. 

As I began teaching at Dunham I strongly believed in what I mistook to be a better way: rewarding kids for “good” behavior. Having been on the receiving end of punishment I learned for certain that punishments (and their cousin, “consequences”) are not helpful. Instead of punishments, I thought rewards would work. I believed the false nostrum, “You catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.” 

Too many years of experience trying to make rewards work taught me, painfully, that rewards don’t work either. I adopted one program after another trying to use incentives on kids. Each time my incentive programs ended badly. 

I couldn’t make a reward system work because reward systems are wrong from the get-go.

Kohn’s book cites research studies done by many researchers studying rewards in business, at schools, and in families.  Wherever the are used, reward don’t work. They don’t work in schools. Forget rewards if you’re trying to influence a child to become a better citizen—he’ll more likely become a worse citizen. Forget rewards if you’re trying to motivate a child to work harder on their lessons—she’ll more likely lose interest in her studies and learn to hate schoolwork. 

Rewards just plain don’t work

Not only do rewards not work—rewards make things worse. Rewards send kids the message that whatever was done to earn the reward isn’t worth doing for its own sake. Rewards distract kids from thinking about the inherent value of pro-social behavior. 

Rewards punish in many other ways, and if you read the book you’ll learn about them.

On rereading this book I was struck by how hard it is to abandon all forms of reward in school, including simple praise (and more complicated grades). I'm on the path, but not there yet.

I’ve come to see that punishment and reward are two faces of a single coin: the coin of trying to control kids.  The impulse to strike a kid is very similar to the impulse to praise or reward a kid. It’s the impulse to control. 

As parents and educators we can do better: we can educate and inspire kids.