Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The last day of April went much more smoothly than yesterday.

No cliques. No clanks.

After centers we had a discussion about why we should avoid saying phrases using the word "best" as in "best teacher" and "best friend" at school.

Sure, we simply intend to compliment the person we're speaking to. But without meaning to, we frequently hurt the feelings of anyone who overhears us say these words.

I role-played a teacher who played favorites among his students. In the role-play I complimented one of the pupils by saying she was "the best student" in the class. That really drove this lesson home. My words hurt them and made me less likable, too.

When we pick out a best friend, we hurt the feelings of all the others who wish to be our friend. There's a net loss to the social fabric of the class.

We also talked about why excluding people from activities is hurtful.

Our discussion set us up for a good day.

In PE our substitute teacher, Mrs. C., had the class play a hot-weather variation on "Duck, Duck, Goose." Her version is called "Drip, Drip, Drop!" Ask your child to tell you about it. (Mrs. C., by the way, talked to me after class to tell me that on a scale of 1 to 5—with 5 being awesome—she thinks our kindergarten class deserved a 5+ for their effort and cooperation in PE today.)

No Tribes tomorrow, but we'll have a 1:20-ish dismissal in kindergarten. The homework will be a simplified Sudoku puzzle. Look for it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013 Clank.

Although I scheduled today to be a bike day, and although the weather was fine, we did not have time for bike riding today. I was disappointed as were many of the students.

We were running late from the start.

The day began with an assembly that went on until 8:25 or so. By the time we finished centers we were at least twenty minutes behind our usual schedule. Snack and snack clean up took longer than usual. There were stomach aches and eye aches and some hurt feelings sprinkled around the class... There were quite a few students absent today. I think I forgot to pass out the May snack calendar in last week's Friday folder, so there is a copy in the cubbies now. Here's the snack calendar online:

Some days everything clicks. Some days things clank. Today there were more clanks than clicks.

The clicks?  Centers were cool. We sounded awesome when we pulled the ukuleles off the wall and practiced our songs. The class did a good job listening to the stories (Skippyjon Jones & Twilight) today.

I hope tomorrow will be a better day.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dead Tech

Education isn't mostly about technology. Education is mostly about older generations passing along what they think is important to the younger generation.

Person to person, face to face, heart to heart.

Lots of education happens outside of schools, too.

A Child's Bill of Rights

Janelle Petersen showed me this poem last Tuesday. Its author is unknown, so I took the liberty of altering lines 5 and 6 as well as adding four lines (9 - 12).


The right to walk barefoot and squish things with toes,
The right to explore with my mouth and my nose,
The right to ask questions, to poke and to pry,
And keep on persisting 'til I find out why.

The right to feel safe, and happy, and kind.
The freedom to rest if I'm so inclined,
The right to make noise without being bugged,
The right to be read to, and sung to, and hugged.

The right to make music, to dance, and to sing,
The right to imagine and build brand-new things,
The right to clean food, pure water, fresh air—
The right to my world filled with grown ups who care.

The freedom to scribble, dabble, and mess,
The right to be "me"—no more, but no less.

(Thank you, Janelle.)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fast Food & Cooking from Scratch

As you know, we frequently feature cooking in our kindergarten centers. I believe kindergartners benefit from seeing food made from basic ingredients. When I was a young boy, almost every meal I ate was made by my mom in our kitchen, from scratch ingredients: meat from the butcher, flour, sugar, veggies from the produce aisle. Each week on Wednesday, she baked eight loaves of bread at home. Store bought bread was a rare exception.

I was 15 year old when I had my very first McDonald's burger. I didn't like it. It seemed odd, and disgusting, really, to eat a hamburger that was already made before I walked in the door.

In the 45 years since that day, though, fast food has won the battle. I heard the other day that meals cooked from scratch are the rare exception.

The norm is food cooked by corporations and prepared who really knows how long before you heat it and put it in your mouth?

Watch this video and see what a hamburger that is 14 years old looks like.

If you're going to have a burger today, you might want to visit your butcher today. Have him or her grind up some meat. Take it home, make it into a burger, and fire up the grill.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Another day of good cheer and good spirits. I was glad about that, too, because my alarm clock stopped working in the middle of the night and I rushed through my morning routines at double my usual pace. Not a great way to start the day. Had my cat not awakened me this morning, I'd have been a-snooze in bed when school opened.

It was Robert's day. He didn't bring a story for sharing, so I pulled out one of my all-time favorites, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes.

There was time for centers. I gave the kids at today's step board puzzles the hardest ones they have and they had no trouble working them out.

There was some time for play today. I got out a magnetic dart board game which proved to be very popular with some of the boys. I know I would have loved it if it were in my kindergarten when I was five.

Have a good weekend.

Assembly in morning this coming Monday.

Be well.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Good Day

With Mrs. Everson off to Angel Island with the fifth grade class our Thursday buddy visit would have to be postponed again. Luckily we had Austin & William Z's moms stay as well as both Janelle Mitnick and Camille from daycare to help me throughout the morning. We began the morning with Andy helping us rehearse our songs. We added a harmony part to "The Lion Sings Tonight" and we're sounding really good. I am sure we will make a good impression at our next performance.

Nora brought a Barbie book about mermaids which was longish, so I preread and told an abbreviated version of the story. For snack Nora provided cheese, pretzels, and apples.                    

Centers went super smoothly. I helped students work with the step boards. Here are a few of the words they built. Few teachers are as lucky as I am to get the help they need to smile through the morning. We got out to the garden with Mr. Hansen a half class at a time. The morning coastal overcast has made good weather for garden work.

The Crystal Climbers center built this.

While another group built things with wood scraps.

And, of course, the ever-popular spin art center.

A nice day, as Thursdays so often are.

Be well.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Centers & Other Activities on Wednesday, April 24

We launched another new round of centers today. Everything went smoothly—no power outage today.

For this round of centers I am working with the step boards, a fun, puzzle-like activity designed to help kindergartners with spelling. Sometimes the most challenging part of these step boards is looking at the illustrated prompt they provide on the panel and pondering what word the puzzle makers had intended to suggest.

Here are two words of the many solved today by the kids at Table 4.

One of the kindergartners enthused, "I could do this all day!" Another student thought it was too easy, but the teacher can choose puzzles of varying difficulty. In the end, they were smiling—and thinking.


Along the way, we did some finger math, read Austin's Twilight chapter book, visited Andrew the music teacher, had lunch, got some homework for tonight, and rode bikes. We're practicing one of the songs for the ukulele festival performance. A good quick day.


Mrs. Everson will be escorting her daughter and other fifth graders on their overnight adventure on Angel Island tomorrow and Friday. We will miss her, but are glad to have Ms. Mitnick to help out while Mrs. Everson is away.

Be well.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Power Out! ——Sebastopol Ukulele Festival May 25——New Family Night

Lighting up the Dark

You don't need me to tell you: the power went out today.

No power means no water—and that means no toilets, no water in bathroom sinks & kitchen. No power mean dark computer screens which can be trouble for the upper graders.

So the office calls PG&E and, based on the power company's prediction of how long with power will be out, the principal must decide whether to close school for the day or to hold on and hope for the best.

PG&E thought the power would be out until this afternoon, so they made the call to you to pick up early.

Thank you, parents, for coming so promptly. The dismissal went smoothly.

The kindergarten class did well, even in semi-darkness. We opened the windows and doors. We are still between centers—we start new centers tomorrow—we had some free choice time. Some fantastic art was made. How about this painting of a butterfly?

The power is back on now.


The Sebastopol Ukulele Festival May 25

We started the day with about a half hour ukulele practice on our songs for the Ukulele Festival on March 25 in Sebastopol.

As you may remember, this class opened a ukulele night there last November. Everyone thought we were great back in November. The organizers invited us back to the much larger ukulele festival in Sebastopol.

Well, we have gotten A LOT better at singing and playing. We're really going to put on a great opener for the Festival. YOU WILL NOT WANT TO MISS THIS ONE!! The kids get in free and each kid who performs will earn a festival admission for a family member for free ($25 value).

I'll have more to say about this, but seriously, make plans to be there May 25. It will be a memorable experience.


New Family Orientation

Tonight is new family orientation night.  The orientation part for new parents starts here at school at 5:30 and goes to 6:00. Then there's a mixer after that. Please come!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Back Again

The class welcomed me back after two days away to meet next year's kindergarten class.

I had some spring trimester assessments to finish up. They will help me group the students for the final round of KIDS club. I hope to complete my analysis of the assessments and have a notice about the schedule for KIDS club out by Thursday.

Today we had the chance to stock up on a little Vitamin P. The kids seemed to perk up like droopy flowers when they got a chance to just be together and play. It was great. We'll have one more day like that tomorrow, so if you're a parent volunteer, you can go out for coffee if you wish (except Andy).

While I was away, Mrs. Jones took the class through more iterations of the "Rolling 2 Dice & Tally the Result" activity that we began before I went away.

Here's the result, and you can see that 7 came up far more frequently than the others.

During our free time, Noah worked on this bird. He modified it again and again.

Leland worked on a block city

Aidan & William Z made a nice building nearby. It had a cool hidden chamber big enough to park a Matchbox car inside.

The Williams' moms both stayed to help out this morning—thanks Janelle and Rachael. 

It was good to be back again and give the class some much-needed vitamin P.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Apple Blossom Parade

Mr. Kindergarten marched with some ukulele buddies in the Apple Blossom Parade in Sebastopol on Saturday. The weather was perfect. We had a good time.

I am in the middle of the frame in the light blue Hawaiian shirt & white shoes

Vedic Math

I suppose this video would be of interest mostly to kids older than kindergartners, an older brother or sister perhaps. That said, I'll bet there are kindergartners with interest in numbers who would be intrigued by it.

It shows a way of multiplying numbers developed in India that is so easy and so simple that you can find the answers mentally without effort.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rolling the Dice. 13/14 Kindergarten Registration

When you roll two dice and add the sum of the numbers on the dice the result will be more than one and less than thirteen.

At first thought, you might expect that it is equally likely that any number 2 — 12 will come up on the die. But that is not so. In kindergarten we've rolled pairs of dice quite a few times and tallied the results.

Here's what we have so far:

You can see that 7 has come up the most—22 times. 12 has been rolled only twice so far. Ask your kindergartner to explain why. (I explained this in class and some of them, I think, got it.)

The quiet room has some interesting additions of late. Each table group will get an opportunity to visit there in the next few days. Here's some of the new items to be found there:

A microwave

A mixer (the beaters spin)

A toaster—no heat, but it does pop up

Parfait goblets

Today Austin, Curtis, Grace, and Jaelyn were chosen (at random) to go in for playtime.

For the next two days we will leave the kindergarten in the capable hands of Kathy Jones who will be the substitute teacher as I register next year's kindergarten class.

The probably won't be another post here till Monday....

Until then,

Be well.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Famous Cousin (a little off-topic)

My cousin, Dan S. Gurney, celebrates his 82nd birthday today.

He was named after his uncle (my grandfather), Dan Gurney. Dan had quite a career in auto racing. He's the only American to build and drive his own Formula I car to a European Grand Prix win. He also made his mark at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the Indy 500 races.

Here's a little YouTube clip about his Indy 500 career:

Happy birthday, Dan!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mike Newland's Perspective

On my way to work last Monday, I heard Mike Newland (a professor at Sonoma State and father of a five year old daughter, that's the connection to kindergarten) give his perspective KQED. He talks about what, in my estimation is the most important issue in front of humanity: climate change. Sadly it is almost taboo. How does one talk about a topic like this, even among friends and with family? Few people seem to want to face the issue squarely.

And, as Mike asks, "What do we say to children about climate change?"

I don't know. But I can tell you this. I wish I did.

You can hear Mike. You should:

Here is what he has to say:

Climate Shame
Mike Newland studies climate change. He has a young family. He's deeply worried.
By Mike Newland
I've hit a wall. This wall scares me, and it's made me stop and think about the repercussions of it.

Last summer, I was trained in the Climate Reality Project. When you sign up, you agree to give presentations. I listed the groups that I could talk to -- academic, industrial and environmental organizations. I've given a few talks, and have expanded to nearly all groups.

Except school kids. How do you tell children about climate change? Surely there must be a way, something that child psychologists know, for telling children that their parents and grandparents screwed up, and that they lack the moral fortitude to steer our civilization away from destruction.

I'm a child of the 80s, we assumed that we or the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack and that the world would end. I still dream about nuclear blasts, 30 years later. I don't want that for my kids.

My daughters are five and two years old. I get climate change reports from all over the world. I read these reports, and I look at my two girls. What a massive experiment we are attempting. Those of us in the climate change business talk in quiet corners of the real worst case scenarios -- dire circumstances that are irresponsible to describe in public, in the way that astronomers shy away from discussing asteroids hitting the earth. No one really wants to know. We will either make an unprecedented shift as one species towards a better future, or destroy ourselves more extensively than any nuclear holocaust.

The Environmental Protection Agency has an excellent website for kids -- it's upbeat and filled with common sense ways to track climate change and to prepare for the future. What's missing are the two hand-holding gorillas in the room; namely, those worst case scenarios and the apology from us to our children that goes with them. Let us hope that climate change one day joins nuclear war against the Soviets as a bogey man of the past, and that we never have to apologize for failing to act.

With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ungraded Schools

One school reform that I believe merits strong consideration is to change the ways we evaluate  educational progress. As we assess students, we ought to be encouraging students to discover and cultivate their special gifts. Students also ought to be encouraged to work with others in bringing their gifts to the world. It would help if students had more power in how their evaluations are done. 

Most schools, and Dunham is no exception, use some form of grading to evaluate student learning. Giving A’s B’s C’s D’s and F’s is so common we seldom think about the damage grading does to learning. Grades have many unintended consequences, among them strongly discouraging most students—all but the top few A students. 

Some schools have experimented doing away with grades altogether.  They have had remarkable success. Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, PA has done away with grades in their history classes. Instead of grades, students are simply given an interview and asked,

  1. What did you do well in this assignment?
  2. What did you find challenging?
  3. What would you do differently if you did it again?

That’s it. But think. Do you see how this sort of ungraded feedback encourages students to do better work? And notice: no one is being compared with anyone else. This would encourage some of the geniuses hidden among the B, C, and D students to flower.

Wonderful things happened in Springside Chestbut Hill Academy’s ungraded history classes:

  1. Students in the middle and bottom of the classes came alive as if freed from prison.
  2. Students there loved to learn. They set higher goals for themselves.
  3. The “A” students had to get past their “pleasing the teacher” mode and actually engage with the material. (“A “students had the most difficulty adjusting to an ungraded system.

If you’re interested in reading more about ungraded schools, here is a link to a blog post by Hadley Ferguson, the teacher at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy who has more to say on this topic.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday's New Centers

We celebrated Leland's sixth birthday today. He brought in enough cookies that everyone could have two. We sang him our three birthday songs and enjoyed the birthday treat. Happy birthday, Leland. A photo of Leland taken this morning is below.

We brought to life a new round of centers this morning. I'm using a pre reading assessment to monitor the progress of reading skills. So far, so good. I'm happy.

Mrs. Everson is running the science center where students observe closely wood chips as they are immersed in water. First the chips float at the surface, but then within a few minutes they begin to absorb the water in which they are floating. Once they've absorbed enough water they sink to the bottom. Here you can see chips throughout the water, some on the surface some not.

In the math center, students are using dice to clear pennies off of a chart with 100 numbered squares.

We are using two dice to see what numbers come up most often. Each student has a turn to roll 2 dice and report the outcome. We've done two rounds so far and will repeat the process once a day all next week until we've collected quite a lot of data, approximately 150 rolls in all.

Here's the data we've collected so far. It will be interesting to see if any of our deep thinkers in math will be able to explain the results when we're done.

7 & 8 have come up the most; 12 the least

Rachael Zell is working with the class on a project in the kitchen. Speaking of kitchens, I've seen some kindergarten rooms that are equipped with full-on kitchen with lots of work surfaces at a height suitable for five year old children. What a great idea, and what a privilege it would be to work in such a place. I am very grateful to have the community room and its kitchen right next door, and the parent volunteer help to make good use of it.

The birthday boy.

Two centers are outdoors in response to the spell of nice weather we're enjoying. One group in using the newly acquired water table while the other is using sidewalk chalk outdoors.

Next week on Thursday and Friday Mrs. Jones will be in for me as I meet next year's kindergarten class.

Have a good weekend.

Be well.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday Doings

The day began with music, always a good way to begin a day. We also needed to be ready to go out front for the class photo. So we held our very first ensemble ukulele practice. I thought the kids sounded good. Now that we are strumming together, we will work on singing at the same time.

The kinders brought to school a number of tools this morning. We were able to talk about and use only one of them so far, but I plan to get to the rest of them tomorrow. Kylie brought in a clever tool that I had never seen before—a pineapple corer/slicer.

Better: it came with a pineapple so imagining how it works wasn't required. We could use and see it plunge into the center of the pineapple, slicing all the way, making a coil a sliced pineapple. Running a knife down either side of the coil produced half rings of fresh pineapple. So good.

We added them to the snack Jackson provided.

We had buddies today. I wasn't able to join the group that went to the garden, but I understand that they had baby chicks out there. Their job was to find a spot in the garden that needed some weeding and to put the chick there. Then, as they weeded the area the little chick would watch the ground for bugs to eat.

Later in the day the third graders went out to the garden to harvest food for the Dunham School Farm Market. Patrick Everson found this moth while picking kale. His mom provided me this photo. In person the moth was bigger than it appears to be in the photo. It was quite striking.

Photo credit: Shelley Everson

The winter crop harvest was offered for sale after school.

There will be rainbow chard served in the Gurney home tonight.

Be well.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Class Photo Tomorrow, Thursday

Tomorrow morning our class photo will be taken. Please dress your child accordingly. We suggest shirts/blouses bearing the Dunham logo.

Be well.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wear Green Wednesday!

Tomorrow, Wednesday, our class photograph will be taken. It has been requested that we all (in kindergarten, anyway) wear green shirts for the photographer. That is my plan. It will also be a bike day, so bring a bike if that's what you do on bike days.

Curtis brought a book to share about one of his favorite topics: cats.

As Wyatt did not long ago, Curtis took the teacher's chair and read his book to the class.

Well done, Curtis:

See you tomorrow.

Be well.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Maranda on 2 Wheels & Living with a Panther

So today, Maranda showed the world she can ride a 2-wheeler bicycle. Here is the proof:

(Photo credit Shelley Everson)

(Curtis, this one's for you.)
Every morning I wake up with a miniature black panther. She races around our house each morning as if training for life in the jungle. The acrobatics she does amaze and amuse my wife and me as we sip our coffees and watch the sunrise over the Santa Rosa Plain.

If you want to see what my cat, Gracie Mews, looks like, watch this video. Outside she looks like the house cat in this video—strikingly so.

Duality from Rich K on Vimeo.

Inside, I'm sure my cat Gracie Mews relates more to the panther.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jamie Oliver's Food Quiz

We do some cooking in kindergarten. Right now we are making pasta, starting with flour and eggs. We've made waffles, pancakes, eggs, apple juice, bacon, and other things.

This video clip gives us an idea of what some first graders didn't know about the names of vegetables. They were fortunate to have a teacher who took it upon herself to teach them the names of vegetables. At Dunham, thanks to the PTO, we take it one step further and take the students into the school garden to learn about growing vegetables.

You may enjoy seeing this video clip. It is about 5 minutes in length.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Homework for Parents: Thinking about a Change-Agent School Model

Please watch this video and think about schools & testing.

For extra credit, see the end of the post.

Those who wish to improve schooling seem to think that accountability will lead us there. Okay. But their next thought evidences some very faulty thinking. For they go on to say that we can make schools accountable by giving students standardized tests. The faulty thinking often goes farther to say that by comparing test scores, we can tell good schools from bad ones. Then based on that, we can close down the low-scoring schools and give money and resources to the schools & teachers with high test scores.

Thing is: you cannot measure the quality of a school with a standardized test.

Any standardized testing regime will actually narrow the curriculum to not much more than the fill-in-the-bubble skills that those tests measure. Along the way—as recent experience in Atlanta shows—you give incentive to school officials to cheat to get those test scores up.

Standardized tests measure schools the way rulers measures music: They don't.

Thanks for Alfie Kohn's Twitter feed for this.

Extra credit: be a change agent and let others know that test scores are not evidence of school quality. We must look much more deeply and carefully at what makes a school a quality experience for children.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Dunham PTO

The Dunham PTO has fundraisers to benefit the school. They fund our enrichment program including the music, garden, and drama programs.

Each year they make available money to teachers to spend on classroom equipment.

This spring I ordered two items that arrived yesterday:

a new water table which will be used to contain a variety of water, sand, and other activities

Comes with a blue plastic lid

Sturdy steel frame and clear plastic tub

and a large scale 1 - 100 counting frame similar to a smaller hand-held version we use in small groups.

Showing the 42 days left in this kindergarten year

Many of the PTO's most active members have been working since they were kindergarten parents years ago. Some will be moving on as their children move along towards middle school. Others are just looking for some fresh new enthusiasm and ideas coming in from new members.

Are you willing/able to take a leadership role in this fine organization? If you think you might be interested, please talk to Mr. Shaible. Thank you.

Have a good weekend.

Be well.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

May there always be music

At the end of the day today, one of the parents said, "You look tired, Mr. Gurney. Was it a hard day?"

"My morning has had some difficult moments, yes," I said, thinking about the most difficult moments of the morning.

But it would be misleading to call the day itself difficult because there were also many sublime moments—enough sublime moments, really, to easily outweigh the more difficult ones. The difficult moments are like salt & spice in the stew. They add flavor and savor to the whole.

We began the day with some great singing. Andy's stand-up string bass always makes our classroom music time sound better.

Centers are going well. Each morning the kindergarten room fills with the smell of fresh, homemade pasta made from a pasta dough of flour and eggs mixed by hand right here at school and cut on Rachael's hand-cranked pasta machine.

Start with flour & eggs

Crack the eggs into the well of flour

And mix with your ten-digit food processor

Use the "pinch" setting on the processor

and then turn it to knead

until a stiff dough forms

each baseball-sized dough ball feeds a table of kinders

Noah ate his pasta with true gusto

Our ukulele practice sessions are going well. And there's an assortment of other great centers, too.

In math we are playing rounds of "Guess My Rule" using attribute blocks and the students are getting good at figuring out—not guessing—the rule I use to sort the blocks. I like teaching lessons whose main purpose is helping children to develop and clarify their thinking skills.

William got the answer to the most challenging
rule this morning.
Buddies was wonderful, as it always is. We are making up verses to a song called "May There Always Be Sunshine" and illustrating them for inclusion in a homemade book.

Tomorrow is Friday already.

Enjoy the rain.

Be well.