Friday, February 28, 2014

140 Pounds of Pennies


I'm pretty sure we won the "Pennies for Patients" competition. The kindergarten brought in something like 25,480 pennies—from zero pennies earlier this week.

As school opened we put out our pennies.

I promise you: I didn't count them. At one penny per second, it would take more than seven hours to count that many pennies.

I calculated that number with the help of a calculator and the help of the room moms who told me that there are about 182 pennies in a pound. We collected 140 pounds in less than a week.


We played a little joke on the student council. They'd been by the kindergarten this whole month of February, including last Tuesday, to collect the pennies–and gotten zero pennies from us. All month they lifted up our empty collection box, shook it to make sure it was completely empty, shrug, and go on their way. You could see them hide a look of betrayal as they went out of the room.

On this, the last day of the penny drive, I think they just bypassed the kindergarten. "No need to stop by the kindergarten. They're not taking part," I can imagine them thinking.

When they didn't come, I sent Mrs. Zell to ask that they come by kindergarten anyway.

We had the one classroom collection box out and handed it the sixth grade girl. I imagine that she was expecting it to weigh maybe a pound or two at most. A look of surprise crossed her face when she took the box. She had to adjust her posture because it was almost full. I think it weighed about 12 pounds.

They turned to leave with the surprisingly big 12 pound haul. By pre-arrangement their leaving was the cue for the kindergarten class to shout, "Mr. Gurney, what about all these?" Davey tore off a red blanket that covered the piano bench which was sagging under the weight of the other 158 pounds of pennies.

It took the sixth graders a few moments to believe what they were seeing: box after box and bag after bag chock full of pennies.

The sixth graders duly weighed our pennies in two batches, each almost 70 pounds. 140 pounds in all.

It was fun to see the surprise on the faces of the sixth graders and I'm sure it made the kindergartners feel really big and really important to have collected so much. The official results are not in yet, but if you come to Monday's assembly, I'm sure we'll know by then. Win or lose, we had fun.

We collected a lot of pennies, more than $250 to help pediatric patients with cancer treatments. We can all feel good about that.

There is a great feeling going in this year's class. We won the Walk-a-thon and I'm pretty sure we won this contest, too. Way to go, guys!


Speaking of the Monday assembly, we won't have centers come Monday morning. The next round of centers will happen on Tuesday, March 4.


Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to the Pasta Night. I hope everyone can come. You'll have the chance to see the whole school—students from K through 6 and their families, too. There will be a stage full of free entertainment which ends with a finale by the teachers. Mr. Schaible, as you'll see, always steals the show.

Come hungry. The Pasta King (whose grandkids came through this kindergarten) will be serving up his trademark fare.

See you tomorrow!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two New Soundabet Grandmasters

The ranks of the kinders who've mastered both the uppercase and lowercase forms of the Soundabet (we call them Soundabet Grandmasters) continues to grow. Today both Evan and Aileigh did the trick. They were so quick that they both got through the entire Soundabet in less than the time for the sand to run through the sandglass. That's never been done before and we celebrated by enjoying a bit more time outdoors today, both at recess and at bike time.

All of us were happy at their success
I am both pleased and amazed at the response to my plea for pennies for patients. Tomorrow is the last day of the drive. We had a long way to catch up with everyone else. We'll see how we did tomorrow when the student council comes to weigh us in. Even if we don't win, we'll have made a respectable showing.

Thanks, and please keep those pennies rolling in.

All for now....

Be well.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rainy Day Ramblings from a Tired Teacher

Rainy days in kindergarten seem so much longer than sunny days. They're definitely more tiring.

During the drought I have gotten used to being outdoors regularly each day.  I am not accustomed to being with 25 youngsters all morning long inside a room that's not that big. Here's a look at the rainy day lunchtime. Tell you what: time does not fly by in such conditions.

Mrs. Zell took this photo. She's a hero, believe me.

Of course, the rain is welcome. In a drought like this we NEED it.

We did fine.

We started off the day putting the pennies you guys brought in this morning. By jingo, we might just crawl right out of last place. In the hopes of attracting more pennies for patients, I'll post a picture of the box as it looks this afternoon.

Remember, they're weighing the boxes. Pennies give you the most poundage, dollar for dollar.


Progress reports will come out March 14. I've been looking into how the kid are doing. I am pleased with the progress I've seen in so many of the kindergarten students.

We got a couple more Soundabet grandmasters, Jacob and Lexi. Plus more waiting in the wings, Aileigh, Evan, and Beck, to name just three.

And we've got another Soundabet master almost ready to hatch—Addison. She knows all the sounds and just has to build up some speed and confidence.

It's great to see so many kids zooming eagerly along the road to reading. It "fills my bucket" as we say in kindergarten.


We had our final full school rehearsal for the performance you'll see on March 1. We kindergartners need still to work on our lines so that they'll be heard out in the audience. The kids have to practically shout their lines to be heard, and, while getting them to shout is not a big deal, getting them to shout together in UNISON is not so easy. Hopefully we'll get it nailed in the two days we have left.


I've got a little more to say on that topic, most of which I'll save for a later post.

As we were making music today I wondered which of the things we did today that might be of some use in 2070 when my students will be as old as I am.

If I had to guess, I'd bet that the most useful things in 2070 will be precisely those things that don't get tested by the standardized test makers and, sadly, ironically, are being cut from the kindergarten curriculum in schools across the nation.

Learning to sing and dance and make music together; to ride bikes, to be a leader and follower in work and in play—all these may actually be of value in 2070.

I intend to keep doing them.

Educating Kids for the 21st Century

I have a pet peeve. Whenever I hear an educator talk about "educating kids for the 21st century" I have to bite my tongue. Hard.

Really? How can anyone say with a straight face that they know what the kids in school today will be facing when they find themselves in the middle of the 21st century? Twenty years ago cell phones were rare and the internet just an idea.

The guy who's telling you about educating for the 21st century is probably also advocating for more and more "smarter" tests.

Well, listen. You want to know what Google's vice president of people operations has to say about the value of test scores in making hiring decisions?

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — LAST June, in an interview with Adam Bryant of The New York Times, Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google — i.e., the guy in charge of hiring for one of the world’s most successful companies — noted that Google had determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.”

Of course, these educators must know something more about the future than executives at Google. 

Why else are they working so hard to turn schools into test prep academies?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beck's Band & Pennies for Patients

We started off with Beck, the person of the day, leading his classroom band—composed of himself on drums, his dad, Kevin, on guitar, his grandpa, Dennis, on electric bass guitar, and his teacher on ukulele.

Beck's mom got this photo of the band after we finished playing.

Beck bought his drum set with money he earned from doing chores around the house.

We sang some familiar songs and were also treated to a drum solo by Beck.

Musical seeds were planted. Several times this morning I heard Beck's classmates tell me that they were going to save up their money to buy a musical instrument.

The band in action

The student council came by to tell us we are in last place* in the "Pennies for Patients" drive to collect pennies to help support research and treatment for pediatric leukemia/lymphoma patients.

The reason kindergarten is in last place is because of me.  Until today I've neglected to tell the kids in the class (and you parents) about this penny collection effort.

Pennies for Patients ends Friday. Please bring in those pennies. Be sure to read the footnote*.

Look for this box near the front door.

Be well.


*There's a competition among the classes to see which class brings in the most pennies. To determine who's winning in the campaign, the money you send in to us is not counted, but weighed. A paper dollar, while welcome, won't count for (or weigh) nearly as much as 100 pennies. If you wish, you might decide to stop by a bank and convert some of your dollar bills to rolls of pennies and bring 'em in. No need to unroll them, we can just open the box and drop them in there.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dario Did It

Today Dario joined the ranks of the Soundabet masters. We now have 15 in all. More are on the way!

Waylon showed that he knows all the Queen's Cards, in addition to knowing all the King's Cards. He is now a Soundabet Grand Master.

Congratulations to both!

Friday, February 21, 2014


I've read that kids these days will need to learn to read and write bilingually—in two languages. They'll have to learn to read and write in standard American English as well as a new form of written communication that's emerging these days—texting. 

I'm not accustomed to the new texting language, but I think it's something similar to what I've got up there in the title.

We got the day underway with the pattern blocks. We saw designs ranging from simple and elegant, like this one that looks to me like a Siamese cat sitting on its haunches:

To somewhat more complex designs like this one:

And even more elaborate designs like this:

The sun streamed into the room through the window in the door facing the playground and when Lexi stepped there it made a sparkly sight on the floor.

Dario showed up to class carrying a newspaper with a picture of him getting ready for baseball.

That's Dario in the middle of the frame, looking upward in that big batting helmet

With Mrs. Zell away, we used centers time to complete a couple of pages in our handwriting book. We will resume centers on Monday next week, as usual.

Looks like fine springlike weather has settled in for the weekend. I plan to be outdoors a lot. I hope your weekend is wonderful.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

More Interesting Patterns

Many mornings kindergartners find linking cubes at their tables. In no time they begin to link them together, often in linear patterns.

The most common pattern to emerge is the simplest: ABAB...

After time has passed and a child has put together enough AB patterns to fully assimilate that particular sequence, other patterns get built. Here is Dario's work today, showing his warmup ABAB pattern, held in his left hand, and a more complicated AAABBBCCC pattern that he's holding in his right hand.

Most of the students in kindergarten still build the simple AB pattern but are trying out more challenging ones. Kaden put together this AABBCC pattern.

The most ambitious pattern I saw this morning was one Evan put together. He was trying to use ALL the colors.

Evan's ABCDEFGHIJ pattern

Evan's pattern here doesn't jump out at you as a pattern, but it is a repeating pattern that he built (from right to left) using ten colors: Red-Orange-Light Green-Yellow-Black-Pink-Light Blue-White-Brown-Dark Green. So I guess we'd call that an ABCDEFGHIJ pattern.

In KIDS club today the kids built a bunch of words to blend in the pocket chart. Here they are.

The word "POM" there was built mainly because it's easy to decode. Technically we ought to have built another "POM" right next door to it to yeild "POM-POM" which is the name for those things cheerleaders use in their routines and/or the name of WWII naval anti-aircraft guns, probably because those guns when fired made smokey bursts of shrapnel in the air that resembled the cheerleader's pom-poms, but that's just a guess.

Anyway, your child might want to read these fifteen words to you.

For tomorrow:

No centers tomorrow.

P.E.—appropriate footwear reminder for tomorrow.

Mrs. Zell will have a substitute, Mrs. Everson, who was Mrs. Zell's predecessor here in kindergarten. We'll be in good hands.

Be well.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday's Notes

We spent the last hour of the morning rehearsing for the March 1 performance at the Petaluma Veteran's Hall. The kindergarten class will go on stage first and grade by grade the show gets better and better. We'll have a few more rehearsals before we take the stage.

Aileigh brought in the snack and two books for story time. One had to go with dinosaurs and underwear, always a popular topic in a kindergarten class.

The Soundabet masters were playing a game with these words. Most of them can blend these words with speed and ease.

We got to spend time with our fifth grade buddies today around lunchtime. We've got some really nice buddy pairs this year. I enjoy seeing my "elder kindergarten" students (now in fifth grade) helping this year's group.

Tomorrow is a bike day.

Be well!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Kindergarten is the New First Grade

Researchers at the University of Virginia have found that kindergartens have changed in important ways in recent decades.

As someone who's been at it for over thirty years, I can attest to big changes in kindergarten. It has gotten more and more focused on "academics" and less and less on pretty much everything else.

Thirty years ago, I was arguably the most "academic" kindergarten teacher in town. These days I'm far from the most "academic" teacher in  town. I've worked to make sure there's a still a place for art, drama, music, dance, blocks, bikes, and time outdoors to play. And yet throughout my career, my kindergarten has grown more and more and more focused on early reading, writing and math skills.

An article in the University of Virginia Today suggests that todays kindergartens resemble first grades of before. Sadly, what was once nurtured in kindergarten—social, psychological, and emotional development—is at least as  important to success in life as literacy and numeracy.

A quote from the article:

Kindergarten classrooms, at least traditionally, have included much broader goals beyond teaching reading and math skills, according to Bassok. Children were learning how to share and navigate friendships, how to cooperate but also how to be confident and self-sufficient. 
“We know that these early social skills are important predictors of students’ learning trajectories,” Bassok said. “So our worry is that if done inappropriately, the focus on academics may have really pushed these other kind of learning opportunities aside.”

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines Day

Our celebrations this morning went smoothly thanks to plenty of parents to help give the one-on-one attention needed to get all the cards passed out to the intended recipients.

I allowed the kids to choose one treat from their Halloween bags to sample before recess. Dario chose something that turned his tongue green.

Dario's tongue was really this green.

The students wanted to make a thank you book for Ron Schultz. Ron will come back later in the year so that kids who want to can try out playing his homemade instrument.

Here are some pages from that book.

I love kid art!

Enjoy the three day weekend.

Be well.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Performers With a Heart

This morning got off to a rousing start.

Ron Schultz from Performers With a Heart stopped by with his washtub bass to play a few songs for us.

Ron and his homemade, top-quality washtub bass.

Ron plays his music in front of Oliver's Market in Santa Rosa. All the tips he receives are used to buy Pork and Beans and given to local food banks. He also does birthday performances for people who would otherwise not have a celebration of their birthday.

We invited one of the moms to come up and try out the washtub bass. Aileigh's mom, Rachel, volunteered and we played and sang together making my favorite kind of music: homemade music.

Making music is a special kind of fun.

Ron showed me how to put one of these things together and I'm a thinkin' it would be fun to put together a kid-sized washtub bass for kindergarten.

Here's a video of Ron talking about Performers with a Heart.

Be well. See you tomorrow on Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dress Alike Day -- Tomorrow is another bike day

We had good participation in dress alike day. Here's what we looked like:

We enjoyed a bike day today and look forward to another one tomorrow.

Off to a teacher training on the new computerized testing regime coming soon.

Be well.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New Centers Begin Next Week

We finished the previous set of centers today. Tomorrow, Thursday and Friday there will not be centers and parent volunteers coming in to lead centers can have those mornings off.

News Notes:

The rains have put a little bit of water in the creek. We will be visiting it from time to time, and I don't have a problem with the students playing at the banks of the creek. Please be sure to keep a change of clothes in your child's cubby for your child to use in case of an accidental slip. Thanks.


Tomorrow, Wednesday, is a bike day. We will ride bikes, weather permitting. Also it is a Dunham School Spirit Day—Dress Alike Day.

On Dress Alike Day your child is invited to dress like a friend, sibling, cousin, or whatever. The idea is to coordinate your outfit with someone else's outfit.

For those who wish to match Mrs. Zell and me, wear:

A Green Shirt
Blue Jeans
Black Shoes

Bike day clothes.


I've invited an acquaintance to visit kindergarten and share his musical talents with us. He plays a lot of instruments (he's a professional musician) but on this day he will bring his wash tub bass. It should be a lot of fun.


Valentines Card exchange will occur at the time we usually have centers, from about 8:30 to 9:00 or so. Please remember to have your child write their own names on their cards. Please do not write anything else on them. If you've already prepared a card with treats attached, no worries. It's okay. But if you haven't gotten cards ready yet, please know that plain cards without goodies attached are jim-dandy.

There is no "party" beyond the card exchange in the first part of the morning before recess.

After about 9:20 that morning, February 14 is scheduled to look like just about an ordinary Friday with story, snack, PE and handwriting. Just the usual thing.

Be well.

Mr. Gurney on Vacation

What Mr. Gurney was up to yesterday.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Preparing for Valentines Day

On February 14 we will celebrate Valentines Day here in kindergarten.

Children will pass out Valentines cards to each other that day. Participation in this activity is optional.

There are 14 boys and 12 girls in this year's kindergarten. 

Please do not put names on the Valentines cards. 

Also, please avoid attaching candies or other goodies to the cards.

And.....DRUMROLL.... the most important thing:

Please just have your child write ONLY their own name on the Valentines cards they will give to their classmates. If you or your child writes the names of the intended recipients on the cards all sorts of confusion and frustration happens. So please ONLY your child's own name.

Thank you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Recipe Book & Aprons for Pasta Night. Julie's a SB Master

Today the room parents visited kindergarten and led the class through the morning activity: getting ready for the auction on Pasta Night, Saturday, March 1. Today  the kids decorated the borders of the page which will hold the recipe from their family.

Here's a photo I took this morning as the class worked.

They also made a pair of aprons which will be auctioned off that night.

Julie showed us all that she has mastered the Soundabet today.  Mrs. Zell handled the examiner's work while I served as photographer. Julie zipped through the cards with confidence.

I wish I had a picture of the pleasure and pride on Julie's face when we cheered for her when she finished.

We are proud of you, Julie!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


It's fun to see our fifth grade buddies help their kindergarten siblings learn the Soundabet. Julie is *almost* there. Here she practices with her fifth grade buddy, Alitza, who was really impressed by how much Julie knows.

Julie has almost mastered the King's cards.

Once the kids in kindergarten know the whole Soundabet we can get practice blending simple three letter words like "bit" and "fix." I'm working with the kids who've mastered the Soundabet and giving them practice blending the sounds they know into words they recognize.

There is really no reason to confine our practice to little bitty words.

For more than half of the kindergartners I'm working with, the leap to multisyllabic words is both exciting and satisfying.

This morning they were reading some pretty big words and having delicious success at sounding them out.

Here's what the pocket chart looked like halfway through the morning today:

It isn't as hard as it seems when you break words into syllables.
And having the Soundabet onboard makes words like "northern" decodable.
We also had TRIBES today. In our Tribes, Mrs. Zell and I had the kids work with an age-old game, "Cat's Cradle."

It was Mrs. Zell's idea—and a good one at that. The kids, young and younger, had a good time.

Here are two sixth graders showing how it's done:

So good. I was learning, too.
Be well.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fills & Dips

This month the kindergartners are tracking how we treat each other.

Each time someone does something to please, support, or comfort another person, we take note of the positive action and place a red cube in a bin. We call instances of prosocial behaviors "Fills
." Antisocial behaviors are called "Dips." The inspiration for these terms comes from a children's guide  to happiness written by Carol McCloud titled, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

Our first day out, anti-social behaviors outnumbers prosocial behaviors. As we began the morning today, we filled in the results from yesterday's data. It showed that more people felt "dipped" than "filled" by their classmates' behaviors.

Today the kids evened the score. Here's a photo of the results of today's tally. As you can see, red (prosocial) outnumbered the blues (antisocial).

We will see what tomorrow brings.

Be well.

Link to Amazon page, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

This is the time of year when reading and writing in kindergarten begins to sprout up all around.

First thing this morning Noah handed me a couple of sheets of paper on which he wrote FAT CAT and FAT DINOSAUR along with illustrations to go with the words he wrote.

This kind of writing is called "emergent" literacy by reading specialists. It's fun to see literacy emerge from the students like the daffodils and jonquils emerging in garden beds.

The word DINOSAUR is written left to right bottom to top. It's all there.
Be well.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pete Seeger Tribute

If you're missing Pete Seeger anything like I do, you'll want to know about a tribute concert that will be held tomorrow night  at 8:00 at the Freight and Salvage Concert Hall in Berkeley.

Can't make the show in Berkeley?

You can see it live and by donation at my nephew, Dan Gurney's, Concert Window Website.


for more information.

Be well.

Here's a video tribute thanks to Ms Randomnotes1 on Youtube:

And here's Pete singing the song that changed me forever when I heard it growing up. Probably more than anyone else, Pete Seeger is the guy that got me to make music in my classroom.

Pete is like my musical father. I miss him.

Smarter than Me

When I was a youngster back in the 50’s school was really hard for me. I struggled in every subject—the 3 R’s especially—and I was keenly aware that many of my classmates found school easier than I did. I liked lunchtime, P.E., recess, and sometimes science.

My difficulties in language arts lessons had a lot to do with inspiring me to come up with Soundabet. A tool like Soundabet ought to make it easier for teachers to show the code that underlies reading and writing. I wanted to save other kids from struggling as much as I did.

Of course, not every kid struggles with language arts. For some kids, school comes naturally.

Friday I was giving Martin, one of my English language learners, the mid-year DIBELS benchmark assessments. I was working on the test that measures how many letters a student can name in 60 seconds. 

The page I was working with looks like this.

I gave Martin the scripted instructions and started the stopwatch.

“Karate” I thought I heard him say.

“What?” I asked him, thinking that he had misunderstood the directions.

“Karate!” I thought I heard him say again, though it sounded like it ended in the "D" sound. What he actually said was more like “karoddy.”

He pointed to the top line and pulled his finger across the first five letters (C-R-O-D-Y) and blended them again into a word as he did, saying, “Crody.” 

He couldn’t understand why I was so confused by his answer. 

Sometimes it takes me a little while to catch up with my students.