Fitting It All In

“Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”  Yo-Yo Ma

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Heart-a-Day #31:  Aboriginal

Some days, we just can’t accomplish everything.  There are things I know we should be doing; things I want to be doing; and things we must be doing – literacy, reading and writing, math, physical education, social studies and science.  Yet, there is always an opportunity to add creativity to any of these subjects.  I find that using the arts to teach mandatory content is engaging and motivating.  This gives students exposure to things they might normally not be able to access.  When we read a book, I might turn it into an opera or musical.  We can add essential 21st Century skills, like public speaking and collaboration.  I can add cultural references to make the learning even more relevant.  Even with something like mathematics, we can incorporate music.  The combination of both enables students to count, use timing, patterns and groupings of numbers.  If the stars align, I can even connect a craft or art activity to the lesson.  Let’s be honest: one or two planned things will typically fall off my list each day.  But if I’ve included even the smallest amount of creativity, I’ve made progress.

How can you “fit it all in?”  Can you do a quick dramatic production after reading a story?  Can you retell the story as a rap?  If you’re studying insects, can you have the students act out the life cycle of a butterfly?  Get creative: a quick walk around campus to count the trash cans will expand a social studies lesson to learnings about environmental conservation.  You just might surprise yourself about much you can fit in.

 

 

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

A Bit of Luck?

“To create one’s own world in any of the arts takes courage.”  Georgia O’keeffe

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Heart-a-Day #30:  Lucky Day

While it would make life easier, there’s no luck involved in teaching creatively.  It’s all about planning and taking the occasional – or sometimes frequent —  risks.  When a risk pays off, you might call it “a stroke of luck.”  Nope.  You’re using your professional teaching sense.  I recognize that I’m a trained and educated professional and I know what’s best for my students.  When I decided to add that purple cow poem to our study of cows, it was a risk, but made sense – based on what I know.  As a result, the students enjoyed the playfulness of the poem and learned new vocabulary and sight words.  Our cow portrait drawings enabled new vocabulary and a lesson in perseverance, since we couldn’t draw and water color our pictures in just one sitting.  As a supplemental activity in our study of cows, we made butter.  Was it luck that the heavy cream became butter after we took turns shaking the jar and passing it around to each student?  No.  It was science and math.  We learned about motion, time, volume and the transition of a liquid to a solid.  We explored the physical and emotional feelings of making butter.  We used our senses to discuss how the butter felt, smelled, looked and tasted.  It was a great lesson.  Just lucky?  I don’t think so.

How can you replace luck with creative teaching?  Is there a craft or art project that would perfectly pair with a book you’re currently reading to your students?  Is there a simple song or dance you can use at the beginning of a math skill lesson?  Trust your professional instincts and know that effective teaching isn’t about luck.  It’s about knowing the right thing at the right time for your students.

 

 

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

 

 

Making Time Fly

“The world speaks to me in colours, my soul answers in music.”  Rabindranath Tagore

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Heart-a-Day #29: Time Flies

No matter how busy the school schedule, I always make it a priority to add some creativity to our day.  We recently had a visit from the Dairy Council, complete with a real-live cow and calf.  When we returned to the room, I gave everyone a blank piece of paper and gave them two minutes to draw or write everything they’d learned about cows from the presentation.  When they finished, we gathered together and everyone shared their drawings and writings.  But there’s more: I then told the class, “You have one minute to draw or write something you just learned from your friends about cows.” The students hurried to their tables, quickly adding new information.  Then we reconvened to share even more about cows.  Based on the results, there can never be too much cow information.  This project was a quick and easy way to add some creativity to the day.  We were even able to squeeze in a quick song and poem.  As we began our research, we sang the “Purple Cow” poem by Gelett Burgess.  (I never saw a purple cow/I never hope to see one/but I can tell you anyhow/I’d rather see one than be one.”)  We always try to sing or chant as we change activities.  We listen to music when we’re working  and oftentimes just burst into spontaneous singing.

How can you make time fly in your classroom?  Can you use a simple song or poem to begin a science lesson?  Can your students doodle an image inspired by a book you’ve just read?  Adding just a few minutes of creativity each day does more than make time fly.  It helps students soar!

 

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

 

 

Perfection?

“Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” Henry Van Dyke

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Heart-a-Day #28:  Escheresque

Last Friday wasn’t one of our better days.  It started out well: everyone was present, no field trips, visits to the library or my being out of the classroom to work with the reading coach (and the confusion that comes with a one-hour roving substitute).  While all of these activities are good and necessary, I was looking forward to focused time with my students and ending the week on a high note.  But when I announced that it was time for shared reading, several students whined, “Not again!” and “Do we have to read more than one book?”  This wasn’t what I expected.  Still, I sent a group of students off to partner read, but four of them decided to have a pretend party instead of reading silently in pairs.  Things continued to slide downhill when I had asked a particular student (who doesn’t always follow directions) to stay at her station and work with her partner.  While I was leading a guided reading group, I spotted her in our library treehouse, stretched out on the floor and disturbing two students who were doing a great job at their assigned task.  Going back to my group, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated with what I perceived as their lack of progress.  I was finally saved by lunch time, even though my crabbiness was overshadowed by appetite.  On days like this, I need to just forgive myself; remind myself that I’m not perfect and won’t always teach perfectly.  Yet I need to find small moments of perfection in each day, regardless if my plans are being followed.  After lunch, we planted our sunflower seedlings to create a sunflower house.  It was perfect.  Then we all drew portraits of clowns to commemorate our recent circus field trip.  Such perfect clowns!  We ended the day with a contest to see which table group could put their colored markers in rainbow order the fastest – without duplicating or missing colors.  Such perfect rainbows to end what started as a cloudy day!

What do you do when your day is less than perfect?  Can you forgive yourself?  Can you find small moments of perfection in the day?  Finding and celebrating these “perfect bits” are one way to celebrate when plans go awry.  When you add them up, you’ll find that things are actually perfect overall.  Or pretty darn close.

 

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

 

Easy as Pi

“To me, mathematics, computer science, and the arts are insanely related. They’re all creative expressions.”  Sebastian Thrun

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Heart-a-Day #27:  Life of Pi

It’s never too early to expose children to big, important and unusual numbers.  Even though my students are only five years old, we celebrate Pi Day each year on March 14 (3.14 – get it?).  I tell the students that Pi is a number that mathematicians use to solve problems.  That’s as deeply as we need to dive.  But we spend the day using Pi to explore counting and number recognition.  We write the number, carrying out the decimal point six places.  We use cubes to represent the number – a stack of three, a stack of one, a stack of four, followed by a stack of one, six and so on.  We work with partners to find ways to illustrate Pi with blocks, buttons, paper clips and marshmallows.  This year, with the help of a Pinterest search, we made Pi bracelets.  Each student took a pipe cleaner and threaded on three beads of the same color; then one bead of a different color; then four beads of still a different color.  We strung beads out to the sixth decimal place.  The students were completely engaged in all of these activities.  They were able to practice and develop skills of number sense, counting and grouping.  Who knew that a piece of Pi could create such a memorable day?

How can you involve your students with big, important or unusual numbers?  Can your students work together to solve how many hands and feet are in their classroom?  Perhaps they could draw, write or count their results.   Or maybe you could take a walk around campus and count the number of doors and windows.  Go ahead and serve that slice of Pi.  Everyone will enjoy it.

 

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

 

Contrast

“We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams, we are the dancers, we create the dreams.” ~Albert Einstein

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Heart-a-Day #26: Romance

I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again today:  Not every lesson will go exactly as planned.  To be honest, most days are somewhat… average.  We do some reading, then some writing, then some counting, and then some singing.  We might discuss something, practice something else and have time to play.  So there’s nothing spectacular about those days.  What about the days when nothing goes right?  I’m running late and can’t get fully prepped.  Everyone has to use the restroom, seemingly at the same time and all day.  Someone has a bloody nose, the phone won’t stop ringing and my assessments of student learning bear an uncomfortable resemblance to a clogged drain.  But then there are the exceptional days, when magic happens.  A struggling student suddenly understands the concept.  Everyone is being kind and getting along.  The class bursts into spontaneous singing and dancing at a perfectly appropriate time.  Maybe my lesson takes an unexpected turn, but it ends up better than I expected.  I need to use these special “contrast” days (OK, sometimes they’re just hours or even minutes) to remind myself that everything is actually progressing exactly as it should.  It’s our nature as educators to want everything perfect all the time.  We try to control as much as we can to make sure our days go just right.  Being mindful of the contrast gives me permission to relax and allow great work to just happen.

When do you notice the contrast in your days?  Is it when things are going smoothly and an unexpected wrinkle suddenly occurs?  Or does it happen when things are at their most challenging and then you see a student’s smile and the twinkle in their eyes?  Take time to notice the contrast when it happens.  Then acknowledge the amazing work you do and recognize the difference you’re making in the lives of your students.

 

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)

Being Centered

“Music is an outburst of the soul.” Frederick Delius

Heart-a-Day #25A

Music and song are at the core of my being.  I feel centered when I can incorporate music into a lesson.  I’m in my element.  When I teach the songs for my own “Gingerbread Man – The Musical,” I come alive.  I feel energized.  The students’ enthusiasm is exciting and we have fun retelling this story through song.  We even create some simple sets, costumes and add a bit of choreography.  When we perform our musical for families and guests, it’s received with jubilant applause.  As the students share their favorite parts, it’s easy to see their powerful learning.  Adding music to a lesson is an effective way for students to master content.  When I feel centered by sharing my love of music, I’m creating an engaging and fun environment for learning.

What centers you in teaching?  Is there a favorite movie you can incorporate into a lesson about different cultures?  Can your love of photography and the pictures you’ve taken provide a meaningful writing lesson for your students?  Finding your center can ground you as a teacher.  It allows you to be in your element.

 

(Access to these photographs does not constitute a transfer of copyright or a license for commercial use.  The images are for personal use only.  No portion of the images can be used without the expressed written permission of Michael B. Stanley, Jr.)