And That’s What It’s All About

No, we’re not playing the Hokey Pokey (although in my room, that is always a possibility!)  Nope, yesterday was a pirate day if ever there was one (see my previous post for a pirate refresher course!)   Since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my class has been obsessing (in a good way!) over topics like prejudice, segregation, slavery, etc.  They can’t get enough of bios on MLK, Ruby Bridges, and Rosa Parks.  But I was unprepared for their reaction to one Ms. Harriet Tubman.

It began when one student asked why African Americans were still slaves in MLK’s time, remembering a previous discussion about the end of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s role in setting them free.  So, after reviewing the timeline with them, we revisited the 1800s and read about Harriet and the Underground Railroad.  And that led to questions for days.  Thought-provoking questions.  And, in a moment of inspiration (and all of you teachers out there reading this know EXACTLY what I’m talking about), I came up with a way to illustrate not only the way the Underground Railroad functioned, but to impress upon them how both the slaves and the abolitionists felt as they used it.

To illustrate the point that the Railroad was not a train, but a series of safe houses, “stations,” I labeled each of our tables with a number 1-4, ending in the northernmost corner of our room (which had been conveniently labeled the previous day in a science lesson!). We talked about how some stations were marked so that slaves knew where to go, and about the role of the abolitionist.  Then, half the class were abolitionists and half were slaves.  When the lights were out, the slaves ran to the first station (because traveling at night was safer, of course).  The abolitionists then helped them hide under the desks before morning.  Once the lights rose, I played the role of the slave hunter, knocking on the tables and questioning the abolitionists.  When I was satisfied no slaves were being harbored, night fell again, and they went on to the next station, until they reached the North.

Freedom.  They SCREAMED.  As they should.

Of course, it involved running and hiding…and that was the hook.  But the discussion afterwards was the true thing of beauty.  They shared how they felt as abolitionists, scared and nervous when the slave hunter knocked at their door – so nervous, they stuttered and   turned red.  They shared how they felt as slaves, cramped and silent and anxious that they’d be found out.  And how they felt when they found their freedom.

Absolutely glorious.  But not as glorious as today, when my self-professed “history-aholic” came in with a Harriet Tubman head scarf.  Yep, it really happened.

ImageSee her – in the center with the green bandana?  She was THE MOST POPULAR kid in class today, let me tell you!  And, did she wear that proudly!  Of course, that meant we did the activity again….how could I not?

And THAT’S what it’s all about.

I happened to share it with an administrator (because I could not contain my excitement) and she advised me to take a picture of it and put it in my top desk drawer, creating a “smile file.”  A place I can go to remind myself that THAT is what it’s all about.

Here are two more photos…when I look at this MLK bulletin board, I smile too.




The Days of the Dinosaur

I’m glad to say that the days of hands-on learning are not extinct in our second grade.  Although the every-minute-counts, so count-every-minute mentality prevails (see previous post!), we still manage to sneak in a little exploration too.


This month we’re focusing on reading and writing nonfiction.  Although we’ve always read nonfiction to our students, the Common Core places a huge emphasis on it and so you see an increase in working with this genre in all grades.  So, if you read nonfiction materials on the topic of dInosaurs, it’s a treat to meet some real paleontologists and do some digging too.


An all-second grade assembly began the day, where the scientists shared their adventures with us, as well as some actual fossils.  This was followed by a more intimate workshop, where we did some sifting and brushing in order to discover our own fossils.


Here they are lined up in size order.  Although these had to be returned, every child did leave with a 65-million year old shark’s tooth….plus a dino-mite (ouch!) second grade memory.  To paraphrase the great Dave Burgess, author of “Teach Like a Pirate,” it’s important, nay, necessary, to give your students EXPERIENCES, rather than just lessons.  Yesterday, I think we did.

Once in a Blue Moon

It’s all about acronyms – CCS, SGO, SRI, PLC, I&RS.  If you’re a teacher currently working in NJ (and many, many other states), you can rattle off a list of your own.  And all of this alphabet soup often means that we’re working hard just to fit the curriculum in, stay accountable for our students’ learning and produce documentation of said learning.  But once in a blue moon, you can add a little creativity to the mix.  And I do mean ADD, because the learning is still going on.



During our study of the moon, we broke out the white paint.  After dusting the bottle off a bit, we mixed it with flour, creating a chalky, chunky liquid.  Moon paint!  This helped to drive home the point that the moon’s surface is rocky and dusty, and later when they dried, it was very evident.  Plus, the kids were PAINTING!!!

ImageBut before the paint dried, we added the craters.  They used water bottle caps to represent the space rocks crashing into the moon and leaving holes.  Sound effects not required, but welcome (to a certain point, at least!!)

The stars were added to the black paper before painting using metallic markers.  If you don’t have a set of these, think about investing. They are pure magic….and they make any project brighter.  We used them again when we did fact writing about Neil Armstrong and mounted the papers on black.

So it’s possible to do it all…sometimes.   And this month, there really will be a blue moon.  January 31 will be the second new moon of the month.  Maybe the blue paint will make an appearance.



After all, that’s what the new year is all about.  New starts, resolutions, promises, goals, yadda yadda.  And yes, I have a few of each.  But to many teachers, New Year’s Day is really the end…the end of a glorious holiday vacation.  



I shouldn’t complain.  This year Christmas fell on a Wednesday, making our break nice and long.  But it’s never long enough, is it?  Now, some districts don’t go back until January 6, but I bet even those teachers will feel like their holiday went by all too fast.

So the days of eating, merriment, sleeping and relaxing are coming to an end.  And this time tomorrow, when I’m packing the students up for dismissal, it’ll feel like I never left.  And there is part of me that’s looking forward to it.  If for no other reason than to empty my teacher bag and put away the things I’m made and purchased over the holidays.  Because I’m never really OFF off.  Witness: 



50% off holiday items at the party and dollar stores…because Christmas WILL come again!

And so might another leisurely day at home….snow is in the forecast!!

Here’s to 2014!