Social Studies Essentials: John Michaux - Kindergarten
INTERVIEW: John Michaux
May 25, 2011
Social Studies Essentials: John Michaux - Kindergarten
INTERVIEW: John Michaux
May 25, 2011
Beg of Clip
Well, kindergarten's a difficult grade for social studies in part because they have so little understanding of the world; they've had so little experience of the world, and certainly their concept of time, uh yesterday, today, tomorrow, a hundred years ago, I'm often asked when we talk about the Gold Rush, "Well, John, when you found gold, or when you came to California...", so, the hardest thing is to kinda start to begin to solidify here are, this is what today means; this is what back in time means, uh, trying to find markers. Uh, the kids kinda know that this was not the first site of the school. So, talking about before the school was here or before this building was here starts to help a little. Uh, so that's one thing certainly.
Another essential is just the idea of um, it's..it's kinda the same, what came before? Like, why are things the way they are? Um, what is a president? What is a holiday? How..and the idea, a big part of it, as I'm saying this I'm realizing, a big part of Social Studies is realizing I am not like everyone else. Uh, that not everyone celebrates Christmas; hence, not everyone believes in Santa Claus. So, being really careful when we talk about holidays and Christmas and uh, Santa Claus, to honor the fact that for a variety of reasons, there are kids in this class, who, either have no concept of Santa Claus or they don't believe it because it's not part of their religion, or they've grown out of it.
So, we do a lot of graphs in Social Studies around what do you believe? Um...tooth fairy, Easter bunny, Santa Claus, the story of Hanukkah. Um, and always with the idea being you can believe whatever you want, but you have no right to tell someone else what they believe, uh, that being...God, look around the world and people fighting over what they believe. Uh, so it's kinda starting a very early in Social Studies with this. Um, I think the other thing is around, going back to the presidents, what's a leader? What's a leader? Uh, who are people who move our civilization forward? Uh, a lot less in kindergarten about who holds it back. Um, but also tying that to the way people behave in class, people who steal things for whatever reason, people who have a hard time socializing, um, you know, finding the leaders in the adult world that model, you know, a much more giving, understanding, uh, parody to our culture.
Today, I was really trying to get across the idea of uh, a map. That was one thing that..what is a map? What is it for? Um...why would people need it, then and now? Um, and I guess just awareness again of the environment, not having, having only six years under their belt, uh, they've seen lots of maps, but they never really look at a map carefully unless they're asked to. And, so trying to get them to notice and observe all the maps have a compass, no matter where they're from, whether they're four hundred years old, or whether they're made on the inter...on Google. Um, and they all tell you where North is, and why that is. Um, so that's one part of it.
The other part is just, I think, for, to see, no matter whether it's maps or apples or water or bread, how can they hear something, experience something, and then take it someplace else? Uh, that's gonna be true all the way through the grades. Um, and that is probably the big lesson that I've learned as a teacher over the years, is that it isn't always important what the thing is, it's the big concept behind it. Um, I was talking to the science teacher, and he was saying the Periodic Table is nothing you'll ever need to understand if you don't go into Science, but the idea of classifying things is the idea you want kids to be able to do, and so a lot of the big ideas around understanding are happening here, happen with the maps today. Do an activity, make it auditory, make it visual, make it tactile, which we did, and then see if they can take it someplace else, can they put it on a map, can they make their own compass?
Well, like I said I think when the big one, which is so hard to remember is that not everybody learns the same way. Uh, I'm a very um, verbal person, and so when someone talks to me, and also very auditory, that's how I get a lot of information. Um, other kids it doesn't work that way. Some kids are more musically inclined. This is how we garner seven intelligence, which I think are now nine intelligences. Um, but that kids are usually either tactile, auditory, um, or visual. And, so making sure that whenever something new is shown to them, that they have those three options to look at. So, there were the foam letters; there were the cards they could look at; there was me talking about North, South, East, West; the, the news N-E-W-S, a little code to remember what the letters are. So, all those things going in to help them get a concept, at whatever level is easiest for them.
Absolutely, play is work is from Piaget, obviously. Play is the work of children. Um, for a couple of years, there in the late 90's, play was a dirty word. It was a four-letter word. We..you couldn't use it in kindergarten. And, in some kindergarten's you still can't, that play is a waste of time, that play gets in the way of academics, and lately, um, New York Times, a lot of other articles, are realizing that play is how children learn about the world. It is the way that they make sense of all the things we bombard them with. And, that play is just as important now, especially now, because there are so fewer option for play, in schools, uh, you may not live in the same place where you go to school; you many not be allowed to go outside on your own, in the way that I was when I was a child. So, play in the classroom becomes very, very important, um, different uh...scenarios being setup for them to kinda spark their plate, to kinda go along with what we're talking about.
So, the covered wagon, uh the...the one-room schoolhouse kind of inspires the play. It gives them a little background in history, but it also lets them kinda work it out in their own way. Um, when you watch the one-room schoolhouse, you see a lot of me and my assistant Carla in there, 'cuz they're acting out what it's like to be in a school. Um, and then, from there, they make sense of the world. And, I think it's just really important to give them those chances as much as you possibly can, even though the majority of schools, at this point in time, still feel like it's a waste of time.
Yeah, the reason that there actually are no computers at this point in the year. We've used computers; we've been to the computer lab, but they come and go because kindergarten is supposed to be a social experience. And, there's...kids can make a computer social, but right away, just like the readers in the class, a hierarchy develops of the kids who are really good at something on the computer, and the kids that are not. Uh, when we had a computer in the room, uh, the best kids would play at it, and the other kids would say "You play my turn. I want you to do it for me, 'cuz you're better at it than I am", which didn't really support them, each kid, getting individual growth.
So, taking that away, makes it like, "No, you need to make it up out of your own head." And, I think you probably saw today nobody here is bored. I mean one of the best moments in the kindergarten is what's called the forest hum, where there's noise everywhere, but none of the noise shoots out. It's, everyone's doing something. I think that the forest hum is true in high school; it's true in elementary school; it's where everyone is engaged, no one's alone, no one's sad in a corner. Um, everyone's getting the most out of the moment, whatever it is.
So, uh...I think a big part...we talked about this on the phone is that some people would say "Well this is like pre-school. (Inaudible), but pre-schoolers are like three and four years old, and their experience of the world is even smaller than a five and six year olds. And, I do know from my own experience that the imagination and play component starts to close down. Uh, if you bring some nine year-olds in here, they're not gonna have a lot of fun. They will for a few minutes, but everything in here is a little below them. And, they won't...their imaginations don't work the same way anymore.
So, kids at five and six are the optimal stage to really take the things in this room and create with them. Um, long, extended scenarios with lots of detail and characters uh, in a one-room school that may start with me and Carla, but are often runs off into either experiences they've seen on TV, and..and pre-school. Um, on the wagon, they take the wagon and they take what they know about the wagon, then they mix their own things in. So, the wagon became a place where, while the horses were going um, the kids read a lot of books in the wagon. That's all they brought were books because that's what they wanted to do, and that's totally fine as well, even then, we had a chance to talk about it "Wow, if you were pioneers, and you only brought books, you'd be kinda screwed, wouldn't you? So, yes, you would." So, we talked a little bit about that. And um, just that all the play in here is kinda of being guided through our unit, the unit is everything. Uh, right now it's the 49ers; it was the water; it was bread, earlier.
Um, but trying to get everything tied. The math doesn't tie in so well, but it will later. We do something called Wagon Train math, where they're using dice to roll how far they get. Uh, they get chance cards that make numbers go up and down. There is, the science is all about making candles, and uh, how light works and there's gonna be some science tomorrow around um, beans, and how, when you try to eat a bean that just comes out of the bag, you can't, but they have to boil, and soak for a while for them to be edible. And, um, yeah, go ahead.
Ok, I guess...that's....um, I think the big goal in this, well, there, there two goals - one is to feel kind of a sense of excitement that goes in with the anxiety about our school going to camp. Um, the camp is very rough. It's out in the woods. So, nnnn....most of these kids, not having that experience, this is kind of a segue way into that. Um, the second one is that, as I said in the beginning, that history exists, that things happened before you were alive that kind of made the world the way it is now. And, so it's this little piece of that that I want them to get, that things were different a long time ago. Uh, the things the put in their trunk are all things that basically, you don't really do anymore. People don't weave anymore. People don't have to weave. They don't make their own toys, necessarily. Um, but you can.
Uh, at the end of the year, we're working on how did the Gold Rush change California? That is our, our big theme.
Right now, we're working on how the Gold Rush changed California.
Sooooooo...something about that, that...um, well see this is tough because most classes aren't going to do anything about history in the same way. So, I'm trying to figure out what's the um....ok...
I guess the best way to say it is that we're talking a lot about...all year long we talked about change, and one of the venues is in California, the Gold Rush change, 'cuz change is one of the standards for uh, California kindergartens. I think for almost kindergartens everywhere. So, how about that?
OK. Uh, our year-long theme was how things change, and so at the end of the year here, we're talking about how California changed because of the Gold Rush.
Ok, well first the kids come in and it's very important, at the beginning of the day, the kids come in, and it's very important to kind of greet them and interact with them, and see what's going on. See if everybody's had a good morning so far, checkin briefly with parents. Uh, and then kinda let them kinda acclimate to the room, even though it's near the end of the year, there's still that kind of, for some kids especially, that awkward social moment "Will I be included?" and so I'm making sure that happens, making sure that kids are doing things. There's also a part, helping us setup, taking chairs down, feeding the animals.
Um, from there, we all assemble the circle. And, every morning, rather than have a lot of jobs, we have one person, the calendar person, who, at this point kind of runs circle on their own, Kalyani was our calendar person today. And, um, she basically, walks them through the calendar. What was today? What was yesterday? Um, who lost a tooth? Who's having a birthday? Uh, that kind of runs the whole morning. Um, we do a lot..ok go on.
Well a big goal in I think all kindergartens, and ours especially is about independence, is about kids moving from a place to where they need an adult to do everything and indeed, five year olds, if you read any literature, are kinda fixated on adults, and helping guide them away from it's time to start fixating on your peers a little more, and feel a little more independent, a little more responsible 'cuz that brings a sense of confidence, which will help when they move on to first grade.
So a lot of school, a lot of classrooms, they're like, everyone has a job. I'm the pencil person; I'm the door holder, and that's fine except that it kind of excludes you from doing anything else. That's not...that's not my job ends up being heard a lot. So, we got rid of that, and we have one person, the calendar person. Uh, today it was Kalyani. And, basically, she, as the year's gone on, they've gotten more and more responsibility, so when it was clean up time, she walks around with a clipboard. She's not responsible to clean anything, but it's her job to make sure other kids are doing that.
Now, I don't ask kids to do that in September or October, or even November, but at this point in the year, she runs the calendar, she runs clean up. The calendar person runs sharing, show and tell uh, and then runs the end of the day. So, it is about kids being independent, and kind of being a leader. And, again that is one of the standards. So, it's making sure that each kid gets a chance. There are kids who are kind of scary leaders, and there are kids who are very hesitant to lead. And, so this way, every kid's getting a chance. As it's going on, it's also is a great assessment for me. I see if they can understand left to right; if they can read numbers forwards and backwards; if they can guess the pattern. So, all the things happen simultaneously while each person is the calendar person.
Uh, I think the essential aspect of having one child lead the group is that it creates a sense of um, responsibility, and independence.
Oh, the numberline is again, going back to history, kind of, and this is an essential of almost every kindergarten. Most of the calendar comes with something called "Math Their Way", which was from the 1970's. Uh, but I've yet to see anything that really helps young children understand number concepts as well. So, we started at zero before there was any school, and everyday, we add a number. And, as you can see, uh, the red ones are the fives and tens now. They don't really get that at first. And, now at this point, almost all the kids understand counting by fives and counting by tens. Uh, the lo...the ones that are underlined are even numbers. That took us a while too, but eventually kids all realized it - two's, four's, six's, eight's and zero's would always be even numbers, no matter how big the number, the last number, if it's one of those is even. So, that is one part of it. At this point, we're also counting toward the end of school. And, so as well as counting you know, what is the number, uh, what are the digits that make up the number? Is it a one's number, ten's number, hundred's number...it's also how many days are left in school.
So, a lot of that, again, is that concept of time, is getting kids to realize this is what happened today, this is what happens tomorrow. There are all these visual rebus clues in there because, at the beginning of the year, they certainly can't read, and even at the end of kindergarten, there are kids who cannot read, who are really dependent on the pictures. So, Money Monday is pictures of money; Tuesday has a lot of two's on it. Um, the calendar pattern pieces have changed every month. They're all thematic. Um, having the beginning of the month, and trying to guess what the pattern is, is a big part of the year. Uh, what the weather's like is a graph, which we've done every month and then the kids who are a little better at math are going to take all that information and put it together on a graph for the rest of the class. It's really not something that all the kindergartners can do.
Um, but a big aspect of kindergarten here is making sure that it's differentiated, that not everyone's doing the same all the time because in the kindergarten especially there are kids at every different level.
I think that in kindergarten, you are hitting everything all the time. Everything the teacher does is being interpreted by the kids in a way that they need to interpret it, whether it's "I need to know more about more numbers. I need to know more about how the rules work. I need to know about the past. Uh...I need to know about what a leader is like." It is always, when they're this age, they're always watching you and the things you do. They don't always get what you expect them to get out of it, but they are always watching.
Every morning when the kids to calendar, the first three questions are "What was today? What was yesterday? And what will tomorrow be?" Uh, that's also talking about grammar. I just realized you said that.
Um, so when we do calendar, it starts with the first three questions "What is today? What was yesterday? And what will tomorrow be?"
Oh, one last thing about the calendar was that um..in order to get kids kind of focused on it, we decided to use the balloon, the balloon gets blown up at the beginning of the day, and it's popped at the end. And since a lot of my kids go to extended care, they don't go home right away, uh, the balloon kind of lets them know that sch...class time is over. It's not important now, but certainly at the beginning of the year, when they're unclear of the daily schedule, uh, the balloon plays a very important part. Um, and so that was just something we do everyday, and they're very excited about that - popping the balloon everyday.
Um, after the calendar, the lesson today was about how to, what goes into making a map. Uh, the maps we talked a little about, why the 49ers would have needed a map, that there was no freeways. We talked a lot about what was there, and what wasn't there. And then we moved on to what (inaudible) what's one aspect of maps that you find in all maps? And that being the compass, North, South, East West. And giving them a little bit of information about what that means, and why it is. They're not at a place where I can explain the mag...the magnetic pull of the poles, but they got the idea it had something to do with magnets. So, we'll leave that for some second grade teacher to explain to them.
We had, we bought, for like $5 at some teacher store, this floating magnet, which spins around and always points North, obviously, and we talked about how if you had a magnet and moved it around the water in the jar, you could make the m...trick the magnet, but once you moved it away, it always pointed North.
There were large, foam letters, North, South, East, West. We talked a little about the acronym N-E-W-S. Uh, so they remember. Um, one of the big challenges was East and West because those aren't basically as simple, but the majority of kids seem to get it, that it was N, and then you went to the E, and then the W, and then the S. So, that was pretty good. Um, and as well, we also had little cards that said North, South, East, West. There were also, I had cards made that said compass and magnetic, but at some point during the lesson, I just decided this was a little overload, and I think that's one big part of being an experienced teacher is you have a lot of stuff and you pull back almost instantly when you realize "Wow. That's enough."
Again, for the kids that are non-readers, I wanna make everything kind of visual um, it was kind of kinesthetic 'cuz the letters were foam, and they could move them around, um, that was actually kind of a pole, 'cuz I was like, uh...North Pole, Santa Claus, that's not where I wanted to go, but that's where they went. And it made sense to them. Uh, the wagon, we've talked a lot about the West, I was really struggling, what is a symbol of the East? And then I thought, "Well, something from China but then I was like "Ok, that's an adult's view of it. What would the kids know?" That was the only one that was real difficult, was the Statue of Liberty. The palm tree, the wagon, the North Pole, they got. Um, but there were enough kids who had an idea of geography um, which is something else that's happening with map making, obviously, um, that they understood that was the East.
So, I ok...I think it's essential in kindergarten for people to ask questions. And I think it's funny when you start listening to children a lot of times when they ask a question, it isn't a question, it's their way of introducing a topic they wanna talk about. So, if they say "Do you know, uh, that the sun is not a star?", they want to tell you that. They don't want you to respond "Oh yes it is, or no it isn't." Uh, and so, in that whole discussion, I'm trying to say "You tell me what you know." There's a constant kind of um, assessment. What do you guys know about maps? Do you understand what shapes define to adults this is India, this is Egypt? For some reason, Egypt was a riot. They just thought that was the funniest thing to be Egypt. So, having that discussion, um, is kind of indicative of everything we've done all year long. What letter do you think this is? What number do you think this is? It's trying to get it from them, as opposed to me dumping it on them. Uh...
Well, no, the idea is not, when I went in to teaching, I wanted to be the god. I wanted to have all the answers for them. And over the years I've realized that it's much more powerful to be the guide and say "What do you know? What is it I need to teach you? And what is it you've already understood completely?" So...
Um, I can't remember what the sentence was, basically uh, that at this point in my career, I would much rather be the guide and help the children find what they already know.
OK, on each of the points of the compass, North, South, East, West, we put a picture so that the kids would be able to use that if they weren't reading.
So, once we've done that activity, we're gonna use it in some applications. Uh, we have something called the contract system, which basically is, the kids each have a little folder. They're broken into random, social groups, not academic groups, um, and that means that at every day of the week, they have to do an activity with the adult. Usually two of the activities are adult driven, two of them are kind of figure it out on your own, and once they've done the activity at a level that is their best work, again, the work is differentiated, what I expect from one kid, I don't expect from another, um, then they get it signed off by the adult and then they get to choose. They're free to choose any activity in the room, providing they haven't done it already. So, for kids who are totally obsessed on going, playing with the blocks, you can do that on Monday, but if you did it on Monday, you can't do it again til the following week.
So, this is kind of shaking them up, making them try new things, um, every station in the room is changed over and over. The one room schoolhouse was a boat, before it was a boat, it was an airplane, before it was an airplane, it was a house, and then it was a restaurant. So, the ideas and themes as the classroom changed, change also. So, that it changes their play and it changes, it freshens it up a little.
Uh, there's not a lot of..there's no words because, just in case, no one can read, there are symbols, and the symbols are all over the room on um, over each table in each area. There's a heart, a square, a triangle, a diamond. So, they get, start to figure out, Then I need to go to the diamond first 'cuz there's a one on it. Once I finish that, I can choose to do something else. Now, in the center of the contract, there's a big open space, so if you say "I want to play with the turtles", well, find the word turtle in the room, 'cuz everything's labeled, write it in there, and we'll let you do that.
The contract..the contract is...what?
The contract is a way for kids to be more independent in the classroom.
This week, the activities were making a compass, which is tied into what we had done on the rug. Uh, the other activity that tied in was making a map. To make the map, you needed to make the compass, and you also needed to get your Pioneer Journal, which they had done the previous weeks, that had the adventures in it, and connect those two. Uh, which then made also having to take information you've put down, and use it in a different way is a really component of...a higher thinking skill. Uh, the other tables was making an heirloom, making a necklace to put in their, their pioneer trunk, and the final table was something called Pioneer Paper Dolls, which was just getting an idea of what people looked like, and how they dressed um, in 1849.
Uh, one thing..bunch of things about this. The Pioneer Trunk basically is the assessment of entire month. It is the idea that people made things on their own, that they had skills that we don't have anymore, uh, that things were different, and so one of the things they do in the trunk is they do a weaving. We have little wooden boards, and some kids who are not very good at reading and writing, are exceptional weavers, which kind of tells you that's the way the world has always been. Um, and they can help other kids. Again, and all these activities, there's never a time when we say "Look at your own paper" It's, you know, if you're good at it, can you help somebody else? Because I think that, uh, the best way to understand something is to teach it to somebody else. Uh, so that's one thing.
They made some dolls; they made some old-fashioned toys, like a flip book, which is kind of a physics thing, and a spinning toy, where there's a spider on one side, and a web on the other one. When you spin it around, the spider and the web appear because an optical illusion. And earlier in the year, we talked about the five senses. They know all about optical illusions. Um, let's see what else is in there? Oh, we made a friendship quilt. We talked about how, on a pioneer trip, 14 hours, you'd never see your friends again. And so, each kids drew on this piece of sheet, we take out an old sewing machine; each kid got a chance to run the sewing machine so that they could basically have this quilt um, and then all the things go in the box - the compass, and the other things they had, the fan, and um, that kinda tells me that they got it, and it also is a great souvenir of kindergarten because I know eighth graders who still have that box of stuff that they made, you know, nine years ago.
One of the, I think, essential aspects of doing those kinds of activities is that they happen every year. Now, when you're new in a school, you can't always do that, but I think even when you're new, you have to think of what are the things that I want kids to take away from kindergarten? Not the academic things, but the things that will be "This was my experience in that classroom with those people and that teacher." Um, early in my career, I did a lot of reading about w..how kindergarten was created, and there was an idea of the 20 gifts and they were in the 1870's and 1890's these kids would make these little things and that was what got them ready to go to fi..first grade, and to reading. And so, in a way, it's kind of a throwback for me to the first, the 20 gifts of kindergarten, um, as well as for the kids who've done it.
The second graders and third graders in the school could bring in their trunks. When we did the fish unit, we made these stuffed fish. I have big kids who tell me "Oh I still have that on the back of my door" Um, we did a...a unit all about ourselves, which is definitely, a kindergarten essential, and they did a giant poster with all these things about them, and one little girl's got lost, and she was so angry, not because it got lost, but because her fourth grade sister still has her on the back of the door - HERS! On the back of the door, and she said "I have to have one to put on the back of my door too." So, I think there are these traditions that come, uh, with whatever grade you're teaching, that you, as a teacher, have to kind of think about, very thoughtfully.
Um, oh it's really incredible because I assume that like, so many things, you do it, you take it home, and it gets thrown away, or it gets stepped, or it never even makes it home, and to hear that, you know, some fourteen year old has something. In fact, the assistant in second grade was in my kindergarten in 1989, and she brought in a little book of words she wanted to read, which is an activity we still do, and she shared that with the kids, and it had words like bride, princess, jewels, which means that 26 year-old Emily was just like some of the four and five year old girls in the class. And that was...that really resonated with me, that some things don't change.
The big focus about the contract is responsibility and independence. It's freeing you up from "The teacher's gonna call you. The teacher's gonna make you do it. The teacher's gonna check it and then send you on your way." It's basically, everyone has their own folder. One of the key components there is not losing your folder. Um, that takes a while. We get lots of lost folders.
Um, the other part of it is getting it signed. At the end of the week, you could have done all the work, but if you didn't get an adult to sign it off, you don't get the sticker, which is a very small part of it, but it's just the idea that when you fulfill your contract, this is what happens. You go on to the next week's thing. There are a few kids who h...really struggle with this. And then for those kids, we really talk about what a contract means. In general we say it's something that you're willing to....when you do it, you get to play. Like, when I come to work, I get paid. Um, so we're trying not to make it reward, so much as this is what you're here to do, but you have some say in how you spend your day as well.
I absolutely think so. I think that it is the idea of monitoring your own stuff. If you really love the activity, you can stay there all day. Um, or as long as the teacher will let you. If you really like blocks, but you've already done it, you gotta try something new. Well, maybe you'll like that just as much. Maybe that will send you in a different way. So I think the idea of being accountable for your own work is definitely a life skill.
From their own stories, and their own stories, when they made the maps, they did, put, pick up their pioneer, no Pony Express..I can't remember what they're called. Hold on. Uh, it was called Pony Express Journal. So, they had to go through that, and a lot of that was in their own writing. So, it took me a while to figure out what is it they said exactly, but we always want to honor the inventive spelling, and so I really want them to try to decode it with me, rather than me say "Well, let's...let me write it out for you 'cuz it doesn't make any sense." Because they're very fragile around writing.
And yet, in this class par..in particular, a lot of kids are becoming very fearless about inventive spelling, which I think is...I think at one point, I started to write something for a little girl, and she said "No, I'll sound it out myself." And I know that little girl doesn't have the skills that will make it readable for anybody else, but the idea that she wanted to do it herself is way more important than knowing the A, B, C's. I think it's the confidence. Again, going back to contracts, going back to the calendar person, it's about confidence. When you are a confident learner, then you aren't afraid to take on risks. When you are super smart, but you don't take any risks, well then you're stuck just being super smart and little by little, everyone passes you by.
Let's see. Um, definitely the transition from circle to the activities is gonna be lots of action because they have been sitting for approximately a half an hour, uh, very attentively. And I think that's a hallmark, that's an essential of kindergarten is how do you sit and attend to something, whether you're listening and learning or not, how do you do it so you're not invading other people's spaces? So the kids in this class have gotten very good at that, but there's a natural kind of explosion once they get up and start moving around. Um, and I think I'm part of it too.
I want to make sure that the kids are not at a point where they're frustrated, like "What am I supposed to do here?". So what I did over there was I got one kid who I knew would understand it; I showed them what to do, and had them kinda teach the other kids. I got over here, kinda did the same thing, and went back and forth until it seemed like both those groups were able to work kind of independently. Carla did the same thing with her two groups. Um, and I think that sometimes the contracts are lot more understandable and basic. Sometimes, they need a little tweaking and that's what happened today.
The goal of the Pony Express Journal is to have a uh, language reading, writing component in this unit about the 49ers.
Um, basically, we kinda...in the Pony Express Journals, we decided that they could kinda of just make up a story and a lot of them didn't want to use their own names, so we have Annikan Skywalker on the Oregon trail. We have Boba Fete on the Oregon trail, and that's totally fine 'cuz again, it's their imaginations.
Ok, so should I say that right now? Or...
Um, well when we talked about the stories, for the Pony Express Journals, we told them that "You can use your own name, or you can create a character, um, and a lot of them..one of them in particular was McKenna, who changed her name to something, but she started in Paris, France to come to California. So, before she got here, she stopped at the Eiffel Tower, which I thought was very creative, and yet it made sense, geographically. She starts in Paris, of course the Eiffel Tower wasn't built for 40 years later, but that's OK.
This video is being made in May. This is the culmination of an entire year of starting very slow, having only a few activities out at a time, having things always be teacher-directed. and the teacher controlling who comes, and making sure everybody comes. I am giving them a lot more freedom to play so at this point in the year, their very used to uh, what the rules are in the room. They also know, and this is, I think, the, one of the essentials of kindergarten, is the consistency of the room, and the adults in it, that they know that no matter what happens, John and Carla will do A, B, or C. Um, rarely is there ever a D because, at this point, they should understand, and feel comfortable um, I've lost my train of thought there, I'm sorry, what was I talking about? I was talking about....oh behaviours, that's right...
So, um, we start off, which has nothing to do with any of this, with a little puppet called Mr. No Sense. He's a monkey who does terrible things. And, we talk all about having, using common sense and not using common sense and through the year, that kind of theme is that you already know what to do. You just have to remember. And so that has been um, how, at this point in the year, the kids are very aware of what's acceptable and what's not. I have a very high expectation of the behaviour in this class, uh, the only leeway they have is sometimes the noise. They get so excited about something, but beyond that uh, being unfair to each other; they can't exclude people; they can't uh, they have to figure out some way to share things that's equitable, um, and most if it, again, back to the essential of independence, they have to do at this point, on their own. Do Rochambeau; Paper, Rock, Scissors; go out in the hallway, you have a minute to work it out. Give me the toy until you two come up with a solution. Uh, those things have been going on all year long, and at this point, there's...I think you'll see there's very little um, conflict in the class.
So, in all the excitement of the class, uh, two girls opted to play with the dog. And, in their play, they decide to throw a stick, for Statzi to fetch. The stick broke a little inkwell. And so, as happens when kids have those kinds of transgressions, uh, they went out in the hall, we talked a little bit about it, and they knew and I knew they would miss their recess to work on a consequence book. The consequence book is three pages - this is what I did, this is what happened because of what I did, and this is what I learned from what I did. So they drew those, we wrote it down. Most times, we send it home to get it signed by a parent, so they can read it to their parents. Um, and then they bring it back and they can either read it to the class, which some kids love doing, or we can just put it in their file, and leave it alone. Um, so that's what that was about.
Well, this may be kind of California-centric, but I teach kindergarten here and we have uh, assistants that come from the Bay Area Teacher Training Institute; it's called BATTI. Uh, they work in two years , in two different classes, a lower grade and an upper grade, uh, to get their experience so they can go on to be teachers. And Carla is a first-year BATTI student in my kindergarten class.
I teach kindergarten here and Carla is my assistant.
Uh, show and tell, uh, show and tell, or sharing is one of the most difficult parts of kindergarten. It's essential because children want to share about their lives at school, but it can be very boring. It can also be very exclusive. Children can bring in expensive things that they have that other children don't have. Uh, sometimes it can be awkward, or they can bring in things that are inappropriate, and so, in order to kind of make it a little more interesting and make it a little, and to control it a little more, what we've done over the year is we've kept shifting around. We start with "You can bring anything you want." Then we do the alphabet, it has to tie into the letter of the day. So, on B day, you can bring a ball. Uh, when we got to the water unit, it has to have something to do with water. So here's a little piece of paper, and my name, and then my object, how is it connected to water. So, they did that. Oh, I'm sorry, I have to go back up. That's not right.
We started that with the toy reports because toys are so important to them, and I want them to be able to bring them in, but in the toy reports it was this is my name, this is the name of my toy, this is what my toy teaches me, and then they had a choice. They could leave it in our pretend toy store, or take it home. That way, real expensive toys disappeared; everyone got a chance to bring stuff in, um, and it was very meaningful to them, 'cuz the toys really resonate and it made kids want to write or at least dictate the reports. At this point in the year, we're at um, what we call the Antiques Road Show. And, so they have to bring in some object that is older than them, which means it has to be seven years old. We've had some confusion with that too, but now we're down to..we've got some incredible things - the show Uncle Tom's Cabin came in, um, we have some toys that come in that belong to older siblings, but it's again, the idea of what came before you? Always try to tie that in, I think in the lesson we did a little of that, what came first? Um, and so, the sharing at this point is them, you can see reading it, either reading it or memorizing it on their own, the calendar person calling on them, and then them choosing a boy or a girl to make comments about their activity.
So, for um..for show and tell, the kids bring in an antique for what we call the Antiques Road Show, which is anything that was made before they were born.
One of the kids, Farley, for show and tell, brought in a...a necklace, which was made of wood; it was beads, but what made it remarkable was that he also brought in a picture of his grandmother wearing those beads, probably sometime in the 1940's or 30's. Uh, it was an incredibly moment, incredible moment for us to talk about here is some from the past that a little girl wore, that is now in the hands of this little boy.
One of the girls, for show and tell, brought a early edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which I think resonated with some of the kids because when we talked about um, African-American history, we talked about Harriett Tubman, um, we even played a little game called the Underground Railroad, where children had to escape and go to different friends' houses and get across to Canada and be free. So, the idea of slavery, I think when Enzo asked, is that true, he was kind of remembering when we played the game, and wanted to kind of check his facts.
So, when Abigail brought Uncle Tom's Cabin, I thought some great moments to tie it back to things we've talked about earlier. Uh, in February, we talked about, very briefly, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, as kind of a marker for the past. And so, I think I said it at some point, this book was written when Abraham Lincoln was alive, and that this was about slavery, and it was about...one of the reasons why the Civil War started. Uh, now one of my big interests, personally, is history, American history. So, I think that any teacher, no matter what grade, has to bring the things they love into the class. Now, there are teachers would think history and kindergarten seems inappropriate, but I think it's a great lesson, just like bread, just like water, it...it is the medium, but the ideas underneath it are classifying, understanding, um, and they seem to work.
The dinosaur bone, one of the kids, Enzo, brought a fossil for sharing. Now, I'm not a big scientist, so I couldn't quite tell you what part of a dinosaur or flower or plant that was. And I think that's ok. A lot of times, teacher panic when they don't know the answer to every question. Uh, one kid said it was the neck of a dinosaur. I'm...that's gonna be ok. It probably, if I was more science-minded, I would have been able to articulate no, let's say what this is.
The other things kids brought in that were antiques was a magic eight ball, a dinosaur bone, and a stuffed animal that belonged to an older brother.
The worksheet for the Antiques Road Show says This is my name; this is the name of my object; this is the age of my object; and what does this object teach us about the past?
Uh, the initial toy ones, it was a lot of parents. At this point, kids are doing a lot of writing on their own. A lot of kids are doing reading on their own because it's been the same format almost for every different show and tell, they are also now memorizing it, so even kids and of the kids that went up today, one of them clearly cannot read at all, yet he's memorized it, and it would be hard to tell which one was reading, which one was memorizing. Again, that's about confidence.
Ok, uh, yes, in the past, students have brought in things like a VHS tape, they've brought in a lighter and an ashtray; they've brought in a rotary phone, and it's a little scary to see the things that are a part of my life suddenly show up as antiques.
Um, one of the biggest challenges for teaching Social Studies in kindergarten is just how concrete it has to be. Uh, Social Studies requires some ability to think abstractly about a past that no longer exists, and so trying to find concrete things, the weaving, the things in the trunk, um, bringing stuff. On Friday, we're gonna go to my house, and my house was built in like 1870. Um, and see some things that I've had, collected, some of them for this unit uh, from a music box, and things that don't exist anymore. So, it's...the...one of the big challenges is making things concrete so they really get an idea of these are things that are no longer made, and there's a reason they're no longer made this way.
Wow, that was out of left field. Um......here's where I start crying. Uh, I think the reason I'm still teaching kindergarten is years ago, someone said that it's like getting squirrels to line up. Um, the squirrels might line up, but they don't know why they're lining up; the squirrels don't want to line up. It's the same thing every year, and yet it's always challenging. I think, too, that after all these years, I am kind of addicted to the rhythm. The rhythm of my life doesn't start in January, it kind of starts in September and it runs thought these predictable, yet always new, things until June, when, no matter how good or how bad it was, it ends. And then it starts over again. And there's something about that that just appeals to me very much. And I...I love children, and I particularly love kindergartners. I'm not so hot on second graders, um, and not even pre-schoolers, there's something about fives and sixes and fours that is just magical.
Um, I guess the only thing that comes to mind is that when I was five, I went to kindergarten and it was my first experience away from home, and I remember so much about my own kindergarten experience in Lawndale, California in 1965, with Mrs. Rabies, whose probably no longer with us, that a lot of things in this room are kind of copies of what was in that kindergarten. That experience, for whatever reason, just stayed with me much more than high school or college or other grades. Um, and I think even by the time I was in fifth grade, I wrote a little paper that I wanted to be a teacher. And, I wanted to teach kindergarten, and I know I got a B+, and it said 'perhaps an older grade would be a better idea because it wasn't necessarily a field for men in 19, whatever year that was.'
Um, I..I think it's definitely it is the beginning of elementary school and I think for some kids, it's a make or break moment because it is "Am I ready to be a big kid?" And I know that every year I have to explain to parents that, no matter how many years of pre-school, they're at the top the of the pile there, by the time they finish, they know everybody, they know what's expected, and they come here, and they have to kind of start from scratch with a much broader sense of their selves and the world, and a lot more fragile around "I am smart. I am dumb. I am not as good as..." where before they would were so egocentric that they didn't even notice those things. And so making sure that every kid, whether they read or can add, feels like they are confident learners at whatever they're able to do I think is the things that I want them all...that's the pivotal moment for me - is to make them feel like school will be a lot of fun. It'll be challenging, but that they're good at it.
Um, it just feels right. I just...there's no other way. It just feels like that's what's supposed to happen, that there shouldn't be someone who feels like "I'm a failure and I'm five years old."
Yes, it is. OK. Uh, on the wall, by the door, is a picture of my kindergarten class at Betsy Ross Elementary in 1965, just again, it ties back to history - things that came before you. Even your teacher went to kindergarten.
I think uh, there's a lot of jokes. I think it's actually on the wall somewhere over there, is uh, "Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten", which was a big hit, I guess in the 80's, but in a lot of ways, it's true. Um, I think it's true for your academic career. I think more and more, if you look at research, people are looking less at colleges, and more at how do kids start their educations, that pre-school and kindergarten do setup some concepts about self that you carry with you whether you know it or not, almost all the way through school. "I am stupid, ergo I should not be in school." "I am good at sports." I know in my own life, my brothers and I - each chose a kind of archetype, we stayed with it whether it was true or not, even as adults. So, I think one of the essentials of kindergarten is feeling like I am s..will be successful at learning. I won't learn like the person next to me. I don't come in reading like the girl next to me, but I will be successful as a learner. And I think that's one of the biggest essentials that every kindergarten can give to the students.
I'm gonna tell you a story, and it may not be anything applicable to this, but to me, this is like the moment, like Oh My God, no matter how old I get, I did make an incredible difference. So this is gonna go a ways off.
We had a day of silence, which is for GLBT people who can't speak out, and the middle schoolers wanted to come down and tell the little kids about the day of silence, but they couldn't talk. So, they said "John, will you help us?" They wrote, "John, help us do this assembly." I was like, what am I gonna do? So I ran around; I found a piece of paper and a marker, and I went out there and made a sign that says 'I am a sissy You can make fun of me' and I talked a little about being gay and being a, growing up in schools where people made fun of me, and it was OK. I couldn't do anything about it. I couldn't stop them. Um, now that I'm a grown up, I took the marker out and wrote 'You can't make fun of me' 'cuz I'm a grown up and I won't let you.' And, these middle schoolers are basically being silent because there are people who still, as adults and as kids, can't speak out about being gay. So that was all fine and good.
Uh, a week later, I'm walking the kindergartners out of the playground, and the first graders are coming in, and one of the first graders is wearing that sign. He says 'I'm a sissy and you can't make fun of me.' and that little boy is a sissy. Um, I just wanna add too, that not a single kid in the audience knew what a sissy was, which I think is really remarkable. Um, but that moment where he wore my sign, and said 'yes, I am you' and I hope to be you, much faster than you were, that I want no one to make fun of me 'cuz I am different' and we define sissy as someone who does things that other boys don't do. And so, that was a very powerful moment for me. Again, it may not be anything you can use, but I just thought, "Wow, that kid and I have a bond that, as long as he's here, and no matter where he goes, that's a connection. And those...there's probably a lot more of them, but that's one that will stay with me forever. So...ok?
I think, in kindergarten, one of the essentials is the kids to have experiences. Uh, there's a chart behind me on the wall that talks about experiences are what everything we think and read and act and dance, come from. And, it is sometime challenging in the world we live in to have real experiences. So many of them are through a screen, um, or through two-dimensional things as opposed to three-dimensional. So taking kids every Friday on a field trip, uh, walking around our neighborhood, bringing the animals in the room uh, bringing in um, a meat grinder, or a...a accordion, whatever...or having the piano, or all the things that they play with are experiences that make them think. And when they think about their experiences, they want to tell about them and then they tell about them by writing about them or talking about them. And they want to know more so they start reading about them and I just think that is the other gift that a good kindergarten teacher gives to her students, or his students, is experiences - a varied bunch that appeal to all different kinds of kids, certainly you want to make that some of them don't appeal to everybody, that there's a little bit of a challenge there, a little bit of push. Here's something you say you don't like to try at home, well this is school, you gotta try it here.
Often times...you want them to say "wow! I am interested in this". One thing which you didn't get to film today was we are learning the Virginia Reel. Now, it is chaotic Virginia Reel, but for some of those kids, it will "I like to dance." And who knows where they'll go? They may become dancers, or choreographers. Um, there are a thousand things that we do that I hope the kids, which we want to reflect on. So, they have the experiences, every Friday, we do a Field Trip page - tell me about something you remember about the field trip. We have our journals - tell me about what happened in the class today. Um, tell me a story that's out of your own mind. So, experiences, I think, are the, probably the key foundation certainly of all our lives. Everything that..my whole perspective on the world is formed by my experiences. And, theirs are too, and I want to make theirs very rich and very powerful. And um...and varied. And that would be it.
Not about the...it's the message, not the medium. It's that it's ideas of leadership, independence, uh, time that are kind of woven into activities that you could just switch, this could be the history of Nebraska; it could be the Pilgrims; it could be uh, the Native Americans on reservations. It doesn't...we're doing this for a specific reason 'cuz our school has a specific event and we're a specific geographical location, but the bigger idea is that here are some concepts, what are ways that I can get you to those concepts that will be enjoyable and fun, and creative, and kind of novel to them. I mean if I wanted to do it with cartoons, well God, they've..they know more about cartoons than I do. So here's something that's kind of new and innovative, which also sparks their creativity, but again, it's the message of 'Be independent, be a good leader, be thoughtful, um, do things so that the people who come after you will, the world will be a better place for them, and those things are all kind of, the message that come into, you know, how California changed because of the 49ers.
In kindergarten, what I think Social Studies is, is the understanding of groups of people and how they come together, how they stay apart, um, how one person can change a lot of what happens to a whole group of people, how time can change what happens to a group of people, and how, when people come together, they can share things that they don't share when they stay apart. Can I add one thing to that that's kind of an example? We did a assembly about all the different holidays, which is kind of tied to California. And each pair of kids, one had Hanukkah, one had Christmas, one had Juneteen days, one had Cinco de Mayo, one had Day of the Dead, one had Halloween, which was all about Social Studies. And, they talked about bringing them all together; they each had a poster, and they began to share them. And, at the end of the assembly, they said "In California, we all brought our own holidays, but now we all share them. So that anyone can go to St. Patrick's Day parade, anyone can go to a Cinco de Mayo celebration" uh, that kind of makes, I think, well, the United States certainly, and California in particular, um, so remarkable is that we...uh, one of the things was gay pride, you don't have to be gay to go to the parade. Um, and so kids getting the idea that in Social Studies, it's about this is who I am, this is who my culture, my people, my family are. How can I share that? How can I learn about other people, accept other people, um, and kind of learn to..I hate the word interface, but um, kind of make something new, out of the two different cultures.
Social Studies is about experiences.
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