Dear Santa, I Didn’t Do It!

dearsantacoverart
My current student group for the after school program have written a Christmas-themed online picture book centered around letters to Santa. Well, more like excuses to Santa. What can I say, we were under the spell of a bad influence.

Here is the book trailer. (I used screenshots from the video to actually create the ebook.)

Download the ebook version for free! There is more heartfelt content in addition to the mischief. And keep an eye out for more ebooks in January – we hope to each write our own (now that the teacher has taught herself how to publish an ebook to begin with!).dearsantacoverart

The War on Clutter

A week or so ago I wrote about invisible work, particularly about valuing the people who do it. Sometimes that person is me.

Clutter happens. In our domestic environs we call it “Caitlin creep.” I let my things start to take over all sorts of flat surfaces, like a kudzu of crapola. But, de-cluttering is a hard task for me to motivate myself to do. Why do if I’m just going to need to do it again later? Like making the bed… why make the bed if I’m just going to end up sleeping in it? I’ll be making it again in twenty-four hours.

Then I realized that having the bed made has a positive effect on my psyche. When I come home after work to a bedroom with an unmade bed, it feels like AAUAUAUAUUUAAUUUAAGH. But when I come home after work to a bedroom with a made bed, it feels like *satisfied sigh*. The bed is the centerpiece of the room where I sleep and also keep my clothing, so when the bed is made, the room feels more put together, even if I’m rocking a floordrobe in front of the closet. When the inner sanctuary of my home feels more put together, it helps my brain feel more put together, even if I’ve still got a to-do list a mile long.

The surfaces in other parts of the apartment feel similarly. The bathroom feels more clean when the counter is clear of hair products. The kitchen feels more clean when the counter is clear of utensils and food containers. And we do generally keep those surfaces pretty clear, because we primp and cook almost every day; we keep them clear so they’re ready to use.

The less frequently used surfaces, however, tend to be clutter magnets. And I really wanted to get surfaces done because we need space for gift-wrapping, plus we have someone coming in tomorrow to look at a malfunctioning appliance.

So, I decided to use two strategies:

  1. Before and after photos. Taking pictures before cleaning and after cleaning help you see the progress you have made, so that even if you don’t get a surface entirely clear, you still feel like you’ve accomplished something. Also, blogging bonus: taking photos and posting them online force me to look at my living space more objectively. For example, looking at the photos, the same book appeared in two different before photos. So I did the thing where I tried to reduce mess in one area, by increasing mess in another. (Don’t worry, it made it home to the bookshelf.) Also, I really need to empty the bottles recycling bin.
  2. Timer. Giving myself a definite start time and a definite end time for a task forces me to do that task in the time allotted. Otherwise, I could tell myself to do something, you know, when I get to it… as long as it gets done… like, by the end of the day maybe? No, that doesn’t work. I am too good at procrastinating. So I took my before photos, turned on an episode of Doctor Who, and then took my after photos during the doo doo doo as the credits rolled.

Did I make every surface one hundred percent clear? No, but I definitely made progress, even with the table in the bottom photos. And now, looking at that photos, I am seeing things that are there temporarily (gift receipts on the arm of the loveseat will be packaged with presents soon) and things that need new permanent homes (what am I going to do with those Halloween cups the week before Christmas?). So while I know I’m not done, I know the steps I am going to take next.

The basic way I worked was a lite version of UfYH, which is a link you should only click if you are okay with obscenity. There’s an app version you can get for iOS called Unfilth Your Habitat, but the Google Play/Android version has the real, mature-rated name. (“Unfilth” is a euphemism for the app title only; the app itself contains 100% of the profanity). If you don’t mind the vocabulary, though, it’s got loads of great advice about housekeeping for people with less-than-positive attitudes towards housekeeping, for whatever reason. I find I also apply a lot of the fundamentals in my classroom, or with school-related work. And when my classroom is mostly organized, I feel more in control of it, and more self-possessed.

Friday Five Favorites: Songs

12456933691942977095jeronimo_audio-cassette.svg.medSo here are five of my favorite songs right now. They are not my five favorite songs, they are five of my favorite songs. “Favorite songs” is a category simply too much in flux — I swear it changes day to day. Plus, some of them are not appropriate for listening to when kids are around. The following five songs pass the classroom test.

Starting with…

What Makes the Breakfast? by Mike Phirman


This is my favorite song to share out right now. It’s fun, it’s bouncy, it’s frequently hilarious. It’s like coffee for your ears (appropriate for a song about breakfast).

We Are Giants featuring Dia Frampton by Lindsey Sterling


I imagine transforming into a magical Sailor Moon-style super-teacher whenever this song plays.

Wonderful Everyday: Arthur by Chance the Rapper featuring The Social Experiment


You can download it free on Soundcloud here.
Chance the Rapper helped my heart this past weekend when he performed “Sunday Candy” with The Social Project on Saturday Night Live last weekend. It’s a wonderful song, but it’s got some themes that you might not want to bring up with some age groups (unless “tweaking” is one of your spelling words that week). But it did bring their cover of the Arthur  theme song back into my mind. The original rap chorus they bring in towards the end is my favorite part.

Drag Me Down by One Direction

Would you like to launch One Direction to the moon? With proper training and equipment, of course.

“The Schuyler Sisters” from the musical Hamilton


This is the song to hear if you’re looking for a mind at work. Broadway smash Hamilton is will likely be moving into social studies classrooms soon. Though, many of the songs mention war and swears and maybe some other themes we tend to sanitize out of our schoolbooks. (Doesn’t mean they didn’t exist in history, though!) I chose this song because it’s like Destiny’s Child learned how to time travel. “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident/That all men are created equal/And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!'”

Christmas Crush: Gävlebocken

Twitter can be intimidating for newbies. It’s like when you arrive at a party where you barely know anybody, and there are conversations going on all around you, and you just don’t quite know how to get involved at first.It helps when you know someone already there, but sometimes they’re already involved in other conversations. Maybe you hang out at the periphery and then engage when you have something meaningful to contribute. Maybe you wait for a lull or an icebreaker. Or maybe you just find the host’s dog to pet.

I know that last sentence was really convincing, but I am an even sadder sack than that. I really engage with inanimate objects.

I admire the decorations. I get really into appetizers. I frequently bring games to help me socialize, at least initially. I knock a lot of tchotchkes over. (Sorry, gracious hosts!)

I’ve started coming out of my shell on Twitter a bit over the past few months. I still mostly lurk — I eavesdrop on conversations and remarks without engaging with them directly. I tweet links out via other social media I’ve linked to my Twitter — my WordPress and Youtube accounts, mainly. I occasionally heart or retweet something someone posts that I find interesting. I click on many links myself, to articles with headlines that catch my eye.

But in terms of actually engaging, I am super into a giant straw goat from Sweden. It’s my favorite on Twitter right now. Nerd alert.

A Yule goat or Christmas goat is a traditional symbol and decoration for the Christmas season, most popular in Scandinavia and northern Europe. They are usually made of straw and are often small enough to hang as an ornament on a Christmas tree. The Gävle Goat is a giant version in the city of Gävle, Sweden. For the past several years, I have seen it mentioned annually, as it has in the past been burned down by mischief makers.

So this year, I decided to follow it on Twitter, because I want to find out what happens to it. Why not? I could always unfollow after the Christmas season is over.

I have to tell you, I really hope it doesn’t burn down this year. Because I have a crush on the Gävle goat.

It’s not like a full-blown infatuation. It’s more the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when somebody sees you being awkward at a party and makes an effort to include you.

It started on December 1st, when I tweeted:
Tweet1

And @Gavlebocken tweeted back! As a result, twelve more people retweeted me and twenty-four people gave my original tweet a heart.

Is that a lot? Not relative to people who have been on Twitter for a while and know what they’re doing. Honestly, my tweenage siblings weren’t impressed. But it was a lot for me. It’s a small thing that can make a big difference to someone. I felt welcomed and cheered.

And it wasn’t just a one-time thing, either. @Gavlebocken is engaging even with more mundane tweets. I tweeted again to it just this week, after the first graders at our school learned about Sweden during their “Christmas Around the World” Unit.

lovethegoat.jpg

My heart cockles, they are warmed. And it’s because a giant straw goat talks to me on Twitter. And the fact that our first graders keep putting their ears to the floor to listen for gnomes. That’s also fun.

We’re cheering for you to make it through this holiday season, Gävlebocken! Love and luck from Ohio, USA.

Wednesday Website: Copy Paste Character

Weather:

☼ ☁ ❄ ☔

This is a part of the script I have copies of for our school morning announcements. Students just circle the symbol for today’s weather report and keep moving. It takes up minimal space on our script, which leaves more room for more varied items to report, like birthdays and special announcements.

So how do I get those icons in? I copied and pasted them from a website called Copy Paste Character. It’s exactly what is says in the URL. You go there, find a character, and copy it so you can paste it elsewhere.

You can use the symbols to share some ❤ or help your colleagues new to using Apple products how to take ⌘. You can make things a little more musical ♬. It might be helpful when making differentiated sentences for early readers, or helpful signs or labels for classrooms and school events.

Copy Paste Character makes the ✄!

I Was Wrong About Some Other Things

Yesterday I wrote about how you can lose an argument even if you’re correct.

You can also win an argument, even if you’re wrong. Or, at the very least, you can make it so you don’t lose that argument. You can stop the argument.

  • You can stop the argument by distracting from it.
  • You can stop the argument by placating others and going along with what they want.
  • You can stop the argument by laying out loads of blame on everyone and everything.
  • You can stop the argument by making it extremely uncomfortable to continue arguing.

I cop to having used these methods from time to time. But, overall I do not recommend them. Students will never learn to resolve interpersonal conflicts on their own if we interfere by distracting them. (Don’t fight, guys, let’s go play on the swings wheee!) They learn not to respect a teacher who’s just trying to make it to dismissal, so yes, fine, we’ll just watch an episode of The Magic School Bus. Students won’t be honest with a teacher who thinks that everything is somebody’s fault. (Would you trust someone that ready to censure?) And, yes, you can grind all sorts of monkey business to a halt with the threat of serious consequence (at our school, that would be the dreaded WHOLE CLASS CLIP-DOWN), but that kind of intimidation quickly loses its power when you employ it one time too many times.

So I’m not saying that doing any of the above makes you a bad teacher. It’s just what you do in a bad moment, when you’re not your best self. However, if the bad moments keep on coming, and these strategies comprise the most recently used file in your classroom management folder, then it might be time to step back and reflect on what’s not working. And by “reflect” I literally mean “take a look in the mirror.”

15831830962_87b9dacd44_z

(Because it’s you. You are the element that is not working. And causing other things to also not work.)

Maybe it’s just me, but I always had the mindset that disagreeing was a problem, therefore arguments were a problem, therefore arguments are bad. It’s okay to argue. And it’s okay not to win an argument. It’s even okay if an argument has no winners! Don’t shy away from conflict just because you’re scared of it. And don’t feel like you always have to come out on top — it’s a cliché, but pick your battles. And don’t pick the ones where you think you can prevail; pick the ones that really matter to you, even if you have as much chance of winning as a chicken has of having teeth.

And so, when I have a bad moment and am not my best self, I admit it. I think about what I could have done in the moment instead. And then I forgive myself and move on. I can’t go back and undo my mistake, but at least I can carry it with me, ready to deploy what I’ve learned in the next bad moment, when I have a new choice and ability to keep trying to be my best self.

I Was Right About the Boots

I got in a straight-up argument with a child the other week. I am not proud.

I told him that I liked his new cowboy boots. He seemed affronted, and told me his shoes were not boots. They were shoes.

Which was confusing, because they definitely looked like this:
cowboy-boot-1425028-639x650According to me, his shoes were boots because they came up over his ankles. According to him, though, they were not boots because the bottoms were smooth — the soles had no treads.

Before we could decide what to call his shoes, we had to agree on the definition of boots. And though I could call up class dictionaries and Internet resources, that doesn’t do much to convince a seven-year-old whose definition is derived directly from his life experiences. I repeat: it is useless to have even the most authoritative lexical wordbook when faced with a second grader’s logic. It’s not that they don’t respect or recognize the authority; it’s that they don’t get it. In the absence of direct instruction re: what boots are, he came to a logical conclusion based on his own observations of the world.

Is this a big deal? It is if you’re not aware of it. We had a debate over what to call his shoes, and it went on embarrassingly long before I realized we had different definitions. Different definitions, different starting points. He doesn’t have the same decades of experience as I do. And simply lording my knowledge over him doesn’t make him more interested in learning. People tend to double down on wrong beliefs when they are presented with evidence to the contrary — it’s called the backfire effect.

I don’t know how to get around the backfire effect. Spending fifteen minutes arguing with a kid in the hall does not do it. I do know that sometimes we develop wrong beliefs, and that we need to unlearn them.

And it’s not always the kids with the wrong belief that need unlearning. Sometimes the one who needs to unlearn is the grownup.

(Not about the boots, though. I was right about the boots.)

Asking for International Video Postcards

Hello world!

Starting in January, the second graders at our school will be doing a research project about other countries. They will have some choices available. However, it can be challenging and overwhelming for kids to make that kind of choice if they don’t have a lot of background knowledge or interest.

So, I had an idea. What if people from or in other countries invite our students to research about other countries? That doesn’t instantly turn a student into an expert, but then a student would be able to imagine what a person from another country might be like. Then, I could attach these videos to our school morning announcements. They would be like commercials or video postcards from people around the world! My hope is that it would get students interested in learning about other countries, even countries that they have never heard of or knew much about before.

Here is an example. Cornelius is from Democratic Republic of the Congo:

I like that the video is about thirty seconds long. He gives special reasons why students should study his country. He chose his words carefully so students could understand him. (I will probably write some subtitles before I show it to students, but I think it is important that they hear people speak with accents. It’s good active listening practice.)

If you are willing to do a video, please let me know. You can comment here on my blog, or you could email me at teacherofftopic@gmail.com. You can send me a video or you could upload a video to Youtube yourself and send me the link. If you want to address students more directly, you can start by saying, “Hello Aviators!” because that is our school team name. You can say an interesting fact about your country, or teach a word in a different language. You can show us cultural food or clothing. Really, almost anything will do! But thirty seconds is a good amount of time – no more than a minute, please. Shorter is okay too. You can do it by yourself or with a friend. We welcome creativity.

Thank you in advance for your kind attention and effort.

Sincerely,
Ms. Driscoll