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Thursday, August 28, 2014

You MUST read this..........

Neil Armstrong: A life of Flight, by Jay Barbree.  2014. Thomas Dunne books.

I’ve just finished reading the most remarkable book about the first rocket flight to the moon.

There’s one page in particular that I read and reread.
Page 264

It was 4:17 pm EDT, Sunday July 20th, 1969. Neil Armstrong has just put his foot on the surface of the moon:

‘He stood there rock solid, boots braced for balance, enclosed in the elaborate pressurized exoskeleton that sustained his life in this inhospitable place. It was filled with energy, with supplies of heat and cooling, water, oxygen pressure - a capsule of life created by his Apollo colleagues, and Neil Armstrong stood looking long and hard at this small, untouched world.

He was overwhelmed; his sense and his thoughts set afire with the miracle of being on the lunar surface. He believed that he and Buzz and those who would follow were there for more than just walking through lunar dust and measuring solar winds, magnetic fields, and radiation levels; all that was window dressing for their real purpose for coming.

It all condensed into every view they had of their fragile, beautiful Earth. It was suddenly clear to this son of the land once walked by Orville and Wilbur Wright that he was on the moon to look back - to give every single human a clear look at spaceship Earth. In this neighborhood of the universe it was life’s only world. It was encased in diamond-hard blackness and Neil recognized it mattered little if he were Republican, Democrat, Independent, apolitical, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or whomever the hell we liked or disliked. We lived on a vulnerable world and we needed to take care of its very definite resources; on a world where we would all suffer terrifying consequences if we destroyed its ability to sustain us, its ability to foster and nurture the very life we now threatened to contaminate. neil knew no matter how diligent, how great our effort to protect Earth, it was finite and one day if humans were to survive they would have to move on to new worlds. Helping to achieve that was what he and Buzz and all those those who would follow were doing walking on the moon.

Neil stopped his thoughts, forced himself out of introspection.’

Brilliant, isn’t it? And gives the reader SO much to think about……..

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

CREATING YOUR K-6 classroom: Your science table.......

I've been asked top put my thoughts about a classroom science table on my blog as a separate posting....

So, here it is - a very brief statement about the one table that has been such a part of my classrooms through my teaching career, spurred by my contact with Tiger Reynolds, a student in my science class when I started teaching in 1963.

I have added that essay that I entitled TIGER. Take a look if you have a moment. It's after the short piece on science tables.

Anyway, the science table, placed close to a wall that is covered with display paper and has an electrical outlet near the floor, has always been a significant area in my elementary and middle school classrooms.

    Why?      Because a science table helps me create and sustain the appropriate environment in which to build a community of active, inquisitive learners.
A well-displayed, interactive science table appeals to students’ sense of curiosity and promotes interest, discussion and research.

What is a science table?  It’s a table space first owned by me, then maintained and owned by the class. It’s a table on which to display Mother Nature’s delights from the first day of school on. The items (rocks, fossils, shells, feathers, bones, plants, whatever catches one’s eye) are carefully displayed, labeled, and accompanied with questions, pictures, reference books, magnifying glass and binocular microscope.

From the first day of school, I start the day with a science table ritual.
On Day One, I tell everyone what’s on the science table, inviting the students, at the appropriate time, to take a closer look.  I then invite them to volunteer to look after the table.

Once a routine has been established, I ensure the table’s contents constantly change, either by me or the students bringing in different interesting delights.

And here's the story of Tiger, the student who taught me why a science table is so important:

Thank you, Tiger

I started teaching way back in the early 1960s. Well, teaching is perhaps too grand a word. It would be more honest to say that I began to be paid for standing daily in front of loads of bored adolescents, opening a well-thumbed science text book, and reading aloud. Then, scribbling science words on the blackboard to be copied into science notebooks.

13- year-old Tiger always sat alone at the back of my science lab. He did not sit politely through each lesson. Tiger was always looking for trouble. Sometimes he smiled benignly at the thirty-two other boys and girls, six of whom had recently emigrated from India and could speak but two words of English (‘lav, sir?’). Sometimes Tiger shouted, “S’boring, boring…….science is pissin’ scabby.” 

Sometimes, to prevent himself from falling asleep, he’d run his fingers through his greasy hair, scratch his head, and interfere with anyone sitting close to him working diligently through the science textbook.

My science lessons on Mosquitos and other insects didn’t interest Tiger. School didn’t interest him and science didn’t engage him. Nothing I did in my science lessons made any connection to Tiger’s life experience or appealed to his sense of curiosity. The science I read from the textbook was irrelevant to his world – especially the way I presented it. His Dad told him that he’d have a job with him as a bricklayer on the building sites when he was fifteen, so why should he ‘do his best’ in school? What was the point of it all?

In the first week of October, the miracle of miracles happened - a big change for the better came over my teaching. Tiger, of all people, and a small garden spider, were my divine inspirations.

Walking back from shopping at the Coop for the weekend food, I spotted the most beautiful spider sitting in her intricate silky web in the black currant bush outside the steps leading up to my flat. Surprised to see one so late in the year, I fetched a jar, popped the spider inside, and took her upstairs.

I took the spider to school the following Monday, put her in a large bell jar with a little soil, some greenery and a forked tree branch, I set the new home on a small table, away from direct light, at the back of my science lab.

The following day, I noticed a silk egg sac dangling from near the center of the spider’s orb web. Sensing the spider was hungry, I caught a small silverfish darting around the base of my desk, unscrewed the top of the spider home, and dropped the small creature on the web. Immediately, the spider came running towards her prey. I sat and watched, fascinated by the spider’s eating habit, until Tiger’s class came through the door, breaking the atmosphere by noisily throwing their satchels under their stools. They were ready for yet another particularly dull science lesson (all chalk and talk, then reading and writing, and no ‘hands-on’ science investigation). Before I even started, the kids looked bored. I got up quickly, pushing the spider home to one side.

As I walked towards the blackboard, Tiger came through the door. He looked upset. He stared at the floor, mumbling he’d been sent to Mr. Thomas’ office because, he said, “I was caught looking through a dirty book, sir. ‘Fore school started.” “T’ain’t fair.”
 “Who caught you?’ I asked. I wanted to know more about what had happened. Tiger’s tone changed, and he glared across the room at me, and shouted belligerently:
Mr. Jelbert, you know, Mr. Paull, he looks at us lads through his telescope from the class upstairs. He saw me. Looking at pictures. You know. Dirty pictures. Naked girls and stuff. Weren’t my book, though, Mr. Paull. It’s Fatty’s, Fatty White’s. Now Mr. Thomas has it. Fatty’ll murder me. I’ve got to go back to the boss’s office after school. And I’ll get caned. I’ll get six, I know I will.”

I calmed him down as best I could. 
Tiger turned and went to his usual spot at the back of the lab. He looked sulky and angry.

I read a few lines about gases from the science book, closed it, and picked up the chalk. As I was writing on the blackboard, asking the kids to open up their journals and copy my notes, there was a loud shout of “CHRIST!” from the back of the room. Startled, every head turned to see what was going on. Tiger was standing up and pointing his index finger and thumb at the bell jar. His eyes now were wide open. 

"F*#  ‘ell! Look!’ Mr. Paull, Mr.Paull, there’s a spider ‘ere! It’s killing a creepy-crawly! It’s f*^** killing it! Look!!!”

I raised my hand. ”Tiger, watch your language!”

” Mr. Paull, Mr. Paull, Can’t ‘elp it. I can’t f*ing believe it. Look at THAT! The spider, f*+** great!! Fz+** GREAT!!"

I told him to sit down, leave the spider alone, and get out his science journal. I turned to the class, some standing near their seats, wanting to know what was going on. “Wassup wiv Tiger, Mr.Paull?” asked Michael. “’e sick or summat? 'E swore. Used the F word, sir. Wot you goin’ to do?”

I tried to settle everyone down. “C’mon. Everybody. Thank you, Michael.  Never mind Tiger. He’s just having a moment.” “Get on with your writing. C’mon everybody, no big deal.”

The spider eating her lunch, of course, was, for Tiger, far more interesting than my science-reading lesson. Tiger swearing loudly was much more captivating than my science-reading lesson for the class. “Let’s see. I wanna see,” shouted David.
I gave in. “Go on, then, everyone, take a look. Go and see what’s in the jar – then get back to your seats.”

The class didn’t need telling twice. Everyone rushed to join Tiger at the back of the room. He pointed at the spider in the jar. “Look at that,” he shouted. “Bloody great!” The kids stared at the jar and started chattering excitedly about the spider – excited chatter was something I had never heard in one of my science lessons.
“Ain’t never seen a spider like that! What is it? Wos it doin’?” someone asked. One of the girls, Diane, said the spider was so beautiful. “Can I look at it, sir? Please?” “Can I get a maggy glass from the drawer?” she asked.

I thought for a moment. Why not? “‘Course. Go on. Get the tray of maggies.” Diane fetched the tray and chose a magnifying glass and held it close to the jar, peering at the spider. “It’s great, Can I draw it, sir? Please? Can I?” she asked.
 “Of course.” I answered,  “Use your pencil, not your pen. Oh, don’t, though, draw it in your science book. That’s for science. Here, there’s a piece of scrap-paper on my desk you can use.”
Dianne looked at me, and asked, drily, “Aren’t spiders science, Mr. Paull?”
“’Course, Dianne. Sorry.” I replied, kicking myself.  “Do it, drawing, oh, go on, put it in your science journal.”

The idea caught on and a few more girls also wanted to draw the spider, sitting in her web, clasping the poor silverfish. Tiger did not draw the spider in his journal. He sat very still, ignoring me and everyone else, watching the jar, mesmerized.

Tiger stayed behind after class, and, with a warm grin and an impish twinkle in his eye, said,  “The spider’s great, sir, ain’t it great?” “You like ‘em?” “Spiders? They’re brill!” He looked up at me. “Sorry I swore, sir, sorry. Won’t do it again. ‘Onest!! on wanna draw, Mr. Paull. Can’t draw, you know. Scabby drawer.”
 “Well,” I said, “I think you can draw, but your pictures are a bit rude, you know.” “Really rude.”

Tiger smiled and then said he was going to get some spiders of his own as soon as he got home.
“Good, but now get off to your next class. Don’t be late,” I said. “Oh, and don’t forget to see Mr. Thomas………….and be sure to give the book back to your friend.”

The next day, there was Tiger waiting for me, before school started, with that impish smile on his face. “Found ‘em, Mr. Paull, found ‘em.” Tiger had a jar in his satchel. “There were stacks of ‘em. Tiny ‘uns. Babs, I think, ain’t they? I got free or four. Can I keep them in the lab, Mr. Paull?”
“ Go on! Can I? Next to yours?” Then, he added: “Found out about ‘em, too, Mr. Paull. My dad knows what they are – they’re Garden Spiders, and they eat flies and stuff. You know what? You’re ok, Mr. Paull. Sorry, sorry, I swore.”
 “Thank you, Tiger, thank you. I appreciate that.” I said. “I’m sorry you swore, too.”

I gave him four jars, telling him that spiders can’t live together without paralyzing and eating each other. “Make a home for each one, ok? Quick, school’s starting soon.” OH, and you can tell your class what you know about spiders, ok?”

When his class came for science, Tiger stood by the blackboard,  looking sheepishly at the front of the room, and told a very respectful, quiet, surprised, and very attentive audience what he had learned about spiders. I was fascinated to see how Tiger caught everyone’s attention with his excited, twitchy, body movements. Tiger had at last discovered something in my science period that made him feel that wonderful, inside –your-head glow when the brain is alive and alert. His classmates felt it, too.

“Spiders, “ he said, “ are dead good.” “Look at this one. It’s a beaut.” He held up one of the jars.
 “Guess what I found out………….spiders suck their food after they’ve crushed and made it watery…….ain’t only the gals that make silk……..the fella spiders make silk, too, but only when they’re young………..then they stop and go looking for a spider girl-friend. They mate on the web………….sometimes the gals kill and eat the fellas.” “Some spiders chase after stuff they want to eat.”

He’d really done his homework. I was taken aback by how much Tiger knew, thinking: “Where did he learn that from, then? All from his dad?” “Well, I know for sure it weren’t from me in science lessons.” Tiger told his audience that, if anyone wanted to watch, he was going to release the spiders and their eggs in the school garden at lunchtime. “They’re goin’ to die soon, y’know, and the eggs will ‘atch, next year, spring, right, Mr. Paull?”

When he’d finished, everyone clapped. 

This was Tiger’s finest hour. “Any questions for Tiger?” I asked. The hands went up, and Tiger was asked a million questions, some of which he could answer. What a wonderful lesson about teaching and learning, I thought.

That night I checked my spider’s identity in a spider book, learning that it was Meta segmentata, a common garden species related to the garden spider. Its courtship routine was different, though. The male, I read, drives off other male suitors, but doesn’t advance towards the female until an insect is caught on the female’s web. Both spiders then move towards the struggling insect. The male’s front legs are larger than the female and he uses them to push the female away from the insect.

He then gift-wraps the prey. As the female tucks into her dinner, the male wraps silk around her legs and then mates with her.

The following day, I went to school early in the morning, an hour or so before the official start of the day, and went to the science storeroom. I gathered a box full of microscopes, racks of test tubes, flasks, and other scientific equipment.  I set them out in the science lab. I made the room look like, well, a science lab. Oh, and rearranged the stools so that the kids could sit in groups.
When Tiger’s class came through the door, the boys and girls looked at my displays of science equipment.
“Hey,” said one, “look….look at all this science stuff……..and hey, look, we ain’t sitting alone. He’s put us in groups. Mornin’, sir, this stuff looks great. Can we touch it?”

Tiger showed me a picture he’d drawn at home of the beautiful orb-web spider. “Look, sir, Mr. Paull, see what I did. Can I glue it on the cover of my science journal, Mr. Paull?”
Hey, Tiger, Tiger,” I said,  “you did it. You drew your spider. You can draw, see?And you can draw pretty good.”

Seeing Tiger operating like a young scientist, was a first-time experience in my classroom.
I had learned, by sheer luck, what motivated and engaged my most challenging pupil: observing and studying a small spider.

It was, in fact, an incredible teachable moment.

It was THE first ‘Come on, John Paull, be a REAL teacher. Be professional. Earn your pension.’ wake-up call.

Thank you, Tiger. Thank you.

You helped shape my teaching.

From that day on, I thought as much, if not more, about how to bring my pupils into my lessons, how to capture their curiosity, how to engage and motivate them. A daily display of something from nature would help........a nature table.

Well, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But it certainly made me more interested in my teaching. And the table added so much to the atmosphere and look of my classrooms.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

NYT August 3rd

Two great articles in the Sunday Times Review section:

  1. Go Take a Hike, by Nicholas Kristoff
  2. A Man and his Cat, by Tim Kreider
Wish I'd written both of them!!
Read them if you get a chance.

NEW POST: Creating YOUR K-6 classroom community - from the first day of a new academic year.


Since retiring from my lifetime's work teaching children and teaching teachers (running a long-time teacher preparation program, visiting scores of classrooms, mentoring umpteen new and experienced teachers, lecturing at university, running science classes for children and adults), I've often been asked: "Why don't you set up a formalized mentoring program?"

Well, here's my shot at that - to make use of my existing BLOG (and my google site: ) and create a post in which I describe my planning for the start of a new term and the tried and tested procedures/ideas that I have used/use/will continue to use in my teaching.

IF any reader would like to communicate with me for conversation or to acquire one of the countless articles I've written, s/he could either add a BLOG comment or write to me:

OK, here goes. Here's my first attempt, one, I'm sure, I'll constantly edit :) and change and add to.

Basics, first:       

I'm going to describe what I would do/have done, in my classrooms with children aged between 9 and 11 - let's say, 30 of them - in my ideal teaching space.

At the appropriate time, when I've had a holiday break, done all the gardening that needed doing, I begin to think more and more about school. I know what needs to be done. I know I need to:

  • have a meeting with the parents about a week before school starts. I've always found this really useful as it gives the parents some insight into their child's new teacher. I fix up meeting times with anyone who wants to talk with me privately.
  • read through the school records of my new class and check if there any significant issues I need to know about
  • go to school and do what I can to create the ideal classroom.

What's my ideal teaching classroom/space ?        Well, it's a classroom that has plenty of space for me and the kids to move around, display opportunities, a large whiteboard, tables and chairs/cushions for my 30 children to sit in groups of four, storage for the class's resources, and windows that oversee the outdoors where we can see the clouds and the sun, and where I would place a bird feeder and water container.  

It has a work area, preferably tiled, with access to water and worktops, and a carpeted area where children can sit on cushions comfortably on the floor. There's string suspended from the wall corners and ceiling for me to display children's work.  There's a table and chair for me, close to the technology corner where there's four or five computers and a couple of printers.  There's plenty of wall space to display children's work and hang things on.


As the opening day of the term approaches, as I become more and more pre-occupied with what lies ahead, I go to school and set up my room.
  • Because of who I am and what intrigues/fascinates me, I want to make sure my teaching space has points of interest, like, for example, the spider house in the picture above, made from an unwanted cupboard and brought in from home. Notice in the picture the cushions and the picture reference books that are close by. These books are a mix of my personal copies, books from the school library, others on long-term loan from the local public library.
The science table will be resourced with magnifying glasses,
timers, balances, and anything else that helps my kids see and learn more
about what's on display.
  • Close to the window and the spider house, I create a science/discovery/nature table, on which I set a range of  Mother Nature's delights. This table, placed against a wall with display space, will, I hope, be constantly changing,  and will be owned and managed by everyone in the classroom. Children will be assigned weekly to keep it neat and tidy.
  • I arrange the seating in fours (ideally, two boys, two girls) around small work tables. I write the names of each table's occupants and leave it in the middle. I know I shall keep changing the group membership until I have it right. Ideally, a group will comprise two boys, two girls,  covering a range of culture and ability, who get on well with each other. I will set numerous community-building activities in the early days so that the team of four develop a working/social rapport.

  • Next, I check where to put my resources (those needed by the kids, that is, and those that will be needed by me) and make sure I have enough of this and that and the other (!) and that everything is accessible to the students. Again, eventually children will be assigned to look after the resources.
  • I write each student's name on lollipop stick and place them in a jar.
  • I then make a library/reading corner, complete with a couple of cushions, set out some books, another table for art near the classroom water supply, and then another for mathematics (similar in style to my science/nature table).
When everything is as I think I want it, for the time being, anyway, I stand by the door and take yet another look around............oh, yes, I can see forgot to cover all the wall display areas with colored paper and give each one a heading (for example, CLASS NEWS, CLASS PICTURES, SCIENCE TIMES, The WORLD of SCIENCE, The WORLD of MATHEMATICS, BOOK of the MONTH, CLASSROOM RULES, CLASS ART)! Oh, I also need to write my name ona poster and mount it on a stick........I'll place it outside so the kids know where to line up when they hear the first whistle/bell.

An hour or so later, when I've done what was needed, and it looks all set to go, I check again to ensure I have what I most need for the first day that will focus on community-building activities - lots of paper bags, cottonwood twigs, small empty tins, the lollipop (oops, sorry, I mean popsicle) sticks, and my pocket museum. I put the bags and twigs and tins by the teacher's chair, pick up my pocket museum, fill up the bird feeder and bird bath, and head for mind abuzz. 

Of course, in the preceding weeks and days, I've already given a great deal of thought to the boys and girls who will be in my class. I know from detailed reports the levels of achievement in reading, writing and arithmetic. I also know from staffroom conversations about those who have challenged their teachers for whatever reason. I know from meetings with my Special Ed. colleagues which children will require special attention. I know from staffroom gossip which parents will be most helpful to me - and otherwise. Knowing all this, though, I do not purposefully put certain kids together on their tables. For Day One, it's more to do with a balance of boys and girls (2 and 2, if that is mathematically possible which it never is).

All of the above, of course, takes up more than it should of my summer break, but, hey, being prepared in every way possible is worth every minute. 

OK. Now that I've been in school and set it up, I now have everything ready for Day One, everything I need to begin teaching in my classroom that I hope, physically and emotionally, meets the needs of my students, a learning environment based on mutual respect, co-ownership/responsibility of resources, with an over-riding atmosphere of respect and desire for learning. 

My science table 1974
My classroom 1973



DAY ONE..........just before the kids come in.

I'm sure the night before the kids come to school will be a restless night for me (it was always the same for me, year after year, term after term: I would spent half the night worrying about this and that and the other. Does that ring a pretty loud bell with you? I bet it does:) ).

Up and off early, I'll stop at the nearest Starbucks, get my black coffee, get to school before everyone else, put an orb web spider into the spider house that has soil and plants, and fiddle around in my classroom, moving perhaps a chair or table into yet another new spot, check for the millionth time the teaching and learning resources - especially the pens and pencils - writing and rewriting the date and the sequence of the day's events on the board.

Then, as school time approaches and the yard fills with kids and parents,  I'll go in the yard and meet my new class.........

When the whistle is blown and the kids line up, I'll wait by the classroom door and, beginning the day's emphasis on community building (the first day spent entirely on this saves many hours of teaching frustration throughout the forthcoming year!), shake everyone by the hand as they come into the classroom. As the boys and girls hang up their coats and bags, I'll invite them to sit around me on the carpeted floor. I'll introduce myself, and, as I speak, I slowly take an old OXO tin from my pocket.

Showing my wishing rock at a recent workshop....

I'll stare at it, and by doing so, thus grab the rapt attention of my class. What's in the tin, they wonder.  It ALWAYS works! 
"This," I say, "is my pocket museum." I fiddle with it for a bit and open it ………slowly. Inside is a small pebble - a wishing rock - I found many, many years ago. I'll take it out of the tin, and put the wishing rock in the palm of my hand. Using my softest voice, I'll tell the class why it’s important to me (I found it on my 5th birthday, 67 years ago).

My wishing rock and amber - found on a beach by me on my fifth birthday........

There's always a reaction to this story and plenty of questions. "Can you really send wishes, Mr. Paull?"
I smile. "What do you think?" I ask. I tell them what happened when I sent my mum my very first wish. She told me that she felt the wish - it gave her a tingle down her spine! From that day to this, I have sent oodles and doodles of wishes........:)

At the appropriate time, I'll put the rock back in the tin, close it and put it back in my pocket. Then take out a handful of cottonwood twigs from my leather bag that I collected over the summer and pass them around the class, asking the boys and girls to take one taped pack of three each.

I'll hold one twig aloft and ceremoniously break it at the growth scar. Unless I'm unlucky, I find a beautiful star inside the twig which I show and pass around and show to the kids. There's always plenty of Ooohs and Aaahs. 

I then will tell them the Native American legend I first heard when working in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, many years ago, the legend that all stars in the sky come from the earth below our feet.

The Secret of the Star…..

Some Native Americans believe all things come from Mother Earth. 

They believe that stars form in the earth and search for the roots of the magical cottonwood trees.
They finally come to rest in the small twigs at the end of the cottonwood branches. Here, they wait.................until they are needed. 

When the Spirit of the Night Sky decides that she needs more twinkling, beautiful stars, she calls on the Wind Spirit to shake all the cottonwood trees.

The Wind Spirit blows and blows, and as the cottonwood twigs break off, the twinkling stars are released and race up to a special place in the Night Sky.

If YOU want to add a new star to the night sky, find some secret cottonwood twigs, wait for a clear night, and hold up your twigs to the sky - and SNAP!  

Then, look up into the night sky again.

Can you see YOUR star twinkling?

Imagine -   you have added a beautiful new star to the night sky kingdom......

"Now," I say, "break yours........and release your star."

After lots of Ooohs and Aaahs, I tell the kids how I  look forward to everyone shining like a star!! 

By now it's time for the children to introduce themselves to each other, so I ask them to take their seats around their tables, face me and listen to the instructions for the Picasso in a bag!! activity.

It’s easy to resource and easy to put in action. All each student needs is a large paper bag, a marker pen, and a sheet of white paper.

I'll model the process by putting my white paper inside the bag. Holding my pen in hand, I'll rest it on the middle of the paper and let the bag cover my hand. Then I'll look at a person next to me, and without looking inside the bag, I proceed to draw his/her face.

When I’ve finished, I ask the students to look at the person closest to them and do what I did – draw the person’s face, resisting the temptation to look in the bag! The room goes quiet as the students draw, and then erupts into laughter when the results are shared. (The drawing then can be saved and, later, displayed on the wall near the white board).

OK.......stage one of building my community is over. It's now morning snack/break/recess time. I'll go outside with the kids and interact with them - if and when that is appropriate.

At the end of the break, I again stand by the door and shake everyone's hand as they enter the room. They go to their seats. I stand at the front of the class, point to the science table and talk briefly about what's on show there, emphasizing that it belongs to them and thus will constantly change.
I point to the spider house and tell them a little about its occupant. "Hopefully," I tell the class, "the spider will make a beautiful web...........let's check it each day and see what she's up to."
Next, I explain where things are kept, take a few questions, and point to the board and explain how the rest of the day will play out. Then I ask the class to write some personal detail to go with their Picasso picture, saying that I will stick all the pictures on the wall.......

As they scratch their heads and begin to write, I circulate and interact with as many as kids as I can..........

When everyone has completed their Picasso picture personal detail, I give everyone a sheet entailed: WHERE'S THIS KEPT IN OUR CLASSROOM? - this comprises a list of resources which the children quickly have to find.

That done, I then set a challenge for each team of 4 - either build a bridge from newspaper that links one table to another, OR, build a tower from newspaper that reaches and touches the ceiling. The resources required for this activity are newspaper and sticky tape. 

When each team finishes, I walk around the room and I test the strength of each bridge/tower (a rock is placed at the middle of each bridge/I place an orange at the top of each tower).

OK.........I check the clock.......that's the morning's lunchtime.

I go in the lunchroom and sit with some of my kids and check how the morning has gone.....then I go to the yard, again interact where and when appropriate, and watch.

After lunch, we'll gather together on the carpet. This is the time I set aside for questions and comments..........and is often a lively and useful time, especially for anyone still nervous and/or shy. I begin the process by taking out a lollipop (sorry, popsicle) stick from the jar and read out the name: "Jack, you ok? Enjoying the day so far? Any questions for me?" Then another stick, and another.......

I explain the seating arrangements and tell the kids that it will be different the next day........and that I'll continue to move people around until /I/we have got it right. I ask for volunteers to look after everything that's in the room, and then write the names on a large sheet which I stick on the wall (looking after the science table, the spider house, art resources, library books, etc.)

When that's done, I suggest we have time to talk with each other, using our INSIDE voices.

It's now mid afternoon...............time for me to hand out an empty tin for each student ('Hey, here's your first pocket museum tin') and a Scavenger Hunt sheet and then go outside for about 15 minutes. 

I'll take the class to the school lawn and talk about the scavenger hunt activity, stressing that they check off the list as they find what they are looking for, and that only ONE thing is to be collected and put into the tin.

Here's the Scavenger Hunt sheet:

‘I’m a Collector’
 When you go for a walk, don’t disturb the small creatures 
that live outside. It’s their home.

See if you can find………….

Something green

Something red

Something yellow

Something brown

Something black

Something pointy

A blade of grass longer than your index finger

A piece of petrified wood

An animal track

A piece of bark

A spider web

A feather

A pine cone eaten by a squirrel

A heart-shaped rock

A pebble smaller than a dime

A pebble the same size as a quarter

A wishing rock

A white pebble

A black pebble

A leaf skeleton

Something a bird would eat

A dead branch as long as your thumb

A flower

A flower seed

A tree seed

A twig with pine bark beetle galleries

Some moondust!!

Something really, REALLY cool!


When we return to our room, we'll sit in a circle and show and share the really cool things we found, and then place them on the science table.

I'll end the day by asking them to take home their tin, decorate it if they wish, and put something special inside and bring it to school on Day Two, and share with their class.

I thank them for a dead good day and hope they have the best of evenings........

When the kids have gone, I sit and think back on what I learned about them during the first day. I make a few notes: what/who stood out in my mind? What, if anything, will they bring in to share tomorrow? How was the grouping? 

I gather the Picasso pictures and stick them on the wall near the white board, set out the resources the class will need first thing in the morning, check that the spider has everything she needs, then I go home, sip a glass (or three) of wine, and start worrying again........:).

Did I do everything I wanted to do? Let's go through the checklist: cottonwood stars, Picasso, OXO pocket museum, scavenger hunt, showed the kids all the resources, talked about the science table, looking after the spider house, used the jar with the kids' names on the lollipop sticks.............yep. Did all those things. Good. OK. now, tomorrow.......

READER: I have stuff I've written about the wishing rock, how to make a pocket museum, the secret of the cottonwood star, and Picasso in a bag. If you'd like me to email you a copy of any of them, just let me know.

So, Day Two.........what lies ahead?

Well, here's my plan:

Change the seating, have a show and tell pocket museum time, describe the function of the Treasure Chest, table team challenge, read something from The Science section in Tuesday's NYT and post it on the display board near the science table, negotiate/discuss class rules and responsibilities, agree student jobs (feeding the birds, checking on the spider, etc.) my hopes for the year, give out writing books, text books for mathematics, start reading a story to the class.....

Can't wait to show my kids this Sphinx moth that I found.........I'll put it into a pocket museum
and show them first thing in the morning. Just doing that will tell them more about me.......

As day 2 is a Tuesday, I'll start reading the Science Section in the NYT
and see if there's anything that is appropriate
and interesting to read to the kids
I'll put these out on the science table

I'll show them the Class Treasure Box

and, and and, and............

OK, Day Two       

Early start, as usual, I double check I take everything I need for the day ahead(the NYT, stuff for the science table, empty food cartons, my diary and notebook, etc, etc.)  stop at the nearest Starbucks' for a hot, medium strength coffee, get to school, go to my room and shut the door.

The first I do is get the resources on the tables for the morning's team challenge: Make a marble run.

I put out a large piece of cardboard, strips of paper, tape and a marble on each table.

This is what the kids will do:

Make a marble run, using the paper strips as runway for the descending marble.
Place a couple of books under one end of the marble run.

·      Did the marble run without stopping from top to bottom?     
What happens when you alter the height of the ramp?

·      What happens when you DOUBLE the height of the ramp?
·       Can you make a VERTICAL marble run? Is it BETTER than the marble run you rested on a ramp?

! Think about the following questions.  Guess before testing.
  • How long does it take the marble to run from the top of the run to the bottom?
  • How can you make it faster?
  • Can you make a VERTICAL marble run?
  • What else could you investigate?

Then I put my latest sciency finds on the science table:

Dead wood with sap..........lying alongside a piece of amber which, millions of years ago,
started its life as sap

Some shells from my holiday....

A mushroom from the front garden

OK, when everything's ready I go out in the yard before the whistle goes and chat with some of the parents.

When my class lines up at the sound of the whistle, I go inside, ready to greet each one of them at the door. I shake everyone's hand, and ask the class to sit around on the floor as soon as they have put away their coats and bags.

I read out the attendance sheet, asks who's staying for lunch, and then, after a pause, I take out my pocket museum that has the moth inside.
"See what I found yesterday." I show my kids the moth, telling them I found it lying dead outside IKEA........"See, you never know what you're going to find if you keep your eyes wide open!"

After telling them what I know about the moth, I put the pocket museum in the Class Treasure Chest.
"Anyone wants to take a closer look at the moth, it's in the Treasure Chest. Use a magnifying glass, though......don't touch it with your fingers, please. OK? OK, showtime! Who has anything to share? who put something interesting in their pocket museums?"

Up go the hands.

When all the sharing is done, I tell everyone to put their pocket museums in the Treasure Chest, go to their new tables, and take on the team marble run challenge. 

I visit every table and watch the kids at work, sharing ideas, agreeing on the best way to do this, that and the other.This activity takes us up to morning recess/break time and tells me more about who really should be sitting with whom....

After recess, we again sit in a circle and negotiate and agree classroom rules - which I try to keep at a minimum and focus more on what students CAN do as opposed to what they CAN'T do. When the rules are confirmed, I write them on a large sheet and display on a wall. Now it's time for sorting out the other class responsibilities (looking after the work tables, for example) and, again, writing and displaying them on the wall.

OK.........all done, I hope. Now we need to start the curriculum teaching and learning routines. I will make necessary changes/additions when the time is ripe, especially the permanent seating arrangements.

So, time to make their own personal journal covers from food cartons ......

This box, one of many that I bring in to the classroom,  will be cut
and used for the front and back of the student's private journal

My community of learners are on their way. 
The rest is easy peasy.........:) 

Let the learning begin.......