Reuse, Recycle, Reflect
I’ve reached that manic stage of pre-school preparation where I’m slapping together documents with the reckless abandon of a... well, of a teacher before the first week of school. Syllabi, letters home, program reports, field trip requests. If only I were paid by the word for this sort of week. Certain paragraphs, at a time like this, tend to get used more than once. For example, here’s a pithy one about the canoe which is more or less the abstract from the original grant proposal penned last spring:
Our tenth grade Humanities class will get a boats-eye view of history, culture, and technology as we build an authentic Native American canoe using traditional stone tools at Mount Vernon Estate in conjunction with the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. Students will discover the rich nexus of cultural and environmental influences that reside in the unlikely form of an age-old wooden canoe as they select and harvest a tree, use indigenous stone tools to burn and scrape the rough-hewn log, and finish it with pine tar. Beyond the classroom, we will join the regional celebration of Jamestown’s 400th Anniversary by connecting with organizations like the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where we will display our finished product in the summer of 2007. We will create a website to document this year-long project.
Here’s a second paragraph in heavy rotation this week, about a project that my freshmen will do in what we call “IBET”:
Ninth grade students in an integrated biology, English and technology program from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology will embark on an exciting partnership with public and private groups to monitor the water quality of an important local wetland. The Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1998, is a square mile of water and woods at the confluence of the Potomac and Occoquan Rivers in nearby Woodbridge, Virginia. Working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and a nonprofit conservation group, Friends of the Potomac River Refuge, students will design and execute original research experiments and gather water quality data from Catamount and Marumsco Creeks as part of what will be an ongoing effort to determine the impact of nearby development on the local watershed.
I share these paragraphs because I’m pretty sure I’ll use both of them again, in some form or another, as part of my portfolio for board certification. And, while it’s difficult to look too far over my shoulder amidst the flurry of planning for the upcoming year, in order to complete the still looming Entry Four, in addition to reusing this year’s most popular paragraphs I will need to spend time reflecting on past classroom adventures.
(Entry Four, as faithful readers of this blog or other NBPTS-savvy types will recall, tasks a candidate to describe, analyze and document “accomplishments that contribute to student learning.” In this blog, I’ve spent quite a bit of time hemming and hawing over how to do this, with the best intentions of having actually completed the entry itself by this point. I haven’t. If you too are trying to do Entry Four, see: How To Eat an Elephant, April 9; Describe, Analyze and Reflect on This, April 23; Tastes Like Chicken, April 30; Artists of Our Profession, May 7; Eat, Sleep and Breathe, May 21; The Crowded Classroom, June 4; BS Artist, June 18; During Apple-Picking, June 25.)
With one eye to the future, then, your now-cross-eyed guide glances back in time several years to retrieve another blurb, polished by frequent use then, that describes a program I developed at my last school:
How can children hold learning in their hands? At ACDS, we seek to answer that question with an exciting new program called Learning Alive! This experiential education program takes students beyond page or screen, and even beyond our walls themselves, to create opportunities that our students will cherish for a lifetime.
In the middle school, students learn and apply outdoor skills on overnight trips in the fall and spring. Outings are springboards to understanding rich local and natural history, and provide the chance to master basic outdoor skills that foster a lifelong sense of independence and confidence. Throughout the year, students at all grade levels participate in curriculum-specific field trips conceived by classroom teachers, or age-appropriate outdoor activities including local canoeing, biking, and rock climbing. Guided writing and discussion nurture observation and reflection, and ultimately, a sense of connection to community and the environment.
And so, another document (this week’s post) is cobbled together in record time with a few odd paragraphs found lying around the desk. And, as I continue to inch toward actually assembling my NBPTS portfolio, the process already begins to illuminate patterns in my teaching and philosophy that I had only vaguely recognized before.