Today we started to dig into the connections between our planet’s resources and our consumption patterns.  We watched a bit of a documentary called “Earth: The Operator’s Manual”, specifically the part about how fossil fuels are formed. The students created a flow map of the process by watching the clip three times:  once for what materials go into creating fossil fuels; once for how much time is involved; and once to track where the energy comes from and goes to.  They learned that fossil fuels take hundreds of millions of years to form, but we are burning them all up in the course of a few hundred.

We also began to examine the life-cycle of one of their favorite products, especially considering how much energy goes into each step of the cycle.  They want to go to a factory to see how energy is used.  I am so excited I can hardly contain myself!   Now I just need to find a company in the area willing to let 20 5th graders on  their factory floor….

It may be reaching, but tomorrow I am going to help the students understand how governance shifts based on consumption patterns.  Hm.  Writing it out like that makes it seem even more insane, but in a place like New Mexico, the shifts are so easily recognized.  I can resist!



I begin again.  Last year, fresh with the blush of a new teacher, I dove in to teaching and blogging, and hit my head squarely on the side of the pool of:  Too much, too fast.

This year I’m learning something important:  the practice of the reflective teacher.  I have become aware of the term.  I hope to gradually become one.  Right now, I am simply beginning reflective practice.  It is a natural part of the planning process in the IB PYP curriculum model, so it seems natural to do some reflecting publicly, to foster conversation that might help practitioners.  So…without further ado, I begin again.

I am working with my students on an economics unit focused on how consumption patterns influence supply and demand.  We’re looking at favorite product life-cycles, how fossil fuels are formed and used, and how their burning affects our planet.  I want to go deeper, to have them begin to develop their reading skills by digging into real-life texts on the environment, to develop their science skills by looking at local water quality, and make connections to our consumption patterns.  They will develop their math skills by collecting and interpreting measurements, by starting “bogus bucks” bank accounts through which they are “paid” for their work of learning, and from which they must “pay” for their consumption of school resources, plus a bit of business that seems to have spontaneously developed in the form of: “Hey, how many bogus bucks is that packet of bracelet rubber bands worth to you?”.  Apparently, B$150 isn’t too much to some students.  I hope they can pay their “rent”.

This is a bit overwhelming.  I am looking for resources to share, ideas for how to assess understanding, and most of all a sense that I am not insane trying to tie all this together.

Thoughts?  Ideas?  Resources?  Bring `em on.  I’ll share if you will…


Dreams of dreams

Last week I spent my writing energy on preparing my portfolio for an application to the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program at the University of New Mexico.  I had been shaken by my reawakened love for teaching.  After years of setting my sights on the writing life, I was distracted by the thought (again) that I need to be “practical.”  Practicality is a good thing.  How had I come back to the idea that pursuing my vision passion and were not practical?

I had gone through many iterations of the argument: I love being in the classroom, and feeling like I could just as well work on a Master’s Degree in Education.  That will undoubtedly require some writing!   Teaching 5th grade pays more than a teaching assistantship. Besides, if I need an MFA I can do it later.

But I felt so sad thinking that “practical” way.  It seemed sensible.  But I kept having dreams that disturbed me.  Romantic interests from my long lost past would appear, and I would give my life to return to them.  Night after night: the one I let go so we could become the good friends we are today; the crush I had at 14, who I thankfully never had so I didn’t need to let go.  I knew these dreams weren’t about romance.  I knew there was a message from my subconscious: Don’t give up your love.  When I connected it to my dream for an MFA everything fell into place.  I can apply.  I don’t know if I will be accepted.  I don’t know if I’ll be offered an assistantship.  And I haven’t even explored the option of continuing to teach 5th grade while I do my coursework.  So I put the application in.  I am not letting my love go.

And goodness knows I gaining a whole lot by learning from my students.  I already have volumes to write about from our time together.  I will share some of those experiences next time.  In the meantime, I’ll just bask in the glow of the knowledge that I haven’t given up on my dream.

Leading with Love

It’s so easy to forget.  We get busy, or lazy or overwhelmed, and we forget to treat every human being as if they mattered.

We made an essential agreement in our classroom.  It focused on two areas: how we treat each other and how we treat our environment.  I had little time to think about or research this exercise, and now I realize we missed a huge, important chunk about how we would approach learning.  Something to consider in next week’s planning.  But I am really glad we spent so much time on those two.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, respect became a hallmark of the discussion, and remains an important touch-point throughout our day.  Love has an important place in the classroom, too.  That is going to be the theme of my week.  Let’s see how it works out…

It’s been a long day.  I need a shower.  I’m exhausted and cranky with my children.  I don’t have much brain power, but I’ve committed to writing here.  So here I am.  And I am here because I have said for years that I am a writer.  Years, I’ve said it.  For many of them I actually wrote daily.  But it’s been months since I’ve written regularly, and I’ve felt the drought.  A big part of my recent employment drama had to do with that, I think.

In my last job, I had nothing to give to the page at the end of the day, no energy, no spirit, no love.  I was really concerned about that because I wanted to start my Masters in Fine Arts next fall, and couldn’t imagine working on it while I had that job.   I began to pray a most potent prayer (the Tablet of Ahmad, for those who are familiar), chanting it in the morning.  The third day I did that, my boss invited me into her office that afternoon and “released me from my employment during my probationary period.”  There had been very little warning, just some counseling to improve the accuracy of the 5% of my work that I did for her.  The rest of my 30 or so colleagues went ballistic because I had become a valuable member of the team.  Why it actually happened is fodder for the gossip mills of some other life.

After I left her office, I went into the bathroom, looked up to the heavens and said, “Really?  This is how You answer me?”

I was stunned.  Confused.  Later I was angry, and depressed.  And less than a week later, my friend asked me (after I told him I had lost my job), “Do you teach?”

It fell into my lap, this job.  Fell from where but the heavens?  And now I sit and write at nearly 10pm, when I have to leave the house before 7am tomorrow with a lesson plan in my hand.  I really need a shower, but I am writing because finally I have a life that demands that I write about it.  I want to say that I had a pretty good day in the classroom today.  I’m teaching my students about fractions and about blogging.  And they are going to blog about learning fractions in the disguise of writing about their experience in a “Spend a $1 Million” exercise which had them converting dollars to decimals to percent and to fractions.  I cannot tell you how amazing it was to see these 5th graders so engaged in learning, so excited about it.  And I cannot NOT write.  David Truss, if you’re out there listening, I want to know that I’m teaching math.  I want you to know I’m writing about it.  And to all of you who have ever encouraged me, either in my writing or my teaching, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Because I love it.

I’m going to go take a shower now.  Good night!

Honeymoon phase?

“Bye Ms.  Giebitz!” a student called to me as he walked towards his father’s car.  He had just said, “Ms. Giebitz, you’re the best teacher in the whole world.  You’re as good as…as good as…Mr. XXX [my predecessor]!”

Talk about heaven!  These kids loved their former teacher.  This student was one of his favorites, according to my co-teacher.  I can get no higher praise than that.  He is a teacher with decades of experience who really knows his stuff.

This may be a honeymoon phase.  It made fade over time as we grow accustomed to each other, and I may feel dejected some day.  But today was a good day.

When I taught in China, when my students got “accustomed” to me, if it can be called that, they were still hesitant to engage, to speak their minds, to think for themselves sometimes.  But my students here are like cactus in the desert during a summer rain.  They soak it up and blossom in the most beautiful ways. They engage, lights turn on.

Sometimes they engage and hit a wall.  One student cried on my shoulder when the “Spend $1 Million” exercise proved far more difficult than she intended.  (A group of 4 or 5 students decide how to spend $1 Million together. The exercise helps the students translate between fractions, decimals and percentages, and to articulate their reasoning behind the groups’ decisions.)  The instructions were to only buy four to five really big things (a house, a car, etc.)  Their whiteboard had 10 items on it.  The math had become extremely difficult.  She thought the most important thing was to get it right, and to keep up with the other groups.  I tried to reassure her that she was doing exactly what she needed to do: learn.

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this teaching thing.  I know I’m starting to love it.

Will teaching make me a better person?  This evening I noticed that I was more patient with my own children.  I don’t seem to loose patience in the classroom, which seems like a bit of a miracle considering how easy it is to loose patience in my home.  I was reflecting on moments in the last few months where I have had to remove myself from the room just to calm down, usually after a long day at my old job.  I was mentally exhausted by work that I didn’t find all that meaningful, though I enjoyed working with my colleagues and believed in our mission.  Perhaps meaningful work is the key.

I’ve been in my classroom for two days now, and I feel like I’m making a difference in those kids’ lives.  I feel like they are beginning to get that there is one more person in the world that really cares about them.  I feel if I make a smidgeon of headway in helping someone  understand fractions or their digital footprint I’ve changed their lives forever.  What a priviledge!

Perhaps spending my day doing that with young people reminds me that my own young ones are also precious, and deserve every bit of loving, patient care that I can give them.  If that is the case I am grateful more than I can say.   I can’t excuse my impatience in the past by blaming it on job stress, but it does help me understand the difference in my after-work attitude at home.  I feel better, even though I am exhausted and a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work there is  just to get ready to walk into a classroom. I hope this is a trend, and that it continues.  Because I like myself just a little bit more at the end of the day, and that ain’t half bad.

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