Category Archives: Elementary Education

Gordie Howe and the Voyageurs Sparked My Love of History

Michigan MapI really liked school when I was a kid, but in 4th grade, I discovered that history was my first great love. It all started with my Michigan state history class, when I learned that my goofy-shaped home was a pretty great place to live.

The textbooks we used—some of the first that I had encountered in my young educational career—had worn-out brown covers and were Continue reading

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LeVar Burton Was My First Black Friend

LeVarBurton_headshotYou might say that LeVar Burton is one of the first black people I ever met. And that’s exactly how the producers and executives at PBS wanted it.

I grew up in a very white bread town in Northern Michigan. With the exception of a handful of Native American residents whose families lived on that land long before the voyageurs ever showed up, the vast majority of folks in that town and for hundreds of miles around were white. Despite that, I still felt like I knew people who looked and lived differently than I did, Continue reading

I Cheated in 3rd Grade Math

Flash CardsI have a secret to share with you all: I cheated on one of my 3rd grade multiplication quizzes, and it was all because I was obsessed with getting to the top of Multiplication Mountain. Many elementary school classrooms feature a similar approach to teaching times tables. Students get to move to the next level after mastering a set of numbers, from their 3s to their 4s, their 4s to their 5s, and so on all the way up to 12s. In my case, that meant the summit of a very impressive peak on our classroom’s massive bulletin board. Continue reading

One Shining Example of Social Studies Education at Work

George Washington's horse.

Original artwork from my niece. We’ll just say that this is George Washington’s horse.

I learned last night that my niece, who is in the 5th grade, is currently in the middle of a social studies unit about American civics. I was practically giddy with excitement over this as I went through some flash cards of terms and concepts with her. (I think my enthusiasm confused her, but she’s more or less used to my nerdiness by now. Also, I’m glad she’s learning about impeachment from her class instead of from Monica Lewinski and CNN like I did when I was in 5th grade.) Continue reading

The Pope, a Bullet, and Character Education

Pet Blessing 1994

My brother and me at our school’s pet blessing in 1994. That fish was definitely holier than any of the public school kids’ fish were.

When I was a 2nd grader at a Catholic elementary school, Pope John Paul II was like a real-life Santa Claus. Everybody my age liked him so much, we didn’t even care that he was never going to pop down the chimney and leave us presents. Just like Santa Claus, he was always smiling, he wore the same iconic outfit all the time, and whenever he talked, everybody cheered. Many of my Catholic friends to this day refer to him as JP2. Continue reading

A Thank-You to Library Workers: National Library Week

Library BooksLibrary workers aren’t just caretakers of books. They’re caretakers of the children who read them. I have such wonderful memories of my little school library when I was growing up. There was a nice soft carpet on the floor in the children’s corner, where we would sit while the librarian read books to us like The Stinky Cheese Man, a new crowd favorite. Every book had an orange card in the back, which I could write my name on as I looked at the names of the kids who had checked it out before me. The only computer in the room was used by the librarian for inventory, but with all those books, who needed a computer?

Working in a school library has changed quite a lot in the last 20 years, probably more than any other job in education. The orange cards have been replaced with bar codes. Card catalogues have been replaced with computers. The internet is just as ubiquitous as books and magazines. However, the mission of school libraries hasn’t changed: to expose children to ideas that are much bigger than themselves, and to connect children with the people who come up with those ideas. It’s a big world outside the school gate, and media has a way of making that world seem bigger and smaller at the same time. Throughout these technological advancements, library workers have been at the forefront of learning and implementing new educational technologies. They’re the ones helping kids put together their research projects on the Amazon rain forest. They’re the ones helping teachers experiment with math games on a new set of iPads. They’re the ones making sure that the whole school has access to the best online periodicals.

That said, they’re still the ones introducing a new class of kindergarteners to the newest, silliest books. Some things never change. When you’re a little kid, libraries can seem like magical places, but they’re not created through magic. People make them possible.

Want to support libraries in your schools and neighborhoods? Visit ilovelibraries.org and sign “The Declaration for the Right to Libraries.”

The Educational Wonder of Pudding

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When I was in 1st grade, I got to make pudding at school. In the classroom. Real food that a person could eat. This blew my 7-year-old mind. How could anyone ever possibly be allowed to cook in a school? Kids have rules upon rules set before them with the explicit intent of keeping them from having a good time. But not this time. This time my pint-sized world got turned on its head.

I’m not sure that my teacher thought herself to be a mastermind based on a box of powdered whatever and two cups of milk. Or perhaps the simplicity of it was the genius part. Like cats and a laser pointer. She totally won at teaching that day.