Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pow WOW 2013

The day was all that I anticipated.  We dressed our little natives as they came in this morning.  Each of the kindergarten classes represented a different tribe from a different region of the country and the dress they wore was as authentic as possible to that tribe.  As the tribes gathered in circles between the soccer goals, you could smell the fire as the brilliant colors from the costumes flashed in the sun.
The Iroquois

The Inuit

The Nez Perce

The Sioux

The Seminole

The Lenape

We each danced a tribal dance and then sang two songs that we had learned with our music teachers.  One actually has verses in a native tongue.

One of the PE teachers, dressed at Chief Chets Creek, danced between the tribes.  Our Principal and Assistant Principal host the event and Chief Jumping Frog (Susan Phillips) tells the children of a day long ago when the very land the children stand on was trampled by Timucan children.  The performance ended with the children lined up in front their flags (held by their fifth grade patrols) so that parents could snap pictures to their heart's content.

But that was just the beginning of the day.  Our tribe started with tribal games outside.  The children divided into teams and went on a scavenger hunt to find berries and beans and bark and even black bear fur around the grounds! Parents helped each group count the things they had found from their list.

We ate bag lunches from home together, inviting parents to join in the fun.

Then it was food tasting.  We tasted some of the foods that the natives might have had, like fresh and dried fruit, dried meat, and foods made from corn like corn chips, corn muffins and popcorn.  As the children ate, they heard the beautiful story of the Rainbow Raven, another legend to add to the many that the children have loved these last few weeks.

The music teachers had an engaging center and taught us a new song.  The children had  a chance to experience beating drums!  What child does not love to beat the drums!

The art teachers prepared individual pieces of clay for the children to mold into medallions and then stamp with a Native symbol.  These will be fired.  Many of these will be dated and hung on Christmas trees as a reminder of this great experience.

Another art teacher prepared a center of native dyes.  The children painted with blueberries, cranberries, beets and spices.  They were so interested in how the Natives made colors when they couldn't go to the store and just buy them.

The day ended with our tribe gathered in the great tepee with Peaceful Waters.  We heard calming legends and then she passed the talking stick, asking each child what he or she was thankful for.  The children were thoughtful and gave heartfelt answers, but it's when she passed the stick to the parents, that tears welled up in their eyes.  They realized that they have just experienced something so very special. 

When I think of all that has happened in this unit and all the people in our school that go over and above to make it happen,  I am so very thankful... so VERY thankful...

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Night Before Pow Wow

It is the night before Pow Wow and I can't sleep.  Wonder if there are little Native Americans under their covers, just like me,  wide-eyed thinking about all we have done this week and about the big event tomorrow?  We had a wonderful family night on Tuesday where families in each tribe made Native dwellings.  We made longhouses for our Mighty Iroquois tribe, but others made tepees and wigwams and igloos and chickees.   Our families then had an opportunity to go through the hallways and hear presentations about the tribes from fifth graders who completed projects for their fifth grade Social Studies.  Our longhouses sit in the hallway under the gingerbread cut-outs that the families decorated in Native dress.  The knotted ropes hang in our classroom as a reminder of the stories that families told to their children last week as homework to emphasize the oral tradition of storytelling, so much a part of the Native tradition.  We have loved the books and videos we have seen about legends and tales - the Creation story of the Sky Woman, the tale of how rabbit got its tail and how rabbit outsmarted bear in a race.  We learned why the Iroquois make their dolls with no faces.  We learned about the whale who landed on the mountain and how that story was turned into a totem pole - another way some tribes told stories.  So many great stories... 

Are we ready for tomorrow?  The children beaded the shakers this morning (out last costume project), we had our last practice with the entire Kindergarten (over 200 little Natives!), the costumes pieces so lovingly prepared by parents and teachers are in Ziploc bags at each child's seat labeled with each child's Native American name, the special decorated brown paper bags were sent home today for bag lunches tomorrow, we know our songs and dances, and this afternoon as I left school, the mighty teepee was ready to go up around the flag pole. 

The tepee came from the imagination of Media Specialist KK Cherney and the creativity of longtime Creek volunteer JB Boyd and Karen Willet and the help of countless others.  When it is erected it will seat an entire class of 36 with their parents and is one of the most endearing parts of our day.  Our live performance of six individual tribes is presented first thing in the morning but the day is filled with exciting centers to give the children experiences to help them understand the Native culture.  For our class, the visit to the tepee and the talking stick of Peaceful Waters (known as Miss KK) will be the perfect end to our day!

I feel so fortunate to work at a school where the entire faculty comes together to make possible such an impressive event for our children.  The Resource teachers will teach Native songs tomorrow, will host a tasting center, will  let the children paint with natural dyes, will tell stories and will have the children make Native medallions from clay.  The kinder teachers will provide their lunch - such a small payment for such a large contribution.  The Principal and Assistant Principal will be dressed as Native Chiefs and will host our live presentation. I mean - Wow!  No wonder I can't sleep!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Family Night- Native American Style

This week we are putting the last touches on our Pow Wow to be performed on Friday, but tonight was our kindergarten family event.  PTA hosted dinner and then families were invited to go to their kindergarten classroom and make a dwelling for their tribe.  Our families who will represent the Might Iroquois Nation made longhouses.  The Sioux made teepees, the Inuit made igloos, the Seminoles made chickees...  At the same time our fifth graders presented their Native American projects.  Each group had a table and presentation about the tribe their class had chosen.  These are the same fifth graders that once were presenting Pow Wow in Kindergarten.  The children could  travel through the hallways with their families and listen to the various presentations and get a passport stamped.  After their passport was stamped they presented it to the Principal for a treat!  It is a fun night that represents our Circle of Life Native American projects.
Parents work with their child to make a Native American dwelling.

Longhouses of the Iroquios

5th grade student projects about the Mighty Iroquois Nation

5th grade student projects about the Hopi tribe

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Technology at its Finest!

The county has purchased a computer support program for Math, called I-Ready.  Hooray! So we have been charged with getting all of our little ones on the computer and through the pre-test.  Sounds simple, right?  Not!  First the children, some who have never used a mouse before, are expected to log on to the county's system.  The county doesn't make that easy for a 5-year old.  Their username is a l-o-n-g sequence of numbers and letters.  Then their password is another l-o-n-g sequence of letters and numbers including both upper and lowercase letters.  Now it may be simple for you and me to follow a sequence of numbers and letters on a card, but for a 5-year-old that is virtually impossible!  They can't tell the l's from the 1's (did you get that? the lowercase letter l and the number 1!)  They can't tell if it's the number 0 or the letter O, not to mention not knowing how to use the shift key to make uppercase letters.  To say it's  a nightmare is an understatement.  There is a county policy barring teachers from using their own information to log all the kids in, so how in the world can this mandate be accomplished?

The good news is that once a child learns that long sequence of letters and numbers, it stays the same for the rest of their school career - thank goodness!  Having taught Kindergarten and first grade all these many years, I know it takes until about the middle of first grade, going to the lab often, before most children can actually log in independently.  Seems like the county could come up with a little simpler system for their youngest learners, doesn't it?

But Chets Creek is built for solving problems! To solve our problem with the pre-test, we invited our fifth grade partners to join us in the computer lab.  We also invited the Technologist/Media Specialist to join us.  Good thing!  We needed every single computer for our 35 students and our Technologist had made sure all were working.  However, several of the headphones were down and had to be replaced on the spot.  Had she not been with us (and she had to rearrange classes to make it happen!) those children would have lost that time and not completed the pre-test. When we first went in, the entire system was down and had she not been there to call the county and get a fix, we would have wasted an hour of our time and our fifth grade class.  That is our more normal, frustrating experience!  But today, all was right with the world, and after some initial frustration and lack of patience, all the fifth graders were able to log their kinder on and the kinders were able to work through the problems.

I am anxious to begin using this new resource in our classroom. I am trying to figure out a way to not have to log each student on, which would have me jumping up and down 35 times during each day to log in for a child. Any suggestions?  If I don't log them in myself, they will spend their entire time logging in (and maybe never hit the magic combination) and will get no time working on Math!  Also, we only have 3 computers and will find it challenging to get every kid on every day, but nonetheless, being an optimist, can't wait!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reading with a Partner

One of the rituals and routines that we establish early in the kindergarten year is working with partners.  In reading we ask that students sit knee-to-knee and shoulder-to-shoulder with the book in between.  The partners have to work out a way to decide who gets to choose the book first and who gets to read first.  Sometimes they choral read together and sometimes they take turns, each reading a page or one child reads an entire book and then the other.  The decision is theirs.  We are so proud of how well our children have learned to read with their partners!

Thursday, November 7, 2013


I have written many times about how much I love working with my grade level.  We are a large group of different ages and abilities, but when we come together to work toward a common goal, we  do remarkable work.  I have always loved that about Chets Creek - that chance to imagine a project and then have others who want to make the journey with you.

Another way that I love to collaborate is when we have visitors in our building.  It's a chance to share our work, but it so much more than that.  When you share, when you are asked questions, it forces you to think through what you really believe. It forces you to put a voice to why you do what you do.  I hate teachers who check boxes and do what they're told without conviction or understanding.  I love to be around people that question and no matter how good they are, always want to reach higher and do it better. 

That's what I love about visitors, because they are usually there to ask questions and to learn and reach for that higher goal.  Thus, was my experience today.  I had three kindergarten teachers visiting from another school.  While they came to see my class, to just spent the time with me, they would have really missed the Chets Creek experience if they had not talked with my colleagues.  I work with incredible teachers who each have unbelievable skills and abilities.  The trouble is that you can't teach and be the tour guide at the same time.  It takes someone who understands the moral obligation we have to each other to be willing to carve out the time to make room for visitors in a busy schedule. 

Today, Suzanne Shall was that person.  She's technically the Assistant Principal and today the Principal was out- like she really has time for my little projects!  I had made arrangement for the visitors to review the RtI process while we had our Awards Ceremony (which I felt would be a waste in meeting their goals).  But at the last minute our RtI Coordinator was sick.  It happens.  Without a moment's hesitation, Suzanne stepped right in.  She gave the overview, toured the rooms and answered questions.  She could walk in any of our classrooms and pull out writing portfolios or explain what is in each child's individual reading bin.  She could explain  the Math Investigations program or where we pull our Science lessons, so by the time the visitors got to me, they were well grounded in our philosophy and already some of their most pressing questions answered.

 They visited other kindergarten classes and saw some of the best we have to offer.  They asked a zillion questions and we answered everything that they asked.  I hope that we opened a line of communication that will be far reaching because in this group of teachers I found kindred souls.  That's what collaboration is about - being willing to open your classroom and be vulnerable and being willing to get out there and see what else is going on.  The seeds that we planted today between these two school will reap huge crops over the years. 

Thank you Suzanne for being the catalyst to make it all happen.  Thank you colleagues for never saying no and for always making me so proud.  And thank you to teachers who strive to be the best they can be.  I LOVE my job!