Let’s talk about art projects, because they’re part of learning, too.
I’ve been collecting stamps for years. Stamps can be quite beautiful works of art. A few weeks ago I found two tins of postage stamps (some of them old, dating back to 1947) that my paternal grandmother saved, and some that I had saved, too, because she taught me to look for stamps. My grandma loved her stamps — I have her collection in a great book. She gave it to my dad, then it was passed along to me. Anyway, it’s fun to look through. My own kids have never taken to it, and that’s fine. It seems so old-fashioned now, I get that.
(Or “vintage,” as I prefer.)
I’m always looking for new ways to educate/entertain/engage my students, and when I came across those tins, and some construction paper, and lined paper… Well, there you have it.
I spent some time constructing little books out of the construction paper — all different colors, so that made it fun. I stapled 6 or 8 sheets of lined paper inside, found some glue sticks and scotch tape, and we were ready to go. (The stamps — most of which included the postmarks — were already trimmed and ready.)
This turned out to be one of the best lessons I’ve ever come up with, and it cost me nothing in supplies; I already had everything on hand.
I had enough stamps for two classes, and hello, I’m no fool. I wanted someone who would share my goofy joy in stamp collecting. Hi, 3rd graders, let’s get going on this fun project.
* We practiced saying “philatelist” and it is really fun to say. Philately! One of the world’s most popular hobbies! I had to dial the lesson way back once I realized that many of them weren’t familiar with the following terms:
Seriously. We do so much by auto-pay now, e-mail and texting, the kids aren’t really sending/receiving much mail, seeing letters appear in the mailbox at home, any of that. So we talked about penpals, too. I explained that “real” stamp collectors (like coin collectors) go for the uncirculated items, in pristine condition, and that no, glue and scotch tape aren’t recommended. (Acid-free paper, collections kept in boxes, inside safe deposit boxes, etc.) Smart kids — right away they wanted to know, Are these worth money? How much? And started looking for the oldest ones. I told them that they are welcome to go to a stamp/coin dealer and talk business, but that I’ve always been in it just for fun.
I suggested that they ask their parents, neighbors, grandparents, teachers, anyone, really, to save stamps for them, if they’re interested in collecting them. They each got to pick out five stamps from the tins, and we ended up with enough for both classes, plus a few extras. They decorated the covers, showed them off a bit, and really, it was super fun. We also talked about some of the things they like to collect, including (but not limited to):
Coins, rocks, dolls, video games, shells, agates, toys! and now, stamps.
One of the boys asked me if he could have a blank book and stamps, since he missed school the day we had the lesson. One of the 5th graders heard about it, and requested books and “starter stamps” for himself and his 2nd grade sister. One of the girls asked me for an extra book, “I already filled mine up!” Please bring it to show me, I asked her, and she did.
It’s just beautiful. Lovely stamps from around the world. Where did they all come from? I asked.
…we’re working on reading, math, reading, keyboarding, math and Google Docs.
Because we really like to write, that’s why!
And now, how about a beautiful picture for you, before we jump into the lesson?
(Photo by Steve Rawley)
(That’s Willie Nelson, with his pretty daughter, Amy, singing back-up, and his amazing harp player, Mickey Raphael. They like to make music.)
Here are some tricks I teach the students, re: writing:
I’m a writer, before I am anything else. I love being a teacher, a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, all of that. But before I was anything else in the world, I was a writer.
I “wrote” my first book, an alphabet book, when I was two and a half or so? I still have it. I didn’t know how to write, exactly, or spell, exactly, so I told my mom what I was trying to say and she wrote the words.
“A” was for acrobat.
I never gave up, and I still love writing. (Let’s see how many times I say “I” here. Sorry.) My teachers encouraged me, and friends and family. I wrote for my high school paper (a little) and my college paper (a lot), and went to work as a clerk for The Oregonian newspaper after that, where I wrote, wrote, wrote my head off.
* Don’t freeze up when you see a blank screen or a blank sheet of paper. Write “gah gah gah gah.” Write, “no, no, yes, yes, yes.” Write anything. Write: “I don’t know exactly what Mrs. R. wants me to write here, so I’ll just keep writing until I dream up something.”
* Write letters — to friends, to family members, to yourself. Write to invisible friends. Write to your grandma. Use 14- or 16-point, and write in a typeface that isn’t impossible to read. Flourishes and fancy-fancy looks good, but can be difficult to decipher.
* Write notes on cards, write notes on postcards, grab some old-fashioned stationery and envelopes. Cover the envelopes with stickers. Mail them. Snail mail still exists; learn (or re-learn) how to use it.
* Keep a journal. Write in it. Make collages, save ticket stubs and cool paper and whatever else you want — tuck it into the journal. Use colored pencils, pens, stickers, whatever you feel like. It’s yours.
* Maybe writing isn’t your thing, but music is. Maybe you’re a songwriter, but not a singer. Maybe you’re a singer, not a songwriter. Maybe you’re good at playing guitar, writing, and singing, like my buddy Willie Nelson. Or maybe your gift is painting. Gardening, knitting, doing math. Maybe you’re good with older people, or little kids. Maybe you’re a healer, and will help people feel better. My daughter had heart surgery a couple of years ago, and her surgeon, an artist in his own right, really loves to play and coach basketball. And save kids’ lives on the side. My point is — you have a gift, and you will figure this out as you go along. Look for the people who will help you hone it.
…and you know what that means. Lots of time for the kiddos to get bored. Maybe a trip to the library or bookstore is in order. Or perhaps some websites where they can have fun and learn a little something along the way…
Here are a few of our favorite sites we’ve been exploring in computer lab:
(If you prefer, you can substitute 2 cups of nuts or 2 cups of golden raisins.)
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (not mandatory, but they come out great this way) or spray with nonstick spray. Drop a heaping tablespoon of dough per cookie onto the sheet… you can get around 15 cookies on a large cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10 – 12 minutes (in my oven, 8 minutes was plenty… adjust for your own oven).
That’s what I often say to my students, and no, I’m not proud of it. I wish we could answer every question, for hours on end. But sometimes we need to get to work and the questions (comments, shout-outs) are derailing us.
Then I read this quote, from NBA player Jason Collins:
“…I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Sometimes when you ask a question, there are three or four other people in the class wondering the same thing, wanting to share something identical, or similar, but they are maybe too shy to raise their hands. So you’re asking it on behalf of the group. Other times, you’re the only one who has that particular question, and that’s fine, too.
Kids, keep asking questions, and I will keep answering (or doing my best at attempting to answer) them.
What are we working on in computer lab this week? I’m working them so hard. Seriously. Even the littles! We’re keyboarding (Typing Agent and DanceMat Typing), we’re working a bit in Google Docs, we’re playing Wild Kratts on PBS Kids, we’re doing the practice questions in IXL, my favorite math program. (You can log in as a guest and do a fast 20 questions or so before it boots you out.)
Short week this week — students have Friday, Oct. 10th, off (staff development day).