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Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Program

I thought these kids were hysterical. Quite the comic thespians. They were confident, knew their lines, and had great projection. Joey thought it was the best one yet, and the kids were so jazzed about it that they didn't have any nervousness. They really had a lot of ownership since they helped write the script and I was amazed by how quickly they learned their lines. Next year, watch out...we're going to have to outdo ourselves!

Lego Robotics Tournament

I'm a little behind in my posts, but I wanted to make sure to give this tournament the credit that it was due. The Frenchboro Sea Monster Lego Robotics team includes every single kid at our school who is allowed to participate (age 9-14 for FLL First Lego League). That would be like every single kid in a junior high school participating, say, in cross-country running. To have 100% of kids that are able to be in a group sign up for it is pretty impressive. Some of the kids have been participating in Lego League for years, and for others, our fourth grade, this is the first year they've been old enough. Cody and Dylan started back when Alan began Robotics here at Frenchboro School. Doug came in as a new teacher and was very excited to see that the program had been started and decided to take it on himself as an after-school program last year.
This year the tournament changed and went from a smaller program, with the northern part of state meeting at Castine, to a huge, state-wide tourney held in the state capitol, Augusta (at the Civic Center). Last year there were roughly 20 teams to compete against. This year there were 50, so it was a big jump for our kids.
Robotics has two parts. One is to program your robot to do certain tasks that are worth points. Each year, you purchase a new mat and get your set of tasks that everyone will be working toward. The second part is to do a presentation on a given topic. The students need to research the topic and come up with innovative ideas to solve problems. The topic was 'smart moves' dealing with how things travel. It could be as far reaching as how germs move and to combat perhaps the spread of illness, or it could be something like what our kids to ferry people to the mainland from our island. They came up with something they called the PPEG...pedal-powered electric gondola. They made models and did research, even emailing a German company to get more information, before writing up their presentation. They then have to go in front of a panel of judges and share their designs/reports. No one is allowed to watch this part of the competition, but everyone can watch the robot competition.
Since the kids have their own mats back at home, they have been practicing on exactly the same table that their robot will be judged at the competition. They are timed and there are very strict regulations around what you can and cannot do to/with your robot. Everything means points gained or lost.
The arena itself was rather chaotic with kids being judged on their robot, their programming, their design, their presentation, and the actual robot stations. We knew what table they would be competing on, so we made sure to place ourselves accordingly so we could cheer. Yup, we were the loudest there, that's for sure, and certainly the only school team that had the entire school population and entire parent population accounted for (heck, we practically had our entire ISLAND there). And we're not ones to sit quietly and clap politely when our kids compete.
The kids have a chance to challenge the judges ruling right there at the table as their robot performs. To see our guys and gals getting right in there and advocating for themselves with things like, "Hey judge, you didn't give us the points for the robot landing in the circle, that's worth ________ points." It really did my heart good. You see, our kids are what you'd call 'wicked shy'. In general they're very reserved and have a hard time addressing adults they don't know. We work on it a lot, but it's difficult because we just don't get the chances we would on the mainland. So, to see these kids confident, articulate, and learned in the face of pressure got the old tears a flowin'.
For some reason, our robot didn't do what it has been doing for months. We had been steadily achieving in the high 200's, low 300's every single trial. Suddenly, at the first competition, the robot didn't make its turn. The kids were very frustrated, and it took two trials for them to realize that it wasn't a problem with the sensor, like they had thought, but with the actual computer programming. Though the kids said they had done nothing to the program in terms of changes or improvements, when they went back into it, they saw that the actual numbers had changed in their programming. So, they hurriedly changed what they could and did better on their final trial. But, unfortunately, there were more than one of the problems and they didn't go back into the programming deeply enough, so the robot never did make 'his' usual high score of 340. Which, sad to say, would have won them the tournament. Can you believe that? They would have won had the robot done what I had watched it do a hundred times. Just the idea of that really killed them, but they handled it really well, and were very sportmanlike. In fact, they won the teamwork trophy, which made me so proud, that, again, I was a blubbering mess. Of all the things that matter the most to me as a teacher is that they work together and support each other. They got nearly a perfect score for their teamwork and that, indeed, makes them winners.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The State House

The Maine State house is a beautiful building. We had the great opportunity to meet with our governor and senator and have private meetings with both. We got to tour the senate and house and even got to sit in the representatives chairs. I think one of my favorite parts was watching the kids pound the gavel in the senate. They did it with gusto.

Road Trip

When we do field trips at Frenchboro School, it's sort of a "go big or go home" kind of thing. Since we're so far off the beaten path and only have three ferries a week, if we want to leave the island, we have to go for overnights after our friday ferry stops running at Thanksgiving. With a Lego Robotics tournament looming, Mr. Finn began concocting the idea to make it a school-wide trip to Augusta for a visit to the statehouse, museum as well as the tournament at the Civic Center. And don't forget the swimming at the hotel.
I've decided that the Maine State Museum is terrific. It has my official seal of approval. Any place that lets kids smash rocks right there on the carpet has got to be the coolest place ever.

The exhibits themselves are top notch...the animals, the working mill, the ship, all the old cars and equipment. I was amazed and three hours was far too short. It was so engaging, in fact, that I totally lost track of time and was late for our flintknapping lesson. Which was also exceptionally cool. To keep a group of kids ranging in ages from 2-12 interested is pretty impressive and all the parents agreed that there was lots to offer.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Myron's Boat

There are opportunities in life, some come because of chance and others come because of hard work. In Myron's case, his opportunity was born of hard work. Son of a fisherman, he has grown up here in Frenchboro surrounded by the lobster industry. He's gone through the process that many kids do out here: get your license, set a small amount of traps, log hours with a mentor fisherman (aka: dad) and slowly work your way into more traps, more money, and a boat of your own.
Myron worked all last summer hauling with another fisherman. While most kids his age were playing in sprinklers and on their Play Stations, he was out, day after day, pulling long hours on Jay2's boat. Well, a deal was worked out that Myron would buy into a 16 footer belonging to Jay's nephew. It showed up a couple weeks ago. If Myron's brother Bradley is The King of Pep, then Myron is the King of Deadpan. He handled the whole scene with his usual understatement.

"Myron! What do you think of that boat!? It looks great!!"


"How do you feel Myron! Are you so excited!?" (this is me by the way, shouting and jumping around...)

"Yep. Pretty good."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

RISC Model

Doug and I used to teach in Alaska.


When we talk about it, this is how the conversation generally goes. "Oh, you taught in Alaska? I've been to Anchorage. Where abouts did you teach?"

"Saint Lawrence Island."

"Oh, Saint Lawrence Island. Is that in the Aleutians?"

"Have you seen Deadliest Catch?"

"Yeah! I love that show!"

"Well, you know that map they show? Well, we're not even on it because we're in the pack ice."


We taught for the Bering Strait School District and were lucky enough to be part of an exceptional and progressive model of education, working with Reinventing Schools Coalition or RISC .

It was hard to leave this new form of education, but we knew we needed a change and moving to Maine has proved to be one of the best decisions we've ever made. And...lo and behold, we find out that our old superintendent is working here in Maine and that the entire state of Maine is working with RISC to implement this model state-wide.

A lot of things come and go in education. Teachers get a little burned out by this, and sometimes even cynical about the efficacy of a lot of 'top down' changes. I think often the problem is that the system itself has inherent flaws and no matter what you implement in a flawed system, you'll have difficulties. This movement is to change the entire system and it's structure. What's more-it works, and has been proven to work to increase student achievement with some of the most at-risk students in the nation. Our old school had an extremely poor literacy rate. We're talking nearly single digits, around 10% reading on grade level. Within four years of implementation with this new model, we had over 30% reading on grade level, and similar stats for Math. That's over a 20% jump. Maybe you don't know how incredible that is, but I can tell you as a teacher, that those kinds of leaps are unheard of in the educational field save a handful of extremely progressive schools or districts.

Coming here, we used a lot of our training in the RISC model. One of the things that we worked on early on was what's called a Code of Conduct. Sort of like an agreed upon set of rules. But this isn't something that you just do on the first day and post in some corner never to speak of again. You constantly refer back to use it as a guidepost and also as a reminder of a promise everyone made to each other and themselves.

Last year we worked a little on what's know as a Shared Vision that goes along with the Code of Conduct. We are working to refine it and revisit what it means to be an 'ideal' student, teacher and what an ideal school looks like. I love this exercise because you can see what the kids really value and also what they hope to be surrounded by-not to mention where there might be some red flags in terms of learning. Ultimately, this model is incredibly empowering and lets students learn at their own pace, take responsibility for themselves and their learning in order to become the most successful student/person they can be. These kids are already well on their way. It's so nice to just have a guiding role to the direction they're already heading in, rather than feeling like they're not even on the field, let alone the endzone. I know, another sports metaphor. I'm just such a sucker for those feel-good victories. Seems like we have at least a dozen of them here, every single day.

Movie Night: Up

We often have movie night at Frenchboro school. Our town is small, only about 40 people in the winter. There aren't any stores or restaurants and though that has its charm, it sometimes means that there just isn't much to do. It's nice to get out and socialize, play games, watch movies, sometimes share food with a potluck. So, when I was last off-island, I saw that Up had been released on video. I always have my eyes out for good 'new releases' that the kids haven't yet seen, so this was a particularly good score since no one had seen it yet. Mr. Finn got out the projector and pulled down the big screen for a bigger viewing. The movie makes me laugh and cry, a Pixar specialty, it seems. We drag out the yoga mats and the kids take the floor while we decrepid adults use the comfy rocking chairs. A good way to cap our Thanksgiving holidays.

Winter Art

With our Lego Robotics tournament fast approaching, Mr. Finn took the older students downstairs to work on their robot and presentation which left me with the K-3. So fun. We did some painting. And perhaps I'm just reading into this...but maybe the kids are getting a little sick of having their every effort chronicled by camera? You be the judge. Here I am with Teressa and Saylor. Girls, that looks great! Look at me! Smile for the camera!
uhhh, yeah. sure ms. finn. great. now can you get that camera away from me? Reminds me of when the Oprah show came out to film the kids. Mr. Finn said they got right (and I'm talking inches) in Saylor's face with that video camera and she was not liking that one bit.
These guys? Completely oblivious to me. Don't you just love those smocks (one of my all time favorite words...smock, smock, smock, say it with me)? It was nice just working with a few colors instead of a whole palate and learning to water down the watercolors in order to get a more pastel feel was-a little challenging. Love how they turned out. Perhaps another art show is in store?