Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Festival of Light

   We have wonderful diversity of cultures and traditions represented at our school.  Our students’ families are from all over the world every continent is represented except Antarctica.  Therefore, the holiday season means different things to different students.  We honor these different traditions in many ways at our school, specially in this last week before our Winter Break.  In my classroom I wanted to focus on the shared tradition of “Light” during this time of the year.  So many cultures and traditions have Light as a theme in their holidays.  Most even have some sort of “Festival of Light”.  Well, in Social Studies we are still in ancient Egypt so I was curious.  Did the Egyptians have a Festival of Light?  To my great surprise they did.  Herodotus, a Greek historian in BC tells of the festival of Lychnocaia, “the lighting of lamps”.  Lamps were lit in rows on the outside of houses around this time of the year to help Osiris find his way back from the underworld.

    I shared this information with my students.  I also found some wonderful pictures of the different expressions of light in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, as well as the story of Egypt and light in the natural world.  We brainstormed to understand what Light symbolized.  The students thought it symbolized: peace, happiness, life, power, energy - these were their words.  I told them that I wanted us to experience some type of celebration of Light but that I knew we could not have lit candles in school since it would be a fire hazard.  We could, however,  have a string of lights.  Thanks to help from Erika Glazzard, a fellow EFL teacher, I had come up with a lovely plan.  We would make a walking spiral of light that would lead the students to its center where they could pick up a glass stone that would symbolize a personal excellence quality that they wanted to nurture in themselves in the coming year.  I needed a focal point of light at the center so I brought in an angel that I had from my daughters' childhood.

     The visual experience of having the lights on the floor was beautiful.  It was like walking inside our Milky Way Galaxy.  I played Pachelbel’s Canon in D for music in the background as each student made their own way into the heart of the lights.  After every one had a turn we sat around and had a few minutes of silence as we all tried to expand our own heart’s light.  I’ve asked the students to keep their glass stone to remind them of that special quality that they want to nurture in themselves.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Plants Have Feelings Too.

Food made from wheat.
   Lately I feel like I am in a time warp.  Even though the winter holidays are upon us in present time in my Social Studies class we are in ancient Egypt 3000-2000 BC.  We have been studying agriculture as we left Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent to visit Egypt and the Nile Valley.  Both cultures boasted advances in agriculture in ancient times.  Since I’m always looking for ways to have my students experience what they are learning I decided that we needed to spend more time in the garden.  One teacher had already planted wheat so that the students could watch the wheat cycle through out the year.  After we went out to observe the five inch tall wheat the students said a bit surprised, "It looks like grass!"  Following this, we had a pot luck where students could only bring foods that were made out of wheat.  We ate as we watched a video on wheat production from planting to bread on the table.
    We waited for the seasonal heavy rains to stop before we went out to the garden to see what else we could find.  The students had a focus; they needed to observe plants and take notes.  I find that they concentrate and calm down if they have a purpose to focus their energy.  Some of the boys still were excited by the dirt, mud, and water, especially since someone in the past months had dug a tantalizing moat complete with water as they were trying to reproduce an example of irrigation.  One student was intrigued by the mushrooms growing and wanted to show us how mushroom caps once put on paper and left to dry will unburden themselves of spores leaving a magical dusty ring.  I love it when the students are the teachers.  We also found many other cool things growing like strawberries, broccoli, cabbage as well as the remains of the summer tomato plants.  We also found empty soil beds crying to be used.

    I chose fava beans for the students to plant because they can be a cover crop feeding nitrogen to the soil or we can let them propagate and have fava beans to eat- hopefully right around the time we study Greece and Rome.  Also, each bean is big and each student can plant one bean and have their own plant.  I explained to the students that plants have feelings and that they need to be treated with kindness, respect, and gratitude.  This was a new concept to some of them but their hearts naturally responded.  I asked them to talk to their bean seed while they were waiting their turn to plant it.  To encourage their little baby to grow.  It was so enjoyable to see what they did with this suggestion.  One student named her bean “Stewart” so then many others named their beans.  One boy planted his bean, stayed to talk to it some more, and ended up 'teaching' his bean math and singing!  A group of girls got carried away and decided that their beans would marry and adopt some of the other beans.  I tried to get them to wait until their plants were fruit bearing age before they married them off but they did not want to wait.  After school apparently they got together to make invitation cards for the wedding and went out at lunch the next day for the ceremony.  This is all making us learn, smile, and laugh big time!
    I’ve also suggested to the students that they bring a present to their plant like a dry leaf, a handful of compost, a worm for its soil.  We will be going out and visiting our plants and watching them grow.  How wonderful to live in mild California climate and be able to do this in December.  Thank you Mother Nature.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Grammar, Symbolism, and EFL

    I’ve always loved teaching. What’s amazing is how much more I’m enjoying my job now that I’m trying an EFL approach in my classroom.  I find myself chortling at some of the teaching ideas and situations that come up with EFL.

    Take grammar for instance.  I’ve been plugging allow with my students teaching the required grammar lessons.  However, I’ve been trying different experiential ways of having the students practice the grammar concepts they are learning.  My goal is to engage all the students and their different tools of maturity to make sure that all are learning through their natural inclinations - physical, feeling, will, or intellect.  After trying several activities for our grammar lessons the most popular one involved skits.   They needed to learn/review the specifics of pronouns.  I found an activity that got them up out of their seats, engaged, and taught them to label and identify 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person pronouns.  They were divided into groups of 6 to put on a short skit. 
There were limitations:
2 people could only speak using 1st person pronouns such as I, me mine, we, us, etc.
2 of them could only speak in 2nd person pronouns, you, your, yours. 
Of course, the last 2 needed to speak in 3rd person using he, she, it, they etc. 
They loved it! They thoroughly enjoyed performing and coming up with very silly skits which also helped them learn to identify pronouns.

    It also turns out that symbolism keeps coming up.  Ever since the students worked on finding their own personal animal symbol (see Nov. 12 posting) the concept of symbolism keeps working its way into our lessons.  As we studied ancient Mesopotamia and the beginning of writing in pictographs and the ancient writing of cuneiform the students began to realized the importance and prevalence of symbolism.  Mental ideas from the realm of thoughts were brought into this material world through symbolic pictures that evolved into cuneiform writing on clay tablets in Sumer long ago.  Thanks to watching a fellow teacher, David Riordan, I was reminded of this experiential  project that I hadn’t done in a long time.  The students needed to make their own pictographs or picture symbols and write a message on a clay tablet.  I gave the students the recipe for Salt and Flour Clay and the option of extra credit.  About two thirds of my students had fun over their week long Thanksgiving break creating a message in their own invented pictographs.  One student came to school and told me that he had left his tablet to cool after taking it out of the oven and his dog ate it!  His dog really did eat his homework!

    The last helpful activity I want to mention is the reading of a popular picture book to my classes.   Unfortunately, like many other public middle schools we have problems with students being inappropriate and mean to each other.  I decided to share with my students the book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, which I had seen at the EFL family summer camp in Laurelwood, OR.  I’m finding that picture books are a fine literary medium even for middle school students.  My sixth graders love having a picture book read to them and this book engaged their heart qualities of caring and kindness.  I told them that they could understand and enjoy the concepts in picture books on a deeper and more mature level.  They now know that “filling someone’s bucket” is using symbolism and metaphor for making others feel good through acts of compassion.  Their homework was to go out and fill others' “buckets” through kind acts.  The next day they wrote about their experiences in their journals and came back with stories to share that reminded us of all the meaningful ways that we can reach out to others and make their day more joyful.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Smiles and Education for Life

       I know this is the holiday time of year and we are making changes to our journal writing because of it.  The students each have a composition book where they keep all important language arts information like Reading Concepts, Grammar, Response to Literature.  Interspersed with these is a section labeled “Things That Make Me Smile”.  This section has replaced the Joy board with all the sticky notes (see Sept. 9th posting). Why not?  With EFL I’m reminding the students to 1. do your homework 2. follow school rules and don’t forget 3. find your bliss or joy.  In honor of Thanksgiving, of course, it was easy to have them add the list of things they are grateful for.  It really is becoming a habit for the students to notice when they are happy.  If we get too busy and I forget to have them write in this section they are the ones to remind me now.  The day one of my student leaders raised her hand and asked, “Can we please write our three things that make me smile?” I knew I was actually getting through to them. Yes!
        It’s an attitude shift for both teacher and students. It is focusing on the positive, the light, the joy.  Even when things don’t go right.  An opportunity came up when the students were working on their ABC books of Mesopotamia.  These books are a 6th grade tradition at our school.   All the social studies teachers use this project because among other things it is a fun project.  The students get into groups and make a page for every letter of the alphabet.  For example, A is for Assyrians.  Each page includes a sentence with the definition of the word, a sentence that explains what that has to do with Mesopotamia, and a picture in color to go with the definition.  This year I let the students pick their groups (yes, because of EFL) and they worked together to produce their group project.  One group ran into trouble as they were finishing up their book.  There was a disagreement about who was suppose to do the Y page which is one of the difficult letters for this project.  Most of the actual work is done at home and as the final due date drew near they had realized that the person that should have done it hadn’t.  As all the groups were putting their books together I noticed the whole energy of one of the groups getting very negative.  I sat down with them and they were quick to tell me whose fault it was that their book was not finished but of course they could not even agree on that part.  I helped them acknowledge that yes there had been a problem in communication, that communication was always hard, but that a solution was needed.  I told them that they could feel bad because there had been a mistake or they could focus on solving the problem.  I left them with the question,  “How are you going to solve this problem?”  As I walked away from the group I glanced back and they were all in a group hug (it was an all girl group).  It was so cute and heartwarming.  The Y page was the last to show up minutes away from the deadline, but they handed in a finished product.  I’ll add that to my list of things that make me smile.

Monday, November 12, 2012

End of 1st Quarter with EFL

     The first quarter ended at our school with a flurry of tests, report cards, and parent/teacher conferences.  Academically, parents can access their child’s grades on line at any time.  All assignments, test scores and overall grades are accessible 24/7.  There is a great deal of pressure for academic performance as you can imagine.  How do I get the students to relax, look inside themselves for the creativity and strength that they need to live in this demanding present day world?  My students try so hard to do well.  They want to succeed at all the challenges presented to them by their parents, the school, their peers.  In talking to the parents at the parent/teacher conferences I learned much more about my students including some of the hardships and misfortunes they face outside of school.  My heart goes out to our struggling families.  I know from past experience, however, that even in the midst of severe trials there really is a silver lining that students can tap into but they need to know how to find it within themselves.  I continue to find that one way is by focusing on being their own unique personal best and being willing to go on the journey to discover what their best or excellence might be.  One way I can help is by reminding them to look for their ‘personal excellence’, hence all the activities we do on this important theme.  I can also identify it for them when I catch them being ‘excellent’. For example, when they are being generous and sharing their things with other classmates, standing up for each other if someone is getting teased, or even being brave and raising their hand when they are not sure of the answer.  The silver lining is also in those things, small and large, that bring us joy, that we are passionate about. My students need help in identifying their joy, passion, bliss.  They sometimes don’t register when something up-lifts them because in today’s world we are all so overstimulated, stressed, and going 100 miles an hour.  My job is to help them slow down, tune in, and register where ‘they are at’ so that when that joy comes they can enjoy it, expand it, and share it.
    One example of practicing this presented itself in art class.  I had the students work on simple paper and marker ‘mandalas’ after watching a great youtube video.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g16B64myG-E&feature=related  We watched the video without the music and I read the subtitles.  I told the students that this was a silent activity so I was turning the class period into SSD (sustained silent drawing).  I explained that we are usually listening and looking at things around us but that great artists have to turn their focus inward, listen, and look at what was inside them, inside their imagination. Since, I had personally tried this exercise and knew that it was harder than it looked, I directed them to do two mandalas each, the first to get use to it and the second to expand their practice.  They took it seriously, worked in silence for two 45 minute periods on two consecutive days and produced some beautiful patterns.
     As for dealing with academic life, how are my students doing so far? If I look at my students through the Tools of Maturity prism I see my intellectual students, of course, are the most comfortable with the emphasis on academics.  My physical students need lots of breaks and time out of their seats in order to survive.  My feeling students can handle the academics as long as their feelings are engaged.  As for my will students, they get impatient if things are too easy or slow.  They thrive on the extra credit activities.  I also have to keep in mind that 6th grade and middle school is that transition between an individual's feeling years and the entrance of the will years - they are all headed in that direction.
    To keep up with their changing views I read the journals that they have been keeping all quarter and I started to see a pattern to what the students were thinking.  In the midst of all this academic activity, I continue to ask them to write about “personal excellence” qualities (a minimum of three) that they want to work on this school year.  I have two blocks of students that I work with (not including my art class).  It was interesting to see that in my morning class a majority of the students elected to work on “patience” and in my afternoon block most are working on “courage or bravery” as their overall quality.  Note to self: I need to incorporate this into future activities.  For now, I find it very appropriate to keep going back to this personal excellence theme even while we work in our typical school literature book, an anthology of stories and poems, complete with standardized benchmark tests, two tests per unit.  I am able to change the stories I use as long as the students learn all the reading concepts and do well on the computerized benchmark tests.  I change the program when I can.  For example, while we tackled the last of our fiction/nonfiction unit, one of our key reading concepts was “symbolism”.  Instead of using our literature book, I found a great symbolism story in the book, Keepers of the Animals, Native American Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.  The story I picked was about Grandmother Spider who helped the God of the Sky name all the animals in the world.  First, we stopped and named as many animals as we could in preparation for our next experience.  We read a story about a chief going to look for the animal symbol for his clan.  He was intent on tracking a  deer so that his clan could become the “deer clan”.  However, while looking down at the deer tracks he got caught in a spider web and realized after talking to Grandma Spider that it was the spider symbol that he was meant to find for his clan.  One of the great qualities of the spider is patience and his clan could become the “spider clan” and learn patience from their symbol.  One of the activities suggested after this story in the book was a visualization for finding one’s own personal animal symbol.  Here’s a very brief description: I had the students close their eyes and picture the world as a giant web where they are at the center and all things in creation are connected.   They were to ask for help in taking care of this world from their own individual animal symbol, then they were to picture that animal.  All the students were able to do this.  It came naturally to them.  The only problem for a couple of the students was having seen more than one animal.  For homework, they had to print out or draw a picture of that animal, write the quality it symbolized, and explain why that animal symbolized that quality.  We keep these pictures on our bulletin board to remind us of the qualities that we want to work on in order to help ourselves and the world around us.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Archaeology and EFL

     I am learning so much as I try EFL principles in my classroom.  Using the “Personal Excellence” qualities translates well into the public school environment.  I continue to use this as my central theme.  As the students explore what it means to be at their highest it can be very exciting.  Just how high can one go?  What is one’s personal best?  To try and be at one’s best and keep one’s heart open is very hard to do in a public middle school but it can be full of rewards. I can see that some students are starting to try as we deal with some deep topics.
Gobekli Tepe/Smithsonian.com
    For example, in social studies we have been studying archaeology in our textbook and the students watched a couple of short youtube videos about what it means to be an archaeologist.  They pondered how we know what we know and how the different theories of early man continue to be pieced together.  The students wrote about the “Personal Excellence” qualities one needs in order to be a successful archaeologist and why.  They came up with a list that included curiosity, perseverance, cooperation, patience, clear thinking, etc.  We talked about how all these are needed to decipher the past as different artifacts and evidence is constantly being discovered and reinterpreted.  We noted how people try to make sense of places like Catal Huyuk (in our textbook) and Gobekli Tepe (c. 9500 BC see web site http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/gobekli-tepe.html) which are both in present day Turkey that do not fit the mold of hunter-gatherer theories.
    All month I have been looking for a way for students to experience archaeology by doing some activities that they could enjoy and that would encompass all the Tools of Maturity: physical, feeling, will, and intellect. To me that means not just books, paper, and pencil but going from academic desk work to direct experience.  As we finished our unit on early man and the theories of hunter-gatherer societies that lived  200,000 years ago or more, one of my small Asian girl students surprised me by showing me a small spear she had made at home on her own initiative.  She must have read my mind because I had always secretly wanted to have the students make their own stone age tools and make a “pretend” archaeological site.  I saw this as a sign that indeed I better get a move on before we finished the unit. 
    The students were given a week to come up with a stone age artifact made at home from natural materials or found in nature but used by the early people.  We had made a chart in school of the different parts that make up any given culture and talked about the different tools that the early peoples had needed for their society.  Also, we finished reading the novel based on that society, Maroo of the Winter Caves, (required reading in 6th grade at our school).  Once the whole class had brought in their homemade artifacts and found objects, we borrowed some land from our school garden and I had the morning class bury their artifacts and objects for the afternoon class to dig up and vis a versa. (See photo, unfortunately, I can not show students because of the complications of getting parent permission).   One interesting learning moment came up when a student shared his confusion at not being able to find any materials in his home to make a stone age tool.  The class helped him realize that he had to actually go outside, out in nature to get his materials because the early people only lived in nature.  That was an aha! moment as he was able to perceive a view point outside his own modern world of remote controls, ipods, cell phones - which is his reality. 

    After the dig, as we sat around in a circle surveying our find we discussed the difference between our pretend excavation and real life artifacts that would have still survived after thousands of years.  The students realized that probably only the stone objects would have survived disintegration.  We looked at the abundance of hunting tools.  There were many spears, sharp rocks or choppers, bows and arrows.  But some students had brought in different items.  A smooth rock with picture symbols carved into it, shell necklaces, a decorated rattle.  One student made a woven basket from palm fronds in her yard.  There were also pretty shells with no known purpose.  I had also snuck in and buried a softball size open amethyst rock or geode when they weren’t looking.   One student surmised that the pretty shell might have been used as an offering to the nature gods. As we looked at the objects that were excavated we discussed the natural environment of early man.
    Before we finished the unit and went on to study our next culture, Mesopotamia, I felt I had to go back to that pretty shell and the reverence that early man had for their natural environment.  We discussed how nature was sacred to people who lived so close to the earth, how their idea of gods and goddesses reflected that close relationship.  We gratefully have many good examples of that close attunement in the many Native American stories, myths, and traditions.  I read them the picture book Brother Eagle, Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers, a reinterpretation of Chief Seattle’s message.  I find that the students focus better when they know they will have to write after their activity, even if it’s in their class journal.  They simply answered the question, “What was Chief Seattle’s message?”  It was an easy assignment for them with a typical answer being.  “He said we are all connected and that the Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth.”  I explained to them that often I have to go out and seek that connection with nature in order to recharge.  That many times I will go to the beach, the woods, or a park and pick up a small keep sake to remind me of that special experience of our natural world.  (This will provide so many good future writing opportunities.)
    I brought in many of the nature object that I’ve collected and used them for a quiet meditative activity. I turned off the lights, had them close their eyes, and I put one of the nature objects I brought like a shell, rock, driftwood, feather in each of their hands.  In silence, they had to feel the object, and try and picture it in their mind’s eye.  Of course, they had to guess what it was, what color, and where I had found it.   They were thoroughly intrigued by the difference between their perception and the reality of the object.  As an on going activity for the rest of the year, I asked them to bring in something beautiful from our natural world to add to our tray of nature objects that I started. As they go out in nature they will bring something back and share their connection with our natural world.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Manga, Mint Tea, and EFL

student's manga sketch
       This school year definitely feels different and better now that I’m trying some of the EFL ideas.  This is specially true in the personal connections I’m having with the students.  When I’m talking to them individually, in class or outside of class, there is a personal quality to our interactions.  There is a real sense of contact, more of an openness in the students as we talk.  I’ve always enjoyed my students but now I can appreciate who they are more fully.  I see them looking for different ways to shine and I see them wanting to share this with me, whether it’s being on the football team (flag football but very competitive), being in the orchestra, hosting exchange students from China, or working on their manga drawings (see student’s drawing on right.)  I’m constantly looking for ways to bring these interests into the classroom.  Often it’s through their writing, giving them a chance to share in group or class discussions, or just taking the time to talk to them about what is going on.  Since I ended up teaching a period of art I’m scrambling to do a unit on manga, anime drawing since that is so popular this year.

      That being said, in my classroom there are so many students that frequently the interaction feels more like a flowing, rushing river of class energy that somehow I, as the teacher, have to direct.  As we go through whatever lesson we are tackling I have to nudge that energy toward a certain goal.  Sometimes that goal is academic, simply a life lesson we are discussing, or at other times it’s trying to infuse some fun in our day.  Many times I’m just gauging the current and banking up, damming up one shore or the other in an attempt at having the overall class energy flow in the right direction.  Yes, it is I, as the teacher that have to decide what the right direction is for the whole class and most times it’s through decisions made in a split second on sheer intuition.

     In public school, I’m expected to highlight academic activities like a spelling lesson, or reviewing  common and proper nouns.  If anyone has any fun ideas for how to teach spelling or grammar please let me know!   In desperation the other day, as the class was turning into an edie of overly rambunctious energy, I realized I had to get the students out of their seats and using all that energy towards a constructive goal.  I turned half the class into the Proper Nouns Nation (PNN) and the other half into the Common Nouns Nation (CNN;).  Yes, they could get up, mingle, and talk as much as they wanted but if they were the PNN only proper nouns could come out of their mouths and vis a versa if they were CNN they could only communicate in common nouns.  It actually worked!  They were able to get some of their energy out, come back, and focus on a more serious grammar lesson.  This wasn’t quite a “flow lesson”, I could have added a focusing transitional activity but it was as close as I could come to “flow” on the spur of the moment.

     I’m feeling constrained by having to be only in my classroom, when what I want is to go outside with my students.  Considering the fast pace of the curriculum we have to cover and the logistical limitations of being part of a big school, I have not been able to do as many experiential lessons as I want to.  However, I have tried sneaking in an experience even in small measures. For example, as we read a novel, Maroo of the Winter Caves, with a setting based during the last ice age where the main characters are part of a hunter-gathering tribe, they mentioned the women gathering herbs to put into water for making a flavored drink (tea of course).  We decided to make mint sun tea for the whole class.   Students pitched in and brought the needed ingredients, mint from their gardens, glass jars, cups, and honey.  I was surprised how many students had not had mint tea of any kind, let alone from their garden.  Everyone enjoyed this activity thanks to the generosity of their fellow students and their families.  We enjoyed tea while we read our novel.

     I’m still learning how to bring a lighter atmosphere to the classroom.  It’s a shift in focus as I repeatedly have to choose ways to engage the students on not just learning  academics but also learning important values and having fun.  The year continues.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

More light!

Here are some of my recent favorite EFL activities. 

          We managed to finish the ‘Personal Excellence’ bulletin board just in time for Back-to-School night.  We ended up writing a list of adjectives. It was easier for the students to understand when they thought of it as a fill in the blank activity. For example, “I’m showing personal excellence when I’m (brave, generous, kind, etc.).”   We started applying these qualities as we worked on our first fiction and non-fiction language arts unit on pets. Our journal topic became, “What personal excellence qualities do you need to own a pet?”  As you can imagine the list they each came up with was long.  Afterwards they enjoyed talking and sharing their ideas.                      

I’ve also been watching intently to see when the student’s energy rises and when the joy starts showing through their eyes and faces.  Naturally, this happened as they talked about their pets.  Since I wanted them to experience more this year I knew I had to have a “pet day”.  I asked them to bring in their pets if they could (pictures if they couldn’t) and share their pet stories with the whole class.  It was just plain fun learning and sharing!  Thanks to help from many parents, we had many dogs, birds, hamsters, a python, two bearded dragons (that's one of them on the right), turtles and tortoises.  No cats, because of student allergies.  Next week we have to practice our 5 paragraph essays complete with introduction, body, conclusions.  The topic will, of course, be PETS to make it less painful!

    I must say that sometimes the rise in energy and joy catches me by surprise because their interests are so varied.  For example, in attempting to make history more relevant for them we went over the meaning of the phrase, “We are who we are because of what we and others did in the past.”  For homework I had them bring in an “artifact” (one of their vocabulary words) that was personally significant from their past, that had made an impact on their lives.  It could be a personal or family item.  I learned so much about each student from this activity.  I found one girl’s intense interest for antique typewriters!  Her eyes lit up as she brought in and shared her 1917 Corona typewriter and talked about the other two that she had at home.  Another student who I thought was already struggling academically went into a 5 minute detailed scientific lecture on all she knew about the trilobite fossils that she and her grandmother had found.  As she talked all her self-confidence came out with the passion she felt about the subject.  I learned so much along with my students!

    With EFL I  know instilling a sense of service is important. I’m helping to start a service project for the 6th graders this year, usually this has been provided for only our 7th and 8th graders for some reason.    A handful of teachers and I are helping the students start an environmental program and turn the school into a Green Ribbon School.  The students need to help make the school energy efficient.  They are tackling the waste produced by our cafeteria.  They are setting up recycling,waste, and even compost bins with clearly marked posters that they made.  They also take turns standing by the bins and helping their classmates figure out where the different leftovers go.  This is a big job since we have around 400 6th graders!
    The last experience I want to share this time is about one of the things I talked to the parents at Back-to-School.  As I shared some of the new ideas that I had learned through Education for Life I talked about the week long field trip that we always take in 6th grade when we go to Outdoor School.  We go live in the redwoods near the California coast and attend an environmental education program that teaches about the different eco-systems in our region.  It’s definitely experiential and it also costs $315 per student.  This year I knew from studying EFL ideals (specially Nitai Deranja’s examples) how important it is for students to participate in raising at least a percentage of the fee for a program that is for their own personal benefit.  The school does provide a fund raiser where the families sell gift wrap and the students get 40% of what they sell towards their $315 fee.  This year I encouraged the parents to let their child earn part of the money as well as take direct part in the fund raiser.  The students came up with quite a creative list of things they could safely do as eleven year olds to raise money like garage sales, car washes, lemonade and cookie stands, working for family businesses, dog walking, pet sitting, lawn mowing where among the top choices.  We go in March 2013 so they have a few months to raise the money.

    Since I’m making this up as I go along this year,  I have to gauge the energy of my students before I know what will happen next.  I have lesson plans but where they will take us depends a lot on the students.  I will keep posting the most interesting experiences.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Second Week and Having Fun!

I am officially enamored with all my students now, with all of them in their full spectrum, from heavy....to light.  Even the heavy students have so much potential that shines out from time to time.

 Some of the EFL inspired activities of this week:
The students kept writing 3 things that made them smile or gave them joy daily as I try to help them develop the habit of looking for the joy even in little things. Here is the JOY bulletin board where they put the sticky notes on their way out of class.  It makes me smile every time I glance over and see it. 

I was happy to share one of my favorite quotes with the students as we continue to talk about qualities of one’s personal excellence.  “The true nature of anything is the highest it can become.”  This has been attributed to Aristotle but I have never found the source of the quote, maybe it was when he wrote about ‘potentiality’.  We had a great class discussion on what attaining one’s highest means.  They are also looking forward to studying more about Aristotle and the ancient Greeks later on in the year in Social Studies.  We continue to work on our Personal Excellence bulletin board.  It is almost done!

Now that I have read all the letters that the students wrote to me and have started to get to know them in class I can identify many of their predominant tools of maturity.  I’m starting to rely on my ‘physical’ student to let me know when it is time for us to get up from our desks and move.  They are the first to start getting squiggly and when I see that, I know we have to take a break and do something physical like a stretching activity.  For example, I tried some of the ‘movement break’ activities from Calm and Compassionate Children by Susan Usha Dermond that require some concentration and focus as well as movement.  I gave them directions like, “Stand up and reach your hands to the ceiling, touch your toes, touch your right knee with your left hand, touch your left knee with you right hand, jump ten times, walk in place, and sit down at your desk.”

As I attempt to get the students out of their seats more often the funniest ‘movement break’ happened when we were looking at ‘specialized vocabulary’ in our history book.  It mentioned that history had special vocabulary like ‘archaeology, era, BC, or BCE,’ etc. just like in ballet you use words like ‘pliĆ©, barre’ and in football you use words like ‘sack, quarterback’.  My students know the football words but only the dancers (girls) knew the ballet vocabulary.  I asked my two ballet dancers in the class to lead us all in a pliĆ© exercise.  It was great fun to see the football players and others try these exercises.  They had a great time trying to do it, although sometimes they were laughing too much to do a very good job.  The expert dancers loved being the teachers and yes even I was trying it!

One of the big challenges this year will be to get the students experiencing more.  Already they have had their first standardized pre-test in language arts to gauge the level of their academic knowledge.  Perhaps during Social Studies I will have more time and freedom.  I will keep trying to find ways and I will report and share any successes.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

First Week with EFL

First Week:
    When I walked into my classroom after being gone all summer I realized that the whole seating arrangement needed to be changed.  All the desks were facing front with the emphasis on the teacher.  I realized I needed the focus to be more on the students.  Seating arrangement was a challenge with 31 desks.

    I started to think about all the things I wanted to change in my class. I came to the conclusion that what I am attempting is a change of habit in myself.  The habit of how I teach and help my students.  Habits are hard to change as we all know.  It’s like when I started meditating.  At first I could not sit down for a 3 hour meditation right away.  I had to start small with 5-10 minutes and build from there.  After some consideration I’ve decided to not just go in and change everything and cause myself a lot of stress.  I’m going to start small with the things that push my teaching in the direction I want to go, with the things that feel expansive and joyful to me.  Challenging is ok but not stressful because then I know my joy level goes down.
    Considering this, I decided to focus on having an “expansive” and “experiential” classroom.  Expansive in every sense of the word but mainly focusing on the Progressive Development of each individual in the classroom.  That not only includes students but also the teacher, me.  I know that if I’m “light” I can teach and help my students more. My own personal daily meditation practice is and will be my main energy source and boy am I going to need it!  By experiential I of course mean getting the students experiencing more.  This year, I want to keep a good balance of book work and personal experiences for my students.
Some of the EFL inspired activities of this first week:
  1.     With this in mind I started the first day greeting students at the door, shaking their hand, and introducing myself.  Looking each student directly in the eyes from the beginning told me many things about their energy as they came into the room.  I did this with the 31 students in the morning class who are with me, as their advisory teacher (like a homeroom teacher) for three periods the first month of school.  I also shook hands with the 31 students in my afternoon class that are with me 5th and 6th period.  It was lovely to see many sparkling, bright eyes curiously looking back at me. 
  2.     Besides all the getting acquainted and school introduction activities I introduced my classes to the concept of “Personal Excellence”.  I asked them what they thought it meant and what kind of qualities this included.  We brainstormed a list of qualities first in small groups and then as a whole class.  We ended up with a list of words that they got to pick from.  They picked one word to take home and decorate for our Personal Excellence bulletin board for next week.  (For a journaling activity they can pick three qualities that they want to work on in themselves this school year.)
  3.     At the end of the day they wrote three things they liked about their day on a sticky note and on their way out they stick them on  the bulletin board.
  4.     I asked each student to write me a friendly letter telling me about themselves.  This is an old idea with a new twist.  I now have them focus on the positive things in their life.  This helps me to get to know the important things in their life and helps me start to identify their Tools of Maturity.
  5.     We started having a class discussion about feelings this week. I told the students that it is important to check in with themselves so they are aware of how they are feeling. That way, they are not going blindly through their day, reacting to life without knowing what is really going on with them.  Together, we came up with a feeling chart complete with a smiley face feeling guide and one of the artistic students agreed to make a poster for the class over the weekend.  In looking at what was available on the web I also ran across this helpful web site.  http://www.freeprintablebehaviorcharts.com/feeling_charts.htm
  6.     One of my high priorities as I am getting to know my students in these early days is to identify the leaders in the class.  Who do the students pick as leaders, who steps up to the job of being a leader, and where on the Progressive Development scale are these leaders.  From four days of being around them I have already identified two girls (very light) and one boy (ego active light).  It’s also interesting to see when a student I’ve identified as “heavy” all of a sudden lightens up at the mention of Egyptian pyramids or stone age tools of all things. 

One last comment about this week. I had an impromptu talk with my principal.  He came in to say welcome back and ended up sitting down for a very enthusiastic chat about having an “expansive and experiential” classroom.  He understood what I am trying to do and supports it. Yes!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Education for Life (EFL) in Public School Blog by  Liz Aguilar

Welcome to my great experiment! 

I’m sure there are some wonderful teachers out there that are familiar with the Education for Life program and that use it on a daily basis in their classroom, whether it’s in a private school setting or in a public school.  I have been teaching in the California public schools for 18 years and I am currently teaching in a northern California middle school.  I teach 6th grade language arts (English), social studies (history), and art.  This blog is to document my attempt at bringing the Education for Life concepts and ideas to a typical public school classroom.

I have an average of 30 students per class and teach 2 - 3 different sets of students for a total average of 60 -90 students per day.  The question is, “How much of the principles of Education for Life can a teacher apply in a public school setting?”  I’m excited to try and experiment with my students.  At worst they will have an interesting school year, at best the sky is the limit. 

There are a couple of disclaimers.  First, even though I am a language arts teacher this blog will not have perfect grammar or even spelling at times.  This is mainly because I will have precious little time for revising, so I apologize ahead of time.   Also, I have no idea how often I will be able to post.  It could be once a week, month, or year.  That being said, comments and suggestions are more than welcomed, I will need all the feedback I can get!

Also, this is a blog for people that are already familiar with the whole Education for Life concept and know about Stages of Maturity, Progressive Development, and Tools of Maturity as well as Flow Learning.  If you are reading this and are not sure what EFL is please go to this great web site and inform yourself.  http://edforlife.org/
Stay tuned as I started school yesterday, August 27, 2012.  I’ll let you know how it goes!