11.18.2012

Thanksgiving Day Parade

Felix the Cat was one of the parade's first balloons in 1927 (Forbes)
 One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This annual festivity makes an excellent theme for learning as Thanksgiving (and Thanksgiving break) draw near.

For starters, there are several great books about the parade that are fun to share with students.
Milly and the Macy's Parade is a picture book by Shana Corey and Brett Helquist about the origins of Macy's annual parade.  The story isn't exactly true to history, but the book conveys that Macy's began the parade to cheer up the New York department store's many immigrant employees and shoppers who often felt homesick for Old World traditions (like parades and caroling) during the holiday season.  This heartwarming book makes a great introduction to conversations about immigration and cultural diffusion.

Students can visit the official Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade website to view real photos and facts from the parade's past, which they can use to create a timeline.

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade, by Melissa Sweet, is another story about the parade's history.  This book focuses on puppeteer Tony Sarg without whom the parade would not be the fantastical tradition it has become.  This Caldecott honor recipient was just named as one of the titles on the 2013-14 Texas Bluebonnet Reading List.

Macy's on Parade is a non-fiction book in pop-up format that includes interactive features like a pull-out parade map and confetti for the reader to throw.  This book is a fun way to bring a little of the parade experience to far-flung revelers.

After reading these stories, students can dream up balloons and floats for their favorite book characters.  Miniature 3D parade floats can be made using shoe boxes.  Another idea is to create Christmas ornaments inspired by parade floats.  Author Melissa Sweet demonstrated how to make parade ornaments using Styrofoam balls.
 Visit Martha Stewart's site to see the tutorial video.  Meanwhile, teachers can use the theme to create a book display like this one from Andrea Elson.

For a little math practice, students can analyze this parade graphic from Nielsen, which shows viewership trends over the past couple of decades.

Students will also enjoy watching the History Channel's behind-the-scenes look at how the floats are made, which could springboard a science discussion about why helium makes balloons float.

11.03.2012

Fighting the Late Fall/Early Winter Blues

For nine years, I have been teaching various subjects in public schools.  Every year, sometime around October, I begin to think, "man, this is a really stressful job."  Even though this happens year after year, the frustration always sneaks up on me just when I think I've got everything under control.  I invariably spend several weeks questioning how I'll ever get everything done that I MUST do, complaining to my poor friends and family about the impossible expectations of teachers, grinding my teeth through the night, and developing nervous twitches in my face by day.

Before I started teaching, I was told that this late-fall / early-winter funk was likely to strike.  Ellen Moir illustrated the phenomenon in 1990 in a now well-known line graph called "Phases of first-year teachers' attitudes toward teaching."
New Teacher Center
The nasty trick about this graph is that it isn't just true about the first year.  Although the specific obstacles and pressures vary and are, therefore, each uniquely challenging, the path of the roller coaster remains equally turbulent.

Since my experience tells me that I probably will survive this difficult season, just as I have every year before, I am trying to focus on doing what I can to fight away the blues.  If you are likewise experiencing the free-fall from survival stage into winter disillusionment, try out some of these suggestions for keeping things in perspective.

1. Know You're Not Alone
Even though every educator deals with a unique brew of frustrations made up of specific local issues and student needs, there are also some broad national and international trends that affect teachers almost universally.  Knowing that others are experiencing the same struggles or feeling the same emotions can help teachers avoid indulging in self-doubt.

If you are craving a brutally frank discussion of what is going on in education, visit dianeravitch.net where you will find daily updates about the issues that trouble serious education advocates worldwide.  Staying informed about the evolution of education policy will also help teachers use their experience to become informed advocates for education.

2.  Fill Your Day with Your Favorite Things
Include the things you enjoy as themes in your lessons.  If you're following the presidential election in your spare time, let students practice reading, math, and social studies skills through election-related texts and problems.   If you're a sports fan, turn your favorite game into the theme for reading comprehension, historical studies, and mathematical problems.  Students will feed off of your enthusiasm for the topic, and their motivation is priceless.

Also, give yourself mini rewards for accomplishing micro-goals.  Make a quick list of little things that make you happy.  Then use those as little motivators to get you through tough days.  Attaboys and immediately-evident success are few and far between in schools.  To keep myself motivated, I bribe myself with tiny extrinsic treats throughout the day.  Made it through the morning laptop-checkout rush?  Then I get to enjoy my favorite carbonated cranberry juice.  Survived my morning classes?  Then I reward myself with a yummy sack lunch and a few minutes reading a novel.  Even the most trivial incentives can make a big difference when frustration levels are on the rise.

Plan ahead to do fun things after work.  Having something to look forward to will make the day go by more easily.  Check out Laura Winslow's list of 101 fun things to do in the fall for ideas about free entertainment like star-gazing, baking, bird-watching, and crafting.

3. Just Say "No" to Optional Responsibilities
Remember that it's okay to pass on non-required committee positions, party invitations, and other time-consuming activities that you may be invited or encouraged to join.  If your mouth has a habit of saying "yes" before checking with your brain, like mine does, practice saying "no" in advance.  Actually rehearse how you will confidently say "no, thank you" the next time someone mentions an upcoming "opportunity."

What are your tips for circumventing the blues?