The Animal Research Report
"I find that the other teachers that I work with here have such expertise and are really knowledgeable in child development. So we have some really good conversations and I think solve some problems and answer some questions. I think it makes a big difference." Char Soucy
The first grade team, Sherma Higgs, Linda Murphey, Marcy Tonna, and Char Soucy, meet regularly, sharing and learning from one another. If one person has a unit worked out she passes on what she has to the others, rather than each needing to duplicate the effort on their own.
Their early childhood background is a bond they share, along with the recognition that first grade is different from the rest of elementary school.
"We are always saying in meetings that first grade is different. I'm on the language arts committee and everyone else is bringing out their favorite authorsand then there's first grade. First grade is going to do something different, but we have to." Char Soucy
"To plan a unit or what I am going to do in the class I start with our curriculum, and try to pull it all together with a theme if I can. The more connections that it has to a theme the easier it is for kids to remember. . . Our curriculum is already tied to standards so the standards are also involved with my planning." Char Soucy
The team is in agreement on the value of weaving curriculum goals into project learning that engages children. They make clear that there must be a "big idea" behind a theme that also covers the curriculum requirements and can be integrated into the project. Themes are sometimes misinterpreted as grouping together somewhat related ideas, "but drawing little bears on your math sheet doesn't make it a thematic unit," Char points out.
Sherma and Linda teach mapping through a project on pirates. They plan based on the curriculum, and include multiple skills and content areas.
"You just make sure you know what the curriculum is and know what you need to be doing. We do a lot of maps, treasure maps, mapping with them. It's in the curriculum. But you have to know how to generate; you have to plan your activities to go with your objectives. Their writing on their pirate mapsit's the best writing you get all year." Linda Murphey
Communicating with Families
In her first newsletter of the year Char introduces herself and her approach to working with children. She explains classroom routines so that families know what to expect and how they can support their children. The child's works goes home weekly along with a half-page progress report that keeps parents informed on the child's school activities. Communication is important to parents early in their child's school years and they appreciate the regular updates
"I send home a weekly newsletter in which I communicate curriculum goals, project information, and anything else. . .calendar events, pertinent info, et cetera. The progress reports have comments on them as well. The progress report checklist changes throughout the year, as my objectives shift." Char Soucy
"Give me a topic and I probably can come up with a song or poem relating to it, as well as a science experiment that illustrates a concept or two and the historical background of it too." Char Soucy
Char describes herself as analytical by nature, constantly researching and searching for better ways to teach. With the Internet she can make the connections that lie beneath the "big picture" more easily. She has earned the unofficial "tech person" title at Fernan, and beyond. "I get so excited about the things I find that I remember and assemble them, and then pass them on to teachers at the appropriate grade level." A natural outcome is that she has become a source of resources and information for her colleagues, who nominated her as Educator of the Year four years in a row. In 2001 she was selected Elementary Teacher of the Year for the Coeur d'Alene School District.
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