Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Teaching at a Distance in the Classroom - Brainstorm

Brainstorm Time! I'd love to hear your ideas on this as well!

I think this is going to push all of us to become better teachers, forcing a conversation about what really matters... versus what's an "extra" and can be set aside... and then finding creative ways to keep the essentials alive.

If you're teaching outside & inside & 6 ft apart & having everyone have their own EVERYTHING (for my pod of 5 kiddos I happily already had five staplers, five tape dispensers, five single hole punches, etc.)... what do you do for

Group Bonding / Routines & Games

    lots of improv games at the beginning of the year

    also Adventure Ed and Nature Games

    Cowstails and Cobras 2: A Guide to Games, Initiatives, Ropes Courses & Adventure Curriculum

    by Karl Rohnke

    Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell (PDF)

    for yoga have each child use an old bath towel as a yoga mat; these can easily be washed and I have a ton of them

    carry things outside in crates! Victoria calls these "Curriculum On-the-Go Kits" -- think of everything that would possibly be needed for an activity and have it ready -- I do have many different colored crates

    one crate per activity? or one crate per child with their to-do list for the two days while they are here?

    have each pod leave a surprise for the other pod to find when they come to school... a nature mandala... a scavenger hunt... other ideas? it would be a fun routine and it would help them stay connected as a larger group

Labels for Non-Consumable Supplies

    This is for things where I have 10 of something and each child will be assigned one (pencil sharpener, scissors, etc.) but they are NOT going home with the child at the end of the year.

    Obviously these things are staying with the child all year. And they need some kind of identifying mark in case I find one on the ground. And, unlike previous years, people can't just grab each other's to borrow. But I hate the idea of putting a number on each thing and then assigning a number to a child. It is so impersonal and something kids have negative memories of from public school. But when I put a child's initials on something and then they don't take it home because it is something I need for the following year, a later child would be getting "someone else's" clipboard, so that doesn't feel good. Suddenly realized I could do what they do in Reggio Emilia! Label things with symbols not numbers. A star, fish, sun, crescent moon, etc. I would only need to come up with ten. Then you look for your symbol all year and next year someone else would have that symbol

Individual School Supplies

    purchased -- Aussie Pouch Chair Pockets -- one per child and the kids can take them with them when they work outside, and can set them over their chair backs when they work inside

    happily, the 17 inch wide Large Aussie Pouches will fit our chairs and hold the MLB size the kids are used to, the Mercurius landscape format 32 x 24cm

    they can keep the MLB in the outer-most smaller pocket so that it is protected

    kangaroo pouch larger pocket will need to hold the child's plan book, colored pencils, gratitude journal

    each child also has a little caddy with pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener, glue stick, scissors

    write each child's initials on all pencils!

Snacks & Lunch

    set up a consistent outdoor eating area (baby wipes and a trash can)

    children bring change of clothing, lunch, snacks, water bottle, hand sanitizer, mask to school each day in their backpack; set these down outside somewhere at drop off

    I need to have my first aid kit outside and not inside

Art Supplies

    everyone already has a box of colored pencils so we can do a lot of pencil sketching

    for painting outside, I have enough glass jars and watercolor brushes to give each child a set of paints and a brush when we do an activity; wipe down the handle of the brushes afterwards

    I have easels for a rotating activity and I have enough painting boards that each child could have a board they use all year long -- I would need individual rolls of masking tape for stretching the paper

    If it can't be wiped down or sprayed with disinfectant, I need 10

    If it can be wiped down or sprayed with disinfectant, I need 5

    If it is inexpensive or it just makes sense for each child to have his/her own, I need 10

    I would have to either teach a lesson as a whole class or leave supplies out in an area which children can rotate through, each only using the activity supplies organized for them and labeled with their name -- lots of prep there!

    I don't see how clay would be possible, but each child could have a personal piece of modeling beeswax? or we could make lots of play dough for modeling which then just went home with them in a baggie

Handwork Supplies

    sun jar dye yarn so each child can have his/her own colors

    make knitting needles

    start with kitten, chicken, lamb for younger kids

    start with star gnome, doll, diamond washcloth (introduce crochet) for older kids

    no potholder weaving this year because I can't have them rummaging through the basket for their color

    older kids can do counted cross-stitch kits since those are self-contained

Outdoor Work Spaces


    straw bales or camping chairs

    card tables on the driveway -- block off the end with a saw horse

    hammocks ?

    picnic tables ?

Outdoor Play Spaces

    mud kitchen

    digging pit

    water pump with a catch basin, that recirculates so you can pump to your little heart's content

    giant bird nest that you can sit in

    pretend "camping" area with benches and logs set up in a fire pit

    climbing tree

    loose parts area / baskets for collecting

    tiny worlds in large flowerpots -- each child would have to have his/her own

    mulch mountain ?

    I could have a big bin of homemade bubble stuff and they could each make a bubble wand (wool yarn wrapped coat hanger idea in All Year Round ) -- again, I could set out the tarp or activity area, with the supplies organized per child, and give a group demonstration for how to make the bubble wand, and then let them come one at a time to the station as part of their choice time

    one of the things I have to figure out is the ratio of teacher-led versus student-led, given that I'm trying to keep my distance from them -- and some of this will have to be learned through trial and error

Outdoor Drama Area

    hang fabric from tree braches to be a "curtain" around a "stage" area of ground

    tie ribbons to the tree branches to make a wall of ribbon

    dye cheesecloth (sheer, inexpensive, lovely) in large gallon sun jars with natural dyes

    use inexpensive rolling garment racks as backdrops for a drama area, paint old sheets and pin them to the garment racks for the "sets"

Outdoor Library Area

    books in mailboxes (watertight!) in a little quiet Reading garden

    let students check books out from the classroom to read at home on home learning days, then quarantine the books for a period of time before another child can check them out (our public library is using a 96 hour quarantine period so we can adopt that too)

Grammar & Word Study Manipulatives

    for the Montessori R&D Word Study materials, students can make their own slips of paper using instructions provided to them and then do the work

    for Grammar they can symbolize sentences from whatever book they are reading for fun

    ETC Montessori is making lightweight plastic materials (termed Personal Learning Products) which are inexpensive enough to get multiple sets, and even perhaps one for each child who needs it, including

    the wooden grammar stencils that we already like from Waseca Biomes are $5.00 apiece, so I just went ahead and purchased one for each child

    I also have to think about being able to teach from a distance, so I got the set of large Grammar Symbol Tiles from Nienhuis (diameter of Verb circle is 50 cm), since the pieces from regular box of paper Grammar Symbols may be too hard for students to see at 6 ft. The Grammar Symbol Tiles are also meant to be a whole body activity, which sounds fun! I've decided that I really don't want to get inexpensive disposable materials. Ultimately, it's more of a waste of money. I would prefer to get things that I will really want when this is all over, even if it is more of an up-front cost.

Math Manipulatives

    I have an extensive inventory of Montessori materials and need to start looking through everything to see what is easy to disinfect

    Mortensen math materials are plastic and can be wiped down (used for arithmetic, algebra, problem solving, measurement, calculus) and the exercise books for individual students can be printed from PDFs

    all of the Activity Sets from Nienhuis are plastic and can be wiped down

    Geometric Cabinet Control Chart is plastic

    Nienhuis Cut-Out Labeled Fraction Circles are plastic; Metal Squares and Fraction Circles are metal; both can be wiped down

    ETC Montessori is making lightweight plastic materials (termed Personal Learning Products) which are inexpensive enough to get multiple sets, and even perhaps one for each child who needs it, including

    I also purchased two of their new acrylic Coordinate Plane Boards

    we could also use glass gems in different colors for a stamp game or even collect and paint rocks (this might be good for the decimal stamp game, since ETC didn't make one)

    Glass Gem Colors Needed:
    red, blue, green, pink, light blue, light green

    I will have enough glass gems that everyone can use them to make their own "stamp game" and I can demonstrate how to use them with my wooden Stamp Game when I present the lessons. We can also wash them on Wednesdays in water + bleach if it turns out I don't have enough and both pods have to share them (which I don't think will happen). And when all this is over I can use them in crafts


    no one can use the puzzle maps this year, but I can put lots of maps up on the walls of the garage!

Nature Study & Botany


    time-honored study of inquiry which requires no supplies

    love an article I read that asked, "what if we designed a school year for recovery?"

    social-emotional learning should be prioritized; philosophy combines intellectual discipline with the chance to talk honestly about who you are and how you feel about things

    Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy with Kids

    by Marietta McCarty

    my notes from teaching with her book in the past:
    Philosophy Overview

    the list of topics and philosophers:

      Philosophy - Plato

      Friendship - bell hooks, Karl Jaspers

      Responsibility - Rita Manning, Albert Camus

      Happiness - Epicurus, Charlotte Joko Beck

      Justice - Immanuel Kant, Paulo Freire

      Time - Augustine, Alan Watts

      Courage - Epictetus, Mary Wollstonecraft

      Death - The Bhagavad-Gita, Shunryu Suzuki

      Prejudice - Jean-Paul Sartre, Gloria Anzaldua

      God - Thomas Aquinas, al-Ghazali

      Humanity - Soren Kierkegaard, Elizabeth Spelman

      Nature - Lao Tzu, Baruch Spinoza

      Compassion - The Dalai Lama, Jane Addams

      Freedom - John Stuart Mill, Simone de Beauvoir

      Love - Martin Luther King, Jr., Bertrand Russell

Mental Organization

    I need to find some way to distinguish between the different kinds of activities I have in my mind, so I can be sure I'm planning for every contingency in my plan book. And so that I can tell if I don't have enough ideas for a certain kind of activity; there are so many options!

    At Home:
    What gets packed in a tote bag for when we can't meet in person.
    What kids can take to do at home on the days they are not here as a follow up to a lesson they did have here.

    Here / Teacher Directed:
    Kids do it here whole group (5) with distancing.
    Kids do it here small group (2 or 3) with distancing.
    Kids do it here one on one with distancing.
    I set it up as a station and kids rotate through at their own pace.

    Here / Self Directed:
    Completely self-directed.
    Partially self-directed.

Loving the workshops from Victoria at Outdoor Classrooms. They have been really helpful! I'll update this brainstorm as I come up with more ideas.

In the most recent article that I've seen on this idea of moving classrooms outside as being feasible and, even, an important aspect to school reopening plans, the author did actually take the time to list some of the logistical hurdles and how schools would address them. That makes me happy, since it means people are taking the idea seriously! Although I did hear yesterday from a colleague that four families in the SF Bay area are seeking to create a homeschool pod and hire a teacher for their four 6th grade girls -- with a salary of $70,000 for the year -- and that shocked me! That's a lot of money! The article in the Atlantic talked about wealthy parents hiring private governesses and it really is happening. But I prefer to think of a system of tiny community embedded micro schools spreading throughout the country as a way to DECREASE the equity gap, not increase it!

Why Can’t We Just Have Class Outside? It might be the answer to America’s school-reopening problem.
The Atlantic - July 28, 2020

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Book Share Jul 29

Our quick social check-in once a week to see what everyone's reading and if they would recommend it. I love to see the different variety of books shared by kids of all ages! All homeschoolers 4-18 are welcome to join us via Zoom.

This week's recommendations were

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

by Kathryn Gibbs Davis

Professor Wormbog’s Gloomy Kerploppus


Mercer Mayer

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Inventors: Tony Sarg, Walter Diemer

Notes from Famous Inventors: Week Four!

This falls under the category of a Second Grade study of Virtuous People. My list of all of the inventors I've found is on my website; here is what we did:

Day Thirteen

Day Fourteen

  • recall Tony Sarg
  • add Tony Sarg to MLB (it is fun to make the gigantic animal balloons out of construction paper collage... you can even accordion-fold a slip of paper and have them pop up when you turn to that page)

  • read Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy

  • get some bubble gum and blow bubbles!
  • add Walter Diemer and finish up MLB

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Inventors: Elijah McCoy, Levi Strauss, Margaret Knight, George Ferris

Notes from Famous Inventors: Week Three!

This falls under the category of a Second Grade study of Virtuous People. My list of all of the inventors I've found is on my website; here is what we did:

Day Nine

Day Ten

Day Eleven

  • recall Levi Strauss
  • add Levi Strauss to MLB (it is fun to write GOLD in big bubble letters and fill it in with gold colored pencil, and to draw lots of little people running all around)
  • take apart a brown paper grocery bag along the seams to see how it is constructed
  • read Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully

Day Twelve

  • recall Margaret Knight
  • add Margaret Knight to MLB (it is fun to trim the top edge of the MLB page with a pair of deckle scissors, like the texture at the top of a brown paper bag)

  • read Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis

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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Dye Recipes and Photos: Days 1-15

Blank Natural Dyes Spreadsheet (PDF)
print at landscape at 90%

How to Tie a Yarn Hank for Dyeing
from Tuesday Stitches

The yarns I'm experimenting with at this point are all pure wool:

The other worsted weight yarn I tried was Paton's Classic Wool Worsted Yarn in Winter White, but I prefer the Fishermen's Wool. It is slightly scratchier which means that it will stick to wooden needles a bit better for beginning knitters. It is currently $13.14 for 465 yards, which is 2.8 cents per yard. The Paton's is currently $7.97 for 210 yards, which is 3.8 cents per yard.

One of the things I'm looking forward to trying next is different kinds of yarn in the same dye bath, to see how they take the color differently.

The iron filings are something I had on hand for Physics experiments. It's $14.70 for a pound. I used several shakes, so about 2 tsp.

Pictures of the Finished Colors:

fresh mint leaves & stems
with iron powder - pot on stove
Paton's Classic Roving Aran

"used" mint leaves & stems
with iron powder - pot on stove
Paton's Classic Worsted Winter White

red & yellow onion skins
with vinegar - crockpot
Paton's Classic Roving Aran

fresh chopped beetroot
with vinegar - crockpot
Lion Brand Fishermen's Natural

fresh chopped beetroot
with vinegar - crockpot
Paton's Classic Roving Aran

powdered turmeric
with vinegar - crockpot
Lion Brand Fishermen's Natural

fresh chopped turmeric root
with vinegar - crockpot
Lion Brand Fishermen's Natural

whole annatto seed
with vinegar - sun jar
Lion Brand Fishermen's Natural

whole fennel seed
with vinegar - crockpot
Paton's Classic Worsted Winter White


fresh avocado skins & pits
with vinegar - crockpot 
Paton's Classic Worsted Winter White

black tea bags
Paton's Classic Roving Aran
finely ground fresh coffee
sun jar
Paton's Classic Worsted Winter White

"used" fresh chopped beetroot
with vinegar - crockpot
Paton's Classic Worsted Winter White

"used" whole frozen blueberries
 with vinegar - crockpot
Paton's Classic Worsted Winter White

whole frozen blueberries
with vinegar - crockpot
Lion Brand Fishermen's Natural

side-by-side comparisons
the original dye pot color is on the right;
the results of dyeing with the "used" water and dyestuff is on the left

fresh chopped beetroot

whole frozen blueberries

fresh mint leaves & stems with iron powder

You can see that the "used" blueberry and beet pots gave a paler version of their original color, but the iron continued to strengthen the mint color as it sat and so the second hanks in the mint came out much darker. It's lovely!

 side-by-side comparions
top is fresh turmeric root and bottom is powdered turmeric root
both in crockpot with vinegar; same yarn

Pictures of the Dyeing Process:

setting up the sun jar with annatto seeds

the water in the jar after three days in the sun

fresh turmeric color

powdered turmeric

powdered turmeric color

fresh beetroot from a local farmer


our January 2020 beet pot was also fresh beets but gave a very different color,  more of an orange than a red
maybe the beets were not as fresh?

 red & yellow onion skins

 all you need is a pot, yarn, water, and some ingredients from your kitchen
you are supposed to soak the wool first but I always forget

 a bag FULL of mint from a local farm

I really just chucked it in the pot... but if I had soaked the wool it would have been better.  I also could have cooked up the mint pot and then removed the plant matter and strained the color, then put the wool in...

 for this I used a pot reserved for dyeing, since I added the iron filings

 coming out of the pot, you can see the very wet wool (left)
is quite a bit darker than the squeezed wool (right)

there was still a lot of color in the mint dye pot, so I decided
to do more yarn (did I remember to wet it first... nope)

it was so dark when it was done cooking, it was nearly black

the color gets lighter as it dries

 half jar of fennel seed, water, white vinegar, wool yarn, crockpot

 it took us quite a while to get all the seeds off
the color turned out to be quite similar to the tea

the coffee yarn when it came out of the sun jar
note the grittiness, which we had to brush off when it was dry

I put the frozen whole blueberries in a pouch of cheesecloth
so that the yarn wouldn't get bits of skin in it

the second round of yarn -- in the "used" blueberry blueberry water -- gave a color almost exactly like our blackberry yarn from August 2019

 as part of the 2019 Ancient Civilizations Camp, we dyed wool yarn with pokeberry (in a play kitchen pot that I don't use for real food)

and we also dyed wool yarn with blackberry

pokeberry (left) gives an incredible color but it's tricky to make it lightfast
blackberry is on the right

I have more notes about the dyeing processes we used in my previous post.

CreatureCast - Tyrian Purple from Casey Dunn on Vimeo

I'm excited to start experimenting with new things (new fibers, different combinations of dyestuffs, new weights... and even embroidery floss)! In the midst of all of the stress of staying safe and of preparing for a new school year, having this hobby has really brought me a lot of joy.

In case you're interested, here's how the Ancient Phoenicians made their incredible purple dye.  Scientists finally figured it out!  They knew what kind of snail it was but the actual process was lost for thousands of years.  The snails were boiled in huge lead pots by the side of the sea, which means that the perfect recipe includes metal (like my mint) and oxygen (like indigo)...

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