Slime and other blue items

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This has been quite the week at the school (I’ll need pseudonyms soon I think…). In my last post I wrote that since the students had chosen child abuse as their issue to solve with their social businesses, I was a bit nervous that we wouldn’t find a product that would help solve that issue. Child welfare is not really something that can be solved with products or services. I had come up with a back-up plan of making child-related things like toys or books and I was going to pose this to the students as a “close enough” option. Turns out, the kids had other plans. Since a few of them had researched that blue is the color of child abuse awareness, they were all really set on making things that are blue to educate others. The classroom teacher had shown them some statistics about abuse that shocked and angered them and they wanted to get the word out.  After talking about it, the kids thought that as long as they made blue items that kids wanted to buy, they were reaching their target audience.

The classroom teacher liked this idea too and used the opportunity to talk to the students about how they treat each other in the classroom. They are so concerned about abuse of other children, that they are allowing abuse of children and adults in the school happen every day— bullying. Right around this same time, the class had gotten in a lot of trouble for being horrendous to their substitute teacher one afternoon. After that debacle, sadly, this class has formed a reputation in the school as “the bad class.” It is a small handful of students causing trouble, and certainly not the whole class (as is often the case), but yet the mistreatment of other students and adults in the building is consistent. It seems that despite their care and concern for child welfare, some parts of this re not transferring to their personal lives. As a researcher, I find it interesting that the subject of social studies is where this kind of teaching falls to–learning how to get a long, how to treat others, how to work as a team, etc.

I am just now starting to see the students learning social studies content, and we are 4 weeks into a social studies unit. The main concept the students are starting to grasp is the idea of the relationship between revenue, cost, and profit. When choosing their “blue item”  to sell, I told them to find products where they can spend very little money so their costs are low and their profit can be high. They really responded well to this challenge. Many of them chose products that need very little materials to make. Two teams are making jewelry of some kind, one team is making stress balls out of balloons and cotton, one team is making calendars of their own artwork, and one team is making slime to sell (blue, of course). They took great care in listing their “costs”, and then I purchased everything the kids would need to make their products. They are going to “buy” their products from the “Whitlock Store” on Monday.

Here is the costs list from the “Slimy Kids Who Care” (their company name choice, not mine!):

Here is my haul to stock the Whitlock Store on Monday. This prompted the Meijer cashier to say “You’re a teacher, right?”

To “buy” these products, the students got a loan on Friday and I taught a lesson on interest and what that was. I was so impressed with how serious they took this– as I had each student sign their loan agreement, you could hear a pin drop as they all carefully signed their names and I gave the manager of each group their credit slips.They did a lot of math in this lesson to calculate interest, and one student and I had this exchange:

Student: “This is math part is really hard!”

Me: “This is part of starting a business. Entrepreneurs do a lot of math to help them make business decisions”

Student: “I thought running a business was just selling stuff”

So they are learning! I see a bit of a different class than the rest of the school does. I see kids that are excited to learn but having trouble carrying over the lessons into real life yet. I am hoping the troublemakers find a new set of skills they can feel successful with in this project and turn their negativity in positive social change.

Watershed Moments

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Near the end of the summer, I started reading the newest Stephen King novel called 11/22/63. It’s about time travel and the date refers to the Kennedy assassination and how someone goes back in time to stop it. Being that I love the Kennedys and time travel stories, I got very into this novel right away. However, it’s an 800-page novel that I began right before my semester, so of course I only got abut 100 pages into it before I had to take a pause.


In the first 100 pages, King writes about “watershed moments”–important events that may seem small but change the course of direction of time. Watershed moments are important in time travel because it’s the moments that could make history go one way or another (like JFK dying), but they are also important in a similar way (but less intense way) in dissertation data collection. I have been waiting to try to find a “watershed moment” in this One Hen unit I’ve been teaching and watching unfold in the 5th grade classroom over the course of the last 3 weeks. Watershed moments are good to write about because of their impact and how they can possibly change the direction of a study. My committee even suggested that I narrow down my data focus ONLY on important, watershed moments in the unit so as I only spend time writing about these things instead of every small detail.

Finally, this week I believe I have witnessed the first watershed moment. It came when it was time to tell the students they would actually be running a social business. I explained that a social business has the ultimate goal of helping people and that we would have to think of two ideas– what to make and sell and what issue or problem we would like to try to solve. There was a lot of excitement about starting a business: “We’re going to make something we can sell? A REAL thing? Not just pretend?” “We’re going to make real money? Do we get to keep it?” They got even more excited when I had them fill out job applications to be a manager, a marketer, and on the production team within their business. They really took this seriously, working very hard on their applications which we told them had to represent them in the best way. Every day this week I have gone into school they ask me if we’re doing One Hen that day. I am thrilled to see them so engaged and excited; I have seen this with every school that I piloted this unit in at NHA. It’s something for another study another day, but it’s saying something when students are actually excited to learn. Good things can happen.

The watershed moment was when I got to see how the students embraced the “social” part of the social business. I started by having students brainstorm a list of issues and problems in the community that they would like to help “solve.” Prior to this I had them research in the computer lab and browse some websites. It was great to see their eyes light up and the wheels turning as they were learning new things about the world around them. The students came up with a huge list of world issues, ranging from the very broad, global issues like hunger, poverty, homelessness to things that they had more personal connections to: bullying, abuse, cancer, violence. We voted to narrow down our list and decide on a cause that mattered to us the most. As we were narrowing the list, I asked students to raise their hand if they had a personal connection to a cause. For example, when we talked about cancer I asked if anyone knows anyone with cancer or knows someone who died of cancer. Every person in the class raised their hand, which surprised them. I was more surprised when I asked if anyone knows/knew anyone who had been abused and nearly everyone raised their hand. In the end, the students voted that child abuse was the issue they wanted to tackle. The fact that so many of them have a personal connection to this is so sad, but the fact that they all were excited to do something about it gave me hope.

But this posed an interesting dilemma, since finding a product or service that helps stop child abuse is virtually impossible since we aren’t trained counselors and doctors. So we decided to broaden their thinking a little by leading them to expand their idea of creating a business to promote child welfare. We then brainstormed ideas of products and services we could produce that would improve children’s lives. They came up with great ideas–books, comfort toys, food. They also, without prompting, wanted to raise awareness of child abuse. Some students had researched the “color” of child abuse–blue– and wanted to make blue products to advertise to others some of the horrible statistics about child abuse that they found. Everyday these students have amazed me with their caring, thoughtfulness, and creativity. It’s amazing what kind of thinking students can do when given free range to think.  I have left every day with so much to write about that I’ve gotten into the habit of talking into the iTalk app on my phone for the 15 minute drive home.

This is why I love teaching because it’s my ultimate inspiration. Without students, I have nothing to write about. I look forward to seeing what else is going to happen.



One small step

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I’ve had this blog for about 4 months now and as of a few days ago hadn’t actually written anything for my dissertation. However, I can actually say that I have made progress on this front. This past week, I wrote ONE draft of ONE chapter–the literature review. A full 22 pages of both “old” work (from my proposal) and “new” work (readings that I wanted to add based on the new stuff I have read this month). A literature review, for those lucky enough to never have written one, is essentially where you outline the research that’s already been done on your topic (or parts of your topic) so that you can place your study somewhere in the mix. This means you need to read. A LOT. I have been essentially reading about my topic since February, so knowing what to read isn’t the issue. For me, it’s organizing what I’ve read in order to make a coherent analysis of what I’ve read. This needs to be more than “This person said…and then this person said…” I need to work on how to integrate everything I’ve read around the argument that my study belongs with all of these other great studies.

I feel pretty good about what I’ve written so far, but there’s always more to read, and therein lies the problem. It is possible to not know when to stop reading and start writing. This is the first year I have actually visited the MSU library to check out books, and there are just so many good ones up on the 4th floor East Wing that I keep finding. I also like their organizational system:

It makes me feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland for some reason to follow the lines on the floor to my destination and then at the end… books! (I am partial to the black line, which always leads me to the section where they hold all of the super old books about social studies instruction from the 1950s and 60s. I checked out a book the other day where the first “due date” stamp was from 1972!) You can also “recall” books. This is where you can request books that are checked out by other people and they have to return them so you can check them out. I always feel kind of bitchy doing that, but oh well– books!!

My goal though is to finish reading whatever library books I currently have in my possession, add their insights to my literature review draft, and then send it on to my advisor. Because no matter how much I write for a first draft, I am already preparing myself for many many many rewrites. I was talking to a first year doctoral student the other day who told me she hated rewriting–she just wanted to write something and be done with it. I wanted to just give her a hug and tell her the life of writing something and leaving it alone is long gone. If I handed in a first draft of my dissertation and called it good, then I could probably write the thing in a couple of weeks.

My life isn’t all small steps. October is Data Collection Month– I have begun to teach 5th grade social studies and collect data! This is a big step that is news for another blog post I’m sure. I am also submitting two job applications this week, which is a HUGE step. Wish me luck on all my steps, big and small.

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