We Need Your Help – Building Tetrahedron Pyramids to Build Community in ESL

Update: This project was fully funded on September 1, 2018. Thank you to all of our generous donors! 

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Inspiration – a beautiful tetrahedron sculpture build by the Alexander Hamilton Middle School in Cleveland, Ohio

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Flashback Friday – Tetrahedron Building with students in my classroom back in 2013.

My students need paper, markers, tape, and colored pencils to create and connect tetrahedron pyramids that show their identities. The books will supply background knowledge about pyramids and provide reference for symbols.

My Students

I teach middle school ESL to students new to the United States. My students are highly motivated to learn; they are eager to learn all they can about the English language, as having proficient academic English is a marker of success in their new American lives. A challenge I face is ensuring that each and every student feels connected to the classroom and school community, as my students are completely new to the United States and the English language. My students come from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Somalia, Cape Verde, and Vietnam. They are typical middle school students – energetic, funny, and eager to figure out who they are. Our school is an urban 6-8 in a large city school system. It is a loving place where the staff does all they can for the students, and the students work hard to achieve success.

My Project

My students will draw symbols to represent their personal identities on the brightly colored paper, which they will fold to create tetrahedron pyramids. The small pyramids will then be connected to one another with tape to create a sculpture.

The pyramid sculpture that the students create will become a classroom display representing the power of community and teamwork that is necessary for all students to feel comfortable in a new country and language.

As I get new students throughout the year, each one will add a tetrahedron to the sculpture. Through building something as monumental as a pyramid, students will recognize that they are an important part of the classroom community.

The books about pyramids and symbols will serve to build background knowledge about pyramids and pyramid builders, and the book about symbols will provide ideas for drawing.

My Standards for My Childrens’ Education

My daughters are 8 months old, and I am expecting another baby in August. And yet, so many days, I spend worrying about how I will send them to school. They attend nursery school now (at Smart Start Academy in Grove Hall, Dorchester), and I love it. Their teachers know me, my family; they know my daughters’ interests, personalities; nothing is high stakes – YET.

High stakes education, the kind found in today’s public schools and charter schools, means testing, stress, and conformity are too often prioritized. This means that what most parents hold dear about their families – identity and values – may not be.

Today as I cleaned the house, I began to photograph objects (mostly books) that symbolize my hopes for my daughters’ education. I also thought deeply about my daughters’ emerging identities.

Why are parents often the missing voice in deciding WHAT we teach? Shouldn’t schooling reflect the values of families and communities or at least connections to the important learning that families and communities provide? I think so. I would really like to hear from parents (either as a comment, post on another blog, or via email: jenniferdines@gmail.com) about their hopes and dreams for the children’s educations. The education articles I read frequently discuss what parents are protesting or (in a majority of cases) do not discuss parents at all.  I am interested in what parents have to say. I would really like to write an article that features PARENTS’ VOICES.

My Children and Their Identities So Far

Francine

Francine is my “older” daughter; she is fourteen minutes older than her sister. She cannot stop moving. I think she would do well in a school that incorporates a lot of movement into the classroom or where the activities change frequently. I know she doesn’t have ADHD, but I worry that her future teachers might think so. She is very social, so, in that sense, I do not worry at all about her fitting into any social situation as she has a big personality. She does not sit with a book, but she likes to look at books, flip the pages, and climb up to stacks of books.

Mover FrancineFrancine climbs up to books

Sofia

Sofia is very quiet and observant. She will play with one toy or book for five to ten minutes and then she will move on to something else. She loves textures; for example, she loves to touch all different types of fabric, touch people’s hair, and pull on tags. I worry that she will be pushed to socialize, but I know she is content to play by herself for long stretches of time. I can see her excelling in art or science.

Sofia and BookSofia and Rattle

What I Want Francine and Sofia to Learn at School

1. Character: I want my children’s school to teach them right and wrong. I would like my children to attend a school that discusses social justice as well as good values. I also want the school to tell me straightforward when my children misbehave, so I can help them to correct their misdeeds.

whatdoyoustandfor

2. Love of Picture Books and Understanding of Life Around the World: I picked up this book right before the girls were born. I want my daughters to experience the beauty of having an adult present story time on the rug. I like this book Nasreen’s Secret School because it teaches children about the privilege of getting an education and how people have taken risks to gain that knowledge. Other good books on this topic are Running the Road to ABC and Through My Eyes: Ruby Bridges. My daughters are young for all these books, but they will know them in time.

picturebooks

3. Traditional Literature: There is a reason why people have told particular stories over hundreds and thousands of years. Universal messages and values are embedded in traditional literature. I don’t want my daughters to live in a here-and-now world. I want them to have an understanding of the societies who shaped the world as we know it. We have many books of traditional stories in the house, but these are a few of my favorites. It scares me that history is now minimized in school to make room for the tested subjects of Language Arts and Mathematics. Of course, all subjects are very important, but not just to take tests.

Traditional Literature

4. Arts History and Artistic Expression: I want my daughters to understand that reading and writing aren’t the only ways that humans capture history, ideas, and emotions. The arts allow us to tell our hidden stories – the ones that may be unsuited to words or the ones that need for us to transform into someone else in order to endure their telling.

art

instrument

5. How to Build and Repair Things: I so wish that I knew how to build and repair things. I am terrible at it, but yet it is such a practical skill – to change a tire on a car, to fix something that is broken instead of throwing it away. I have many former students who struggled with learning disabilities go on to be super successful in our school system’s vocational program in areas such as cosmetology, auto repair, and woodworking. But shouldn’t everyone know some of these skills? Imagine the stress it would save if we could all fix basic problems with our cars!

thewaythingswork

9. Español: Los latinos han llegado. Para preparar por el futuro en los EEUU, es esencial que todos conocen inglés y español.

Spanish

10. The Stories of MY Heroes: I don’t prioritize being rich and famous. I wouldn’t want my children looking up to Hollywood or the NFL. I want my children to learn about MY heroes: Mother Theresa, The Mirabal Sisters, Malala Yousafzai, and the many unsung heroes who are just normal people who stand for justice everyday.

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