Friday, January 22, 2010

Help for Haiti-at one small eastside elementary school...

Last week was kind of inspiring despite the devastation in Haiti!  Thursday, my friends, Paul and Allison Bird came in to do a presentation about the Nepal Library Association for my class.  This is a locally based organization that raises money for computers and libraries in Nepal.  Paperblank journals donates their end of the runs to the organization and then all profits from sales goes to this group.  My sixth graders sold journals before Christmas and made over 300 dollars of the Nepal Library Association.
Friday morning very early I had to go to our local high school where I heard that their presidents of their service clubs had already begun organizing a Hope for Hait campaign. That got me thinking.
Friday we had a representative from the Free the Children organization and our own We to Me club  do a presentation for our whole school that kept 350 kids from kindergarten to seventh grade enthralled, kicking off a campaign to for our school to fund raise building a school in India brick by brick.
Saturday I went to hear author and philanthropist, Greg Mortenson, talk about his work and his new book, Stones for School.  This is the second time that I heard Greg Mortenson and he was just as inspiring this time.
We had already decided Friday my grade sevens decided they would spearhead a fundraiser for Haiti and our sixth graders decided to sell more journals, raising the price a dollar and giving the extra dollar for each book to the Haiti campaign, and the rest still going to the Nepal Library Association.

Monday morning the seventh graders were rather disorganized, unfinished posters, etc. but they got it together and by today we have raised over 1000 dollars for UNICEF due to the generosity of our school community plus we have made over $360 more for the Nepal Library Foundation sine Monday.  After a bit of browbeating initially I have done very little.  The kids have faithfully made posters, done research, collected and counted money etc. I am very proud of  them.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Books I have been reading lately and how we have been doing it.

I missed going to NCTE this year because I love all those free advance copies but many thanks to Orca for their generosity.  My kids, especially those 18 boys love those books, especially the Currents and Sports series.  They just can't seem to get enough of these!  I had a few come in this week and they dived into them.

You know how I continue to enjoy YA.  We had our Scholastic Book Fair in December and one book I picked up was The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler. I was probably drawn to the cupcakes on the cover!  One of my grade seven girls (this is only her second year of reading English after coming here from Pakistan last year) grabbed it immediately and now wants it back to read it again.  Penny's mom's marriage breaks up and she decides to move back  from New York City to her hometown, Hog's Hollow (which seems to be in the coastal southern United States) to open a bakery specializing in cupcakes.  Needless to say teenage Penny isn't thrilled, misses her dad, and immediately gets off on the wrong foot with the most popular clique led by the daughter of the woman that her mom defeated long ago as Hog Queen.  Penny does find friends and the interesting characters and realistic but humourous depiction of how three teens cope with the cards life can deal, save this from being just a cliche.  A very fun and enjoyable read!

Another book I read recently that I enjoyed was Juggling Fire by Joanne Bell.  I like these novels with strong female protagonists.   This book has a very different setting, in the northern Yukon.  Rachel is on her quest, to find out what happened (after the family moved to town) to their dad who disappeared from their original cabin in the wilderness.  With many misgivings on her mother's part, she sets off alone with her dog across the mountains to this cabin.  This novel gives a picture of a very different lifestyle to that which is familiar to our Vancouver students.  It is also deals with dealing with the loss of a parent.  This is a "regular" read, not part of the Soundings series.

I find teaching seventh grade students interesting in that there is ,of course, such a range of reading and interest levels.  One of my girls has taught me that wrestlers and rappers actually can have serious stories to tell, for instance. Note she is one of my best readers.  Some of my students are finally finishing books on their own for the first time partly  thanks to the Orca Currents, Soundings, and Sports series.  One of my sixth graders from the Philippines was happily reading a graphic novel version of a book in the Hardy Boys' series.  Some of my seventh grade boys are heavily into quite sophisticated science fiction and fantasy.

Last year I did an awful lot of demo lessons on The Daily Five and R5 but certainly in my room I have learned that you have to make these strategies your own and figure out how you can make them fit for your students.  For instance my chatty lot love R5, love sharing their reading with their partners and are quite amazing good at listening to what their partner says.  The fact that both our grade one buddies and our class are familiar with Read to Another is really helpful.

Currently each day we start with 25 minutes of Read and Relax.  My students are supposed to be ready with their books and set to go.  At the end of this they write how many pages they have read, a brief summary and then a response on a small piece of lined paper (I just cut up foolscap or use scrap paper).  Then they may just hand into me for a comment(quick feedback) or do R5.  Even the students can see their reading and writing are improving.  I make myself give them enough time to get into the Reading Zone as Nancy Atwell calls it.  My students admit that reading at home may be difficult-too many other tempting distractions, but hopefully they are now more likely to read properly.  Despite home reading logs etc. some of my students didn't seem to be reading enough but the right books and getting them into the zone seems to be making a difference.  I will keep you posted...

Movie review from the holidays a bit late-Invictus

Well I had good intentions of blogging during Christmas break, but guess I needed a holiday.  Last year I was very productive because I guess I was literally snowed in!  This year the weather was clear!  Now I could report on all the movies I saw!  Up in the Air, Precious, The Young Victoria, Avator, It's Complicated, and Invictus!  Quite a variety.  I love movies and going to see movies and it was one of my goals of the holiday.  I think Invictus was my favorite (of course, it was the last one I saw). 
When I was a consultant I spent quite a bit of time reading, listening, and thinking about leadership. 

At some points it seemed to me leadership was getting people to do what they didn't want to do and like it.  Watching Morgan Freeman's version of Nelson Mandela was particularly fascinating because this was something he seemed very able to do.  He found something that he thought could unite South Africans, the rugby team that had once been of symbol that black South Africans despised.  He convinced the team to do workshops with and give soccer balls to poor kids in the townships.  He used the world championship effectively as a sign that South Africa could change and come together.  I was also struck by his friendship with the captain of the team which was strong enough that Mandela was actually the godfather of Francois Piennaar's first child.  Now I know that life in South Africa is far from perfect but somehow it is refreshing to know that change is possible. Having had the opportunity to see Greg Mortenson yesterday again it was not surprising that one of his book recommendations was Long Walk to Freedom.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Back to work

Well I had great intentions and have one entry in draft!  What can I say?  No snow so that I wasn't stuck at home with lots of time to read!

Monday was a terrible shock to the system-I went home and started checking out retirement options.  I thought this job is too much WORK!  What sane person chooses in the last couple of years of teaching after four years as a consultant  to take on a grade six seven split in a new school?  One new student and 27 others not quite ready to settle down to work greeted me.  By the afternoon I had a headache and a desire for a nap.  The final straw was when I found gum on the rug (that had been cleaned over the holidays).  Thank goodness I had to go home at 3:15 to deal with my furnace.

Eventually  I calmed myself down and realized that it would be difficult to retire before June.  Then I started thinking about grade seven Social Studies and reassured myself that I really do like building units and after several hours of marking, started researching life in Mesopotamia...

Tuesday was a much better day. The fact that two of my colleagues took me out for lunch (the first time in four months I have gone out) probably helped, and the kids and I were all readjusting more positively  to life back in the classroom.  Today, the troops have really settled, it was a half day (though I was there until after three and that included a basketball practice)  and life is kind of sweet.  I think I can make it until June at least and I found myself talking today about next year.  And I just e-mailed a former student, now a teacher, that she can come observe

I think it is so important to feel a sense of community in a school.  Imagine if I feel overwhelmed after all my years of teaching!  My heart really goes out to young teachers.  I again feel lucky to have people who listen and laugh and understand and hope I  remember to do that for others when they need it.  Happy New Year!