Sunday, December 18, 2011

Book making and the end of term

School is over for two weeks.  One term ended.  I lost my voice last Saturday and spent a quiet weekend in more ways than one.  I probably should have taken a couple of days off work but there just seemed too much going on.  What other job do you have to plan to be away? The planning for another often seems more work than being there yourself and then there is the catching up when you do return.

Other than being rather tired, it was a good week.  The week before, we began writing picture book.  This process starts with the students looking at good picture books (and I have lots) as well as thinking about the stories they liked when they were younger.  Students wrote stories and planned storyboards with their pictures.  Then finally go to final copy.

  The books all were finished more or less on time and we were able to share them with the grade one reading buddies Thursday afternoon.

At the beginning of the year I was a bit bemused by the lack of artistry of my new class.  Although I would never call myself an art teacher lots of drawing does occur in my room, and these books were really well done.  They were really proud of them and were taking them home to share.  All you need is construction paper, card, and wrapping paper, scissors, a ruler, and imagination.  I learned how to make these in a workshop long ago and have helped many classes make books over the years.  It is a very satisfying process!

Having buddy classes is great.  We made up simple presents for the first graders and as you can see they were proudly wearing their bell necklaces.  I made up packages for my class and some of them were wearing bell necklaces the last day as well.  I think this all partly started with my favorite Christmas picture book,  The Polar Express, when the boy only wants a bell from Santa's sleigh as a gift. 

As I may have mentioned due to our job action, we didn't do report cards this term and what a blessing that was.  These take hours and hours of our non teaching time at the elementary level.  We still had to figure out marks just not share them formally.  I keep parents informed if there are problems through the students agendas and meetings if necessary.   I always have my class do their own report cards with comments so I shared my marks and comments with them this week and they filed these in their portfolios.  The students' marks and my marks were quite close, but I think this helped eased some of their anxieties.

We had a party Friday but between recess and lunch as we had a holiday assembly in the afternoon.  We had Secret Santa ( and everyone brought their gifts and all seemed happy-they didn't have to participate if they didn't want to do so), they brought food and drink,  listened to Christmas music, etc., and everything was cleaned up by lunchtime.  Yeah!!!

Students Council had a successful food drive, my class brought in the third highest amount with 187 items (no party unless they had 100 items, always an incentive).  Our class diligently sold Paperblank journals for the last couple of weeks and raised almost 400 dollars for the Nepal Library Foundation.  They were also thrilled to get old leftover day planners and journals as an unexpected reward. 

They have also been excellent Hall Monitors and Peer Helpers.  Kids feel good when they see themselves making a difference.

We had a lovely Christmas concert (in our multicultural school I am not going to worry about labels).  Since the principal does choir with all the students and we have had two more talented musicians join our teaching staff to help with this, everyone gets to participate.  We also had some talented solo and group and class performances.  By the time we got our chairs back to the classroom, it was basically time to call it a day!  I was exhausted and fully planned to leave early and come back next week to sort life out, but a couple of my students wanted to help so I am basically planned and ready to go for January when I left at 5:00 (and I wasn't the last teacher to leave I can assure you).  It was a good first term but I am definitely ready for a vacation.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Great Inventions

Well this week the grade six students presented their multimedia projects on Great Inventions.  As I watched these presentations it reminds me that we really need to look at what our aims are when designing projects.   I was a bit bemused about what they thought were great inventions (a bit candy obsessed).  Perhaps, I should have stuck to the suggestions in the Social Studies text book.  I also sent them for a period of research in the library so I imagined that they would have used a few print resources.  That did not generally happen.  I also didn't specify how many resources they had to use, and some only used one or two and seemed to be heavily dependent on Wikipedia.  I can see we need to do some work on search engines.  Quite a few did do their bibliographies correctly. 

Rather than have each present to the class, I let them present in the computer lab with half the class presenting and the other half watching their classmates' presentation and evaluating as they went.  Having presentation one at a time can be quite time consuming and often involves waiting for technology to kick in. 

But generally I was quite pleased.  There were a couple of presentations that I thought were quite perfect.  Now several students didn't come with their evaluation sheets so I docked them marks for that.  Most students did do multimedia presentations.  Most did prezis, some used bitstrips to create cartoons, There were quite a few models.  Those who did posters did a neat job.  One student created a big book.  Most students were knowledgeable on their subjects, some very knowledgeable.

We invited a grade five class to see their presentations.  Their regular teacher was away and they aren't the easiest group so I planned carefully.  Two students went to each presentation and then in about three minutes moved to the next (my class knew where to send them next).  That worked out really well.  I was a bit concerned because the one presentation I hadn't seen was because this student had been away.  It was supposed to be about  the invention of video games but mostly focused on Modern Warfare and had a few too many guns on that prezi and not great information.  I think I need to have a conversation with his parents about how he is spending his spare time and if they have closely looked at this game.

I do think the project was a good experience.  The students got lots done in a couple of weeks and learned how to use different media as well as learning how inventions came to be.  As a teacher, what I want most, are students who want to learn and know how to find information.  I think we have had a good beginning. 

The grade sevens (I don't currently teach them Social Studies)have been begging for projects so they are researching decomposers for science.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some Days Are Better Than Others

Yesterday at the end of the day, I have to admit I wasn't feeling overly successful.  I was telling a fellow teacher that, and she asked me, "Are you wishing you were retiring at Christmas?" and I said, "No, I would feel like a complete failure!" 
Today I had cajoled a friend,Val, who has just retired as a high school home economics teacher to come in to teach my class how to make peace dove Christmas ornaments.  Another friend, a retired teacher, came to help as well.  Now a project that Val thought would take an hour took all morning and I was still finishing up with a few when my class had choir in the afternoon, but it was a total success.  At the end of the day everyone had a peace crane and knew a heck of a lot more about sewing than they did previously.  Most of them really hadn't sewn anything until today.
Of course I should have taken pictures but I was just a bit too busy so this blog will get finished tomorrow because I know you will want to see the finished project.  I am writing this today because who knows how I will feel tomorrow and the experience won't be so immediate.
Today was wonderful.  They were really  proud of their creations.  They were in the zone of creation  and were working well cooperatively.  The usual stars weren't necessarily the usual stars.  They were also experiencing the exhilaration of trying something new and succeeding.
I had the joy of having "an expert" enable me to do something out of my comfort zone, teaching sewing.  Val was great, figuring out how much fabric we needed, providing the pattern, cutting fabric pieces etc.  and then providing the model and instructions and coaching.  Sandy, both a teacher and an accomplished needlewoman, was great cutting thread, helping thread needles etc.  I could never have pulled this off without them being there.  You may remember I am teaching my own art this year for the first time in decades!
I think one of the funniest moments was when Renfil couldn't remember Val's name and called her Mrs. Beautiful. 
I think we often try to do too many things in a teaching day and  we lose the thread of what is really important.  This may be why I was feeling rather fragmented on Wednesday.  Anyway thanks to my friends,  we all had a great day today and I am looking forward to tomorrow!

Heroes of the Olympus and other young adult reads...

I thought I would review a few YA novels I have been reading lately, appropriate for more sophisticated readers in my class.  I just finished the second book in the Heroes of Olympus series, The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan.  I loved it as I did the first in this series and I now am looking forward to the the third in the trilogy.  Many years ago I discovered The Lightning Thief and thanks to the movie, last year, my class were all keenly reading it.  That book turned some of my class into readers.  One of my students I actually nicknamed The Lightning Thief.  I must admit I think I read the first couple in the series but not the rest but lots of my students  read the whole series.  Then last year the kids and I discovered the Kane Chronicles.  And these were so perfect as we studied Ancient Egypt. 

In the new Heroes of Olympus series in the first book, The Lost Hero, we meet three new demi-gods, one Roman and two Greeks.  The Roman demi-god, Jason, has lost his memory, somewhat disheartening to his two friends, Leo and Piper who are Greek demi-gods.  All three find themselves transported to  Camp Half-Blood from where Percy Jackson, the lightning thief, has disappeared.  The three, Jason, Leo and Piper, end up going on a quest to once again save the world.  Their rather windy adventures take them from Quebec City to Chicago to finally near San Francisco where of course they are victorious but more battles will occur.  

In the Son of Neptune, we find Percy, who like Jason, has had a memory loss, and he finds himself in a West Coast Roman camp for Roman demi-gods.  There he teams up with two Roman demi-gods (one actually from North Vancouver) and they end up having to go to Alaska via Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.  In the last book, these six gods plus Annabeth, Percy's girlfriend, are to go to Greece for the final battle.

I thoroughly enjoyed both books and look forward to reading the third.  

I also read the sequel of The Maze Runner, , The Scorch Trials.  This  series is now a trilogy with a prequel coming out.  Again I was swept away by the story.  I often think I am not much of a fantasy or science fiction fan but then I find these books I really do enjoy.  

My current read is Bruiser.  I have read a couple of Neil Shusterman books along the way and once met him and found him very charming, a fan of our racetrack because you could watch the ocean and a horse race.  I had not read anything recently though The Schwa Was here was a favorite in my class last year.  I somehow thought of him as a humorous author, but Bruiser has humour but it is a very serious book.  Initially Tennyson is very upset because his twin sister is interested in a guy thinks he is a loser, but when he follows home he realizes the situation is much more complicated.  Told from the points of view of Tennyson, a lacross player; his sister, Bronte; and Brewster and even his younger brother, we learn that Brewster is a truly unique person sensitive beyong anything you have ever seen.  I am absolutely fascinated and really enjoying reading.  I can see why it is winning many awards. 

I am not very systematic about the books in my classroom.  I am very careful of my favorite picture books but any of the other books, I just want read.  It's always interesting what disappears, and disappear and reappear they sometimes do.  Right now Dormia has gone missing and it's a signed copy to the class.  I know these are important books.  For instance, Anne Frank's Diary is another that often seems to walk away.  Somehow it's also reassuring that there are books that still can't stay on the shelves. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

War and Peace and other goings on in my classroom

I am back.  I get busy and just don't get to writing this blog but here I am.  It was a good week.  My classes and I love projects.  They take us out of the mundane.  War and Peace newspapers are an old favorite of mine.  Not sure where the idea came from initially.  I used to do lots with newspapers so perhaps that was the beginning, and sharing the history of the Second War World seemed to be a bit of an obsession of mine.  I love picture books and  have quite a collection of those on this theme.  And again anyone who has taught six and seventh grade boys knows you are always going to have a few with a fascination about war!

September 11, 2001 changed things because wars seemed to become more immediate as we felt the impact of that day...  And as those of you who follow my column may remember, I have been reading my class Eric Walter's book We all Fall Down about a boy who goes to work with his dad at the World Trade Centre on that date.

 One the nice thing about having a brand new class is you can repeat projects when you feel like it.  My class two years ago had done newspapers but because I kept ten of my students last year we didn't do that project, though we all learned lots about World War One as we read Charlie Wilcox.

Well we have had a great couple of weeks as I shared some of my favorite books and they responded and researched and created.  I have to admit I kind of wondered how this would all turn out but as I see bits and pieces of the projects they are looking rather amazing.  They are passionate about their work.  One thing that is helpful is the fact that I had kept some of my past students' projects so that they had an idea what their work could look like. 

There have been such magic moments... What a gift it is to share the story of Anne Frank through the lovely picture book, The Picture Book of Anne Frank by David A. Adler and illustrated by Karen Ritz and the story of My Hiroshima through the eyes of author and illustrator,Junko Morimoto.  These are such excellent starting points as was the students learning a beautiful new song version of Flanders Field in choir.  Another high point was reading the new picture book, Blowing in the Wind illustrated by Jon Muth, and then playing the original CD by Bob Dylan and my students listening with rapt attention.

 But of course I do have a few other subjects I need to teach and I realized that my students hadn't really "gotten into" a basket of more books I had on War and Peace  so that I did one of my favorite activities for both children and adults-quick book shares.  I stuck two of a variety of books I had, mainly picture books on each group's tables.  Students had to share the books quickly and write quick responses and then after about seven minutes pass them on to the next group.  I think we were able to do six switches in the seven groups.  Then students decided their favorite books.  This worked out really well with lots of great conversation and enjoyment.  

I don't have a complete book list for you but I have attached a copy of the assignment and I promise some pictures of the finished newspapers. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Honolulu to Hanoi to the Amazon-my latest adult reads

In the dark mornings of October and November it's appealing to read a book set in Honolulu.  I just finished reading Honolulu by Alan Brennert.  I absolutely loved it.  It's the fascinating story of a young woman who dreaming of an education and more freedom than she can have in Korea she becomes a picture bride in Honolulu 1914.  Focusing on life in Korea and then Honolulu from the turn of the century to the 1950s but particularly between the two wars, it is a fascinating glimpse into the history of Hawaii.

Once having spent a week in Kauai I was fascinated with the multicultural society and history of the islands as various workers came from different parts of the world  and how these societies were able to mesh together.   One thing that is fascinating in the novel is how the attitudes of the mainland USA varied with that of the reality of Hawaii. 

I just finished another book that I really enjoyed.  That was The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb.  I think I heard Camilla speak about this book a year ago at the Vancouver International Writers' Festival, but somehow it took me a year to read it!  I loved her book, Sweetness in the Belly.  I think I liked this one just as much, perhaps more.  Set in Hanoi, it focuses on an old man who sells the best Pho from his cart and a young American woman of Vietnamese ancestry who has returned to try to find out what happened to her artist father whom she and her mom were forced to leave behind thinking that he would one day join them.  Between them is a young Vietnamese former math teacher and current tour guide, and his father, a carpenter who was the son of a writer who was tortured and killed for being a free thinker.  The mystery unravels and we learn a little of the history of those terrible times.  And yes, it actually has quite a happy ending.

A third book that I enjoyed reading was Ann Patchett's latest, State of Wonder.  This time I was transported from Minnesota to a Brazilian jungle.  A pharmaceutical company has a woman researching fertility but she isn't giving regular reports so that Anders, a researcher is sent to investigate.  It's then reported that he died and was buried at the research camp.  His colleague, Marina, very reluctantly goes to find out more information about what has happened.  I do love a novel set in an exotic location (not that Patchett makes it any too appealing) and the issues that are raised are very interesting.  This is a very "discussable" book. 

And now I have returned to reading children's books so stay tuned. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Granville Island and the Writers' Festival

My goal is to write once a week but not always easy although there is always lots to write about.  A highlight last week was the Vancouver International Writers' Festival.  We have a fantastic writers' festival in Vancouver every fall and I try to take my class.  This year proved a bit of a challenge as we are on work to rule and are not supposed to have anything to do with money.  Unless you have parents who offer to take care of this or an administrator willing to do so, you aren't really able to take your class on field trips.  As a result no one has been on a field trip at our school this term.

The staff at the Writers' Festival offered to count the admission money, and we went by public transit so the kids brought their bus fare or bus passes or bus tickets.  It was a bit of a scene as 56 children put in their bus fare (do the math) but we made it via two buses down and a bit of a walk and the Canada Line and a bus back.  The rain held off and the day became quite beautiful.  We had a great session with Kit Pearson, Maggie de Vries, and Alan Cumyn.  Seeing and hearing real authors talk about their work is just so important to inspire young readers and writers.

The kids enjoyed lunch and some free time at Granville Island.  Kids in Vancouver don't have the freedom we enjoyed as children, and not many of my kids have spent much time on the island so they love it.  Most of them had been there on school trips previously so were familiar with the surroundings.  Our intermediate divisions went to a play last spring and then we had them do a scavenger hunt checking out the various businesses and activities on the island.  Both Clara and I have lovely kids so it was a great day.   I actually wished we had had more time as we had a beautiful though a bit of a rushed walk along the water and by parkland over to the Olympic Canada Line Station.  It's a beautiful area and would have been perfect for studying ecosystems.  Rain had initially been forecast and that would have made it a more challenging day. 

I am feeling sad that it probably is going to be a year without many field trips but again there is always the possibility of a bit of creativity...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The best lesson is the one that you don't actually teach...

It's a beautiful day but I am feeling still a little lazy... I need to hit my yard, maybe think about planting some bulbs... But I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the best lesson I taught last week-let's change that to the best lesson I didn't teach.

Last year our teacher librarian, Alanna, and I discovered that we didn't need to know how to do technology to teach kids how to use it.  All we had to know was to give them the directions to get to the appropriate site and watch them learn themselves.  Our part was giving them critical literacy skills and interesting assignments to make use of their knowledge.  I also discovered that when my students were working on elaborate projects they didn't even see it as work but pleasure.  Hmmm....
Thursday half my class had gone off to We Day so I was left with half my class.  I decided to spend a couple of periods in the computer lab and exposing them to glogster where one can make online posters (and print them if you like).  I have never made a glogster and honestly, I don't think I really desire to do so,  but I can assure you my students loved doing so in the last couple of years.  Usually they kind of learned as they put together projects but Thursday I basically said here's the link to the website and away you go.  These students are all new to my class this year and none of them had ever made a glogster.  If they asked me anything I honestly had to say, "I really don't know much about this so you may have to ask each other" and they did.  It was interesting to observe how different students discovered different features and my student with the least amount of English was the first to discover some form of animation.  I did suggest they might make a Hallowe'en poster or a poster of something they were interested in.  They did.  They found out how to put in pictures and how to link videos.
Later that afternoon I had just my sixth graders and a couple of groups hadn't completed a poster on social responsibility and using their new skills did rather good glogsters.  Of course I didn't have my camera to capture the sheer joy on their faces as they learned how to use this new tool.  Many of them told me it was their highlight of the week.  My expectation now is that they can help those who were at We Day to learn how to make glogsters.  Next, will probably be prezis.

Earlier in the week I had one of those aha moments.  Long ago Jeff Wilhelm said school should be more like video games, a very interesting analogy.  Thinking about this I asked the class how many of them enjoyed playing video games.  Needless to say almost all hands went up.  I asked how they got to the next level.  They told me you had to read the instructions.  So I made the point that they should treat school like a video game where they wanted to get to the next level.  Hmmm... don't think that is exactly what Wilhelm was getting at, but I think it's an analogy that could work for me... And when you teach each other how to use Glogster students are definitely engaged and have another tool to demonstrate their literacy. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Remembering Kitty...

There are teachers and there are teachers.  And there are union leaders and union leaders.  And there are friends and there are friends.  And there are people who are just more vivid than the rest of us.  This morning we lost a teacher, a union leader and just a vibrant person, Kitty O'Callaghan.

I first met Kitty when I moved here and as a substitute teacher got involved with the union.  Kitty was on the executive and later the president my first few years teaching in Vancouver.  She later went off to Ottawa to be President of the Canadian Teachers' Federation.  When she returned she taught many years at Moberly School where I had the privilege to work with her.  Nine years ago she retired and that summer we went off to India where to meet our friend, Harjinder.  It was an unforgettable trip and Kitty was the best travel companion anyone could wish to have.  I have so many vivid images of that adventure!!! 

Kitty was one of the most passionate people I have ever met!  She was a passionate teacher, hardworking, dedicated to her students, and to making our school the best that it could be.  When I first came to Moberly, she had a student in her class who had attended MacCorkindale exactly four days the previous year despite everything anyone could do.  With Kitty as his teacher he seldom missed a day.  He didn't have a choice.  She was fearless.  As the oldest in a large family, she was used to leading.  Those leadership skills stood her in good stead as a remarkable union leader in very difficult times.

She was a great friend.  She was the friend who could tell you exactly what rug you needed in your living room.  Yes, there was that remarkable sense of style-how could I forget... My first impression of her was how absolutely stunning she was.  And how we loved the parties at her and Steve's beautiful heritage home...   She was kind, she was generous, and she was honest but always caring of her friends.

I still can't believe she is gone, her voice seems to ring in my ears.  I feel very privileged to have known her, and my sympathy goes out to all her beloved family. 

The picture is of a rose that her great friend, Maureen MacDonald said reminded her of how Kitty brightened any room she entered.  The poem also comes from Maureen...
Dirge without Music

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Getting it right...

I am definitely behind in posting.  Other things have obviously gotten in the way!  Now it's Thanksgiving and a cold has slowed me down so that I am finally found my way back to this blog!  School seems a bit distant when it's a long weekend.  I think it's now been about four weeks with my new class.  It's funny how every year is a learning process.  So much of these first few weeks with a new class is assessment, figuring out where we need to go.   I am also having to figure out again how to do the tricky business  of covering two different curriculum with two different grade levels.   I have also gone from the end of grade seven to the beginning of grade six and seven...
Sometimes people ask me how I get the great work out of my students that I do and quite honestly, it often is a bit of a mystery to me.  The last few weeks I think I could tell you quite a few ways I haven't done things right!  The best part of teaching is you do get the opportunity to try to get it right at least some of the time.  So stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The problem with teaching is I just don't seem to have time for everything I want to do.  And this week I am behind on blogging.  Yesterday, our staff was supposed to do team building on our Professional Day.  We were going kayaking at Deep Cove.  Unfortunately the wild weather, wind as well as rain (rain never stops you on the wet coast) prevented that occurring.  Thus I had a chance to do a bit of catching up, but I am  still behind on blogging so here I go...

Other than trying to figure out how I can get my class on a field trip due to our current job action, it was a good week.  I am very much still building foundations  and assessing where my students are and where they need to go and how I can help them get there.

Many years ago I designed a generic picture book/novel response form.  The students draw a favorite part of the book or chapter on the front cover.  Inside they record a summary, what they like, notice, connections, favorite words or phrases, predictions, what the author does well and on the back they have a whole range of projects they can choose such as interviewing a character, doing a found poem etc.  Right now I am teaching them how to do those with which they may not be familiar.

It's the National Terry Fox School Run tomorrow so my students read the letter he wrote just before he began his run and then picked up favorite words and phrases and turned them into found poems.  Earlier in the week we had done work about Rick Hansen and his Man in Motion tour and the new 25th Anniversary Relay again thanks to the resource, What in the World, and it's great online resources. 

My students were fascinated by how Terry inspired Rick and then we learned how Terry inspired Steve Nash who made a movie about Terry and how Terry inspired Steve in his own life and career from watching his marathon as a child.  Using Moodle, they are posting about whether they thought there should be a museum built in Terry's honour.  One student noted that it wouldn't be how Terry would want money spent, he would want the money to go straight into cancer research. 

I quickly reviewed my students' files after school on Friday and there were very few A's or B's on their report cards.  We have a long way on our marathon of learning but so far I feel very hopeful. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The end of next week...

Well here we are at the end of the next week.  And how am I feeling?  It's always such a mix of feelings.  When I was trying to juggle grade six and seven math today I was feeling a little overwhelmed!  But when Barry who seemed always to be in trouble last year told me he had a great week I felt really good.

I have to say I love having grade six students again.  I just love that age level.  Actually my grade sevens are lovely as well, but there is just something about grade six students...  And this is a very "cute" group.  I don't have many academic shining stars like I did last year, but we do have a whole year together to work on that!  It's also a situation of going from students at the end of Grade Seven to the beginning of Grade Six and Seven.  I found I had to slow things down and remember to teach the "basics'.  I spent quite a bit of time on how to organize work.  I had to help a few learn to use their new compasses to draw circles.  I was struck by how unartistic and "messy" many of them were but I could see improvements even by the end of the first week.  In my room, neatness counts!  Except for the teacher, of course!

I also like to have something to pin the beginning of the year on.  Last year having just returned from a great trip to Newfoundland and beginning the year in science with geology, we started with a unit on "The Rock".  This year I picked the anniversary of 911.  It occurred ten years ago when my students were only toddlers.  Most of them didn't know much except having a vague awareness of Bin Laden, so we did some rather intense work.  Initially I had them watch a video of the events of 9/11 from CNN.  Then we used print and online materials from this month's edition of What in the World News4Youth.   They watched the September 11 Brain Pop and took the quiz. I read the book 14 Cows for America, a wonderful picture book based on a true story of how a young Masai graduate student returned to his village in Kenya to tell a tragic story and have a gift blessed and what happened next.   I searched materials from the New York Times for teachers, and had the students view and comment on these incredible photographs. Over the weekend most of them had watched some of the programming on TV about 911 ten years later.  Thursday,  I had them write down important facts that they had learned, and we were all impressed by how much more they had learned in a week.

Yesterday I read them the first chapter of We All Fall Down by Eric Wilson.  This is the story of a boy who goes to work with his dad at the Twin Towers on September 11.  We had a good discussion of foreshadowing.

I think it's hard for our students now to really imagine a world before 911.  For instance, I can still remember being in Washington National Airport a few months before 911 and people greeting passengers coming off the plane as soon as we landed.  That certainly doesn't happen anymore!

As you can see this is a constantly evolving unit.  As I write I think what next.  One thing is  I am sure my students will be performing the beautiful poem, Voices, by Sonia Sones at our Remembrance Day Assembly.  I found this poem in the great book, 911 The Book of Help.  And when I searched for this link I found Jamie Adoff's beautiful poem.  Hmmmm....

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A New Class

So many of my friends are happily retiring I think they think I am just a little crazy as once again I am back in the classroom.  My favorite time of the school year is the first few days.  I love setting up the classroom.  I have to admit my classroom set up is a bit different as I actually leave up the last year's class's work as I like my students to see where I want them to go.  I also don't really like blank walls!

I love all the new supplies.  I know the students love all those new books and pencils as well.  We put together my list of suggestions as well for extra supplies such as dictionaries and calculators and keep adding as we think of things.  For instance, I hate the sound of pencil sharpeners so that I like them to have their own hand ones.  I do get pencils sharpened on the electric sharpener in the office as well.

Last year was easy because I had ten students from the year before who all knew my routines and reminded me when I forgot plus another ten I had taught French.  This year though all my students are new and so everything is basically  a fresh slate.  I have 26 students to get to know and discover.

Last year I had all grade sevens but this year I have a split six/seven.  Splits are definitely more challenging but I love grade sixes.  It really is my favorite year-the last real year of childhood and the year when somehow they begin to really be aware of the world around them.  And now I have a much better awareness of Grade Seven and I have hit all those Ancient Civilizations and understand all that "getting ready" for high school involves.

I kind of fall in love with a new class.  The first few days are definitely the honeymoon phase.  There is all the fun of discovering these new students and they are usually trying to make a good impression.  They are excited to be back with their friends and in a new environment.  The grade sixes now get to be on more school teams and the grade sevens have finally reached that senior student status.  This age level is so enthusiastic.  One reason they tell me they want to be in my class is that they get to do lots of projects.  Another tells me that she has heard that students who aren't that good students become really good students.  Needless to say I like that comment.

Anyway it's day one with my new class.  We will see how I feel at the end of next week.  And just wait until I start trying the juggle the math, the science and social studies with two grade levels and meet the needs of  kids at many varying levels but until then let me just enjoy the moments...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back at school-and wanting to make things work properly

The new year has begun.  I found myself distracted due to electrical problems in my home.  The first electrician didn't fix the problem but told me my house needed to probably be rewired for between 12000 and 15000 dollars and charged me 200 dollars.  The second told me probably just needed old wiring section replaced for 13000 dollars, problem not solved but at least I didn't pay him anything.  Third electrician opened up the control panel, found the old control panel, diagnosed and fixed the problem for $40.  Maybe my house could use rewiring at some point but for over a week I had no electricity in several parts of my house and several small appliances were "fried".  Two certified electricians weren't assessing and diagnosing carefully enough, not looking under the control panel etc.

Sometimes in education this happens as well and of course, this affects children's lives very seriously.  If students aren't learning we need to have the right tools to diagnose why and know what we need to examine.  We need to  listen and observe and experiment carefully to see what can "fix" the "problem" or what the problem actually is. Spending time and money, for instance, administering and scoring standardized tests is a very ineffective use of resources.  This isn't opening the "control panel".  Careful observation by a skilled practitioner of how a student learns does open the control panel.  

P.S. I just found this website (not that this was exactly what the third electrian did) -maybe the first two electricians should have watched this video.

Friday, September 2, 2011

catching up on my eastern trip...the short version...

I finally got to writing about the three weeks I spent back east when I was sitting by a pool at Whistler.  What can I say?

The trip began in Toronto with a visit with friends who live in Peterborough.  This is a friendship that began long ago when Anne and I did our Bachelor of Education degrees at Queen's University, a friendship forged in classes and in practicums and one that has lasted almost forty years (how scary is that?) .  Great fun seeing Anne and Barrie and their grown kids and new grandchild.  Then I met a good friend, Mary, at the McMichael Gallery where she  once worked.  It was fun to tour it with her and catch up over lunch.  Then I set off to the Niagara Peninsula to visit my cousin and good friend, Janice, and her family.  One highlight was seeing My Fair Lady at the Shaw Festival.

Next I was off to Montreal where I lived for six years to visit my other good Queen's friend, Linda, and we set off on a road trip with  her sister, Carol, and her amazing mom, Lorraine.  It was just a great trip with lots of fun and adventures such as spotting a mother moose and baby on the road coming out of the woods.   I love New Hampshire and Maine and the Maritime provinces and it was great to get some time there with good friends.  As I drove up the Sea to Sky Highway this week,  it was hard to believe that I had been on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton looking at the Atlantic Ocean  two weeks ago.

Back in Montreal I again had time to catch up with friends and relatives and get to spend time in some favorite places.  Having seen Montreal's current traffic situation I am not sure Vancouverites should be complaining too much.

I have been back a week and it's been busy partly due to my seemingly never ending birthday celebrations.  It's also been stressful getting a diagnosis that my house probably  needs to be rewired.  The joys of older homes.  I can't believe that next week at this time I will be back at work and of course, I keep saying this is the last year!!! Summer is ending-dark at 9:00! 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What I have been up to...where I am right now...

It's difficult keeping up with two blogs and I have been just posting some pictures of my trip on my school blog.  I have been in "The East" traveling for the last couple of weeks.  I love the West Coast but it's been wonderful being in Ontario and Quebec and the Maritimes connecting with friends and family and spending time in some of my favorite places and discovering some new ones.  The picture here is a near where I am currently along the "lakeshore" of the west island of Montreal.  I used to love to bicycle along here...

Long long ago I used to live in Lachine, where this picture is taken, in this house. I absolutely loved it.  It was the neatest house inside and out, and close to my school and the swimming pool and Lake St. Louis,but I only lived in in a few months before we decided to move to Vancouver.  At this point I am nearing the end of the "journey" and when I get home I will get caught up a bit with this blog. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Lazy Days of Summer-

 I actually found teaching summer school a more positive experience than I initially anticipated. I actually really did enjoy it and thought that it really was beneficial for the students. It really was pure teaching with no interruptions for one thing and we had quite a bit of fun as well. 

But it's a week since I finished teaching summer schools and although I haven't gone anywhere, I feel as if I am in another country.  For one thing the weather has improved!  For another I don't have to go to school every morning!  Summer school ended with a lovely lunch with my colleagues and we noted that for us summer seemed to be just beginning (again our crazy weather contributed to that feeling) instead of as it normally does the last day of June!

I have to admit I have had a busy time since then getting to do early morning beach walks and early morning leisurely coffees with friends.  I finally tackled the garden properly and worked on cleaning up the attic!  I made a big list and have actually checked off quite a few items on it.  Since I am heading back east soon there is a bit of pressure!

I have been dining in all my favorite restaurants-La Tapenade in Steveston, Grub on Main Street, and today thanks to Groupon, a four course lunch at Nu.  I also got to ride the ferry back and forth between the Aquatic Centre and Granville Island. Yesterday it was brunch at Sophie's on Fourth Avenue.  Tonight I'm off to Bard on the Beach.  Tomorrow it's Crescent Beach and tomorrow night is the Harmony Arts Festival in West Vancouver. 
I think the lousy weather and working the first three weeks and having a cold for two of them has made me really appreciate this week as the sun finally shines again in Vancouver...And as much as I can enjoy it, I don't miss teaching one little bit!!!

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I promised I would write about ipads.  As mentioned, I borrowed six ipads from media services at the school board.  I would have taken more but that is what I got.  Then the trick was how could I use them effectively.  I  organized it so that each day all the kids have had access to the ipads from 10 to 30 minutes depending on what was going on.  With 20 students I could organized four groups and one group could be using ipads.  In this picture the boys are picking pictures from Explore Flickr to write about.

The kids absolutely loved them.  Everyday the kids went used the Brainpop application.  Each day there is an informative video on a wide range of topics with a multiple choice quiz they took.  One truth I have learned in teaching is kids actually do like to learn and they enjoyed a range of topics from Bastille Day to Apartheid South Africa to astronomy.

To go with my novel study of Call It Courage, the kids did research on Polynesia, each picking a country on which to do a presentation.  The initial research was done with the Wikipanion application.  Later we did Hawaiian stations I had organized long ago.  I think I lost my version of The Three Little Puaa but found a summation and a utube video of kids  in Hawaii who doing a version so that the kids watched that as part of a station.  That was neat as the children could really hear what a Polynesian language sounds like. 

As a teacher I would find it very useful having an ipad handy as it doesn't take much space and I could quickly look things up or check e-mail without going to my desktop computer with my back to the class!  I am not convinced I personally need one though but if the school would provide me with one that would be delightful because sometimes I end up bringing my own laptop to school for a variety of reasons.   Making my classroom wireless with a router was one of the smartest things I have done-so much easier and essential to having the ipads.   I found  they worked fine out in our covered area outside my classroom as well, as I found them a bit noisy.  One of my kids kindly brought his own earphones.  I think if you were to have them in the classroom earphones would be necessary.  At times I did set the kids up with one in each table group to use as another dictionary for instance when we were doing word study. 

I found lots of good free apps, but at this point I think I have only touched the surface of using ipads.  I probably should put up a separate page on some of the apps that I liked best for intermediate students such as BBC World, the NASA site etc.  It sure enabled me to make summer school a fun experience for the students.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Knowledge Infusions (also known as summer school)

As you may remember in March teaching 12 mornings a week in July seemed a fine idea.  It seemed much less like a fine idea in June.  And definitely by July 3rd it seemed like a very foolish idea!  I was exhausted and knew that I was getting a cold (the one I managed to evade a week or so before).  In 1996 I decided I wasn't going to teach summer school for awhile (I had taught five or six courses in about four years at SFU and I had enjoyed it but after a year teaching sixth grade six weeks of summer school even if it was only eight hours of teaching time a week seemed much less a good idea).  I put my "all" into teaching and feel as if I need the summer to recharge my teaching battery.  But this year summer school was going to be at my school and only for three weeks.  I also liked the idea of that extra shot of learning for our kids and figured I could put the money towards many good uses.  I also didn't have any really exciting summer plans so...
Last Monday we all had to go in for a couple of hours and I was there more than that and then my cold and I went home to bed practically.  I felt a bit overwhelmed although a bit inspired by the six ipads I had borrowed from media servics.

Tuesday, 22 bodies showed up in my room and the show was on.  Two of the students were from the grade six class, 12 were from my class, and the rest from the other grade seven class.
The first day I gave them the initial grade seven RAD which is a reading strategy test.   This was quite helpful to help me see who needed to work on what.  Wednesday we read an article on Tom Thompson working on main idea and detail.  The class had never heard of him nor the Group of Seven.  And before you knew it they were doing projects on the Group of Seven.

Class goes from 8:30 to 10:15 and then from 10:35 to 12:10.  That really isn't a great deal of time.  I knew I wanted to begin the morning with independent reading and then do responses and a quick math drill because this had proved really successful in my regular classroom.  That took me to 9:15 so then I needed to think how I wanted to set things up.  I also had decided I wanted to see how I could use six ipads effectively in the class and one way to do this seemed to be to set up with groups and stations.  Let's face it, it is summer and I also wanted to make it fun and interesting.  The ipads have been a great incentive.  I have also had fun figuring out good free applications.
Something else I wanted to see was if I didn't have my computer hotshots there would other students rise to the occasion.  Well, we shall see, but it looks as if students are all learning now to do prezis and glogsters and bitstrips.  And I can assure you they are teaching each other.  You also have to love how familiar the students now are with The Group of Seven.  All these students are the children of immigrants and some have only been in Canada a couple of years.  Tomorrow we will all see the projects and if they look good (I am sure they will)  I look forward to sharing them with some UBC student teachers on Wednesday.

I have set up the stations in a variety of ways.  Today for instance half the class spent a hour each working on their projects in the computer lab and the rest did a group vocabulary lesson, then five or six did assignments on the ipads while I did a math lesson on multiplication of decimals  with the rest and then we switched.  After recess the first large group went to the computer lab and the rest went through the stations.  This followed with a whole class reading of the first chapter of Call It Courage.  Other days there has been a cretive writing station or a whole class reading strategy lesson etc.  At the end of each day I give the students a few minutes to reflect on the day in writing.

Tomorrow after reading and responding,  I will go over the assignment for the first novel chapter and give them working time and cycle groups through  ten minute working times with the ipads.  I also think I will work with whole group on math as well as we will all watch and evaluation presentations on the Goup of Seven.
Stations are great though today I gave four mini lessons on math (that's a little repetitive for me but the kids love the small group instruction.
Marking and prep take a lot less time with 22 kids as opposed to 29 and it's nice not to have to worry about teaching science or social studies or French, and there are no interruptions the way there are in regular school.  And I think the kids are actually quite happy to be there.   And now that I actually seem to be recovering from the common cold, so am I!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Year is Over

I am so tired that I am sitting here aimlessly although I have many things I should or could be doing and it's even a beautiful day.  I think I am exhausted!  Someone after my fitness class today asked me why I was so tired.

There is a lot going on at the end of the year-not necessarily teaching but still learning.  I had field trips last Thursday and Friday, and as fun as they are there is a certain amount of stress as one is concerned that all will go okay.  Friday we did manage to all get soaked as we navigated around downtown in the pouring rain.  In Vancouver expect to get wet at least on one field trip!  My fellow seventh grade teacher couldn't talk so she missed the field trip and I felt as if I was getting sick by the weekend as well but with Cold Fx and Vitamin C I managed to stave off the disease. The field trips were actually huge successes.

Most of my class thought that I should quit teaching this week, but I managed to finish the last math unit and they did some good writing on their last field trips.  We saw a performance of Latin music Monday afternoon and Tuesday was the graduation assembly.  It was a bit warm and stuffy and long especially for our kindergarten children but this was the big moment my students had been waiting for in some way since they were those kindergarten students.

My whole class wrote valedictorian speeches and presented them as well the last the week before, and then they picked what they thought were the best two to represent them.  Many speeches were really quite amazing and the fact that the students all wrote and presented them was also great.  I also can see how good their critical skills were as they judged them.  I had linked them to a web site on how to write a valedictorian speech and they really took cues from this.  Teachers were all asking Gaven for the quote he used.  I decided to make a few books of the speeches, some to give teachers who were leaving, and a couple to leave in the staffroom for teachers to read.  So many lovely things were said about their various teachers and their whole experience at our school.  I also blew up the speeches and students put them up all over our hallways for everyone to read. 

We finally got the class yearbook from the printers.  Friday after the field trip downtown and the day my car's battery died forever, I ended up after school at the school board print shop for a couple of hours sorting out this with Dirk, the patient printer who had inherited the job from Tony who put his back out.  There were some difficulties and Dirk phoned me Saturday night to tell me he had finished the job.  But they turned out quite beautiful with each student having designed his or her own page in full colour.   We did these at the Apple Store.  I think they were pleased with the result.

Then there were all the certificates putting my calligraphy skills to the test.  All the grads got a certificate, the prize winners got certificates, and then I always do certificates giving each student some kind of award in the class and we guess who got what.

I wasn't going to do it but due to "pressure" from the students who had been in my grade six I did read them my favorite touching story and they each wrote compliments about each student in the class.  I managed to get these collated but still have some lists to give out as I managed to lose a few at home.

Wednesday, the certificates and lists were given out in the classroom after our school assembly.  This was a great assembly as we had a great video of the year done by one of our staff members as well as a recreation of the flash mob our Me to We club did at Metrotown.  It was also sad as it was  filled with good-byes as we have several popular teachers leaving as well our grade sevens.  One teacher quoted Gaven saying to the effect- let's not cry that we are leaving but smile thinking of all the great times we have had. 

Other than a bit of clean up we spent the afternoon at a nearby park with our grade one reading buddies.  Later the grade sevens organized a party there after school.  I drove by.  The main event seemed to be throwing water balloons but I think they had some refreshments and hey, I didn't have to supervise.  I have to say there was a feeling of release at 3:00 that all had gone well and we had finished well.  Eventually most of our staff drifted into the staffroom to collapse and munch at the various food that always seems to end up there.

Each year I can't help but think of what I could have done better.  I always know some things went well but I will never be the perfect teacher however long I might teach.  It is gratifying to have a grandmother ask to hug you for what you have done for her grandson I do admit.  And my students this year have truly amazed me time and again.  I see them change and I have to think that all my nagging and encouraging has had some effect. 

In the last couple of weeks I had to really question myself why I agreed to teach a summer program at my school for 12 mornings over three weeks this summer.  In fact I couldn't think about it too much.  I have never taught summer school as such.  I used to teach sometimes in the summer at SFU and have done a few summer workshops.  I kind of feel as if it's good to have a change, but because the program was at our school with our students I thought it would be okay.  I guess we will see but now that this chapter is closed I don't mind the epilogue actually.   Stay tuned...