Monday, February 21, 2011

Ancient Egypt and more...

Well I am trying a new layout. I liked my old one but thought it was time for a change after I had been having fun redesigning my twitter background. What can I say?

Well the Egypt projects were a raging success! They amazed my faithful teacher-librarian and myself. Most of my students had a thorough understanding of the subjects they had chosen and had made the material their own. Students presented their projects in several ways from powerpoints to glogster posters to regular posters to three dimensional models to talk shows to letters written in hieroglyphics to mummified chickens (let's not go there). My weakest students did amazingly well. They are presenting them again this week so that other classes can see their work.
We are in our final round of Egyptian lit circles. Lit circles have been such a hit we are going to keep going, moving into new novel sets. What is gratifying is that they keep reading other novels as well. When people get groaning and moaning about students not reading being too busy texting etc. I just think of how much my kids love to read. Now this is a class of 17 boys and 12 girls, and very active boys at that but they are all totally connected to reading.
Other excitement this week has been a bake sale taking place to raise money for Stand Tall Education. A friend of mine was the first volunteer at this school started by a Vancouverite and shared her experience with my students who wanted to help. 61 dollars already raised today and I can honestly say I did nothing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bedtime Story night

This is a quick posting but I just really wanted to tell about the event I participated in last night. Our teacher-librarian and one of our grade one teachers (my reading buddy class teacher) organized a wonderful family bedtime story night. I am sure we had about 60 or 70 participants came as parents and grandparents brought children who came with their stuffed animals and dressed in their pajamas as we shared books and stories and enjoyed cookies and milk (and decaf coffee for parents). At the end of the evening parents were able to purchase books from Black Bond Books who gave each child a lovely bookmark. It was great and if anyone would like more information feel free to contact me. It was really fun and I think that a few of my seventh graders who came with younger siblings enjoyed it as well!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Canada Reads

Well as I noted, I actually won all the books nominated for Canada Reads on CBC. I had already read Carol Shield's Unless and Ami McKay's The Birth House some time ago before I won them. I have now finished The Bone Cage and am in the midst of The Best Laid Plans. What I always love about books is they can take me places that I will never get to normally. The Bone Cage focuses on a swimmer and a wrestler as they find out that they have qualified for the Sydney Olympics. Strangers initially, they meet in the gym and become as involved as two people can be who are in the midst of pursuing an almost lifetime goal.
I, personally, can't imagine the type of single minded purposefulness this has to involve so it's fascinating just being taken into this world. The plot is well crafted and the characters interesting.

Now I am reading The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, which was the winner of Canada Reads. I must say I was a bit incredulous to think that this book beat out Unless and The Birth House and The Bone Cage, but now that I am reading it I am absorbed in it. Again politics is not a huge interest of mine although I have been involved in working in a few elections. I probably have been a bit closer to this world than that of the professional athlete but again there are people who are absorbed in politics and those who are not and I know where I fall.

I found the setting interesting in this book as a former Liberal speechwriter leaves politics to become a university academic and moves a few miles east of Ottawa and is given one last assignment to find a Liberal candidate for the most Conservative riding in the country. The candidate (a crusty Engineering professor who doesn't want to teach English to first year engineers) he finds is promised he won't have to do any campaigning and is guaranteed to lose, but of course anything can happen in politics and it does. As I read this book I find myself laughing and totally enjoying the experience as I sneak into the backrooms of Parliament. Or maybe better yet is the opportunity to glide in an experimental hovercraft over the Ottawa River.

One more Canada Reads pick to go, and I just brought home a bunch of young adult books to read. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

More technological struggles

I laughed and read that last week was quite a week. And of course this one was as well. Let's face it there are few dull moments when you teach seventh grade.
For instance, I thought I was going to get ahead of things as I brought my brand new MacBook Pro to help demonstrate my students projects on museums that they had visited virtually. Many students were using less technological display methods but a few had power points. Our school laptop is antiquated and we are finally getting a new one and we don't have smartboards like some schools do. We have quite a nice computer lab but in the past we often have had problems with projects students had done at home when we want to show the whole class so I thought I would be on top of things with my new Mac.
Alas, for some reason the computer crashed, froze and had many interesting broken coloured pixils (maybe that isn't the right expression). I didn't even know how to turn my computer off so I ended up in the middle of presentations phoning Applecare. They got everything straightened out but took a few minutes and after all that I still couldn't get Sukhman's powerpoint to work on my computer although it worked on the class computer that I couldn't easily attach to the LCD projector. What can I say?
One thing that I think would be good is getting more of the students do technological workshops for other students and me! Pritha just puts her powerpoints on Utube for instance.
I am finding the trial run of e-book readers interesting. One girl is enjoying reading The Wizard of Oz but is wondering if she can get the book because she's only allowed three weeks with the e-book reader and she doesn't finish she can finish. There is a limited range of books on the readers so that the students have been reading some interesting selections. They seem enthusiastic but seem to still be happily engaged with regular books. My kids kind of love to read anyway so doesn't much matter where or on what. Here's an interesting article about e-books from the New York Times.
Literature Circles continue to be a total hit and I am so impressed by how much the kids are getting out of their various "Egyptian" novels. They are also becoming more skilled in their discussions so hopefully my role will become much less. The love the circles and say that it really is helping them in their understanding. It's interesting because they actually seem to be enjoying their second choice books now more than the first choice ones. I also find it great how they also continue reading other books as well. I like that they have at least two books going at a time.
By the way, I won the Canada Reads books this week when I went to a tribute to Carol Shields this week. I have read two of them but not the other three. Unless and The Birth House are both two of my favorites but I guess I would be voting for Unless.
My adventures on Twitter continue, a whole other series of directions to go. Sometimes it is enough to make you dizzy but did you know Margaret Atwood is doing a reading in Haida Gwaii tonight?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Out of my mind

I just read a fantastic book for kids called Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. This is a great book about a girl who has Cerebral Palsy and as a result is not able to speak and has many little motor control. She is, however, incredibly bright and finally finds a way to communicate to the world in the form of this story.
I found this particularly fascinating as long ago I ended up working at a camp for "crippled" children. There I heard about a couple of kids who were apparently incredibly bright but had no way to communicate due to their lack of motor control and inability to have intelligible speech. It broke my heart then.
Twelve years later our school was one of the first that was wheelchair accessible in Vancouver. I had a "special class" for primary children. I had already had a child with muscular dystrophy and then I got Gabriel who again was bright but had severe cerebral palsy. I will never forget how when the special education assistant was out of the room, I started to have my children draw their pictures, and I felt like sinking through the floor as I didn't know what to do with Gabriel.
A day later I had to fly back to Quebec because my father had a massive stroke and suddenly he too was physically almost immobile. I think that really got me thinking about Gabriel and what I could do.
I quickly got used to having Gabriel in my class and like the rest of the school, I fell in love with him. Fortunately I had support in the form of great Special Education Assistants, a speech and language pathologist, a "computer" teacher from G.F. Strong (later the founder of SET BC) etc. We all puzzled together to figure out how to help Gabriel and later Ronnie learn best. I still think my proudest achievement was figuring out how to teach the two of them to read and to figure out that they actually were reading. Also I realized that my other students were happy to draw with or even help feed Gabriel and Ronnie. I can also remember the joy as computers enabled them to have more control of their environment.
Communication boards were the first step to help bridge the communication gap (something that wasn't being used in 1972 at that summer camp) and the computers came a long way just in the early 80's when I had that class. Still life would never be easy for the Gabriel and Ronnie's, and perhaps most frustrating due to their brightness.
Reading this book brought these memories back. I love the writing and I love how the author was able to get so convincingly into Melody's head.
I was a bit surprised that more effective computer access hadn't been found for her earlier but I have been often frustrated along the way with education so this perhaps shouldn't surprise me. I think in British Columbia we are fortunate to have SET BC but it still often takes dedicated professional staff and determined parents to get what these children need.
Melody's relationships with the "normal" children and her family seemed realistic to me. And I liked that the ending is not a happily ever after one.
I am curious to see how my students will enjoy this book.