Saturday, May 28, 2011

Brick by Brick -another week

Sometimes four day weeks can seem long or a bit jam packed and this one certainly did.  I also feel like I need to read again the book, Never Work Harder Than Your Students.  I seemed to spend a great deal of time marking and reading. And I still don't have field trips organized that need to be organized.   I can't say 29 Science chapter reviews are the most exciting reading.  I do feel as if I have been very diligent tackling science experiments this term.  My students enjoy them more than I do, fortunately, and they are acquiring some good group skills and learning how to write up experiments rather well.  Plus by having them working in groups of three or four at least I only have eight experiments to check over.  Somewhere I read that collaboration creates better science so I figure I am doing okay.
 We also finished up our unit on cyber bullying.  After a shaky start when we wondered if we would have to change a group,  this unit turned out really well and the kids did very thoughtful reflections.  It's so nice to do co-teach a unit!  And great  when other people design the unit

The big excitement this week probably was the Me to We Assembly when this dedicated group of sixth and seventh graders presented a check for 8500 dollars to Alicia Doo from the Free the Children organization.  The club chose the project to build a school in India brick by brick last year and reached their goal a couple of weeks ago.  The assembly was lovely.  The assembly was totally ran by students and the emcees did a great job using a prezi created by our Sadie.  This prezi is great and tells the whole history of the project.  Jane has also done a wonderful job on her blog as well. 
  Some of the primary teachers were saying it was the best assembly they had ever attended and they were really curious about prezis, as this was their first viewing.  It was also great to have some of the people who had made generous donations there as well.  Kudos especially to Alanna Wong, our teacher librarian, who has been the driving force behind this organization in our school.  The kids in this organization gain such great skills, learning how to effectively fund raise for one thing.  I also love how some of our students put their language skills to good affect by being guests on a Punjabi language radio station and describing the project there.  And imagine as a seventh grader presenting a project to the local Rotary club!?
I have to say it was a bit disappointing not having anyone from our central office able to attend this wonderful event. I guess there were important meetings but they really missed seeing what a group of elementary students in a small east side school can do. 
Next on the agenda, Bike to Work week, and the Young Writers' Festival.  Stay tuned...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Reading Fantasy-all about Emeralds

After a meeting at the school board and before returning to school, I ran into Kidsbooks,  hoping to supplement a lit circle set, but Maniac Magee was sold out.  I couldn't waste a trip there so ended up with two new fantasy novels.  With difficulty I managed to wrestle them home before any of the kids could grab them.  Note, I am waiting to read the latest in the Red Pyramid series, The Throne of Fire my copy disappeared into waiting hands as soon as it arrived from Scholastic. 
Leslie, at Kidsbooks, told me The Emerald Curse by John Stephen, was the hot new book.   The author was a writer for The O.C. and The Gilmore Girls as well as most recently, the executive producer for  Gossip Girl, so that would suggest some good connections.  The book begins with three children being hustled away from their parents to a secret location due to reasons of safety and then picks up the story ten years later with them living in a terrible orphanage on their way to what probably is even a worse location.  The book is a quest as the children time travel in order to change the fate of the town where their new "home" is located.  It's an engaging tale and I am sure it will be popular.  Personally, I prefer the Dormia series.  I think it's better written and more thought out.  I will be curious what my classroom critics will say.
Well being time pressured I was "forced" to read the sequel to The Billionaire's Curse this weekend.  The Billionaire's Curse became a popular book in my classroom after we went to the Vancouver International Writers' Festival and met the author, Richard Newsome.  Some kids bought the book there and chose that as the book they wanted me to buy as well.  I think I briefly mentioned that book in an earlier blog.   The kids love this book and I enjoyed it as well.  Gerald has an ordinary life in Brisbane, Australia, until his Great Aunt dies and is family is whisked to England by private jet and he is informed he is her only heir.  His parents disappear off to check out all the homes she owns in exotic locations, leaving him to deal with all sorts of dangers as well as unhappy relatives.  Fortunately, he makes some good friends.
In the second book, he is off to India to visit one friend,Alisha, whose father's diamond was stolen in the first book but of course rescued with Gerald's help, with his twin friends, Ruby  and  Sam.  They are also in pursuit of the emerald casket, a source of great power and mystery linked to his family.
Interesting the appeal of these books where kids are basically on their own with some help from some adults but often adults, are the villains or just not helpful.  I think kids love seeing what these fictional characters are capable of doing on their own.  

Again, I will be curious to see if the kids like this as much as the first.  Many of my students love fantasy while others prefer more realistic fiction.  I have to say though to watch the evolution of some of my students as readers is so gratifying.  I don't think high school is where we hook kids into reading so that it's really important to be able to have this happen in elementary school.  I loved it when we had our earthquake drill and a couple of my students were busily reading as they stood waiting outside for the all clear signal.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teach Like A Champion-a few months later

If you follow this blog you may remember that our school book club decided to read the book, Teach Like A Champion.  Tomorrow (well now today), I am going to present about this book study  at a meeting of literacy book clubs at the elementary level at our school board.  To read my initial bog just click here.
I think this book club worked out rather well.  First our school goal is in the area of social responsibility so that this book was kind of a perfect fit.  Our students are vibrant and fun but sometimes listening skills are not the best.  Our students are chatty.  We also are a school with a high number of students who have English as an additional language.  I think this book gave us all some great management strategies and ideas to have more efficient classrooms and more listening and participatory classrooms. 
Much of the "research" and examples were done in American charter schools and for us Canadians, things at times seemed almost militaristic but we all kind of swallowed that part of it. But I think we all loved the idea that runs throughout this book that all students can achieve.  Many of the strategies really worked at getting all students to participate and be actively engaged.  It also helped give us common language.  We were also able to link strategies in the book to what we were already doing.
We had really good discussions at our "formal" meetings and often informally in the staffroom.  Other staff members became interested in the book as well. 
When we met to look at our school goal for this year and next year I think that we were influenced by our discussions in book club as we look at increasing common language and expectations in the school.
Book clubs in general I think are a great idea.  We introduced them in our board while I was a consultant and I think they have generally been successful but there are a few keys to success.  Set up your meeting times at the beginning of the year.  Commit to meeting and agree on how you are going to approach the book.  In our case we discussed strategies we had used, we didn't all read the same pages at the same time and that seemed to work for us with this book.  We did have a framework to use for note taking and discussion.  I also kept minutes and distributed them which people found helpful.  We had a group e-mail list.  Food is good.  I tried to remember to bring a snack. 
One nice part for us is that I actually have three periods a week to do literacy activities in other classrooms so that initially I was able to help with some of the implementation of strategies.  Several of our group members actually worked with different classes so that was helpful as well to give the bigger view.  I think we also loved in this case that we had both primary and intermediate teachers in our group. 
 When I surveyed our group members last week we all felt positively about the book and the experience.  People are planning to keep using it and to use it for setting up next year.  We totally agree this is a great gift for any beginning teacher or good to be used with student teachers.  
For more information check out the facebook page.  I thought this was quite interesting. 
And thanks to my friend, the commodity trader, for giving me this book.  Here's one of our classes "slanting" (sitting up, listening, ready to ask and answer questions, nodding when appropriate, and tracking the speaker or in this case photographer).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Is it really May???

 It has been one strange day here from pouring rain to a bit of a let up to snow and hail!   Today was the UBC Perennial Plant Sale and I didn't  know if I was going to be able to handle it!  I have gone for many years and don't remember a really rainy day before.  Mind you, they used to do it on Mother's Day and I don't think it's supposed to rain tomorrow.  After the rain let up I did go and now I have plants but it doesn't really feel like planting time when the yard is a bit flooded and has snow!

This was one of those weeks filled with mainly highs and some lows at work.  Some highs were getting to do poetry with a grade one/two class.  Too much fun... And then my class helped them publish their poetry and that worked like a charm.  Later in the week the my Grade Seven students were able to present their Rome projects to other classes and did a great job.

Wednesday one of my students involved in the Vancouver School Board Mentoring program shared her writing with her family, some of our staff, and her mentor and her mom.  This is a great program and we were all very proud of Meili.

Thursday night I went to Moberly School's 100th anniversary.  I taught at Moberly for 11 years before I went to work at the board.  When I went there it was the school board's largest school with over 800 students.  By the time I left the board after four years the population had dropped about 200 students.  My current school was initially Moberly's annex until a few years ago.

It was a great evening and it was fun to see former colleagues and students.  It amazes me all the memories some of the students have and it's neat when someone tells you that she went into media because of what you said to her in sixth grade.  As I watched and listened to former students at Moberly (and one had even attended in the 1920's)  it struck me of what a good job we do as teachers and how important we are in making memories for our students.

I was at our local high school Friday afternoon for the student orientation where 18 of my 29 students will be attending.  We let them go on their own to this and I met them there.  They seemed so independent though I know this change is exciting yet scary for them as well!

The school year is going fast, too fast as one student said.   I was thinking how great it actually is to keep blogs just to remember some of the highlights!! Now if the snow and rain would go away...