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...