Saturday, April 21, 2012

It was a short week but a busy week with a Professional Day on Friday.   I always hope that my students will always have weeks that have "highlights"!  It's been a tricky year, first our job action involved not collecting money so that in my school this made field trips very difficult.   Now we are moving into job action where we will withdraw extra-curricular activities.  For instance, our Me to We Club's activities are now on hold, but my colleagues and myself still try to give my students the "extra's" in one way or another!

My class had only gone on one real field trip to the Vancouver International Writers' Festival on Granville Island as they were able to pay individually and by taking public transit, pay fares individually.  I did arrange  a second field trip to the Reel to Reel Film Festival as I was able to make a similar arrangement and now we were able to collect money as we were forced out of that job action by the government.  I think all teachers feel badly that we know many organizations have taken double hits, less government funding and then far fewer teachers taking students on field trips (see we do help the economy Ms. Clark).

I really believe in field trips to bring the wider world to my students but over the years they have become more and more expensive and again, there is less and less help with funding.

Anyway we had a great day this week.  I think it was the first feel festival my students had attended for one thing.  It was in Yaletown, an are not really familiar to most of my students, and we were able to meet film makers and do a workshop with a professional animator.  Plus you get to experience all this with your friends and classmates.  How exciting can it get!?

Back at school, I tried to think of ways to link the field trip to other learning.  I gave each group the study guide for the film festival plus the link to the website so that they would have information when they wrote their reports on the day.  As I am sure I have mentioned many times, the best writing often comes from these "experiences"  I had other lose ends to tie up and wanted to make use of the ipads too.  I also wanted to use what the students had learned about planning etc. in their storyboarding workshop with Deb Dawson.

Wednesday I worked with a station approach.  Students were all given assignment of doing write ups of the film festival, telling what happened, their favorite films, what they enjoyed and learned etc.  Then I basically divided the class into three groups.  I split the sixth graders into two groups and I have a few more students  (partly because they also had to go to the library to do Social Studies) and the seventh graders were one group.

The first group was given research topics from our crazy story that we are working on for Elemental .  This is a story the class created of a bear and a scorpion who live in India but having difficulty getting along, travel to Egypt, Austria, and the Jersey Shore and return home where they finally learn to live in peace... They added a few of their own and then using the ipads did research into three topics of their choice posting five notes on our moodle web site where I post assignments.

The second group did a mini workshop on dialogue writing.  This is a workshop I created long ago but went perfectly with what Deb showed them you need to create a storyboard (a visual and written plan for an animated film-well any video production really).
I gave them a short example of how dialogue is written like a script
A: I want to get out of here
B: Why?
A: I am bored
Then they had to use two or more characters from our story and show location, a problem and moving to a solution just mainly through dialogue.

The third group was working on their stories.  Then groups were rotated.  I also pulled math groups along the way.  Kids love station approaches but requires organization on the teachers' part!

Anyway stay tuned for examples of what we created in the end!  The pictures are from our field trip!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Getting back into the groove

The last post was a bit of a rant about the lost of early dismissal and the lost of ten teaching days.  I have to say it was nice last summer to have three extra weeks to work with our "struggling" students.  My class was composed of our students who had finished grade seven except for two grade six students, one of whom is in my grade seven this year.  She has had a really good year academically.  She feels the summer gave her a great start, she went to homework club ( a program ran once a week in our first two terms by through our Community Schools program giving our students one on one tutoring from a high school or college student), and she got  hooked on reading.  She is now a B to A student. 

In the last two weeks I received two new students, each from the Philippines.  They have taken English in school but it is not their first language.  They both have moms who have been working in Canada seven or eight years and now the family has been reunited.  Lots of transitions.  This is quite common in our school.  The Philippines have many trained professionals but jobs are not plentiful there and the wages are not sufficient often to support a family.

My new students can read and write English but not at grade level here obviously.  They also have to face a different curriculum and they are entering a class in April.  Fortunately we had parent teacher interviews this week so that I was able to spend a bit of time with the parents learning about their situation and the students' background and giving them a few suggestions to help their children.  I have another student who entered the class in March from another district who came from Central America after fourth grade and is now in Grade Six.  She is a smart girl who has done incredibly well learning English but again she has needed some extra supports.  For instance, in the last three weeks our Latin American support worker has been in several times.  And now things are going well. 

I am very thankful for my class who are so welcoming and helpful to our new students.  I can assure you it takes more than one teacher to teach a class.  It takes students teaching each other for one thing.  My students are great about helping each other with their math for instance or teaching each other how to use various technological tools. 

After our vote next week we will probably enter a new phase of job action due to government basically stripping our contract.  For instance, there will be no class size limits, no limit to the number of students with special needs.   In this new phase, we will probably drop extra curricular activities, activities we volunteer to do with our students outside of the teaching day. This is hard-any new activities for our Me to We club are now suspended for instance.    On the other hand, I get to take my class  on field trips again as I can collect money. What can I say?  We don't like this but the idea of going on strike and watching our money go into the government's hands again is not appealing, but the whole situation is frustrating.

The government has paid less and less of its budget on public education through the years.  It's cheaper to give more money to private schools or pay for stadiums or whatever, or waste money on testing that the media and Fraser Institute try to use to compare schools.  

Anyway I go back to class today, knowing what I do is valuable and worthy no matter what my employer thinks.  The government doesn't think much of teachers but they always seem to think we are miracle workers who are able to teach any number of students with any number of needs...

I promise next blog no more ranting...

Just looking at my pictures you can see we had another great story telling session at Moberly Arts Centre.  Everyone planted onions in the herb garden as part of our Fire theme.  The session also featured some cooperative games that the students really enjoyed as well as working on our Bear and Scorpion saga... This week we also had our first Human Eyes Youth Made workshop, which the students really enjoyed as well and really made them think in different ways.  Grade six students have been working on projects on poverty with our teacher librarian and the grade sevens have been finishing up their Ancient Rome projects.  Most of our grade seven students spent a day at John Oliver a couple of weeks ago while the rest of the class was able to do some training to help be better Peer Helpers.  You can see in the pictures that they are still making good use of the ipads.  And yes we do find time for Math and Language Arts and Science and French... Busy times!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On district closures and the lost of early dismissal...

Ideally I should update every week but somehow during the break I got behind and now I have actually have been back for three weeks and haven't talked about school.  Perhaps getting back into the rhythm was a little hard after a holiday away...

It's nice having two weeks as a March break in that it allows you more time if you do want to get away, and I certainly enjoyed my vacation to Florida, but I can assure you that most of the kids at my school were happy to be back in school.  None of them went on very exotic holidays.  They missed their friends and a place that for them is their real community centre.  It seems logical to close schools that have low populations to save money but just as it was long ago, the school is often the heart of a community especially in diverse communities. 

The school district made the school year shorter to save money.  In my school's case we used to have early dismissal on Wednesdays.  This was an opportunity to get planning done when you felt fresher, meet with colleagues to do planning, visit another school, perhaps book an appointment etc.  I am not sure I would have made it through my first year back in the classroom without those Wednesday afternoons.   To have these early afternoons we started earlier in the morning and went a bit later in the afternoon.  Most of us thought it was worth it.  Often there were activities at the school for students put on by outside agencies or it allowed time to do extra coaching etc.  Not all schools had these as it had to be approved by the school community.  Our staff really enjoyed them and it really helped keep you from burning out.

I have adjusted to the new schedule and it's nice not to start until 9:00 but I loved my Wednesday afternoons!  I also liked longer lunch hours-now we only have 45 minutes.  I used to enjoy having more time to plan, mark or have a basketball practice or a meeting at lunch time.  

The picture is of one of the lovely cherry trees near our school.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Back from holidays in Florida...

It's been two weeks back in the classroom after a very nice spring break, much of which I spent in Florida.  It was great to get away!  Having been on strike three days the last week of teaching and not coming to any satisfactory ending or hope from our government it was great to escape.  The trip had three phases-a couple of days at the lovely Inn at Cocoa Beach and a great time visiting The Kennedy Space Centre and an opportunity to look at gorgeous sunsets, walk in the sand etc.

Next stop was a couple of days right in the World of Disney and a jammed packed time visiting the four main parks.  It's kind of like stepping back into a childhood where my ambition was to be a Mouseketeer!  I hadn't been to Disneyland in many years and had only been to Disney World really when the other parks were not there. 

I loved Epcot and could have spent several days there!  It was fun staying right in the complex so that we could actually just take a boat to Epcot and Hollywood Studios from believe it or not, the Swan Hotel.

Then we drove north up to the Florida Panhandle and discovered a new area to me, one with turquoise waters and beautiful sandy beaches.  There is nothing quite like Florida evenings and it's been awhile since I played in big waves.  Several times my first week back I had wistful thoughts of enjoying the sun by the pool  at Club Intrawest, Sandestin.

It was not a great break here though I did bring a few days of sunshine back with me although the temperature was quite a bit cooler.  And the first  week back  it rained every day it seemed.  But since then we have had quite a lovely Easter weekend.  Signs of spring are everywhere in Vancouver-beautiful cherry blossoms, daffodils galore, magnolias coming into bloom.  Today, Easter Monday, I feel compelled to catch up on this blog.  I did a more detailed description of my trip in my class blog!

And here's a glimpse of Spring in Vancouver....