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!