Teaching the U.N.

I have an extremely interesting group of students in my homeroom this half of the year. Both classes are great and wonderfully small. The group I have now is more chatty but they’re all sweet kids. The fun thing about this group is about a third of them are not Canadian born or are 1st generation Canadians. This makes for a very interesting teaching situation.

For one, many of them don’t speak English as their first language and of course neither do their parents. For some, this is an advantage. Once you learn one language, adding another on becomes easier. For a few though this isn’t true. It’s hard when a student is struggling to learn two languages at once and mastering neither.

It’ also creates some interesting cultural dynamics. I love the fact that I have Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Christian students in my class and they get along pretty well, well… they get a long as well as most grade 5 students do. But I never hear any racist or anti-semitist or anti-muslim or anything from them. They mostly just care about who made the most goals in soccer.

That’s one thing that definitely brings them all together; their love of soccer. They’re a little obsessed to tell the truth but I’ve used it to my advantage to get conversations going in French. Today they really wanted to go out so I told them I would take them out but first I got them to tell me phrases they use in soccer and I told them how to say them in French so they were running around the field yelling “Passer la balle” and “Arrêter” and of course “BUUUUUUUUT!” It was pretty cute.

I also tried to get them to include the girls more in their game but that was less successful. The problem is the boys live, eat and breath soccer. Some of the girls want to play but they aren’t as skilled because they don’t play it constantly so when they do decide to join, the boys start out with good intentions to include them but then they get competitive and the girls end up feeling left out and wandering listlessly around the field.

Which brings me to one downfall to my culturally diverse classroom is there is more sexism than I would expect from this age group. I hear things like “girls can’t…” or “I don’t want to sit with her, she’s a girl” way too often. It is fairly normal to have that sort of thing happen to some extent but I just notice it more with this group. Doesn’t help that I have 13 boys, quite a few of whom are outspoken, versus my 7 mostly quiet girls. It’s a fun dynamic. I’m going to miss them next year for sure.


Trying to Focus on the Positive

There is a special kind of stress that happens at the end of the school year for teachers without permanent contracts and this year has been much worse than most because the government has announced they’re cutting over 300 teaching positions in the province, they’ve cut literacy leads and math leads down to a tiny fraction of what we’ve had before, they’re cutting positions at the department level and they’re getting rid of our $250 that we get to spend on supplies for our classrooms. All gone. It’s tense in the staff room. We’re all stressed about what’s going to happen next year; who’s going to be in which position, who’s not going to have a job.

I’m worried about my job.

I was very hopeful that taking this job at my school would be a great career move, not only because it’s a wonderful school, but also because it’s a position that no one was planning to return to so I felt I had some job security. Now, all bets are off. The fact that I teach Intensive French is helpful because it’s a bit of a specialized subject but that might not save me.

I started substitute teaching here in 2007. After three years of that I managed to get a contract teaching grade 5 and have since taught grade 5 in six classrooms in four different schools. Each year I’ve packed up my room at the end of the school year. Each year I’ve had a new principal. I’ve worked with seven different principals. I’m very lucky because I’ve taught grade 5 every year and I’ve always had a full time position for the whole year and only one year I didn’t know where I was going to be at the end of the school year and didn’t find out until late July. I’m cautiously hopeful that this year I’ll know where I am by the end of June but I know that it’s possible that I won’t.

It’s hard to focus on the positive right now. It’s hard to focus on my lesson plans, trying to come up with new ideas to keep my students engaged when the sun is shining and they would rather be out playing soccer than anything else in the world. It’s hard to sit and mark and input marks for the end of the year report cards when I would rather be gardening or running or doing something else to distract myself from the stress that is the big giant question mark hanging over my head about next year.

Logically, I know things will be fine. Logically I know that even if I don’t get to stay at my school (and I want so much to stay there), that I will get hired somewhere because there aren’t that many Intensive French teachers, especially not that many who have as many years of experience in it as I have. I know that even if I don’t get hired, we will figure something out, even if it means moving to the Netherlands or something. Emotionally though I’m just a mess. I’m stressed for myself, I’m stressed for my friends and I’m upset about students not getting the educations they deserve.

1. I’m excited about my flexible groups lesson plan for this week.
2. I got a lot of work done around the house this weekend.
3. We just celebrated our 5 year anniversary in St. Andrews.
4. I’m feeling better about running and am getting closer to my 5k goal by the end of the school year.
5. I’ve had a wonderful year with an amazing group of kids and fantastic co-workers.
6. Tomorrow is supposed to be a beautiful sunny day.
7. I had an awesome dinner with friends tonight.
8. I have friends coming to stay with us Wednesday night.
9. We have a read-through of the next musical that I’m stage managing on Friday.
10. I have a fun game we’re going to play tomorrow in French.

Flexible Math Groups

A few months ago a few teachers from our school went to another school in our city that uses flexible math groups school wide. The basic idea is that students are grouped by ability, rather than by grade level. They do it so that they have flexible groups 4 times a week and then students have math with their homeroom teacher once a week where they can work on other concepts or do math projects or whatever else.

We decided as a grade 5 team to try this out on a smaller scale for a month to get an idea of what it would be like and also we felt it would be a great way to help review some number concepts that we want to make sure our students understand really well.

Earlier in the year we did a one-on-one key skills test with our students all based around number concepts so we used that key skills test to group our students into three groups, red, yellow and green, for each concept. The first week we focused on numbers to 1 000 000 and estimation strategies, the second week we did multiplication and mental math strategies, this coming week we’re focusing on division and then the last week we’ll do decimals and fractions. For the most part, students are in different groups each week and as teachers we rotate groups as well so that our students get to experience different teachers. Now, it did happen with a few students that they just happen to be with one teacher a few times, in fact, I have one student from my math class that just happened to be in my group all four weeks, so I moved her into another group for the last two weeks so that she can have some other teachers.

So far it seems to be going well. I had the yellow group the first week and to me it felt like it took some time to get into my groove but by the end it went well. Last week I had the green group and we did a project that ended up taking some of all three math classes but was totally worth it because they got a lot of multiplication practice and had fun doing it. This week I have the red group and I’m still trying to think of a good project like last week’s so that we can have fun practicing division.

In June we’re doing the same key skills quiz again with our students and that will help us see if this experiment has been a success or not, but it feels pretty successful already. I just hope that I’ll get to stay at this school for next year so that I can be part of the whole school flexible groups because I think it’s going to be amazing.

Unfortunately, with all the cuts to teaching positions and lead positions and funding and everything else that’s keeping me awake at night, my job prospects for next year are uncertain. Only 5 weeks to go though and I want to try to enjoy them regardless of what comes next.

End of the year is challenging

The end of the school year is always challenging. The sun is shining and the days are getting warmer so the students (and teachers) want to be outside enjoying the nice weather, especially after such a crazy winter. But at the same time, I’m feeling the push of time of trying to get everything done with so few days left. I want my students to be ready for middle school. Plus I have the stress of wondering where I’ll be next year. So here are a few of the strategies and tricks that I’m trying to use to keep my students and myself engaged for the last few weeks (only 5 and a half here) left of grade 5.

Go Noodle:
One of the teachers I work with sent me this site and I’m so very happy she did. I sent it along to everyone else I know because I love it.GoNoodle2

It’s a website that basically has videos for any kind of brain break activity you can think of. Your kids need to get pumped up because they’re falling asleep? There are videos for that. My kids like the Fresh Start ones. Having a rough time getting them to settle down? There are videos for that. One of my classes likes the space time ones while the other prefers Flow. You register and choose a character who levels up as you do brain breaks. When your character levels up all the way you get to choose a new one. It’s been a savior some days, though I have to admit, sometimes my students get too silly so we’ve put in some class guidelines about how we use go noodle. I just wish there were some videos in French.

Changing up the routines:
So in Intensive French we do this thing at the beginning of every class called Mini Prof. One student (and this is a much coveted responsibility in my class) gets to lead the class through a series of questions on the smart board about the date, temperature, weather, and a few other questions we’ve been working on. It’s great. The kids enjoy it for the first 8 or 9 months of the year generally but then they start to get bored with it. And I’ve been using it for the past 3 or 4 years and I get bored with it too. So in the middle of doing this the other day I looked at their faces and I was tired of asking them to stop talking English at each other and so I stopped them and asked for some suggestions for how we can change this routine. I let them know that we have to do this part of class, that’s not a choice, but we could change it up a bit. So we’re adding in a few things like a joke of the day and a couple of new questions and maybe some more music. I’m hoping it’ll put some life back into our mornings.

We are all experts:
This is an idea I’ve been toying with for a while. Normally I do personal learning projects and I love them but this year we decided to do projects in January before we switched classes and then they did Heritage Fair projects in April so I didn’t want to give them another big project at the end of the year, so I’m thinking instead that I’ll have students sign up for a day in June when they can teach the class about something, anything they want. I haven’t fully formulated my plan yet but it’s percolating.

What do you do to keep things interesting in the last few weeks?

Running from Zombies!

I’m not into zombies, I’ll tell you that right off. I can only think of maybe one zombie move that I’ve watched that wasn’t a spoof. I managed to get through the first season of The Walking Dead and admitted that it was pretty good, but more because it was about people dealing with a difficult situation, rather than the zombies.


That being said, last year some of my friends were trying to start running and they downloaded an app called Zombies, Run and said it was really cool. So I grudgingly downloaded it to try it out as well because I wanted something to help motivate me to get running. My parents run and I used to kind of enjoy running when I was younger except when it hurt my knees and I felt like it would be a good exercise for me. Other than shoes (and apps) it doesn’t cost any money and it can be done on your schedule and I can do it on my own.

The main app for Zombies, Run is kind of like a radio drama that you listen to while you run. You are a character, Runner 5, in the story who mysteriously shows up at a place called Able Township, sometime after a zombie apocalypse. Your job as a runner is to go outside the walls to get supplies and do little missions and not get eaten by zombies. The app tracks how far you run, maps where you are, but what you do and where you go does not change the story. This I like because there are times, say when I have to cross a busy road, when I have to stop, sometimes at inopportune moments when I’m being “chased by zombies” so I’m glad that I don’t get “eaten” just because I’m waiting for the light to change.

There are several seasons with I think about 20 episodes in each season to listen to. I finished season 1 last summer and I loved it. It’s kind of like listening to a good audio book except that you feel like you’re really involved with the people in the story because they’re talking to you. At one point (no spoilers) I actually had a hard time to keep from crying when there was a touching moment.

While listening to Zombies, Run, you’re pretty much free to run or walk as much as you want. Sometimes you’re told you need to run because you’re being chased by zombies, but as I said, it doesn’t track this. It also plays music from your play-list between bits of the story. Last summer I got myself up to the point where I would run one song, walk one song, but I had a hard time getting beyond this. So now that the snow is gone and the sidewalks are clear (yes, this only happened two weeks ago here) I want to get back into running but I want to be able to actually run for long periods of time, not just run and walk. So I found the Zombies, Run 5k training app and tried it out.

This app takes you very gradually from mostly walking to running 5k in 8 weeks, or at least that’s the idea. It starts off VERY gradually. The first week of drills are 10 minutes of walking followed by 15 seconds of running, 1 minute walking drills ten times and then a 10 minute free run/walk at the end. Each week has three training drills that are the same with different story stuff added in. Week two is much the same but with 30 second runs and some heel lifts. Tomorrow I get to start week three which starts off with a 5 minute walk then a 5 minute run and then goes into 1 minute walk, 1 minute run drills and some free run/walk time. I’m a bit worried about the jump to 5 minutes of running but I’ve been trying to run more in the free form stuff at the end of the drills to build up my stamina.

With only three drills a week, I’ve been trying to do some other sort of exercise on my “days off”, either getting on the exercise bike, going for a long walk, doing some yoga, anything really to help me reach this goal of being able to run 5k by the end of the school year. HabitRPG has been helping with that. I created a challenge on their to help me keep track and reward good exercising.

Does anyone else use Zombies, Run or other good apps to help keep you motivated? Also, I’m looking for suggestions for some good songs to add into my mix rather than listening to the same ones over and over. Any suggestions?