September in February

 

portable.jpg

There’s a special and challenging time ahead for me starting next week as Intensive French comes to an end and I break out the “Compacted Curriculum”. We’re doing the switch over to English right now in grade 5 classrooms all over New Brunswick and it’s like we have a second September, but it’s February and I don’t have the same amount of energy I had at the beginning of the year.

Luckily, this is not my first kick at the can. I’ve been through this particular kind of turn-over, one where I get to keep the same students but switch subjects, three times in the past six years. The other three years I kept the same subjects but switched students. Both kinds of switches have their positives and negatives. Teaching just Intensive French is easier in terms of planning and marking but it’s hard changing students, whereas keeping students and changing subjects is a lot harder for planning and marking, but at least I have already an established relationship and routine with my students.

Things I’m looking forward to with this change:

The subjects: There’s so much in the grade 5 curriculum I enjoy teaching. I love doing literacy with my students and getting know them as readers and writers. I love sharing that part of my passion with them. And science! There are always a few students who struggle to get excited about other subjects but shine when we do science and I know this year is not going to be an exception. I’ve already noticed a few who rarely speak in class, especially during French, but who have confided a love of science to me. I also have the opportunity to pilot the new Health curriculum this year. I’m looking forward to that.

20160111_101100.jpg

Projects and independent learning: Yes, in intensive French we do little “projects” and sometimes in math as well, but it’s not the same. For first time language learners, they are so reliant on me and my knowledge of the language that it’s hard for them to work independently on projects and nearly impossible for them to do project work at home. We may officially be a bilingual province but the amount of parents I have who speak French is extremely low. I’m looking forward to doing a LOT less talking and a lot more listening over the next 5 months. I often feel like I’m a performer during the IF block. I have to speak slowly and clearly, with a lot of gestures and actions to convey meaning. I draw, I dance, I sing, I act like a fool to keep the energy and focus up in my room and it is exhausting. As much as I know I will need more time and energy for planning my lessons, I’m happy that it will take less energy to teach.

More variety: The great thing and the challenging thing about IF is the routine of it. Every day is pretty much the same. We have three hours of IF everyday plus one hour of math and sometimes a specialist subject like gym, music or art. Everyday we start our day the same way. We do a warm-up (which has been duolingo lately, more on that another day) then we do our “mini-prof” routine where a student asks other students questions about the date, the weather, preferences, mood, etc. and then we do our message of the day, we circle the sound we’re working on, we learn a new question and answer dialogue, we read a book, we listen to a song or play a game and we write a little bit. Everyday with only minor variations. I love routine and I know a lot of my students like to have things so structured and routine so they know what to expect next but, frankly, it gets a little boring especially after teaching the same thing for six years, sometimes twice in one year.

Things I’m not looking forward to:

Planning: Planning for IF right now is so easy! As I said, this is my eighth time teaching the same program and the program hasn’t changed since I started teaching it. I’ve changed up some of my methods, but the core hasn’t changed. It’s a very scripted program and I’ve moved away from the script of course but I’ve taught it so many times that I don’t even have to think about it. Planning mostly involves writing my morning message and finding new songs and games to play. Frankly, I’ve become a bit lazy when it comes to planning. Not so much for math, but that’s only one hour of my day. Now I’m going to actually have to plan for the whole day and go back to consulting curriculum guides more often.

New Curriculum: This is kind of related to the previous one, and is also a positive. Since I last taught the compacted curriculum, there’s a new curriculum for social studies, and as I said before, I’m part of the pilot trial run for the new health curriculum (which is written for a full year of teaching, not compacted yet for grade 5 so that’s going to be a challenge in and of itself). This is an interesting new challenge, especially in social studies, because I don’t have the resources and previous knowledge of what I’m going to be teaching yet. It’s exciting in a way, but also daunting. Plus, I miss the old social studies where I got to teach about ancient societies and medieval cultures. That was always so much fun! Instead I’m going to be teaching about how to use artifacts and aboriginal societies which will be interesting too and it’s important stuff, just not what I’m used to teaching.

Munsch (1)

To top this all off, January has been a busy month and February is looking much the same. I started stage managing a new show with my community theatre group, we had a visit from another school to look at how we’re doing flexible math, I got my students ready for Drama Fest and we had our dress rehearsal / performance for the school on Friday. Looking forward to February, I’m helping out a friend by doing sound for his show all next week, I’m taking my students to Drama Fest on Monday, we finish up flexible math groups this week, and I have friends visiting from PEI and from Korea this month. All great stuff, but also stuff that’s making me feel a bit like I’m burning the candle at both ends.

On the whole though, I am looking forward to this change. I know that once I get going, a lot of my fears about more work will dissipate and I’ll enjoy the new challenges that are coming my way.

Class pet?

When I started teaching this class in October I made one of my goals to listen to what my students wanted for our classroom and what they wanted for their learning. One of the things they asked for was a class pet. My first instinct was to say, no, it’s too much work and has nothing to do with our curriculum blah blah blah, but instead of saying no, I said I would think about it and we could do some research.

Every once and a while over the last three months they would bring it up and we would discuss various options and then at the beginning of December I put out a challenge to them to do some research on cost and care of a few different options. It took a while for them to really step up to the plate but when I told them that if they didn’t do the work, we couldn’t get a pet, they started taking it a little more seriously.

One of my students suggested that it could be their after winter vacation present when they get back so on Wednesday I went in to a pet store to look at a few of the options we had talked about and talk to a person who knew more about this.

We had discussed that anything with fur wouldn’t be a great idea because we have students with allergies, and as fun as it would be to be able to handle a cute little guinea pig, having sneezing and red eyed students wouldn’t be great. Plus I wouldn’t be able to leave it over the weekend and I would worry about taking it home with our three cats.

One of the grade 4 teachers, one that most of my students had last year, has fish in his classroom so we wanted to do something other than fish. Birds are too loud. So we settled on getting a reptile of some kind.

Turtles were a pretty good favourite at first but there are issues with them carrying salmonella on their shells and I don’t have a sink in my classroom. I kind of wanted to get a snake but there were too many phobias. Which left getting a lizard or gecko of some kind.

My students did some research on what kind of lizard or gecko would be suitable and not too expensive. A lot of them liked the idea of getting a bearded dragon. They make good pets. They’re fairly sociable and can grow pretty big. They’re interesting to watch and, well, having the word dragon in their name is pretty cool.

A few students favoured the idea of getting a gecko. They’re also very cool and relatively social and most websites agreed that they make good pets. They’re a little easier to care for than bearded dragons and less expensive. They don’t grow quite as big which has it’s pros and cons. I like the idea of having a nice 2 foot lizard in my classroom that I can take out and have crawl around, but then again, that means a larger, more expensive living space and more food.

Armed with this research, I went into the pet store and found a guy with great snake tattoos over by the reptile area and told him about my class and the research they’d been doing and what we were thinking. It took him a while for him to warm up to the idea. I’m not sure if he thought I’d be squeamish about handling reptiles or had no idea what would be involved, but telling him I’d worked at a natural history museum and was used to handling reptiles helped, plus I told him my first choice was a snake but that I couldn’t get one because there were too many phobias in my class.

The bearded dragons were so cool. They have a lot of them at the store and they’re active and interesting but expensive. I got to hold one, luckily my hands were warm so he sat on my hands quite happily and I was so tempted to get one regardless of the cost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Baby bearded dragons, looking more like dinosaurs than dragons

But then he showed me the leopard gecko morphs and I fell in love! Not only are they cheaper to buy and house and feed, they are so beautiful! The ones they had there were a dazzling array of yellow, pink, purple, iridescent, some with spots and/or stripes.

leopard-gecko

So many different colours! How do I choose just one?

They’re a bit less social and they don’t grow as big but I’m okay with that. I got to hold one for a while as well. He only tried to get away when we went to put him back in the terrarium. Having something smaller will mean if it gets out it’ll be harder to find but luckily this kind of gecko doesn’t climb walls unlike some others, so I won’t be finding it on the ceiling or anything.

My students come back to school on Tuesday. I go back on Monday so some time between now and Tuesday morning, I think I’m going to go buy us a class pet. So exciting 🙂

Getting ready for the first day of school

20130902_135533

In about 11 hours I’ll be greeting my brand new class for my 5th first day of school as a teacher with my own class. Hard to believe this is my 5th year of teaching grade 5 already.

This past week I’ve been getting my classroom set up. I wrote here about some of the ideas I want to use this year from last year and posted a picture of what my classroom looked like at the start. I’m happy to say it looks much less bare now.

Table groups

Table groups

First of all, I’ve opted to do groups again this year rather than starting off in rows like it was when I got the room. I’ve also put up some of my favourite fabrics to cover the bulletin boards. Each table group has a pencil holder and an “art basket” where they will keep their coloured pencils, markers, rulers and things. So far I have 20 students so I have 5 groups of four students which is a nice number.

Unfortunately, my classroom doesn’t have a whole lot of shelf space, so I went out and bought these lovely wire shelves and some cool baskets to put my french books in. I’ve also put my responsibilities and some of my daily routine words on the white boards because my chalk boards are not magnetic, making them mostly useless.

Book shelves

Book shelves

I was pleased at how easy it was to put the shelves together. I have an old set that I got when I was in university that was a huge pain to put together. Then I came in one morning and found out why the set that was harder to put together is better. So I set them back up and spent a long time getting them set up properly. Hopefully they will stay together better this time.

Why it's not always good that it's easy to put together

Why it’s not always good that it’s easy to put together

This morning I decided I needed to go in to school for a few more hours to get things more ready. I wanted to get all my photocopying and everything done so that the hour that I normally spend before my class comes in won’t feel rushed. I’m really glad I went in because I’m feeling a lot more calm about tomorrow now.

There are a few things that I’m happy about in my organization this year. Last year when I decided to not keep supplies in the students’ desks, I didn’t have a good system for where to keep everything. This year it’s all organized and labeled.

20130902_135533

I’m also excited about these neat closets in my classroom. They’re all controlled by one door, the one with the door handle, and they all open and close at the same time. I’m planning to use the bulletin boards on them to display class work.

20130902_135631

This is my reading corner and classroom meeting corner. I’m happy to have a good easel this year. The chalk board is going to be my “sound” wall and up above is going to be my word (sentence) wall. Just above on the blue bulletin board is my group responsibilities board.

Reading corner

Reading corner

And these are cushions I bought for the students to sit on when we meet in the reading/meeting corner. I’m hoping that they’ll work well.

20130902_135711

Now to get ready for bed and hopefully sleep!

Where should I put my desk?

I’m moving in to my new classroom in my new school this week. I’ve been in to the school twice this week so far. The first time I just took a look at what furniture I had, brought in a few things to put in my desk and mostly just sat there trying to figure out what I was going to put where. I’m pleased with my classroom. It’s, I think, a bit smaller than the room I had the last two years, but it’s more square rather than rectangle which I think makes it easier to move desks around. There are only two small windows, but they look out into a little garden in the courtyard. The lights are almost recessed into the ceiling because of the way the ceiling comes down to create awesome acoustics and I have an FM system too for sound.

Yesterday I went and bought some school supplies and brought them into my room with the help of my husband.

My goal for today is to put the big furniture where I want it.  I’m struggling with where to put my desk. Of the four corners in the room, one is taken up with a door, one has a sink, one has a window and a small chalk board attached to the wall and the other is empty. I would like to put my reading corner at the back corner with the chalk board and window. I think it would be a nice place for meeting as a class and having the chalk board there would help if I want to explain a concept by drawing or writing something out. That leaves the empty corner for my desk. No brainer, right? Except the empty corner is at the front of the room by the SMART board and white board and I have this aversion to having my desk at the front of the room because I don’t want anyone to think that I teach from my desk. My desk should be, and normally is, the least important think in the classroom while I’m teaching. I use it before and after school. Sometimes at lunch.

But I think that anyone who watches me teach would get right away that my desk isn’t up there because that’s where I teach from. I’m putting it there because that corner is empty and the other corner is better for a reading corner. Right? Plus, there are so many, way more important things to think about than where I put my desk. I’ll post pictures soon!

Schedules and routines

We have two weeks left of intensive French before we switch over to the English half of the year. I’m excited for the change and I think most of my students are too, though I was surprized and a little pleased when a few of my students today said that they wanted to stay in French.

In anticipation of the change-over, I started looking at my schedule for teaching the Compacted Curriculum. I had to decide when I was going to teach what and how to squeeze all those subjects into what seemed like too few minutes. There were two possibilities that I came up with and after talking it over with Mrs. W, I’m happy with what I’ve chosen to do, even though it sounds a little odd at first.

In order to explain my new schedule, I have to tell you that I love routine. I like starting the day the same way every day and I like knowing what is coming next and I know that my students do too. I try to be aware of which students are able to handle changes easily and which have a hard time with even the smallest change in our routine. When I move my seating plan around, I try to keep some students in similar spot while others get moved around the room.

I have a dream schedule in a lot of ways this year. Right now I teach Intensive French to my class all morning, uninterrupted by anything other than recess. After lunch each day (other than Wednesday because the students don’t have school Wednesday afternoons) my class has Math with another teacher while I go to teach pre-intensive French to one of the two grade 4 classes until 2pm. Other than Tuesdays, they then go to gym and/or music and I have my hour of prep time. Tuesdays we go to the library and then have art for the last half hour.

It’s a little hard because all of my preps are at the end of the day and I have no prep on Tuesday or Wednesday. But all of my preps are an hour and my time with my students is uninterrupted by taking them out in the middle of a block somewhere. And it’s very routine. We do the same thing or almost the same thing every day. I wanted to continue to be able to do that after the change over.

The grade 3 and 4 classes have their literacy block after recess. We may do some flexible grouping across our grades so I wanted to have my literacy at the same time, so it was easy enough to put literacy every day from recess until lunch. I was left with the time from first bell until recess and I somehow had to fit in 150 minutes of Science, Social Studies and French and 75 minutes of Health/PDCP. My first draft had blocks of 45 minutes or an hour of each subject in frustratingly random spots. I tried to make it somewhat uniform but it just wouldn’t work. It annoyed me to have French two days in a row with different subjects after each time.

In the end, what I’ve decided to do is to schedule 30 minutes of Social Studies each morning followed by 75 minutes of either Science, French or Health. I’m a little concerned about the short amount of time for Social Studies. I’m worried that it’s such a short time that we’ll just get into something and then we’ll be moving on, but at the same time, my plan, like the last time I taught this, is to give out a project assignment on Monday and have them present on Friday so they’ll be able to come in first thing every morning and work on their projects. I’m happy with this schedule and I think it will work well for almost everyone, the exception being those students who are chronically late and will invariably miss a lot of Social Studies time, however, I’m hoping that the projects will get them interested enough that it will encourage them to be to school on time more often.

Tables and Desks

Please excuse my absence from my blog. Life has been busy lately. I have another post coming explaining why in part but for now I have another post about today.

We had a meeting today about our new school. Our school and another in the area are going to be closed next year and our new school is currently being built. We will be combining the two school staffs and students and to ease this transition, we have meetings occasionally with both staffs to talk about what we would like to see at our new school and what we would like our culture to be like and to get to know each other.
I’m fortunate enough to have worked at both schools, though the other one I only worked there for about two months and then supply taught a bit after, but I know most of the teachers there.
One of the things we were asked to discuss today was what we would like to have in our classrooms. We came up with a list of things like having a tall stool, a small table near the SMART board for our laptops, having a guided reading table and a reading area with something on the floor. These were all things we easily agreed on in our grade level groups.
Then we started talking about desks versus tables for the students. I had never even thought about this idea before. I just assumed we would be getting standard desks and that would be that because that’s what every classroom has in the upper grades that I’ve seen. But the other Intensive French teacher said that she would like tables. She explained that she didn’t have her students put much in their desks anyway and they always end up being a mess. The students tend to play with things in their desks and they end up being more of a distraction than necessary.
I agreed with all of her points and felt that I too would prefer tables over desks. I’ve always had my students store most of their stuff in places other than their desks and I find that their desks end up just being cluttered and full of things that they don’t need. So why have desks? Wouldn’t it be easier to have the students store things elsewhere? And also, this could help them prepare for middle school where they will not have desks of their own. They will need to carry their stuff from room to room and won’t be able to keep supplies in their desks. For that matter, I question the necessity of having desks with storage space in middle and high school. What’s the point? All it does in encourage them to put things in there like notes for students in other classes and other distractions.
Together we thought of a system where we would have tables with different responsibilities for bringing over the table’s basket of supplies. Especially in Intensive French where we do so much oral and group work together, there isn’t a lot of need of supplies. We barely have any duotangs or scribblers and no text books. So what is the use of having a desk to store things? But the other grade 5 teacher, who teaches French Immersion was not convinced. She wants desks with storage space in them in her classroom. At first we thought this would be fine, that we could customize our spaces. 
But it turns out that they want our wings to be be uniform. And when I thought about it a little more I realized that although I’m setting up this classroom for me and for what I would like to have to teach, I also have to think of the teachers who will have my classroom after me. After all, it’s not likely that I will stay in the same classroom for the rest of my career. And even if I did, the new school is going to outlast my career. So I have to think about what the teachers after me would want to have in their classroom as well. And that’s a difficult thing to do. We’ve been told that we can’t change our minds once our furniture is ordered. We don’t have enough money for that. So if we decide now that we want tables and then we find out that it was a horrible mistake then we just have to live with it. Both of us are new teachers. We’ve never worked with tables before in older grades. We just have this idea that it would work better but we don’t know in practice. 
So I’m asking you, my more experienced PLN, what do you think would work better? If you could have any kind of furniture in your room, in your ideal classroom, what would it be, knowing that you have to get the whole wing to agree and that future teachers will be living with your choices? And other than student work spaces, what would your ideal classroom contain? Would you prefer a round table for conferencing or a ‘c’ shaped table? Would you prefer to have a water fountain in the room or in the hallway? If you could design your classroom to look however you wanted, where would you put the board? Your desk? Would you even have those things in there at all?

French video resource

It’s been a while since I last posted. I’ve been very busy, like all teachers, getting into classroom routines, marking work, getting to know my students better and all those little day to day tasks that pile up. I’ve been thinking of a few topics I would like to write about but I need to find a costume for our school’s Halloween Howls tomorrow night and I need to get to bed so this is a quick post today.

I am very fortunate to work in a school district where YouTube is available for us to use and even encouraged though they prefer us to take the video, save it and show it without worrying about ads or other videos being shown that are inappropriate. My solution to that is that I set my laptop/SMART Board to extend so I can queue up the video on my laptop where the students can’t see it, then slide it over to the SMART Board where they can. That or I go to a channel where I trust the content.

My favourite YouTube channel is La chaine de Mme Duckworth, created by a Core French teacher in Toronto. She has about 1500 videos on there, some are silent videos, some are songs, some are tv shows. Not all are appropriate for all ages, but with any video, it’s best practice to watch it first before you show it.

Some day I would like to start my own YouTube channel for songs and videos I use in my classroom. Do you have a favourite resource for videos that you use?

Happy Halloween!