Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Time flies

I cannot believe it has been so long since I last posted anything! In my defense there's been a lot going on in my life - and starting the new year group was somewhat challenging.

But... I love Year 6 (grade 5)!! What a great age! They're able to do so much more, can work independently, are able to have fantastic discussions... Yep, I love it!

At some point I'll gather myself together enough to post about some things we did this term but at the moment I am back in Boston in full care-giver mode - with little virtual forays into my classroom by sending letters to the substitute to post on the whiteboard and checking the class blog every day. I have a couple of students who have started "books" on the blog and it's quite fun reviewing their prologues, advertisements and first chapters.

This week I am emailing my daughter letters from Saint Nicholas - and instructing her to buy the traditional chocolate santa treats - to take into my classroom sneakily on Thursday evening and put on all the desks.

What DID we all do before the internet? I love being able to email the substitute teacher, see the videos of the Mars rovers my kiddies made and raced, get photos of the book reports that they're doing so I can check to make sure they're on the right path... The only thing we haven't done yet is arrange a face-to-face call :) Maybe that should be the next project :)

I find that being away from my home, my class, my family has made me a lot more chatty with emails and blogging - much more stream of consciousness, for which I make no apology. It's cathartic!

Just so this isn't a "text only" post here are a couple of photos from our home away from home :)
I do love the autumn colors - almost all gone now but I'm glad I managed to see a little bit of the fall display.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Getting ready for school?

This duck has absolutely nothing to do with the post.
I just like the photo - it's soothing. 

In September I move from Year 4 (grade 3) to Year 6 (grade 5) and will be teaching Project work and Language only. I love the new project work curriculum - the International Primary Curriculum - and have started looking at our first unit.

It's fabulous - very student driven, lots of research and exploration and open to many different recording and assessment types. And turning my classroom into a Space Academy for a Mission to Mars will be tremendous fun! Making Mars rovers, designing habitats, growing "crops" for Mars - all of these things will be wonderful...

... but right now, trying to make the time to do the preparation is slightly challenging.

I did finally put everything on a flash drive and locate a place that could print all the papers - I plan a lot better with paper copies spread around me :) (Having to scroll up and down a pdf is not so good.)

But I kind of miss my home, my desk, my own surroundings - and I miss being able to pop in and out of school during the summer. And I miss having a dog at my feet.

But on the other hand the positives are: computers go anywhere and I have the summer to spend with my husband! And I may even find the Lego kits I need over here - more chance of that than at home for sure :) And Boston is a lovely place :)

Ready for school? Not quite - but that's okay :)

Sunday, 20 July 2014

For the birds :)

I am currently in the middle of a wildlife photographic competition with my sister and aunt - all spawning from my sister's recent trip to Puerto Rico and my current stay in Boston. My aunt in Scotland has joined in :) Have to love the technology that allows this type of fun on face book!!

It's been a little hard to compete with the tarpons and iguanas of Puerto Rico, not to mention the pretty awesome jelly fish that washed up on the western shore of Scotland so my last entry was literally for the birds :)

Ducks and starlings - could it get more exotic? :) I need to find more urban wildlife out here!!

Here are some of our "entries" - just for fun!

Starlings in the bath

I love the reflections on this :)

Cute rodent

Nesting swans - sadly infertile so no cygnets :(

Fabulous Scottish jellyfish

Would love to see one of these one day in the flesh!!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

It's been a long time...

... since I've blogged. In fact I'm not sure I even remember how :)

Life changed quite considerably for our family in May this year when my husband was, out of the blue and with no symptoms other than a few weird bruises, diagnosed with acute lymphoid leukemia. We got air ambulanced to Boston and he became an inmate of Brigham and Women's hospital for three and a half weeks where he lived in a "pod" with a whole crew of amazingly fabulous nurses and doctors looking after him.
He has been considerably blessed in that he has responded well to treatment and does not, at this time, need a stem cell transplant. Instead we have embarked on a 2-year long treatment plan that involves multiple rounds of chemo and some radiation therapy as an outpatient at Dana Farber. He'll be in Boston probably until the end of September before being allowed home for a few weeks and then will return for another 6 weeks of treatment before starting an 18-month long maintenance program.
I had 6 weeks off school to be with him through all the changes - and the roller coaster ride that is leukemia - and now, am spending the summer holidays in Boston as we enter phase 2. It is such a blessing having school holidays!!
My class were tremendous while I was away and we used our class blog to stay in touch. The girls wrote me the nicest letters (sadly many were totally unpunctuated!) and kept me up to date on all the projects. I also wrote my reports in Boston, surrounded by all their assessment papers, which my sister brought up when she came to visit. Thankfully I had done most of their "big test" review before I left and they all did me proud!! Great exam marks this year, which was a relief :) I love that blog!!! It was such a great way to talk to my kiddies!!
I trotted home for the last week of school when my son arrived to look after his dad - met my new class, said goodbye to the current class and cleaned my classroom from top to bottom for the new teacher who will take over my grade 3 class in September. I'm moving to Grade 5. This seemed like a really good idea in January but...  I'm sure it will be fine - I'm going to spend the summer preparing stuff while my hubby naps :)
So... it's a whole new world now. Priorities change when this sort of thing happens - and the old adage "one day at a time" is very, very true!! We've already made it through a massive E. coli infection with the attendant 30 pounds of fluid gain and loss, 20 pounds of muscle loss, hair loss and a truly spectacular allergic reaction to a chemo drug - I'm sure there are many more such adventures coming our way. It won't be an easy ride all the way but we are very secure in our faith, know that God has this - and us - and it will work out according to His will.
We've had tremendous support from family and friends and church and our jobs and we've had a lot of very grateful, tearful moments as a result. I've written a zillion emails - and have discovered that writing is extremely therapeutic :) So this blog may wander off topic sometimes - be warned :)
Actually, I may just use it as a personal journal because I'm not at all sure that many people read what I write :) It's kind of fun to have an empty space in front of me... and kind of nice to be back in the blogosphere :)
I can't seem to find any decent photos of us but here's a quick glimpse of our family - the men are in Boston and the girls are at home :) Gotta love technology - and the silly hats the men are wearing!!!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Narrative Writing 101

I don't know what it is about children and narrative writing! Give my students a descriptive piece and they're awesome; they can compare and contrast quite capably; they're not too bad at persuasive writing - but narrative?

What's that? None of your business. Yes it is. No it isn't. You're a this, you're a that....

"Who's speaking?" I wail in despair, as I stare at three pages of endless dialogue with no punctuation. "Where are the setting details? What does this character look like? Who IS this character? Where, oh WHERE, is your punctuation?!!"

Then there's the student's burning need to fill three lines of the page with... RRRRRIIIIIIIIPPPPPP, or YYYYYAAAAAAAYYYYYYY or something similar.

They forget to indent paragraphs - heck, they forget to USE paragraphs completely!
Spelling is a foreign concept.
And cursive handwriting goes out the window.

I believe this is a universal phenomenon!  :)

Recently we spent some time practicing our writing skills and wrote about The Surprise Package that nine-year old Kim received in the post.

I loved the way this lesson turned out. It took some time - and quite a lot of work on my part - but it was SO beneficial and so informative that it was totally worth it!

We started by discussing all the writing goals that we were going to do our very BEST to complete. We're focusing on embedding setting and character details into a plot right now so our Creating Text objectives were to develop setting, character and plot. We concentrated on organizing the writing into 4 indented paragraphs and we planned to use adjectives and adverbs to add detail to sentences and connectives to make them more complex.

We practiced embedding in a short classroom brainstorm session. "Sarah flicked her long, brown hair over her shoulder, smoothed her pink t-shirt over her jeans and sauntered along the long corridor toward the kitchen. The smell of burning toast and the rattle of a frying pan greeted her as she entered the bright, sunlit room..... " etc. etc.

We briefly reviewed the main idea of the story and discussed how to plan (again, reviewing everything we've been talking about all year) using our plot chart.

And then we started. The kids had to make notes about setting (using their own houses for details - I'm trying to enforce the idea of "write what you know") and character so that they could then use that information when they began to write. They were only allowed two characters.

Each paragraph had guiding questions, which, along with their plot chart, would keep them on track.

When they finished the first paragraph they came to me and we discussed it, checking to see that they had met the writing goals, punctuated properly etc. etc. Then, after making necessary changes, they went off to finish their rough draft.

Self-editing was next. Each student color coded their writing to check that they had met the writing goals. All references to setting were highlighted in yellow; character references were pink; adjectives and adverbs were blue... This way each student could see where elements were missing and could go back and add details as necessary.

The colors look a little different here. She
did color code correctly :)

Next up: self-reflection. Have I met the goals? Most students thought they had. A couple decided they hadn't and went back for more editing. A couple decided they hadn't - and didn't want to! Sigh. Teacher enforcement required!

With the highlighted, edited drafts in front of them, students wrote their neat copies

and then, in pairs, assessed a friend's writing. Using the writing goals again they found two things their friend did well and one thing that could be better. We used the Two Stars and a Wish method. :)

We may have to work on how to word comments. The paper below had an accurate assessment but perhaps it wasn't worded as diplomatically as it could be. :)


And then it was my turn. I took all the packs home and marked them on our rubric, giving each piece of writing a level (we level our work on a 1 - 5 system using the Ros Wilson rubrics).

I handed back the marked stories and my students read all the comments - teacher and peer alike - and then reflected on their writing. As part of their reflection they wrote goals for their next piece of writing.

This whole project took nearly two weeks from start to finish but I think it was VERY worthwhile. Not only did it give me a lot of information (which will help me differentiate my teaching) but it forced my students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Our next piece of writing will be a guided assessment - with time allowed for making setting and character notes and plot planning with guiding questions. We'll follow that with a completely independent assessment (with a short period of time allowed for planning). This method worked very well with our descriptive writing last term so I'm hopeful that it will be equally successful with narrative.

We shall see. :)

For more great lesson ideas head back to The Teacher Studio and check out more links!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Irish fun - better late than never :)

I meant to blog about this ages ago but hey, time flies :)

So here are some St Paddy day activities a little late.

We started the day with a grammar hunt - those mischievous leprechauns hid our test AGAIN! (But they also left gold chocolate coins on all our desks so we forgave them :) )

Find it HERE

After recess we did our annual Leprechaun math project - creating a party for the leprechauns.

We shopped at the Rainbow shopping mall, bought supplies, stayed within a budget...

... added up the cost of our party...

... colored our supplies and decorations...

... and decorated the Great Hall for the party!

We finished the day by making fraction fruit loop necklaces. The students had to work out fractions of a group in order to thread their fruit loops onto the string in order. 

So there you are - some Irish fun. A little late :)

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Joys of Spring Break!

Beautiful weather - sunshine and cool breezes;

Spring flowers and happy dogs;

A very productive day in the kitchen - in the hopes of keeping my husband satisfied for a few days!!

Veggie pot pie :)

Spinach and potato curry going into the freezer for
husbandly snack attacks when I go back to school.

Staple food :)

And finally... the FIRST HOT CROSS BUNS of the season!! Woot! Woot!

Time for some tea and a snack in the sunshine :)