Monday, July 29, 2013

Everyone Can Be a Teacher at Summer School

Friday, July 26, 2013 was the last day of my summer school session and the entire month was a fantastic experience. My students and I loved every day, even though we worked a lot. (On the second-last day, I had them complete their notebook table of contents and they commented on how much they accomplished in that short period of time.) In our final week of class, we had a full agenda, with several guests coming (virtually or in person) to help us with our learning. I want to highlight and thank some of these people for sharing their time and talent.

A) The Robot Builder - James Maliszewski

When I first learned that my summer school class was supposed to focus on science and engineering involving the construction of solar-powered robots, I became very anxious. My administration allowed me to take home one of the kits to experiment. I had a rough time but my patient and helpful husband worked with me to build my robot dog. Thankfully, he agreed to come into the classroom and work individually with the students to help them build their creations. He came for five days and my students appreciated his time.

B) The Solar Panel Expert - John Rampelt

We had a Twitter chat on Wednesday, July 24 with @siriusnerd, otherwise known as John Rampelt, a high school teacher in the Waterloo region. I follow John on Twitter and a few weeks prior, I noticed a tweet he had shared about his newly installed solar panels on the roof of his house. He very kindly agreed to answer some questions via Twitter. I've done a Skype chat with a class before but this was the first time I've done something like this with Twitter. It was a huge success. The students even ignored the recess bell and continued to ask questions and monitor the Twitter feed for a solid 45 minutes! They were so excited and all of us learned so much about what using solar power for big projects can involve. We loved it! John was so knowledgeable and willing to share.

C) The Ice Cream Vendor - Ken

How does the sun affect regular people? Our ice cream man showed us. He came on July 24 and gave the students a sneak peek on the inside of his ice cream truck. Everyone asked a question (and they were good questions). The icing on the cake was purchasing ice cream at the end - or should I say it was the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae? Ken was very approachable and friendly and the students (and I) were fascinated by all the things we learned about what on the surface looks like a simple business.

D) The Public Librarian - Annalisa

On our last day, we took a trip to the Malvern branch of the Toronto Public Library. Annalisa did a short session with the class, promoting the TD TPL Summer Reading Program, reading some funny picture books, and giving us a tour of the beautiful and large library. She made the visit engaging and informative. A couple of students received their very first library cards and many students borrowed books to take home.

To my surprise and delight, I received a couple of thank you cards from my students, with some very touching comments written. I think our time together made an imprint on all of us. I want to thank the students themselves, for their willingness to try new things, work so hard, and collaborate with new friends. The parents also deserve recognition for diligently bringing their children to summer school and supporting our experiments. Last, but not least, I must acknowledge Liz Holder, the school principal, and Mythili Thedchanamoorthy, the site coach, for their financial and moral support for all the crazy activities we tried.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Assessment Insights Thanks to Summer School

I'm posting today a bit later than usual because I was busy working on my report cards. The report card template we are using in summer school is different from the Ministry of Education ones we use during the year. It is only a page long, with one comment box for the teacher and a smaller one for the student. Completing these report cards were not as onerous or taxing as it usually is in November, February, and June. I wondered why, besides the obvious, and came up with a few reasons.

1) Assessment was a daily practice.

Every day, I brought the students' notebooks home with me to examine. Even if I wasn't planning on marking any of their assignments, I'd peek to see how far they had progressed in major tasks. I'd write a comment or a question on their pages and return them. It was gratifying to see how some of the students, immediately upon entering the class, would flip through their notebooks to see what changes and additions had been made. Because it became a habit, spending time perusing the wiki or their notebooks seemed like a natural part of the day.

2) Small class sizes made assessment quicker.

Sixteen students - what a great size to manage! Knowing I didn't have thirty to process meant that I could spend more time reading and thinking.

3) Re-visiting assessments provided evidence of changes in understanding.

Some of my students chose to re-do selected assignments because they didn't comprehend the task the first time. With a half-day of instruction, that granted me a half-day of time to have a second look at work that I might have already deemed "finished" and remark it.

4) Stress wassn't as high in the summer.

My husband has remarked on how much I appear to love teaching summer school. It's a change of pace, a new challenge with delightful students and new staff members. I don't have to worry about many meetings, or team gatherings, or extra duties. When I feel relaxed, I don't mind doing work related to something enjoyable, even marking.

Which of these reasons could I apply to my September-June teaching situation (otherwise known as "regular school" or "normal school" to my students)? I can't make every class a small one and I can't change the report card format, but I can make an effort to put aside time every day to reflect, return to old assignments, and assess. Keeping me happy might also mean I'd be more likely to mark with a smile on my face instead of a scowl.

This is my final week of summer school - Friday, July 26, 2013 will be the last day. I'll miss these students and spending my summer like this. I'll add some more photos to this post, not related to assessment but just as another opportunity to share our activities.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Picture This - Summer School Learning

July in Toronto is hot. July in Toronto in a section of a school that isn't air-conditioned is REALLY hot. However, what makes the heat bearable is the enthusiasm of my now-sixteen Grade 3 summer school students as we continue to work and learn together. My class size bumped up unexpectedly today because a student from another room made a respectful but persistent pitch to the administration to be transferred to my class. He explained that the other class was not challenging enough for him and that he heard that the activities occurring in Room 206 would best suit his needs and would  best match the expectations he had upon enrolling in summer school for technology enrichment.  That's a big compliment and I hope that our tasks will live up to his hopes. He thanked me profusely for allowing him to join our group at the end of the day, so I believe that's a good indication that he's happy. I admire his tenacity and polite advocacy.

The "technology enriched environment" that is supposedly in my room does not equal a laptop for every student. Many of the devices I'm using for summer school this year are my own personal gadgets (iPad, laptop for IWB, Live Scribe pen). One of the most delightful devices I'm employing is my digital camera. Every day I take photos and post them on our class wiki. I've had several parents comment on the pictures they've seen of their children in action. Although they've all signed media release forms, I'll limit myself to sharing just the shots that don't directly include the students in them. I feel that the photos really do a great job of illustrating the learning (and the kind of learning) that we are engaging in this month.

 Day 2 - We conducted a melting experiment to see which would melt in the sun fastest - ice, chocolate, or wax. Ice won by a landslide, but it lead some groups to investigate the melting temperatures for different substances (including the melting temperature for mice - ewww!)

 Day 3 - We had indoor recess because of the rain and so the students cracked open a set of DIY butterfly gliders I brought on a whim. They drew their own designs and then flew them in the hallway. It turned into a math lesson as we measured how far they flew.

 Day 3 - We took photos of the process of our drying experiment. Which J-cloth do you think would dry quickest - one soaked in Coke, one soaked in apple juice, or one soaked in water? The results showed that the juice crossed the finish line first. This led us to try other liquids and do a more thorough job of timing our experiments.

 Day ??? - This is a photo of the room just before the students arrived in the morning. I feel proud of the way this space has been cleaned and created by all of us - with the exception of the French posters at the top of the wall near the ceiling, we are completely responsible for the rest of the content on the walls, boards, and desks.

 Day ??? - Another view of the classroom. We have our iPad app list we jointly decided to make available for our numeracy center, a calendar for our daily Twitter post, our free choice reading area, and a nice wide open spot in the middle of the class for our rug that can be used for reading, building, or whatever the students want.

 Day 4 - We use a lot of inquiry questions to guide our daily work. This experiment answers the question: "How can we harness the power of the sun to clean contaminated water?" Despite this being the most complicated of our three procedures / experiments, many of the students chose this one for their good copy. Final copies appear on the wiki.

 Day 8 - This is a photo of our SMART Board as we collaboratively planned an explanation. I think it was a comment from one of the students that led us to directly connect our guided reading texts to supplement the information on our plan sheet. (Our guided reading groups are named after ancient civilization deities of the sun.)

Day 9 (today) - Here is a completed solar oven cooking a s'more. One thing I learned from them was the existence of halal marshmallows - unfortunately, they were hard to find to buy. One thing they learned from each other was to position the angle of the top flap of their oven AND to position the direction their oven faced for maximum sunlight and major melting. One thing I learned from nature - you cannot leave food unguarded or marauding seagulls will try to steal it! (The kids happily read in the shade, running up once in a while to check the status of their creations; I circled the group of ovens frying in the direct sun, shooing away birds and explaining to curious parents why we look like we littered the playground.)

What do you think our summer school class is like, based on these photos? What do you think I have learned, as a teacher? What do you think the students have learned? I know I've learned plenty, but I'll save my reflections for the final week of summer school, which is only two weeks away!!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Twitter Class Newsletter #lmmss3

Last week, I mentioned that I was going to be teaching a Grade 3 summer school class with the Toronto District School Board. I've only had three days with my students so far, but I am having an amazing time! I absolutely adore the fifteen (yes, only 15!) young people who enter Room 206 each day. It's a great opportunity to experiment with teaching tools and practices and the kids are a joy to be with. One of the techniques that I am trying out involves more student-led action on Twitter. About half of the class have heard of the micro-blogging platform before. I provided a brief overview and then together we co-created a couple of tweets to share with my followers and any of their parents who look up #lmmss3. For those families who do not have computers at home, I'll print out a copy of the tweets every week or so to share. The day after our first class exposure to Twitter, the students could choose whether or not to attempt to write their own tweets. Several took a shot and I shared the results. (There will also be a private wiki where the tweets can be archived.) We have a tweeting schedule so everyone gets the chance to write for a wider audience. We have a very simple checklist for evaluating our tweets:

  • the tweet is 140 characters or less (math-related expectation)
  • the tweet contains the hashtag #lmmss3 (for curating purposes)
  • the tweet is interesting to read and informs (language-related expectation)
All my blog posts for July will probably relate to my experiences at summer school. Be prepared for lots of gushing if my first three days are any indication of what the rest of the month will be like!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Canada Day - Our Ed's Okay

Today is Canada Day, and I spent a great deal of it planning - I'll be teaching Grade 3 for the month of July at summer school. The last time I taught summer school was in 2006. Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to it. It will be nice to have my own class (specialist teachers always have to "share" students) and to try out some new things. The summer school site has spent quite a bit of money to obtain solar robot kits for every single student in my class. I took one home to try out - it's going to be challenging for the kids to complete, but it is possible. This bounty made me contemplate some of the things that I'm grateful for in Ontario / Canadian education.
  • standardized tests are present but not omnipresent (yes, we have EQAO but they aren't in every single grade or multiple times during the year)
  • teaching salaries in Canada are quite healthy (one of the new teachers on my staff told me that in other countries, if a man tells his potential spouse that he is a new teacher, it means that he is not a "promising catch" economically)
  • pedagogical practices are current and the curriculum reflects it (look at the focus on inquiry and the revised social studies / history / geography document)
  • although there are inequities from board to board and school to school, there are organizations and groups that try to ensure shared resources (People for Education, the OERB, OSAPAC, OSLA, to name a few Ontario based organizations)
  • Canadian graduates are some of the best in the world (according to international tests like PISA)
This is just off the top of my head. Happy Canada Day to all Canadian educators. I'll let you know how summer school goes.