Monday, July 27, 2015

Saluting a Stellar Staff

Summer school is over but the thoughts and feelings are still buzzing through my brain. As I see it, there were eleven reasons I enjoyed the experience so much this year - not my eleven students (although they played a HUGE part), but the eleven staff members I worked with in July. I was pretty surprised when I realized how many of these incredible educators were LTOs - they are so talented that it's a shame they aren't permanently in a classroom. I didn't have time to write thank you cards, so this is my way of showing my appreciation. To my beloved summer school staff: take these words and use them on your Teacher Performance Appraisal forms or Annual Learning Plans or on your resumes. Know you are all admired and appreciated. Although I could use an entire dictionary's worth of words to describe every one of them, I thought I'd challenge myself by selecting two  significant adjectives to summarize their awesomeness. (I tried to do just one but it was too hard.)

Kristen Matus is enthusiastic and organized.

Mrs. Matus taught Grade 1 at #lmmss and threw herself into the Lucy Maud STEM program with relish. She uses Pinterest like a pro and has promised to tutor me on the untold delights this site has for educators. Her room was outstanding - how clever is it to make your learning station signs and laminate them *together* so you don't have to spend time searching for all the letters to spell things out? She had her Grade 1s doing some pretty complex things, like cars, egg drops, and solar ovens. Despite her accomplishments, she's modest and doesn't like a big fuss made over her (which got severely tested when we got her a cake for her birthday).

The matching outfit trend begins with these folks!
(Photo taken by another on June 30)
Getting her birthday cheesecake (blame the photographer for the unflattering shot)
(Photo taken Day 11) 
Kwame Djan is approachable and positive.

Mr. Djan usually teaches at another local school but this July was Mrs. Matus' grade team partner in Grade 1. I originally thought that Mr. Djan taught at Lucy Maud, based on all the waves and high-fives he received from students as they lined up at the beginning of the day, but that's just him. Kwame provided the entire staff with the Engineering Design Process visuals that we all used in our hall and class displays, and stressed to us that we were free to alter it in whatever ways we wished. Another modest soul, when I complimented Mr. Djan on his great hand-made balances and charts outside his room, he gave full credit to his teaching buddy across the hall, Mrs. Matus. One of the parents of my students works as a lunchroom supervisor at Mr. Djan's regular school and she made sure to visit his class during our STEM Walk Share Fair - that's the kind of rapport he generates with others. 
Mr. Djan grew hair on the last day!
(Photo taken Day 18)
Mr. Djan, marking my students as they taught his class 3 Ball Pass
(Photo from Day 7)
Donielle Norville is creative and cheerful.

Ms. Norville ran an "Angry Bird" themed classroom for summer school and it was a big success. I really wish I had more time to spend in her classroom. Thankfully, I had her website and her tweets to give me a glimpse of the events, and she even invited me to participate in her class' adults vs students IRL Angry Birds challenge. It was a brilliant combination of STEM fundamentals (Science and Engineering with creating stable structures that would be hard to knock down, with an extra Math component of calculating points attached to blocks to determine winners). It was clear that she was having just as much fun as her students. Even on the last day, Ms. Norville decorated her classroom with Angry Birds balloons as part of their pizza party they earned by having the highest percentage of parent visitors during our STEM Walk Share Fair. I can totally understand why so many parents would want to visit her class in person!

Ms. Norville, (far right) watches us take aim
(Photo taken Day 14)
All together under the bower on "Green Day"
(Photo taken by another, July 16 )

Gary Fitzpatrick is flexible and calm.

I have been lucky enough to work with Mr. Fitzpatrick for every single year I've been doing summer school, but this year I was able to work in closer proximity, and it improved my practice. The Grade 3 team gathered in his room on our planning day to wrap the Webkinz presents and the synergy was flowing as we brainstormed all sorts of math connections to the initial task. I'd sneak into Gary's room so I could admire his daily agenda printed on the white board and his comprehensive success criteria he developed with his students. I'm sure he probably got sick and tired of my students interrupting his class to ask for the scale or more supplies, but he didn't let it faze him. I had a chance to surreptitiously watch Mr. Fitzpatrick teach and I liked the soft-spoken way he interacted with his students, supporting and guiding them. When plans changed unexpectedly, and when we were in danger of being amalgamated, Mr. Fitzpatrick never lost his cool.  

Grabbing yet ANOTHER balloon from the ceiling
(Photo taken Day 16)
Mr. Fitzpatrick helps the students use the hot glue guns
(Photo taken Day 16)
Kiefer James is collaborative and personable.

When students buy you presents after just having them for four weeks, you can bet you've made an impression on them. Mr. James was just that sort of teacher. He was the most recent to join our summer school team and he was a great addition. He shared his ideas and resources willingly, even making it easier on us by doing the photocopying in advance for us - how considerate is that? We enjoyed working together so much that on a couple of days, we combined our classes. He was the brains behind our "Operation Webkinz Submerge" multi-class bulletin board and it turned out magnificently. He had to take public transit to get to our school and would often stay as late as 6:00 p.m. working - no slacking off during summer school for that teacher! Mr. James is also one of the most polite individuals I've ever met, and was extremely good-natured when I began to respond to his "Excuse me Miss"s with "Yes Sir"s.

Teaching kids at the carpet
(Photo taken Day 11)

Filling up balloons for eager students
(Photo taken Day 16)
Rob Reyes is patient and eager.

Still waters run deep. Mr. Reyes may seem very quiet but he's bursting with good ideas and zany plans. He was the teacher that suggested our final outfit for summer school (Halloween costumes). He can handle tedious jobs that drive mere mortal men insane - I saw him sorting wires and cords to ensure everything was back in place from his Grade 4-5 robotics adventures and I worked alongside him as he repaired the computer lab. I am really excited that he will be teaching at my regular school in the fall. As a Digital Lead Leader, he will be a breath of fresh air, with new ideas to try with our students. 
On "Purple Day" (Photo taken Day 14)
Teresa Allan is connected and innovative.

Ms. Allan is another "summer school regular" that continues to amaze me. Teresa is constantly examining her program to make it more engaging, more hands-on, and more chock-full-of-learning. This year's innovation was her brilliant idea to invite guest teachers, colleagues that she knows from various endeavors, to come into her class to help with instruction. That kept the content fresh and exciting. In addition, Teresa single-handedly arranged an optional presentation for interested teachers about the Jade Robots from Mimetics Canada. I went from "I don't have the brains or understanding to do this at my school" to "Hey, this is fun ... and possible!" That's what good teachers do, and Teresa is definitely a good teacher. I thought she had been teaching for ages, but her expertise outweighs the amount of years she's been teaching. She's reflective about all sorts of things and widens my perspectives when we are able to squeeze time together to talk.

With David Hann (& co.) after a day of soldering
(Photo taken Day 14)
Go Canada Go!
(Photo taken Day 9) 
Jamile Garraway is thoughtful and giving.

I owe Mr. Garraway a lot. There was a student in my class that could not go out for recess because she had a cast and needed to avoid the stairs. I had recess duty twice a week and Mr. Garraway willingly gave up his free time at recess to supervise her. Mr. Garraway is also wise and never talks down to students, regardless of age or ability. When my class toured his during the STEM Walk Share Fair, he prompted the creation of probing questions. He had them consider the "big idea" as part of all the coding video games - that we should not be passive consumers, but active creators. As he said, "If Flappy Birds frustrated you, make your own game. You can do it." His thoughtfulness extended to his teaching practices - I regret not taking a photo of one of the charts in his room articulating what it truly meant to be engaged and on-task. It took a relatively abstract idea and grounded it in the visible and audible. He was good at giving compliments, in person and online through his website and newly created Twitter account. Lucy Maud is lucky that they get to keep him at the school in the fall. 

Explaining to my students before they enter for a visit
(Photo taken Day 17)
Wearing the "STEM @ Lucy Maud Rocks" shirts
(Photo taken Day 17)

Francis Ngo is energetic and encouraging.

Much has been written about the amazing (yet humble) Mr. Ngo. Although he does not seek the limelight, the spotlight inevitably falls on him because of his effervescent personality. His mind goes a kilometer a minute, with suggestions and possibilities. He is a natural leader that people automatically turn to when we need to take action. He had a long wish list of items to make his summer school program one to remember, and the students certainly got a lot out of their time with him. They adored him so much that I heard them complain bitterly when he took ill one day and had to have a supply teacher replace him. Always smiling, never condescending, Mr. Ngo made our coordinated outfits an inclusive activity that bonded the staff together. He also answered all our tech questions without making people feel dumb and sought creative solutions to irritating problems. He definitely turns "lemons into lemonade".

"Stripe Day" was a thing
(Photo taken Day 10)
Real men wear pink
(Photo taken by another, July 2)
Mythili Thedchanamoorthy is helpful and understanding.

Mrs. Thedchanamoorthy was our site coach but so much more. Need supplies? She was there with resources you didn't even realize you required. Cheerleader? She noticed all the neat things happening in different classes and tried her best to accommodate so that other teachers could share in the discoveries. Advocate? She would go out of her way to ensure teachers felt appreciated and comfortable. Ever reassuring, Mrs. Thedchanamoorthy was a frequent and welcome visitor to our class. She showed her appreciation of the work conducted in classes often, through words and actions. The "Helium Tank Affair" was a perfect example of how much of her time and treasure Mythili invested in #lmmss. She researched the most affordable rental place, used her own money to obtain a tank, and was even willing to swallow a trumped-up damage charge. (I'm glad she didn't have to do so!) Although she herself is a Robotics / STEM expert, she always told us that she learned so much from all of us on staff. 

Mythili takes a photo of one of my students mid-build.
(Photo from Day 4)
Ms. T provides acetate upon request & my student measures it
(Photo from Day 7)

Liz Holder is supportive and honest. 

Ms. Holder was our principal and I've always felt that she was truly interested in what was going on from day to day in my classroom. When one of my students asked if the current students could keep the extra Webkinz we had (due to enrollment shortages), I had him write up a proposal and see the principal. She turned down his request but took the time to write a detailed explanation that indicated that she took his suggestion seriously. Ms. Holder's serious demeanor belies a good heart and keen mind. 

Ms. Holder takes aim at the box wall
(Photo taken Day 14)
Not in the picture, but behind the camera, capturing the LMMSS staff
(Photo taken July 9) 
I should also mention our great Office Administrator, Triune and our fabulous and patient caretakers, Steve and Mark. They were also part of the great team. One of my students went on Twitter to see the posts about summer school, and he told me "I saw all the pictures. It looks like you and the teachers are having a lot of fun." We did. Check the four tweet samples below (that featured the other "clothing themes") or check the #lmmss or #lmmss3 hashtag to get multiple perspectives of all the learning we shared. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hard Questions and Second Chances

In inquiry learning, questions are genuine and open-ended. In summer school this year, some of them are also incredibly challenging, not just for the students but for me as well!

1) How do you measure wetness?

2) How can you get a structure to float AND sink? (i.e. How can you transform a boat into a submarine?)

3) How much helium can fit into a typical party balloon? How many balloons are we going to need to be able to get our contraptions to get off the ground?

This uncertainty has been a lot of fun, believe it or not. Sure, we try to search for answers with our digital tools and they help, sometimes. Occasionally the actual answer is too sophisticated for me to comprehend or for me to teach my 8 year-old students. We theorize. We estimate. We hypothesize and then test out our ideas.

Our waterproof outfits - which did the best job?

Four of our boats - only a few were converted to subs.

Sometimes our ideas don't always come to fruition in the way we'd like, which leads me to the second part of this week's reflection. With very few exceptions, the vast majority of our assignments have multiple opportunities for "do-overs". The final grade isn't final until the students indicate that it is. I really like how some of my students have started to put sticky notes on pages in their notebooks that they'd like me to take another look at, because they've read my initial feedback and made some adjustments that they think will improve their work. Often, they are right, and their newer thoughts result in adjusted (and higher) grades.

One student was really determined to get his submarine to go all the way underwater without getting his Webkinz inside soaked. He must have rebuilt his invention at least four times, if not more. He discovered early on to put a proxy for his Webkinz pet in his prototype, because "failure" meant that his toy got wet. (He took it home to dry, but poor BullsEye still has a bit of an odor to him.)

Student "Pa" measuring and cutting the plastic for his sub
Prototype #2 - sank very well, but still wet inside

Prototype #1 - too unstable & porous = wet Webkinz!

I really wish that I could do this (explore really challenging questions and provide multiple opportunities to re-assess tasks after providing feedback) more often in my regular school program. The hard question for me will be to figure out how to do it when I'm a prep delivery teacher with limited time with classes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Different Paces at LMMSS3

My summer school students are a terrific bunch of kids. Even though it's a small class, we still have a diverse range of abilities, interests, and talents. What I'm noticing the most this year is the huge differences in how quickly students complete jobs. This has nothing to do with rushing ahead or with struggling with a task. We only have four weeks, a.k.a. 19 days, (and report cards are due on Day 13) so we cram a lot of learning and a lot of activities into our brief time together. I don't want the work to be onerous, so I ensure that there's plenty of time for students to complete assignments and projects. However, I have some who have just finished their first project (creating a bed for their Webkinz pet) last Friday (at the expense of some of their other tasks). On the other end of the spectrum, I have students who, not only have completed all projects, they've re-done them to improve their results AND created new inventions. Thank goodness for the Creation Quadrant, but even with this self-directed, hands-on building centre, some of those speedy workers were eager for my attention and another challenge.

Our Work Completion chart keeps them organized & honest (photo taken Day 3)

A student built, revised & improved this car as well as his required boat & bed!

I decided to offer an exclusive task, available only to the students who had completed all the assigned work and had already built at least one new, not-assigned device using all stages of the Engineering Design Process. The task is for the students to create some armor for themselves, using only one type of adhesive and one type of material. The protected participants will then take water guns outside and engage in a water fight for a specific time and will then determine which armor did the best job of keeping the wearer dry. I debated with myself long and hard about whether or not I should tell the other students about this opportunity the others had. I'm still uncertain if I should let the other students see the results of the "Extra Challenge". I don't want students to feel bad about working at their own pace. I don't want students to hurry through their assignments so they can have a chance to do what the others are doing. On the other hand, might I be creating a two-tiered system? Should all discussions be public and not secretive or private? To solve my dilemma, I may take one of my common approaches: ask my colleagues and ask the students themselves. Let's see what they say.

Monday, July 6, 2015

LMM15 or LMMSS: Small but mighty - super staff

It's July, which means it's time for summer school reflections!

This year, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, might be the best of times and worst of times.

The worst part (and I'm nervous about writing about it so publicly because I don't want to call attention to the situation) is that our actual enrollment is lower than our projected enrollment. Students registered but didn't show up. This is a problem because we may have to amalgamate classes and lose teachers. This would be disappointing for many reasons.

1) I love my class and we've already bonded.

I only have eleven students in my class, when I should have eighteen. My students are absolutely delightful. They are open to trying new things, creative, and enthusiastic. After only thirty minutes of together time on the first day, I had them choose topics for our get-to-know-you game, "Cross the Floor", and someone decided to make this statement: "Cross the floor if you like summer school." To my relief and surprise, everyone crossed the floor! We've clicked after less than a week together. Separating this group, or closing a class and importing a large number of students in mid-stream might be disruptive and change the dynamics. Six of the nine students decided on Friday to demonstrate their memory and collaboration skills by recalling (and pronouncing correctly) the names of everyone in the class - how many of the students in a regular class know even half the names of their peers, especially after just three days?

Teaching each other how to track work completion on a chart (data management)

2) We've got great plans that can become possible with small numbers.

Our STEM theme for the Grade 3s this month is "Explore Sea, Sky and Cyberspace with Webkinz". The students are going to be busy with the Engineering Design Process and keeping three classes of Grade 3s will mean that more individual attention can be paid to students who need extra support. Because our student population isn't purely remedial, we have a nice mix of students at different abilities and levels, and they can work together to meet their own goals. For instance, my students have already taken our first project (make a bed for your Webkinz) and tweaked it to match their own interests (e.g. beds with drawers underneath, or beds on working wheels). When a visitor from the board's Continuing Education Department came to visit on Friday, she was bombarded with students who were eager to show her what they've made and the virtual money they've earned in-game.

Shopping at the virtual store on Webkinz (number sense & numeration)

3) The time goes fast. I'd miss them if our time was shortened and there's uncertainty in the air.

I'm often amazed at how much we can accomplish in just four weeks. We've heard that, unlike "regular school" where the teacher with the lowest seniority, it might be the teacher with the smallest class that has to go. Unfortunately, it is our primary division with the tiniest groups. My husband likes to joke that doing summer school "keeps me out of trouble". It is great professional learning for me, and I have to admit that I teach "better" at this time. The possibility of reorganization has me stalling before doing certain activities, like our annual class photo. It's hard to live with that potential uncertainty, as this blog post of mine from last September showed.

Our "Creation Quadrant" building area (measurement)

4) I don't want to use any of our fantastic staff members. 

This year's summer school staff is incredible. We have ten teachers that are enthusiastic, collaborative, creative ... sound like any group you've heard about before? They resemble our students! This group of educators is extra special. This year ...

a) Many others have adopted and modified the summer school hashtag #lmmss (Lucy Maud Montgomery Summer School) and turned to Twitter to share the learning going on in their classrooms - one of my colleagues plans to join Twitter for the first time to be a part of the action.

b) In addition to scheduling Treat Day, teams have organized after-school staff exercise programs, outfit coordination, and fixing the school's somewhat-neglected desktop computer lab.

c) Teachers are planning and sharing more than ever. I spent the planning day wrapping presents with my grade team partners, Kiefer and Gary, and brainstorming ways to integrate math as part of the unwrapping task. Mr. James and Mr. Fitzpatrick are generous in offering their virtual and physical resources, from printer passwords to paper cups and math activities.

Usually I'm not a proponent for status quo, but I hope they keep team #lmmss the same this year. The following sample tweets (the last, written by a student) demonstrates the amount of camraderie and learning happening in the halls.