Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What is a Leap Year? A great video to show students...

Ever wonder what a leap year really is? I am teaching Social Studies 9 this year and our first unit is called Time. We learn about the Julian and Gregorian calendar, along with solstice and equinox, we dive into the world of time and how it came to be. The one thing that really interested the students though was the concept of leap year. I explained it, we read about it, we discussed it but here is a great learning tool....a youtube video that explains the concept really well. Simple language, use of drawings to help reinforce, and a fun approach equals a video of great instructional quality. I showed this to all my grade 9-12's today and I was actually a bit surprised by those who didn't really know about it fully or understand it before the video. Cheers to day 366 and Happy Leap Year Day!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Crunch Time vs. Quality Time

I know this is a bit late but I wanted to come back to this post I started (and obviously became too busy to finish) at the end of January. The points remain valid to teachers so I thought I would share a food for thought that was floating around in my busy brain this year...

Teachers need to talk about this...
It is nearing the end of semester one and I am about 2 more weeks away from exams, and a switch to a new semester. During this time of year (every year it seems), I find myself wondering if I should be crunching all that undone material to my students or choosing a few key pieces and focusing on them more thoroughly. Seems to me that even veteran teachers come across this problem, and it doesn't just lie with new-10yr teachers. I think I find that a bit more comforting in that maybe I'm not doing such a terrible job and that possibly in reflecting like I am here on this post, that I am actually doing the right thing. It is the dialogue that needs to happen, talking about these sorts of concerns and then finding a bit of a common practice.

What do I do? What have I done in the past?
Hmmm.....Well for starters, I think this year finds me in a further behind spot than I have been in the past 5 years at this time in these courses. Possibly due to a number of factors that include new curriculum, student engagement issues (i.e. lots of boys in an ELA class who dislike ELA), spending more time on certain things than I did last year, and also I can not forget that some of this lies with me (the teacher). I am not naive enough to say that it isn't at all my fault that we are in this pickle, but that is not to say that I can control my whole learning environment and make students read, comprehend, or work faster because I want them to either. I can't even count on two hands, the number of classes that were taken away from me for things other than curriculum or education (in the traditional sense). We have missed lots and although this is a concern in and of itself, it leads me to the next question....

Crunch vs. Quality? End of Semester Concerns
Choose some of those really key pieces that need to be taught and focus your attention and time there with quality, or push through the rest of the curriculum pieces and hope for it to hit as many kids as possible....hmmm...concerns that are really trumping great education. The push from many different places makes delivering quality education difficult or at least more challenging than it ever used to be, creates unique learning environments when the end of semester is looming in the near future. I am not sure what anyone's real 'rule of thumb' is on this question, and it probably has a lot of factors that make this a not-straight-forward situation or example. How many kids, what age, which subject, what grade level, the kids themselves (attitude), your attitude, your experience, your administration, etc. can all affect how the students will respond to either you pushing forth crunch time or savouring the quality on a few pieces. Either way, whatever you choose in your situation, I vote that the teacher always makes the best possibly decision for their students, their class and for their own comfort level. Go for it, and don't let what other teachers decide affect your classroom and your own unique students because only the teacher knows best in this situation. 

The Super Book of Web Tools

This comprehensive tool-kit gives great web 2.0 learning and teaching resources to use with your students. It is separated according to elementary, middle years and high school grade levels, so this resource is really user-friendly and gives great descriptions of the tools.
Check it out, share it and use it!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Student Song-writing Experience with Little Miss Higgins

Today we had a visit from the band Little Miss Higgins, who actually live in the community where I teach. Click on the song title if you want to hear a few of their songs such as "Bargain Shop Panties" or "Middle of Nowhere". They were here today sharing with us the song that was inspired and partially created by the students from my school! Jolene Higgins from Little Miss Higgins came out in December to work with the students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 about song-writing. She spent some time talking about her creative process and how she and her partner and guitar player Foy Taylor (David Mark), write songs. She wanted to write a song about the school and include the perspectives of the students themselves, so when she came to work with the kids we all were very excited. 

Jolene gave the students 5 prompts, a few of them being 'what did you learn in school this week' and 'what is your favorite thing about the school' - they were told to just write down the first thing that came into their heads because that means the most to them and not to worry about sounding 'good' or being 'right'. It was the ultimate in free-writing because the students were making a connection to their lives without even realizing it! Jolene compiled all of the answers from all of the students in the school and took them with here to start her journey of writing this song. 

She came to us explaining that she was done writing the song and that almost all of the lyrics (with exception of making it flow), were from the students' responses in the song-writing exercise. Jolene and David, along with Irv Fines on bass (another local musician, member of the party band Men Without Shame) and one of our own grade 11 students Cory Bart on drums, performed the song for the staff and students today in the gymnasium. In addition to just performing the song, Little Miss Higgins also had the students get involved and we all helped sing the chorus along with her. Her idea is to maybe use some of the process we did today with some students in the music recording and also in the video creation later on! How cool is that?!? I hope to get at least one of the videos put up here for you to see in the near future so stay tuned!

The kids were so inspired and excited to be part of such an amazing team of fun musicians. Thank you for sharing your talents with our future!