Monday, 30 January 2012

A Short Update!

I thought I should write a quick note as today was a pretty good day.

On Monday mornings the kids sit down with one assistant and tell her about their weekends. I thought it would be a good way for the kids to get to know the other adults in the room, and to put everyone on the same level (I don't know how I would manage without the assistants in the room- some days it feels like they do more than I do- and it seems that often, classroom assistants really aren't appreciated as much as they should be). Anyways, one little guy was sitting beside her and had a small paper in his hand. I was watching from the other side of the circle, and getting our newest little one settled on an activity. Another assistant beside me began to laugh, and I turned to see the little guy using the piece of paper to simulate shaving his face, very seriously, then his neck, then turned to the assistant beside him and began "shaving" her neck and face as well. It didn't help that we had the giggles by then, and it sure didn't help when another boy noted, "Miss C. has a moustache!" Then, because it got a few laughs, "Miss K. does too!"

We noted later that we both felt a little defensive and self-conscious, then realized how funny it was.

Our newest little guy had a great day, and so did another boy who has been having a tough time settling in lately (also great that the behaviour consultant was in to see him on a great day too).

The best part of the day began during our center time. As I've mentioned before, there are a few children in the class who are just learning english. They are not exposed to it at home, and often, parents don't speak english or read- in english or their first language. This makes it tricky to get permission forms, notices and special event notices out, but we've all managed so far!

One little boy in our class comes from a home where english is not spoken regularly. In fact, we hadn't heard him speak AT ALL, in english or german, except for spelling his name a handful of times. In fact, he had a hard time getting on the bus in the mornings, and for a long time would not even go to the bathroom at school (though we've been working on that with his sister, who has been wonderful). This little guy has a face that hides all expression most of the time, and he either nods 'yes' or 'no', or just stares when asked a question. We've been worried about him, but didn't want to push too hard in case that caused more anxiety than ever.

Today I was in the hallway playing with a girl on our movement center (I bought a mini trampoline for the hallway!) when an assistant called me over. She whispered, "he's talking!" and we watched from a few tables away as the other assistant had the little boy name colors, shapes and letters- all in english. Keep in mind that we hadn't really heard his voice at all, even in his first language much at this point, and only his name spelled out in english about 5 times.

I think all of us had tears in our eyes- this was pretty huge. For the rest of the day, this little boy came out of his shell, and would answer to the adults in the room using words when asked, and even made faces, played and even joked to one of the assistants to "stand up!" when she was crouching down to get the ball during free play. I hope this was the first of many great days for him- it sure made our day/month/year fantastic!

Other than moustaches and talking kids, today I also caught a little girl singing, "Get Low" (a Lil'Jon song, Mom and Dad, you wouldn't like it) and was told that I was the 'best teacher ever' for making the kids snacks out of celery sticks (the fishing rod), cheese whiz (the bait) and goldfish crackers (the fish to catch)!

All in all, a pretty good day. I'm subbing high school tomorrow, so I'd better get my grown-up clothes out, and math reviews started!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Dance Parties, Piglets and Exploding Soap Messes!

It's been a few weeks again and I haven't had much time to update. It has been feeling like the beginning of the school year all over again in some ways, though at least now I have a better grasp on what I should be teaching and where to go next. It's the paperwork that always gets me!

I have a new student, and with him, there will be a new assistant whom I have yet to meet. That makes four adults in the room at any given time, 23 kiddos, and in the mornings, two high school students (work experience) and afternoons, another adult. Not including speech assistants, OTs, behaviour consultants or principals who are in to watch that day. Some days it feels like you're trying to keep from sinking just to keep on top of all of it. Thankfully though, the kids are having fun, learning a little (hopefully a lot) and keep us laughing which is why I ended up here!

Here is my January highlight:

Many of the students in my class live on farms and regularly help out with chores, feeding, etc. One little guy came up to me shortly after the Christmas break and said, "We have some piggies, and Dad wants to know if he can bring them to school."

I thought this was a great idea, and went about arranging this as soon as possible. Then I thought a little more and remembered that this little fella had said, "piggies," plural. So I asked, "how many piglets do you have?"

He looked down at his hands and counted on his fingers silently..."1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12... There's 12!" Oh geez. I had an image of 23 little kids being chased around the room by 12 squealing pigs and had to tell him to ask Dad to bring one or two piglets. (It felt like a Robert Munsch story - which the kids have been really enjoying lately- ONE pig, JUST one, NOT 3, 4, 5, 6 or 12, JUST ONE.)

The day came and the little guy was trying his very best to keep his secret quiet. Then during recess I see Mom, Dad and newborn baby coming up the walkway of the school carrying a large tupperware bin. Inside were these little guys:

Aren't they sweet? The kids were so excited to see them, and the Dad got a huge kick out of letting them out of their bin to run around the classroom and chase kids for a little while. They couldn't get traction on the slippery floor and looked like Bambi on ice until they made it on to our foam carpet. Thankfully, there were no messes (by piglet or kid!) and the kids happily named them Smartie (on the left) and Chocolate Chip (on the right). They were two weeks old and very heavy already. It was really interesting to see which kids were right in the middle, who grabbed the camera, who wanted someone to stand next to them to pet the piglets, and who quickly lost interest and moved elsewhere.

As the kids were hanging out with the piglets, the little guy whose idea it was to bring them in went up to one of the assistants and said, "Them piggies are growin'like a son-of-a-gun!"

I mentioned that we now have two high school students coming in the mornings (one at a time). The first day that they came in, we were having our snack, and I turned on some music for the kids. I should have chosen a different song than Madagascar's "I Like to Move It, Move It," because instead of finishing up their snack, ALL of the kids got up and started to dance. We couldn't help but play the song again and have a good dance party then, and just as the one high school student walked in the door, a little girl came up to me and yelled, "K______! Come dance!" Well....there goes my credibility! (These things have a strange way of happening...)

We did have a great time, and got the kids moving for another few minutes at least! I know that I have a hard time sitting all day during workshops, conferences, etc. and can't believe that we expect kids to do the same. Unfortunately, I think often teachers recognize this as a behaviour issue, instead of a need to move once in a while! In Alberta there is a requirement in the curriculum called 'DPA' or Daily Physical Activity, in addition to recess/lunch breaks. This is built in time meant for kids to get an extra 20 mins or so throughout the day to MOVE! Unfortunately this often gets counted in to recess, walking to library, gym class, etc. This has been a big focus for me this year in recognizing when kids need to move around a bit, and I have been trying to use it in how I say things too, so kids can start to identify between behaviour and need. Often our morning talk, weather and calendar goes just a little too long for the kids (they say that a child's attention span is approximately as long in minutes as their age, so I'm working with 5-6 minutes) so I will try to say, "it looks like you need to get up and move, lets do some counting backwards and go touch 10 things and count down to one," or, "go climb under three things and over three things, then come back." This gives the kids a little break while still learning, and the repetition helps them out in the long run as well.

Once a week the Elementary school teachers get together for a "PLC" or "Professional Learning Community." We focus on certain things and is a way to keep learning new ways of doing things, or at least considering them. Our group has been working on 'student engagement,' or, keeping the students excited about what they are learning and making sure that there are connections being made between past experiences and new concepts being taught. Our job last week was to pair up with a grade other than our own (not difficult, as there is only one class of each grade in our school) and to plan a lesson that will demonstrate student engagement. The other teacher was to come in and observe how the lesson went, and provide feedback. I was paired with my mentor teacher in Grade 2, and we planned a lesson together. My kids haven't had much experience with science yet, as our science curriculum can be summed up as exposing students to new ideas, reactions and questions. In Grade 2, students focus on solids, liquids and gases, and learn a little about the scientific method.

We planned a lesson that used almost all of the 5 senses (a big focus in Kindergarten), as well as some math (graphing) and technology (smartboard and cameras). If you place a piece of Ivory soap in the microwave, it actually expands and bubbles, looking like it's exploding. The result is a very light solid that feels like kleenex, and can be used just like regular soap. It also leaves behind a very distinct soapy smell that is pleasant at first, but gets really gross, fast! Anyways, it all worked out, the vice principal was in to watch our experiment and give feedback, and the other teachers were curious enough during our next PLC that we had to repeat the experiment all over again for them.

This week we're going to make some new snacks (last week we made 'apple teeth' out of apple slices and mini marshmallows), take the kids skating and try out some more centers (this go-round has glittery water in the science table)!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Christmas concert, Kindergarten brunch, holidays and back to it!


It has been a little while and I suppose I should try to make this more of a weekly update, especially now that a few people have told me that they're checking for updates once in a while, maybe I'll be more inclined to write!

The last week before Christmas holidays was crazy. The adults in the classroom managed to get through the week by having a constant coffee and chocolate supply on hand. If you can't beat'em, join'em right? I couldn't blame the kids for being excited though, I was too.

The Christmas concert was a lot of fun, and they were definitely pretty cute! Apparently people at the back could hear the kids singing too and not just me and my half-gone voice. Our little porcupine (albeit almost late to the party!) was perfect in his role, and we had even the quietest, most shy kids onstage with us. Thankfully we were first, and most kids stayed with us to watch the rest of the show afterwards. Seeing kids moved by music is such a neat thing. We've had some really neat moments over the past month that include music, and it has opened up a lot of interesting experiences and ideas for me. Some of the kids (many of the Mennonite children) were completely enthralled hearing other students in the school singing. They didn't move for the entire concert after we were finished.

There is another little one in the class who works with a full-time assistant who has tried out music breaks when being in the class is just too much. He sat listening to a range of music, from opera to pop and books on tape for half an hour straight. This was a huge amount of time for him to be sitting calmly and totally focused on one thing.

I suppose I had better learn a little more about music as I've noticed that many kids seem more focused and productive when there is music in the background of the classroom during activities. I had a prof during one of my first years of university that would play music (a different piece each day, depending on the lesson) as we walked in and out of his classes. It always set the tone for the lesson, even though this was a class of over 400 people, and we were exposed to anything from Mozart to Jiminy Cricket's "When You Wish Upon A Star."

Our Kindergarten brunch was a huge success! It was so much fun to cook with the kids, even though the bread turned out a little tougher than usual due to excessive kneading, and our jello cut-outs ended up frozen then liquified.

*On a side note, I had made 8 batches of bread dough on the weekend (a sweet egg bread that my family calls 'Teddy Bear Bread' and is made every Christmas) and put the batches in freezer bags to rise as I drove back to the town where I teach. I had the dough sitting on the floor of the passenger side, and part-way through my drive I heard a few "pop! pop! pop!" sounds that could have been my tires popping. I looked over to see that the warm air from my heater had been blowing on the dough, causing it to rise to epic proportions and explode the bags wide open! You can bet that dough stayed the night in the fridge after that!

I love parent volunteers. I had a few Moms that came in both days to help out, clean up and lend plates, crock pots, punch bowls, recipes and a lot of patience to the process. They were wonderful. The kids made Christmas tree shaped bread, cranberry orange muffins, jello, cut up apples, pomegranates, fruit dip, hot chocolate and punch. They welcomed their parents (and Grandparents!) and helped to make sure everyone had something to eat. We had about 40 people in our little room, and many families who brought siblings and Grandparents too. Most of our Mennonite families even came, which was very exciting, as many do not speak English and have quite a few little ones to bring with them. It was a really fun celebration. We ended our clean-up with a "pomegranate stain scavenger hunt" (I'm awful I know!) to wipe up any last remnants of our mess...the cleaning staff has more than enough to do this time of year!

On our last day before the break we took the kids to the Grade 9 Science class where the student teacher was demonstrating how to make ice cream with dry ice. I was really worried that the kids would get too excited and try to touch it, so we had a quick safety chat and went over to the room. About half of the kids were terrified, and wouldn't even try the ice cream when invited to. It was a pretty neat thing for them to see, and hopefully we can get in to some of the other classes to see what they're doing as well. The Grade 6 students will be making 'egg parachutes' at some point, and dropping them off the roof of the school, so we'll definitely be watching that one!

After watching ice cream being made, we hopped on the bus and went to see a movie at the theater in town. The movie definitely wasn't my first choice, but the kids enjoyed it, and one little girl (who sat on my lap for half of the movie) very proudly told me at the end that, "I didn't even cry!" We headed back to the school for a pizza lunch, quick recess and an assembly to round out the day. This was the first elementary assembly that the Kindergarten kids have been there, and they behaved really well despite the amounts of junk food eaten that day. I got to give out a few classroom awards to kids who displayed the  "best printing," "best reading," "best manners," and "most gentlemanly" behaviour for that month. Our class also won the "Library Award" as the Kindergarten kids are always "enthusiastic and have great manners" in the library (we've been working on it)!

I received some really wonderful cards and gifts from the kids and their families, and have come to the conclusion that: 1. I smell funny, and 2. that I need more chocolate! There were a lot of lotions, soaps and chocolates for me to enjoy! One really interesting and strange thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows where you live. Sometimes it's not a good feeling that people seem interested even in what groceries you bring home (goodness knows what people think of me carting laundry back and forth on weekends!), but it's also nice to know that people are watching out for you. A "Secret Family" adopted me the week before Christmas, and left a gift each night on my porch for me to come home to. That really blew me away.

It was nice to have a break and though it was hard to come back, the kids didn't forget everything and were really well behaved (though very tired by the end of the day) on our first day back. We went over our rules again, enjoyed the strangely warm temperatures and went OUTSIDE for gym class (unheard of here in January), reviewed our Sound Connections and did some new puzzles. The funniest part of the day was our shaving cream activity. We rolled up sleeves and put a pile of shaving cream on the table in front of each child and let them trace the capital and lowercase letters that they knew. They wrote their names and generally got pretty messy. Thank goodness shaving cream doesn't stain and just wipes away! It was a pretty fun activity, and one that helps out with fine motor development as well...I think the art of teaching Kindergarten must be hiding all of these developmental exercises behind exciting activities! Needless to say, we had most of the staff come by to see why our classroom and all of our kids smelled so darn manly!

The day had its really tough points as well, including parents coming in who do not often have the opportunity to see their child, and are so appreciative that their child has a safe and consistent place to come, and parents calling from the police station reporting a kidnapping when their child is safe at school. There were also calls to try and track down another child who should be at school, but whose family seems to have left without much trace. There have sure been a lot of sleepless nights on my part trying to think of what to do next, how to document things and how I can do the best for each child in the class, so I can only guess what parents go through in tough situations.

One thing I have really noticed in working with kids is that some parents are very disinclined to listen, ask or even speak to me about strategies, because I am young and do not have kids of my own. I was speaking to the classroom assistants about this as well, and one pointed out that I am also not from "here" which makes sense, though this has happened when I coached as well. Unfortunately, I haven't found a kind way to mention to these parents that before teaching I coached for 11 years (18 month-old children - adults), and have had many opportunities to learn strategies and just see what works with different kids. It's all part of proving yourself too I suppose, and this will take time!

A couple funny stories to finish it off:

One little guy came up to a classroom assistant, leaned on her and very sweetly asked, "did you miss me over the holidays?"
She responded with, "Of course I did!"
He then noted very matter-of-factly, "I knew you would."

Another little boy needed help opening his water bottle and stepped in front of one assistant and said, "open!"
She then said, "open what?" (Asking for a 'please'!)
He looked at her, very confused and said again, "open!"
I figured that I should stir the pot a little and whispered, "sesame!"
He then turned to her and said, "open sesame!"
Poor little guy...he did eventually figure out that we were asking for him to use his manners, though it was through no help of mine!

Doing our calendar each day takes a good half hour, as we can incorporate math, literacy, songs, weather, numbers, patterns, printing, etc. into it, so it is quite the production (and has taken me until now to have any sort of system to present it to the kids). The first day back we had some parents in the classroom, just watching what our days are like as they hadn't had the opportunity to come in to our class yet. We were in the middle of our calendar (imagine, it's a new MONTH and YEAR now) and one little girl wanted to help as I sometimes get volunteers to use the pointer to count and help us figure out what kind of movement pattern will be associated with our numbers that month. Well...she came up there and completed our calendar and counting smoother than I have ever done- with the parents still in the classroom watching of course! We had a good laugh as both the assistants and I noted that this little girl should lead calendar every day instead of me!

I have a fun lesson planned for tomorrow afternoon- making pudding in bags, add milk and let the kids squish away until it thickens up (see, more developmental exercises hidden away)! Hopefully it turns out a little cleaner than our shaving cream adventure!

Tomorrow should bring new challenges, and next week again as we get a new student!

Thanks for reading!