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I always think of January as the worst month of the year.  Don’t tell my daughter. January is her birth month.  January, to me, is a month of dreary, gray skies, cold days, colder nights, and lots of indoor recess.  It is with no days off, and it’s an uphill hike until the next school break.  I love knowing that January is coming to an end and the sun will be returning soon. True to form, February brought us a lovely sunny day today.  Though a big storm is looming on the horizon, the kids actually got to play in the sun today!

But January also means we have hit our stride in my classroom.  Everyone knows the routine.  Everyone has adjusted to my Writing Workshop methods (most people in my school give directed writing assignments) and everyone is enjoying “We can write about whatever we want?” freedom.  What once felt daunting, now feels like a great bonus.

Most years I start with non-fiction writing genres in the fall.  It’s more accessible to the students, I think, and gives us a positive start to the year.  But this year, they fancied themselves to be story writers.  I adjusted my plans and we have been writing stories of one sort or another for the past few months.

Yesterday we  started looking at non-fiction books as writers.  We started noticing the common characteristics included in a non-fiction book, common writing topics, and we talked about how people choose their non-fiction writing topics. They are pretty excited, and not just because I read them the book “Whose Butt?” to highlight one way an author might choose a topic. *

So I suppose I shouldn’t hold a grudge against January for too long.  Perhaps I should spend more time appreciating the good things happening in the classroom.

 

*”Whose Butt” is a book by wildlife photographer Tekiela.  He starts the book by explaining that taking pictures of animals is hard and he gets more pictures of their bums than their faces because they are always running away.  Each set of pages is a picture of a bum/tail and a clue.  On the next set of pages, we learn who the tail belongs to, and a few facts to go along with it.  I highly recommend this book!  Enjoyed by all. :)

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I try to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge every Tuesday. You can read more at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

“How does this connect to your life?”

My question was met with blank stares.  “Remember,”  I told them, “connecting means remembering how what you are seeing or doing or reading connects to others things you have learned or seen before.”

More blank stares.

I had asked this question a thousand times during reading activities, as has every teacher they have had before me.  But I had never asked it in math class. During some work with a learning coach in our school, I decide to work in a thinking routine from the book Making Thinking Visible called “CEC:  Connect, Extend, Challenge”.  Other routines I have used from this book have been easy to teach, easy to implement, and easy for the kids to catch on to.  We are able to enhance the quality of our discussions around thinking quickly.  But this one has taken us longer. It has taken a good month (not counting 2 weeks off for the winter break) to get the students to really think about how what we are doing in math is going to help them. We started the routine when we were learning about adding money, which I thought they would be able to easily connect to the rest of their lives.  Not true as it turns out.  Recently we have been talking about temperature, and now we reading graphs from the weather web site.  It figures that a bunch of Canadian kids who have been stuck indoors for 2 weeks due to the cold would suddenly see connections between what we are doing in math and their lives.

When I first started doing these thinking routines as part of a collaborative learning group at school, I was concerned that it was another thing to cram in in-between all the bits and pieces of a jam-packed curriculum.  I was wrong.  As it turns out, teaching the students to actually think fits nicely into the curriculum.  Who would have thought?

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I try to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge every Tuesday. You can read more at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

Slice of Life:

“Is it January now?”  My daughter had been asking when January would arrive for several weeks.  Finally, on January 1, I could reply, “Yes!  Your birthday month has finally arrived!”  She’ll be 5 in a few days (“Just around the corner!” as she tells everyone.”  Her next comment didn’t surprise me too much, but it did make me smile.  “Oh good!  Now Mrs. K can write my name on the calendar!”

Mrs. K has become the new favourite person in our house.  “Do you think Mrs. K will like my outfit?”  and “Well Mrs. K says…” or oft repeated phrases.  Mrs. is a colleague of mine, so I might be a bit biased, but I have to say that she is an awesome kindergarten teacher. Her love for her students, enthusiasm for everything she teaches, and the way she notices the little things that really brighten a child’s day have won her a place in my daughter’s heart forever. She hasn’t always taught kindergarten.  In fact, she’s taught many grades, and this is only her second year with the littlest people, but I think she’s found her home.  Just in time to give my little girl (and my little boy next year) a really strong start to their school experience.

I don’t look at teaching as just my job. I’ve had as many bad days as the next person, and I would have gladly extended the Winter Break to a 6 week holiday. However, I desperately want to be the best teacher I can be. I always try to be a teacher who is not focused pointedly on academics, but one who sees the whole child – how well they read, whether or not they use punctuation, if they are able to make friends easily, what their confidence level might be.  This experience with my daughter has reminded me how important that is.  She never talks about the reading they do in class, unless it is Pete the Cat.  She brings home beautifully decorated books she has made, full of feathers not words.  Her art is hanging on the bulletin board along with that of her peers. Her greatest desire is to have a chance to ride the bus with the other kids in her class. I resist the urge to do a proper running record and Reading Inventory on her. I have never recorded the results when she counts for me so I can identify her weak spots.  That’s Mrs. K’s job, and I think she’s doing it perfectly.

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I try to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge every Tuesday. You can read more at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

Hockey?

Have I written about this before?  I can’t recall.  I certainly know I have thought a lot about it lately.

When I was a kid, my sister and I found a pair of old, mens ice skates in my grandma’s basement.  They had belonged to my grandfather, we assumed.  There was one small patch of ice under a bridge that ran over a creek near our house and we headed there with the skates.  I was probably 12 at the time, and had considerable experience as a roller skater to back me up.  I did all right, and took all the turns as I recall.  I didn’t ice skate again until I was a teenager, then a few times after that.

When I was 30, I moved to Canada and suddenly ice skating became a regular part of my life.  I own skates.  And a helmet.  My schools where I have taught have had a rink close enough that I could take my students skating regularly (weekly at one school.)

This year my soon-to-be 5 year old daughter joined Timbits Hockey.  She skates every Wednesday for 30 minutes, and every second Saturday morning for 30 minutes.  The first week was full of tears, but now, 2 months later, she’s pretty good!  Usually my husband takes her, so her growth seems even bigger to me as I don’t see her skate every time.

This past Saturday, I took her.  We arrived early because I wasn’t sure what time it all started.  Apparently not at 7:00, or 7:15.  We were the second in the parking lot.  It took a few minutes to get geared up, but then we had the ice almost to ourselves.  With only 2 other children and 1 other adult in the way, CC got a bit more practice without all the chaos of 60 five-year-olds and their (mostly) dads on the ice.

When the practice began, I realized that most of the dads had their own sticks.  I’m still not sure why, so I don’t feel bad that I didn’t have one of my own. There I was, with my figure skates and oversized hoodie, trying to go over all the events that brought me to this point in life:  a hockey mom, at the rink at 7:30 on a Saturday morning.

Life is certainly full of twists and turns, isn’t it?

  

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I try to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge every Tuesday. You can read more at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

Last week, I gave the students in my class $1000.  Not $1000 real dollars of course.  I actually let them choose to have $1000 or $500 for math project.  I had a pile of store flyers.  “If you want to shop at Best Buy, you get $1000 to spend.  You can’t go over budget, but you can buy anything you want.  If you want to shop at the drug store, you can spend $500, but you can still buy anything you want.”  We’ve been practicing adding and subtracting 3 digit numbers, and I thought this would be a fun way to work on adding dollar amounts.  They worked in groups, and I was pleasantly surprised with the shopping choices they made.  Of course they bought a lot of technology and electronics. They remembered to round though, which helped them stay close to budget using mental math. One group realized right away that spending $999.99 on a TV wasn’t a good idea because it took their entire budget. “Then we can’t buy anything else!”

Yesterday, I gave them new flyers.  “You’ll be working alone this time.  I’m not going to give you a budget, but you can only buy 5 things.  No more than 5, no less than 5.  Five things!”  I gave them mostly grocery store flyers so the numbers were manageable for everyone.  I loved watching them carefully do their shopping.  “I’m looking for things that don’t have any cents because they are easier to add – like ‘2 for $5’ is easy to add for me.”  One person was still going for the favoured treats without thinking about price. “I don’t care if this is hard to add.  I love Doritos and I’m getting them!”  Many of them were noticing the good deals they could get.  “6 x 710ml for $2.99?  So I get 6 big Pepsi for just $3?  That’s a great deal!”

Besides the real life math skills involved, I was also able to cover several curriculum expectations for the Media Literacy strand of our curriculum.  They were noticing the fine print, they were recognizing that %15 off isn’t that much off, but still might make something a good deal, and they were thinking critically about the value of their purchases.

I love this “2 birds, 1 stone” kind of teaching.

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I try to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge every Tuesday. You can read more at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

 

Slice of Life: Time Out

My daughter is a kindergarten student at the school where I teach.  I love driving to school with her each morning, and driving home again at the end of the day.  She never eats her lunch (too busy talking…yes, she’s going to be that one!) so she comes to my classroom and immediately dives into her snacks and sandwiches. We tidy up my classroom, talk about her day, and then head out the door.

Once we are in the car, she really starts to unload.  “So and So had to sit in time out today!” is one of her favourite ways to begin a re-telling her of her day.  She had never known about a “time out” chair before school started and she was fascinated with the little red seat her teacher uses.  When I told her that children who sit there are in big trouble, she was a bit surprised.  “That’s the chair where kids sit and think about the naughty thing they did.  Then Mrs. K calls their mom and they get in more trouble at home.”  (The last fact was added to scare her.  It worked.) She hadn’t connected the bad choices to the chair.  During the month of October, she continued to be interested, though less so.  “So and so made bad choices today.  He/She had to sit in the time out chair!”  became her frequent report.

Now we are in November, and she talks about the chair a lot less.  I’m not sure if this is because she’s lost interest in monitoring the comings and goings of this area of the class, or because Mrs. K doesn’t need to use it as much.  I suspect both are true. She’s no longer interested in taking a turn sitting there.  For Mrs. K’s sake, I hope everyone is losing interest!

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I try to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge every Tuesday. You can read more at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

Slice of Life: Pumpkins

We’ve been putting off pumpkin shopping until closer to Halloween.  There’s been a bear hanging out in our neighbourhood all summer, and she was spotted recently in our neighbours driveway.  I didn’t want to give her any reason to come to our house.  Do bear’s like pumpkins?  Not sure, but I also don’t want to do my own experiment for that one.

Yesterday after school, my daughter and I picked up my son at day care.  She had a speech assessment, and I told her that if we had time we could stop for a pumpkin on the way home.  This was her discharge meeting, so it didn’t take long at all.  Mostly the SLP and I reminisced about how far she’s come.  As soon as we were back in the car, she started chattering about getting the pumpkin.  In the past, we’ve gone to the pumpkin patch, but an unusually busy October has left us with no time for this fun adventure.  We went to the boring old grocery store.

There were many pumpkins on display as we drove up to the store.  Both kids tugged on my hands as we ran across the parking lot toward giant bins full of medium sized pumpkins, just right for carving.  Spencer immediately tried to take one that was 5 times the size of his head.  It took some doing to convince him that I should help get it into the cart.  Claire took a few more minutes to choose the scariest one she could find.  Apparently “scary” and “smooth with no protrusions” is synonymous with scary for her.

As ass on as we got them home, she wanted to colour it. This is an interim step for us; first we colour them, then we wait a few more days before carving. I made them wait until after we’d eaten some dinner from the Crock-pot. Claire also used masking tape and a plastic bag to make her’s as scary as possible.  Spencer covered his in a towel so it could be revealed with a big TA DA!

For now, they are on the dining room table scaring the cat.

   
 

I try to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge every Tuesday.  You can read more at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

I try to participate in the Slice of Life writing challenge every Tuesday. You can read more at twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

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