I Believe

When I was in grade five and our elementary school was under threat of being closed, my parents took me to tour a local private school. I had a few friends at the school and the school itself offered some amazing opportunities. If my elementary school had closed my parents gave me the choice to go there. As an 11 year old, I remember saying to my mom, "I think I just like being in public school."

I believed in public education at 11 years old. I believe in public education now.

I believe in public education each and every day that I get up in the morning and get myself out the door to work. I believe in each and every one of my students. I believe in the amazing educators in every school I have ever entered. I believe that we can make a difference in the lives of our students. I believe that we can make a difference in the future of our communities and the world.

I believe that each and every child is deserving of the same thing: an education that empowers them to be creative, passionate, and compassionate human beings.

This is why I talk about teaching more than anything else. This is why I dedicate my time to my practice, not only at school but through constant, critical reflection. This is why I write this blog. This is why I teach.

It is also why I am exhausted at the end of each and every day. It is also why I have screamed in frustration at not having the support I need to help the kids who need it the most. It is also why I have pushed myself to the point of breaking more times than I would care to admit. It is also why I come home in tears so often because I feel that I am failing some (or all) of my students.

I don't want my job to be easier, I want my job to be better.

I want to have the time to help struggling students, without feeling like I'm ignoring the others. I want to have time to plan engaging and thought-provoking lessons, without falling behind on my marking. I want to be able to get student's assignments back to them in time for the feedback to be meaningful, without giving up on extra-curricular activities. I want to meet the social-emotional needs of my students, without feeling the loss of educational time. I want meaningful professional development opportunities and classroom resources, without the money coming from my own savings. I want to continue to push myself to be the best I can be, without feeling like I'm drowning in the work.

No matter what this, or any other, government can throw at us - I will believe in public education. I will stand up for the rights of my students. I will push to get the help I need when I can. I will reflect and become a better teacher. I will continue, day in and day out, to be the best I can be for my students.

And all I ask is for your support - For you to want the best for all of our children too. Support the students. Support the teachers. Support the schools and the communities. Please take the time to connect with your local MLA and inform yourself on education issues. I believe together we can make public education the place it needs to be.

But we need you.

Meaghan


Picketing & Articles

Today was our school district's turn to walk the picket line.  While Meaghan and I didn't walk the picket line together (we work at different schools), we definitely experienced similar responses from the public driving/walking/cycling past our respective schools.  Meaghan and I agreed that most people were supportive of teachers and CUPE staff today; however, there were definitely a few curse words and unmentionable fingers thrown around.  We survived our first picket shifts of our teaching careers and it looks like we might be experiencing another picket shift next week if things don't clear up by then.

My mom has never walked a picket line in her life, but she came out today to support teachers!
My mom has never walked a picket line in her life, but she came out today to support teachers!

If you are an educator and you have Facebook, you've most likely seen all the links, articles and letters related to this job action flying around.  Meaghan and I chose a few of our favourite pieces and thought we'd share them on here for those of you who are international readers/might not have seen these yet. Enjoy!

A parent's view on this week's strike action: HERE

A teacher's apology to "the average student": HERE (this one made me cry because it reminds me of my own students and our grade 8 class)

A teacher's letter to Christy Clark, our province's premier: HERE

If you have any other fantastic letters or posts, share them with us in the comments section!

Thanks to the public for your support, honks, waves and cheers today as we teachers and CUPE staff in SD61 stood up today for what's right for kids!

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We Keep Teaching Anyhow...

I always knew that I'd have be be crafty if I wanted to be a good teacher.  I don't mean crafty as in "good at arts and crafts" (although I think I'm pretty good at that!), but crafty as in being able to drop everything at a moment's notice, switch up the plan, get a new plan out of thin air and somehow make that plan rock star.  Admittedly, there haven't been many moments this school year where I've had to launch into "crafty teacher" mode at the drop of a hat, but right now amidst job action I'm feeling like every day in my classroom is going to have to be extra crafty.

For those of you who aren't teaching in BC right now, here's the breakdown of what's going on to the best of my understanding.  As of tomorrow teachers in BC are not allowed to arrive at school until 45 minutes before the bell rings.  We also aren't allowed to stay longer than 45 minutes after the end of day bell rings.  We aren't allowed to work over our recess and lunch breaks (I guarantee you, most of us do).  We may not help a student with work over recess or lunch.  We aren't allowed to bring marking, planning and prepping home.  Before all this job action escalated I had been doing at least seven hours of work per week at home, including working through most of my breaks.  We have to cancel any field trips/end of year adventures that have not already been paid for.  If we DO go on field trips, we have to schedule those outings around our breaks because we cannot supervise children over said breaks.

All these restrictions have been slightly overwhelming for me and Meaghan because, as she mentioned yesterday, this is our first time going through job action as actual, certified teachers.  Unfortunately, we know it won't be the last time we go through this.  We've cried our tears, we've rescheduled our plans and we are going to start this school week as if it were any other week.  Sure, we'll be picketing on Wednesday because that's the day our school district goes on its rotating strike, but every other day will be as "regular" as we can make it in our classrooms...we just have to amp up our craftiness, I guess.

Despite all the crazy right now, we keep on keepin' on because the work we do is too important to be pushed to the side.  We work with children.  We work for children.  Our students are the main show and the system isn't servicing them right now, but we are going to try our very best to make things as doable as possible because that's what good educators do.

Here's how we're surviving in my class right now:

Our end of year Herschel backpack draw is still happening and the students are so excited to "win" tickets in order to enter the draw of their choice.
Our end of year Herschel backpack draw is still happening and the students are so excited to "win" tickets in order to enter the draw of their choice.

 

Feel Good Friday is still happening and for the most part, it's getting better and better.
Feel Good Friday is still happening and for the most part, it's getting better and better.
Jacquie, the EA another teacher and I "share", spent some time this week teaching one of my grade 8 students how to tell time.  New life skill - check!
Jacquie, the EA another teacher and I "share", spent some time this week teaching one of my grade 8 students how to tell time. New life skill - check!
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And as per usual, I shed a few tears this week over several of my students' current situations. These children inspire me every single day.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to school to be a champion for my 28 grade 8s.  Teachers in BC, I hope you're all able to dig deep, breathe deeper and hold your chin high as you walk through your school's doors tomorrow.  Remember what you stand for and stay true to your morals.  Be champions for your students because right now they need us the most.

Karley


Keep On Caring...

In case you aren't from here, things are tough in the education system in BC right now. I'm not going to get into it too much because I know, unfortunately, teachers deal with this almost everywhere at one time or another. To sum it up job action, government restrictions, emotions running high on all parts, media reporting partial facts, and awful, negative comments on articles (never read the comments!)

This is Karley and my first time dealing with job action as teachers, we were on practicum during the last one which was difficult but not the same. I am finding this whole experience terrifying, saddening, frustrating, and OVERWHELMING- which has led to many tears shed (keep in mind, this is my response to almost any emotion).

Alongside all of that I am going into my last week in my current contract so this would be hard on my heart anyways. I love these students, as always more than I ever could have imagined. I love the staff and the school. I love teaching full time. Yes we are heading into June, and yes, I can't say I'll mind having a more flexible schedule to start off the summer, but it is still so dang hard to say goodbye.

AND... to top it all off... I can't run right now. If you've been reading for a while you will know that running is my sanity saver, my de-stresser, my anti-anxiety medication. I tore my hamstring playing slo-pitch a week and a bit ago and I haven't been able to run since. Yes, I will still be able to run my marathon (fingers crossed nothing else happens) but my training has be derailed slightly and I've had to switch to biking and water running. This week I get to start walk/runs... not exactly where you hope to be at 4 weeks from a marathon but hey that's life.

My partner and I were talking last night about how much easier this would all be (note: easier, not better) if I could care a little less. I feel like everyday I'm in a system and situations that are pushing me towards caring less - Something I cannot and will not do.

So how am I going to keep on caring without having daily meltdowns?

Laugh. I still hold that this is one of the best parts of my job - laughter helps heal my soul. So when a student hands in an assignment that reads, "40% of 8-18 year olds will spend 54 minutes per day on social media. Ms. Abra can run 10 km in that time!" I laugh out loud, and I share it with my friends and family. Hold onto those moments where kids can make you feel joy and don't forget them.

Take Care of Yourself. Although I haven't been able to run, I have been keeping up with my cardio through biking. I've done my weekly physio visits and exercises, and I'm going to the gym/yoga. I am also going to make sure I get enough sleep in the next week (something I was bad at last week).

Find Support. We all have people in our lives who can support us through hard times but sometimes we need to remember to ask. And, as much as I really HATE crying in front of people, I have had some great people come and support me when I need it the most. We have to hold each other up when times get tough and we can do that together.

Block It Out. Sometimes we can't/shouldn't ignore it all, but sometimes it is necessary. This weekend I have removed myself from social media (except for writing this post obviously), and so far I think it has been the best thing to help my sanity. That and not reading the comments. Don't read the comments. Ever.

Love. I love my students. I can't and won't forget this. They are the most important part of all of this and the strength of that love can get me through anything. I know that by getting through this time and maintaining my love for them I am doing what is needed most in this world.

I am sending strength and love to all of you amazing educators who are dealing with tough times. Don't forget to keep on caring - it is what we do best, it is what we need most. Lift each other up and do it for your students.

Meaghan


A Mid May Reflection

I just counted on my fingers and realized I've been teaching my grade 8 class for seven months now.  In some ways it's felt like years, and yet I find myself wondering how the heck we got to mid-May already? Before I wrote this post I went back and read through some of my more rant-like reflections over the past seven months (HERE and HERE and HERE for examples).  Those posts are just a few of my mind-boggling, question-asking, self-doubting pieces of writing I've done this school year; reading through them has helped me see how truly good it is now.

This is my main "driving to work" jam right now.  Thank you J. Lo for allowing me to take your lyrics out of context and apply them to my teaching career.
This is my main "driving to work" jam right now. Thank you J. Lo for allowing me to take your lyrics out of context and apply them to my teaching career.

Why are things so good now?  For the past few weeks it's felt like my students have just been chugging along the train tracks of positivity.  Bits and pieces are falling into place, students are doing their homework (!), everyone is being relatively nice to one another and we are having quite the amount of, dare I say, FUN at school.  It feels, as J.Lo sings, like we can do anything (live it up, live it up!)  Today my principal even mentioned that it has been several weeks since he has had to speak with some of my classroom's key players, which is a huge success!

I'm fairly certain part of my class' positive energy is coming from me.  I don't mean this in a snobby kind of way.  I mean this in that I am way more relaxed about school things than I have been in months.  Extensions on projects they're working diligently on? Sure! An extra round of "silent ball" at the end of the day? Why not!? I seem to be in very high spirits these days and I am noticing that my choice of mood is directly affecting my class' behaviours and their ability to get successful work done.  It's a neat, totally unplanned sort of experiment and I like how it's going so far.

"Teacher wellness" was the entrenched messaged of the Heart-Mind conference a few weeks back, so I invited my colleagues to join me in some Tuesday morning yoga before school in the library.  We kicked off our before school yoga this week!
"Teacher wellness" was the entrenched message of the Heart-Mind conference I attended a few weeks back, so I invited my colleagues to join me in some Tuesday morning yoga before school in the library. We kicked off our before school yoga this week!

To top off all the greatness, this week I checked off a teaching related bucket list item and co-taught all day long with my long-time friend, Nicole.  Nicole graduated from her post-degree program this past December and is currently teaching an adorable group of grade 6 students from Colombia.  On Tuesday, Nicole's students and my students spent the entire day together.  We experienced a Colombian dance performance, 4-corner presentations about Colombia's culture and participated in a very fun scavenger hunt downtown surrounding the legislature (government buildings) and The Empress (famous, old hotel).  I had two parent volunteers join us for the afternoon, one of which also helped out on a field trip in the fall.  The crowning moment was when this parent and I looked around at the end of the day and I said, "Well, that was a great day!" She replied, "These kids have come so far...there is no way you could have done this with them in in the fall or winter".  This mom was correct in her observations and I did an inward celebratory fist pump because I have worked so damn hard with and for these students to get them to where they are now.  I realize I'm not the only person who has helped my students along the way this year, because goodness knows they have many champions rooting for them!  But, I do like to think that my yearlong "building classroom community" mission is finally starting to pay off in a large way.  I wonder if this is all just a scheme to make me love them even more right before they head off to high school, which will undoubtedly leave me in a puddle of tears on the last day of school.  You sneaky students.

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Karley

 

 


Teach it Tuesday: Indoor Games

So my unit in PE right now is indoor games... and Victoria is having the most incredible summer weather this May! So what's up with that?! But it is actually working out okay because a bunch of my students (and myself) are suffering from some terrible hay-fever so being in the gym while it's gorgeous out is a blessing in disguise.

I have done about 8-9 years of summer camp so games are right up my alley when it comes to PE units. I absolutely love watch students figure out different game strategies and work together. I also love that it evens the playing field in gym, the kids who play soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc. haven't necessarily played handball. Maybe the all star athlete isn't the shining star when it comes to games that require a lot of spatial awareness or strategy?

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1. Handball

Classic game that almost every class seems to love! I play by the rules we had when I was in elementary school (we called it "3 Ball") - Three steps with the ball, three seconds holding the ball, and three passes before you can score. Also it's non-contact and you can't go in the goalie's crease. Other than that you just need a ball, a basketball court and two hockey nets. Round robin tournament works well with a class of about 30 kids (4-5 teams).

2. The Ring

I learned this game at a workshop but may or may not have made up my own rules since because I don't really remember how to play it. My class in the fall helped me with a few of the additional rules. The basic premise is just like capture the flag in regards to jails, teams, basic game play. The only differences are that instead of flags/beanbags each team has a "ring" (hula hoop) with tennis balls in it at the back of their side. I usually use about 10-15 tennis balls depending on how many I can scrounge up, whiffle balls will work in a pinch too! Students need to make across the back line into the safe zone (usually the basketball end line in a regular gym) without getting tagged. Once they are in the end zone they can't be tagged but only have 10 seconds to get back to their side. Here is the real twist - they can get two tennis balls back in a turn BUT one has to be thrown back (and caught by their own player on the other side) and the other has to be run back without getting tagged.

Funny story side note: One time when I was playing this in the gym a kid was dodging a tag and accidently ran into the light switch turning off all the gym lights and when the lights came back on everyone was scrambling around on all sides of the gym trying to steal the tennis balls when they thought no one could see them - It could have been in a movie, honestly. Hilarious! 

3. Indoor Kickball

Kickball is one of my all time favourite games, based purely on fond childhood memories. Indoor Kickball hits the top of that list and I can't wait to play it with my classes this year. If you have a line on the wall about 5-6 feet up you can call a kick that hits BELOW the line a home run - It's pretty challenging to do! Other than that basic kickball rules (based on general baseball rules) - The best twist for this game is to use a high jump mat as home plate and to be safe the kids running home have to jump onto the mat before the ball is caught at home plate. I still have very fond memories of diving into that fluffy mat while trying to get home safe - so much fun!

4. Skittles

A middle school classic that has slight variations at every school I've been to. The basic premise is a dodgeball type game where each player who is on the floor has a bowling pin to protect (without touching it). Students need to try to knock down other students bowling pins while protecting their own, if a pin is knocked down the student is out and goes to the back of the line and the next player comes on. Generally you can play a half gym version with about 9 kids out with evenly spread out pins or a full gym game with 15. One of my favourite things about this game is that the kids think it's dodgeball but they are hitting a pin instead of each other - No headshots!

Some variations for skittles:

  • Players are in teams of two with a hula hoop around their pin, one player must stay at the pin but the other can go wherever else they want
  • Time limits for holding onto the ball
  • Distances away from their pin (e.g. must be outside of a hula hoop around the pin)

What are your favourite indoor games?

Anyone out enjoying the sunshine for P.E. these days?

Meaghan

 


Critical Thinking Unit: Social Media and Technology

This is in lieu of Teach it Tuesday yesterday because I forgot to take pictures and then got carried away with what I want to tell you... Typical!

Since January, I have been thinking about Language Arts, how I have taught it, and what I want to do differently. I decided that I don't like teaching units such as "short stories" or "poetry." Instead I want to focus on broader themes, with the concepts interspersed throughout - more to come on my overall vision for Language Arts this summer as it (hopefully!) comes together.

As luck would have it, I have found a great planning partner at my current school who shares this vision for language arts units. For the past few weeks I've been working with our school librarian on a unit about social media and technology, specifically how companies are using it for advertising and solicitation. The main unit question is, "When companies use social media and technology to influence us, is it empowering or exploiting?"

To start the unit off we looked at the question and talked about where we started with our opinions, most grade eights answering that it is empowering because it gives them a louder voice than they would otherwise have.

We have been accessing further information on our topic through a variety of sources, including:
- Read aloud novel (Feed by M.T. Anderson, carefully edited while I read and some sections skipped over)
- Book club novels (more informal than lit circles)
- Various articles, video, and radio clips
- Persuasive writing research (through Ebsco's Canadian Points of View)

Throughout the unit students are reading, watching and listening to the variety of different sources and then responding through discussions, journal entries, persuasive essay, and debate.

Here are some of my favourite things we've done so far:

Persuasive Essay

I won't go into too much detail here because for the most part it is the standard persuasive essay format (strong thesis statements, points and counterpoints, etc.). I selected five topics for students to choose from for their research and then if any students came up with their own topic instead I worked with them to make sure it worked with our unit. The topics are electronic surveillance, social networking sites, media bias, identity theft, and censorship. (We used the Canadian Points of View site which shows an overview for each topic.) From there I have a couple of students looking at social media and body image, and one student looking into how social media sharing has effected companies such as SeaWorld through viral documentaries. They each reasearched both sides of the topic and wrote a thesis statement for each, then shared in AB partners about their topic and their own opinion, followed by an essay outline, and now we are starting on the rough drafts. I am impressed with how engaged they are in their topics and I can't wait to see how they turn out!

Book Club

All the students had a choice of seven books to read for book club and if they finish their book they can read another book club book or move on to one of the individual books that have been selected to fit in with the theme. I love the energy and excitement so many kids have when they get to choose a book they haven't read yet that they've been dying to read! (Hunger Games and Divergent are two of the choices).

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No bad reviews yet...

As they finish their books they are posting on our Book Club board a short summary (three points) on the book. They get to choose the colour for their summary (green = I like it, yellow = it was okay, red = didn't like it) and then they fill it out and stick it up.

 

 

 

Journal Entries

The goal behind this assignment was to have students tie in some of the concepts from the articles and videos, as well as to think deeply about the unit question and how their thinking is changing. To be honest, this was more of a check in for me as to how they are learning and what is interesting but it has been my favourite assignment so far. These amazing grade 8's have just astounded me with their thinking and I'm so impressed with how most of them have connected to the topic.

Here are a few quotes from the journal articles:

About connecting the novels to the unit question - "You have to think about who is benefitting from the exploitation. Is it only the companies or government, or is everyone getting some sort of advantage?"

On how the unit question applies - "Honestly, I think that the unit question is a very good one for today's everyday life."

And about how his or her thinking about the question has changed: "I believe now that social media empowers us in order to exploit us."

Is it just me or are these students just inspiring? I can't believe how lucky I am to do this job!

What are you teaching right now that has you inspired?

Any creative language arts unit ideas?

Meaghan

 


Heart-Mind Conference 2014 (Part 1)

One month ago my dear friend Jess, who is also a teacher, texted me asking if I wanted to go with her to a conference about "The Science of Kindness".  I answered, "YES!" before I even checked out the link she sent me.  This weekend I had the incredible privilege of attending the Heart-Mind Conference in Vancouver.  Heart-Mind 2014 was organized and presented by the Dalai Lama Centre in Vancouver and, yes, some of our presenters do hang out with the Dalai Lama...like, they're friends with him.  I could probably stop writing this post right now based on that tiny fact alone and you'd fully understand the magnitude of this conference.  But I really want to share the experience Jess and I had this weekend, so I'll keep going.

This is how happy we were on Friday morning as we settled into our stellar seats in UBC's Old Auditorium:

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Our line up of presenters for the day was nothing short of inspiring.  We cried our way through Erin Gruwell, most famously known as the teacher of the Freedom Writers.  We oohed and ahhed at Felix Warneken's work about toddlers and their innate tendencies to be helpful.  Kimberly Schonert-Reichl piqued my interest when she mentioned implementing a "random acts of kindness intervention" into the lives of teenagers.  We thought long and hard about what Thomas Boyce had to say about "orchid" and "dandelion" children.  We laughed along with Linda Lantieri, whose important work on the inner nurturing of adults was served with a side of fantastic humour.  Our Friday ended with a reminder from Chief Robert Joseph that "any act of kindness that we do is rooted in love".  We left the conference on Friday evening very full in heart and spirit.

A happy moment meeting Erin Gruwell and getting our books signed by her.
A happy moment meeting Erin Gruwell and getting our books signed by her.

I'm going to write my reflections of Heart-Mind in several parts because I need to read through the notes I took and let the new and old ideas, thoughts, inspirations and motivations simmer and settle a bit.  However, one thing I want to touch on in this post is the theme of "teacher wellness" that seemed to permeate the presentations of nearly every guest speaker.  Readers who also attended Heart-Mind feel welcome to speak up here, but I don't think I'm the only one who caught on to the message that teachers must be well in their own lives in order to do good work in the classroom.  The phrase "do good badly" was mentioned this weekend.  I think that means that even if teachers intend to do good, they "do good badly" if they are constantly inundated, overwhelmed, overworked.  This feeling of "I'm in way over my head" likely hangs around for many teachers throughout the year, but I'd be willing to bet it gets more intense in May/June, at least for us Canadian teachers.

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During Saturday's small group session with Mark Greenberg the topic of teacher wellness came up again.  Mark mentioned an idea where teachers were encouraged to sit in their cars upon arriving to school and simply breathe for a few silent moments.  He joked about how that kind of study would be extremely difficult to undertake (collecting data from teachers while sitting in their cars!?), but he insisted that there is definite value in taking a few moments of silence to start one's day off on a good, calm note.  Mark said that a class' entire day can go more smoothly if the teacher walks into the building happy, calm and alert.  This all seems fairly straight forward, right?  I started thinking about the terrible days in my classroom compared to the awesome days in my classroom.  I realized that on the terrible days I walk through my room's door in a grumpy mood and on the awesome days I walk in singing (this has happened before and yes, I got caught).  While Mark continued to explain this very simple phenomenon I thought about my daily commute to school.  I think I've written before about how I sing my way to work? If not, well, now you know.  Every day I sing my way to work...even at red lights when I run the risk of getting caught by other commuters.  I just love to sing in the car!  The song of the day varies, but lately it's (obviously) been Beyonce mixed in with some Lady Antebellum.  Singing on the way to work puts my mind and heart at ease and I walk through the school's door happily and willingly and literally with a song in my heart.  As a yoga teacher I firmly believe in the concept of "holding space" for the yoga students practicing together when I teach.  I carry this practice of holding space into my school classroom, too.  Holding space means the teacher is responsible for the students' well-being of spirit - it means creating a space where students are safe, seen, heard and welcomed.  Singing in the car helps me to realign with my intentions and prepare to hold space for my class for yet another day.

If singing is not your thing, I challenge you this week to find something that might settle your heart and mind before walking into your school or workplace.  It doesn't have be an elaborate task, but something as simple as sitting in your car and closing your eyes for a moment might just do the trick to start your day off on the right foot.  Try it out and let me know what you discover about yourself, your colleagues/students and the course of your day in general.

More to come on Heart-Mind, I promise!

Karley


Tale of Two Teachers One Year Blog-iversary!

20140508-194132.jpgHappy Blog-iversary Day! We can't believe how much has happened in the past year since we started our blog. It has been a crazy whirlwind full of many ups and downs but blogging has been the best thing we have done for our new careers.

We are so very thankful for each and every one of you for your ongoing support! It is a pretty amazing feeling to have so many people listen to what we have to say and support us through these first steps in our careers.

In honor of this special day we hope you can do one of our favourite things:

  • Get out for a run
  • Spend time with loved ones (friends and/or families)
  • Read a good book
  • Watch an inspiring TEDtalks (or other video)
  • Cuddle up with a cat
  • Play a board game (Settlers of Catan anyone?)
  • Garden
  • Blast some country music (yeah, we love it!)
  • Eat a cupcake

Once again, thank you so much for being the awesome people that you are - We are so grateful every single day!

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The Vacation to a French Speaking Country

Yesterday was Tuesday and Teach it Tuesday just didn't happen.  It was my first day back to work after having a full week off (doctor's orders) and then spring league outdoor volleyball started and then it was 9pm and I was ready for bed.

Today's post is a combination of my usual Wednesday post with a Teach it Tuesday vibe and I am bursting to share it with you!  Meaghan mentioned in her last post that although it's only the beginning of May, she's already feeling the "end of year push" we educators tend to experience.  I can relate!  While my science lessons are still going strong, my French lessons are rather dwindling.  I have a few French teaching friends who claim that at this time of year French becomes especially challenging to teach because students are becoming increasingly distracted by sunshine and end of year activities.  I guess this statement is true for all academic subjects, but I think the disengagement in French class happens almost over night because, let's face it, a lot of students just "don't like French".  I'm also only in my first year of teaching French and I have a lot to learn about it; therefore, my students' lack of interest is definitely not the entire reason that French class has been falling a bit flat lately.

I will confess that lately I have been feeling rather uninterested and uninspired by French too.  I knew I needed to whip something up that would fuel our French fires and carry us through a few more weeks of quality lessons.  Enter the recycling and revamping of an age-old French project: The Vacation to a French Speaking Country.

Photo cred: Joel, May 2012
Photo cred: Joel, May 2012

 

I had so much fun planning this project on Monday night; I pulled myself off the couch and got really into it for an hour and a half.  I took an idea a teacher friend of mine found for free on Teachers Pay Teachers (thanks, Tom!), but  I changed it around and added all kinds of my own details.  This project is a "Franglais" kind of project - the reading/writing is done in English, but the topic of study is a French speaking city/country where culture is largely the focus.  Check it out:

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Traveling to a French speaking country? Need a travel agent? Allow “GR8 Dealz Travel” to help you plan your next trip!

 For this project you will need access to actual travel information (think: Travelocity.ca, The Lonely Planet, etc.) You will plan a trip, based on accurate information, for at least three days to a city in a country in the French speaking world. The information should be written up as if you were creating an itinerary for a person to actually take the trip. The information should include the following:

  • Airfare (cost per person) and airline     /2
  • 2 hotel prices/names       /2
  • daily schedule/itinerary       /10
  • description of 5 tourist attractions    /10
  • 3 restaurant reservations including menu (breakfast, lunch, dinner)     /6
  • background information of the city (history, etc.)             /5
  • plans for transportation         /5
  • various maps of the city (including transit maps)          /5
  • special events happening during your trip         /5

Some examples of French speaking countries you might be interested in traveling to:
*remember, you need to choose a specific city within the country of your choice

  • France
  • Senegal
  • Haiti
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Mali
  • Djibouti
  • French Polynesia
  • Saint Lucia
  • Switzerland

This project will be marked using the 4 point scale for expectations (1 = not yet meeting, 2 = minimally meeting, 3 = meeting, 4 = exceeding). Presentation and layout of your information is very important, for example, you might want to create a brochure to keep all your details organized. The information you gather is also very important – be original and unique with this trip planning process. Try to avoid copying and pasting directly from the internet – add your own touch to the trip! You are creating the vacation of a lifetime; really make sure you’re selling this trip by adding as much detail and creativity as you can.

Note: I also created a note taking sheet to go along with this assignment.

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Unsurprisingly, I happen to be an extreme planner when it comes to vacations.  I used my folder of France related travel documents (ticket stubs, plane tickets, baggage receipts, museum pamphlets, Metro maps, etc.) from 2012 as a demo project and I spent almost the entire French block introducing this project to my class. I think they are actually excited about it because I am really excited about it!  I may have just defied one major middle school rule: "If you pretend something is cool, they will hate it and vice versa".

One part of our road trip along the riviera.
One part of our road trip along the riviera.

Some of my students have traveled outside of Canada, so they have a slight idea about how this whole travel planning process works.  Others have never been on an airplane before!  I think that learning how to read a public transportation map, book a flight, coordinate travel plans and dates and create a stellar vacation itinerary are really important, applicable life skills.  When I was 16 and going to school in Germany I visited a friend in Vienna for three weeks.  Keep in mind I come from a small town that (still) has a barely functioning transit system, so rapid transport, in this case the UBahn, was definitely a new experience for me.  Within a matter of days I had that entire system sorted out and I can remember how accomplished I felt...it's a good thing, knowing how to get from one's apartment to the closest H&M.  I share these kinds of life stories with my students because what it all comes down to is that I just hope they grow up to be good, kind and adventurous humans who positively contribute to the world.  Traveling broadens horizons and has only ever taught me lessons that have served to shape me into the person I am now.

The introduction to The Vacation to a French Speaking Country project ended with a comment by one of my students.  She said, "Two of my friends an I have already started a list of our favourite countries, including Switzerland and the Bahamas, and we want to travel there during our gap year before college".

I consider this a partial mission accomplished.  French class is exciting again!

Karley