Friday, October 10, 2014

visible thinking: zoom in

Today we started a new Visible Thinking routine, Zoom In, that I'm hoping to keep up with in the class.
[Side note, I'm attending a weekend workshop with Ron Ritchhart in November at our school and I'm really looking forward to it!]

I've started with this image of a Story Rollercoaster, which is just another way of representing the plot structure. As you can see, only one small part is revealed:

We started discussing the piece a class, focusing on the first two parts below. As more parts are revealed, we'll move onto the other two parts.

This kids had some really interesting ideas! Everything from it looks like kids are in bathtubs to I see one person of each gender so maybe it's about being fair [one of our dispositions] to I think there are people from all over the world. Of course there were a lot of connections to personal experiences, too.

The best part was the way the kids started building on the ideas they were hearing, which they quickly told me is called piggybacking. Love that they know this term! Also, going from obvious observations to more thoughtful conclusions was eye-opening for a lot of them.

Next week I'll reveal more and we'll continue, but the level of engagement involved with this was so so great! It's the perfect way to start tuning into narrative writing.


My niece, above, started Kindergarten in September and she was so resistant... but she's loving it! The teacher in me is so happy for her.

This is such an interesting read about the power of daydreaming for our learning. Pretty sure we'll be taking daydream breaks every now and again moving forward.

I love throw pillows but how do you keep them fluffed? Ours always look so sad.

Is it weird that I'm a thirty-year-old woman (a mother no less) and still, when Mean Girls (do I really need to link that?) is on tv, I definitely watch it and make my husband watch it with me?

We watched the first season of Silicon Valley in like three or four days. So then we watched Kumail Nanjiani's stand-up, Beta Male. The part about the mongoose is really funny. And then the part about the hobo in the attic is really funny. I may have had a glass of wine while watching, though, and a glass of wine after a pregnancy and five months of breastfeeding, well, ends up being sort of a lot of wine!

And in case you're wondering, here is the correct response to the question "Which of the seven dwarfs best describes your wife in bed?"

Friday, October 3, 2014

girl problems

We be havin' 'em.
Plenty of 'em, too.
Aside from enlisting the help of our guidance counselor, Information Literacy teacher, specialist teachers, and our principal, we've been working really hard in class on learning to understand one another.

As frustrating as it has all been, now that we're knee-deep in our social learning, it's been pretty interesting!

We started with this essential question, a part of our year-long Learning to Learn unit:
How can I contribute to a learning community?

The kids did some personal reflection, and we shared what it should look like, sound like, and feel like in our grade 3 classroom.

Of course, they gave all the traditional answers, all the ones that we, as teachers, want to hear.
These are now our "Guidelines to Happiness" and are posted in the room.
Naturally, that wasn't enough.

We followed up with this:

The kids got themselves together in small groups and brainstormed problems that they have. (The pictures of their work beside are to make their responses visible). 
This was great, because there was a range of them!
So we discussed.

Next, groups chose one problem to dramatize (but with no solution).
As a class, we discussed potential solutions, and kept a running list:

During those discussions, the kids kept talking about how they would feel if it happened to them, or similar experiences they've had, which lead to a mini-inquiry into the word empathy.
They paired up to figure out what it means, thought up some examples, and presented their findings informally with other pairs.
It was a tangent, but a good one, and we'll revisit it next week with some scenarios.
(Isn't that what inquiry learning is about?)

Then, more personal reflection...
Kids wrote in their notebooks to complete this sentence frame: 
I can help others solve their problems because I

Now this was awesome because they were really able to dig a bit deeper, having spent so much time focused on potential problems.
We put on to set the tone in the room.

Students shared if they were feeling brave.
Then, we made a list together of the skills and qualities that problem-solvers have as they came up during sharing. 
I printed them quickly and the kids signed up as experts in those areas:

Now, if someone is having a problem in our class, they now go to the expert sign-up list and see who might be able to help them.
They actually do this, yes. It's brilliant.

So far this has been a focus in our classroom for the last month.
With the support of my so-fantastic colleagues, girl problems are definitely less!

Friday, September 12, 2014

integrated inquiry: health + math

I was inspired one weekend when my husband set out money for our helper's weekly trip to the grocery store. She has off-the-charts mental math skills, and from the 2000 pesos (about $50), she spends almost every last cent to buy the food she needs to cook our lunches for Tuesday - Friday. (How seriously lucky are we that this something we have in our lives?!) Then I thought: this must go into the classroom. It's the perfect link with our Physical Wellbeing commonality.

So I set it up with the kids, telling them about Angie, and we figured out together how much she probably spends each day. The kids used very intelligent reasoning, saying that some days, when she makes us soup, it probably costs her less than when she makes us chicken with a salad. I mean, come on...! Well done, grade three.

Then we talked about how difficult it is to eat healthy everyday. We talked about advertising and how it's literally all around us, trying to persuade us to buy every sugar-filled and "low fat" and cartoon-laden product out there. From here, we inquired into what makes a balanced meal?

The kids hit the Chromebooks, iPads, and our library, searching for information. After about an hour, we came together and discussed our findings. We even qualified the terms "good" and "bad" with reference to food.

Someone hit on "the five food groups" and we were off...

The next day I shared with them a Google Doc called "The Legends Supermarket," modeled after our class name, that was blank. The kids organized themselves into food group companies, browsed Compfight and CC Search for images of foods, and began adding them to the Doc to create a grocery flyer.

You can see some groups have even started adding in prices...that I've spent some time adjusting today! 10 pesos for a whole chicken? Okay.

After pricing is made more appropriate (!), the kids will use the shared folder to build their own healthy meal for one lunch, with 250 (fake) pesos in their pockets. We've discussed the goal, which is to practice our 2- and 3-digit addition skills

I'm really looking forward to getting back to this next week! Real life, meaningful, and integrated.

Friday, September 5, 2014

critique & feedback

Such an inspiring video:
And aside from critique and feedback, so many other themes:
personal best
power of positive language
being specific
building excellence
beginning with the end in mind

Sunday, August 24, 2014

number lines + rounding

To kick off our Math classes, I show this awesomely hilarious video (of course - it's a beginning of the year staple): 
The kids then talked together to help them figure out why I would show it to introduce math. It was a pretty great conversation and they hit on a lot of the major messages: there are many different ways to learn in math class; you can't just give up if you don't get it; instructions really matter to help our understanding; etc. Then as their first journal entry, I simply ask them to answer the question What is math? Their responses can be very telling!
(There are a number of these and they're great and simple little brain breaks!)

The next day, I stood in front of the class with a long strip of butcher paper with a 0 and 100 at opposite ends and asked them to simply work in teams to create a math tool. That's it. They worked freely together for about an hour (I was surprised it took this long and was happy I'd reserved two blocks for this very open-ended task!) as I rotated to listen in on conversations. Some of their responses:

They got pretty creative and used a number of strategies to make number lines. Afterward, I asked each group to casually present their work to the class. We were able to focus a lot on their work as a team, with two big topics of conversation being What went really well for your group? and What was challenging about this task? I definitely have a reflective bunch this year!

The next day I used more of the workshop model with a very mini mini-lesson (which wasn't really me actually teaching but more guiding the kid's conversations to help them understand rounding to the nearest ten and hundred). I handed out a page of numbers to each team and asked them to show me in some way how they could be rounded appropriately.

The kids looked at the work of other teams in a sort of gallery walk, which gave them a chance to revise some of their incorrect numbers. This was definitely a great start-up to our cooperative math and workshop model format!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

on becoming a working mom

In thinking about heading back into the classroom during the summer months, I knew going back to work with a three-month old baby would be a challenge.
Challenge was right.
I feel run off my feet between the hours of 7am and 4pm.
I feel weighed down with responsibilities.
I feel majorly disorganized as I juggle lesson planning, meetings, and classroom activities.
But I also feel truly blessed (if blessed is the right word) to be back to work with a healthy baby who is right down the hall from my room in the faculty nursery, where I can continue to breastfeed and get all the best baby cuddles I need. Mara is also developing beautifully, right alongside her term friends, which is so amazing for a six-week preemie. My admin are thoughtful, kind, and so supportive, and have even made me exempt from yard duty. Living in a country with such a short maternity leave, our school has made all the difference in fostering a smooth transition.
Holy cow! I'm over eleven pounds!
(I started out at 5...)

When I afford myself the time to stop and think - getting better at this - I recognize that many many mommies go back to work and all their babies fare just fine. My students are smart, motivated inquirers, and with the right focused guidance will learn all our curriculum sets out for them to learn and then some. Plus Mara's got the very best daddy. I'm one lucky lady. (If busy.)

At any rate, here are just a few (rather poor) photos from our first 1.5 weeks back in the classroom:

working with number lines - an upcoming post

the famous sticky note questions

our Multiple Intelligences

sharing work while learning about Mathematical Practice 1

student definitions of happiness

our wall of happiness

Now if only we could get repair guys in to fix our broken washing machine and air conditioners. It's been almost two weeks and it's mighty hot in here and we're running out of clothes!

Friday, August 1, 2014

inspiring creativity

We start back to school on Monday.
After being off for the past three months with our baby, I'm a mix of excited and nervous.
Reflecting on the last year in the classroom, I knew there was one thing I definitely wanted to add:
Time fillers!
Then I decided these should help foster creativity and build a great classroom culture.
So I've just put these simple prompts together:

click the picture to download for free

The file itself is not all that fantastically pretty or creative on my part, but hey.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

pros & cons: manila

A short list, but you've got to start somewhere so let's just jump right in.

pro: the weather!
It's beautiful. This may be because I hate winter, but the warm, sunny days are perfect!

con: the weather.
It's rainy season right now, and the Philippines sees about 20 typhoons a year. These can mean some pretty nasty weather and are a huge danger for those that live in settlement housing, causing displacement, damage to infrastructure, loss of property and even loss of life.

pro: so many western things
As I learn to navigate the rings of malls and specialty shops, and get to know the big expat community, it's easier and easier to find all the things I love from home. Maybe the brands won't be what I'm used to, but that's not usually a problem.

con: so many western things often sell out and are restocked way later in the season
You want it? Buy it now. Actually, buy two. One time I found stroopwafels and that was amazing.

pro: easy transfer of driver's licence
Even though mine will forever say I weigh in at 63 kg because I was pregnant, all I had to do was pick up a form and fill it out, walk to another building for a "medical", wait for awhile ma'am, step on a scale, wait for awhile ma'am, read letters on the wall wearing my glasses, walk back to the main building, hand in the paperwork, sign some things, sit and wait, sign some more things beside that first place, sit and wait, sign yet more things beside that place, sit and wait, pay, sit and wait even more, pick up my fancy new plastic licence! So yes, maybe it sounds like a long process, but I don't even think they actually looked at my Ontario licence - so I get the feeling that anyone can be licensed here. And I get that feeling because... 

con: traffic
There's so much of it and it is not pretty. We've got:

  • maniacal drivers
  • jeepneys
  • lack of signage
  • lanes that end or do not connect past an intersection
  • lanes that don't really matter. If your vehicle can fit, you get in every last small space you can see.
  • so many cars
  • optional turn signals
  • motorcycles that sneak in everywhere
  • sloooow and erratic three-wheeled vehicles in some parts of the city
Although I have my licence, I still have yet to drive here. Jeff drives, and he's done a great job navigating the "rules" of the road here. I suppose if you don't like it you could hire someone to do your driving for you.

pro: household helpers
You can hire people to do all the things you don't want to do and it's affordable. Gardeners, drivers, helpers or all-arounders (to clean the house, pay your bills, shop, run errands, water your plants, take care of your cat or even your kids... whatever you need), yayas (nannys), pool guys, you name it. You can even hire people to come to your home and give you a manicure or pedicure, a massage, even take your blood if needed.

That said, a big con is major income inequality.
I live in a neighbourhood that's private property, which is right beside a gated community, which is right beside an informal settlement. To say there is a major divide between the rich and the poor in this city is an understatement. I know I am very fortunate.

In the same breath, they say the Filipino spirit is unbreakable, and most people we meet are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and so helpful. It's an adventure living here and I can't wait to explore more of the over 7000 islands the Philippines has to offer!

Monday, July 14, 2014

board game review: tales of arabian nights

[Guest author: my husband, Jeff!]

Bit by bit I have (and by extension my beautiful wife, Amanda, has) been getting into board gaming. [editor's note: I swear, I didn't ask him to say that!]

The first game that we really purchased together was Pandemic.  It is a wonderful cooperative board game where you try to cure various diseases before the world erupts in chaos.  Amanda wrote a bit about it here.  That game helped to nurture the new interest because it was easy to learn, cooperative, relatively short (<60 minutes), and exciting to play.  Since we bought Pandemic, we (more I, I guess) have been adding bits and pieces to our collection.  When buying games, I first and foremost try to understand the mechanics in order to see if it is something Amanda and I might enjoy together.  Seems simple enough, but Amanda typically doesn’t like hardcore competitive games or games with a large degree of luck.  [editor's note: Risk is the worst.] Board games can be quite expensive, so I don’t like the idea of buying one that she will never want to play.  To be fair to Amanda, she is a good sport and will pretty much play any of the ones we own even if they aren’t her favorites.

One game she does enjoy is a newer purchase: Tales of Arabian Nights.  Tales of Arabian Nights is a storytelling game based on 1001 Nights and those types of classic Arabic stories.  Think Aladdin, Sinbad, Scheherazade, etc.  The game is played with 1-6 players (yes - you can play by yourself!).  Mechanically it is quite simple: You move your pawn (Aladdin, as an example) a number of spaces determined by how wealthy you are.  Once you have finished moving, you have an encounter in your current space.

Encounters are dealt with by using certain numbers and some dice rolling to guide you to a particular paragraph in this BEAST:

I won’t go into the whole process of finding the results of your encounter, but the guys at the board game website Shut Up and Sit Down do an excellent job of explaining the mechanics and why this game is great.  The book of tales is essentially a giant book of crazy stuff that happens to your character. Think choose your own adventure stories, and you are not far off. Encounters can give you Story or Destiny Points, which are how you “win” the game.  The game really isn’t about winning, though.  It is about the crazy, fun experiences you have playing it.

Here is an example:
One time when we were playing, my Sinbad character got married.  Isn’t that nice?  Marriage is great, because you earn more Story Points.  However, one turn later I was adventuring when I came across a wizard of some kind.  I failed to impress him and I was turned into a beast.  Perfect.  Shortly after that, I became ensorcelled and went insane.  Those last two statuses meant that another player had to move my character and another player had to choose how I reacted to situations.  Essentially, Sinbad went crazy and made erratic decisions and his every movement was being controlled by some distant sorcerer.  Brilliant use of mechanics to convey story.

A lot of bad things happen in the game, but they are always funny.  The gameplay isn’t deep or difficult, but the theme and the stories you get to tell are wonderful. This is a great game for anyone who just wants to sit down with friends or family and have a silly, fun evening.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


These beautiful flowering trees are up all over the city right now and I love them so much! What are they called?

I bought some fun flavoured salts - herb garden, chili peppercorn, & garlic chili - but I have no idea what to do with them. A couple of times I made chocolate peanut butter cups and topped them with the chili pepper for some heat and that was good. But what else? And don't say popcorn because nothing beats plain old sea salt.

More about salt: one of my students gave me this salt scrub in coconut and jasmine as a year-end gift and it smells amazing! (Though I've been reading that scrubs are not the healthiest habit for our skin...) Plus it's all natural, fair trade, and locally sourced (they bought it while in Thailand) - he must know I'm a bit of a hippie. (The rye flour is out, by the way. Listened to my hair and it said no. not my thing. Will be trying out a bentonite clay mix (with some acv for pH balancing).)

Because it's on topic and I can't resist: Scrubs like you've never heard it.

Moving on.

We're watching Fargo. It's so good, it's got us talking in hecks and saying things are sooper.

Watch this trailer from Richard Linklater - such a fantastic idea that looks brilliantly executed.

This is my favourite granola to make but I almost always almost burn the top layer to a crisp and we eat it anyway.

Last week I shared about the misfortune of our plants, due in part to the fact that I'm not particularly green-thumbed. (Seriously, how do you kill a plant that thrives on air?!) This after one old bud ( ha ha.) up and died early in June. Sadly, we also have an old bamboo that's on the fence about life and just got a new hydroponic plant that's also not shining. So I got some cacti because there's no way I'm going to kill those by underwatering or otherwise neglecting. I don't know why I'm so obsessed with plants. Or so bad at them.

Speaking of plants... I'm from a small town in Ontario, Canada, and never thought anything of our provincial logo, the trillium. Until now. Perspective!

Jeff has started a ginger bug for us so soon we'll have our own ginger ale! That's exciting!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


A few shots from around the city while my parents were visiting.

perfect weather

jeepneys. the worst.

and one cute one from home earlier today!

ps - this is what Manila looks like this afternoon! the pending storm is feeling more like evening time.