Friday, December 13, 2013

off the bookshelf: murakami's norwegian wood

Awhile ago I read this book... for the second time. The story came back to me so quickly; all the feelings that it evokes so clear again, but nothing spoiled.

This was Murakami's first real mainstream novel, said to be the 'book that "everyone" in Japan has read,' and a very depressing leap into stardom for the author. It is a love story, a heart-wrenching and beautiful one, and that's all. For an author who often writes non-fiction or with a flair of magical realism, this is a very different book from his others. Though these elements are totally absent in this story (Murakami argues against those that are tempted to call it loosely autobiographical), he writes a lovely reflection on human relationship and the impacts all those people we meet can have on our lives.

Norwegian Wood is narrated by Watanabe, a college student in Tokyo, who is in love with a friend from his childhood, Naoko. Their bond seems held together only by the tragic death of Watanabe's best friend, Naoko's boyfriend, when they were teenagers. He adjusts relatively well, considering, to life afterward, but Naoko struggles to understand her place in the world and becomes extremely introverted. Though he is helplessly devoted to her, Watanabe soon becomes attracted to a much more (sexually) liberated woman and struggles to retain the balance of these two relationships in a way that is understandable to his new friend.

Although I find the ending a little disjointed from the rest of the story, it's still a book I really love - one that kept me interested the whole way through. I'm a sucker for a love story!

Friday, December 6, 2013

whole-group reflections

This year, one of the key concepts I've tried to implement in the classroom is giving students an opportunity to make their thinking visible. I'm about halfway through this book:
(This is the third PD book I've stacked on my nightstand...!)

We use sticky notes, reflection pages, "what we learned about (any topic)" and gallery walks. Sometimes, though, the kids get tired of always writing a reflection, no matter how simple it can be. So in the past couple weeks I've focused more on oral strategies to keep their thoughts pouring out and their energy directed appropriately. 

(These ideas are not exactly visible, but they are reflective, and if you can get the kids using that all-important question "What makes you say that?" then it will be a great exercise in deepening understandings.)

Assembly Line:
Give half the class a number and ask them to line up side by side facing the same direction. The rest of the class then stands in front of this line, facing someone; tell this line they are the "assembly line". Give them a prompt and have each person in the line share with their partner (i.e. In this lesson I learned... Something that stands out for me is... I'm wondering about... I'm confused about/have questions about...). I always try to listen in as they share! Then, tell the assembly line to take one step to the right to a new partner, with the last person joining in at the opposite end. Give the next prompt and share away.

Concentric Circles:
Similar to the Assembly Line, give half the class a number and ask them to make a tight circle in the room facing out. (This is not easy if you have a tight space, but could easily be done in the field, gym, hallway if it's big enough, etc.) The rest of the class will find a partner and sit facing that person in an outer circle. Again, give a directed prompt based on what type of reflection you're looking for and have each share with the other. Have the outer circle scoot to the left or right and share another reflection.

Simple, but it gets the kids talking and keeps them focused on learning. If we do exercises like these often enough, eventually I'll be able to say, "Please share a reflection with your partner" and they'll just hand out their thoughts without questions!

ps - Happy Saturday!

Friday, November 29, 2013

off the bookshelf: rainbow rowell's "eleanor & park"

This is a love story.
It's one of those all-consuming, wishy-washy, confusing, high school love stories. 

And I don't know if I'm a realist (this is how I optimistically refer to myself) or a pessimist, but it's just not my thing. I didn't even love John Green's The Fault in our Stars
and I know I'm in the minority on that one. Even my gory video game-playing, comic book-reading, Walking Dead-watching husband liked that one. (Eesh - is that saying something about me?) It's about teenagers with cancer (and much more), and yes, I do feel badly about not liking it. I even decided not to write an Off the Bookshelf of it for that reason. I know the book is an inspiration to many.

It's just that high school love stories always seem too intense, or too great (as in too significant) to be real, or too one-day-this-one-day-that. It's like a roller coaster that I don't really understand. Is that because high school kids are sort of like that? And I just forget what that's like? To be fair, it has been more than a decade since I was 16. But I did have my little loves in high school, of course, like we all do. Never a love like the one that Eleanor and Park build - and certainly not as fast. It all seems too beautiful. Or too naive, I can't decide.

The other thing that really bothered me is that there are some really big issues at play here. Themes that should probably be developed just a little more, but aren't, so that their love story can take main stage. Things like a history of abuse (Eleanor's step-father), neglect (her father wants nothing to do with her), bullying, and poverty (she doesn't even own a toothbrush) are obstacles in her daily life that don't get quite the recognition that I think they should. Elanor is openly self-critical and she does reflect on these things as difficult. But I'm apt to consider them as larger than difficult, even when the author isn't. I'm not saying that Rowell's idea that love can conquer all isn't heroic and a positive statement about finding light in troubled times (even calling them "troubled times" gives me pause - it's not a big enough description for the pain). But when you're still growing and still finding who you are (and if it were me), these things would have a much larger impact on my outlook, my actions, my relationships. These themes are explored in a sort of flippant way, and I don't like that. It just doesn't seem real.

I know that people love this book. So don't let me deter you; perhaps I am a cynic. Love is a beautiful and powerful thing and I should embrace the fact that it can change us, mold us, motivate and inspire us, and in the end, be the thing we hold most dear in our lives. My own love story has done all of these things for me. So you should read it and decide for yourself.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

tuning into probability

This week in Math we talked about probability.
First up, what is it?
We created an ActivBoard web of all the student's prior knowledge and connections:
Inline image 2
I then used The Hat (seriously, it's so great) to create groups of 4, printed these simple activity cards on coloured paper, then put them around the room as stations:

(Click any picture to download!)
They stayed at each station for about 5-7 minutes, collecting and recording data on white boards as they went.
Before they switched, I asked them to think of a sentence they could say aloud as a sort of "prediction" (tying into our latest Unit of Inquiry) about the next round of results.
Things like, "I predict that ____," "It is certain/likely/unlikely/impossible that_____", "The most probable thing that could happen would be _____", "Based on the results, I think that _____"
They had a ton of fun!
Afterward, they had a 15-20 minute free-write about their understandings of probability.
It was super engaging and a great way to find out their thoughts.

Friday, November 15, 2013

into this... birdy

When Jeff and I were on our honeymoon in Peru a couple summers ago, our hotel in Lima was playing this amazing cover of Bon Iver:
One of my favourite. songs. ever.
... which majorly piqued my interest.
(I even asked the concierge what was playing... which led to a few extra people coming out from the back room, some shuffling about, and then an eventual CD stop and check. Sweet success.)
This one, followed up with covers of The National, The XX, and Fleet Foxes?  

Needless to say, I fell in love.
Does she not have the most beautiful voice?
Her first album, self-titled, is one I listen to now on pretty much every airplane.
It's a set of covers that makes me feel happily at peace every time.

With her latest release, Fire Within, it's all love again!

random name generator + typhoon yolanda/haiyan

Pretty sure this is my new favourite classroom tool:
The easiest computerized random group/name generator...
that's totally free!
You simply download it from the software developer here (I definitely declined all the "ad" options that come with it), type in your student's names, and then randomly choose groups, pairs or individuals.

I used it today to create "expert groups" for a bit of research we were doing about Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan and its devastation.
It's amazing the way the global community has come together in the face of disaster to offer aid...
It's amazing the way our ISM community is coming together to offer relief...
It's amazing the way even the students in my class are offering their time by volunteering to pack food and water for distribution to affected areas.
My heart goes out.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

student-created rubric

To end our first Unit of Inquiry all about Physical Wellbeing, students created an interview to find out all about how healthy a friend or family member is.
First, small groups verbally brainstormed some questions to match each of the six areas of health.
I put chart paper around the room titled with each type of health and they rotated to each piece, reading questions others had written and adding their own.
Some examples they came up with:
How often do you exercise? (Physical)
What types of food do you eat? (Physical)
Do you go to church? (Spiritual)
Do you meditate? (Spiritual)

Do you recycle? (Environmental)
Do you use both sides of a piece of paper? (Environmental)

They chose a "least amount" of questions based on the group brainstorm and conducted their interviews.
The final task was to analyze the information received and create an action plan for that person: in what ways can he/she make more positive choices to lead a healthier lifestyle?

In one of our inclusion classes, the ESL teacher and I had the students take a look at this regular old rubric:

and put it into more kid-friendly language to create this rubric:
They used cards with each component glued to the top and highlighted the keywords.
Then, they wrote what it actually means in their own words on a line on the bottom. 
In the middle, a space to illustrate:

It was the perfect, bulletin-board sized reference piece for student success!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

bohol, philippines

For our October break, Jeff and I got away to the coast of Bohol.
It was very peaceful as we were one of two couples staying at the resort at the time!
After the 7.2 earthquake that went through, leaving over 200 dead, almost 1000 injured, several missing, and many with homes in serious disrepair, I'm sure many travelers were hesitant, to say the least.

Some of the destruction in Loboc was quite extensive, including the loss of an historical church:

On a funny note, we were told by a driver that Bohol has such a high population because before there was electricity on the island, there was nothing else to do but make babies!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

the science of happiness

Last week, I asked my class to engage in an experiment.
I had them think of one person in their lives that is really important.
Then, they thought of the reasons why this person is so important.
They wrote letters to that person (mini-lesson: parts of a letter - score!).
Their homework over the weekend was to read the letter aloud to that person.
Some had to write emails as their letter was for someone in another country; some made phone calls to local family member or friends; some arranged visits with the help of their parents; some even got on Skype to share!
Afterward, I asked them to share what they noticed.
They came back with things like: 
"My dad put the letter on the fridge! He loved it!" 
"My mom put it up where she works in our house, like in her home office. Now when I see it there I always feel happy."
"It made me feel really, um, good!"
This was not my experiment:
I showed the kids this video afterward.
They stayed an extra ten minutes after the end of the school day talking about how the letters made them feel, what they noticed about the video, and how happiness is so important.
Grade three!
Yes, there are a couple of choice words in the video, so it's something to be mindful of.
(Of course, you can always skip that part if you're on the ball - it's not crucial.)
When the kids looked at each other with surprise and started talking about those words, I was able to simply and calmly ask, "Is that what's important in the video?"
It was a clear no and I didn't hear another word about it.
I really loved the rich discussion that came out of this experiment and I feel it's a great exercise for all of us!

PS - Anyone read "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

spiritual health + mindfulness

After our experiments to test whether exercise affects our mental health and watching this video, we've decided it's a good idea to start everyday by getting our brains "ready" to learn.
So this morning we started our day with one of these awesome interactive dance videos!
We danced away to this one first:
It was so much fun, but very confusing for a not-so-light-on-her-feet teacher!

To start a more in-depth discussion about spiritual health, I'll be reading this book to the class this week:
It's a story that you can read in a very open-ended way, stopping along the way to have students turn and talk, share in small groups, or discuss as a class, because the three questions are kind of big ones that are difficult to understand as is.
The main character, Nikolai, just wants to know how to be a good person.
He asks his friends and gets very different answers.
In the end he has made a very interesting discovery...
It's more correct to say we'll be examining the book as spiritual in the way of being mindful.
Recognizing our selves, recognizing our actions, and understanding our impacts.

We've also done a small bit of "inner thinking" (or meditation) using this website:

And at the risk of being misunderstood, I've arranged to have a certified yoga instructor (a class parent!) come in to lead a beginning yoga session.
She did warn me that this is a bit of an issue in the US, hence the focus on mindfulness rather than spirituality in our classroom.
I'm really interested to see how my grade three's will react to it.
I feel I'm lucky to have such an open class, so all should be fine.
It seems inevitable, though, to get some giggles with 20 other 8-year-olds all stretching out and trying to find their "center" in our school Fitness Room!
I've been meaning to try yoga for a long time now, so this is a sneaky way to bring it into the classroom that I'm definitely looking forward to.

Friday, October 4, 2013


This is a really cool website to share with your class:

Basically it asks a totally random question about the world and offers answers using videos and articles.
It boosts imagination and curiosity.
It can be used in SO many different ways!
And you can subscribe to the daily wondering by email...

PS - they're also on twitter.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

emotional and mental well-being in the classroom

We've been learning a lot about Wellbeing these days as part of our Inquiry:
Emotional, physical, spiritual, environmental, mental, and social health
and finding balance in our daily lives.
In order to help students understand emotional wellbeing a bit more, I read this book:

This is such a beautiful story.
It deals with a pretty heavy situation but one that is only to be inferred - the story never tells us explicitly whether the girl's father passes away, leaves the family, or what.
It's all about how the young girl, once curious about everything around her, places her heart in a protective "bottle" when her father is no longer there to guide her wonderings.
It follows her as she grows, as she comes to deal with this huge loss and then how she begins to overcome it.
Our class discussion afterward was so rich and incredible.
Tomorrow I'll read this book 
and have the students come up with a way to show their connections to and understandings of one of the stories.

Today, to connect our understanding of mental health, students inquired into this question:

Does exercise help our mental abilities?
{Thanks to a student for coming with this Wednesday Wondering for us!}
They created experiments to test their hypotheses and it was amazing to watch them get straight to work, figuring out how to test this big question and how to measure the results. 
My VP happened to come in just as they were beginning their experiments and, happily, he gave some great positive feedback.
Particularly about how quickly the students were able to find a "smart" partner independently.
And what's funny is I hadn't even considered that to be a great skill since I'm so used to the kids doing it on their own all the time now! 
When we talk about finding partners for any activity, the kids always say:
You need to find a smart partner.
You need to be a smart partner.
They know that a smart partner is someone that will allow you to remain focused and will not be a distraction.

Experiments ranged from doing jumping jacks and then answering some standard addition questions to jogging on the spot and then writing a series of sentences about their personal interests. 
Smart bunch!
Most groups decided that exercise has a positive impact on our mental health, but some weren't so sure.
Tomorrow I'm going to show this video and see if they have any connections or further inquiries:

And next week we're going to be discussing what makes us happy and how we can be our happiest selves. 
Looking forward to that for sure!

Friday, September 27, 2013

kids are funny

Just thought I'd share some things that made me laugh out loud today:
Found this notepad in the bottom of the cupboard today. "Dear ms phillips, I am really sorry that I took this . Next time I will ask you before I take it. David {sad face}"  
Awesome. Didn't even know it was missing!


These addition regrouping problems are apparently a little terrifying for some.

We did a CSI about grade 3 in our learning journals: If you had to choose a colour, symbol, and image to represent grade three, what would they be? This "green" from one of my ESL cuties. "I choose this because color green makes my mind fresh. Sometimes, when I think about green, I feel trees are eating trash in my haed." 
How beautiful?

If only this were the case.... 
When asked to explain in words how he came to the correct answer when solving a Math problem: "I don't think I am rong beacuse MR.S PHILLIPS teach me so how it can be rong."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

black, white, and neon all over! {some classroom pics}

A few classroom photos to tide me over in the too-busy-to-blog time :)
We have had some very dark and dreary Manila days here with the typhoon circling around us, but I tried to get the brightest shots I could.

We've just started up the 100 Book Club in class and I like the visual of tracking with beads. Plus the kids seem really excited about this "program."

We've done a lot of talking about active listening.

Yes, it drives me a little crazy that I didn't think to measure out the spaces between each set of coloured paper.

I have a few students already fluent in many Math concepts, so this is a board full of extension questions that focus on the standards being addressed during lessons.

MATH rotations. The white boards look ugly, yes, but it's so easy to switch students in/out of groups and to rotate groups through.

Jobs board

One of my new favourite parts of the room: Wonderings Wall. With the Inquiry curriculum I've started student I-Time (read more about that here - it's an amazing time jam-packed with student engagement), and this is a space where students will put up their Post-It questions. There are no questions up at this point because we hadn't yet talked about the difference between Thick and Thin questions - it looks a bit messier now with their ideas posted, but that's what learning's all about!

This is a shot of one of the courtyards at our school. It is such a peaceful place to be (when the high school students are not switching classes haha).