Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Student teachers

Every year we have student teachers or as the university has started calling them, teacher candidates. This year we have three student teachers and once again, I find myself struggling with my role as a teacher librarian and their role as student teachers.

In the fall, when the student teachers come to the school for their one week observation, I make sure I book an appointment with them and go over the role of a teacher librarian, what the library program is all about and where to find 'stuff'.  When they come back to start their actual practicums, I have these conversations with them again. I also stress that it is important that they try to book time in the library for a variety of reasons:

1. I want them to try and plan a project
2. I want them to collaborate with a teacher librarian
3. I want them to see the skills that teacher librarians are teaching the students
4. I want them to experience the space that is the library. In terms of classroom management, it is a different space.

I do struggle with the collaboration side of things though. I don't want the student teachers to default to me and, as a result, have me plan the whole project. But I've also seen what projects student teachers come up with and I don't want them to have the project go sideways on them and then they have negative experience about the library, library program and the teacher librarian. I think that collaborating with student teachers is so difficult because of what I believe is central to any successful planning: trust.

I also see problems with the gap between what the student teachers are taught at university and what the reality of the classroom is. I know that that disconnect has always been there but I think it is increasing. When I did my practicum, I needed to know how to 'chalk and talk' effectively, question students, create worksheets, devise tests and manage classroom behaviour. Now student teachers are arriving knowing about PBL, Kagan structures, Socratic circle and co-constructing criteria.  I agree that all of these are very useful educational strategies but if student teachers aren't grounded in the basics of knowing the curriculum and how to run a lesson, they can't make the leap to the aforementioned strategies.

And so I struggle. Thoughts?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

When school feels like family

I absolutely love my job and I think the world of my school. I am so fortunate to work with an incredible group of colleagues and they feel almost like family.

Last week was an emotional week as April 14th marked the 50th anniversary of Constable Neil Bruce's death. Our school, Constable Neil Bruce Middle, was named after the fallen Constable and is the only school in Canada to be named after a RCMP officer. In early February we began planning for the event with a group of teachers designing a series of lessons to teach the history about the event and give students insight into what kind of man Constable Bruce was.

Before school on Tuesday, April 14th I drove out to the site where Constable Bruce was fatally wounded to lay flowers at the cairn. District personnel and RCMP officers were already on site at Powers Creek, setting up for the morning ceremony. Our school's Outdoor Education class was going to be part of the morning ceremony, first hiking down to the creek to the actual site were Constable Neil Bruce was shot and then each student would place a carnation at the memorial.

At school, we spent an anxious morning waiting. Around 12:30 our guests began to arrive and packed the library to mingle. I can honestly say that I have never seen so many RCMP officers in their red serge in one place before. At 1:05 we began our assembly. As a teacher, I was apprehensive about our students and how they would behave during a sombre assembly that would involve a lot of speeches. To say I was astounded by the respectful behaviour of the students during such a long and emotional assembly would be an understatement. The students were amazing. The highlight of the afternoon had to be when our grade 9 slam poet got up and delivered an emotional piece about Constable Neil Bruce. After he finished, the retired officers stood up and started a standing ovation. To see that sea of red uniforms stand as one for an ovation was incredibly emotional.

At the end of the school day, I left the building so very proud of our students. I believe our guests (current and retired RCMP officers, along with Constable Neil Bruce's family) left the assembly knowing that we as a school didn't just go through the motions of commemorating a 50th anniversary; we were genuine in recognizing and remembering Neil.

I, like so many of my colleagues, felt tears well up last Tuesday. But what got to me most was that my heart felt full and I simply didn't want to leave the building that day.  I guess that's what it feels like when school is like family.

To read about Constable Neil Bruce, click here

Friday, 17 April 2015

Devon Energy's Science Giants Grant

Late last June, I found out that we were recipients of Devon Energy's Science Giants Grant.  With grant money, we purchased a 3D printer, a 3D scanner and filament of various colours to augment our science and enrichment programs.  Our 3D printer and accompanying filaments arrived quickly and immediately put into use, first in the enrichment program and then in the science classes. The 3D scanner took longer to acquire due to shipping errors but did finally arrive in January.

The science teachers were very excited to put the new equipment to use and I have been amazed at the student projects that have been created. 

If you have the opportunity to incorporate 3D printers in your classroom, I highly recommend it.  Below are some examples of 3D printing projects that we have done this year.

 Science/Mathematics – grade 8 – Tessellation 
In this assignment, students created a complex shape which can be used to tile a 2D plane. Using Google Sketchup, students followed a given set of instructions to design a tracing block to be used to create a tessellating pattern on paper, in the style of M.C. Escher.

  Science/Mathematics - grade 8 – Lost in Space

In this project, students learned about volume and surface area while preparing for their ultimate task: designing and constructing a key to fit into an existing lock. The 3D printed locks were provided by the teacher. The keys were designed (once again with Google Sketchup) to fit the lock, and then 3D printed, by the students.
 Enrichment 7, 8 and 9

Students have been working on a variety of projects. They started with designing and printing key fobs then they moved to designing and printing parts for their Lego Robots for a Lego Robotics competition. Students recently finished printing their robotic action figures that they designed to have 5 degrees of mobility.

Information Technology 7

With the 3D printer being incorporated into the science classes, the IT teacher decided to teach students how to use Google Sketch Up in their grade 7 IT class to aid the science/math teachers.

Teachers are excited about the endless possibilities for incorporating 3D technology in the classroom. Although we initially intended that the 3D printer would be used in the science classes, we did not realize the spillover to other classes that would occur. Suddenly we are looking at designing mini rockets, creating hydraulics, the applications for art and how we can use this technology in the shop classes. Students are mesmerized by the 3D printer itself and are excited to be designing and doing different hands-on activities.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Shelf Challenge

I've decided to participate in the shelf challenge again this year. As a middle school teacher librarian, my challenge is to read the dust covers of every book on one shelf in my library. I've decided to pick the much neglected Y/Z shelf. The poor Y/Z authors have their books on a low shelf that students walk past as they enter the library. The coveted shelf space is held by the F-MC authors. These shelves are the shelves students gravitate to and I know the contents of these shelves quite well.

Truth be told, I haven't started reading the Y/Z dust covers. I have crouched down and looked at all the books and I discovered that all these books look delicious and have great covers. I also now know that I'm dealing with quite a few different authors and a variety of genres are represented. And so, with all that in mind, I have decided to up the ante on my shelf challenge. I am going to try to read all the books on the Y/Z shelf. I realize that I'm going to fail my self imposed challenge but I also know that I'll read some new gems that I can share with students. I've started with the Birthright trilogy by Gabrielle Zevin. I finished reading book one, All These Things I've Done, which I loved and have already passed it on to a student to read.

With one Y/Z book already in the hands of a student, I guess the shelf challenge has already worked its magic. With only three weeks left in the challenge, I have to get back to the Y/Z author To Be Read pile...

Monday, 13 April 2015

Rep Day

Today we participated in Rep Day with MP Dan Albas coming in to the school to talk to a grade 8 and a grade 9 class. I am always nervous about having a guest presenter in the classroom. I worry that the presenter won't show up. I worry that maybe he/she will need something that I haven't thought about. I am, of course, also nervous about my students. Truth be told, I am more nervous about my students than I am about the presenter. A Monday morning presentation about life as a MP - what was I thinking? Will my students embarrass me? Will they behave? Will they ask interesting questions? Will they remember anything that they have been taught?

All my worrying was for naught. I knew that Dan Albas would be a great presenter as I had the opportunity to listen to him speak to students last year.  Indeed, his presentation was great. Dan spoke passionately about his role as a MP and invited students to interrupt him at any time with questions, which they did. Phew. He also made sure he asked them to participate, by show of hands, to a series of questions which ensured that even the most quiet or shy students took part in the presentation.

What I love about Rep Day is that it brings politics to the students. For us in the Okanagan, Victoria is distant and Ottawa is simply worlds away. Suddenly, students can listen and talk to their Member of Parliament and hear not only what he does while in Ottawa but also what he does while he is home (and the amount of time he spends flying between the two). In the span of an hour, we talked about everything from how a bill becomes a law, to provincial and federal jurisdictions to what's being done about invasive species in the Okanagan.

I hope that these students were really listening to that one message that flowed throughout Dan's presentation: that Canada is an incredible democracy and it is important for Canadians to be involved and vote. If the students didn't hear it today, they will be hearing about the importance of democracy and voting a lot in the run up to the October 19th federal election and our own school's Student Vote.

A big thank you to Dan Albas for coming in to the school and talking to teenagers on a Monday morning. Also, a big thank you to CIVIX Canada for organizing and coordinating the event. If you would like more information about the programs that CIVIX offers, such as Rep Day and Student Vote, check out their website here