Wednesday 26 June 2013

Really Understanding Real Work

We recently completed the Vikings unit in our Social Studies 8 class.  I try hard at getting students to think about the actual work that the Vikings did in order to survive and I really want kids to get how tough it was to live back then, but also realize how much we take hard, physical work for granted.

The Vikings were great mariners because they explored other areas across the Atlantic Ocean, and they just plain spent much of their time in coastal regions.  Their ability to survive was dependent on their ability to create reliable boats that could carry men (and loot), which meant a lot of time and resources went into creating decent boats.

To get students to understand the difficulty of creating a watertight boat I had students create a scale model of the real thing.  The students were split into groups of 4 and they were given some raw materials - solid maple - to cut, shape, and assemble.  Kids got into the shop and actually cut the maple into ribs, cut the maple plies, and glued and nailed their work together in a generally authentic Viking design.  It took a total of 5 or 6 classes to complete.  We then took our boats on the last day of school before spring break and floated them on the lake and tested their weight carrying capacity and their "watertightness".  Many kids had projects that held several large rocks - weighing an amount comparable to a gallon of milk.  I was impressed and the kids had a great time.

What I liked most about this project is that students had to work co-operatively, carefully, and be focused to get these in the water by the deadline.  They learned how painstaking the process is to create a quality boat - one that in real life would carry many people to far off lands.  Everyone had a good time (and learned a lot about boat building) but the best part was watching the kids proudly watch their work sail off the dock - even the students who aren't typically successful in Social Studies.

Post courtesy of Kevin Bond

Monday 24 June 2013

The Year at Princess Margaret

Here is a three minute video with some highlights from the Different Lens collaborative group at Princess Margaret Secondary.

Or the one-minute version...

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Virtual Confederation Conference (French Immersion Social Studies)

Socials 10 Chapter 2: Canada 1840-1870 (Confederation). The level of French in the textbook is too difficult for my students and they struggle with tests but also with group projects and presentations. So I decided to try creating a social website wherein each would take on the role of a historical figure involved in Confederation. Their contributions to the site would then count as a unit project rather than a test.

We're not quite finished yet but so far the feedback has been very positive and I've only had to erase one post in English! Each student has posted a profile of their person, added a topic to the discussion board and have started expressing the opinions and reasons of their character on the discussions. Without prompting several students have added content such a photos, a video, events and groups. Although it's not part of the evaluation criteria they love using the instant chat function and most of that is even on topic.

Other ideas for a social website: Digestive system (each student takes on the role of a different organ), Francophone countries, or countries in one of the World Wars, citizens in New France, characters from a novel study....
I'm using "", Students do have to put in an e-mail address but beyond that is secure and ad-free. Comes all set-up and easy to re-format. One month free trial. And best of all in my opinion - French interface!

Post courtesy of Denise Lipscombe 

Sunday 9 June 2013

New Ideas (Literature 12)

Right in the middle of the Victorian unit are two poems that I have always loved but have always had limited success with. They aren't very "active" (no plot or action-mainly symbolism and imagery). At the same time they are very powerful and memorable and I wanted the students to connect them to their own lives. Earlier in the year, Shauna Reid showed me a project she did with her English 9 students where they made simple locker magnets and I thought this might be a perfect activity to help students:

a) Focus on key ideas in the poems
b) Make a personal and lasting connection with the poems
c) Create a visual connection to the words
d) Add a small hands-on activity in the middle of two fairly "bookish" and lower-energy days in class

The magnets worked very well. Students had to choose their favourite quotes from each of the two poems. Then they needed to add a visual to go with the words. Usually I require all artwork in the class to be original (because I don't care what it looks like-artistic expression is not a requirement of Literature 12) but in this case I wanted students to actually put this up somewhere public. To improve the odds of students creating something that was visually appealing,  they were given the option to bring in a personal photo or to get an image off the internet. The students decorated small sheets of watercolour paper (chopped up from bigger sheets) and then covered each side with packing tape and attached a cheap magnet strip ($2.50 for the whole class from the dollar store) to the back of each one. The students were extremely focused on the activity so the negative side was that it took 45 minutes in class instead of the 30 minutes I had allotted. I do have a fairly large number of artistic students in the class and this activity certainly lent itself to their strengths.

The activity options were broad enough that all of the students were able to create something that was personally meaningful and aesthetic. Above are 4 different styles. Top Left: the student brought in his own set of watercolour paints to create his magnet. Bottom left: student is passionate about travelling next year so he made 3 magnets (one was translated to Dutch). He used images off the internet. Top Right: Artistic student used the materials provided in class (extra fine sharpies) to create all images Bottom Right: student brought in a stamp to make an artistic image.

Post courtesy of Naryn Searcy

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Archaeology (Socials 7)

The topic of the lesson was to investigate the 5 different scientific methods used by archaeologists.  

I separated the class into small groups and gave each group a "mini-dig site".  Essentially these were shoe boxes filled with sand and shards of pottery.  To create each "mini-site" I wrote one of the scientific techniques (i.e.: Statistical Analysis, like the picture to the left) on an old pot, smashed it in a paper bag and poured the shards into a shoe box.

After students worked together in their groups to figure out what the words said, they had to research each technique and present their findings to the class.

This was one of the coolest lessons this year.  The questions and discussion that emerged from actually "being archaeologists" was definitely interesting. 

Post courtesy of Nick Korvin 

Sunday 2 June 2013

Connecting Through In-School Suspension

The day started in the usual manner. Same old exciting routine. Students arriving at 7:30 am and equipment out and about. In walks the VP and informs me that a student will be joining me today for an in-school suspension job shadow this fine day.

Interesting way to connect to a struggling student...take the time, make that, make the time to have them complete work in your classroom.  Through the completion of tasks "Hank" worked well and expressed the personal struggle to make good choices, avoid "following", the lack of rules at home and the need for the school to help him stay "good".

Conversation led to me understanding that I am the closest thing he has to rules and imposed guidance. Hank expressed he has no rules until he comes to school.  "I don't get lectures at home." For this boy we have become much more than teachers in the realm of the classroom.

 I tried to make the day "work" as it was an in-school suspension,  not a holiday or fun connection.  Hank was given jobs to complete and I would give a behaviour/focus topic in discussion and then leave him to the task at hand.

He surprisingly enjoyed the menial tasks and completed them to a standard of high quality. I made him complete a personal workout after discussing active, healthy lifestyles. He did this weight room workout willingly and with a strong personal effort.  We discussed the importance of school completion and in this setting it became clear that he values education, values stability, values respect and values positive social interactions.

The truth of the matter is that he can not create this on his own; he lacks the home support and personal strength of conviction to steer his own ship clear of the hazards of life. With school, he swims ...without school he tends to float for awhile then sink. How long to rock bottom?

It is obvious he may need our life jackets of support to stay above water.

Note: because of the personal and specific nature of this post the teacher's name is not provided, as it could potentially reveal the identity of the student.