Sunday, May 27, 2012

Donations for School Projects

One year many moons ago, I asked parents of my students to keep their empty wrapping paper rolls to send in to make rain sticks.  I also just bought a fabulous necklace at my school's E-Fair, with a flower shape pendant made from beverage can tabs and a little ribbon.  Donations of this kind of "worthless" materials to re-use are one thing, but how do you feel about schools soliciting donations of electronics, money for building playgrounds and the myriad other expenses that arise for the basics - and beyond - in education?

I've felt little twinges of jealousy knowing that a service such as Donor’s Choose is available to my American counterparts to help them to meet technology and other needs (and desires) in their classrooms.  Essentially a teacher can describe a need or request for their classroom and the public can help them out by choosing which projects to help fund.  In the spirit of extreme couponing, there are even "matching codes" which can be found online to double up the donations received.  As someone who bought equipment I felt was essential for my class this year with my own money, I'd like to take advantage of this kind of a service.       

Then I recently stumbled across a facebook group opposing the Donors Choose project and it gave me a different perspective.  I do "get" the argument that adequate funding for education should be provided by the government for equitable access to quality education for all. And I know teachers in the U.S.A. are not compensated nearly as well as an experienced teacher here in Canada is, which makes me wonder about how well funded their schools and classrooms are.

But the reality is that when technology and funding is spread evenly over classrooms, sometimes it does get stuck on a back storage shelf unused until it is obsolete. This can unfortunately happen when a teacher doesn't have an interest in, or the know-how to use the technology effectively...maybe through his or her own stubbornness or perhaps more often due to lack of training and timely support for using new technology. Meanwhile, other teachers spend tons from their own pocketbooks to organize special learning projects for their students and make them happen.

So, with that being said, if you're a Canadian teacher interested in pursuing a grant, here are a couple of possible sources:
  1. Best Buy's "Best in Class" fund 
  2. The History Education Network's THEN funding program
  3. Vernier's Probeware grants
  4. Curriculum Services Canada
  5. The Computers for Schools program (for refurbished computers)
  6. Ontario Teachers Federation grants (see page 5 of this document)
Please let me know of any other sources I ought to add to this list for other teachers!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Making Study Hall Cool

We've had middle school students spilling out into the hallway this year to stay in and work on their French at recess.  How?

First, I ought to mention that we are a "triple track" school... although I might be making up that term.  "Dual track" is commonly used, at least in Ontario, to describe a school that offers both Core French and French Immersion.  At my school, in addition to students who started studying French for 120 hours a year in grade 4, and the immersion students who began in grade 1 (with 90% French, then moving to half of their schedule for grades 2 and beyond), we also have late entry French immersion that begins in grade 7.

At my last school, the 8th grade teachers offered a "Study Club" during lunch recess to give those students who required more time to complete a test, were behind on a project, or needed some additional explanation about a concept a place to get that support.  This was a way to make the students accountable for their learning and progress, and to offer them the support they needed while ensuring that multiple teachers weren't tied up offering this support daily to a handful of students. 

So when I arrived at a new school this September and another teacher suggested that since I was an itinerant teacher on a cart, I could use her room for extra help or detentions if needed during lunch, I counter-offered that we take turns. Together we decided to "rally the troops" and to see if a number of teachers would be willing to take an assigned day of the schedule as an extra supervision.  This is of course unpaid, and does not replace any supervision assigned by the office, so it is entirely voluntary. Because we do have a number of French teachers who this benefits, we did manage to have all days of the schedule covered.  Even through a couple of staff changes due to leaves of absence, we have been able to have that mostly maintained for the entire year.  Thanks to my generous colleagues who agreed to give up one lunch hour a week for this service!

We made announcements in the school newsletter (more than once), had leaflets available during Interview Night (and could have handed them out even more proactively during Open House in the fall, had we been set up a little earlier).  There were also daily announcements indicating the location and supervising teacher, and notices printed on brightly coloured paper and stapled to bulletin boards in key locations around the school. You can download a blank version of the 8.5 x 11" poster I made if you'd like.

Does your school offer a place for students to catch up on work?  Or do teachers have to offer extra support to their own students daily?  If it is offered in one location, does it include French? I'd love for you to leave me a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Create a Musical with French Students - or Watch One At Least!

Don Meiners is one talented guy!  He is an experienced high school French teacher here in Ontario, who takes a very unique and novel approach to having his students participate in French.  Over each summer break, Mr. Meiners sits down and repeatedly watches a recent children's movie.  He does this to transform the film into a musical production "en fran├žais" that his students will perform for others, raising money for various charitable organizations with the modest ticket price they charge.  Don writes original lyrics to popular tunes that the students will recognize and to which they will respond emotionally.

His students then work hard all year creating costumes, choreographing dance moves, recording music, learning lines, and then practicing, practicing, practicing.  There's a a place for everyone to contribute in Mr. Meiners' classes, whatever their language level or interest.  Everyone loves music, and dancing, and dressing up like a lemur!  Ok, well, maybe that last one isn't for everyone, but SOMEBODY'S gotta do it!

I recently took about 100 grade 7 students to watch "Kung Fu Panda" performed - in a simplified manner - in a 50 minute French presentation, filled with song and dance.

Elmvale District High School's Core French Students Performing French Musical Version of Kung Fu Panda

We included all three levels of French (core, extended and immersion) for this trip, and I'm glad we did!  I would like to say that all the attendees loved it, but that wouldn't be true.  When I asked my core students for their impressions right afterwards, they curled their noses up at it.  But when I pressed them a little, they felt that it should be offered again to next year's grade 7s, if there is a chance to do so.  I think it just wasn't cool to admit to liking anything French!  Many of the immersion students however were very enthusiastic about it!

In previous years, Mr. Meiners' students have also performed Madagascar, Toy Story, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and Shrek.
(Madagascar performance photos courtesy of Elmvale District High School web site)

When you make arrangements to attend the show, Don sends you a CD and accompanying lyrics in advance so that you can prepare your students to comprehend the plot line better, and yes, perhaps even to sing along!

I attended Mr. Meiners' OMLTA workshop a few years ago, and was awed by this man.  (You can read the workshop synopsis here.)  Basically, the gist of his workshop is that anyone could do what he does, but I beg to differ.  I sat there stumped, unable to rhyme anything at all in the fill in the blanks activities that he gave us to practice with, let alone fathom the idea that I would be able to sit down and write lyrics... yes, even simple and repetitive ones... to a dozen songs or so!

I can't help but hope that in the future, he makes his creations available to other French teachers brave enough to engage their students in this all-encompassing dramatic approach!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

International Penpals: Encourage kids to write, speak, listen & explore culture in the Target Language

My school board just had a Professional Learning day (aka PD day) devoted to educational technology to which I had the honour of contributing. My family of schools (the secondary school in my area, and all of the lower-grade schools which feed into it) collaborated to offer a series of presentations, workshops and information sharing meetings.  Each teacher got to pick three to attend in total.  There were a wide array of options offered, according to various teacher-presenters' areas of expertise and tech-infused projects we had experienced first hand.

I shared the website ePals, which I've used as a main component of a bilingual correspondence project in the past couple of years.

Keep in mind that it's up to you to decide what other technology to integrate to best suit your needs and your students needs and interests!  You could have them record themselves using a microphone & computer, or a iPod or other mobile device, or even a digital recorder!  Make a movie showing each of your students sharing a couple of sentences about themselves, the school, our country.  If time zone differences permit, organize a live online real-time chat using video or simply a text chat room.  The possibilities are endless.

As part of my grade 8 courses, I've connected my classes with other classes in francophone areas of the world where students are learning English in school.  Here is a zip file containing my presentation, sample permission letter, organization chart to track which classes communicate with which schools (in which countries, and with what types of preferences...) and some other resources I've created for this endeavour.  Feel free to use these for your own class projects!  I'm very open to any feedback and improvements that you can suggest for me as well, as this is something I plan to continue and do find a bit of a struggle to organize without feeling the workload pinch!  The students love it so much, that I have a student with an IEP indicating an exemption from Core French but this student still wanted to be part of the project.  Another student is seeking an exemption, and also wants to continue to correspond with the international pen pal.

Source: - Mary R. Vogt

I see the work I put into this as just one step in combating the negative attitudes of my learners towards this subject area that is so near and dear to my heart.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Importance of Graphic Design - a self-reflection

This post is a bit of a downer, but it's done in the spirit of self-reflection and self-improvement. I'll be adding another one... maybe later today if I'm lucky that's more universally French-teacher-relevant and hopefully inspirational! So, feel free to skip this and wait for the next blog post if you aren't in the mood.

I often think I really ought to take a graphic design course.  It would keep me from spending hours looking for the right clip art and textual elements to accompany an activity for school, or for my kids' birthday parties, and the myriad other life events for which I find myself getting the creativity bug, but it would prevent "oopsies" like this one...

This "How to booklet" procedural writing template, adapted from an English version made available by NicoleB on TpT, is the latest freebie I added to my freebie downloads page.  While I think it's a perfectly valid assignment, and who doesn't love having a template ready to go for classroom activities like this, is this not the ugliest thing you've ever seen?  Sigh! I don't think there's anything wrong with the individual graphical elements that I used, I just have no idea how to put them together for the best effect.  It's completely trial and error for me, and this, alas was a big no-no, I see now.  I'll be replacing the cover page with a second attempt.  If it's not better, please leave me a quick comment to let me know!  {wink}

We do the same thing in our classrooms, right?  Try new ideas and strategies, and sometimes we do it skillfully, while others (especially if it's just an idea, and we haven't had the proper training or exposure to the elements behind an approach) things might go a little like my cover page layout went!

PS:  I guess I ought to change the colour of my signature so that it fits in better with the new template as well!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who's Out There in Teacher-Blogland?

I got a blog-makeover last weekend, and I still adore the look I picked.  Or maybe it picked me, because I wasn't actively looking for a new design at this time.  But I stumbled across Honey Bunch Blog Design, and they have the MOST BEAUTIFUL pre-made templates which they sell only once, meaning I won't find 100 other blogs with the same exact design, yet their prices are sooooo reasonable, that I splurged on my new blogging hobby!  I'd love to hear what you think, especially if you visited before the redesign!  I really wish I had thought to take a "before" screenshot to share with you now, and just to look back at my pre-made/self-made patch job and see how much happier I am with the blog layout now.

Also, I'm looking to add to my blog roll below, specifically for French teaching blogs.  If you're out there reading this, and write your own blog related to your French as a Second Language classes, your teaching trials and tribulations, or great resources that you've made or found, this is an open invitation to let me know about you!  The two blogs already listed are really fabulous and you should definitely check them out, if you haven't already.

Short and simple post this time... more updates and shared resources really soon!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

TpT Huge Teacher Appreciation Sale & Giveaways

The web site TeachersPayTeachers is having a sale right now, in honour of Teacher Appreciation Day in the United States.  It starts today and runs through the May 9th.  Lots of teacher-authors will be discounting their entire stores or selected items up to 20%, and then you can use coupon code TAD12 to get 10% more off upon checkout. You do need a free account to download free or paid items. 
Don't already have a free membership?  I'd love it if you use my Referral Link to get signed up either as a buyer or a seller (still for free!) if you envision yourself uploading some original materials there some day in the near future, or cleaning out your gently used teacher materials cupboards ... maybe on some downtime this summer? 

I also know that there are also about 130 teacher-authors each making one product which is regularly priced $3-8 FREE for one day only (Sunday)... Welcome to the Teacher Appreciation Jackpot, which is in effect for TODAY ONLY!
Find out more about that here if you want junior materials or here for intermediate!  Happy shopping! 
PS: There is a primary link as well, so poke around on the other two blogs linked above if you are interested in great free resources for that level!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Sales

I don't even think that I've ever mentioned that I have a (small!) Shop on the web site Teachers Notebook as well.  What is cool about this web site from my perspective is that your entire payment amount goes directly to the teacher who created and posted the product that you buy.  There is a cost to set up a shop at Teachers Notebook, and I find that it's a little harder to navigate the categories than the other place you can find my materials.  Also, there is more advertising on this site, but do you find you become a little immune to it after a while?

Anyway, I'm sharing this with you now because there are lots of sales this week on TN because of Teacher Appreciation Day in the US.  So, I'm offering 20% off all of my materials there from May 5-11.

Also, when you purchase anything there visit the site during this time frame, you may enter to win a $100 shopping spree each day... welcome to the Teacher Appreciation Week Sweepstakes!

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