Wednesday, 25 June 2014

1 Week!

Holy smokes, I leave in a week! (plus like 9 hrs, but who's keeping track?)

Currently, I am watching The Lego Movie with my assortment of grade 7-9 students. They're actually being quiet, huge teacher win.

I'd like to take an opportunity to brag about them because they are actually mind-blowingly rad and super impressive kids, but don't worry, it's still travel related and therefore not a teacher blog yet!

I accepted a sub job at a local Junior High teaching in a PLP (Paced Learning Program) class for kids with mild-moderate cognitive delays or, in some cases, extreme behaviors that have impacted their ability to perform at grade level. When I initially accepted the job I thought it was 3 days, turned out to be 5 weeks, and then got extended to the end of year, just shy of 2 full months.
I showed up on the first day and they had binders and binders of worksheets for Social and LA, not to be mistaken for binders of women </political_joke>.  I hated worksheets as a student and now, as a teacher, find that they have a time and place and might work for some teachers, but just really don't for me. I like to be more hands-on and involved in what's going on in the classroom (that's why I'm showing a movie and writing a blog post right now!). So, knowing that I would be here for at least 5 weeks, wanting to enjoy myself, and being handed a class with no curriculum (!!!!!!!), I did what anyone would do and gave them a guided inquiry project so that I would have to do no lesson planning. Woooooo! Who likes extra work?
Now, it's not like you go to teaching school and then are just handed a book full of guided inquiry projects so it took me a few days to come up with something. A few gruelling days of worksheets. Whatever we ended up doing had to include some reading, writing, and visual representation for LA, worldview, and cultural exploration for Social, and some daily living skills just because that's included in the PLP program. That's not hard to work together, but just enough different components that it takes some extra thought. During prep on one of these days, I was checking out the google doc that Steph, Dani, and I have been using to map out our trip and then it came to me... travel projects, specifically travel guides.

Here's the teacher-y bit... I paired the students up so that one at a higher reading level was working with one at a lower reading level to allow for some peer tutoring, this was also meant to encourage team work and allow them to work on conflict resolution. The components of their travel guide were all laid out with an explanation of what was expected but no information, this is the inquiry part, they were expected to use the internet, text books, library books, and any other resources they could find to gather the necessary information. Each student had to deliver an individual final product that included the following:
1) A hand-drawn title/cover page - I found that these students had almost no opportunity to be creative so this was their chance. They had to hand-draw something that was representative of their destination and/or trip.
2) World Map - The only worksheet-esque thing in this project. They had to use a world map handout to label Calgary and their destination and then draw a direct flightpath between the two. I learned from this that most of my students couldn't identify continents, oceans, or even where Calgary fit in Canada. Hugely concerning.
3) Destination information - Just some basic things about where they chose to research; language, food, industry, geography/environment, and 5 cool facts. This was meant to get their research process going and critical thinking skills warmed up.
4) Activity list - Continuing with the research, they had to find a minimum of 8 activities that could be done at their destination of choice, that number will make sense in a minute...
5) Packing list - They each had to think of a 4 day packing list that included everything they might need. Here's the life skills component - these kids don't necessarily think or know "I have to brush my teeth everyday," or "I smell bad if I don't put on deodorant," so this was an important teaching opportunity to get them to consider all that goes into daily hygiene. They also had to pack appropriate clothing for their destination. No parka at the beach, and definitely no Xbox to travel through London.
6) Travel info. - This is another life skills part, they had to figure out how to get themselves from the school to YYC and then from YYC to their destination. No calling your parents for a ride, we used Calgary Transit and Google flights.
7) Trip itinerary - Each kiddo either on their own, or with a partner, had to plan 4 days worth of a trip to their destination. They had to plan meal times and a menu based on their research from part 3, they had to include a minimum of 2 daily activities based on part 4, and they had to include a morning/evening routine using items they packed in part 5.
8) Postcard - Each student had to design a postcard for their destination and then write me a letter as though they were actually there. The letter had to include some trip components from part 7 and be addressed properly, something that they had learned earlier this year. (As a side note, these were actually so rad that I turned them into a photobook, the powers that be thought that was so rad that they dropped over $800 to order one for each of the kids)
Not a lot of work for grades 7-9 but when you consider that these kids work at a K-4 level and are used to very clear and structured worksheets, it was a lot of work for them.

Now, here's the fun bit... While we were working on the project the kids started to get really interested in their destinations. We had a lot of conversations about travelling, places we've been or want to go, experiences that were had. I talked a lot about my trips and my brother's trips. Graham was actually on his own Europe trip during all of this and they loved to hear about where he was and what he was doing. One of the EAs asked if I talked to him while he was travelling, which I did over Facetime, and she asked if there was a way to Skype with him and Gordon while they were actually on a trip since both of them are world travellers. I talked to the guys and they were willing to stay up late in London so we called them over the SmartBoard. The kids came prepped with questions about everything related to travel and it was great. Graham became an instant hero when he told them that he just really liked eating bread and talked about sky diving in Switzerland.
The kids blew me away with their final work. These guides are legit. They taught me things about places I've already been to and really went above and beyond what anyone thought they were even capable of. I got a 12 day trip to Paris, some comics about adventures in London and Orlando, a bonus history of Istanbul, and some really thoughtful, well written work. I wanted to give them a chance to show off their work so I setup a showcase for them on June 13 (also, my birthday, so why not party?). We invited the Principal and AP, their Phys Ed, Math/Science, and option teachers, the office staff, Guidance, and had Graham come in as a special guest. The classroom was moved around so that each partner group had a table to share their work and talk about their trip. It was amazing! Everyone was so impressed with everything that they did and I was so so so proud of them.
So, if you ever want to plan a trip to London, Paris, Istanbul, Orlando, Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York City, Bora Bora, Honolulu, Maui, Rio de Janeiro, Barbados, or Berlin, I know some kids that could help you out.

And now, a picture of sunset in Istanbul, because this is still a travel blog.