Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ich bin käse....

It has been a few weeks since my last post and I have been busy, traveling, sick, and busy again. I have started my just over six hours of German classes per week and not getting home until 9 two nights per week is making the weeks go quite fast. I am glad I didn't have to go to graduate classes much during the weeks I was teaching otherwise I might not have ever finished my master's degree.

German class is going well and is actually really fun! It is fun being like a kid again and learning something for the first time. Usually when I go to professional development stuff in education, it is very cerebral... so it is fun doing something that is just basic. Don't get me wrong, basic does not equal easy!
To learn the alphabet, we had to dictate words to each other and spell them. After a long day of teaching and a few hours of German class, the spelling words degenerated into silliness. Brain fry = reversion to 7th grade. But, let's be honest, I'm never far off!
German grammar is not easy! And, there are more articles and pronouns than I know what to do with! I don't think this will be my last German class if I really want to learn the language! Just like when I was in Spain and we thought it was hilarious to ask "How is the bathroom?" instead of "Where is the bathroom?" we have gotten stuck on nonsensical phrases like Ich bin käse which means...I am cheese. But, it lets us practice the ä which is different from a regular a. Anyway, generally, by the end of the 3 hours and 20 minutes class after a long work day, I am delirious and a bit silly.

The class is through an adult/continuing education program offered by the city. It will go until December so I should have a decent foundation by the end of the semester. At least, hopefully, I will be able to speak to waiters and the check-out people at the grocery store without just staring blankly at them all the time. There are people from all over the world in my class, mostly business people who would like to learn German for work. There are also two teenage boys in the class with faux-hawks who talk the entire time. They don't speak English so our teacher warnings (there are six of us from school in the class of 22) fall on deaf ears. The German teacher told them to go home the other day. Ugh. But, comical nonetheless.

In other news...

Last weekend I went to Holland with my friend Rhonda (Canadian but taught in Norway the last three years!). We went to Rotterdam on Friday after school on the train. It took just over two hours to get there. Her aunt and uncle from Canada were there for work so we met up with them. In actuality, even though we stayed in Rotterdam, we spent the whole weekend in Amsterdam which is only a 40 minute local train ride away. It was a super fun weekend (except poor Rhonda got a wicked cold which I now have!).
(My mom and dad will be visiting the shoe in stay tuned!!!)
I love Amsterdam (and not for the reasons everyone always jumps to) because it is a beautiful city. The canals and 400 year old canal houses are just gorgeous. Every single house is unique and I love watching people fly safely around on their bikes because there are bike lanes everywhere! We mostly just walked around but did take a canal tour. You know me, can't stay away from river/canal/harbor cruises. Actually, I wouldn't have done it again in Amsterdam had I not been with people who'd never been there. Don't worry, I will do another one when my parents come to visit next month!

This was the perfect scene of Amsterdam. Bikes, canal boat visible through the rungs, and canal houses in the background. So interesting...except when you have to carry 900 pounds of luggage up the winding staircase like I did last year when Courtney and I were in Amsterdam. We'd had the bright idea that it would be better to share one huge bag instead of two small ones. Wasn't such a bright idea! 
Amsterdam and a weekend in Holland was also an opportunity to go on a carb bender! Except for a few beers here and there, I hadn't eaten sugar, potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, etc. for the last 9 weeks. The upside is that all of my clothes fit again and I got to tighten my belt a notch. The downside is that I live in Europe where there is SO MUCH deliciousness everywhere! So, I gave myself the weekend off and we started the minute we got to the train station!
They sell these delicious pretzels everywhere (brezel in German) and yes, I am drinking a Czech Budvar...I think where we ripped off Budweiser! I just like Pilsner, it has nothing to do with the label. 
The other reason for the bender when going to Holland is the BITTERBALLEN! They are deliciously fried balls of deliciousness. There is no other way to describe them, really. They are some sort of meat stew which is then deep fried and you dip them in mustard. I went ape-y for them last year when I was in Amsterdam with Courtney and I decided that being able to stuff my face with them was a good workout goal to keep me motivated over the last few weeks. I wish I could be motivated by things like good health, etc. but no, fried food is what does it for me!
Rhonda with some beers and bitterballen.  (I think the beers are Belgian but hey...Belgium is close!)
Amsterdam also has delightful small shops that are open on Sundays...unlike everything in Germany. There is no such thing as a relaxing Saturday because all errands have to be done on Saturdays as everything is closed (including grocery stores) on Sundays. In Holland, everything is still open so we spent most of Sunday shopping in the tiny streets of Amsterdam. Shopping however, was preceded by a viewing of the Canada vs. France World Cup Rugby match. Rhonda is a big rugby fan (and player) and so we met up with a friend of a friend in Amsterdam for some morning rugby watching at an Irish Pub.  Cappuccinos instead of beers.

A men's shoe store. Not in Colorado anymore. 
  This weekend wasn't quite as eventful as I ran a lot of errands. Not having a car makes errands take a lot longer. I don't miss having a car most of the time, but for carrying groceries, or a quick trip somewhere, it would be nice sometimes. Yesterday we ventured to a store called Obi which is like Home Depot because I really need some new curtains and some other stuff for my apartment. It took two trams and a bus ride to get there but we found it eventually.
Obi = Germany's version of Home Depot. It is even orange!
My favorite part? They had the German equivalent of Depot Dogs....Bratwurst! 
A lot of debacles and hilariousness often ensue when trying to buy things in a foreign country where you don't speak the language. There was a fair amount of sign language and pointing to buy some screws and don't even get me started on the curtain situation. That was WAY beyond my German vocabulary. Unless the German phrases needed are "What is your name? Where are you from? What languages do you speak? and What do you do for work?" then I am at a loss in most situations!

School is still going well. I still really like it there. And, speaking of, I need to end this post so I can do a little! I have a German test tomorrow! YIKES!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Beware..extreme teacher talk coming at ya!

If you are one of my new ISD colleagues reading this, I am afraid you are about to see the extent of my teacher geekiness springing forth. If you've been reading my blog for awhile (or taught with me) none of this extreme dorkiness will come as a surprise. But, in my defense, I know a few people reading this are my twins in teacher nerd-ness!

As I try to get all of the IBMYP (reminder...that means International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program) stuff straight in my head, I am really continuing to ponder and mull over the importance of making things visible for kids. This is something I have been working on for the last few years in my instructional practice...I mean, really, on the Tiger Team, we were known as the poster makers around the school. We were all obsessed with our word walls and "anchor charts" and managed to fill every available space by the end of the school year.
My basic "anchor charts" are the same in this school as they were at CBMS. I've developed a little system for the beginning of the year that when given the time, I will ALWAYS follow. I wasn't allowed to follow this last year and I paid for it dearly with classroom management issues and by the number of times I was called a bitch by students! 
Two summers ago I went to an institute called "Building Intellectual Character" that was focused around routines for thinking in the classroom. The institute was facilitated by Ron Ritchhart from Harvard's Project Zero who also has a book entitled "Building Intellectual Character." His latest book, and a heavy focus of the institute was on "Making Thinking Visible" which obviously, I (along with many teachers at CBMS, but especially the Tigers) had already bought into- as evidenced by the constant poster making. However, now, with the MYP, I am really starting to click with how entirely important that truly is.

Here are the beginnings of my implementation of "Making Thinking Visible." These are posters for each "Thinking Routine" that we have learned so far. After having my 8th graders write "Headlines" about the layers of the earth, I was EXTREMELY glad that I had taken the time to really teach the routine. "Start slow to go fast," is always true yet I am surprised every time for some reason!
The MYP at an international school is a different animal than in a regular public school. For starters, we do not have a mandated curriculum from a governing agency and therefore we are all curriculum designers (to which I say YAY because this is something I really enjoy but to some people, it totally sucks!) and our curriculum is a very dynamic thing. We are not able to just plan something (I know that public school teachers cannot do this either) and then do it year after year after year. The concept of "backwards design" is really taking on a whole new meaning to me and I am seeing how critically important well-planned assessment is to even beginning a unit. Because, how can you start a "journey" if you have no idea where you are trying to go?

But I digress...or do I?

There is so much thinking that goes into the planning of a unit. There are a lot more parameters to plan around than I have been used to. For example, at CBMS, I looked at the content I was required to teach and I developed my units (with backwards design) around that content. But in the MYP, there are about a million (or at least it feels like it) considerations to make. For example, not only do I have to plan around a unit question, and a well-planned assessment, now I also have to think about my Area of Interaction as a lens for the unit, but also what the "significant concept" is that can link to any content area, and what "approaches to learning" I am also going to embed and use as a lens for the unit. See how complicated it is? It is a very muddy and muddled process but I am getting lots of practice.

Oh look, I digressed (is that the past of digress or is there some other form of the word that I am forgetting) again...but I'm coming back to my original point, I swear...

So my point is this...if we want kids to understand all this (and ourselves), I think that making it visual for them is absolutely critical. They are expected to be able to speak about their experiences with the Areas of Interactions in depth by the time they finish the MYP program in 10th grade. But, how can this happen if it is all muddled up in their teachers' heads, let alone in their own? So, for the last few weeks, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how to un-muddle for all involved parties. And, guess what I came up with? POSTERS!!! (You could probably guess, I love them!) We are not talking about the kind of posters you can buy in a teacher store or at Target, but those that I work really hard to make myself.

And, I have been thinking a lot about how to arrange things in the best way to make it clearer for kids. I spent a few hours the other day getting things put up, and then today, had a different idea that was precipitated by a bunch of ideas kids were having, and I had to unstaple and redo things.

Here's my current of today....
This will likely change. However, I want to give a shout-out to Lesli Cochran and Natalie Dudley at CBMS who always had chart paper with their unit questions where they continuously had kids reflect on their current thinking in regards to the questions. AND, they added to it all the time throughout the unit- so I stole their idea! We've only been doing this unit for a few class periods, but already small bits of thinking were starting to happen. The kids told me that we needed another section for "Interesting Facts" and "Questions We Now Have." Kids are smart.
This post has taken me a few weeks to actually write. In the time since I started it, I have been thinking even more how important visual representations are. I have noticed my students starting to use the boards themselves and in my 8th grade class, we have had to add thinking on an almost-daily basis. Through inquiry, we just continue to ask more and more questions!
The more we learn, the more questions we have! And then, in the midst of our study of the earth, specifically regarding earthquakes, there was a 4.4 earthquake in Düsseldorf the other night! The kids came to school extremely excited about it!
Even though I have been an inquiry-based teacher for awhile, I am really starting to think about it differently through the way that I am structuring units this year. We have been using the summative assessments to drive the entire unit. I introduced the assessment tasks on the first day of the units so that kids can realize that everything we do and learn is related to answering our big unit questions and completing our culminating tasks. I feel like the kids are more engaged and also it has a relevance to them that I haven't seen before when I have structured things differently.
Inquiry in progress! I have been using lots of web-based text sources that I bookmark for the kids in advance! The best part of that is that they are interactive AND kids who don't speak English proficiently, can read about the science content in their native language!
As you can read, I am really enjoying getting to be a reflective practitioner again. I am able to actually reflect on my lessons and have the time to spend planning them in a quality way (unlike last year!). To be perfectly honest, I am really having a great time being a teacher again! YAY! That is a really good feeling after the soul-crushing year I had last year (dramatic? yes.).

I also now realize that I cannot have a classroom that doesn't know the language of the "Thinking Strategies." They have become such a big part of my daily instruction that even though I was worried that they would be just "ONE MORE THING" for the kids to know (in MYP we have lots of lists that the kids have to be aware of!), I realized that I cannot teach without them. I am not necessarily teaching them specifically for a whole unit, but when a kid uses one, I name it for them and I walk over to the posters and we look at how their thinking fit with one of the thinking words. I think this is the best intro I can have so far...merely naming it for them.
What can I say? They have just become part of who I am as a teacher.
If you want to hear a podcast that has forever sold me on naming thinking for's a link....

"Words" Podcast from RadioLab

On a fun note!

I have been on two field trips in the last two weeks with the 8th grade...bowling and canoeing. Bowling was pretty standard but canoeing was a definite adventure!
The weather held until we were getting on the bus to go home! Lucky us!
Yes, the kids are perpendicular to the river! They had some steering issues! It was pretty hilarious but nobody flipped their canoe- shocking for 8th graders!
I start my intense German classes tomorrow after school! They will be six hours per week until December. I think that maybe I will finally feel like I live in Germany once I start taking German lessons. Right now, because my job is in English and all of my friends are English-speakers, I just don't feel like I am in Germany. I am really looking forward to it!  I feel quite inept that I cannot have basic conversations with people in German.

Next weekend I am heading to Holland with my friend Rhonda. We're going to Rotterdam and Amsterdam just for a quick trip. I have been working out as much as I can so I don't feel guilty about eating delicious bitterballen (fried deliciousness eaten with beer!).

This was a longun'! Sorry! I haven't written in awhile...mostly just lazy to be perfectly honest! I have been watching Netflix ever since I got my American IP address so my computer is generally occupied doing that!