19 December 2016

What my students think about me?

Thought this photo was perfect for this post.
This is what my kiddos got up to on the last day of school
while I was out of the room sorting stuff out, and my assistant was with them.
Love these kids!
One of the things that we do in my classroom is free writing time. During this time students can write about whatever they like, in whatever format they like. Today I caught up on reviewing some of that writing and thought I'd share two pieces that were written about me. I love reading my students writing as it often gives me an insight into their thinking and even their behaviour. Both these students have English as a Second Language so I have corrected a few errors to avoid embarassment. I won't name them, but I will show them this post tomorrow in class. I share these pieces because they I love the honesty in them, and because they show that I'm not a perfect teacher. It's interesting to consider the things that they notice (like my sometimes messy desk and braided hair). I'm human, but the bottom line, as share by R, is that I care about my students. Most teachers do.

Miss Karen by a student

Meet Miss Karen. She was one of my favorite teachers that I ever studied with. Even my mom really likes her. Even though I just learned with her I was starting to like her everytime I see her. Miss Karen has long hair, and she braid it to school because she won’t have lice in her hair. She likes to see us doing the right choice and completing homework on time. First when I was not in her class yet I always wanted to learn in her class. Before I get to learn with her I was scared, but then it was great learning with her. My mom says she only get mad when homework is not done. She was right. One reason that I really loved learning with Miss Karen is that she has a lot of cool stuff. She also cares about other students too, including me. I hope that she has good toys or stuff for us to spend with our tickets. She also treats people fairly in the class too. She is one of my favourite teachers of all.

Miss Karen by another student
Miss Karen is my teacher. Sometimes Miss Karen is mean. Sometimes Miss Karen is kind. In swim class Miss Karen is teaching in the shallow end. I think Miss Karen likes to wear a pink T-shirt. Sometimes Miss Karen is funny. Miss Karen wears glasses. Miss Karen’s table is a little bit messy. My mom said “Miss Karen is a good teacher.” Miss Karen comes from Brisbane. I think Miss Karen likes to eat vegetables. I think Miss Karen is a good teacher. Miss Karen is always busy. I think Miss Karen likes to say long words. Miss Karen almost all day wears a watch. I think Miss Karen is very tidy. Miss Karen on Thursday and Friday doesn’t give us homework (so I like it). 

30 September 2016

What's new around Room 16

It's been a while since I posted any pictures of my classroom and the hallway outside, so I thought I'd do a quick update. I recently asked our school director about the possibility of some extra bulletin (notice) boards for the hallway outside my classroom and one more for inside. He said yes, and they were installed a couple of weeks ago. It took quite a bit of time to move material around, freeing up one board for the Khmer classes that meet across the hallway from my classroom to use if they desire. If they don't use it, I will no doubt find a way to fill it up again. Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of the bulletin boards for Grade 4K.
This board is at the front of the classroom,
right beside the whiteboard that is the main focus of teaching,
and where I also project onto, making PowerPoint presentations interactive.
Our IPC units require various resources and student thinking to be displayed.
That's what this board is for.

This is a the other end of the room, and changes regularly.
As the year progresses, I plan to include more Khmer language on this board,
to help increase the children's vocabulary in both languages.

This board is next to the door and holds classroom management material
as well as our IPC Personal Goal material

This photo is the hallway outside my classroom.
As you can see I've now got three bulletin boards
on which to display important information about what we're learning as well as student work.
Board 3 is waiting for student book reports which are almost finished.
I hope to have those displayed before parent-teacher conferences this week.

This is first of the two boards together.
The focus of this board will be what we are learning about.

These cute posters were created during the first week of school
using some foam dolls I picked up at KMart when I was home.
The students loved making these.
First major writing task of the year are our "All About Me" posters.
This was also opportunity to teach students about writing Personal Narratives.
The smiley faces cover photos of the students!
This year we have an improved system in place to follow-up students who are absent. It requires teachers to complete a slip and put it on the door outside our classroom to be collected by one of the guards/drivers during the first part of the morning. I got tired of sticky-taping the note to the door, and then finding sticky tape left on the door, so I asked our maintenance man to screw this cute little character to my door. I was given four of these some years ago, but I hadn't really used them very much. Now I'm really happy to report that, although the first one was broken when they tried to use an electric drill to screw it up, I had another one AND an ordinary screwdriver. Now this cutie is happily doing the job. No more sticky tape!

29 September 2016

Challenges and creativity in science teaching

One of the challenges of teaching in a developing country is that you can't just walk down the street to the local School Supply store and pick up the equipment you need for a science experiment. Well, maybe in some developing countries you can, but definitely not here in Cambodia. So that means you have to get a little creative, visit a few (or sometimes many) different stores, and try out some more unusual options. It also means you have to think ahead a bit.

This coming week I've got an experiment to complete that is part of our International Primary Curriculum (IPC) unit called "Investigators". We've almost finished our Investigator Training, and we are currently investigating an accident scene involving a victim with blistered lips! This particular experiment requires students to determine the heat insulation properties of various different types of cups. Just collecting the suggested types of cups was the first challenge.

The experiment called for four types of cup: plastic, paper, polystyrene, and metal. Now plastic is easy, and so is paper. Metal reminded me of the metal cups we used in the dining room when I was at boarding school back in 1980. Then I saw some photos of those multi-coloured aluminium picnic cups that most families seemed to have when I was growing up. A photo on Google reminded me of my old enamel camping mugs, great for keeping a cup of herb tea hot on a cold night! My colleague did some hunting around town for metal cups with little success, so I did some hunting of my own. I eventually found some small stainless steel mugs like this one.
Now you might think finding polystyrene cups would be easy to find, especially in a country where so much street food and take-away food is packaged in polystyrene. Alas, that was not the story. I eventually found them in a grocery store that caters for foreigners, which also carries quite a lot of Australian products! They even had them in three different sizes. Bonus!

So now I've got all my cups lined up, the next challenge is how to measure insulative property. The suggested procedure is to pour hot water into each of the cups and measure the temperature over time, so see which cup keeps the water hot for the longest time. That would require a laboratory thermometer, of which we have none. My colleague thought he had solved the problem when he bought some clinical thermometers, and some clever person suggested putting each cup into cool water, and monitoring the temperature of that cooler water, to see how much it heated up. He tried it this week, and it sort of worked, but the narrow temperature range was something of a problem. I am also hesitant to use them as they look very suspiciously like they are a mercury thermometer, and I don't want the responsibility of mercury in my classroom.

After having hearing his experience, I thought about using standard weather thermometers. While their range isn't a wide as a laboratory thermometer, it does go from -40°C to +50°C, and the ones that I bought cost me all of $1.80 each. I just did my own mini-experiment to see if they would measure water temperature and here are the results.
The thermometer on the left is in refrigerated water (about 8z°C). The one on the right is in tap water (about 28°C). It was very satisfying to see the temperature drop rapidly when I put it in the iced water. Yes, I think that this just might work, especially using the water bath method suggested to us. Both thermometers are exactly the same, so I'm thinking that the different camera angles is why it's harder to read the one on the right than the one on the left.

We'll see how it goes next week, but I'd say that's another successful modification to a project in order to use materials I can actually get my hands on!

15 September 2016

Science Fun

In Grade 4K at EWIS, as part of our IPC Investigators unit, we are busy learning how to investigate a crime! Well, actually we are learning lots of science skills that we will use to help us investigate an imaginary crime. Along the way we are having some fun doing experiments.

One of the experiments we have done required the teacher to track down absorbent paper (coffee filter papers work very well) and black water-based markers. Finding water-based markets was a bit more of a challenge, but I managed to track down several different brands and had some fun testing them out (in between uni work).

Earlier this week we completed the experiment and then I made the students write it up as a formal report. Their report writing skills are still a work in progress, but some of them did a great job. Most of them still need to work on adding details and making sure they include all the steps. Tonight, so that everyone can included a picture of the results I've been scanning the absorbent paper. It's very interesting to see how the same process can sometimes yield different results, and I thought I'd share them.


Faber-Castell Jumbo Connector Marker

Pentel Marker
All student worked from the same instructions and supposedly followed the same process but as you can see the results are somewhat different. Very interesting. Maybe the size of the dot had an impact? I'm not sure, but meanwhile I'm thinking students will be happy to have pictures to add to their reports, at least I hope they will. Got to love being able scan stuff like this.

09 September 2016

A successful outing

Today I had a successful day. Nothing big was achieved, although it was a fairly good day at school. The success came in the form of a shopping trip.

Our current IPC unit has an extensive list of resources needed, one of which is PH testing strips. When I was at school I'm fairly sure we called it litmus paper. There were a few alternatives, but they are quite complex, so if I could find what I needed it would be good.
Not having easy access to a science teaching supply store, I thought that a medical supply store might just have what we needed. So, this afternoon, I headed out on my trusty moto to the area known to some of us as "pharmacy corner". Yes, there are literally dozens of pharmacies and medical equipment stores all located on the same couple of city blocks. I tried a couple of smaller places without success (no doubt hampered by my lack of Khmer language) and then a bigger pharmacy. Still no luck, so I headed down the street a couple of stores and walked into a place with a name that seemed to have good potential. A young man opened the door for me and offered to help, but litmus paper just wasn't working. When I talked about testing acid and alkaline, another young man behind the counter seemed to know exactly what I was looking for, and told the first young man where to find it.

Hooray! It seems like a small thing, but finding this will make our unit of inquiry that much more interesting for the students and definitely simpler for the teachers. Yes, that's what I'd call a successful outing!

10 June 2016

Why I do what I do!

When I became a teacher I wanted to make a difference for the children I taught. Sometimes you hear about it, and other times you don't. Today I was privileged to receive the notes below from a student and his Dad. I've blanked out the names to protect their identities. It is little notes like this that make the long days and sometimes nights preparing work and marking it, and just thinking about the children. I've received various notes from students and parents over the years, but this one was really special. I should add that not all parents want their children in my class. There are some who don't. That's OK. Meanwhile, I can only hope that they've seen Jesus is me, because on my own I'd be the mean, scary teacher this boy thought I was before he joined my class. I thank God for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Cambodian children. I thank God that He has softened me, and helped me become a kinder, more caring, while still strict, teacher. I pray that He will continue to guide and lead me to make the difference in the lives of the children He brings in to my classroom.

21 May 2016

Nine and a half years later!

From third graders to graduates
Today I had the privelege of seeing 17 of my former students graduate from high school. Fourteen of them I taught in both 3rd and 4th grade, another joined the class in 4th grade, another I taught in 4th grade one year after the rest, and the last was one of the students in my final university prac class.
It was fun to see them again, and to see how they have grown and matured over the years. Most are off to college next year, many of them leaving Cambodia.
Just for fun, I thought I'd see if I could find a few photos of them as 3rd and 4th graders.

 These young people will always have a special place in my heart. I wish them all the very best for the future, and pray that they will continue to grow in the love of Jesus.

18 March 2016

Something that delighted me this afternoon

One of the activities students in my class do is free writing. They have 10 - 25 minutes depending on the day and what else we are working on to write about anything they like. I try to do it every day, but somedays it just doesn't happen. Teaching's like that.

Managing to read and provide feedback on students' writing has always challenged me, so this semester I decided to try something new. I divided my class into five groups, labelled their book boxes, reading journals and writing notebooks with a coloured sticker on which I'd written M, Tu, W, Th, or F. Now students hand their books in on the correct day and I tackle 4 reading journals and 4 writing notebooks each day instead of having a pile of 20 at the end of the week. So far that strategy is working well. Wednesday can be a bit tricky when I leave school as soon as the class does in order to get home for my uni "Collaborate" session, but either they get done on Thursday morning (early start) or I bring them home (and do them when uni is finished).

So today I had 3 sets of books to read, from 3 totally different students. One set was from a very capable, confident and creative young lady, who had written some very creative fiction. The second was from a student who still struggles to put sentences together correctly, who had told me about races they ran in their PE lesson, and the third was from a student who has made huge strides in reading this year. As I read the third student's writing I was thrilled. Here's what he had written.

Reading is fun.
Reading is fun, at the beginning  of the year I know that reading was hard for me, and I keep saying that reading is hard, then when I do more of RAZ-Kids it become easier and funner to read. Reading is very fun and easier for me now, because I read lot's of books in RAZ-Kids and at school too. My favourite author is Suzy Kline, because sometimes she write funny book and sometimes sad book. My favorite book is about Horrible Harry, he always do horrible thing, but sometimes not. I love reading now, and I even read at home too!

Reading that piece of writing filled me with delight. This is one of those intangible things that makes teaching a joy and a privilege. Yes, it isn't perfect writing, but how many of us write perfectly first time anyway? This student's first language is Khmer. This was written directly in English. I couldn't do it! These kiddos amaze me.

04 January 2016

Did you read the instructions?

I'm sure any of my teacher friends will be able to relate to this post. I've been teaching for 9 years now, and I'm sure this would have to be the question I ask most frequently. Why am I writing about it? Just reflecting.

Today we were learning about time-lines in mathematics, and students had to create a time-line of a day in another class, using information provided in their book. I started the lesson with a demonstration, using our own timetable, of the various skills required. The biggest one was how do I make all that space show the correct amounts of time. After I'd demonstrated a couple, I had students continue the process on the whiteboard. Frustration abounded when the computer went into sleep mode (I've frozen the display) and I couldn't get it to come back again in exactly the same place. We worked around that, and it seemed like students were getting it, so I moved to the next step which was having students work independently in their maths journal.

Check for Comprehension Cards FREEBIE
Here's the link to where I got these
Before we got started I introduced our new Check for Comprehension Cards, and showed the student page using the projector. We talked about some of the more tricky parts, and then I sent to off to get started. Unfortunately, I forget to actually read the instructions at the top of the page with the students. Ooops!

As I wandered around the room, most students had either green or yellow cards displayed, which was a good start. After giving them time to get started, I took another walk around the room, and discovered that none of them had actually read the instructions, or if they did they weren't following them. I called the whole class back to the mat, and asked who had read the instructions. About 3 hands went up. I asked one of those students why they hadn't used any coloured pencils, which is what the instruction indicated. Her reply shouldn't really have surprised me, given the cultural context. She said, "No-one else was using colour so I didn't either."

We then reviewed the two sentence instruction at the top of the page together, highlighting the one word some might not have known, and then I sent them back to work. Alas, I still had students using a single colour for the whole time-line, and others who didn't put anything on it at all. Looks like I'll need to review the activity tomorrow. I'll see how many actually get it right, and I might have to get some new copies of that page and do a full demo on the board!

Ah, the joys of teaching! My favourite question: "Did you read the instructions?" Thankfully this was a learning activity and not formal assessment!

03 January 2016

Happy New Year

Another year has come and gone. I can distinctly remember all the work that went in to computer programs to ensure that Y2K (Year 2000) didn't create massive disruptions in the health system (and more particularly the BreastScreening program that I worked in at the time. At that time I had no idea what God had in store for me. In fact that was the year I embarked on a Graduate Certificate in Management (Queensland Health). I wasn't really sure where I was heading, but I guarantee that I wouldn't have even dreamed of being an elementary classroom teacher in an International School in Phnom Penh, let alone having been doing it for 9 years! Yes, I'm about to start my tenth year of teaching! Doing what I always wanted to do, back as far as primary school, and certainly for most of my high school year. God took me on a journey, eventually leading me to East-West International School, Phnom Penh. It's my sixth year at EWIS, and I still love it.

Tomorrow is the start of second semester for me. I've enjoyed the two week break from teaching (not completely from the classroom). Now I'm looking forward to seeing the children again tomorrow and getting them back into learning mode. Some of them have been busy over the break using RAZ-Kids and Xtra Math, which is good. Others have hopefully read the books they borrowed from the classroom library and school library. Some will have done both. My lessons for this week are planned and most of the preparation is complete.

Tomorrow we start work on daily number fact practice for multiplication. After we finish 40 days of multiplication we'll move on to division. Some of the students know their facts quite well so will be working on speed, others know them or can work them out very slowly, and they'll be working on speed as well, while others will be working on both speed and accuracy.

I'm not completely caught up on my marking, but there's not a huge amount to do. I'm hoping I can be completely up-to-date by the end of the week. I've still got after school program on Mondays for 3 more weeks, and then I'll do a term on Tuesdays, since uni has scheduled Collaborate lecture sessions on Monday afternoons.

My non-school goal for January is to read and take notes on my text book for the coming semester. The unit I'm about to embark on is called Inclusive Education: Theory, Policy and Practice. While the primary focus of the textbook is on the Australian and New Zealand context, I'm looking forward to exploring it in relation to the context of International Schools, especially in Asia, and particularly in Cambodia. Semester doesn't officially start until 22nd February, and actually teaching dates are 29th February to 3rd June, with a break from 26th March to 3rd April (I've got no doubt I'll be busy working on assignments during that break!). There will be plenty of extra reading to be done once the semester starts as well as lectures to listen to and assignments to write!

After a very early start this morning (4.30am wake-up to catch the flight back to Phnom Penh), I'm planning an early night tonight. I hope that plan works and I'm bright-eyed and well rested by 6am tomorrow for the coming school week. I hope that your 2016 has begun well, and is a good year. Soursedey Chnam Thmei. Happy New Year.