Simple Silhouette Collages

After a long summer of rest and rejuvenation, I’ve been so busy being back in the classroom that I haven’t been able to blog.  There has been so much going on already in year 2 in Singapore that I want to share with you!  This year, I tried a new beginning of the school year project. My mentor teacher from last year, Linda, does this great silhouette activity with her students. I knew that this year, I wanted to try it with my kids!

In order to have the students create their silhouettes, I used the steps I found on this blog post: how to make silhouettes of your kids .

I took a photo of their side profile against a solid background. Then, I printed out their photo in black and white. I took their photo and enlarged it on the copy machine to a bigger sheet of white paper. Once I got the settings on the copy machine right, I copied all the printed out silhouettes with the same settings.

Then, I had the students cut out their profiles and glue it onto thicker black construction paper. They cut out their profiles again.

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Now on the black side of the paper, I had them glue on photos and words from magazines that described them. I also had some print outs of photos I took of them and their families from our open house. I had them put those photos on.  After their silhouette collage was done, I hung them up in the back of my classroom!

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What are some of your favorite back to school activities?

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What are you reading?

It’s finally summer time for teachers, which means a lot of free time and hopefully time to rest and travel. One thing that I’m always telling my students is the importance of reading over the summer. So we create summer reading lists, book recommendations, and borrow a lot of books from our school library before the school year ends.

As a teacher I love having the time to catch up on my reading over the summer. I love going to Barnes & Noble and seeing the best sellers and books that are popular in the States.  This summer I’ve gotten some great recommendations that have helped me find some great reads!

Pie by Sarah Weeks

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I just happen to know the author Sarah Weeks, who also wrote So B. It.  I was in her workshop on writing children’s picture books at the Reading & Writing Project Summer Institute this June. I will definitely be posting on that experience soon! This was a fun read, and I will definitely be recommending the book to my new 5th graders, especially if they like a good mystery and baking.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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I hadn’t heard of this series until my cousin mentioned it to me recently. I just started reading it and am having a harder time getting into it than The Hunger Games. The similar dystopian story line makes me appreciate the characters and storyline of The Hunger Games even more. It seems like this book is going to be turned into a movie as well, with Shailene Woodley as Tris. So if you want to be on the “in” when the movie comes out in March 2014, start reading!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Another recommended book by a friend, I couldn’t put it down and read it in a few days. It’s a recent NY Times best seller and originally written for young adults. Yes, it’s a story about a 16-year-old girl with cancer, but it surprises you, makes you laugh out loud in a few places with it’s honesty and wit, and of course touches you deeply with tears. This book looks like it’s going to made into a movie in 2015 with Shailene Woodley (from Divergent) playing Hazel!

The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

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I absolutely love Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing. Not only is she a graduate of my alma mater (Barnard), but she writes fictional short stories that I can easily identify and relate to as a Korean American, even though they are stories of Indian Americans.

Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner

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I had the opportunity of hearing Tony Wagner give a keynote at the Reading and Writing Project Summer Institute. He was a dynamic speaker and he shared about his book. In the book he shared stories about the lives of people that have really become successful innovators. He interviewed them, their parents, and mentors. He shared how they all had these 3 key things: purpose, passion & play.

I enjoyed watching the links he had of short video clips of the people he wrote about. This book definitely had me thinking more deeply about how to help my students become innovators and the massive need to change in our education system if we really want to prepare them to be successful.

Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo

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I mean with a title like that, how could you not buy it? What teacher doesn’t want their school to be exceptional? Paul Bambrick- Santoyo, who is a leader for Uncommon Schools, has written a few different books on education. I’ve always been really impressed with their charter schools. I had a chance to visit North Star Academy in Newark many years ago. I was able to sit down with Paul and hear about the amazing work this charter school was doing. Now, they have many schools across the nation in their network and I knew that the advice and ideas Paul had, whether it be on classroom management or professional development would be radical and effective.

What are some books that you are reading this summer? I’m always looking for good recommendations!

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Growing Green: A Story of Inspiration

I just stumbled upon  this TED story last night and thought everyone needs a bit of inspiration on a Monday morning. I love watching these TED talks that inspire and give me hope as an educator.

After watching this TED talk about this teacher in the South Bronx doing amazing things and truly making an impact, it reminded me of the dream that I have to start my own school one day. Dreams to start a school where students can nurture and grow their creativity. Dreams to start a school where students can follow their passions. Dreams to start a school where students can become agents of change.

What are your dreams and hopes as an educator?

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Giving Students Choice in their Writing

In writing workshop, I’ve been teaching an independent writing unit, where my students wrote a piece in the genre of their choice. My students enjoyed having this choice, since there were quite a few genres that we didn’t get to cover throughout the year such as historical fiction, mystery, and action/adventure. At the same time, many students chose to write stories or articles in genres that we did study this year. Even though the students had independence in choosing their genre, they went through a structured writing process together.

One interesting aspect about this unit was seeing how they naturally formed writing groups and partnerships. There were groups that wanted to write in a specific genre or write about the same topic. I had a few students wanting to write in partnerships. I did tell them that they could work together, but they had to be responsible to each write their own chapter or section. I saw students bouncing ideas, possible plots and characters with each other. I saw some groups form, and then disband once they realized their group would not work.

I gave my students choice in how they wanted to publish their writing piece as well. I had many students using ibooks author program to create booklets. My students really enjoyed making ibooks for our fantasy stories in the last unit. Then, they were able to put their ibook into flipsnack in order to post it on their blog! Here is a picture of a student’s ibook put online via flipsnack book. On the blog, you can actually flip through the pages of the book.

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One great book I recommend that you read is Independent Writing by Colleen Cruz. This is a great resource on how to teach students to be independent with their writing and she gives good outlines on how to teach an independent writing unit.

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Even though we had a limited amount of time for this unit (about 3 weeks), my students were able to produce solid pieces from varying genres. More importantly, they were really engaged and excited to work on their writing.

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Tips for the End of the School Year

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was checking into the York hotel and going to orientation with my fellow incoming teachers here in Singapore. The past nine months have have gone by so quickly here and my flights home to NY for the summer are already booked! Some of you might be saying, it’s only April, slow down.

Since I end school the first week of June, the countdown has definitely started. Here are a few tips and ideas I’ve had swirling around my head these past few weeks as I’ve been pondering the end of my first year here in Singapore. I will admit that the last two months of school are usually pretty crazy. Here are a few things I’m going to try to do in order to make it to the end successfully!

1. Plan out the end of the year. Like the UBD model, do some backwards design and make sure you have enough time to cover what you need before the end of the year! Make sure to factor in all of the end of the year field trips and assemblies.

2. Start early on report cards and projects that need to get done in the last weeks of school. The last two months of school are always super hectic, with last minute things popping up. So get a head start on those things you know you have to get done at the end, so you are a little bit less stressed, if that’s possible! 🙂

3. Delegate the work. One of the projects I like to do is creating a short video clip of my students from the year that I can show my students at the end of the school year. Creating these videos can get pretty time consuming, so I try to start it EARLY! This year, I’m going to try to get some of my students to help me on this big project and try to delegate some of the work.

4. Make time for friends. I know this sounds obvious, but for international school teachers, the end of the school year can be pretty emotional as there are always teachers leaving the school and country. Make sure to carve out time to spend with those close friends that are leaving and giving them their proper farewell. I know I was pretty emotional when I had to leave Korea after four years. I’m glad I got to spend a lot of time with my friends that my time so memorable in my last weeks.

5. Overplan for the last few weeks. Even if your grades and report cards are due a week or two before the school year ends, keep your students working! I’ve always found it a lot easier to manage when students have projects they are doing in the last week of school instead of a lot of free time (obviously). The end of the year is a great time for them to reflect on their learning from the year and be able to show their learning whether through presentations or projects.

6. Start planning for next year. This is a great time to start reflecting on what you want to do next year. I know for me, there are a lot of changes and tweaks I want to make. If there are a few projects that I can get started on now or at least write down, to remind myself when I get back after the summer, I know it will be helpful.

Here’s a fun comic I found on Chris Pierce’s blog, called teachable moments, that I just discovered. Thanks Chris for letting us use your comic!

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What are some tips you have for the end of the school year?

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Looking at the Social Lives of Kids

A few days ago, we had a well known psychologist and speaker come speak to our fifth grade students, Dr. Michael Thompson, who has written numerous books on children including Raising Cain and The Pressured Child. He led an assembly with our entire 5th grade students. He immediately started off by stating that he would’t be speaking for the entire hour, but that he would get the students to speak.

He asked them various questions about what makes someone a friend, popularity and how they feel about their parents asking about their social lives. It was an interactive assembly  and the students were engaged and trying very hard to get chosen to share. That’s not an easy task for any speaker when you have over 200 fifth grade students at the end of the school day as your audience. It was interesting to hear students’ thought on what makes a friend and what makes someone popular. The students had a difficult time actually describing clearly what makes someone popular as they went around in circles with their responses.

Dr. Thompson also shared about how often teachers ask him, what can they do about those 1 or 2 students in their class that don’t have any friends at all.  He also challenged those students that were “popular” to use it for leadership in a positive way. It would have been nice to hear him give some more practical tips and suggestions to teachers, but this was a session for the students! He did a few other talks as well with other grade levels, teachers and parents about various topics. I definitely recommend checking out his webpage or books if you are interested in learning more.

Here is video clip I found from a session he did at a school on the pressured child.

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Guest Blog Post: Finding Depth Through the International Experience

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I’m excited to introduce this week’s guest blogger, Paul, who is from Toronto, Canada. He took a detour from his original path of pursuing law by going halfway around the world to teach ESL in Korea. After realizing his passion for teaching, he pursued a degree in teaching and is currently teaching high school computer science at an international school in Dailian, China. It’s always refreshing to meet other educators who love what they do!

I wanted to take this opportunity to share a revelation I had in a ginseng tea shop at Incheon airport in Korea 5 weeks ago.  I was sitting there with my own cup of tea, passing the time on my laptop, when I observed a couple ordering some tea at the counter. Immediately, two things were apparent.  The first was that they were newly-wed and the second was that they were on a backpacking trip.  Accordingly, two thoughts ran through my head: the first was ‘it must be nice to be newly-wed’ and second, ‘I wonder how they enjoyed Korea?’  The latter thought made me reflect on my own time in Korea, and that’s when I had my ‘Eureka!’ moment.  I realized that the Korea I knew and had experienced for 4 years was nothing like the Korea this couple had experienced in quite possibly a few days.  As common-sense as it may be, I realized that the more time spent in a place, the more intimately one would come to know a place, and this got me to thinking about the breadth and depth of knowing things.

So here’s my pearl of insight:

We all have a finite amount of time and energy.  How we invest this time and energy results in increasing either our breadth or depth in knowing a thing.  For example, when we travel, the reason we visit different countries, even if it be for a couple of days, is to experience and see new things.  In this case, we are expanding our breadth of knowledge.  If we spend more than a year in the same place, we begin to drift away from breadth and begin to move towards depth.  Things are no longer new, and through repetition, we begin to delve deeper into becoming familiar with a thing.

To take an example, when I lived in Korea, I really went out of my way to try different foods.  Whenever I tried a new food, I would be expanding my breadth of knowledge in knowing Korean food.  However, it’s not everyday that I would be able to try a new food.  Rather, more often than not, because I would be working at school, I would usually eat common foods such as rice, kimchi, and doen-jang jjigae (bean-paste soup).  Through the repetition of eating the same food everyday, a depth or familiarity developed with that very food.

And do you know what happened to me last month when I visited Korea?  I was sitting in a traditional Korean restaurant in Kang-won province, with a bowl of rice, a side-dish of kimchi, and a bowl of doen-jang jjigae in front of me.  I went to taste the doen-jang jjigae, and I kid you not, my eyes began to tear.  It wasn’t just the taste, which in itself was exquisite (being in the country-side, it was as authentic as it gets), but it was also the depth surrounding the experience.  In that first taste, recalling the four years I spent in Korea, eating doen-jang jjigae day in and day out, I said to myself, “dang, that’s some good doen-jang jjigae.”  And the point here is that I knew it only the way someone who had lived in Korea for 4 years could know it.

You might be thinking to yourself, “So what? I’m glad you have a special relationship with doen-jang jjigae.  In fact, I think you and doen-jang jjigae should get a room…”  Okay, well…no need to be facetious.  I’m just trying to illustrate what I mean by depth.

One of the things that attracts me to international teaching is that it gives me a chance to develop this very depth that I’m talking about.  Whether it be working abroad as an international teacher, or living abroad in some other capacity, isn’t it fair to say that living in a place for 6 months is different from 1 year, which is still different from 2 years, which is still different from 5, or even 10 years?

I believe being a good international teacher is greatly helped if you have a love and passion for learning another place in depth, which includes embracing such things as different culture, language, and food.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of international teachers out there who have no interest in learning their new country of residence, yet still win my full approval for being a good international teacher.  However, I would make the argument that performing to your best ability requires being comfortable.  If we are comfortable, this means we are familiar, and if we are familiar, it means that at some point, an investment of time and energy has been made.

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