Monthly Archives: September 2015

SOL- Virtual School Plans


September 29, 2015

Haze Days

Perspective is a funny thing- it makes for funny decision making. Years ago when I lived in Mumbai, India I visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and thought it so clean and easy to get around. Eight years later I moved to Kuala Lumpur from Berlin, Germany and I was surprised to find it felt really polluted some days and getting around in much of the city is really time-consuming because of traffic and poor infrastructure.

At this time of year this part of the world sufferes from “haze”, which is what the pollution drifting in from burning peat fields and palm trees is called. We missed one day of school last week because the air pollution levels were so high. This weekend it was even worse. The local schools announced Sunday afternoon that they would be closed on Monday and one by one the private schools joined in. Sunday evening my school announced they would be closed, but that staff and faculty had to report. Monday morning we were presented with the need to develop “virtual school” plans in case of future haze days. We all worked from a common template and each grade level team had to agree on the work set. We created a plan for the next day with Language Arts, Math, and Social Studies (and the PE, World Language, Music and Art teachers added on). Today (Tuesday) school was back on, but by afternoon the haze seemed back in full force. On future haze days the plan is that students will stay home, while staff and faculty report for a full day at school. We have to post our haze day plans by 9:30 AM and then are on duty from 9-11 and 1-3 to answer queries from parents and students. I wish that we could do this part from home- it seems like we need to be protected from the haze as well. Our set work is supposed to cover 2 hours, which means that we will all still feel “behind” if we have to use many haze days. Of course we would all rather be at school with the students in an unpolluted environment.

When I think about how hard this is I think about people who are faced with severe pollution every day- I do not know how they do it. My eyes are itchy and burn, my skin feels horrible, my breathing is labored, I am coughing with a sore throat. With my colleagues we are talking about what we can do. We are trying to learn more about companies that we can support that do not mistreat the environment in this way. We are learning to make more informed decisions about the prooducts and services we purchase. We are looking at labels more carefully. We are asking questions. “Act local, think global” is taking on new meaning for us.

Let’s hope that these polluted days are the exception and not the new norm. I want to go back to my original perspective on KL!

SOL- One of Those Weeks!


September 22, 2015

This is one of those weeks…

Forgive me, I came to school even though I was too sick to be there,

It came after a weekend long iPad Conference,

Up from 1-6 early Monday morning, sick as could be,

I knew I was not well enough to be at school,

But I also knew I had to come in,

An early morning conference,

A last rehearsal before the grade level performance,

The Q & A with three principal candidates after school that I was facilitating,

I knew I should have stayed home, but I didn’t.

Hopefully nobody will be sick because of me.

Thanks to William Carlos Williams for the original poem and Gail Carson Levine for the modern inspiration.

SOL- September 15, 2015- Today Is Dot Day and We Are Not at School


Today Is Dot Day and We Are Not at School

Today Is Dot Day and we are not at school. For the past few years, I have enjoyed celebrating Dot Day with my third graders. The book is a favorite and the message is so important- we all matter and our creativity needs to shared in some way. I started talking about Dot Day in my class a few weeks ago, and they kept asking, “What is Dot Day?”

“You’ll see,” I answered, “and you will love it!”

Monday I shared the book and we looked at an Animoto that our class made last year. We looked at some of the dots made by authors and illustrators. Their homework last night was to make dots- in any way they wanted and bring them in to share on Dot Day. We also had plans to get together with a younger class at school to make shared dots, Skype with groups in Thailand and Germany, create a shared Padlet with classes in the US, use an augmented reality app to bring their dots to life, and more.

Today is Dot Day, but we are not at school. Instead, we are at home because the haze level  is too high. The haze has been bad the last week or so, but today it is officially unsafe. The problem is a complex one, with no easy answers. This video shows some of the issues. When we are able to go back to school we will share some of our dots and we may still work on some of our planned projects, but we will also share the message that we need creative problem solvers like our students in third grade to be the ones to work on change.

Today is Dot Day and we are not at school. I know that these students will be a part of the solution.

SOL- September 8, 2015- The Start of ASAs


Today I am not well- I have my first cold of the school year and I am congested, coughing, and feeling quite tired. At the end of an already long day, I was off to face the first day of my ASA. At our school, every teacher is required to offer at least one ASA (After School Activity) a year, running for 10-12 weeks. Last year was my first at the school, so I offered one I knew I would like- I called it Book Love. This year when it was time to plan our ASAs I went back to Book Love.

The premise of Book Love is simple- I start by sharing a picture book or a few book trailers, then they have the remainder of the time to work on what they would like- reading writing, creating book trailers. They can work alone or with a group.

I have to say that it was a high point of my day today. When the group climbed past 20 I was allowed to add a co-teacher. Today we had 28 students (it turns out that one was not even supposed to be there). Others were turned away in the sign-up phase because the room can not really handle any more bodies.

We started with Wolfie the Bunny– thank you to Ame Dyckman for writing such a book- it drew these listeners in from the beginning. The group is made up of students from second grade to fifth grade. Four students were in my class last year, three were in Book Love last year (with two of them now being in my class), two were in my summer program for reading, and the rest are “new to me” readers. Surely some were signed up by a parent hoping that their child would read more, but most were there because of a shared love of reading.

What you would have seen in the room were students: listening to stories on the computer, reading books on their own, talking about books with friends, writing their own stories, creating book trailers, looking for books, and in the end, rushing to borrow books they could take home. It really was a calm oasis in a busy day. The time flew by and it is safe to say we will all be looking forward to our weekly reading date. It is nice to know that for the next few months we have the time each week to just spend time with words, with no pressure, no rules, and no “musts”. I feel better already!

SOL- September 1, 2015- Racing the Rain


Racing the Rain

So, my vow to leave school earlier this year is not really working out so far. I go in an hour and a half before school starts because I know I am less productive after school, but… there is so much to do!

Today a colleague was leaving and offered me a ride to a mall near her where I can easily pick up the bus home, so I left with her (yes, it was after 5). The drop off was fortuitous, as I am on the hunt for better markers to make better posters (I am trialing the TCRWP units for reading and writing and all these posters and anchor charts are NOT my strength- I have the idea that new markers will make all the difference- I hope I am right!). I made it to the store and found a great selection of black Sharpies in different widths and along the way picked up a card for a new baby, “spy” notebooks for my class, and some more markers for my students. As I was paying I was answering texts from a friend who was commenting on the thunder.

“No thunder here-yet!” I responded as I made my way to the exit. I crossed the sketchy overpass watching the sky darken. The wind picked up and it was regular Winnie the Pooh weather (somehow blustery weather always makes me think of Winnie the Pooh). My skirt was blowing in the wind, but my hands were too full to hold it down properly-surely nobody was stopping to take in that view from below.

I hustled across and made my way down the steep staircase and waited for the bus. A few taxis stopped, but I was determined to wait out a bus. After several big plops of rain landed on my shoulder I was regretting my decision to wave off the taxis. Finally a bus came. There are two kinds of buses here- the cheap ones (1Rm a ride- about 25c) or the nicer buses (seems to me they are the same price if you use a bus pass). The yuckier buses only take cash, whereas on the nicer buses you can pay with cash or use a bus pass. It was a nicer bus, so I juggled my bags to reach in my backpack, to find my purse, to retrieve my wallet to pull out my pass. As I was doing this I was thinking about another colleague who recently had her purse snatched- it seems to be happening more often.

Safely on the bus I quietly begrudged the other passengers who took their time getting on at each stop, as I felt like I was on a personal mission to get home before the downpour. I got to my stop and was in luck- still no rain. Hurrying home the short walk I made sure that I had my backpack on securely- again thinking of safety. When I got to the curve I looked ahead- there is a HUGE construction project going on outside my apartment and at one place the area to walk is often flooded, so I go outside the barrier when that is the case so that I do not have to walk in the filthy water. It is a dangerous decison because the drivers here are not the safest and I always feel I am taking my life in may hands walking on the street.

Today I was in luck- no flood, so I could walk the safe way. As I came up to the apartment door there were two men ahead of me. The first went inside without a backward glance, the second hurried to catch the door before it closed (saving him from having to get out his access card). When I called to him, “Good catch,” he held the door for me.

We all got on the elevator and began our ascent. While we were making our way I was fishing for my purse, then my wallet, to replace my bus pass. Then I went to another pocket on my backpack to pull out my key.

“There’s always so much to juggle,” the stranger before me said, “all to get to your key.”

“There is, ” I replied, “but we made it home before the rain.”

As he stepped off he called out a cheerio and I wished him a good night.

It is always an interesting dichotomy- being wary of strangers and mindful of safety and having pleasant conversation with other strangers. I am glad that I still feel safe in this city, even though I know that this can change at a moment. I guess there are many ways to race the rain- as for me, I prefer to be a part of the action whenever possible.