Adventures in Shanghai

After a painfully long bus ride, we arrived at the river village outside Shanghai. There was a family with two Chinese girls, maybe 2 or 3 years old sitting next to us in the bus. Throughout the entire ride they were yelling, fighting, and crying. I had my ipod on with the volume pretty high, but I could still hear the girls! If I knew some Chinese I would have tried to exchange some words with them.  The couple sitting in front of the girls moved all the way to the back of the bus. I was surprised that none of the Chinese people on the bus said anything to the parents.

We started exploring the river village. As we started walking around we passed by stands of pork wrapped in bamboo leaves, incredibly stinky tofu, and Chinese souvenirs. After walking around for a bit, we found a café to sit in called the bum café. We were the only people inside.  We sat down by the windows next to the river. After sitting there for a while and sipping my Jasmine green tea, my friend noticed that they had wireless Internet! We both took out our Ipod touches and asked our waitress for the password.

The Internet was definitely slow. It took a while to load my e-mail, forget even trying facebook. I decided to check my school e-mail.  I had three new messages to my surprise.  I was a bit nervous about checking my school e-mail knowing that I had sent progress reports home that Friday before the vacation. As I read the message a parent sent, it said how they were thankful for my teaching and happy to hear from the progress report how their child was doing at school.

It’s always encouraging when I get positive feedback from parents about the work that I do.  I know that often as teachers, the appreciation we get from parents can be limited.  Well I thought it was pretty cool, that here I was at the bum café, checking my e-mail, and sipping on Jasmine green tea.

As we got back on the same bus, we realized that we would be on the bus with those same girls again. This time, they had these recorder-flute like instruments that they bought and were making a loud noise. We couldn’t believe it. Were they really going to be playing those instruments for the entire bus ride back? For the first good 15 minutes of the bus ride they were playing the instruments loudly and the mothers didn’t say anything to them. Finally, a man who we assumed to be the uncle or dad came to their seats and pulled their flutes out and told them to be quiet.  Luckily they fell asleep on the ride back.

For more slice of life entries go to: Two Writing Teachers

This way to Bum Cafe

The View of the River from the Bum Cafe

My Jasmine Green Tea

Aha Moments on Teaching Personal Narratives

This summer during the Teacher’s College Writing Summer Institute I had a few good “aha moments”. I was in a week long workshop with Mary Ehrenworth (She’s amazing!!!) on teaching nonfiction to students and I learned so much. Some of these moments came out of the writing sessions with her.

Aha Moment #1: Model a Few Different Topics of Writing

Mary told us she would model a few types of nonfiction writing pieces during mini-lessons throughout the nonfiction unit. Instead of modeling just one piece of nonfiction writing with the students, she writes a few different nonfiction pieces with her students. When she modeled her writing with her students, she specifically chose topics that she thought were types of stories her students would be interested in writing. I did a similar thing when I shared my personal narrative writing. I shared writing I did about a soccer game (my boys LOVE playing soccer), my dog minnie (kids love pet stories), and watching Yuna Kim skate (Korean hero!).

Aha Moment #2: Allow Students to Publish More Than 1 Piece for a Unit

Mary suggested that we have the students work on more than 1 piece during a unit. One way that happens is that when students finish revising and editing their first piece, they start writing the next one. It sounds so simple and obvious, but I don’t think I was the only teacher in the room having this new revelation. Some students will feel finished with their piece and be ready to publish it quickly. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If they are ready to publish their piece, they can work on starting a second piece.

Last year I had some students finish editing and revising their work quickly and after that they didn’t really have anything to do. So this year, during our personal narratives unit, I kept telling my students that if they felt finished with their piece, they can start working on a second one. Right now, I have a handful of students working on their second piece and many students still working on editing their first piece. I’m so excited for their publishing party on Friday!

Aha Moment #3: Make the rubric specific on what the students writing should show.

This aha moment came last week, when our literacy specialist asked me about what rubric I used to assess their personal narratives. I remember last year when I used the rubric I wasn’t really 100% pleased with the format even though it looked nice and had the standard sections (writing process, mechanics & qualities of personal narrative writing). She suggested that I divide up some of the categories so they are more specific on what I expected students had learned and shown in their personal narrative. Therefore, the students will also get better feedback on what parts of their writing they need to improve. It’s great finally having a literacy specialist to support us! 🙂

So I decided to revamp the whole thing! I included a self assessment section where students will mark how they think they did. I think that it will be valuable insight to see where they think their writing is.

I also made a more specific checklist on areas that I particularly emphasized in my mini-lessons and conferences throughout the unit. You can DL my new and improved rubric on here:

If you use it, or use some parts of it, let me know how it is! Feedback is always appreciated. 🙂

Hooked on Twilight?

The other week, one of my students borrowed New Moon from our school library. The next day I asked her how the book was going and she started gushing about how she can’t stop reading the book and she wants to know what will happen. She told me it’s not like other books she read and it seemed like this book had her hooked. Another student also started reading Twilight as well and she had a similar response, saying that the book was soo good.

So I felt compelled to actually start reading Twilight myself. I know I’m a few years late to jump on the Twilight craze, but I think being in Korea I didn’t really experience all the hype here. I didn’t see any of the movies either, so I plan on reading the books first. I really don’t like watching movies before reading the book because it makes me not want to read the book if I already know the ending.

Anyways, I’m still in the beginning of the book, where Bella decides to go with Edward to Seattle. 🙂

Please fill out the poll below! I’m curious to see what you think about Twilight! 🙂

quote of the week & finding balance

I’m a strong believer that as teachers, we need our down time as well! I feel like teachers in general work really hard, around the clock. I always struggle with finding the right balance between work and everything else, because I do love my job and want to do all that I can to be the best teacher for my students. However, that does take a lot of time and energy.

Some tips on keeping balance in your life as a teacher:

1) Prioritize what commitments you make in school.

It is tempting to try to get involved in all these extra committees, activities, and events. Instead of spreading yourself thinly across 10 different things, commit to a few that are important to you. However, really devote your time and energy to those things you committed to.

Every year I keep coming up with new ideas and things I want to see in our school, but I have to remind myself that I am not superwoman.

2) Get your lesson plans for the following week written by Friday. This is probably one of the best tips. I usually start writing my lesson plans for the following week on Tuesday/Wednesday, so I don’t need to stress about them over the weekend. I try to keep my weekends as free as possible from school work.

3) Pursue interests outside of the teaching bubble. Learn something new.

There’s just something exciting about trying something new. I think for me it would have to be joining the hip hop ministry at my church here. Seriously, I am not a good dancer, but after overcoming the initial fears, I’m so glad that I’ve been part of it for the past few years. It was definitely not an easy thing at first, but I’ve made good friends, faced fears, and have fun doing it.

4) Make time to exercise.

This one seems kind of random, but I believe that having a healthy body will help keep things balanced. If you can find the time to exercise and keep your body healthy on a daily basis that’s a good sign. I mean it’s just hard to argue against exercising.

5) Take vacations!

Yes, you deserve it! Don’t commit your entire summer or winter vacation to professional development, programs, classes, etc. Plan trips and some down time to rest and not think about school.

In a few hours I will be on an airplane and going on vacation. More on my travels when I get back from Shanghai! 🙂

Anyone else have any good ideas on how to maintain balance in your life? 🙂

Celebrating Chuseok

This week, we get the whole week off for the Chuseok which is the Korean thanksgiving holiday. It was really nice of Elaine to invite the faculty over to her home for a traditional Korean Chuseok dinner. We got to enjoy a great home cooked traditional Korean Chuseok dinner. It not only looks good, but tasted delicious. I ate two whole platefuls even after eating a big Korean bbq lunch beforehand! Thanks again Elaine! 🙂

beautiful view of the han river from the apt

korean rice cakes

songpyun aka honey rice cakes

we are ready to eat...

The 100 Locker Problem

This is probably one of the best math problems I give my fifth grade students. It goes like this:

There are 100 lockers in the long front hall of our school. Each August, the custodians add a fresh coat of paint to the lockers and replace any of the broken number plates. The lockers are numbered from 1 to 100.

When the students arrive on the first day, they decide to celebrate the start of the school year with our school tradition. The first student inside runs down the hall opening all of the lockers. The second student runs down the hall closing every second locker, beginning with locker number 2. The third student reverses the position of ever third locker, beginning with locker number 3. (If the locker is open, she closes it. If it’s closed, she opens it.) The fourth student changes the position of every fourth locker, beginning with number 4. This continues until the 100th student has a turn, changing the position of the 100th locker.

At the end of this ritual, which locker doors are open?

Why are the open lockers left open?

Which patterns emerged in your work?

After a week of working on this problem with their partner, they write up what they discovered on posters. I have them include these four sections:

1. Restate the problem

2. Procedure

3. Answer

4. Check

It’s such a fun problem because at first they think it’s impossible, but by the end of the week, all the groups were able to figure it out! We share out our work in a “math congress” where each group presents. Also, students ask comments or give feedback to the groups that present. Here are some of their posters.

locker problem poster

locker problem poster

locker problem poster

locker problem poster

locker problem poster

locker problem poster

No More Excuses

It was a little after 6pm. In my head I made every excuse I could think of to not go. I had a long day and I was really tired. I had a lot of work to do at home as well. I deserved to leave “early”. I was about to leave my classroom, but then I decided to grab my gym clothes and sneakers and head upstairs to the gym. I decided to stop making excuses.

I did make it to the gym upstairs and ending up having a good workout. Sometimes we just need to fight the excuses and suck it up. The same thing goes for writing. There’s no cutting corners in becoming a better writer, you just have to practice it. Hopefully, writing this blog and the Slice of Life entries every Tuesday will help me become a better writer and ultimately better at teaching writing to my students.

For more slice of life entries check out:

quote of the week

In the book Half the Sky, they end one of the chapters with this well known story:

A man goes out on the beach and see that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.

“What are you doing, son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.”

The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.

“It sure made a difference to that one,” he said.

Remembering 9/11 in the Classroom

These past two years, in remembrance of 9/11, I read the story 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy to my students. This book is based on this amazing and inspiring story of the Massai people in Africa and the responses they had after hearing about the 9/11 attacks. They decided to donate 14 cows to America in response. To the Massai people cows are really important to them. Their donation of 14 cows was a huge sacrifice for them.

I remember listening to Carmen Agra Deedy speak about her book at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project summer institute two years ago. She shared that she was reading this NY Times article that she thought was interesting and decided to do research on it. She ended up writing a picture book about it.  The full article is here: I was so moved by the story, I had to buy the book to share with my students in Korea.

On Friday, I asked my students during our community circle time if they knew what 9/11 was and only a few of them raised their hands. Most of them were only 1 or 2 years old when it happened.

I heard the news on the radio while in a van early in the morning, heading to Columbia. We were coming back from our early morning skating practice in New Jersey, back to Manhattan when we heard on the radio about how one of the twin towers were attacked by a plane. I think at first we were confused and shocked from the news. We didn’t really know why this happened and thought maybe it was some sort of accident. As we got back to our dorm rooms on the upper west side of the city, we immediately turned on our TVs to find out what was going on downtown. It seemed so surreal as the news kept replaying the clips of the airplane going into the towers. We were so close to it, yet so far. As our classes were canceled that day, the scene uptown seemed pretty normal, yet things downtown were in chaos. People on our campus and streets were out and about, eating at restaurants, and talking about the attacks. While people downtown were evacuating and calling home.

As I explained to my students about 9/11, more students seemed to remember hearing about it. I couldn’t help but feel a wave of emotions as I read in the story the parts about the attack. As a New Yorker and being in the city when it happened, a part of my heart will always remember 9/11.