Thursday, October 28, 2010

Friend Bragging

I have trouble not crying whenever I read about my friend Charity. At the very least I get covered in goosebumps. I can't wait to actually watch her speech!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Links and Stories and falderol

Remember my friend Charity? Yeah, she's speaking at TEDmed. That's how cool she is.

I am less cool, but still have an Internet presence- so check this out.

That's it for links, here's the stories:
This weekend I was being project manager extraordinaire for the Continuing Professional Development weekends at GSMD. This was the first of the new school year, so there were a few hiccups, but mostly things went well. Amongst the hiccups was the fact that the entire stash of tea and lunch supplies had gone on walkabouts. I had a little bit of a panic about that because TEA IS VERY IMPORTANT to English people. Fortunately the new bar manager thought it would be just fine to let me loose in the little-used commercial kitchen in the basement of the dormitory. So we used proper plates and tea cups and I got to use the DISHWASHER!

The dishwasher was very exciting, I'm not really sure why- but I got a big kick out of it. I would suppose that it is a fairly standard commercial dishwasher- you put things on trays, slide them into the machine, and then pull the handle down and wait for it to stop steaming before opening it again. But the mugs! They come out warm! And that was enough to keep me happy. Though I will say that is was a bit creepy hanging out in a deserted kitchen by myself with very few lights on. (Fortunately I had the dishwasher to keep me company...)

On Sunday I had a run-in with another electrical appliance- in this case it was an electric lock on a set of doors. I'm not really sure why this door has an electric lock, but in order to get in to the performance space in the basement (which is where the workshop is held) you have to get this tiny little key that will release this intense lock at the top of the doors. What I know NOW is that once you have unlocked the doors, you have to push them in and hold them there for a bit, because if you don't the doors shut and lock themselves again. Since I didn't know that I blithely let them shut behind me while I went to the far side of the room to turn the lights on. When I tried to come back I realized I was stuck, looked around for some sort of lock release inside the room (unfathomably, there isn't one), then grabbed a chair and proceeded to wait until someone showed up. (Who gets locked inside a room??) It was Sunday morning in a student bar, so I wasn't at all sure how long I would have to wait, but I was lucky and only stuck for about 15 minutes. Jose showed up with a bunch of equipment for another project and I slid the key under the door so that he could let me out once he was done laughing.

A month ago or so I was walking home from work via the long, long, long route and ended up at an art gallery near the OXO tour that was having some sort of exhibit about eco-art and recycled materials. There was a small handful of people sitting on the floor on the ornate canvas floor covering doing little handicrafts so I wandered in and when they asked if I'd like to make anything I said "yes!" and learned how to appliqué. This is what I came up with- it is an old green sports T-shirt appliquéd with sari fabric and a yellow fleece blanket. It took me about 2 hours, during which I didn't get any of my work done and my back started hurting from all of that hunching over- but I was so pleased with myself by the end and much calmer than I had been. I love London so hard.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kids are Gross. Seriously.

I'm about to share two graphic, gross stories. I think they're funny, but if you're easily grossed out and have never been around children before ever: they may offend your sensibilities.

1. In English class this week one student ripped out his tooth. His front tooth had clearly been loose for a while and it was bleeding a bit so I sent him to the bathroom to get some water and some paper towels. When he came back I took a look to see how loose it was, and while half of it was clearly off, the other half of it was still hanging in there. It was clearly going to pop out that day, but wasn't quite ready yet. I thought about offering to yank it out for him but figured that if there wasn't already an official school policy about tearing children's teeth out of their mouths, that if I did help him out with it- there soon would be. I sent him off to the bathroom again to get more paper towels and when he eventually came back it was with with a distinct air of triumph, a bloody stump, and a front tooth in the palm of his hand.

This, of course, derailed the next five minutes of the lesson.

2. On Thursday during my incarnation as a nursery assistant I heard rather a lot of chattering coming from the tyke's toilets and so went to investigate what the party was all about. I couldn't get past the door because the stench was so strong that I had to turn around and gag. Two of them had simultaneously done the foulest poos ever and were then just sort of hanging out there for a while.

"Miss Casey? Will you wipe me?"


No I will not.

If you're old enough to pour your own water, put your own shoes on, and dress yourself- you are old enough to wipe your own butt.

So I gave a little tutorial from the door (turning my head to breathe and gag again) and congratulated them as sincerely as I could when they held up their used toilet paper for me to inspect. "Well done girls. Now, for the love of god, will you please put those in the toilet and flush?"

The next tutorial I gave was how to properly and thoroughly wash your hands.

Bouncy Castle Goodness or I need a new camera

I finally had my birthday party! It ended up being a joint birthday with my friends Lyn and Jon, and I would post pictures so you could see how cool it was...but none were taken. Sorry.


I can still tell you all about it.

The party was sort of epic. We hired out two tunnels at T47 which is an indoor football (soccer) pitch underneath London Bridge Station. Fire-Hazard runs Survivor Sports there, which is how I knew about it. The neat thing about T47 is not only do they have space to let us run fun games, they also have a bouncy castle that they rent out. So in one tunnel we ran glow in the dark tag, dodge ball, red light/green light, and a game wherein you have 1 minute to throw as many glowing objects on to the other team's side as possible. In the other tunnel we had music, food, general chatting, and a massive bouncy castle.

I think about 28 people showed up. Everyone was really helpful (if a little confused when I made them all put on glow stick bracelets. Had I not explained that part before? Oops.) We ran a bunch of the games from Survivor Sports, though in a less focused way. We didn't run Riot Ball (a.k.a. indoor glow in the dark Circle Rules Football) because people were so wiped out from the bouncy castle. Instead we improved on Red light/green light/grandmother's footsteps/night stalker: usually it is played in a small area that is difficult to get as dark as the main pitch and with only half the group while the other half is tearing each other up in Riot Ball. This time we had the whole group playing at the very back of the pitch where it is the darkest. And because we couldn't find a laser that worked (in order to let people know they'd been seen moving) we used a flash light. So the combination of being periodically blinded by the flash light (torch, whatever) combined with the fact that if you were It the only thing you could see was an ever encroaching line of disembodied coloured lights, meant that the whole game was a lot creepier. In a good way.

In running these games I discovered that while I love talking to players after the fact, getting feedback, thinking about long term strategy for the organization, and the general planning-ness of game running- what I don't love is being the figure head/spear head/main leader. I can do it, but I tend to forget half the rules, ignore the back story, and fail to consistently referee. I'll get to know you as a player and improve the running of the games, but I don't want to be the head zombie unless I have to.


I have friends who like ref-ing, so we were set. Then at the end we played a big game of pass the parcel which was nice to get everyone together. I think I had 8 different social groups represented and then with Lyn and Jon that bumped things up to about 11 different groups (if not more) and everyone got along! It was really lovely. We were only supposed to have the space until 9, but I left with a group to go get some supper just before 10 and the bouncy castle was still going strong and they hadn't kicked us out. Thanks, T47!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gender roles at Garden Time

In the playground my floaty, thin scarf was liberated by one of the tykes. She ran around with it over her face (it was see through) haunting people as a ghost. A little boy lifted up the side of it to poke his head under as well. She yanked the scarf away and ran off to haunt some others, and since neither child seemed put out I didn't say anything about sharing.
I kept an eye on her to make sure my scarf didn't end up in one of the mud puddles and eventually the scarf morphed (as all good dress up items do) from being protoplasm to being a princess skirt. She pranced around with it held tightly around her waist, dancing about the garden. The same little boy came over and lifted up the side of it to poke his head under...and this time? Was it okay? It's still a scarf. But since it was representing a skirt,and since he was a boy, and since she clearly didn't want him to put his head under her I put a stop to it? Or is that just me projecting adult thoughts and motivations onto a pair of three year olds? (I suspect the latter) At the same time, at what point do we start teaching boys that when a girl says no, she means no. At what point do you go beyond saying "be nice to everyone and respect every one's space" and into "but particularly girls' because there is a massive history there that you don't yet understand."
I wouldn't have been that bothered by it, only giving that encounter a passing thought, except that I kept watching her the whole garden time (I really didn't want my scarf getting muddy) ("why didn't you take it back?" you may ask. I don't know. I just didn't.) And later on when the reception tykes rushed onto the field one of the bigger boys came over and grabbed her, wrestled her and kissed her. Is that still okay? Is that still rough housing? Or is that something where I should step in and say not okay. She fended him off just fine, and maybe I wasn't paying attention to other combinations of children where one is fending off another, maybe it is fine and this is just part of what happens. But should it be? She can take care of herself, but should she already have to?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

EAL English as an Additional Language

There are tons of EAL students at school. Last Thursday I was practicing my nearly non-existent Russian with a tyke who doesn't have any English. Even just saying "good" or admonishing her to say "please" and "thank you" in her own language allowed us to make more of a connection.

We recently had an in-set (teacher training doo-dad) about working with EAL students. I was fascinated. What I really took away from the training is that their home language is incredibly important. The workshop leader used a graphic of an iceberg to illustrate that what you see of their newer language is supported by everything they know and understand about how language works from their first language. Also that you need to be careful about what you are testing, if you're working in a maths class- does the student understand the concept in their own language? Is the language creating a barrier rather than the material being presented?

In my Year 3 class we have on boy whose English is nearly non-existent. Fortunately there are many many French speaking students in the classroom so mostly we can get by, but it is clearly frustrating for him to never understand what is going on and frequently he is off doing his own (disruptive/destructive) thing, like poking holes into all of the erasers with his pencil. I feel bad because it becomes necessary for me to pull him away or  discipline him in order to get the rest of the class to focus on their work instead of his antics, and I really really don't want his only interactions with me to be negative.

So it was with great relief that I realized that in our English lessons, I could have him write in French. Yeah, okay, they are English lessons, but really we're learning about how to build sentences and paragraphs and write stories and such like, so it doesn't matter what language you learn how to do that in. That week we were writing a story about a Seagull named Sydney ('cause why not, right?) and they were meant to get Sydney in some sort of trouble and then get him out again (fascinating to read their solutions, it's amazing how much of themselves they put into their writing. "Ah, so that's what you're thinking about!"). I had our French boy describe the seagull, and write a paragraph in French about what the character of Sydney was like. He did such a good job! And because he actually had a task to do that he understood he didn't distract other people and destroy school supplies! It was pretty much the best thing ever. I just kept grinning at him when he brought me his workbook to show off what he had done.

Tykes Odds and Ends

Last week during a lesson in one of the nursery rooms I managed to use a hula hoop to knock over a bunch of test tubes containing coloured water. (Isn't that a wonderful set up for something? It seems like all of those things together would be the beginning of a fabulous surreal story, but really it was just a watery mess.) I felt bad that I had just spilled water everywhere including all over the Montessori materials on the shelves- but all of the tykes kept saying "It's okay, Miss Casey!" in that particular voice that you use to console a three year old when they've made a mess in a clearly accidental way. Like wetting themselves or something like that.

Good to know they've been listening and taking it in.

I know it's only October, but we're already moving in to working on the Christmas show. This year we're getting ambitious and having the show on a proper stage at an away venue instead of just in the hall/cafeteria at school. Also, (because I think they can do it) both the Reception Tykes AND the Nursery Tykes will be doing their own Nativity plays. I use the term "nativity" very loosely: one is about a kind scarecrow and his animal friends and involves Mr and Mrs. Claus; while the other does mention baby Jesus but is mostly about a bunch of stars.

I know I'm talking about religion a bunch on this blog- but it comes up fairly often at school. It's a religiously diverse school and I'm still not used to the fact that there isn't a separation of church and state in this country. Fine lines to tread and all that.

I wanted to make sure that all of the classroom teachers were on board with the Christmas show plans and I wanted to make sure that if there were any concerns that I heard them now, in October, rather than learning about them in December or, even worse, not hearing about them at all and just frustrating/angering some of them. So I've been running the scripts and songs by the teachers and getting feedback. Most of the teachers are keen to try something a bit more challenging, but it is interesting what sort of traditions people hold on to in a school where the longest serving teacher amongst the Early Years staff has only been here for 5 years. (I guess that is plenty long to make a tradition.) Fortunately at this point we've still got enough time to change the plans pretty drastically if we need to.

Halloween? Pssht. Thanksgiving? Whatever. It's jingle bells on rotate here! (Side note: I have, legitimately, had Good King Wenceslas stuck in my head for the better part of this past month. I have no idea why.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Religious Education, or "well, this is fun"

Two weeks of Year 3 Religious Education (and English) in, and I'm having a ball. The first week RE went great and English was a disaster. The second week RE was a mess and English was spectacular. So we're doing what we can.

In RE the curriculum currently has us talking about Judaism and specifically Moses. (Can I just say how much I love following lesson plans that I haven't written? It takes out 99.9% of the stress of teaching for me.) We covered The Exodus first and so I grouped them into pairs. Partner one became the slave while partner two became the master for a couple of minutes.

Foolishly, I failed to put in a clause saying "DON'T HIT YOUR SLAVE!"

I know better now.

We then had a group discussion about what it felt like to be a slave (using the interactive white board! Those things are fun.) and what it felt like to be the master. We then talked about how the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and how even today there are slaves around the world and how sometimes it can be because of totally arbitrary things like religion or race or whatever. I don't remember what we did next but I do know that I enjoy working with 8 and 9 year olds. They're just old enough to have their own opinions and actually have something interesting to say with fascinating links and ties to other subjects.

The first week they let me get away with answering "It's a Bible Story" when they asked "is this TRUE?" The second week they wised up, "Yes, but is the Bible true??"




"Yes, it's true! It really happened." 
"Nu-uh! It didn't! It's just a story!" 


Well. Look, guys. Here's the thing about religion; some things that some religions believe to be true and factually correct other don't believe to be true. So, yes, for many people in the world they believe that this is true. Many others don't.

"Yes, but did it really happen?

Right. So these are the 10 commandments, everyone look at the board please? 

Here's where RE completely fell apart the second week: I made groups of 4 to collaboratively write 5 commandments for living life well and then make a poster. A few of the groups worked just fine, but the group I had working in French was alternating between giggling maniacally and crying and the group across from them decided that *all* of their commandments would be about who not to fart on. There was so much hooting and hollering going on that I tried 4 different ways of simmering them down and getting their attention: clapping a pattern to clap back, turning the lights off, shouting over them (oops), and quietly saying "if you're listening and paying attention you'll put your finger on your nose" which worked just fine for the groups who were working well already but failed massively with the two groups that were already out of control.

I talked with their teacher afterwards and we mutually decided that the way in which I'd built the groups was...not ideal. So I now have a much better plan for which kids to combine with which kids. Learning, it's all about learning.

Here's the other place it went wrong with the Ten Commandments

Thou Shalt Not Kill

But Miss Casey? What about all the Egyptians that got drownded? 
No, no, it's okay to kill Egyptians.