Sunday, July 26, 2015

Spirit Week!

This week was a fantastic week.  During the school year, possibly in elementary/middle school but definitely in high school, you probably went through a week where each day is themed and everyone dresses up-- you know, Spirit Week!  Usually for high schools, spirit week ends in Homecoming, both a dance and a football game, but at Breakthrough, we have a very unique way of capping off Spirit Week.  But I'll get to that in a bit.

Here is the line-up from this week:
  • Monday: Twin Day
  • Tuesday: Sports Day
  • Wednesday: Formal Day/Prom
  • Thursday: Pajama Day
  • Friday: Crazy Hair, Crazy Wear
I participated in all but Friday, as far as dressing up goes.  Normally I don't like participating in days like this, but it's totally different when you're dressing up for Spirit Week during high school than it is for Spirit Week at Breakthrough.  I've gotten used to looking very silly and making dumb mistakes in front of my kids this summer.  I've learned to not resist the silly.  If you can't beat the silly, join in!  So I did.  On Monday, for Twin Day, I was a dragon with my elective co-teacher Tanner.

Tuesday I borrowed a Minnesota Twins baseball shirt from my mom, Wednesday I wore a dress that I wore to a high school dance (one that actually still fit me), and Thursday I had on pajama bottoms with stars and moons on them.

The women of BTC in their nice clothes/prom dresses :)
And then Spirit Day happened.

The kids had all four of their classes for 45 minutes like every Friday, they did ASM, had lunch, and then spent the rest of the day in their colleges.  They went and played games to earn points against the other colleges!  There were games like Lilypad, where you had to get your entire college across the "pond" while always having one foot or more on each "lilypad" or else an alligator could take it from them making it harder to cross the "pond."  There was also an obstacle course, mat races (don't get me started... such an unsafe activity), Jeopardy, and some others.

Mat races... a game that I hope we don't play again for safety reasons-- Courtesy of the BTC Photographers
Jeopardy-- Courtesy of the BTC Photographers
After the games were over, everyone came outside and picked a spot in the amphitheater so that we could take another BTC-MPA picture.  Silver College is in the front on the right.

And then the fun began.  The college with the most points was announced and so was the college with the most spirit.  Their reward... they got to pie a teacher.  Each student in the college got to choose which teacher they wanted to pie and the teachers couldn't say no unless they said no before that day.  One of the ninth graders in my college pied me in the face.  It's a weird sort of affirmation, being pied in the face because you're liked by the kids you work with.

Pictures courtesy of BTC Photographers
It's been a day and I can still smell the whipped cream-sitting-in-the-sun-for-a-while smell on my skin, although it's subtle.

So spirit week was a lot of fun.  I had an absolutely amazing week!

But I still had classes to teach.  We had some amazing moments and victories there as well that made my entire week.  My literature kids have started their celebration project, which is to recreate scenes from Of Mice and Men in film.  I have two classes and I have both classes working to make one movie each, since there are only seven kids in each class.  Each class chose which scenes they wanted to do, so I have my Class A doing the beginning of the book where George and Lennie talk about their dream of owning land and living on their own.  My Class C chose the end where Curley's wife dies and where Lennie dies (sorry, spoilers).  I've been very impressed by both of these groups.  They've been working on scripting and have learned about storyboarding.  On Monday, they'll have their (supposedly) last day filming for their movie.  Later this week, they'll learn to edit videos and they'll get everything ready for Celebration, which takes place on Saturday.  I'm very excited for Saturday, but also dreading it.  I love working with these kids so much.

George and Lennie in my Class A :)
Class C figuring out how to best film the death of Curley's wife.
I was especially impressed because both of my classes tend to get quite distracted and during this project, all of them just focused in, even if they weren't the ones actively being filmed.  Behind the scenes work is absolutely fascinating.  It's amazing the amount of work that goes into one movie, even a short one.  I can't wait to share their videos at Celebration and also on this blog.

I have one more week of teaching and then one more week of wrap-up.  This six weeks of teaching and nine weeks total of Breakthrough has been life-changing.  I'm sad to see it come to an end for the summer.  But I'll save my sad for next week.  I need to keep it together this week, at least until Saturday.

Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Thoughts on Failure

I failed a class.  I tried to not fail a class.  I tried really hard, but still I failed.  I've never failed a class before, although I've done not as well as I hoped I would.  It feels different.  It's unfamiliar and it's uncomfortable.  This is what I've been learning (or trying to learn) about failure...

1. Failure has nothing to do with personal character.  I failed something, but that does not make me a failure.  I continue to struggle with this a lot.  I have to consciously tell myself that this is true.

2. Sometimes We're Not Ready For Certain Challenges.  And that's okay.  We can't be good at everything we do, although we certainly can and really should try to do so.  But you can't get up off the couch and expect that you'll be able to run a full marathon without facing any repercussions.  I know from what I've learned while teaching that it's important to scaffold students and work within their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).  That is, learners need to be able to see the next stepping stone and feel confident that they'll be able to make it to the next step on the road to mastery.  It's not that I was incapable and now I know that it wasn't because of my emotional state, this failure is because I just wasn't ready (in part).

3. Failure is an Opportunity for Growth.  I have learned a thing or two about what I can do next time in a great effort to not fail.  I know that I need to ask for help sooner, even if I'm not entirely sure what I'm asking for help with.  I know that I need to help myself learn as much as my professors are there to help me learn.  I know that I need to find a good way for me to process information and more importantly, I need to make time to process that information.

I'm still not comfortable with the fact that I didn't do well in a class at all, but I'm getting more comfortable with the fact that there's nothing left for me to do but move forward from this point.  And that's okay.

Thanks for Reading.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

College Week (Week 4)

This week at Breakthrough was College Week.  One of the very unique things about Breakthrough compared to other summer school programs is that there is a focus on getting to college.  The idea is that the kids who are part of Breakthrough sign on for six years.  They go to summer school for their sixth and seventh grade summer (before they enter seventh and eighth grade), potentially come for their eighth grade summer to join the Breakthrough Leaders Program (BLP), and then continue to get tutoring during high school and get help with college essays, resumes, and college applications.  The cool thing is that Breakthrough doesn't take students as they are to get them into college, but it helps students become better learners as well as helping them get into college.  So right now I have eighth grade students who are reading at a fourth grade level, give or take a year or two, but I know that while they are with Breakthrough, in and out of the normal school year, eventually they will be reading and doing math at or above grade level.  In this case, the phrase "It takes a village" is totally true.  My kids won't magically start reading at an eighth grade level or higher after being in my class, but I can help them by teaching them skills that they'll need in high school and college.  For example, we've been working on building discussion skills using accountable talk and by talking about Of Mice and Men.  We've had discussions on power, particularly when it comes to characters like Curley's Wife (the only woman in the book with dialogue), Crooks (the only African American), and Candy (the oldest and the only one who is physically disabled).  So we've been talking about the "-isms"-- sexism, racism, able-ism.  Since it has real-world applications, they've been pretty interested.

Any way, I digress.

College week started out pretty simply.  Monday, we gave students a piece of paper with the names of all the teachers, program interns, and staff.  Students had to go around asking all of the staff and faculty where they went to school.  I didn't get a lot of time to eat lunch that day because so many students were coming up to use asking us to initial their sheets and asking us where we went to school.

Tuesday was a similar activity.  It was a  Bingo sheet filled with activities and traits of a college experience.  Students had to go around asking staff and faculty asking us questions from that sheet.  I could answer that I go to a small college, I have an on-campus job, I work on the student newspaper and am involved in student government... things like that.  It was a way to see what kind of things you can do while you're living and learning at college.

Wednesday students could make their own student ID.  More importantly, there was a panel where some of us teachers would answer the questions of the students about college.  I know that the kids really liked this.  They liked it so much that my students would ask me questions during class time, asking about my college experience.

Thursday was a lot more exciting.  We didn't teach any classes and there was no Tutorial or Yo-Time.  Instead, we were gone the entire day.  We went to St. John's/St. Ben's in Collegeville, MN for a visit.  For the seventh graders, it was their very first college visit.  For eighth graders, I think it was their second and for BLP, they've visited at least two college before and some during the school year on the weekend.  So we were on the bus for about three hours.  It was good college bonding time.  We took a way too brief tour of St. John's University (we were supposed to have about half an hour to walk around and we had fifteen, if even that.  So we saw two buildings... the kids were a little disappointed).  I think the kids generally liked the feeling of being on a college campus.  There were a few kids afterwards who admitted that before, they weren't sure if they even wanted to go to college.  But after setting foot on a college campus and after hearing their college student teachers say how much they liked college, they were sure that college was something they wanted for their lives.  It's amazing what a field trip can do for someone.

Mounds Park Academy (MPA, which is my site), St. Paul Central (SPC), and Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) altogether at last.  This is outside of the Abbey on the St. John's campus.
They saw fish in the fountain and got really excited.
It doesn't seem like a big deal to us, but some of the most important things that the students wanted to see that college students might find trivial were the dorms, a classroom, and the dining room.  We only got to see a classroom of those three, but I think it helped show students what it was like to be in a real life college classroom.  It's easier to see yourself in a similar situation later in life.  So it was really cool that they got to experience a college classroom.
Neutral Cluster Kids (Silver, Brown and White colleges)
Friday, was the best day of college week, by far.  We did a Day in the Life of a College Student.  College Leaders, myself included, paired up our students and made them "roommates" for the day.  They had to fill out a survey and then once they were paired up, they had to fill out a roommate agreement.  They even got to choose a major or two to "study."  There were a lot of physical science people, a couple social science interests (like anthropology, sociology, and psychology), and there was even one English major, which I got really excited about, especially since she's in my English class this summer.  They went on a scavenger hunt to see what it's like to sign up for high school classes that they'll potentially have if they are in the St. Paul public schools system.  Afterwards, they played an intramural dodge ball game (by cluster, students vs. teachers).  In order to get a teacher out in dodge ball, students had to make eye contact with us and say the name of our real college before they hit us.  At one point, I was the only teacher left on our side so I just had a bunch of kids shouting, "St. Kate's!  St. Kate's!!  St. Kate's!!!" at me in an effort to get me out.  I've never been more terrified of the name of my school in my life.  The coolest part of Friday, I think, was the commencement ceremony.  At the end of the day, all students got their "Bachelor's Degrees" from the college or university that they chose to represent their color college.  So all of the kids in silver college got a degree with City University of New York Queen's College and their name written in nice lettering.  This was an excellent end of the day and the end of a really good week overall.

Talk to you next week-- the end is creeping a little bit closer.  It's crazy that I only have two weeks of teaching left, celebration, and wrap-up week and then I'll have finished my first summer with Breakthrough.  But I won't jump the gun just yet.  I want to enjoy this time while I still have it.

Thanks for Reading!


A Whole Lotta Crazy

I know a few people who will read that title and cringe, but that's the feeling that I'm emerging from this week and last week with!

Last week we were introduced to something called Kid Talk, which is our way to track a student's progress.  We don't grade homework, but we grade exit tickets to numerically keep track of mastery.  Kid Talk is a way to numerically keep track of behavior and attitudes with our kids so that we can best help each of our students while they are with us this summer and throughout their six year commitment with Breakthrough.  Kid Talk is not something that has been done in the past, but it's supposed to make conferences easier to prepare for.  There were a few snags to work out and it was yet another thing to ask of us as Teaching Fellows.

This past week brought normal classes, but also our first Visitor's Day, Conferences, and a school-wide game of Predator and Prey.  All things that I've never experienced before and had to take in stride.

Visitor's Day was actually pretty fun.  I only teach one core class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I was a tour guide that day.  Our group was made up of parents, current teaching fellows, future and current board members, past teaching fellows... you name it.  It was really cool, I think, to walk into the classrooms of my fellow teachers and see the really neat things that they are doing in their classes and see them in their element.  It was a little weird just to walk in and stand there and listen to a lesson that we weren't privy to.  It was even stranger for me to see the people on the tour and ask their students what they're learning in class.  I thought it was going to be a "look but don't touch" approach, so to speak, like visiting a museum.  Show them what Breakthrough does and share why it works, but not much else.  It was kind of cool to see our visitors be that interested in Breakthrough though.

Conferences was something that I've never had to do before, so I was a little nervous.  But I have three advisees, so it's not like it was going to be a long and arduous night.  In fact, I only got to talk to two of my advisees and their families on conference night.  The longest one lasted about twenty minutes and I felt good about that.  The shortest was about five minutes.  I didn't feel so good about that.  I learned really quickly that conferences ought to be a conversation between the teacher (myself) and the family.  I shouldn't just talk about what I want to see from my students, it should also be what goals the student themselves and the family have for personal and academic success.

And then Friday came.  I made sure my classes were pretty chill until finally, right after lunch, the games began (that game being Predator and Prey).  I got to tell the kids in my college that they were going to be prey (they had been theorizing and predicting for days.  They were convinced that we were going to be omnivores because of the number of people in our college, which proved to be nonsensical).  I think my college was pretty excited to be prey.  Our job was simple: find food and shelter cards on the ground and try our best to not get eaten.  The whole game was about two hours long.  Silver college (my college) was incredible.  They had excellent teamwork.  Even though I was the instinct that they had to stick by, they were good about offering up their own ideas and making decisions together.

Right away, as soon as we got out into the field and started picking up cards, we picked up a disease card.  We had told the kids before that the disease card didn't exist this year, so they were very surprised and mildly outraged.  But it proved to be fine.  Getting the disease card doesn't mean that you automatically lose the game.  You can keep playing, but getting the disease card means that in the event that you are attacked, you may not run, you can only walk quickly.  We used the disease card to our advantage when it became necessary.  We were pretty good about evading those who wanted to "eat" us, but in the event that someone did try to attack, we shouted, "We have the disease card!!!"  If our whole group got eaten, the omnivore or the predator would get that disease card and when they wanted to attack, they would have had to fast walk to take the reflexes of the prey they were attacking.  We managed to get all of the food and shelter cards we needed plus the three necessary water breaks.  After two hours and after losing half of silver college to an attack, we managed to make it through Predator and Prey and survived!  Woohoo!  Predator and Prey is an awesome game that requires a lot of strategy and teamwork.  I think it helped to really bring our college together as well as other colleges.

Thus ends a really crazy week three at Breakthrough.  It was hectic, but really great, despite being sick for most of the time.

Thanks for Reading!