Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Monster Relay Race

Our ones are beginning to get body parts and numbers. I love teaching these things. It is like a free license for me to go crazy with my favourite stories! I love building monsters and playing with ideas like what is the "norm" and expected. Last year, as an example, I wrote stories from Orthrus and Cerberus' perspectives (these are available via our subscription on our website: ). They are a pair of brothers (and monsters) who protect various things and can be particularly violent.

So... of course I jumped at the chance to do something unique this time!

Enter.... The Monster Relay Race!

It's part running dictation, part Invisibles,  part relay race, and part dice game. I was hoping the kids would enjoy it and it turns out... they ran with it (pun intended). So... let's get down to the nitty gritty.

The Basics

  1. Prep Time - ~10-15 minutes
  2. Instructional/set up time - ~5 minutes
  3. Activity Time - ~1/2 the class
  4. Grading Time - As long as you'd like it to be. 
  5. Supplies Needed:
    1. vocab list that includes body parts and numbers
    2. dice (I used 8 sided dice, but you can use any... the more side, the more varied the work you'll get)
    3. coloured eggs (Try the dollar tree or 5 Below. Amazon has them too year round)
    4. a container for your eggs
    5. colouring supplies


  1. First, students will get into groups of four. They will need the paper with the instructions on it (attached below), and a die. 
  2. Second, students choose jobs. The jobs I allowed were:
    1. cursor - runs to get an egg
    2. aleator - rolls the die
    3. pictor - draws the image
    4. scriptor - writes the sentences
  3. Students race to collect five body parts (in order by coloured egg). 
  4. Once they have a body part, they roll the die which tells them how many of that body part are needed in their sentences and picture. 
  5. They construct the sentence and the scriptor writes it down.
  6. The pictor draws that body part. 
  7. When all five parts are collected, they work as a team to finish the image (background included) and colour it. First team to turn it in, and get it done according to instructions, wins. 


When kids turned it in to me, I was very strict on what I would accept, given the rules. When I grade it, however, I will be not so strict, considering this was  a race. What I looked for was:
  • 5 body parts with 5 numbers. 
  • 5 separate sentences... in Latin.
  • colour in the image.
  • a back ground
  • numbers written out in Latin and spelled correctly (they were written on the board for the students)
This drug out the game a little and allowed groups who process more slowly to catch up to the speedy groups. When I grade these, however, those specifications go out the window. What I'm looking for is:
  • Does the image and body parts match the sentences in type and number?
  • Can I understand what they wrote?
I've given some examples below. The captions help clarify these points. 

This is the winning group. They were not the first, second or third to try and turn it in, but they were the first to get all my points right!

This group made their sentences easy to read and super clear! Their image matches very well. 
This group originally wrote 1 sentence. While any other time this would be fine, for the rules of the game, it didn't work. They had to go back and work out what they did. What was really cool, however, is that they ended up varying some sentences and creating some great examples. 

Here is a copy of the paper I made!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

10 Quick Ideas for a New Year

I thought I'd share some ideas and questions I've been working on this year.

First... some reflective questions for the new year that I have been pondering. I'd love to hear your thoughts on them!

  1. How am I going to foster community this year in my classroom?
  2. How can I turn my space into our space?
  3. How can I encourage play and risk taking with the language?
  4. How can I ensure everyone's safety?
  5. How can I engage my students' interests in class?
  6. What privileges do I enter the room with this year?
  7. What struggles are my students facing?
  8. How can I create a space where they feel safe and free to explore?
  9. How can I make a better pot of coffee?
  10. How can I ensure I take care of myself this year?

And, secondly some quick ideas for the new year!

  • Put up a graffiti wall for students to decorate (courtesy of Christopher Emdin).
  • Share about yourself. Whatever you ask students to do, you should also be willing to do. 
  • Try out new ideas (AKA future blog posts ;) )
  • Always offer alternatives for students who need more time to process or who have disabilities/are disabled. 
  • Bring something you love into the classroom.
  • Try the Fly Swatter Game :) 
  • Consider adding aspects to games that involve chance. Also, consider allowing students who need extra support or extra time with things to be judges in games. You get to go over the material again with them and they get to feel good about what they know. 
  • Research Acceleration (AKA another blog post I'll be writing soon)
  • Don't tell your kids they are welcome to your room. Tell them they belong. 
  • Go ahead, enjoy that second cup of coffee, or whatever. You deserve it!
What of these topics would you like to see expanded into a blog post or a podcast episode? What about a reflective video? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wrap it up already - End of the Year Thoughts

It snuck up on me. I'll admit it. Last I remember it was just after Spring Break and I was refreshed, renewed, and ready.... ish.

So, this blog post is set to go alongside our last podcast of the year. You can listen to it here (or anywhere you get your podcasts). Knowing that, I'll skip the things mentioned in that podcast and focus on a few things I didn't get to discuss really.

Every year I consider the things I've done and the things I would like to do differently.

So, what did I do this year? Honestly, the best place to start is my Twitter. I tried to tweet out what my IVs did as often as possible. But, here's a general overview :)

  1. Adventures gone wrong - We read about Psyche, Orion, Ursa Maior, feles et Venus, and Icarus. Students discussed human qualities, virtues, and mistakes. 
  2. Rebellion - We focused on women mostly, but we dove deep into this. Students learned the history of Rome including the kings, invasion of Britain, invasion of Masada. We also discussed the role of women, the assault of women, and colonisation. 
  3. Food - To finish the year, we talked about food. I hit the points needed about Roman food, but we really focused on the foods we love and have history with. Students brought their favourite foods and wrote recipes in Latin. 

This year I also focused on community. We did brain breaks, held each other accountable, and implemented a 5 minute check in each day, and were honest with each other. I met with my cogen group each Friday to make class better.

So, when considering next year.... I knew I wanted to continue on this trend of community, but make it even better.


A slight detour?

Last week, our neighbours brought to us a tiny kitten. She came to us shivering, covered in fleas, with worms, and without a meow. She wasn't more than 6 weeks old. So, we did what we could. We gave her a bath, dewormed her, wrapped her in a warm blanket, and started her on infant formula and kitten food. By day 3, she had started to come out of hiding and trusted us enough to eat in front of us. By day 5... she had her meow (and knew how to use it), had learned the litter box, and had started to play. 

Generally, she cannot be around our other animals because she isn't vaccinated yet and needs to grow a bit more before she can play with the others... She is also feral. She's never been inside a house, neither had her mother, and she knew nothing of the human world, except to avoid it at all costs. So, every day, one of us wraps her up and carries her through the house as we do chores. She experienced making coffee yesterday (as an example). We make it fun... we feed her on a variety of surfaces, play with her while we do other things, and let her crawl on us to get a better view of whatever we are doing. To her... it's a game, but to us... she is learning vital skills. 

She is learning how to interact with other animals and humans in an appropriate way. She is learning boundaries and how to respect them. She is learning self care and self defence. 


And so... THIS is my focus next year: play. I don't know how it will all work out, but I want to have fun next year as much as possible. I want kids to leave smiling every day, as often as possible. I want kids to walk in, even if they've had a bad day, and know that they are in a safe place where they will be able to enjoy what we do. 

We've already taken steps for this:
  • FVR - free voluntary reading
  • Student Choice in activities and topics we read
  • using a variety of CI activities that allow students to move at their own pace, or move at all, etc. 
  • brain breaks
So, what changes am I making?
  • Getting rid of timed writes - I am making a move to free writes. No more timing. 
  • FVR changes - I don't know exactly yet... but I want to make it more free and more fun
  • Sensory corner - I plan to have a corner of supplies, and sensory materials for students who need them
  • outside time - I want to do more outside. I want to play with chalk. I want to go on walks. I want to MOVE
  • more stuffed animal time
These are just ideas, but I am really glad I've chosen this focus. Watching Mian (the kitteh) learn how to cat is inspiring and I love watching her grow.... I want the same for my students. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Cogen - A Life of Its Own

Last Friday, my school laptop broke, in the middle of teaching. I was devastated. Part of my anxiety is the need to please others and not disappoint anyone, so this was a big moment for me. I held it all in until I finally spoke to the guy in charge and then a full on panic attack ensued.

I finally gathered myself enough to walk back into my room, not caring at that point that my face was bright red and my eyes were fully puffy, and not caring that I was about 3 minutes late to class, expecting to find my class chit chatting and waiting for me. However...

When I walked into the room, I saw the kids of my cogen group leading the class in our five minute check-in. They'd taken it upon themselves to set a phone timer and start class without me. Those few extra minutes let me calm down even more, get class ready, and get to just exist and watch my kids build the community we'd been working for all year. I nearly started crying again, but out of gratitude.

Fast forward to Thursday (today). We had an unexpected snow day on Tuesday, so we postponed our cogen meeting until Thursday. I picked up a variety of donuts for our meeting and I admit I was starting to feel a little more confident about this whole thing.

Like clockwork, students started filing in. They grabbed some breakfast and joined each other in the circle, catching up on life's events. Eventually, I joined and we checked in with each other and how things were going.

I thanked them for their help last Friday and those who took a more passive role in it thanked those who were actively leading. They all said they noticed my stress level and decided to just help out. I reiterated how helpful it actually was.

The question today was moreso what we could all do to keep each other and the students engaged. What they discussed was how Latin time is helpful, especially when I ask direct questions and hold them accountable. I appreciated this feedback, and admitted I was also looking for something they could do to help each other. We decided to continue the conversation next week.

At this point, we'll be starting phase 2 of the cogen. I asked the group who would like to invite someone from the class to our meeting. They were to be someone from our class who was not already involved. We talked about how this person (who invited them) would then phase out of the cogen and have a job in the classroom. One of the girls volunteered to take on this role.

Next week, we'll meet and we'll start this first round of transitions.

Update: Today, I came into 3rd period to find our computer guy waiting for me. He and I were talking and I watched the same students start the check in again. The Cogen officially has a life of its own.

  1. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too
  2. Christopher Emdin's Twitter
  3. Bob Patrick's Twitter
  4. Bob Patrick's first blog post in his series
  5. Bob Patrick's second blog post in his series
  6. My first post in this series
  7. My second post in this series

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Cogen: Here We Go Again

I crawled into bed the other night when it hit me, "I have a cogen in the morning and I forgot to get goodies at the store!" In my state of panic, my partner reminded me that I could pick up snacks while getting a cup of coffee on my way in. Cogen = saved.

I got to my room and set up the circle and snacks and I waited.

By 7:05 we had two of the four ready for the cogen. We surmised that the other two had forgotten, which I nearly had myself, so we proceeded to discuss.

The Review

We briefly checked in on last week's meeting and what we had discussed. The students remarked that they felt like just the fact that we had met had already changed the classroom culture. That they were serving as models for other students and that the atmosphere was already changing. They also remarked at how well the daily check ins were going and reiterated how much they liked them. 

The Discussion

Today we addressed two questions. The first pertained to class today. We will be doing a read, discuss, and draw and I inquired about how they wanted to do brain breaks. Whether they wanted to let me know when they were ready, or if they preferred I set a timer. They commented that they really like class and sometimes we get so into things, that we don't realise we need a brain break, so we agreed today I'd set timers. 

The second question was "What could I be doing more of in class". They reiterated that check-ins are going well and then they told me their favourite brain breaks so we could use them more often in class. 

Lastly, after speaking to Bob about his cogen, I decided to propose the idea of a remind or Groupme to help with communication. They agreed. So, we'll set one up during class today so we can remind each other of our meetings. 

As we were wrapping up. The students offered to bring food next time so that I wouldn't have to. I offered to bring food if they brought drinks to share. It was a nice ending to a wonderful meeting


In the moments between arriving at school and starting the cogen, I still find myself quite anxious. I still want this to go really well and I am still unsure of myself. So, before the meeting I reread Emdin's section on the meetings, questions, and follow up and prepared myself. 

I felt a sense of (maybe) relief, but moreso camaraderie and "family" (if you will) when the students not only expressed happiness but took ownership of the meeting in offering to bring food. It made me feel that not only was this going well, but that the students were feeling a sense of family too - and that doing this was not only going to continue to go well, but was something we should and would continue through the year. 

Over the next two meetings, we'll begin to move to the next phase of the cogen. I am excited to see how it goes and will continue to share my experience. Check out the resources below which include both Christopher Emdin's contact, Bob Patrick's contact, and Bob's own reflections on his cogen. 

  1. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too
  2. Christopher Emdin's Twitter
  3. Bob Patrick's Twitter
  4. Bob Patrick's first blog post in his series
  5. Bob Patrick's second blog post in his series

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Cogen: A First Meeting

Two days ago I sent a message to my partner, "3rd period didn't go well. I'm upset... with myself."

See, what had happened was we were reading a story and I was getting blank stares, mumbles, and I was losing kids who would rather stare at the wall than discuss with me in Latin. While this is not the norm, it has happened a few times in this particular class. I stopped my lesson and asked what was going on. They were silent. I was silent. Finally, they started to speak. What came about was that they didn't understand and I surmised that they were uncomfortable telling me that. What I said to them was, "this my fault." They didn't want to agree, but it's true. I wasn't making what we were doing comprehensible, compelling, or caring.

 My colleagues and I have been reading Christopher Emdin's For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too. In one chapter, Emdin discusses lessons learned from a rap cypher and how one can use that in the classroom for reality pedagogy (Chapter 4). I will admit that I grew up in the 90s when rap cyphers became a part of the popular entertainment culture and I was already familiar with them in that context. What I found quite intriguing and compelling was translating that to the classroom.

I won't go into the basics, as Bob Patrick has already done a great job of that in his own blog series on the matter. I highly recommend you read it and follow it! He and I will be sharing our experience in this journey on these blogs. Instead, I will share my experience with our first meeting.

I had already been wanting to have a cogen with this particular class, but I had been nervous about the whole thing and doing it wrong, when this event happened two days ago. After class I immediately stopped what I was doing and picked out my four students for the first cogen. Following Emdin's recommendations and lessons I spent time considering which students I would ask and ultimately changed my list a few times before feeling like I had a group that represented the variety of the classroom.

The next day, (Thursday - yesterday), I quietly approached each student as they came in and asked them if they'd stay after class for a minute to talk. They weren't in trouble, and that I needed a favour. They all readily agreed.

Now, I must pause here and say, that I was still (and am still) incredibly nervous about doing this. I want to do it right and I have anxiety about messing things up, which often translates to my hiding away and being incredibly self critical. So, when I say I am "following [his] recommendations and lessons" I mean that literally. I have marked pages in the book where I have thoughts and took notes, as well as places where he discusses the cogen and how to have one. Before the end of class, I reviewed his "script" of what to say. When everyone had left, I asked if they'd be willing to meet with me in the morning or afternoon one day to discuss some things that I wanted their help with.

So, this morning I came in with some cinnamon rolls and muffins and I set up a circle of chairs. At 6:55 three of the four students rolled in and greeted me. I welcomed them and invited them to get some breakfast. The fourth arrived shortly after. We sat together and, at first, we just chatted. They talked about food and asked my opinions on coffee. We relished in the fact that we have a long weekend coming up. Once everyone was there and had food, I covered Emdin's three rules, which we all agreed to: (1) we are all equal. I am not above them because I'm a teacher. (2) One person speaks at a time. (3) This meeting was to enact real change in the classroom and that we would hold each other accountable (especially as we are all equal).

The question this morning was "What is something I can do in the first or last five minutes of class to make our experience better". What I found was that, much like Bob discusses, students wanted to continue a 5 minute check in every day and that brain breaks were important.

While nothing "new" came out of the meeting in actual practical practice, what did come out was an agreement that they would help hold me accountable and that I would trust them. Every day we'd continue to check in with each other and build community. Every day, when they said they needed a break, I'd trust them and follow through and they would be honest with what they needed.

To be honest, I really enjoyed this meeting. About 3/4 of the way through, Bob (who is also my department head) came into my room and welcomed them and congratulated them on being my advisers. I immediately saw their posture perk up a little. This was an important moment. We all shared excitement over this cogen and they've agreed to meet with me next week.

As I post about my experience, I will do my best to be honest and as detailed as is appropriate. That being said, there are some resources I also want to share each time:

  1. Christopher Emdin's Twitter
  2. Bob Patrick's Twitter
  3. Bob Patrick's first blog post in his series
  4. Bob Patrick's second blog post in his series