Tuesday September 7, 2011
Greetings and welcome to another year at Wismer. The year ahead looks promising and exciting, filled with great challenges and wonderful opportunities. My name is Mr. Michael Kirshenbaum and I am beginning my twenty-second year as a teacher, all in York Region. I have been at Wismer virtually from the start. I have been the grade seven/eight teacher for the past five years and enjoy the unique challenges that teaching a split grade bring. I wish to assure you at the outset that all students in this class will receive a full program for their particular grade. That is to say, though the courses of study will be similar on some levels (in math and language in particular but also with history and geography) but your child will receive the full and required course for their grade. There will be some overlap with content (students might read the same poem, or story, watch the same movie, or use other materials together) but these will be assessed using criteria specific to their grade.
I would like to take this opportunity to go over some of the aspects of the year and deal with some of the more major issues and perhaps tackle any issues or questions you might have based on what has gone on in my classroom last year.
It is important to recognize that being a student in a split class requires a great deal of independence and self-motivation. There will be times when one part of the class is on their own, with a specific task and will not be heavily monitored. It is important to recognize the character building nature of these opportunities: that your child will have potential for growth as an independent learner, or to learn how to work with others in small group situations effectively. This is normal in all classes as teachers work in small groups on various tasks. In a split class too, all students will by the very nature of the class, be required to work within their grade group on a specific task. It is my expectation that all students work when given a task. It doesn’t matter whether they are in the class, in the discovery pods, in the library or at home. All work must be completed and done so within the required timeline. So independence and self-reliance will be very key, very important skills for all students in this class to learn right away.
Part of this learning and growing process will require that there is constant and open communication between the three partners: myself, the student and the parents. Please at all times, feel free to send me an email or contact me through the school if you have any questions or concerns. I will do my best to get back to you within 24 hours of the initial contact. Please do not write notes in your child’s agenda or leave a message with the school secretary as these have proven unreliable or at least slower ways of me getting the information. Email contact is the best (firstname.lastname@example.org), as it is the email I use to retrieve assignments and communicate with the students.
During the first weeks of school, I will be setting up a blog wherein all assignments will be posted. This is not just a calendar of dates, but the actual assignment. This will be a useful tool for students and parents to have a look at the assignment and plan out how much time is needed to complete it. If the blog is not used for whatever reason, I will email out the assignment to the students. There will always be an electronic copy available for students and parents to have and if you require an additional copy they are readily available.
This leads to the next issue: computers and computer use. Our school has been fortunate enough to be part of the “Blueprints for Change” program and we have received several new computers (netbooks and notebooks) for use by all students in the class. Moreover, there will be other improvements and additions to our current computers in the pods. The netbooks and notebooks will be made available to the students on a sharing basis which means all students in the junior and intermediate divisions will be able to share the computers but obviously no class will have exclusive access to them. This is a definite improvement over computer access from last year but still does not obviously give every student their own computer. Given the way in which my program will be delivered this year (more on that later) students will need to have frequent, even daily access to a computer. This does not necessarily mean that each student must have their own computer but certainly having more frequent and ongoing access to one will make their learning and completing their assignments easier. In a simple solution this could mean the students use the computers in the school. This could also mean students are allowed to bring in their own personal laptops from home. I must state clearly at the outset that there is absolutely no requirement for students to purchase their own laptop computers and bring them into school.
Having said that, in my homeroom last year there were upwards of twenty students who had personal laptops. This did enhance the students active engagement in the program last year, but clearly students who did not have their own computers were just as successful as those students who did. It is your choice to purchase a personal computer for your child for this year. It should be noted however that many students, once they reach high school, find having a personal laptop to be very helpful, so perhaps to purchase a computer in advance of this might be helpful.
Because students will be on computers frequently this year, once again we have to look at the ideas of behaviours and responsible use of the tools. Working on computers will require students to be independent and focused. The expectation will be that students are on task: that they are doing work related to their assignment and are not ‘surfing the web’, or going to websites which are not appropriate to their work or which are simply not appropriate. Students who are not using the computers properly, even if the computers are their own, will not be permitted to use computers while at school. This might be a daily ban, but could become permanent if the students persist in this misuse of the computers.
Let’s take a moment to look at the various subjects to see what some of the requirements and expectations will be and how they pertain to e-learning.
Language Arts: There are four main components to the program in Language: they are reading, writing, oral and visual communication, and media literacy. The reading program this year will focus heavily on electronic print media and will offer students a wide opportunity to explore digital and social media as well as computer and video games, and learn about how these modern and current forms of print can enhance and improve students’ engagement and performance in language arts.
One of the main uses of games will be to tell stories: there is a heavy amount of current research which suggests that a strong link exists between some video games and the narrative process. Moreover this research goes onto show that this link can be used effectively in the classroom to promote reading as one end but also and in a more meaningful way, students and parents can see the value of some video and computer games as being a new and dynamic literary source. There will be many opportunities in class to observe, to play and to even create games and to see the value of some of these games as storytelling opportunities.
There will be opportunities for students to use electronic texts as well. Not using the traditional hard copy non-fiction and novel model exclusively as a soul source of rich reading opportunities should open the doors to some reluctant readers who will see the value in an online or electronic text as a way to expand their reading opportunities.
In writing, students will be engaging in useful and effective writing based on current writing trends. This will include a variety of social media opportunities (facebook, twitter etc.) as well as blogs, forums and chats. Students will also learn to effectively use feedback/commentary in a variety of ways to learn how to be critical writers. All the while, students will be taught how to effectively and appropriately use the various sources and to learn how to express themselves effectively given the purpose outlined. Students will observe, discuss and engage in a variety of electronic writing opportunities which will include social media. Students will see the effective uses of these media to communicate real time events and to use these sources in a variety of positive ways.
In oral and visual communications, students will discover and develop their “e-voices” as they learn to use the internet as a way to express themselves. This will be done in closely monitored situations wherein students will be posting ideas and questions and have discussions online with their classmates, to learn how to use e-writing effectively in helping to define their voices. Visually, the students will immerse themselves in a variety of artistic opportunities to assist them with their learning and understanding of the artistic world around them. This will include music videos, advertisements, and other video sites where the students can view and comment about what they are seeing.
Finally in media studies students will use websites, and games and a wide variety of communication and presentation forms. They will also use the internet as a source for information and to see how this information is used and communicated. This will include infotainment, and news and students will learn how to view and use these sites critically and effectively for a variety of purposes.
The program this year in language promises to be a dynamic one with a wealth of learning opportunities for all the students with a goal to expanding both the students reading base and their engagement and understanding of what they are reading. Moreover linking the reading to the narratives found in games that they already play will give the students a greater depth of understanding of these games and see a useful link between them and other forms of texts and communications.
Let’s now examine the mathematics program. Traditionally the math is divided into five areas of study and a textbook is used as the primary or soul resource in order to teach and reinforce the concepts. This year we will be using a non traditional approach: no textbooks and no rote learning, wherein the same question is repeated. In fact there will be no equational learning other than to teach a new concept and where review is required. And then, mastery of any of the skill will be demonstrated by successfully completing no more than three or four questions consistently. There is in fact no need for the repetitive learning as students after three or four equations either show they understand it or need reinforcement: in either case further questions are not helpful. The bulk of the math program therefore will be devoted to real time problem solving situations, involving direct real world examples. Students will learn to: measure, count, estimate, predict and see patterns, not in numbers but in the world around them and use these applications to enhance their mathematical literacy. Once again there will be use of “tycoon style” games to enhance students learning, particularly of concepts and skills pertaining to money, resource and time management. Students will also be able to use their spatial awareness skills in a variety of building games. It has been found that many of these games teach the desired concepts in a fun and useful way. Students play the games, respond to the mathematical challenges offered and then are able to subtly apply the challenges and the related skills to the necessary strands in math. It is hoped that students will see math in a fun and meaningful way and recognize the wide variety and high significance that math plays in their lives rather than to see it as a series of disconnected and non-relevant equations.
In the history and geography programs, both have very proscribed content and in both grades seven and eight they are supported by quite excellent texts. It is my hope however that we will have an opportunity to use a variety of electronic resources including related games to increase the students understanding and appreciation of, in not the actual content then some of the background information and challenges. For example, our first units of study in history and geography will be about creating: we will look at creating colonies in grade seven and creating countries in grade eight. We will use in both cases computer simulation games to explain and discuss how colonies were established and expanded upon and also what some of the requirements are when building a nation. Following that, we will apply the skills obtained in the game to learning about New France (in grade seven) and Canadian Confederation (in grade eight). In geography, we will be looking at the building blocks of nations: looking at the physical and social geography. In both cases we will use computer game simulations to draw maps, create worlds and cities wherein we can see the importance and value and connection that geography has. Access to natural resources will also be discussed as will the importance and significance of urban planning as well as looking at class struggles that exist within cities. Once again the computer models will form the basis, wherein students can be directly and actively engaged in observing and playing the games and then they will apply the skills they’ve acquired to real-world examples and make the rich and important connections between the two.
It promises to be a very exciting year, filled with tremendous learning opportunities. The students in all subject areas will have a chance to engage fully with their content, to play, to create, to learn, to talk to see the valuable connections between and amongst a wide variety of learning opportunities in the classroom and the world outside. Actively supported by you, I have every confidence that your children will have an extremely successful year this year. As always, if you have any questions please feel free to contact me through the school or to email me. I look forward to meeting you at our Meet the Teacher/Curriculum night to be held later this month.
Thank you for your time.
Mr. Michael Kirshenbaum
Grade 7/8 Homeroom Teacher