Sunday, October 5, 2014

Famous Person Project

Over the past several weeks my sixth graders have been learning about different famous people. In their text book they've been learning about question words and talking about famous actors and actresses. So for writing class, I broadened it to researching and writing about a famous person (musician, artist, athlete, scientist, humanitarian, etc.) of their choice. We talked about Vincent Van Gogh, watched biographies, and created in timelines. I used William Shakespeare as an example for the fact sheet that the students would be creating the following week, and showed pictures of Shakespeare's boyhood home and the Globe. We read about and watched an interview of J.K. Rowling as we started to discuss interviews. Through it, students have been and are inadvertently learning about and practicing using question words, creating timelines, doing research, honing their interview skills and writing biographical paragraphs. My kiddos have done some pretty fantastic work!

It's been a process. We started by talking about Van Gogh in oral class. Before showing anything other than his picture, I asked my students, "What do you know about this man?" Most of them had some idea about him - he's an artist, he painted Starry Night, he cut off his ear, he killed himself. After talking about what we already knew, we watched a short biography about him. Then I had them think, "What sort of questions would you ask him?" We wrote their questions on the board and re-watched the video to see what else we could learn once we knew what we wanted to listen for.

The following week we read a short article about Van Gogh's life and then as a class created a time line for him. I also asked my students over the course of the next week to find an article about a famous person that they were interested in, read it, print it off, and bring it to class. I showed them several websites that are specifically designed for kids so the English is a little bit easier to understand and the article isn't a 20 page Wikipedia monster. I created a sample of the work that I wanted them to complete in class the following week: a fact sheet. My example was about William Shakespeare and I used one of the websites I had told them about to demonstrate that they could complete the assignment with the tools I'd provided. Before leaving class that day, each of the students had to tell me who they wanted to find out more about (that way I could look into it too to make sure that there would be something for them to read). The kids picked different famous people for different reasons. One of my favorite reasons was, "I want to talk about Albert Einstein because his name is Albert, the same as me."

My example Fact Sheet on the famous bard William Shakespeare

In oral class (which is combined with writing class) we started watching interviews of other famous people: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.K. Rowling. Before watching the interviews and then afterwards we went through the same process as we did with Van Gogh and the biography. Sharpening our skills on asking good questions that are relevant by looking at the types of research and questions that had been asked by the interviewers in the videos.

The third week after viewing and talking about interviews some more, the kids started designing and putting together their own fact sheets about the people they'd picked. We had: actors, athletes, scientists, inventors, humanitarians, directors, and more. The perimeters I gave for the fact sheets were that they must include: the person's name, a time line, and three fun facts. One of my students learned that she and the director/animator that she had chosen to learn about shared the same birthday, and she used that as one of her fun facts. It took most of them anywhere from 20-30 minutes to complete them, but overall I was pleased with the results.

Some fact sheet examples

Working hard

More examples
The following week for oral class, the students presented their work to the class, and then for writing class they turned their fact sheets into biographical paragraphs. It was nice that they were able to share and allowed their classmates to learn more about a person they didn't research. My favorite excerpt was when one of my girls walked up and said, "I chose Helen Keller." One of the boys from the first row interrupted and asked, "Is she a famous dancer?! Or a singer?!" Several other students from the class turned and looked at him, "No! She was a blind, deaf girl." Again, I provided them with some guidelines that came from their textbook which we'd looked at prior to them starting to write. Each paragraph (and this was just their rough draft) needed to include: a topic sentence, supporting detail sentences, and a concluding sentence. Since it's still fairly early on in the semester, I collected their paragraphs and edited them, placing a little checklist at the bottom of each paper to show them if I saw what I'd asked for. As the semester progresses, I'll introduce peer editing and we'll use more of that too. All in all, so far I've been impressed by the work they've put forth.

One of the students presenting his fact sheet. We're still working on eye contact while speaking to the class.

Rough drafts of the biographical paragraphs waiting to be handed back.

This week the students will be working on their final drafts of the paragraphs they wrote. I hung up their fact sheets on the bulletin board in the back of the classroom so that they could admire each others' hard work, and hopefully learn a little more about some other famous people who maybe they didn't pick.

I was very impressed with the work that they've done so far and am so proud of them. I'm excited to see where they can go from here!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Learning from Students

I think one of the best parts of being a teacher is how much you can learn from your kids. I mean, hopefully you have something to teach them, but they can take such new and interesting approaches to what you're presenting them with. Watching them get excited about learning or having that light finally go on can be a wonderful experience!

And this year my students are constantly encouraging me in my faith through the questions they are asking, the observations they are making, and their general enthusiasm for what God can do. It's amazing to watch God work through these kids! Many of them are not Christians and do not come from Christian families. Maybe this is the first or second year that they're hearing about God and Jesus. Religion is something that is often viewed as a cultural thing here in Taiwan. If you're from America, or a Western culture, than you must be Christian, because that's a part of your culture, just like for them, they're Taiwanese and so they're Buddhist, Daoist, or some other Eastern religion. But that doesn't stop them from being interested in learning more about Jesus and asking great questions along the way.

My kindergarten students and even my E1 students are a great example of the joy that they derive from hearing about God and Jesus and His power. This past week I was teaching the story of Noah and the flood to both my K3 students and my E1 students. In K3 when the page turned and there was water over the houses and little hills and the big hills, when there was water over everything, there was an initial "OH!" and then silence as they waited to see what would happen next. In E1, even though several of the students had heard Noah before (I know, because I had them in K3 last year), they were still astounded by Noah's big boat and the amount of rain that God sent. Some of my E1 students even started clapping for Noah as he listened to God and constructed the ark. I just love their enthusiasm for a story that growing up Christian I think I just took as a fact and therefore never got very excited about.

At the beginning of the year, my E6 students had to write in their journal what they hoping to learn in E6. Several of them said that they wanted to learn more about Jesus - who He is and what He did. A couple weeks ago, they started working on a project about a famous person of their choosing. Two of my girls asked if they could research and write about Jesus. I said, "Sure. Why not?"

Two of my girls' fact sheets about Jesus.

We had a huge turnout for O.S.F. this past week as well, forty-two students! After singing a few songs, we talked about goals. What are some goals they have as students? And then we looked at what the Bible says about goals. In particular, we looked at Philippians 3 when Paul is talking about keeping your eye on the prize - Jesus Christ. At the end Mark asked for prayer requests before leading our closing prayer. One of the girls who's been coming for a couple years now said that we should say a prayer of thanksgiving for all the students who showed up for O.S.F. Many of them were new. And after class, we were joking with one of the older students that she must be really popular, because after she told the dorm teachers about O.S.F. two weeks ago we had so many students come last week. Her response, "It wasn't me. God brought them!"

O.S.F. last week

"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:3-11

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Here Comes the Sun

This past weekend a typhoon blew over Taiwan. You could feel it coming in the winds that started up Saturday afternoon. Lightning started flashing Saturday night. And on Sunday came the rain. We had been warned to stay inside Sunday, to stay safe, and that many things would be closed. Although Pastor said that he'd be at church, he was encouraging parishioners who lived farther away not to venture out. So with the rain falling outside my window, I enjoyed a lazy Sunday spent reading and catching up on some of my favorite TV shows. It didn't end up being a bad storm. Last year there were typhoons that led to flooding and school cancellation. Yesterday's was just rain and some wind. I saw people out walking with their umbrellas, or driving scooters or cars to run errands, as I walked over to 7-11 to pick up a midday meal. The pluses to having a typhoon come through include that the temperature has finally dropped below 90 degrees so it feels much nicer outside, the rice paddies are greener (colors in general seem to be more vibrant after the rain), and in between the lingering clouds you can catch glimpses of the not too distant mountains.

As I was biking back from lunch today over the bridge to school I saw this view...

...and it made me think about rain and the good things that it can bring with it. It also caused me to think about different sayings involving the word rain. Into every life a little rain must fall. When it rains it pours. Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain. What I realized is that much like storms and showers that water the earth (and occasionally cause devastation), which can make daily life more dreary or complicated for a short time but ultimately water the earth so the plants can grow, we have water to drink, and fresh air, the metaphorical rain in our life allows us to appreciate what we have and who's around us; often times it helps us to grow. We all have rough days. Sometimes we're tired or frustrated. Maybe life just isn't going according to plan or we don't see a plan. But looking back on the harder days I've found that God always has a plan and knows how to work all things for my good when I keep my eyes on Him (Rom. 8:28). So sure, into every life a little rain must fall and when it rains and pours, but after it's done, we can step back and see the mountains and the lovely colors around us. We feel refreshed (maybe just because we're glad it's over or maybe because we've learned something or maybe a bit of both). Perhaps life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain, but ultimately, we all know that eventually the storm will end. The sky will clear. And we'll have a lot to be thankful for both because of the rain and because of what we experience after.

"Here comes the sun / Here comes the sun / And I say / It's all right."
The Beatles, Here Comes the Sun

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Full Swing

It's hard to believe that September is already half over! Taiwan has been especially hot this year, and even though it's fall now, temperatures are still in the 90s here. School has been going for three weeks now and all the other activities that the foreign teachers are involved with have also started up. On top of that we've had extra things going on at school like open houses (where parents have a chance to come in, meet the teachers and ask questions) and earthquake drills.

In the American Midwest we had fire drills, here in Taiwan we have earthquake drills. This past week we had two. The first was for the C.E.L.A. students on Wednesday afternoon. The principal came over the loud speakers and explained to the students what would be happening. When she first started hitting the drum the teachers announced that there was an earthquake. Then the students had to crawl under their desks and cover their heads. When the drum started being beaten again, they took their bags to cover their heads and headed out to the track field. A similar thing happened Friday morning for teachers and all the middle and senior high students. It was an impressive sight to watch all the older students and kindergarteners file out to the field. One of the new teachers this commented that it was like watching ants descend upon a picnic. The students just kept coming. Even though we were probably only outside for five to ten minutes, students and teachers alike were dripping with sweat by the time we headed back inside because of the heat and humidity, and were glad to be heading back in to the air conditioning.

This week O.S.F. (the On Campus Student Fellowship) also started back up. It was a smaller turnout since the announcement that we were meeting hadn't reached all the dorms, but we still had four A.F.L. students who showed up. We sang songs, played name BINGO, read some Bible verses, and enjoyed chatting over a snack.

Classes are starting to feel a little more settled with students starting to grow accustomed to the routine. This week for E1's Bible class we read the story of the First Sin. I enjoyed seeing the students, even the ones who'd heard the story before and knew what would happen, yell out, "No Eve! Don't eat it!" as Eve reached for the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their enthusiasm in contagious. My K1 students are starting to become more familiar with classroom vocabulary and what is expected. I'm thankful that none of them have cried yet this semester because of English class. Most of them are pretty eager to please, of course, there's always one that wants to test the water. They're also getting comfortable enough with English class and me that they're even starting to smile and laugh during class instead of just giving me a blank stare. Even after three weeks of the Hip Hip Hooray, my K3 students still love it and ask to sing it ad naseum. :) I'll take it though. This week my older E6 students are starting a project about a famous person of their choosing. As an example, I created a fact sheet and powerpoint talking about William Shakespeare. It was great being able to share my love of Shakespeare with my students! I was excited to see that they were engaged as well asking questions as we were talking about him and the time period that he lived during. I'm hoping that they'll enjoy the project and looking forward to seeing what the put together and learn!

One of my K3 classes

Some of my E1 students

K1 Apple class