Friday, 31 May 2013

Health Unit: "Growth and Development"

On Monday, we start our last health unit on "Growth & Development" aka Sex Education.

There are the curriculum expectations for this unit:

OVERALL: describe age appropriate matters related to sexuality (eg. the need to develop good interpersonal skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively with the opposite sex).

-explain male and female reproductive systems as they relate to fertilizations
-distinguish between the facts and myths associated with menstruation, spermatogenesis and fertilization
-identify the methods of transmission and the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) and ways to prevent them
-use effective communication skills (eg. refusal skills, active listening) to deal with various relationships and situations.
-explain the term 'abstinence' as it applies to healthy sexuality
-identify sources of support with regard to issues related to healthy sexuality (eg. parents/guardians, doctors)

For this unit, we will be watching Learn 360 videos based on the above curriculum goals:

  • "We're Growing Up" (puberty changes, body processes, hormones/reproductive systems)
  • "Am I Normal?" (discusses scenarios requiring decision making skills, STDs, pregnancy prevention)
  • "Teens and Sex: What you need to know" (discusses scenarios required decision making skills, STDs, pregnancy prevention, reproductive systems)
  • "Straight Talk About Sexual Choices and Consequences" (discusses scenarios required decision making skills, healthy relationships, peer pressure, hormones/emotions, STD, pregnancy, abstinence)

If you have any questions about this unit, please let me know.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Poetry, Lyrics, and Music Videos as 'Visual Poems'

On Friday we kicked off our next literacy unit: Poetry, Lyrics and Media Study. This unit essential involves investigating song lyrics of modern times, poems from olden times (with comparisons between then and now) and modern day visual representations of both (on youtube and as music videos). It is one of my favourite units  and so much fun to teach.

We started with Stereo Hearts by Gym Class Heros. This was a perfect song to start with, especially given it was a Friday before a long weekend: peppy, happy, everyone sings along...and the lyrics have surprising depth. The song is essentially one giant example of figurative language..we studied 6 metaphors/similes specifically, explaining and interpreting them.

That lead us to 'main idea' suggestions: I put 5 on chart paper, that students suggested (most ideas had to do with: 'wanting to love' but also 'wanting to be loved', especially 'for who they are'--even though they are heavy and old like a boom box, and have scratches like an old record').

Then we looked at the music video. Students had to 'judge how effectively the visual representations portrayed the main idea of the text'. To do this, of course, they must interpret the images.

I encourage students to jot down every image they see in the music video...then choose the top 5, the five that seem most important.

We realized the video seems to involve a lot of shadow, it is quite grey in tone, and very 'real world'...the pavement is cracked, for example. Also, why is he so alone? Random people walk by...but where is the romantic interest? He is singing this song to someone, asking if he can love them and asking to be loved in spite of flaws. So...where is this person? Why isn't the video 'more romantic'?

At the end, students had to decide yes or no...was this an effective representation? Most students said no, primarily because  it seemed at odds with the idea of love and romance. But a surprising number said 'yes', it was an effective representation...because he is asking to be loved 'as is'...and reality involves shadows and cracked pavement. It's 'not fake'.

Very clever!

Of course, there is no right or wrong answer. It all depends how how well you can justify and explain your opinion, supporting your opinion with evidence from the text.

But it certainly draws forth some interesting conversations!

One reason why I enjoy this unit is because we take such 'mundane' elements of 'pop culture' and realize their intrinsic power. As I told the students, the lyrics they hear on their MP3 players etc are modern day poems. Every time they listen, they are connecting with and interpreting poetry. And the music videos are 'visual poems'.

The idea of 'poetry' often seems so old fashioned to students...when I say we are studying poetry, there are always a few groans. Its like they think that all the poets are from a hundred plus years ago and thus must not have relevancy. Oh, but they do! One particular aspect of this unit I enjoy is taking poems from yesteryear and comparing them to modern day lyrics, such as when I contrast Coolio's Gangster Paradise song (1995) with Percy Shelley's Ozymadias (1818)...and then we look at youtube interpretations of Shelley's poem, created by modern readers...

I truly can't wait to see what my class thinks of that!

PS. I enjoy this topic so much I created a website out of it...see

Friday, 10 May 2013

Guest Speaker: Writer Kevin McGill

Today writer Kevin McGill will be speaking to the class via Skype.

Kevin has been a guest speaker for me in previous years and he is always an enjoyable guest to have. He was also one of the presenters during my Junior/Intermediate Boy's Literacy Event a few years ago (which you can read about via news articles here. You will need to scroll down!)

Kevin's has written a young adult series called Nikolas & Co. He also sent his book into space! (For real!)

As an oral language task, students have paired up and determined an interview question for Kevin. Questions could be about writing, books or sending his book into space...but they all have to be unique! During the interview, one student asks the question during the interview, the other writes down the answer. Later, the student who wrote the answer will need to present their response as part of a class podcast, which I will eventually post here.

Thanks, Kevin, for taking the time to speak with us today!

ADDENDUM: As promised, here is the podcast!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Oral Language & Media: Travel Presentations

I like to build oral language skills gradually though out the year. Students have had ample practice by now in formally presenting material to peers as pairs and in small groups. Now students will be presenting to the entire class is this new project that incorporates research skills and what I call 'financial literacy' skills.


Students, either in pairs or individually, are being asked to research a 3-4 day 'dream vacation' to any destination by plane from Toronto. (No all inclusive packages and no trips to space, please!)

They will present the details as a presentation, which must include two parts:

Using the internet, they are to plan every detail of their trip including:

-What flight will you take to get there?
-Where will you stay?
-What will you do each day? What sites will you see? What places will you visit? Is there a particular restaurant you want to eat in? Etc. 

Students will need to make a list of the real world costs. These can easily be found on the internet. NO PRETEND COSTS!

Costs to consider:
-airfare for each
-hotel costs for each (everyone gets their own room)
-daily living costs, if possible (breakfast/lunch/dinner)
-costs for any outings (such as admissions to museums, movies, sporting events, tourist attractions, etc)
-travel within the city or day trips (train fare, bus fare, etc) if applicable
-any other costs! (souvenirs?)

These are to be added up to show a total cost. 

A few points:
-students are not to  give any personal information out for any reason (like name or email)
-flights must leave from and return to Toronto
-if a flight does not leave on a Friday then pick any 3 to 4 day span (or whatever time frame works)
-no ‘all inclusive’ packages!

-no space travel!

We are working on these in class every Day 2 and Day 4. A total of 8 in class sessions are being allotted for this project. Tentative due date is set for end of class on Thursday May 23rd.  Presentations aim to take place the following day. 

CRITERIA (Oral Language)
- demonstrate an understanding of appropriate speaking behaviour by using effective presentation techniques (eye contact, volume and tone, etc)
 -communicate orally in a clear, coherent manner,
-use appropriate words, phrases, and terminology related to their research
-both participants must speak equally during the presentation

-the presentation is max 5 minutes in length
-the presentation has a media component  (such as powerpoint, Prezi)

-include a budget list documenting the costs of your pretend weekend/long weekend trip, with a TOTAL COST included
-include photos, videos or sound clips that represent your travel plans
-include an itinerary of events (what you plan to do on your trip)

-spell common words correctly

Narrative Writing

As a culminating task for our narrative unit, students are being asked to write their own short stories, demonstrating knowledge of the narrative writing form.

Here are some ideas I proposed to get them started:
-use one of the stories you started during our literacy centers.
-use the ‘narrative cue cards’ to determine your plot, characters, setting
-write ‘fan fiction’ (choose a famous story, text/movie/media: Harry Potter, One Direction, Twilight, Mario & Luigi, Minecraft world, Star Wars, etc and write a story based on those characters and in that setting).
-write within a genre: mystery, fantasy, spy, ghost story, etc.
-play with Point of View: write from an unusual perspective! An inanimate object, a tree or natural object, the viewpoint of a villain like Darth Vadar, a Creeper etc)
-come up with your own idea!

Students are again using the writing process to organize themselves: brainstorming, first draft, peer edit, final copy. They are being given 7-8 in class sessions to work on it. After that, they must complete on their own time by the due date. 

The final copy is DUE MONDAY MAY 13th.


-include a SUPER first sentence to interest the reader
-include obvious setting and characters
-include a plot with a clear problem and solution
-use vivid description that engages the reader’s senses (sight, sounds, smell, etc)
-use interesting words (no boring words like 'good' or 'bad')
-use dialogue to add drama
-include an interesting title that makes the reader curious

-spell common words correctly