Monday, August 15, 2011

Thank You, J.K. Rowling

I love to read.  I'm not very fast, and I only read for pleasure during the summer when I'm not working.  But I love it.

Kinley, however, has been a reluctant reader.  In fact, until she became engrossed in the Harry Potter series earlier this year, she would often say that she didn't like to read at all.  She would start a book and never finish it. She would check out library books that were far above her level, setting herself up for failure.

But her obsession with J. K. Rowling's fantasy world gave me hope and started what I hope will be a lifelong love of reading for Kinley. 

I was so proud of her when we went on a couple of Harry Potter tours in England.  Kinley proved how much she remembered about the books by answering many of the tour guide's questions about plot specifics, even winning a prize for her knowledge.

Kinley and I pose in front of Lacock Abbey where scenes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone were filmed.

Kinley claims her prize of candy floo powder for correctly answering questions.

Kinley and her cousin at Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station.

Kinley asks the tour guide a question on our Harry Potter walking tour of London.

And then, when we got home to the U.S., something else happened that made me want to squeal with delight. 

Kinley was helping me chop vegetables in the kitchen on one of the last days of summer vacation.  She had been reading The Titan's Curse, one of the books in the Percy Jackson series, and she said, "You know, Mom, I think Percy Jackson is just like Harry Potter.  Grover is Ron, Annabeth is Hermione, and Kronos is Voldemort.  The author totally copied J. K. Rowling.  And I think the ending is gonna be really short since I'm already halfway through the book and they don't even know where they're going or what they're looking for!"

Wow.  It is every teacher's dream to find out that the skills they've tried instill in their students have really taken root, have grown into something bigger, something that will be plucked and used by the student later in the garden of life.  And there I was, standing in my kitchen, chopping literal fruits while my daughter harvested metaphorical ones.  Wow.

My reluctant reader had initiated a conversation comparing the works of two different authors, was beginning to recognize pattern in works of the same genre, and was making predictions and passing judgments on the author's pacing of the plot!

Thank you, J. K. Rowling.  I owe you one.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer School

Our summer abroad was a kaleidoscope of historical, geographical, theatrical, and economic education.  And not only for Kinley.  I learned more than I had anticipated, too. 

The Boyds in front of Hampton Court Palace
For example, I memorized the fates of Henry VIII's wives in order (divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived).  I learned that Great Britain, England, and the United Kingdom are not all names for the same place.  And unfortunately, I also learned what to do when you lose your 10-year-old on London's subway system, the Tube.

You'll have to wait for a future post to hear about that one.

At the end of the school year, I had written a menu of activities for my students to do over the summer.  I hate to require my students to engage in educational activities over the summer, but I want to reward those who do.  I assigned a Boyd Buck reward amount to each item on the menu.  Visiting a museum and writing a one-page summary earns you 100 Boyd Bucks, reading a Newbery book and writing a summary earns you 100, finishing any unfinished pages in your math workbooks earns you 300, etc.

I had brought Kinley's menu and math workbooks with me to London along with a few Newberys for her to read.  But every time Josh or I brought up the idea of her completing a menu activity, we were rewarded with sullen silence or whiny protests.

"How embarrassing," I thought.  "My own child is going to show up on the first day of school with ZERO activities completed.  Lovely.  What a fantastic example to set for the rest of the class."

After several frustrating attempts to convince Kinley to spend some time completing activities, I decided that I should just let it go.  If she wanted to be the only kid in her class to start off the year bankrupt, that would be her problem. 

Still, she'd be learning a lot just by museum-hopping all summer. And that was the ultimate goal, right?  A well-rounded, educated young lady? Yes, I assured myself.  She'd be fine, even if her Boyd Buck bank account were empty.

So we went to the royal palaces to walk where kings have trod.  We toured the Tower of London (four times) to gawk at the crown jewels and shudder at the setting of Anne Boleyn's execution.  We sang along with Shrek, Dorothy, and Simba as we watched musicals in the West End.  We admired the work of Monet, Caravaggio, and Stubbs in the National Gallery.  We joined a school group listening to a presentation on Tudor apparel at the National Portrait Gallery. We marveled at the Egyptian mummies and the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.  We spent all day in the Cotswolds asking for directions and traipsing across private property on a quest to find an ancient Roman ruin in the middle of a wheat field.  We went on not one but two Harry Potter tours.  We learned the difference between the London Bridge and the Tower Bridge.  And so much more.

Kinley inspects an antique Thai coin at the British Museum.
Kinley learns about Victorian fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Kinley helps Knox record observations in the Investigate Center at the Natural History Museum.

And all along the way, Josh and I quizzed Kinley to make sure she was taking something away from it all. 

"What country was once ruled by Peter the Great?" 
"Which castle was built by William the Conqueror?"
"Which river runs through London?"
"What is the name of the United Kingdom's current reigning monarch?"
"What museum has the largest art collection in the world?"
"What book did King James I order to be translated into English?"
"When it is 8:00 a.m. in Paris, what time is it in St. Petersburg?"
"How many dollars are equal to 10 pounds?"

And Kinley dutifully recited the correct answers.  Mostly. 

So I guess she learned something after all.  But I have to admit, I'm secretly looking forward to making a huge production of passing out those Boyd Bucks to my other students on the first day of school while casting a don't-come-whining-to-me-because-I-told-you-so look at my daughter across the room.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Postcards from London

The Boyds at the Tower of London

My family enjoys travel. We work together on mission trips every other summer, helping people in places like Thailand, Fiji, Malaysia, or Japan improve their English conversation skills.  We work with a group called Let's Start Talking, using the Bible as our text and sharing our faith in Christ with our new foreign friends.  

Kinley with three new friends in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2010

These 6-week-long missions have enabled us to rack up the frequent flyer miles.  Kinley alone has 80,000 miles at her disposal right now. That's enough to take her to Egypt.  Or Timbuktu.  Or Disney, 3 times.

Whether we're going on a mission, following Josh as he represents Purdue, or traveling just for fun, I always send all of my students a postcard from wherever I am during the summer.  It takes a lot of time to write that many cards since I can't seem to stop myself from giving each child details about the far-away lands that they may never visit.  Plus, I like for them to know I'm thinking about them during the summer, and all kids love to get real mail. 

Many of them come in on the first day of school proudly reporting that my card arrived "all the way from" wherever I've been that year.  I beam at them, happy that my investment in time and postage (which costs as much as $2 per postcard in some countries) has given them joy.

But this year, I intentionally left out one student.

We spent the summer of 2011 in London since this was our off-year for mission work.  On a visit to Trafalgar Square, I stopped in a touristy shop to buy cheap postcards to send.  I picked one that had lots of different scenes of famous places in London and bought 22 of them.  Back in our tiny flat, I plopped onto the bed to begin writing.  I started with the child whose name comes first on my alphabetical class list.  I always assign my students class numbers and memorize my class list this way.  Justin Asbill is number 1; Jacob Baber is number 2; Kinley Boyd is number 3; etc.

After I'd finished the first two postcards, I was having trouble remembering which child was number four.  Kinley said, "What about number 3?  Didn't you write that postcard?"

I stared at her.  "Um, no.  I only bought 22 postcards."

"You're not sending me a card?" she asked in disbelief.

"Well….no.  I mean, you're HERE…with me."

She gaped at me a moment, told me the name of student number four, and went back to what she had been doing.

I have to admit that I did feel a little bit guilty.  Here was yet another way that my child was getting the shaft because her mother is her teacher.  Of course, in this case, Kinley got to actually VISIT the places on the card, but I'm sure that most people assumed she might get PREFERENTIAL treatment from me as a teacher.  The truth is, usually the opposite is true.  She often gets the short end of the stick.

But I still didn't write her.  And I think she'll get over it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Class Goes International

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I use a mini-economy system in my classroom.  (If you want to read a post that explains this, click here.)  It not only teaches my students fiscal responsibility but it also helps me manage my classroom.

At the end of each school year, my students write letters to local businesses asking for donations for our end-of-year class auction.  The kids learn about writing persuasive, informative business letters and then get to spend their hard-earned Boyd Bucks on lots of fun merchandise. 

Some of our donations for this year's auction included a $25 gift card from Wal-Mart, free hats and t-shirts from Caterpillar, a $10 gift card from Dairy Queen, coupons for lots of free menu items from Arby's and Wendy's, discount coupons from Red Mango (a local frozen yogurt shop), books from Barnes & Noble, lunchboxes full of goodies from the Children's Place, passes to Arrowhead Bowl, and free games at Monster Mini-golf.  It's seriously good stuff, and I'm often bummed that I'm not allowed to bid.

This auction is the one big event that my students look forward to all year long.  The frugal ones save their money for 180 days just for this.  But because of her trip to London, Kinley would not be with us for our auction. 

She was really disappointed until Josh came up with a solution.  A few weeks before, every classroom in our school had been updated with ENO interactive whiteboards.  Many of the teachers in my school were wary of this new technology since we had been provided with little training and because a school system budget crunch made it hard to justify this new technology spending to parents and tax payers. 

But the boards had appeared overnight, as if by magic, so we may as well use them.  Besides, our school-issued laptops easily connect to them so that anything on my computer screen can be seen on my ENO board by the whole class.  With the help of Skype, Kinley would be able to see and participate in the class auction, and the whole class would be able to see her while she bid.  I wouldn't have to think about how sad her empty little desk and chair made me feel; I would have her larger-than-life smiling face projected right in front of me!

It worked out perfectly.  Below is a picture of Kinley sitting in our London flat bidding during the auction.

We started at noon (Indiana time), so Kinley had to log on at 5:00 PM in London.  She convinced her daddy that she ought to be able to share in the class pizza party, too, so she ate a supper of take-out pizza in London while we lunched on Papa John's in Lafayette.  The picture below shows her watching the auction and eating her pizza.

She ended up getting the DQ card, some almonds donated by Bradley Farms, a cap from Caterpillar, an insulated bag, a camo necklace and bracelet, several Red Mango coupons, a free taco from Taco Bell, and a $20 gift certificate to Spageddie's.  Bidding in a real auction from 4500 miles away would involve import taxes, foreign currency exchange rates, and expensive auctioneers' fees.  But we'd made it work for our class economic system without any of that red tape.

At one point during the bidding, Kinley asked me to adjust my computer's camera so that she could see her classmates better. I thought it was pretty sweet that she wanted to really feel as if she were there in the classroom with everyone else.  But the sweetest part was the way that the rest of my class responded.  They were quick to notice Kinley's bidding, even when I was focused on the bidders who were actually in the room with me.  They would yell, "Mrs. Boyd!  Mrs. Boyd!  Kinley's trying to bid!" so that I would acknowledge her.  A couple of times, kids even stopped bidding early so that Kinley could win an item.  It was precious.

And I was really grateful for that new classroom technology.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Josh Takes Responsibility for His Daughter's Education

Every year since I've been teaching the High Ability class at Mayflower Mill, I've had to deal with students who take extended vacations during the school year.  I've had students who've jetted off to Costa Rica for two weeks, students who've gone on cruises that didn't even begin until school had already started after Christmas break, and students who simply couldn't take their annual week-long trip to Orlando any time except smack in the middle of October. 

Our school system has a policy that allows this as long as the parents are willing to write a letter stating that during the time that the students will be missing school, the parents will take responsibility for their child's education.  Of course, the child is expected to make up any missed work, but that's pretty much all it takes to get a week or two off of school, scot-free.

It's always a real pain for me when my students miss class since so much of what we do can't be replicated at home or made up with extra homework.  It's hard to have a class discussion about whether or not Sal in the novel Walk Two Moons is a reliable narrator while on the airplane with your family on the way to Disney World.  So I end up having either to decide that the student can skip the missed assignments altogether or having to write new assignments that can be done by the student without my instruction or their classmates' input to use as a sounding board.

And then, of course, I have to grade it all.  Yuck.

I've always thought of parents who exercise their right to take their kids on mid-school-year vacations as just a teensy bit irresponsible. Just what kind of message are these people sending to their kids about the importance of school attendance?

Well, this year, I became one of those parents.

Josh was given the opportunity to teach in Purdue's study abroad program in London, England, this summer, and our whole family decided to tag along.  Since the program in London started on May 18 and our school wasn't over until May 27 for students, we had initially planned for Josh to go over without us.  Kinley, Knox, and I would follow on June 1.

But then Josh and I (with some encouragement from my assistant principal) decided to give Kinley an early tenth birthday gift – a ticket to fly over with her daddy instead of waiting until the end of the school year.

We wrote the requisite I-take-responsibility-for-my-child's-education letter, which is kind of ironically redundant since she was already being taught every day in a public school by her mother.  Now that I think of it, maybe our letter should have been more of a I-hereby-relinquish-the-responsibility-for-my-daughter's-education-and-pass-the-baton-on-to-my-husband type letter.

At any rate, Kinley was heading to London.  She'd miss field day, the traditional 5th grade walk, and our end-of-year pizza party and auction.  But she would trade those activities for learning to deal with a new currency, visiting two Welsh UNESCO World Heritage Sites, straddling the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, watching Wicked from the front row of the Victoria Palace Theater in London's famous West End, and getting a new stamp in her already impressively-decorated passport two weeks early. 

It was a good trade.  Even if it was a little bit irresponsible.

And besides, it wasn't a mid-school-year trip to Disney.