Monthly Archives: June 2011

grade 9 geo takes to the streets

Now that classes are over, I’ve been taking more time to ride my bike and wander around Toronto’s vibrant neighbourhoods. Thanks to the creativity and critical thinking of my grade nine students, I’ve been seeing the streets that I’ve roamed for years through a new lens.

Spadina Remix - then and Now by AldenC on Flickr

The final summative for my Geography class was a neighbourhood field study. Students had to conduct field research as well as traditional research exploring an issue of their choice within a Toronto neighbourhood. They had to write an individual research paper and present a creative group oral presentation.

In groups, the students chose a neighbourhood in Toronto – the only limiting factor was that they could not choose an area that any of their group members live in.  Each student chose an issue in their neighbourhood, asked a question and came up with a thesis  which they supported with demographic evidence from the City of Toronto’s neighbourhood profiles as well as qualitative evidence from their field study and support from sources including Toronto newspapers, real estate boards, and local blogs like spacing and Torontoist.

Questions ranged from “Does the name ‘Little Italy’ accurately represent the culture of the neighbourhood?” to “Why are homes in Forest Hill so much more expensive than similar homes in the suburbs?” to “What kind of person would want to live on the Island?” One students studied the demographics of the waterfront condo-land, asking, “Why is the population of the Harbourfront community growing so rapidly despite a  low birthrate?” I encouraged a student to look at a contemporary issue, and she ended up researching the new Bixi program and hypothesize about its success and its potential impact on tourism, commerce, and transportation in her neighbourhood.

When I was in high school, a flashy presentation involved funny hats & ties and maybe – maybe – a neon bristol board sign. Today, you ask grade nine students to do an oral presentation, and you get a full on travelogue. I was very impressed with some of the presentations! One group studied Queen St. W. and wrote a song, accompanied by a music video showcasing the neighbourhood’s attractions. This group, who studied Cabbagetown/Regent Park conducted interviews with locals, discussing issues like safety, gentrification, and the preservation of heritage homes:

This summative was a great way to get students out of their own bubble and onto the streets of Toronto. It forced them to pay closer attention to the stores, parks, hospitals, homes, and sidewalks of their city. Students gained an appreciation for the planning that goes into a neighbourhood, and for the multitude of factors and stakeholders  that work together to make a neighbourhood safe, clean, vibrant and liveable. So now when I wander these streets, I find myself counting doctors’ offices, looking for available parking, and scanning signage for languages other than English. It’s true – teachers really do learn from their students!

a bunch of kings and queens: spoken word for the last day of grade 9 english

I discovered something about teaching: the last day of school is heartbreakingly anti-climactic. The kids are busting out of their seats. They chuck all the graphic organizers and short stories and assignments that you poured your heart and soul into in the recycling bin, and barely turn back to shout, “Have a good summer!” as they tear out the classroom door and down a paper-strewn hallway.

I wanted to do something special on the last day, beyond playing music and feeding them chips and freezies. I won’t be returning to my school next year, and I wanted my Grade 9 students to know that I care about their futures, even though I won’t be there to shepherd them through the senior grades.

After Gil Scott Heron died last week, I was thinking about the power of poetry – a topic I blogged about last year. On the second last day of school, I showed one of my classes some of his videos, tying them into our unit on Raisin in the Sun and the Civil Rights movement. I came home and sat down and banged out a spoken word-style poem, which I then performed for my classes. It wasn’t memorized, and I stumbled a few times, but my students seemed to appreciate it.

It was affirming to see them pick up on the references scattered throughout the lyrics – references  to essay writing and to the texts that we studied throughout the year. Performing this in my classes and getting high fives from kids in the hallways after school made the last day of school a bit less depressing.

A Bunch of Kings and Queens

No more pencils no more books
No more teachers’ dirty looks!
But if the looks are dirty
You must not be in my classroom,
Because the kinds of looks I give are squeaky clean
Know what I mean?

If only you could have seen what I’ve seen:
A bunch of teens
A bunch of dreams
A bunch of kings and queens

On the first day of school I asked you to write a personal credo,
“I believe this teacher chick
is a total freaking weirdo”
(Never fear, Batman’s here, though
Our very own personal classroom superhero)
No matter what you wrote on that page,
There’s no chance you’d get a zero.

You think you don’t have any beliefs.
Well, I believe you do
When I look at every one of you
Read your writing
Hear you speaking
Learn your point of view
I believe one of the most radical things you can do
Is to give yourself permission to be YOU
And then, I believe we can do this learning voodoo
I believe it’s as simple as tying a shoe

In-line citations
Gave you heart palpitations
But you can argue, prove and explain
All hundred and one Dalmatians

Or just keep it to five paragraphs
This kind of proof don’t need a graph
Be like Moses use your words
So you never have to use your staff

Don’t be shallow like Bassanio
Don’t wait for three red cars to go
Don’t let the world defer your dream
Define your themes
Or foreshadow a life lived without extremes

You think your life’s ‘maktub’?
Wanna have more hits than You Tube?
Don’t just glance at the grade on your paper
Read the comments if you want to improve.

Have integrity,
Stop begging me for marks.
Ignite the sparks
That set off a learning bomb
Of brilliant knowledge destroying the dark

Think critically
You’re killin’ me!
Don’t be afraid of riddling me
With more questions than there’s gelato in Italy

I never sent you to the principal
This bond we’ve got’s invincible
I still respect your right to learn
Even if your pink sheet’s full
I won’t cut off a pound of flesh
As long as you don’t feed me bull…

Shifting topics in the middle of an essay
Making up excuses because you waited til the day
Before to do the chore of sitting down and thinking,
…And then thinking some more
…And then editing and proofreading
‘Til your pencil is sore

Mutual respect keeps us all out of trouble
Don’t burst this bubble
Look at every written word
Like you’re peering through the Hubble
Telescope
Have high hopes
Try to cope
With the deadlines and the pressure
That make you feel like you’re at the end of your rope

Dope! That was a simile
My rhymes are packed with imagery
I see the moonlight reflected in shards of glass
Inspiration’s what you’ve given me
And I hope I gave it back
Hope I helped you stay on track
Hope I showed you that it’s not about what you lack
Nor is it about what you own
You are not defined by your jeans
Or your laptop
Or your phone
Or by the times when you’re walking through a crowded hallway feeling all alone

Lots of cool people were nerdy in grade nine
Lots of smart people got bad grades in grade nine
Lots of loved people were left out in grade nine
Lots of kind people were bullies in grade nine
Lots of smooth people were awkward in grade nine
Lots of worried people are doing just fine
Keep learning your lessons,
I’ll keep learning mine.

This is my credo
It’s got me this far
Believe in yourself, whoever you are
You’d believe in yourselves if you’d seen what I’ve seen:
A bunch of teens
A bunch of dreams
A bunch of kings and queens