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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Camp Verbier

One of the most obvious difference between schools in the States and schools here in Switzerland is the legal culture regarding school outings and trips. Going to camp and on over-night field trips is part of the culture and is valued as an essential part of the curriculum.

My class got the chance to go on Camp for the first time as it is only for grade 3 and up. The excitement was palpable and the kids were so eager and excited.
We went to a camp in Verbier, Switzerland. Verbier is in the French speaking part of Switzerland and nestled in the Alps. The views are incredible as is the hospitality of the locals. The camp we attended is called Les Elves and the staff was brilliant with the children and the staff. In fact, they provided a couple bottles of Wine every night after lights out for the teachers to enjoy. Of course the culture with regards to Alcohol is much more relaxed in Switzerland. It is not uncommon to have alcohol at staff events after school.
We were at Camp for 5 days. We met at the train station Monday morning and said goodbye to parents and proceeded to take four trains and one bus to make it to our destination. The trip was great but very hectic as we left during rush hour. It was difficult getting 56 children and 8 adults with all the luggage onto the train in the few minutes it stops at the station.
Our week was filled with lots of fun. We went hiking and had bbq's. We visited a local Zoo and saw wildlife from the area (including a Lynx which connected wonderfully to our endangered species unit). We had fun game nights with staff, rock climbing and ropes course outings. The entire week was a total smash!!
One of the PYP learner profiles is to be a Risk-Taker. It was fabulous to see my kids really getting a chance to be risk-takers in new situations. Some had never been away from their parents over-night, or been in a situation that was so new and foreign. But they all did brilliantly.
As part of the curriculum we try to make reflection on learning a daily habit. Camp was no different and kids took time to write in their camp journals and reflect while the events were still fresh in their memories. Here are some of what they said:

Today I rock climbed for the first time ever! I got to try the easy, middle and challenging way up. The man was very nice and helped me a great deal. I can't wait to come here next year."

"The ropes course is my favorite thing I ever have done. I was so scared at first but after I tried it then it was so much fun. The zip line was sooooo scarry. I was thinking that I would fall but I was a risktaker and did it and it was good."

"Camp is the funnest camp I have been going to. I hope I get to be going again next year."

"Miss Pam helped us in the music game last night. She knew most of the songs and we almost won. Then we played musical chairs and I got out right away. It was so much fun but the food is not so good."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Letters to the President

Pam and I haven't posted for about a month. Wow. The past several weeks have been a whorl wind of activity in my classroom. Everyday I feel like I make a thousand small decisions. We've set routines, established rules, and opened up communication. Just as I feel like I've accomplished everything I've set out to do to set up my learning environment, I start changing things, and take things apart. I rearrange reading groups. I take everything off a wall. I change rules. Instead of telling students to "put their heads together and talk about it" I tell them to work silently and raise their hand. Things are always changing in my class, and I wonder if this is one of the reasons why teachers LOVE teaching--because we are always learning and growing. (Yes, it sounds so cliché but I'm not just saying it, I've been FEELING it to be true.)

My students learned how to write friendly letters a few weeks ago. Their concerns and their personal stories reflect their social and economic background. Their words have many layers of meaning. I did a few social justice lessons, where we discussed the question, "Is life fair?" After that we talked about the First Amendment, the Freedom to have Free Speech, and we decided to write to the President of the United States with our concerns. I've been working on my own personal letter to the president, and plan to send off the manilla envelope tomorrow. We watched a Youtube video that showed the president reading and responding to 10 letters everyday. Let's hope they make it!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dialogue Journals

I'm keeping a Dialogue journal with each one of my students. We write letters back and forth to each other every week. I use them as a way to connect with my students in a way that I normally don't have the time for within the school day. It's also good writing practice for them, and gives them the space to write about whatever they want, ask questions, and tell me more about who they are.

One of my students was flabbergasted when we talked about what happened on September 11th. We read a picture book called "September Roses" which focuses more on how people came together after the tragedy, and we talked about why something like that happened in America. That was a few weeks ago, and he's still writing about it in his Dialogue journal and asking me questions. We have an ongoing dialogue about that in his journal.

It's most important function is that my students feel they are heard in their dialogue journals. They write to me about what is going on in their lives, and I am able to listen and write back. If they told me the same stories on the way to P.E. I wouldn't be able to listen as well because my mind is always on 20 different things at any given point in the day.

It's an effective and fun tool that I plan to keep going the whole year! And it makes writing fun, the way it should be.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

How We Learn

Our first Unit of Inquiry in Grade 3 is How we learn and more specifically an inquiry into how people learn differently depending on where they live. I'm so grateful that we picked this unit to teach first as it is a fantastic vehicle for my students, and myself, to be reflective about how each of us learns and analyze what that truly means for our classroom community.

In the first 4 weeks of school we discussed in detail what type of learning environment we wanted in our classroom as well as our school as a whole. Through this process we created our classroom agreements and the kids were able to take real ownership in decisions made. My partner teacher, Alma, guided our students in discovering our central idea by having each student write about who they are and where they come from. After this was completed we each sat with our own class in front of our world maps and had each child read what they had written. As each student came up I marked the world map with their home countries. I then guided the discussion with questions about school in their country of origin. Through the questions and answers the kids started to make the connection that school is different depending on where you live. From this we were able to discuss what we thought different learners needs are depending on where they live. The connections that my kids made through this lesson was amazing to watch. I am awestruck almost daily by the thinking that my students engage in by discovering knowledge on their own.

Here is the map that hangs in our classroom. Each student's picture and self written profile is hung around the map as well.
In our next unit lesson I read to my students about Hellen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. I used the book Hellen Keller (her life in pictures) by George Sullivan. My students were fascinated by Hellen and her ability to learn to communicate through her hands. The cover of the book has a wrapper that is printed in braille. The kids passed it around and took turns trying to identify different letters. Later that day during Maths, two of my boys were done early and asked if they could get on the computer to look up braille and sign language. They spend several days going back to the internet to read as much as they could find. As part of the IB curriculum we look for evidence that students are applying what they learn and are taking ownership of their own knowledge. It was delightful to see the boys get so curious about Hellen Keller and different forms of communication. The next morning I found two students reading books about Hellen Keller, including one that I didn't even remember that I had. They had found it in our classroom library and were reading it to each other.

The great thing about the Hellen Keller lesson is that it led to another wonderful discussion about how we learn and what each of our individual needs are.

A few days after the H.K lesson I introduced my students to the different learner profiles. We talked about visual, auditory and kinesthetic leaners. As soon as we started talking about them one of my students raised his hand eagerly to tell me that he was certain that Hellen Keller was a kinesthetic learner. The connection between the two lessons was amazing to see. It feels so great to know that my students are taking in what we learn together and constructing their own knowledge. For the first time I think I understand exactly what Vygotsky really meant.

On that note...I know it was a long and boring one today, I'm off to sleep and eagerly await tomorrow with my amazing class!!!

But I'll post some more pictures of the classroom just to give you something to look at. =0)

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I love teaching writing. This week I worked on teaching my students how to revise their writing. Revision is hard. At least it has been for me, as a writer. If I write something I love, I don't want to change it! And 3rd graders feel the same way. Revision is not editing. Revision is becoming more articulate about what you already wrote. I got the idea for this Revision lesson from my mentor teacher, Vangie.

First, I gave all the kids a bar of clay, and they all made an animal. This was the most exciting part.

Second, I told them they had to 1. ADD something to their animal, 2. REMOVE something from their animal, and 3. MOVE something around on their animal. They wrote down on a sheet of paper what they added, removed and moved around on their animal. Then we displayed the animals and everybody had a good time checking them out.

The second day, I brought them back some writing they had done, and had them do the same thing to their writing. 1. ADD something more, 2. REMOVE something that's not necessary and 3. MOVE something around. They marked with post-it notes where they had made these revisions.

As we continue to work on writing for the entire year, I will always refer back to the clay animals to remind them what we need to do when we revise.

P.S. The cute little bunny (above) was stolen off the table outside my classroom, and my poor student Dino just cried and cried. I gave him a couple more bars of clay and let him stay inside for recess to make another bunny. Except for that unfortunate event, the lesson was a success.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hello from Switzerland!

Hello! My name is Pam and I teach third grade at an International School in Zurich, Switzerland. This experience is brand new to me and so is teaching in an IB school. IB is a program of study called International Baccalaureate. The vision of the IB is to "help develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world" (

Let me tell you a little about my class. I have 12 students in my class from 10 different countries. 11 of the 12 are English Language Learners (ELL). While many of them have parents at home that speak English, their primary home language is anything from Swiss German to Bulgarian. I myself speak Swiss German and this helps me daily as our students also take three hours of German instruction a week. In stark contrast to Amanda's school, the tuition for my student's is paid by their parents and costs nearly $30,000.00 a year. This allows for an element of financial freedom when planning lessons, adventures (field trips), camp and activities. Our school is relatively small in comparison to most International schools. We have a total of nine classes from K-5. I am lucky to teach one of two third grade classes and therefore have a great opportunity to collaborate with my grade level partner teacher.

Amanda and I studied in the same program at the University of New Mexico and earned our Masters in Elementary Education. We were taught the same fundamentals and we have a similar teaching style. This blog is our opportunity to share our experiences and to highlight not just the differences in our individual classrooms, but also the similarities.

As for me...
I'm 30 something years old.
I live in Duebendorf Switzerland.
I love to read and have a passion for children's literature.
And teaching makes me happier than anything I've ever done before

Thursday, September 1, 2011

All About Amanda's Classroom

Hi there! My name is Amanda, and I am a 2nd year teacher, at an elementary school on the west mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico. I teach in a 3rd grade, Dual Language classroom. We spend 50% of our time learning all curriculum in English, and 50% of our time learning in Spanish. All of my 22 students are bilingual. Sixteen out of my 22 students are English Language Learners, meaning they are still learning how to speak, and be literate in English. The school I teach at receives 100% free lunch because of the low socioeconomic status of the student body. My school is huge. I am one of ten 3rd grade teachers!

According to No Child Left Behind, my school is classified as a school in Restructuring Phase 2. Which means that the student body has been "academically failing" for a number of years, and we have to do a number of required actions to show that our students are improving on standardized testing. I am lucky to have an active and goal oriented principal who supports teachers, and provides us with leadership on how best we should provide instruction. I work long days. I get to school at 7am and leave around 4pm. I'm only paid for 6.5 hours a day. I budget and cook enough beans to last a week of lunches, and try to make the salary work. My time spent with my 22 students is exciting, and I can't wait to share my ideas, challenges and reflections about my teaching.
A tad bit more about me:

  • I'm 26 years old
  • I'm bilingual, but I still get my Spanish polished weekly by my weekly Skype Spanish lessons with my teacher Fernando who lives in Guatemala.
  • I have a dog: a cute and crazy pug named Nina (who I brought back with me from China.)
  • I love to travel: in my little red car, in my scooter, on my bicycle, and by plane to foreign countries.
  • I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • I have a Masters Degree in Elementary Education, and a Bachelors in English and Women Studies.

That's all for now!