On summer camps and the warming of desks

My summer camp is finished, and it went quite well in my opinion, mostly thanks to the fantastic bunch of kids. I was lucky in that my camp was only 3 days long, 3 hours per day; I know many teachers, especially elementary, are stuck with 1 or 2 week camps for 6 or more hours per day. I can’t begin to imagine the planning and prep work that go into that.

My camp consisted of 21 students (1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade) – thankfully, all fairly high level. I chose a detective theme (after scrolling through many ideas on the internet, this one seemed the most doable for me at the time).

On Day 1, after introductions, the kids took little personality-type quizzes to determine their “detective type” – e.g. Spy, Hacker, Bodyguard, Police Officer – and created Detective ID cards. Then they formed a team that they would work with for the rest of camp. (This is always difficult given that everyone wants to be with their own grade level, and girls only want to be with girls, boys only want to be with boys. I should’ve had four groups of 4 and one group of 5, but instead I ended up with two groups of 5, two groups of 4, and a group of 3. Frustrating when trying to make partners, but whatever. It’s near impossible to get them to work with the opposite gender.)

Then I gave them a mission: “Sherlock Holmes” had left them several audio messages (thanks to this site and the British male voice option) asking for their help – Doctor Watson was kidnapped and they need to save him and catch the criminal. Cheesy, yes, but it worked. The kids got a kick out of the sometimes-goofy-sounding computer voice – which, for some reason, always insisted on pronouncing “Watson” like “Wat-SEN.” lol. Each audio file was accompanied by a gap-fill transcript where they had to fill in the blanks.

Throughout the 3 days of camp, they solved mini puzzles and challenges (running dictation, vocabulary matching, drawing pictures based on the description they heard, identifying various sounds and smells, a clue hunt around the classroom…). After each completed challenge, I gave them a clue about the kidnapper. They recorded all their clues in a little “Detective Diary” that I made for each of them.

On the last day, we watched Episode 1 of BBC’s “Sherlock” – initially, I had some qualms about showing it because of the murder/suicide theme, but I don’t think it fazed them a bit. (Considering that one of my 1st grade (13-yr-old) boys told me he’s watched the “Saw” movies, I suppose this is quite tame.) And most of them stayed riveted throughout the episode, although I’m not sure how much they comprehended of Sherlock’s fast-paced deductions, even with the Korean subs. Heck, I could barely understand the dialogue at times because of the rapid speech and the British accent. Also, the dry humor of the show went over most of their heads, except for a couple high-level kids who caught a few jokes and chuckled a bit.

Then my co-teacher cruelly (not purposely cruelly, but cruel all the same) asked me to choose 4 students to win the “big prize” – a multicolor pen – one 1st grader, one 2nd grader, and two 3rd graders, according to the proportion of each grade in the camp. So difficult, so unfair. I agonized over the decision and still don’t feel right about it. If I had planned a measurable individual achievement into the camp, such as an individual contest with a clear winner, that would be one thing; however, all of our activities were team-oriented, and this felt like choosing favorites more than anything else. What do you think is going through the other kids’ heads at that moment? “I guess I didn’t work hard enough”? I hate it. Ugh.

Anyway, as I mentioned before, all the kids were incredibly sweet throughout the camp. Classroom management of 21 ESL students by myself (co-teachers typically don’t help out with camps) was a breeze. I feel truly blessed to teach at this school, because I know not all middle schools have kids this well-behaved and respectful.

One of my favorite parts about teaching a camp or an after-school class is the ability to form true relationships with the kids, and the opportunity for us to work together to cross the language barrier (which is what we want to encourage them to do – just try to communicate, even if your words/pronunciation aren’t quite right). They can’t automatically turn to the Korean teacher and go “Huh?” after I say something confusing. They have to look at me and go “Huh?”, and then I can break it down and simplify my speech instead of letting them be spoon-fed the Korean version.

One last thing:

One of the 1st grade boys, every time he solved a puzzle or asked me, “Teacher, is this right?” and I said yes, would exclaim, “Oh, Teacher, you genius! I genius too!”

I have greatly disturbed the general State of Things at my schools this week. I have been instructed to camp out in the main teachers’ offices rather than my usual office during summer break – I assume to save energy and resources, since a couple teachers and the Vice Principal are also required to complete The Warming of the Desks during vacation time.

(Side note: Pretty sure we’re all just sitting here browsing our social media site of choice, watching weird videos on YouTube, and/or pulling up lesson plans for next semester and pretending that the mere act of having them up on the screen will count for something. Maybe they’ll magically write themselves. I mean, really, who wants to start working on next semester’s materials in the first week of summer break? Exactly zero people.)

Evidently the other teachers were not informed about the office change, because when I came strolling in at 8:15 a.m., there was a great flurry of movement and flustered Korean (things like “I can’t speak English… can you speak English?”) I was then plied with coffee and gestured to a spare desk.

…At my main school, this lasted all of 15 minutes before my Vice Principal decided it would be better and “more comfortable” for me to work in my office (i.e. alone). I’m not sure if she meant more comfortable for me or more comfortable for her, but either way she is right and I mentally high-fived her for it as she made my co-teacher change the arrangement. (My co-teacher clearly wanted to disagree, and feebly attempted to explain her reasoning for putting me in the main office, but of course couldn’t do anything about it because of the hierarchy of authority. In most cases I would support my CT and wish that she would/could stand her ground, but in this case it worked out in my favor.)

There is a teacher here at my small school who periodically comes into the office (from some apparently exhausting work – I think there might be summer school classes going on here), pulls out two wheelie chairs from the big meeting table, and lies across them with the body language of a dying person finding an oasis in the desert. After about 5 or 10 minutes, she gets up with great reluctance and goes back to what I assume is a nightmarish class. No one else seems to notice.

I have been scheduled for “free talking time” with my students at my main school during the summer break. From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. each day, students can come and talk to me about whatever. Apparently this is supposed to take the place of after-school classes, which supposedly most teachers have to teach during summer vacation. Hmm. At any rate, I’d much rather have free talking time during vacation than structured classes, plus it breaks up the monotony of my desk-warmy day, so I’m cool with it.

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3 thoughts on “On summer camps and the warming of desks

  1. (If you can’t tell, I’ve been skimming through your old posts – it’s been great for getting a sense of how the rhythm of the year goes!)

    I’m so excited about your detective-themed summer camp idea. I’ve been playing around for a few months with the thought of trying to come up with a set of lesson plans loosely structured around Sherlock Holmes (BBC, but also the original stories, the Robert Downey Jr movies, etc.). Of course, it’s difficult to figure out the specifics before knowing what the textbook looks like (or if the kids would just be bored to tears), but it gives me hope that your camp responded well to the idea of detective work! 🙂

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    1. I’m glad it’s given you hope! I would say starting to come up with lesson plans or even just ideas now is a fantastic thing to do. Just having some ideas in place will help you manage the stress once you actually start teaching, I think. I wish I’d done that! A whole set of lessons based around Sherlock Holmes would be awesome for an after-school class, camp, or English club (especially if you teach older kids – middle / high school). If you end up in elementary, you can definitely still do a detective theme and I think they would LOVE it (scavenger hunts, simple puzzle or riddle solving, etc, plus a simplified version of the Sherlock Holmes lore), but the BBC show / movies might go over their heads, even with subtitles.

      Again, I wish I’d had the foresight to start brainstorming lesson ideas before coming over here, so kudos to you! ^^

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a great point about shifting it for the different grade levels!

        It’s less that I have that much forethought, and more fear-based planning, haha. But I’ve always figured that if I’m interested in a topic, it’ll be that much more fun to teach. I love the idea you just posted about, too – doing holiday/culture lessons in between textbook chunks. Great idea!

        Liked by 1 person

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