Winter Camps, Day 2: Potions

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that I was not looking forward to going to class again after the disaster that was Monday.

At the same time, I mercifully was so miserable about how it turned out that I was also coasting on complete apathy.

I was exhausted from anxiety and a second night of insomnia in a row (srsly, insomnia, you are such a jerk). The night before I’d sent out a panicked distress signal to any and all friends who might have the first Harry Potter movie. Thankfully a couple came through and sent it via Google Drive, including one Brit who asked me later if I had only asked him because he’s from England and I was stereotyping?! (I told him later that it hadn’t crossed my mind, but now he mentioned it, he did fulfill the stereotype perfectly!)

Never having used Google Drive before, I couldn’t be sure that it would work, but at least I had a better chance than yesterday. Got to school early to check it out and AH IT DOWNLOADS!! Thank god because I’d promised the kids we’d have the movie today. Note: it is unwise to promise children something unless you’re 138% positive that you *can* deliver. Children, like elephants, never forget.

Set everything else up on the desk and felt mightily more prepared than yesterday’s lesson. On the schedule for today:

– play with baking soda and vinegar

– have a contest of who can make the biggest balloon after putting vinegar and baking soda into a bottle and afixing the balloon to the top

– make ice cream (hey, it involves mixing and chemistry!)

In all, a pretty fun lesson. But my confidence was shot.

“Hey, sulker,” said reality to me. “Nothing for it though but to keep swimming.”

And swim I did.

Kids started filing in. I welcomed them. Waited til quarter after for the late ones to file in (and also because I was buying time til the end of class). Started with the powerpoint – made a much bigger effort to go through it slowly, making sure they understood what I was saying, which looking back was probably the best idea I had all camp. By the end of the week (not to be all spoiler-y) –

– I had miraculously broken down the language barrier by about 60-75%. Soooooooooo satisfying to be able to communicate with these kids.

I will briefly interlude the first week with a comparison of the second week now. The main difference between the two isn’t the class size, age group, or skill level – but rather that I have a co-teacher with me. The kids do not even attempt to listen to me. Anything I say, anything I do, they look to her for translation. It’s nothing to do with the co-teacher herself, but just the fact of having one there at all; the kids use her as a crutch.

After having made such good progress with the first group and having got the hang of class discipline (if I do say so myself), to move to a group who neither has the will to listen nor the will to respect what I ask of them…well, it was exceedingly frustrating. And hey, maybe it wasn’t just the kids using her as a crutch; often when they were running wild around the classroom, I would look to her in exasperation. While I didn’t always mean this as a, “Can  you step in?”, she often interpreted it in that way. As such my management of the classroom during the second week is a story of disappointment.

What wasn’t a disappointment, however, to jump back to Potions the first week, was the way the class went. The kids were at first skeptical (with good reason) of our activity, but as soon as I demonstrated the fizzing/exploding reaction, they were all too keen.

Twenty minutes and a Noah’s Arc flood’s worth of vinegar overflowing onto the floor later, the kids were already smiling more than they had cumulatively throughout the whole of the day prior. I didn’t get any pictures from the 5/6’s, but I did from the 3/4’s.

A skeptical beginning
A skeptical beginning
Realizing the potential of awesome this activity provides
Realizing the potential of awesome this activity provides
"Oh shit stuff's happening!"
“Oh shit stuff’s happening!”
"OMG THIS IS AWESOME - also can I eat it?"
“OMG THIS IS AWESOME – also can I eat it?”

For some reason the 3/4’s didn’t enjoy it as much as the 5/6’s though, which I can’t fathom except for any other reason than the 5/6’s had expectations beginning at sub-zero. Just not playing powerpoint games surpassed them.

Actually it was around Potions class in week 2 that I realized the 3/4’s were not going to be as much fun as the 5/6’s (sorry, kids! Nothing personal). Sadly there were about three Debbie Downers – complete wet rags, if I’m to be perfectly frank – who straight up refused to take part in 90% of the activities. Be this because they were “too cool”, the activities were “totally lame”, or they’re just literally a clustering of bad personalities, it definitely took its toll on general class enthusiasm. While a handful of super-excited students were bouncing in their seats, enthralled by whatever game or activity I had them engaged in, the Debbie Downers – DD’s we’ll call them – were sitting in their seats with a can you please just move on with it already? look on their collective sagging face.

Shame, really. Though I guess it’s karma for that time I myself was a kid at a camp activity thing in Bon Echo and refused to take part because “I hated Harry Potter!!!” (This was before I’d read them, because I’d been refusing to on the grounds that they were “too popular”. Hipster at 9 years old).

Anyhow, grade 5/6’s were quite enthusiastic by the time the ice cream activity rolled around. Most of them had guessed that it *was* ice cream we were making, despite me not confirming either way if this was the end result. Because of this, they were willing to overlook the fact that they were freezing their hands shaking the plastic bags of ice cubes.

Grade 3/4’s, on the other hand, were like, “Fuck this shit, ice cream ain’t worth it.”

In fact, by the time the 3/4’s actually ate their ice cream, they seemed to have already lost interest (what?! I know. I’m not joking). That and my lack of giving them personal cups put them off. For my 5/6’s, they happily spooned their dessert straight from the bag, but…I don’t know! The 3/4’s were a tricky bunch to please. Though for the most part they seemed to like it, there was one group didn’t even finish their bag of ice cream *sadface*.


These guys loved their ice cream though. Super keen about everything we did! I was a fan of them.
These guys loved their ice cream though. Super keen about everything we did! I was a fan of them.

That was all fixed when I had them play a game after the movie, though, which they thoroughly enjoyed (yay sugar rush!). I didn’t actually think we were going to have time left over, but the clock fooled me by being more than half an hour off! Luckily, I thought of Marco Polo. Easy instructions with just enough kids to play it!


I tired them out for 20 minutes of playing (not that they wanted to stop!) and then had them run outside for a five minute break to cool off. The kids begged me to take a picture of them clambered atop the mighty jungle gym!


There was only one casualty in the playground – a girl who hit the back of her head. No idea how! But she was in tears and I escorted her back inside. Despite that though, everyone left happy and it was a successful day.

As for my 5/6’s, it was timed perfectly so that when they finished making their ice cream, I had the movie primed and ready to go and they had movie and ice cream. I’ve never seen kids sit so quietly.

Granted, I had a little mishap with the movie again (subtitles stopped halfway through), but it came right at the end of class so it ended up working out like a masterplan!

When it was time to go, the girl who’d stayed behind the class prior to give me the look of utter disappointment said instead before leaving, “Teacher good!! Good job!”

"Teacher, good job!"
“Teacher, good job!”

And it turns out there’s nothing quite like the approval of a kid who you’ve worked your ass off to entertain telling you you did a good job.

Went home and slept soundly.

4 thoughts on “Winter Camps, Day 2: Potions

  1. I’m not sure if this might be a helpful comment and apply at ALL to your situation or even be something that you aren’t completely familiar with and have rejected already, but I usually sit through one or two days of my son’s 8th grade math classes every year. He’s been teaching about ten years now and by all accounts (student scores and other teachers’ reviews) very successfully.

    What I thought of most when you mentioned the second teacher’s effect on your classes was something my son incorporates everyday: tracking. He lets the students know that a small part of their grade will be based on their watching him at all times (unless one of the students is speaking from up front or their desk). He expects them to turn as necessary to focus on the person speaking. It’s surprising how well that works within his classroom at any rate. (Respect for the teacher, fellow students, discipline, etc.) He has a second teacher in his room for special needs students (clearly not the same as one who is translating – and yes she may well be the best at her specialty in the entire history of teaching on this planet) but other than the student she is quietly working with she will make it clear that everyone else is to look at the teacher or student with the floor.

    Then he sometimes has a student who is speaking select another student to answer a question which tends to keep them all a little bit more on their toes.

    Just two more thoughts because I think you may know all of this anyway and for that I apologize.

    Every student has an erasable white board and markers stored at their desks. Sometimes he asks a question that he wants answered via the board. He does that to kind of take a pulse of how the teaching is going AND not to embarrass students who are not getting it. (Since eyes are focussed on him and the boards are held up high, only he can see who’s having trouble and how many are.)

    The last thing may be unattainable and silly (as in “Are you kidding me? Don’t you get how limited the resources are for these students?), but I couldn’t help but think how well Smart Boards might work in your classroom. I’m not sure what your working with to present your Power Points, but it doesn’t sound like a Smart Board (basically a giant computer screen like those seen on election nights where you can interact with the screen and don’t need to be on a keyboard). My thought, assuming these are not available and beyond the budget of your school, is that it’s not impossible that contacting a Smart Board (I don’t know the company) representative might yield a field test of them while the company looks at opening a new market in South Korea (which may have happened already or may have been rejected already). But it’d be pretty cool to be the teacher who brought Smart Boards to South Korea and they sure help hold the attention of the students. (My son, Dan, has been helping some of the other teachers learn the many uses of this tool … so it’s not without a learning curve.)

    I’m done. Hopefully there might be something a little useful that you can extract from the above.


    1. Those are great tips! Sadly my public school doesn’t have the budget for smart boards, but I’ve been considering getting whiteboards for a while now. I like the idea of tracking. Conveniently we’re at the start of a new semster in March, so I’ll be sure to go over this as a rule with my coteacher. I’m also changing coteachers for my 5/6’s, and she’s already expressed the desire to start conducting the class completely in English which I think will really help too – both in getting the kids more used to forcing themselves to listen to English (because they really did know more than enogh to get by by the end of my winter camp!) as well as help me know what’s going on in class so I can be more useful than I am now. Thanks for taking the time to write out all that advice, I really appreciate it!


  2. Remember that 3-4 is possibly the worst age group in any elementary school…peer pressure, insecurity trying to fit in, bullying, what is cool, the works. It was the time YOU were most miserable…just think back to the simple politics of being allowed to turn a skipping rope or not. By 5-6 the groups are formed and the students feel more confident because they are the older ones in the school, soon to move on.
    I am so glad that disappointed girl gave you her approval. It means SO much!
    I am starting to fall for some of these kids in the photos!


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