Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shoot for the stars...

Did you know that Uranus and Neptune are blue - in part - because of cow fart (methane) gas? No, neither did I until I discovered it with my class of 5 and 6 year olds a couple of weeks ago. It's amazing what you can learn with kids leading the adventure!

The other thing I didn't know about space until just a few weeks before that particular life changing discovery is that space (in the blue fart gas giants sense) doesn't feature in the ACARA  content descriptors until Year 3 and then again in Year 5. And so what does an intrepid space explorer do?

Well...After a bit of hyperventilation and a good swig of a lovely Clare Valley shiraz I decided that I would use space as a carrier for the 'Science as a Human Endeavour' and 'Science Inquiry Skills' strands. And in case you were wondering, this meant working towards these descriptors:
Science as a Human Endeavour
Nature and development of science: Science involves exploring and observing the world using the senses 
Science Inquiry Skills
Questioning and predicting: Respond to questions about familiar objects and events
Planning and conducting: Explore and make observations by using the senses
Processing and analysing data and information: Engage in discussions about observations and use methods such as drawing to represent ideas
Communicating: Share observations and ideas
My unit plan grew around these goals. The topic could have been gyprock or giraffe mating habits but... Well... I don't know much about the first and, to be honest, even less about the second, so space  seemed like a pretty safe option. 

I collected a whole pile of books (yes, the old school style ones with pages that can - and do - rip), some charts, some posters, a load of youtube clips, some models, some blow up globes, a lot of space stickers, a lovely quilted wall hanging featuring photos of space, my very special hand painted space shoes (they're amazing - go check out the artist's blog entry about them ) and set them out in front of the class and asked what they  already knew about space.
"Space holds up the moon!"
"There are asteroids in space, but mainly in earth."
"The sun has grey spots on it where it goes out until someone lights it again."
"There are planets on earth and the sun is in space."
"The sun goes down into the ocean at night." 
You get the idea. Following this we worked with some Grade 5 and 6 students to explore the books and charts before deciding, as a class, that we wanted to explore the space around earth - which I expanded to mean the solar system. We decided on some questions we wanted to answer about each planet and 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1! Blast off! We became space explorers.

As you can imagine it's a little hard to use your senses to explore space in a particular meaningful way and so I had to get a little creative. We held 'moon' rocks, and tried to land on a gas giant by jumping into the air in the playground. We compared the number of moons of each planet. We all span around the sun to understand day and night and drew great big orbit rings on the carpet to follow to understand why the further away from the sun the longer the orbit takes.  We learnt that some planets' days are longer than than their years - and how that related to our spinning and orbiting.

We created a journal of our explorations. Each day we visited a new planet - we knew the way because we learnt a 'cool' rap early in our exploration - and created a page for our journals. Each child chose what to include in their own journal and I helped with vocabulary and spelling.  (The literacy component of the whole thing was quite astounding - I was stunned at the writing achievements.) We ordered planets and we made a space display of our favourite facts. We sang, we danced and generally lived it up as space explorers.

Did we meet the goals though? Did we explore and observe with our senses? Definitely (even our sense of smell was involved once we learnt about Uranus and Neptune)! Did we respond to questions about familiar objects and events? Not only did we respond but we posed questions. Did we plan and conduct inquiry? Yes, with all of our senses. Did we discuss our observations and represent ideas? All day! (I think I owe some parents an apology for their children's latest obsession!)  Did we share ideas? Um... yes. Yes we did.

At the end of the day the children proudly took home a completed Space Exploration Journal and a whole range of science experiences. I probably learnt almost as much about space as they did but more importantly I learnt valuable lessons about teaching Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills and about myself as a teacher. Onwards and upwards... Shoot for the stars and all that jazz.

Did I mention how much fun we had?

Monday, 12 November 2012


This whole teaching caper is rather exhausting. In fact I'd probably go further and say there are times when it's overwhelmingly so.

Part of my problem is that I want too much. I want to plan amazing, engaging and rich learning activities. I want to deliver a learning plan with shape, purpose and fun. I want to create meaningful and aesthetically pleasing  resources. I want to read everything that comes across my desk. I also want to keep my desk clear so that when, no if, I get the chance to sit at it I can actually work there. I want to talk to the other teachers and learn from their experiences. I want to reflect on my practice more. I want to learn to document better. I want to use more of the amazing things I'm learning from the people I'm starting to follow on twitter (look me up: @MarkeetaRP) and other places. I want to sit and chat with my kids (the ones at home too). I want to spend time with my new husband. I want to maintain and build my relationships with friends - old and new. I want to use some of the hundreds of cook books on my shelf. I want to finally unpack (since I moved in July). I want to go to bed before midnight. I want... I want... Oh.

I want to do it all. And I'm trying. Maybe it's not the teaching caper that's so exhausting after all?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Swings and roundabouts

Today I used a (pretty plain and in dire need of some design remediation) powerpoint presentation to work through the language of chance with my class. (Any tips on good powerpoint presentations will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!) Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I was inordinately excited by this idea and woke this morning unable to think of anything else. In fact, my excitement reached such levels that even I could foresee imminent disappointment.

However... The big guy in the staffroom in the sky had other plans and my presentation worked! For nearly an hour we worked through the language of chance and here's the exciting part: the children were all engaged and laughing the whole time! Yep! All 20 of them! We used the IWB, their books, mini whiteboards and a whole load of silly ideas mixed in with some pretty deep learning. Happy dance! 

We followed this lesson with a really casual quiz on life cycles. The children 'competed' (in teams) by writing their answers to multiple choice questions on whiteboards and then 'defending' their choices. As a formative assessment task it worked very well (I kept notes on who was unclear on which concepts) and as a learning task it was even better: the children were engaged, applying their understandings, discussing and debating their answers and - quite comically - hording information to pull out for later questions. Another happy dance! (Who needs the gym when I can get this much exercise just enjoying my job?)

And later we practised our end of year performance piece. *Sigh* Kids. Rap. End of the day. New teacher. 'Nuff said?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Classroom Experiments

Yesterday I moved in with the class with whom I am to spend the rest of the year. The class' long term teacher is counting down the days until she becomes a first time mother and the children are grieving her departure. She has left me a lovely group of children with a broad range of abilities, interests and temperaments. So... my thanks to her!

And so... It's not my classroom BUT I'm not handing it back to anyone so it's more mine than the other two have been. Yay! Let the fun experiments learning begin!

I'm really proud of some of the work my last class did and will share that soon but I'm incredibly excited about what I'm doing with my new class. I've been reading, viewing and listening to a flood of inspirational educators recently and I'm adopting what I can into my own practice. Let me share just one:

Professor Dylan Wiliam is a 'teaching guru' who, amongst other things, argues that we can improve student engagement and success without spending squillions of dollars and has a whole toolkit of ideas to do so. BBC2 made a two part documentary about some of these ideas which is an easy but engaging way to spend a couple of hours. Some of his ideas are of the 'd'oh,why didn't I think of that?' kind, and others are a little more inspired.  I've taken three of these ideas and tweaked them.

My new class has already learnt that during class discussions we don't raise our hands unless to ask a question. I have all of their names on 'lollipop sticks' (actually they're tongue depressors because they're bigger and I don't have to strain to read the names, oh... and it's what we had in the art cupboard!) and every child needs to be prepared for every question or point. Everyone is engaged and thinking all the time. It's not just the usual kids with the answers raising their hands that have airtime but everyone. I LOVE this way of working. I'm also making a huge effort to listen to the answer and pull another name to give feedback/add to the answer/question the answer rather than simply say 'yes, great answer'. So much great thinking and discussion coming from just this change.

As the class is new to me, I didn't know everyone's name. I provided a simple template and some scrabble letters for them to cut & paste (that was purely because I liked the look and I needed something easy to read) onto a triangular prism folded name plaque. The other two sides have the words "I'd like some help please' and 'I understand!' printed on them. (This is a MAJOR tweak from an idea to use three coloured cups to indicate understanding.) While the children work at their desk they move their name plaque to the appropriate sign OR during direct instruction I ask them to hold up their plaques. I can then pull small groups who need help while the others move forward independently. I'm not sure who more loves this idea: me or the children.

Mini whiteboards are the best classroom tool! Today the students used them while they were working in pairs to show me the outcome of their discussion; individually to show me their understanding of a particular term; and in small groups to show me a life cycle diagram. Having the whiteboards held up for me to glance around the room meant I can quickly gauge understanding and better direct the rest of my instruction. LOVE IT!

Another work I'm enjoying at the moment is Harry Wong's First Days of School which prompted me to put together a powerpoint presentation with (just about) everything I wanted my class to know about me and my expectations. It set a great tone and there have been very few surprises for them as we've moved forward.

And forward we are moving. Forward with our experiments learning.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


All through my education studies we, as undergrads, were told how hard it was going to be for us to secure employment as teachers. The message driven home was that unless we were prepared to move to the outer boondocks we'd be extremely lucky to work in anything close to a fulltime capacity for quite a while after graduation. Like a lot that we heard at uni, this little gem of (mis)information was not particularly helpful or relevant to me.

I finished my studies in July, registered as a teacher a couple of days later and started work - as a temporary relief teacher - the following week. Since that first day the total number of days outside of school holidays and weekends that I've not worked is two. Two days in over a term. Not bad for an inexperienced newbie who thought she'd be lucky to work one or two days a week!

I stumbled into a school which was rather keen to find new blood (in the relief teacher sense). On my 5th day of teaching they offered me a two week position which later extended to six weeks. Another four week position followed and then another six week position. All back to back, and all in the same school. I realise that this is not the standard experience of a new teacher BUT... BUT... It is my experience and I love it! After all the years of studying and looking forward to being in my own classroom... I LOVE IT!

Whilst I don't technically have my own classroom yet because I'm minding other people's classes I am teaching in the same classroom with the same children for extended periods. Finally I am IN THE CLASSROOM.