Sunday, 23 December 2012

Money Money Money

It seems fitting that in a class with a rabid avid ABBA fan that one of the two maths topics I had to cover was money. Even more fitting is that one of the concepts we needed to talk about was money around the world...
Money, money, money. Makes the world go 'round.

The concepts on the table were that money is a decimal system and that different countries use different currencies (but that they too are mostly decimal systems) and making purchases and change to the nearest 5 cents.

I discovered early in the process (within three minutes of opening the discussion) that most of my students (years 3 and 4) didn't understand the concept of money itself. Of course, they understood how to use it, but not that money is a medium of exchange with a representative value. It's actually a very abstract concept that takes a little mental gymnastics to grasp. Luckily for me YouTube abounds with funny, and quick, clips about the history of money that explain it visually.

The class comprises children from a wide range of countries and so our discussions moved fairly naturally into the currencies of their home countries.  Gotta love those moments of classroom serendipity!  Follow up learning involved handling foreign currencies, exploring their shared and different characteristics and searching a world map for their origins.

The currency we were using has been collected over a number of years from my, my family's and friends' adventures.  One of my favourite teaching moments so far has been the look on a student's face when she picked up a banknote and realised that, like her, it was Mongolian. To watch her move around the room showing  her classmates made me feel like I'd won the lottery because, ladies and gentlemen, that made all the abstract, conceptual, airy fairy talk about money MEAN something to every child in the room. Five minutes later we had a rerun with another student with Fijian money. Woot woot!

Here's a quick question for you... Which country has ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS printed on the rim of its coins (as being examined in the photo on right about)?

Being so close to Christmas opportunities to practise purchasing and making change were plentiful. My local department store generously provided me with a class set of catalogues from which each student wrote an unrestrained (and almost invariably obscenely huge) wishlist. For many of the children the challenge lay in tallying their items' costs because it was their first experience adding decimals. (Calculators were well used!) The funniest part (for me at least) came when I later gave them each a budget of roughly half their individual original price tally and they had to modify their wish list and tell me how much change they'd get from their budgeted amount. Ha! Yes, I am that mean!

Following this we planned a class market. As a class we designed a currency - recalling the shared characteristics of the foreign currencies and that it needed to be a decimal system - and formed sales units. Each sales unit designed and produced a small paper based Christmas product (i.e. cards, wrapping paper, note pads, gift tags, post cards) and set a price point. (Four of the five groups discovered the efficiencies of a production line which resulted in some pretty challenging conversations.)  Each child received a small payment and trade opened. Some stalls sold out while others struggled but... Everyone bought and sold something, several somethings actually! Our neighbour teacher came to do some Christmas shopping also which pleased the children immensely.

At the end of the day, the lessons learnt were many and varied. Perhaps the most interesting - particularly at this time of endless retail torture therapy - was that it's hard to work behind a sales desk making change and keeping up with customers' demands. I wonder if that experience will stay with them?

Friday, 21 December 2012

LOVE this calendar!

I have NO affiliation with this company but have completely fallen in love with this calendar. All of the images are children's book illustrations. They are beautiful! Imagine this in your classroom? Or even at home!  (To make it even better, it's formatted in such a way that when you're done with the calendar you can easily re-purpose the image in a 5*7 frame.)

It comes as a digital file for you to download and print as you wish. I plan to take mine to that local office superstore that I won't name (but may have gone weak at the knees at the idea of visiting a time or two) and have it printed professionally.

Go grab one for yourself from My Little Bookcase.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Possible (if not overly successful) cycles of life

Our science topic to finish off the year was life cycles.  The curriculum standard says 'living things have life cycles' which is pretty explicit wonderfully broad and allowed for plenty of creativity in our classroom learning programme. We looked at both a conceptual understanding of life cycles and an experiential understanding with several live examples in the classroom.

Our investigation took us from the ubiquitous butterfly through silkworms, frogs, chickens and humans to peas, beans and sunflowers. We drew life cycles, we labelled life cycles, we wrote about life cycles, we created life cycle art and we observed life cycles.

We tried to hatch silkworms from eggs. Tried. And for about three hours were mildly successful: three eggs hatched and for a very brief period we were able to watch the tiniest caterpillars any of us had ever seen munch away (on the mulberry leaves my husband delivered upon taking my frantic "one's hatched!" phone call) before they curled up and dropped off the mortal coil.  Whilst not the most effective of demonstrations in terms of life cycles, it was a great opportunity to discuss science as a human endeavour and the scientific inquiry process. Not all experiments succeed - and that outcome is, in itself, a result to be analysed and evaluated.

For some reason everyone loved handling them.
Kinda creeped me out though!
We also kept mealworms, with limited success. My research lead me to believe that mealworms are SUPER EASY to keep and will change into meal beetles within three weeks. They are, but they didn't. Term finished a week ago but I'm still waiting. If you live in Adelaide and want to go fishing anytime soon, look me up: I've got bait for you!

It wasn't all doom and gloom though. One of the other classes in our school was incubating chicken eggs. We kept track of those and were there to see the chicks the day they hatched.

Planting the peas.
We planted peas and whilst didn't have time to watch them through to flowering, we did watch them right through germination.

We planted the peas in empty CD cases. As they germinated we were able to see both the roots as they moved downwards and the shoots as they grew upwards.We set them in the window to grow, the case acted as a mini glasshouse and we saw AMAZINGLY quick growth.

The children took great pride in the growth of 'their' pea and went to great efforts to keep them watered. (Removing the CD insert leaves a narrow empty band on one side of the case which enables watering with a pipette/syringe.)

Looking out of our window.

Looking in our window.

Day 1.

Day 21.

Check out this pin to see where I found the idea.  (Loooove Pinterest!)

The culminating activities for this unit of work were a double page spread magazine article (for a local science magazine for children) and a whole class game show. I have to say... I think I learnt almost as much about life cycles as the children did.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Cough, cough. I'm getting there.

OK, so I've been a tad quiet missing for a couple of weeks thanks to a delightful bout of some unnamed virus that masqueraded as whooping cough. Fortunately (for everyone) it wasn't whooping cough and after nearly three weeks I'm finally on the mend.  I've learnt a few things these past few weeks:
  • Children have a sixth sense about their teacher's voice and grow quiet to watch it disappear.
  • As soon as it's gone they make up for the loss by increasing the volume of their own voices.
  • Children's empathy and concern for illness in others is matched only by their need to remind everyone that coughing and hacking is 'gross'. (They're correct, of course, but the constant refrain of 'ew' everytime I turn blue from coughing is not overly helpful.)
  • Creative writing  (or not so creative, which in our case meant dictation straight from a novel) soothes the savage beasts has a calming effect on children.
  • My tolerance for noise is distinctly lower after four nights of broken sleep, and almost imperceptible after five. (Good thing a school week has only five days!)
  • Small group work sounds like a good idea for a teacher with little to no vocal range, except when all of the students are working in small groups and the associated noise, whilst full of rich learning discussions, is slightly higher than the five sleepless nights can tolerate. 
  • My class works well while listening to quiet music: their previous teacher taught them that if she couldn't hear the music, they were too loud.  (Thanks Mrs. Jane!)
  • It's OK to not plan every moment 100% thoroughly. Feeling like death warmed up has meant I've not planned quite as meticulously as I'd generally like to BUT by keeping my eye on the goals and intended outcomes has enabled me to plan  loosely but carefully. I'm still reflecting but aside from a few organisational hiccoughs (not having appropriate resources because I was slow off the mark before school and didn't collect them) I'm pretty happy with how we've traveled. I'll let you know as I reflect more.
A day off didn't kill me. I thought it might. Genuinely. I took only one day off  (and that had to be forced by my husband and a visit to hospital) and suffered through it feeling guilty and anxious. I needn't have. My class was shared by the principal (!) and a good friend so they were in great hands. And if they'd copped a shabby reliever? They would have coped. And so would have I.

So. I'm feeling somewhat better... 

Look out world, there's only a week and a half of school left from which I intend to squeeze as much as I possibly can. I wonder if my class realises that we're working right up until the end of the last day?

Using Evernote to capture a student using a
particular strategy during maths stations.
On another, related but different, note... Isn't technology wonderful? This isn't exactly groundbreaking news but these last few weeks have reinforced for me the value of technology: both in the classroom and for me as a professional. Just by way of a quick example, I've been using my tablet to snap photos of the kids as they work. I have the Evernote widget on my tablet which enables me to upload the photos directly to a notebook - either for that particular student or for the particular project.Using Skitch I can directly annotate the photos to point out exactly what I'm trying to capture. Or I can record the children's discussions and upload that directly to their folders. Love. It. Professionally I'm forming a network of other professionals to whom I'm linked on Twitter (and elsewhere) and from whom I am constantly learning. Whether they realise it or not, this quasi-PLN has kept me company (and interested) through many nights when sleep was not an option.