Monday, 9 December 2013

End of the Year Blues

I hate the end of the school year. Loathe it. Absolutely detest it. Not so much as a parent, but as a teacher it just sucks the life out of me.  I'm tired, I'm emotional, I'm done. And yet, as much as I desperately need the luxury of learning to sleep past 5:45am I don't want the year to end. I am not looking forward to the bell ringing at 2:30 on Friday. I dread that moment. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had a nightmare about it last night.
I know I'm not alone in this feeling, although you'd never think that if you listened to early morning staffroom conversations. I'm not sure why other people don't like the end of the year but here are my reasons:

  • I love my job. I love the challenges, the opportunities, the variety. I often feel like I'm cheating somehow: how is it right that I get paid to have this much fun? Holidays are great'n'all but, for me, my job is just as enjoyable as most holiday time. (Which may say more about my holiday plans than anything else?!?!)
  • I love my kids. Sure, there are times they drive me to distraction, but on the whole they are amazing. Both of my classes are astoundingly wonderful. I'm blessed with two groups of kids to love. I will miss them all terribly. I know this, because I still miss last years' kids terribly.
  • I'm not a fan of packing up. This isn't to say that I'm a messy person, just that I MUCH prefer being creative and setting up awesome learning spaces than pulling them apart. Empty classrooms at the end of the school year look tired and forlorn. Interesting isn't it that the exact same space with the exact same furniture will look exciting and full of promise in a few weeks?
AFS offers programmes in more
than 80 countries around the world.
  • I suck at goodbyes. I've known this for a while. When I was 17 I did a year long AFS student exchange to Honduras in Central America. The day I left my host family to return to Australia the airport security had to escort me through the departure gate because I was so distraught from the farewells. Some years later, in a volunteer role with the same organisation I was required to be at the airport as our international students returned home after their exchange here. I met most of these kids for the first time that day at the airport. I always cried before them, and usually long after they'd left because watching their goodbyes was so freaking difficult. I am not good at goodbyes. As a contract teacher I'm not sure what next year holds for me and so I will be leaving this school at the end of the school year not knowing if I'll be back next year. That's a bucket load of goodbyes. Argh!
  • I'm not good at being still. Or doing nothing. Or relaxing. My husband really struggles with this. He can pull up a chair, pour himself a glass of wine and quietly watch the world around him. I, on the other hand, need to be doing something while we sit there: I'll chatter, I'll be researching something (on my smart phone), I'll be scribbling notes for some idea or other (usually also on my smart phone), I'll be playing sudoku (again, on my smart phone... I sense a theme here), I usually have a book in my bag ready to whip out at the slightest sign of prolonged sitting, I'll be people watching, I'll possibly be silently assessing the phonological development of some unwitting stranger, I'll always be moving. (Yes, I'm that person who has the radio and TV playing at the same time while I read.) So, y'all can imagine how I love holidays. The end of the school year means holidays. Lots of holidays.
  • As I mentioned, I'm a contract teacher. Nothing else needs be said really.
So there we have it folks. I hate the end of the school year. 

Having said that, the holidays will give me the chance to catch up on writing all the blog ideas I've had lately. And sleep. And hang out with my OWN kids. And spend time with my husband. And finally sort out my office space. And catalogue my books. (Yep, I'm that kinda geek.) And see my teacher friends who are also too busy during term to do more than wave across cyberspace. And ride to the new coffee shop with my delightful neighbour. And crochet my awesome Very Hungry Caterpillar (my husband bought me a kit, and whilst I'm a complete noob at crocheting, I'm chaffing at the bit to give it a go). And well. I think I've made my point. I hate the end of the school year but I'll make it work for me. 

This post doesn't relate to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers in any meaningful way because it's just a vent. Thanks for letting me getting it off my chest! 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Pumpkin Pie Adventure

We don't celebrate Thanksgiving here in Australia. It's not our celebration. We do however tend to jump on any ol' bandwagon that's passing and appears to have tasty food.As it turns out... Pumpkin pie is one tasty dish. One of my  spec. ed. students asked me about pumpkin pie sometime last week and being a bit busy at the time (and not really knowing the answer to his question anyway) I suggested he do some research. Long story short: the research turned into a proposal that resulted in me agreeing to cooking pumpkin pie with the class today.

Which I promptly forgot. (I teach this class Wednesday - Friday and so I didn't have the benefit of constant reminders earlier in the week.) Thank goodness that we're nearing Christmas and our Christian Pastoral Support Worker was baking spice cookies with another class yesterday which jolted me into remembering. Phew! 

The research my student did included a (very simple to follow) recipe which I modified a little to suit the fact that there just wasn't going to be enough time to make pastry as well as the filling and bake big pies. I originally thought to buy a couple of big unfilled pie shells but decided, in the end, to go with mini ones. What. A. Good. Move. For a whole bunch of reasons;  not the least of which was a MUCH reduced cooking time and no need to cut anything.

So I cooked up the pumpkin last night and gathered my spices. In this house we're big 'from scratch' food/cooking fans and so we have a nice collection of spices, both whole and ground. I packed everything I could possibly need to make a pumpkin pie. Except a mixing bowl. Or mixing spoon. Ooops. Lucky our canteen manager is an angel and was willing to lend them to me.

I started our session by talking about all the various things we needed. We handed around the whole and ground spices to compare the smell, look and feel. It was delightful to hear the associations many of the smells held for the children. We also talked a little about the various uses for the spices. The idea of 'shoving' a whole clove into an infected tooth made them all a little more friendlier toward their dentists I think!

Everyone had a turn of measuring, mixing, pouring etc. We're a small class (12 on the roll but usually only 8 or 9 students) which meant everyone was involved all the way through. Right up until the bell for recess went when I was left holding the baby filling the shells. Ha! 

The pies came back to our classroom to cool. Oh. My. Goodness. Not a clever idea. They smelt amazing. The temptation to 'check on them' was too great for a few of us so it was with sweet relief that lunchtime arrived and I invited the children to taste their handiwork.

Resounding success. Not only did they all love eating the pies, but they were so proud that they wanted to share the leftovers with the principal and their buddy class teachers. It was such a delight to see them scurry off to spread the love. 

As you would expect from me, I did manage to squeeze some literacy into the activity also. We co-constructed a procedural text on 'how to make pumpkin pie'. It made me realise how I long to teach a class  fulltime (and not at the end of the year) so that I can build whole units of work that incorporate activities like this. Ooooh... Integrating cooking, life skills and art with a procedural text unit in a spec. ed. class! Oooh! Ooops. Sorry. I digress. Only a couple of the children managed to get much down on paper but it was a valuable exercise in recall, recounting our process, and talking about the features of a procedural text. Tomorrow they'll write recounts of the activity, right through to the eating! I love helping each child at their point in ability and development to achieve writing success. Whether it's a scaffolded format with sentence starters, or a proforma that requires minimal writing (there's at least one child for whom the physical act of writing is a challenge at the moment) or even allowing them to speak their text... I LOVE seeing the sense of accomplishment on their faces.  Again, I digress. 

So there you have my pumpkin pie adventure. I realised last night, while at the store buying pumpkin, that Thanksgiving is this week in the US so it's all rather fortuitously timed. I have a load of the filling left and think I might make a big one for the family tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends. (And a belated greeting to my Canadian friends for a few weeks ago.)

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities.
Standard 1.6 Strategies to support full participation of students with disability
Standard 2.5 Literacy and numeracy strategies
Standard 3.2 Plan, structure and sequence learning programmes
Standard 3.3 Use teaching strategies 
Standard 4.1 Support student participation
Standard 4.4 Maintain student safety 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

"What can I do to make you feel better?"

Wasn't she beautiful?
So. About five minutes after I posted my last entry my children discovered that one of our precious furry family members was very injured. Without going into gruesome details we raced her to the vet but weren't able to bring her home. She had been hit by a car. Our family was, and continues to be, heartbroken.

The following Monday, at school, I chose to spend my recess inside with a student who needed a bit of a break from 'community'. He'd had a pretty rough time over the weekend and until that point had been almost non-verbal. As soon as everyone else had left he turned and eye balled me pretty fiercely.  "You look really sad Mrs R-P. Why?" Pretty insightful. (And a little disappointing because I'd been trying hard to not show my sadness because I didn't want to have to share the story.) I considered the options for my response: should I lie and say everything was fine, brushing off his concern and not reinforcing the positives in his noticing? Should I come up with a pat answer that would explain away my sadness but without the truth? Or should I tell the truth even though doing so would inevitably end in my tears?

In the end, I teared up whilst trying to decide and so didn't really have much of a choice. I told him what had happened,  leaving out the gruesome bits he asked for later.  And here's the part that broke my heart just as fast as it offered solace... This little guy who had, not five minutes earlier, been non-responsive and unable to engage with anyone put his hand on top of mine and gently whispered "What can I do to make you feel better?" Despite everything that's happened in this little guy's life, his little heart sat there on his face and he showed concern for someone else because their cat died. Oh. Yes. He broke my heart with that comment. And made me so very hopeful for his, and the world's, future.

How was this related to teaching? Well, you won't find me linking it to the AITSL standards because it's more than the standards. It's the heart part of teaching rather than the head; in fact it's what makes the head part possible. It's why I teach.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Classroom visitors

This was taken just a few minutes
after we realised that they'd hatched.
The clutch of eggs on which our duck was sitting recently hatched and our family of 8 people, 2 cats, 1 dog, 1 frog, 2 guinea pigs, 4 chickens, 2 ducks and more fish than, frankly, I care to count just became all of that and seven six ducklings. (One of the live hatchlings perished after a couple of days. Let's not talk about it. It was a bit distressing.) Imagine the excitement of our six children... (although to be completely honest, I think my husband was the most exuberant) and then imagine the excitement of the 31 children in my class. Yep, we took seven 2 day old ducklings into my classroom.

Shortly before they arrived I polled the students on their predictions for the duckling (and mother duck) weights. Well, that was just about the most eye opening formative assessment I've ever done. (All tied in rather fortitiously with the measurement unit I was starting that day!) I didn't expect them to be overly accurate but I did kinda think they'd be close-ish. These predictions weren't even on the same planet let alone the general vicinity. These predictions (let's be honest and call them what they really were) guesses ranged between 600 grams and 5 kilograms. Reality? The ducklings ranged between 39g and 42g, while the mother weighed 1.2kg. Ha!

After very careful instructions about how to hold the ducklings, every child had the opportunity to do so. It was just delightful to see the tough boys flinch at the wiggling feet before melting. The girls are, on the whole, a rather pragmatic bunch and took it all in their stride. A few children needed my support to hold the ducklings without crushing them because of motor control issues, so I'm super grateful that my husband stayed to help out.

One of our bunch, new to the cohort, tends towards to the more excitable end of the spectrum and his reaction to the ducklings will stay with me for a long time. He's a tough little man who confronts the world face (and often fists) first, with a strength that he neither recognises nor believes. Seeing the ducklings, his eyes light up like fireworks, and his whole body softened. He proceeded to bounce around the room in excitement but responded exceptionally well to the reminder that all babies are very delicate and the ducklings needed him to keep 'safe hands and safe feet'. (I don't think I've ever seen him sit down so quickly.) Immediately on being handed a duckling he kissed the beak and cradled it to his chest like it was the most precious little creature in the world. I'll admit that even now, just writing about it, I get a wee bit misty. (I'm prone to getting dust in my eyes at the oddest of times... Seems to happen a lot during sad movies, and long distance telecom TV commercials. Odd hey?)

Anyhow... Back  to the ducks. They tied in wonderfully with the life cycles unit my co-teacher has going; were a great start to my measurement unit and provided a fantastic opportunity for the kids to all have a shared experience about which to write a procedural text of their own as a formative pre-assessment. (They wrote instructions on 'how to hold a duckling'.) Pretty happy with that hat trick of tie-ins. I love finding opportunities like this to bring disparate parts of our curriculum together, even if with only a tenuous link like my ducklings hatching!

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2.5 Literacy and numeracy strategies
Standard 3.2 Plan, structure and sequence learning programmes
Standard 3.4 Select and use resources  
Standard 4.1 Support student participation
Standard 4.3 Manage challenging behaviour

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Making it her own...

Allow me a proud teacher moment...

Straight after lunch today one of my year 4 students came and showed me a bag of dust. Yes, that's right: a bag of dust. She proceeded to tell me that she, and a group of her friends, had found some stones and ground them up. I must have raised my eyebrows pretty quickly because she immediately launched into an explanation that they'd been thinking about how the Kaurna people used ground stones as paint and were trying to do the same thing. They had ground up some stones and had plans to mix it with water to make a paint. Oh. My. Goodness. She took something we learnt about last term and made it her own. In her own time! I'm so proud of her! I expect she'll read this too so... Yay for you!

This is the static version of the interactive version available
here on the ABC website. Check it out... It's great!
The Kaurna lands are coloured yellow and can be found just
to the east of the funny foot shaped peninsula on the
southern central coast.
Or around Adelaide if you happen to know where that is!
For the non-Adelaide readers: the Kaurna people are the traditional inhabitants and custodians of the land on which our school rests. The Kaurna people's history is long and fascinating. The arrival of European settlers signalled the near genocide of the Kaurna people; within decades the Kaurna language was extinct and the culture smothered. It is through amazing cultural strength and effort that the 'sleeping' language is being awoken and Kaurna culture is again being celebrated.  Including Kaurna history in our (local) curriculum, and teaching from an Indigenous perspective is, in my opinion, incredibly important. 
(The Kaurna lands are coloured yellow and can be found just to the east of the funny foot shaped peninsula on the southern central coast. Or around Adelaide if you happen to know where that is! )

OK, I'll hop off my soapbox now.  And back on my proud teacher box. I can't tell you how proud I am of these girls. This is why I teach. Thank you. 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Taking Shape

A few days ago I blogged about composite classes (here). I really enjoy the challenges associated with composite classes but I don't always get it right. *Sigh* My year 3/4 class has recently finished off a short unit of work on shape.   To be more accurate: we did a short unit of work about 3D shapes (including making 3D models) and composite shapes. To be even more accurate: we did a short unit on 3D shapes. What should it have been about? Well, if we're going by the ACARA maths document you'll need to go back a couple of sentences and then add in something about comparing the area of regular and irregular shapes by informal means. (To be completely honest though, I never had any plan to include area in this unit of work so it's not like I missed it out... I just didn't plan to teach it, when I really should have.)

Having said all of that, we had fun and nearly everyone met nearly all (if not all) of the intended learning outcomes. Phew!

I let them pull the shape
from the bag when they
were ready to draw it.
The feely bags were student
'run' after the initial modelling,
which allowed me to float
and observe everyone.
I introduced the unit with feely bags. I modelled reaching in, finding a solid polyhedron and then describing it using the mathematical language I  was  looking to see the children use by the end of the unit. I also asked the children to record their shape(s) in their maths workbooks using a drawing and labels. It was a great pre-assessment task as it gave me the chance to see (and hear), very quickly, where everyone sat on the learning spectrum.

We continued to explore the properties and features of 3D shape both as mathematical concepts but also as building blocks in our environment. It helped everyone to see that EVERYTHING is 'made up of shapes', both 2D and 3D. When we looked more carefully we were able to identify that 3D shapes can be described, in part, by the 2D shapes that make them. This lead to more conversation about composite shapes.

The activity you can see in this photo was offered with a range of entry points.  Ultimately, at every level, the students were asked to engage with the identification and nomenclature of 3D features and their possible nets. Solid polyhedron were available to help visualise how the nets might fold up to create the shapes. When I took this photo the student was manipulating the cube whilst talking about which part of the cube the net would next cover. The learning process was actually VISIBLE!

I never even knew about the Lego programme!
In the lead up to our assessment task I offered the students the opportunity to show me they could build/draw a 3D model on the computer. I left the task as open as that - they could use whatever programme, app or web2.0 tool they liked and create whatever model they wanted so long as they were able to explain their understanding to me either on the screen or verbally. (The Australian Curriculum for Maths is pretty specific about giving children the opportunity to learn and demonstrate their learning with and without technology, and as I've already shared with you here and here I am seeking to integrate technology into my maths programme more.)

I provided a puzzle page with 36 boxes; in each box was either a 3D shape, a net, or a number (most of which were the corresponding number of faces, edges or vertices with a few red herrings thrown in to sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak). The children needed to match the shape with its corresponding net and work out what the numbers represented and present this information visually. They found it a lot more challenging than I expected but then again, they also enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I asked early finishers to create a 'Who am I?' riddle for a 3D shape of their choice. Some of these were a hoot to read and showed great awareness of 3D shapes in the environment.

I love the creativity
in their presentations!
Some of the riddles.
Simple lift-the flap presentation.
The end assessment task was to use any material they could find in the classroom to create and label a model of an identifiable 3D shape. I'm not in love with this task, and there's plenty of room for improvement but it served its purpose this time. Here are a few of the results at various stages of completion.

Simple and to the point...
I love this!
This one is NEVER going to fall apart.

So,  you can see that the unit was pretty skewed towards 3D shapes and didn't really do composite shapes very well at all. I'm pretty disappointed that I didn't manage that too well, but know that I'll do better next time. More focus on composite shapes was required... I wonder whether this needed to be addressed in parallel?

Tell me about your well intentioned but not completely successful plans... (Please tell me I'm not alone!)

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities
Standard 2.1 Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area 
Standard 2.2 Content selection and organisation
Standard 2.3 Curriculum, assessment and reporting
Standard 2.5 Literacy and numeracy strategies
Standard 2.6 Information and communication technologies (ICT)
Standard 3.2 Plan, structure and sequence learning programmes
Standard 3.3 Use teaching strategies  
Standard 3.6 Evaluate and improve teaching programmes
Standard 5.1 Assess student learning
(You'll note that I've said that this relates to these standards, which isn't to say that in this instance I was outstandingly successful in each of these standards... Clearly!)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

New challenge

Walking into a class part way through the year seems fraught with challenges, although I've never started with a class at the beginning of the year yet, so I don't really know any different. (Maybe next year... Keep your fingers crossed for me!) And even though we're only 7 weeks away from the end of the school year I'm about to do it again. I'm not leaving my beautiful 3/4 class, but will be spending the remainder of each week with an upper primary special needs class. Their regular teacher is taking long service leave and my school has offered this exciting opportunity to me.

I'm excited, but also quite nervous. New classes always have this effect on me, but perhaps never more so than this one: I've never split my time between two classes before; I've never pulled an extended stint in a special needs classroom before; I'll be co-teaching with someone new; there are reports to write (for my 3/4 class not the new one); and the summer/Christmas holidays are right around the corner so everyone's going to be more than a little excited. It's going to be a challenge.

But I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Picture Clues or Clue Pictures?

I take LOTS of photos while I'm teaching. I take photos of kiddos to share with them (and eventually their parents), I take photos of evidence of learning (often for the kiddos to print and glue in their workbooks), I take photos of processes we're working on, I take photos of assessment products (to grade later at home, or just to have on hand later), I take photos of things I find funny, I take photos of books I want to remember, I take... Well, you get the picture. (Ha! No pun intended, honestly!)

The upshot is that I have a BUCKETLOAD of photos that aren't necessarily all 'keepers'. I need to develop a system for sorting them quickly, but until then I'll continue using Evernote (when I remember) or just making folders (also when I remember and have time). All of this is my way of saying that today whilst going through some photos I found some photos from a lesson that was great fun and full of fantastic discussions. (My husband would tell you that me taking a long time to get to the point and visiting various other points along the way is NOT unusual. Meh. I'm cool with it, I know when I need to rein it in.)

So here they are anyway.

I used this lesson with the same Reception group you may remember from my second space adventure. We'd been talking about using clues in pictures to help us understand a story so I decided to give them part of a picture and let them tell the story by making the rest of of the picture. I had a range of animal images with more or less detail and directed children accordingly. I was fortunate enough to have SSO classroom support during this lesson and so we were able to offer quite individualised support to our students with special needs. The results were all fantastic... Here are three.
I love that this fish was leading the rest
 of his school to school
This giraffe was eating and swimming. Very clever!
It was cloudy,  so this lion was looking
at the sky to see if was going to rain.
Here is the original pinterest post that inspired this lesson. (Yep, another pinterest inspired lesson. Sense a theme developing?)

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities
Standard 1.6 Strategies to support full participation of students with disability.
Standard 3.3 Use teaching strategies  


A few months ago my interest was piqued by a tweet that kept popping up in my twitter feed. So, me being me, I followed the link and before I knew it I'd signed up as a member of Postcrossing. Never heard of it? Neither had I but the the basic idea is that random people around the world sign up to send postcards to  other random people around the world. If you're anything like me, the idea of regular 'fun' mail appearing my letterbox will be just too exciting to dismiss.

I won't go into the process BUT suffice to say that it's very easy. There's a degree of trust involved, but it's a bit of a self-selecting community so I'm ok with it. So far I've received 11 postcards from 10 different countries,  including Belarus, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the USA and I've sent postcards all over the world too.  You can check out my public profile here.

My current graphs
Aside from my own personal love of snail mail (who doesn't love getting a 'real' letter in the letterbox?) I'm excited by the idea of using this with my class next year (if I have one)! Imagine the possibilities... An authentic audience for student writing; a personal connection in geography; graphing of postcard origins/destinations in maths; potential sources of interest for history; integrating the project with student blogging; social responsibility... The list goes on. Even the Postcrossing website offers a range of incidental learning opportunities: each time I visit, I'm greeted in another language; there is an option to view a map showing all (or some) of my postcards; there are graphs showing breakdowns of my postcard origins/destinations. It's an absolute treasure trove.

I have considered how to ameliorate the possible child safety issues in using this with children, and would have the postcards delivered to my home address, never identify the school or children, nor use photos of us/the school as added layers of security. I'd also be checking it out with my site manager/principal first.

I don't know... Maybe it's because I'm just a kid at heart but I think this is such an exciting opportunity for a classroom. What other web 2.0 based opportunities can you recommend?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2.6 Information and Communication Technology
Standard 3.4 Select and use resources
Standard 4.4 Maintain student safety
Standard 4.5 Use ICT safely, responsibly and ethically

Friday, 18 October 2013

Composite Classes...Yay or Nay?

Our current mainstream education system groups children based roughly on age and year level (with year level being a - usually- pretty arbitrary measurements of how long a child has been enrolled in formal education) rather than any real reflection of development or ability. We know that children develop (physically, emotionally and intellectually) in their own ways and other than some broadly reliable generalisations (boys develop gross motor skills faster than girls, while girls grasp fine motor co-ordination) at their own pace. If we follow this point to its logical conclusion: all age based groupings comprise a broad range of development and abilities. So, if we accept this as true and hold each individual child's development at the heart of our profession the debate about composite classes confounds me.

Whether I'm still too new to the teaching game to know any better, too idealistic to see, or simply too enthusiastic to care, I really like teaching composite classes. (I like them as a parent too. Scoff away, I actually do. They've been great for my kids.) Whether the reading age range is 6 - 13 in a year 3 class or  6 - 15 in a year 3/4 class, the challenge of meeting needs across a broad spectrum already exists.

Sure, the challenges that arise in delivering a mandated curriculum with year level specific outcomes are interesting but not insurmountable.Often, at least here in Australia, the curriculum demands development of big ideas and concepts rather than specific content. And when specific content is described, there are always ways to combine; extend; offer smaller groupings or independent learning activities. These are the good challenges of being a teacher! (They certainly beat the challenge of sending home children to homes where they're neglected or worse.) These challenges offer us the chance to be creative and make connections between learning areas and topics. These challenges allow us to step up and create amazing learning opportunities. These challenges allow our communities to see us as committed, passionate professionals.

Working together in a 5/6 class
Conversely, the range of development in a composite class offers a plethora of opportunities: scaffolding lower achieving students through working with higher performing students; extending higher achieving students through peer demonstration and tutoring; a broader variety of social groupings; peer mentoring and coaching; leadership opportunities; the possibility for broader diversity in ability groupings for instruction; necessary differentiation leading to more highly individualised leaerning plans... The list is practically endless.  Composite classes reflect reality; very few other situations in our society group people based solely on age because it's not an overly useful distinction to make. We aim to prepare our students for life after schooling; composite class structures offer another tool to do so.

So why the debate? And why the defensiveness that schools show in choosing composite class structures?  Yesterday I read an email from a local school about the class placement process for next year that included a very defensive (and almost hostile) announcement of an ongoing composite class structure. It made me sad to see that the school has such a negative attitude about next year's class structure because it has to include composite classes. Isn't it time for schools to embrace this concept and make the most of the opportunities on offer?

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

About Those Goals I Shared...

I just realised that I never checked back in to report on the goals I set myself last term and we're already halfway through the first week of this term. Oops.  Better late than never.

  • Linking technology with our numeracy program: I've read, and I've surfed, and I've played with a whole bunch of apps BUT I still don't feel particularly confident in this area. The best numeracy lessons in which technology has played a part have been ridiculously simple. (Not that simple's bad, it just feels like I'm letting the team down by not pushing the boundaries more.) One lesson I gave the class free rein to use the computers to create a 3D shape and demonstrate their understanding of that shape. There were triangular based pyramids hand drawn in MS Paint, there were rectangular prisms built in some Lego programme I wasn't even aware was on the computers, there were videos created on Scratch and a whole range of other offerings.
  • Reflection during maths lessons: The whole class is regularly explicitly reflecting at the end of lessons. I either ask a specific reflective question or simply ask the students to reflect on their learning (and because my co-teacher is much better at this reflection caper than I am, and has been doing it all year, the kiddos are pretty comfortable with it). There is something incredibly satisfying to hear the students identify the strategies they've used and make links to other strategies and contexts. Sharing their reflections is such a powerful activity: it's almost possible to actually see the  links being formed in their brains as they listen to it each other. I. Love. It. 
  • High quality assessment tasks: I may not have blogged about the development on all of these goals but I did a blog specifically about this one. You can read it here.
  • Number sense development: I haven't had terribly much practical progress on this goal at all. I've been reading a pile of papers and articles but I'm still trying to synthesise the information into something practically useful. Some of the articles I'm reading give rise to other questions; for example this article by Heike Weise which links number development with language which set alarm bells ringing as I considered the literacy development of the students with weaker number sense.  I also found a not-insignificant school of thought that claims that number sense can't be explicitly taught, but "is a way of thinking that should permeate all areas of mathematics teaching and learning" (Reys 1994 quoted in Berch's 2005 article on Making Sense of Number Sense) which is both reassuring and terrifying. *sigh*  I think my challenge with this goal is related to the age of the children I'm teaching and my perception. I need to keep looking and learning. In the meantime I'll keep reinforcing basic number sense through all of our learning activities.  (As a side note, I did a great problematised situation - with a grade 2 class a few weeks ago - that demonstrated place value wonderfully. I can't take all the credit for it, as I 'borrowed' the idea from Ann Baker, but I will say that it involved over 2000 popsticks and less than 20 children counting them. I'll share photos when I get a chance.) 
  • Explicit teaching during guided reading: I've been linking specific teaching focuses from our literacy genre and using Sheena Cameron's Teaching Reading Comprehension Strategies work to guide my planning and teaching. I've been linking my texts to our history and science topics which has really helped as well. I'm still not super confident in this area but I'm improving. 
  • Improved use of resources during writing activities: With my assistance the students are each creating their own Writers' Tool Box to use as they write. In a folder (that they keep in their desk drawer) they are compiling pages of helpful words and tips: synonyms for said/went/good/bad etc., lists of conjunctions and contractions; challenging spelling words and... Anything else we identify as useful. I encourage them to refer to their toolbox instead of asking me for help when they need writing help. It has some value, but I'm sure we'll keep refining it.
  • Edublogs: You can read about that saga here. It's an ongoing challenge.
  • Proofreading:  Um. Yep. Can't say as we've progressed at all here... *sigh* What c
    an I say? Watch this space?
So. Not an all around success but certainly not no progress either. I'm constantly learning. There have been a multitude of other new areas of growth over the last term alongside these goals I identified. I feel like I've grown and am eager to keep going.  Next steps in my learning?  I want to learn how to use ipads/tablets in the classroom in a meaningful way; I want to reflect on my planning process; I want to become conversant in the new geography curriculum; I want to learn how to be intentional about work/life balance... The list is endless really.  Anyone have any suggestions to help me prioritise?

I worried a bit about my priorities in this blog so I 'wordled' the text. (Did I really just turn a noun into a verb... Ugh! Ugly ugly ugly. Sorry!) Pretty relieved by the result though... I think the emphasis is in the right places. What do you think?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 6.1 Identify and plan professional learning needs
Standard 6.2 Engage in professional  learning and improve practice
Standard 6.3 Engage with colleagues and improve practice
Standard 6.4 Apply professional learning and improve student learning

Friday, 11 October 2013

Student Blogging Challenges

In the weeks leading up to the start of my current teaching position, I discovered that my co-teacher was keen to get our class started with blogging. Yay! Student blogging was a rather appealing idea to this little newbie teacher and so my brain raced off at a million miles an hour with all kinds of plans. Fast forward a couple of months until today and... Well... It's still a rather appealing idea. The practicalities of it, however, are rather less appealing and overwhelmingly rather more challenging.

We chose to use Edublogs because it has a great security record (we're able to hide the blogs from websearches too which is pleasing to many parents), it's NOT blocked by our school system and offers a really wide range of options - in terms of formats, files, and memberships.  My co-teacher actually signed up as a premium user last year (but for a range of reasons her kiddos' blogs never really took off) so we're sliding in on her paid subscription - pretty lucky huh? (Thanks Miss B.!) This level of membership allows our students to upload files which is great for allowing them to showcase their learning. I'm slowly learning more about the functionality of the platform, but there are some pretty interesting features.

However... For reasons that tend more to user error (mine) than anything else, the process of setting up our students' blogs has lead to actual tears of frustration  (again, mine). Without boring you with the whole saga just let me say that it took the two of us HOURS to sort it out to the point that we currently have 16 (out of 30) student blogs set up and linked to our class blog. ONLY 16! The issues have grown to include the expected 'forgotten passwords' (even after being asked to set their password to a given shared password to avoid this very problem); blogs mysteriously appearing archived; students mysteriously not having privileges to access even their own blog; some students' requiring additional support to use the technology; and challenges posting particular file types. We're working through the issues as a class, in small groups and one-on-one, but it's taking time and is - as you can imagine - rather frustrating.

Creating a 3D shape which was later
labelled and shared on the blog .
The challenges have been huge but so too are the benefits. The students are eager to write on their blogs, and excited to share their learning. Knowing that their work will be seen by someone other than a teacher makes the task much more authentic. Pride is being shown where previously it wasn't. Students are demonstrating their learning using web 2.0 tools (many of which I'd never previously heard) and sharing links in their blogs. Peer tutoring as one student learns a new shortcut or tool is more and more common. Greater levels of independence and engagement are already evident. These are all fantastic developments!

They'd be even better developments if the whole class could access them, but we're not quite there yet. Student blogging is all about learning though so we'll keep trying and looking forward to our next point of learning. I'm really looking forward to reaching a point along our journey at which parents and families are able to be engaged in our teaching and learning programme through our student and class blogs. I love the idea that our students will be able to use their blogs to both showcase their learning and reflect on it. The opportunities for connections that can come from blogging are quite exciting, and I hope that our students are able to take advantage of them. This project, for all the frustration and challenges, remains appealing and exciting.

Do you have any tips for us?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2.6 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) 
Standard 3.3 Use teaching strategies
Standard 3.7 Engage parents/caregivers in the educative process
Standard 4.1 Support student participation
Standard 4.5 Use ICT safely, responsibly and ethically
Standard 6.2 Engage in professional learning and improve practice

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Fractured circles

Robert Delaunay, 1912-1913,
Premier Disque
Private collection
Another art lesson I enjoy teaching on relief days is called Fractured Circles. Well, that's my name for my version of this activity because it reminds me of a series of quilts my mother made with the same name. It's based very loosely on a number of paintings by Robert Delauney, an artist who helped introduce colour into Cubism.

Fractured circles is another simple activity that can be finished in one session with loads of potential for expansion. The finished products look great on their own but even better displayed as a group.

The premise is quite simple: the children each create an artwork of concentric circles which are then cut into quarters and swapped with other children. The resulting artworks are all connected but also fractured. The class I was teaching the day we created the art in the photos had a broad range of fine motor development and so there was a range of support given in that regard. The concept of the patterns continuing around the whole circle also required a LOT of discussion.

I've created templates that I'm happy to share (just leave a comment and I'll email it to you - I'm still trying to learn how to link to a document... tips are also most welcome).

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.1 Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students
Standard 1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities
Standard 2.1 Content & teaching strategies of the teaching area 
Standard 3.5 Use effective classroom communication
Standard 4.1 Support student participation

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Positive and negative space

I spent two fascinating days relieving in a grade 2 class right at the end of last term.  Amongst some other cool teaching and learning activities we made positive and negative space art pieces.  They were great fun to make and look fantastic.  

As you might have come to expect, the inspiration for this came from Pinterest (here).  I pinned this some time ago and promptly forgot that there were instructions. When the time came to use the idea I just ran with the visual image and 'had a go'. Oh well. Ours are a little different!

I started the lesson by introducing the concept of positive and negative space in images on the interactive whiteboard. (I found this website helpful to refresh my understanding of the art concepts.) We pointed out negative space in the images around the room and talked about how important it is to forming the positive images we see.  I demonstrated the very first steps of the project and talked explicitly about my expectations. We also talked about symmetry (the shape needed to be symmetrical and drawn with the axis of symmetry on the fold mark so that it could be easily cut out) and patterns (I asked for the coloured paper to be covered in an artistic pattern).

Being a grade 2 class the range of fine motor skill development was quite wide. You may be able to see the range of complexity in the patterns the children created. The challenge of cutting out the shapes amused the whole class for a few minutes, before becoming quite challenging for some children. I helped those who needed extra support with both the cutting and positioning of their positive and negative spaces. 

This particular lesson worked well in a relief situation for a number of reasons:

  • It was reasonably quick so we could start and finish it in one session.
  • It's not a messy activity requiring huge quantities of resources.
  • It introduced and developed understanding of an important and discrete art concept.
  • It allowed all students to be successful.
  • It could be linked to other maths concepts (symmetry, pattern etc.) very easily.
  • It could be used to look at other art concepts (colour etc.) easily.
I can see myself repeating this lesson with other classes. Do you have a  great relief art lesson you re-use?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.1 Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students
Standard 1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities
Standard 2.1 Content & teaching strategies of the teaching area 
Standard 3.5 Use effective classroom communication
Standard 4.1 Support student participation

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Roll a number...

One of our numeracy areas of focus recently has been multiplicative thinking. It's fascinating to watch the range of abilities in the class: it's as natural as breathing for some and as foreign as Swedish for others.  To be honest most of the teaching and learning cycle for this area is lead by my co-teacher (I'm focusing on shape at the moment) but I'm reinforcing the fluency aspect with quick and dirty games whenever I have a free moment can make time. (And as we all know from this post and its comments, I'm a big fan of injecting fun into our day with the odd game or two.)

The favourite game at the moment is one I first played with little tackers and addition. We sit in a circle and two children each roll an oversized dice into the middle. The first child to call out the product remains standing. The other child sits down and the next child in the circle
takes their place in the next dice roll. Our class is pretty competitive so we keep a tally for each child's correct answers. Our champion so far sits (rather confidently) with 8 correct answers. (She's one of those students for whom this kind of thinking is as automatic as breathing.)

The small group who respond to this game in the same way they would if I said "vänligen äter din plockat sill" play a modified game, with one dice, practising doubling. They seem to enjoy the independence I've given them to do this, and I've certainly noticed an improvement in their fluency with their 2 times tables.

We've been working with 6 sided dice which limits the game somewhat however, today, I discovered (my co-teacher pointed them out to me) the ten sided dice in our classroom. Bring it on.

We had a small hiccup during the game a few days ago when the reigning champ made a mistake and the rest of the class celebrated her error.  I was very surprised to see this sort of behaviour from this class, so a little chat about valuing everyone as individuals and celebrating our differences ensued. *sigh* Competition is a great thing, until it's not.

What games do you play in your classroom to reinforce basic skills?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.1 Physical, social and intellectual development and characteristics of students
Standard 1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities
Standard 2.5 Literacy and numeracy strategies
Standard 3.3  Literacy and numeracy strategies
Standard 3.4 Select and use resources
Standard 4.1 Support student participation
Standard 4.2 Manage classroom activities
Standard 4.3 Manage challenging behaviour

High (or otherwise) Quality Assessment Tasks

A couple of weeks ago our school undertook a whole school professional development day about developing high quality assessment tasks. (Specifically in maths, as that's been the whole school development priority this year.) It was a great challenge, and quite confronting for many people as the process involved sharing and evaluating each other's assessment tasks.  I really enjoyed the process, but not everyone was as enamoured. I even appreciated the need for us all to use the same template to present our assessments along with the pertinent curriculum links/context etc.

(Disclaimer: my co-teacher was our presenter for the day so I was lucky enough to know ahead of time  how the day was going to flow which probably added to my level of comfort. I'm not usually that in love with having my work examined and judged - as you probably figured out in this post.)

The day's discussion  (for me) centred around a few key questions:
      by Ludwg
  • When and how do we design assessment tasks?
  • Does this assessment allow students to demonstrate understanding that deserves an A or B?
  • Does this assessment ask for higher order thinking or merely fluency?
  • Does this assessment allow students to demonstrated their understanding in a new context?
  • Does this assessment task really assess what the achievement standards in the Australian Curriculum state?

They seem like obvious questions until  you really stop and use them to critically assess your own assessment tasks.  Ha! I came away feeling pretty confident about some of my assessments and almost embarrassed of others. There was a lot of self-talk happening for me: 'it's good to identify these issues because it means I can work on fixing them' took a lot more effort than the much louder 'oh boy how on earth did you not see what problem before now?'

The synergy of working in a team was a highlight of the day for me. You know that whole thing about two heads being better than one? Well. I know not everyone feels that way but I LOVE bouncing ideas off others so this process pleased me greatly. Bring on more team planning time I say!

How do you design your assessment tasks? Do you have a favoured format? Have you ever had something work amazingly well? I'd love to hear about it. 

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 5.1 Assess student learning  
Standard 6.2 Engage in professional learning and improve practice
Standard 6.3 Engage with colleagues and improve practice
Standard 7.2 Comply with legislative, administrative and organisational requirements

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

International Day of Chocolate Bite II

I already told you about how my real life obsession with love of chocolate rolled over into my classroom on International Day of Chocolate right? Well, I didn't tell you about the part that most excited me. I piggy backed on the back of that new knowledge to model the construction of an information text. (OK, so I'm way too easily excited and probably should seek help with that but just go with me for a moment here.)

Not a lot else to share about it really. The class provided me with the information and I modeled the construction of the text being explicit about the features I was choosing and the linguistic choices I was making. We then went through the text and labelled the features we've been discussing. At the end we pulled out another information text they had already labelled and reflected on other choices I could have made.

This was such a powerful lesson. Everyone was engaged, everyone contributed, everyone was laughing. (We know that we learn better when we're happy so laughter's a good sign for these kinds of lessons I think!) The reflection was the most powerful part: the students gave carefully considered answers and really examined the text. They LOVED pointing out the ways my text could be improved. (You can see in the photo where we've suggested where those features might be included if we were to rewrite this text.)

This particular activity (modeled construction) is an important part of the plan that my co-teacher and I created for this unit of work.  Our unit is based on the ideas in the Literacy for Learning framework which was created along the lines of the Australian Curriculum's view that language is social and culturally constructed. Modeled construction considers the importance of the social view of language and scaffolds the students' future independent construction by demonstrating the thinking processes and metalanguage needed.  

So there we have it... What might have originally been viewed (certainly by my husband) as an indulgent exercise turned into some pretty amazing teaching and learning.   Tell me about your experiences like this.

(Oh... And please excuse my AWFUL handwriting!)

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.2 Understand how students learn 
Standard 2.1 Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area
Standard 2.2 Content selection and organisation 
Standard 2.5 Literacy & numeracy strategies
Standard 3.2 Plan, structure and sequence learning programs