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