Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tech Tips Tuesday

This week's tip: Make it your New Year's Resolution to Get Connected in 2009 (if you're not already!)

  • You learn so much through developing a personal learning network online
  • You meet new people and can support one another
  • You find new resources to use in the classroom


  • Read blogs and leave comments. You can search for blogs with Google Blog Search.
  • Start up your own blog on a hobby or interest
  • If you're blogging about Teaching in K-6, consider submitting posts to the Teaching K-6 Blog Carnival at http://www.blogcarnival.com/
  • Sign up - for Twitter, Facebook, Plurk or other social networks of your choice. Set up some sort of profile that lets people know a little about you. They probably won't choose to follow you if they don't know who you are or what you have in common with them.
  • Seek out people to follow. On Twitter there are Twitter Groups that you can sign up to in order to find people with similar interests. For teachers on Twitter, there's the Twitter4Teachers wiki. On Facebook you can create or join up to 200 groups! I'm not sure about Plurk as I don't use it...yet!
  • Start chatting. Share your ideas with others. Ask people's opinion on things. Share things you are finding online. You will be amazed by how much you can learn from one another.
  • Consider joining or creating a relevant ning to connect further with people with similar interests. I'm part of the Oz/Nz Educators Ning. I'm still finding my feet in here, but hope to get a lot more involved in the new year.
  • Use Skype to talk with people around the world for free. I've heard of teachers who use Skype to connect with other schools as well as experts on topics being researched in class.

Want more?

SO... Have fun in 2009 and GET CONNECTED!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Year That Was - 2008

January - Spent most of the school holidays rennovating our new house - ripping up carpet, sanding and polishing floorboards, painting, etc (still haven't completed this job!)

February - Started the school year at my new school. It was a bit of a rocky start and it took me a little while to figure out how to function effectively there. Started Spanish 2 Certificate at the local Institute of Technology.

March - I had nominated to be The Primary School Sports Association representative for my school. I received no information about this, but suddenly some of our boys had missed their cricket trials. I was given permission to run another trial and manage a second team for our area. Up until this point I had never watched a full game of cricket in my life! I found some people who actually know about cricket and we worked it all out. The team I was managing actually came second!

April - My school had a big birthday. I had a couple of 1st year preservice teachers in to observe my class for a week. We did a three-week unit of work on artists - Monet, Turner and Van Gogh.

May - I ran the Great Ocean Road Marathon (well, I walked a bit of it). This was a killer and really put my stamina to the test. I haven't really got back into my running again since, but still hope to pick it up again at some point. I had another preservice teacher in to share the teaching of my class. We started a unit of work "Home Sweet Home" which involved an excursion to a local construction site, building houses from straws and paddlepop sticks, and building a class cubby house.

June - I turned 30. My hubby organised a trip back to New York City for us. We rented a place in Chelsea and lived the life for 5 weeks. It felt like we were home again. New things we 'discovered' and enjoyed this time included Hooters buffalo wings, Shakespeare in the Park, Honeymoon Beer, 4th July fireworks, weekly softball, Gordon Ramsey's "The London" restaurant, The Steinway Piano Factory, mojitos, and poker with friends.

July - I started exploring things more on the computer. I discovered podcasts and began downloading them to listen to on my ipod. I also remembered my love of reading and enjoyed reading a bunch of books.

August - I began this blog. I continued to learn and grow in my knowledge of ICT and its use in the classroom. We started a unit of work on the Olympic Games. At home, we struggled through what was left of winter without a heater.

September - I got hooked on Twitter and started my Link 4 Learning podcast. Reached 7 year wedding anniversary. Hubby was away with work so he sent a beautiful bunch of flowers and organised a trip for us in Brisbane. Started a history unit of work on "The Way We Were".

October - Went to Brisbane for a holiday and enjoyed taking it easy for a few days and soaking in some sun. Also got my iPhone. Where would I be without my iPhone!!

November - Started weeding my veggie patch and planting seeds. They took forever to grow. Wrote reports. Started new unit of work "Are We There Yet?"

December - Finished off the school year and packed up all my stuff. House was burgled on the second last day of school. Enjoyed a quiet Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tech Tips Tuesday

I've been struggling over the last couple of days, trying to work out what to give you as a tip today. There's the USB TV tuner I bought the other day, which has been providing me with television - but that's not much use unless you need TV, and I'm not satisfied enough with one of the connector pieces to recommend the particular brand I bought. In fact, I'm tossing up whether to take it back to the shop - and fight the last-minute Christmas shopping crowds.

Then there's a cool painting program that was recommended to me by @teachernz on Twitter. It's called ArtRage 2.5 (the free version) and makes for a fun play with paint without all the usual mess associated with painting. This picture is my attempt at playing with paint this morning. See how paint like it is? It 'runs out' when you haven't 're-dipped' the brush and mixes with colours you paint over.

But what I really want to give you this close to Christmas, is something you don't have to install, or spend money on, or give a lot of thought to. Something simple and useful that you can come back to once the Christmas dust has settled.

This week's tip: Flickr in the Art Lesson

Often when teaching an art lesson, I want to provide my students with visual inspiration while they work. I've done this in the past with posters, photo books, or objects. Earlier this year I started accessing Google Images for relevant pictures to help students get ideas. The problem I found with this was that I had to click through the pages, or pull photos onto a slideshow prior to the lesson.

Later in the year, I discovered how Flickr could work for me. Simply type in the search item eg. 'geckos' and up comes all the relevant photos and videos. Click on the slideshow icon on the top right, and it will play through all the images. I can now set the slideshow going on the interactive whiteboard while students work at their desks, and if it comes to the end, one of the kids jumps up and sets it going again. You can set the slideshow to go at a pace you want, and if you want to pause it at any time you can. There are also descriptions written by the photographer that may add more information to the topic you are covering. A couple of my students found these photographs really engaging and created quite detailed artwork as a result.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday Fun

This was the final week for school in my state. It was another busy week, but still fun.

Fun This Week:

Are We There Yet? YES! - This week we finished off our imaginary journey around Australia. The last few pages of "Are We There Yet?" by Alison Lester were a bit of a rush, but we made it! I created an online quiz using ProProf which we did as a class and then I was going to have students do it in the lab. Unfortunately, the videos didn't work at school due to system blocking of videos. But if you want to check it out, you can see it here:

So instead of doing the quiz in the lab, students explored the SmartBoard Notebook containing all the videos/photos etc for the term. It was a great way for students to review the material. We then went back to the classroom where they tried to label an Australian map with states and capital cities. I was REALLY impressed with how much they had learnt. The following day we actually read another story about a journey around Australia called "Santa's Aussie Holiday" by Maria Farrer and Anna Walker. It was interesting to hear the discussion as the kids compared the two journeys.
Gifts - Students made and wrapped gifts for their families. (I'm not going to spill the beans about those!)

Swimming Pool - On Thursday the junior school (K-2) went to the pool for the morning. The kids did a lot of swimming and splashing early on. Towards the end a couple of my boys set up their own little soccer field and started playing soccer. A couple of the girls joined in as cheer leaders. I was most impressed as they did it all on their own initiative without any encouragement whatsoever from me!

Class Party - On Friday afternoon some of the parents organised a class party for the kids. It was a pretty wild half-hour so I think we were all quite glad it was at the end of the day! Again, the kids showed initiative - climbing on chairs, stacks on, and running around the classroom!!! (It's much better when they use their powers for good!) The parents were really lovely with all their kind words and gifts. It was a pleasure working with them.

Goodbyes, Hellos and Welcome Backs

I've never been good at goodbyes. I remember bawling my eyes out as a 4 year old when it was time to leave my grandmother's house! It's been much the same all through my life, but I've found different ways to deal with it. These days I don't bawl my eyes out (which was probably healthy really!!!) instead, I deny the inevitable for as long as possible. I've got so good at denial these days that I can almost avoid the feeling of loss completely! I just tell myself that I'm bound to see these people again some day and avoid that thought that this might be it.

Because of this crazy game I play, I always find the final couple of weeks of the school year very stressful. I keep on teaching like the year isn't ending up until it really IS ending and then I have a frantic rush to send home work, clean the classroom and make cards and gifts for all the kids. The last thing I always seem to be doing on the last day of the school year, is shredding. I stand at the shredder with the massive pile of assessment, notes and personal records and shred. And that's the final goodbye to a year of teaching.

Paired with goodbyes are usually 'hellos' or as is often the case for me 'welcome backs'. The excitement of these mingles with the sadness of goodbyes to make a crazy emotional cocktail.

So, to those of you who have said 'goodbye' to me or 'welcome back' and didn't get the sort of response you expect at that time, I'm sorry.

To those at the school I am leaving: I've had an amazing year. I've worked with a brilliant teaching team and learnt so much from working with them. I've enjoyed the time I've had to explore new ideas with my class - to play and learn with the kids on a daily basis. The kids have definitely kept me on my toes with their energy and enthusiasm. It was great to get to know the parents of the kids I teach this year and see new ways to improve communication between home and school. (Thank you so much for your generous end of year gift!) I've had a very supportive executive staff who were willing to send me on any PD that I could benefit from. The staff as a whole has been friendly and supportive.

And to those at my 'new' school (which is actually my 'older' school): I'm looking forward to being back with you all. I'm keen for the challenge of Year 4 and can't wait to start working with the kids I had to say 'goodbye' to when I went to New York City for a year! I'm so excited to get a second chance with you.

So... maybe we don't actually have to say 'goodbye' after all.

The Blogger Behind This Blog #2

Bad things don't seem to happen very often to me. And when they do, they don't end up seeming so bad. Everything works out quite quickly and with minimal inconvenience. I wouldn't say that I'm particularly lucky, just not unlucky. And I have an amazing husband who bends over backwards to make life good for me.

During the week my house was burgled. I came home after pool day, staff lunch, and welcome drinks at my new school to find a number of things not quite right outside and wasn't sure what to expect when I got inside. I thought that maybe my hubby had come home early from a business trip. But as I have the only set of keys, I thought that unlikely. I stepped through the door and looked into the lounge room. My 42 inch plasma TV had been ripped off the wall (literally) leaving a great gaping hole in the lounge room wall. A quick look around showed me that there were other things missing too - including my laptop. The laptop I use to blog, podcast, twitter, EVERYTHING!

Long story short, cops were called and came, insurance was called (should be able to recover costs), friends and family came to my aid and all is good.

The miracle is... As my laptop was getting full and slow, my wonderful, amazing, perfect husband had bought me a new laptop for Christmas and had wrapped it up and left it in the spare room for me. Miraculously, the burglars didn't take it. And the best bit of it all - my wonderful, amazing, perfect husband had actually copied all the files from the old laptop onto the new laptop before he left so that I could start using it straight away! So, as soon as the cops had left and the dust had settled, Hubby treated me to an early Christmas - my Christmas Miracle!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tech Tips Tuesday

This week's tip: Making a Class Movie/Photostory

As an end of year gift for our students, the year 1 teachers decided to make a movie/photostory using photos taken of students throughout the year.
I used Photostory 3 and Bec used Windows Movie Maker. We thought it would be fun to get together and do a comparison of the two programs.

Windows Movie Maker
Bec chose to use Movie Maker as it was already installed on her home computer and she had done a PD on it previously.

  • You can click and drag pictures into the story board
  • It's easy to add music to the movie
  • Title frames can be inserted without photo backgrounds
  • Transition selection and video effects are user friendly (click and drag)
  • Can include video segments
  • Easy to include credits
  • Photos are not stored in the file, so you need to use the same computer in order to access the pictures while editing
  • Periodically crashes and can be slow to load
  • Need to save frequently
  • To finalise and burn the movie to CD within the program takes a considerable amount of time (40mins on Bec's computer)

Photostory 3
I chose Photostory 3 because it is the main one the teachers at my school were using, and because I got frustrated using Windows Movie Maker when I couldn't edit the file on another computer.

  • Able to crop and edit photos within the program
  • Guides the user in a sequential process to create the photostory
  • Designed to use photos rather than video


  • It is difficult to rearrange the order of the photos, so it's best to import them in the order you intend to display them
  • Can't use video segments - photos only
  • Can't insert text slides (text has to be on the image)
  • To make the images fit with the audio, you need to resize the length of time for each image and save changes each time - quite a lengthy process
  • Inserting Slide Transitions is time consuming if you want to personalise them

I also chatted with our ICT specialist and she says that when working with students, she finds Photostory better for younger children with less ICT experience. She has had success with Windows Movie Maker with Year 6 students creating their Graduation movie.

These are our thoughts. Let us know what you've found from your experiences using Windows Movie Maker, Photostory 3, or some other program.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Google Jockeying

I got busy catching up on bookmarked sites last night. I've seen so much great stuff lately, but just haven't had the time to investigate them further.

One of these great sites was listed on EdTechTalk's 100 Bookmarks on Delicious. It's called 7 Things You Should Know and is a series of fact sheets about emerging learning technologies. They're all really great, but the one that I loved most of all, was the one about Google Jockeying. Why? Because I tried this even before I heard about it, and it feels good to know that it's a recognised teaching strategy and to see how to use it 'properly'!

I really recommend you check out the fact sheet, but basically, Google Jockeying is when one student sits at a computer and searches for relevant images, information etc about the topic while the teacher speaks to the class. This information is displayed for the class to see and the teacher can draw on the additional resources to support teaching, further discussion etc. The GJ (!) is responsible for thinking of appropriate sources, keywords etc and learns a lot through this process. The rest of the class is more engaged as they are receiving the information through multi-sensory means.

The fact sheet talks about this strategy in terms of a University setting, however it can work just as nicely in a Primary School classroom. I accidentally tried this idea while I was reading a story to the class and talking about the style of the illustrator. As there was a student computer right beside me, I got one of the students up to Google the illustrator's name and then we looked at a picture of her and read about her techniques. We also discussed how the author writes about environmental themes, which led us to plant pests like Rosy Dock and Patterson's Curse. Another kid jumped on the computer and Googled Patterson's Curse so we could see what it looked like. It was a very easy strategy, that even my Year 1s could handle. I realise that I was directing my students with this task, but wouldn't it be great to have a student working away at this in the background. Think of the potential with older kids! And if you have an interactive whiteboard or digital projector in the classroom, it would make the display of information more effective.

This is a strategy that I will be adding to my tool kit for use next year. What do you think?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Fun

This week has been a bit of a crazy week as we wind down toward Christmas, take down work, and finish things off. We've still managed to do some learning and have a bit of fun while we're at it.

Fun this week:
Sheep Shearing - The characters in "Are We There Yet?" learnt how to shear sheep, so we joined them with this learning. We watched a video of a sheep being shorn and then students wrote about how they would feel if they were the shearer. We then watched the video a second time and students thought and wrote about the perspective of the sheep.

We watched the Pixar video "Boundin'" and talked about the reasons for shearing sheep, and considered who benefits from this. Students also discussed what they do to cheer themselves up when they are feeling down.

Theme Parks - The children in "Are We There Yet?" went on a ride at Surfers Paradise, so we included the Gold Coast theme parks as part of our journey. We watched a couple of YouTube videos of a rollercoaster ride at Movie World. One video was filmed from the ground and the other from on the ride.

Students compared the two videos and discussed the visual impact of each. We looked at online interactive maps of Movie World, Sea World, Dream World and Wet 'n' Wild. We discussed the features of the maps including the key and then students worked in small groups to design and decorate their own theme park maps. Students also wrote a journal entry about their imaginary day at Sea World.

Assembly - This week it was our turn to host the school assembly. We learnt the song "It's Raining on the Rock" and did some clapping sticks, swaying and coloured scarves with it. We only had time to learn the chorus, but it tied in so well with our unit of work "Are We There Yet?" that I couldn't let it slip by. We also shared our Daintree Rainforest posters. Some of the other Year 1 students showed their artwork of Uluru.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tech Tips Tuesday

A couple of teachers that I work with have mentioned that they would love to be able to create and access a collection of their links online. At the time that they mentioned it, Delicious was blocked by our school system. Now however, it has been unblocked and is a very useful tool for this very purpose. I am putting together my own collection of links with relevant tags to help me sort them for different purposes. My plan is to share these links with other teachers, students and parents, by providing them with the address for the collection.

Teachers might like to make up a collection of sites to use with their classes.
Parents might like to make up a collection of sites for their children to access, or to save and organise sites for themselves!

So, with that in mind...

Today's tip: Getting Started With Delicious
1. Go to http://www.delicious.com/ If you want to know more before signing up, click on "Learn More".
2. Join up by clicking on 'Join Now'.
3. Follow the steps to register. You may or may not want to add the buttons to your toolbar. I find them useful as they save a lot of time when I find a site I want to add to my collection. You also may or may not want to import your bookmarks. I imported them for my personal collection, but found that it made it very cluttered. For my second account (the one I plan to use as a teacher) I didn't import any bookmarks, but rather I am building the collection and using consistent tags.
4. Once you are logged in you can explore other people's links by themed tags or by popularity.
5. You can see your own bookmarks by clicking on the "bookmarks" tag.

Saving a site to your collection
1. Find a site you like. If you installed the buttons to your toolbar, click on "Save to Delicious".
2. A page will pop up with boxes for you to add any notes you want to provide about the site, and any tags to help sort your pages by different categories.
3. It's useful to include lots of tags that are relevant to the page. Think of categories ie. early childhood, middle primary etc, but also content related: audio stories, maths, reading, books etc. If the site is popular, there will be suggested tags that you can click on to use as your own tags.
4. When you are happy with your comments and tags, click on "save".

If you do NOT install the buttons to your toolbar, you can save links by logging in and then clicking on the "Save a new link" link on the right hand side. It will then prompt you to type in the URL before taking you to the form mentioned above.

If you think it sounds useful to you, try it out and see what you think. I've been busy bookmarking and am looking forward to going back and revisiting all the things that grabbed my attention!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Enthusiastic Teachers

In the past week I have been chatting with other teachers in the staffroom. I’ve been encouraged by the enthusiasm of the newer teachers as they discuss their ideas for the future and speak with excitement about their professional learning and plans to implement Developmental Curriculum in the early childhood classrooms. On the flip-side, I’ve heard a couple of teachers saying that they are no longer interested in their professional development and are just happy to continue teaching using the methods they’ve learnt and come to depend upon.

With this disparity in the thinking of a group of teachers, it’s easy to see why the two will clash. One group desires to learn and change, while the other group feels there is no need. And it isn’t just an age thing either. There are many older, more experienced teachers who continue to look for ways to improve their teaching, and try to keep their methods relevant and interesting to the children coming into their classes.

I feel disheartened when I see teachers who are just hanging in there, waiting out the time until their retirement. I feel sorry for the children in their classes who are left with a dull, worn-out impression of learning. I worry that I too, will one day come to that stage in my teaching where I stop caring and run out of the energy to make learning fresh and interesting each day.

I came across this article about Teacher Enthusiasm Research that reviews the findings of a number of studies on the impact of a teacher’s enthusiasm on student learning. It argues that teacher enthusiasm makes a course more enjoyable, entertaining and memorable. The study goes on to look at levels of teacher enthusiasm as expressed through vocalization, eye contact, facial expression, movement and gesture. This study observes the occurence of these things in both a beginning teacher and a more experienced teacher. While I believe these physical aspects can be learned and developed, I feel that a portion of enthusiasm actually comes from within.
While these aspects definitely communicate a teacher’s enthusiasm about the topic, a lot of a teacher’s enthusiasm (particularly with young children) is also expressed before the lesson is presented – in the creation of lessons and the preparation of resources. Teachers who are lifelong learners themselves are going to motivate students to love learning more than teachers who have reached the point where they know it all - aren't they?

Is there a point in a teacher's career where he/she can honestly say that they have perfected the craft? Or is it out of laziness, boredom, or exhaustion that they give up trying?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Classroom Chats #1 Reflections of Beginning Teachers

Classroom Chats is a new feature of the Teaching Challenges Blog. Here teachers chat about the challenges they face in the classroom and the successes they experience. In this episode I chat with Bec and Kym, two beginning teachers, as they reflect on their teaching in the past year.

Bec has previous experience with relief teaching, teaching in a school library, and in 2007 shared a year 2 class with another teacher. This year she had her own class with all the related challenges.

Kym is Early Childhood trained and did her Internship at our school in 2007. In term one of this year she directed a pre-school room in a childcare setting. She joined Bec and I in Year 1 at the beginning of second term. She had the challenge of joining a school partway through the year and taking on a difficult class in her first year of teaching.
Thanks to Matt for the guitar intro to classroom chats. You're a legend Matt!

Click here to listen to our classroom chat.
If you are having trouble with the links, you can see the original to download the audio file.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Fun

On Fridays I like to reflect on some of the more enjoyable things from the week. In my complete exhaustion it reminds me of the great learning that has taken place during the week and helps to refresh me for the week ahead.

Fun this week:

Advent Calendars - This week we made star advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas. The star was a geometrical pattern and we made colourful links - one for each of the days until Christmas. Children take off one link each day as they count down to Christmas.

"Photoshopping" with Paint - I taught students how to use MSPaint to cut a photo of themselves and paste it onto a background. I saved background files from the Creative Commons Attribute Licence page with a name that referred to the photographer. Students made their new pictures and printed it out with a sentence attributing the background to the flickr artist.

Investigating Capacity in the sandpit - Students paired off and selected a small container and a larger container. They estimated how many sand-loads of the small container would fill the larger container. After 30 minutes of focused 'work', I gave them 15 minutes playtime in the sandpit.

Great Barrier Reef Paintings - We painted an A3 sheet of paper with water colour blues. We then cut out sea creatures from bright coloured paper and glued these onto the background. Students got ideas from a flickr slideshow based on the search "Great Barrier Reef". I also took digital photographs of students pretending to swim and printed these out for students to include in their artwork.

Shivoo - On Thursday night we had our end of year concert - our Shivoo. A stage was set up in the school playground and families brought picnic baskets and picnic rugs to pread out on the lawn for our performances. The classes performed a range of great items to entertain. The Year 1 classes did "On the Good Ship Lollipop" to tie in with our "The Way We Were" unit and "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree" to tie in with our "Are We There Yet?" unit. Once students had finished their performances, they either sat with their parents, or played with their friends. They had a ball! They wrote a journal entry about the night the next day in class.

Heads or Tails - We explored chance through the game of "Heads and Tails" and then students experimented with coins to record the way the coin landed after a number of flips.

Daintree Rainforest - After reading "Where The Forest Meets The Sea" by Jeannie Baker and discussing some facts about the rainforest, students began designing posters to encourage people to look after the Daintree Rainforest without actually writing "Protect the Daintree Rainforest". The challenge I set was to make it look so beautiful that no one would want to harm it. They got a good start to the posters and will finish them next week.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Carnival of Education

In the blogging community, there are things called blogging carnivals. Someone agrees to 'host' the carnival, which involves reading through all the submitted blog posts and writing a blog post that includes links to these posts. At the Carnival of Education, this is always done really creatively. This week's carnival is called "A Christmas Carnival" and is hosted by Learn Me Good. Check it out to hear what people were saying about Education in the blogging world this week.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Visiting Queensland

For our Integrated Inquiry in Year 1, we have been taking an imaginary journey around Australia with the characters in the book "Are We There Yet?" by Alison Lester.
This week we moved into QLD. After reading the relevant pages in "Are We There Yet?" we watched a promotional video about the Australian Royal Flying Doctors service and then left a comment on their website. Students contributed their ideas and we linked them together to create a great comment.

We then watched this video about how to crack a whip. The second time through we stood up and pretended to be cracking whips of our own. I realise that this probably seems pointless to many people, but studies have shown that when we imagine/visualise doing something and simulate the situation, our brains process the experience much the same as if we were doing the actual thing. Part of this 'journey' is helping students to link up the activities and places in their minds so that they will remember it all for longer.

We are in the process of creating Great Barrier Reef artworks and later in the week will learn more about the Daintree Rainforest as we read "Where The Forest Meets the Sea" by Jeannie Baker.

Travelling the Top End of NT

For our Integrated Inquiry in Year 1, we have been taking an imaginary journey around Australia with the characters in the book "Are We There Yet?" by Alison Lester.
When we 'travelled' through NT we visited Darwin, Kakadu and Katherine Gorge. In Darwin, we 'went shopping' using local grocery store catalogues. I told students that as we had been travelling for quite some time, our food supplies were running low. Once we reached Darwin, it was a perfect time to do some shopping. Students worked in pairs as they looked through the grocery catalogues and selected items they wanted to buy. They wrote a list of items and costs using $0.00 format. They then used calculators to add up their list and determine the total cost.
We used Flickr photos in slideshow mode as we pretended to go on a 'billabong cruise' in Kakadu. Students snapped photos with their pretend cameras and drew the snapshots into their travel journals. The following day we watched a YouTube video of a Kakadu Billabong Cruise

and also a couple of men fishing for Barramundi in the East Alligator River (just as they do in the book "Are We There Yet?" by Alison Lester). Students pretended to catch the fish and reel it in as they watched the video.

Next we head across to Queensland...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tech Tips Tuesday

I know I said that Tuesday was going to be for tips for parents and teachers about something I am covering with my class, but I've changed my mind! It's going to be too hard to maintain that during the holidays, so instead, I present Tech Tips Tuesday. On Tuesday you can find tips for integrating technology into the class or home.

This week's tip:
If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, consider the free "Easy Relax" application. This application has theme 'soundtracks' that you can play in the background of your class. Themes include 'Into the West', 'Hawaii Vacation', 'Jungle' and a number of pre-programed soundtracks. Alternatively, you can create your own themes with background music and up to three extra sounds with self-selected intervals.
As an award to groups who are focused on their work, I have been allowing them to select a pre-programmed soundtrack or create a team soundtrack. It has been fun, a good behaviour reward and an easy way for students to program their own soundtrack. The soundtrack also adds to the flavour of the class and some students work more quietly just to hear the sound of the rain, thunder, croaking frog, or whatever else!
To amplify it across the classroom, I plug the audio cord that leads to the Smart Board into the audio socket on my iPhone - easy.
As a sidenote, I found it quite nice to fall asleep to one day as well!


Aussie kids seem to love bugs and creepy creatures. A couple of weeks ago, we visited the blog of 2M Gems, to see the class pet praying mantid. We borrowed some books from our library on bugs and insects, and ever since, seem to be finding them in our classroom and playground! Here are a couple that we found lately.

Raising the Flags

Today we had a special flag raising ceremony with our new flags and flagpoles. We all met at the front of the school, sang the anthem and watched as the flags were raised. It was a windy day - perfect for seeing the flags flying.

At our school's 50th Birthday Celebration, earlier in the year, Matilda House (Aunty Matilda) a local Aboriginal elder gave a speech. As part of this, she said that she hoped one day to see the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags hanging side by side with the Australian flag at the front of the school.

Today we saw that happen.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Blogger Behind this Blog #1

Today, while doing the dishes, I realised that I haven't really given you much of my background. I've been keeping myself somewhat distant from the content I post. I guess I wanted to see where this blog went, and wanted to provide 'professional' ideas for other teachers to use. But, surely I can do that, and still tell you a little more about the 'me' who sits and types all of these things on the computer!

And so, "The Blogger Behind this Blog" is born. (I can hear my students yelling at me: "That's alliteration!") If you like it let me know, otherwise, it may end just as quickly!

I grew up in this city (which I am trying not to disclose for extra security of my students) and went through the largest part of my schooling here. Early in my life I decided I wanted to be a teacher AND a mum AND a writer AND (in yrs 3-6) a model. I absolutely ADORED school. I loved all my teachers and to this day can still name them all. I was definitely a square and generally did well with my work. I was successful at school and always felt sorry for the kids who didn't 'get it' and were always in the teacher's bad books. I tried to help them to 'get it' and was often sat next to the 'bad boy' who for some crazy reason I was always in love with! (Isn't that always the way with we crazy females!) At some point, I decided that when I became a teacher, I wanted to help those kids that were ALWAYS in trouble with the teacher. Now that I'm there, I understand where my teachers were coming from - it's so hard to help those ones while also managing a classroom and teaching the content that needs to be covered! I do my best, and usually maintain a positive response, but sometimes I just get really frustrated!

Well, that's enough for the first one. Post me your questions for future BBBs in the comments box!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas - To teach, or not to teach?

At this time of year many teachers are pondering how to cover Christmas, if at all. Our classes are multicultural and we desire to respect the diversity of beliefs of the children in our care. For teachers in Australia, Christmas also marks the end of the school year, and traditionally the last couple of weeks have become a time for "Christmas Crafts" - making decorations, cards, presents, colouring sheets, singing Christmas carols etc all in preparation for the holiday. Christmas, in our minds, is also connected with all the happy feelings around finishing the school year and the coming of the summer.

In our schools we now have a number of students who follow Islam, some Hindu believers and also of the Buddhist faith. One way that schools acknowledge this diversity is to include units of work that look at the beliefs and celebrations of all of these faiths. Last year, when I was teaching Year 3, we did a really fascinating unit "Kaleidoscope of Cultures" where we did just this. One significant part of this was when we visited Places of Worship around our city. We learnt a lot from seeing these places and hearing from people of various beliefs. But these units of work are not included in the curriculum every year, as students do not to revisit this to such a degree each year. Some teachers then feel awkward about teaching Christian celebrations in the absence of the celebrations of other religions.

If teachers do decide to celebrate Christmas with their classes, they are then faced with the question of how they will accomplish this. Do they then go with the secular approach - Santa, reindeer, gifts etc, or do they reflect on the Christian belief and the story of the nativity? Often they will select the secular - choosing the least offensive approach to people of other beliefs. In the past, I have tried to mesh the two (secular and religious), and throughout the year I explain the other beliefs and celebrations of students in the class at times like Ramadan. I haven't found the ideal answer yet, but I am interested to hear your perspectives.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Fun - 28/11/08

I've been reading blogging tips from Successful Teaching, that originally came from someone else. One of the things covered this week was the idea of having a blogging schedule with regular items. I see this on a lot of other people's blogs - things like Wordless Wednesday, Carnival of Education etc. So, I'm going to try out 'Friday Fun' where I do a quick recap of the fun activities of the week. I'll also try 'Tuesday Tips' where I'll give tips for teachers and parents for things we're covering in class. And on the weekends, I think I'll do a philosophising post - one where I ponder and discuss issues around teaching. On other days I may or may not do posts relating to what's going on in the classroom. I'll have to see how it goes.

Fun this week:
First 'Classroom Chat' - On Monday, after school, I interviewed my two team teachers about their experiences as beginning teachers. We discussed the challenges and support they experienced and celebrated their successes. We also reflected on our hopes for next year. We are in the process of editing and hope to have it up sometime next week.

Making Geckos - We looked at geckos on Flickr and painted our own cardboard geckos. (This tied in with 'Are We There Yet?')

Constable Kenny - A local police officer brought 'Constable Kenny' to our school to talk to the K-2 classes about traffic safety.

Cooking 'Uluru Buns' - My class reached the next star on the goal chart and was awarded an Aussie cooking session using recipes from an old Kraft Cheese recipe book. I showed them the choices and they voted for their preference (I graphed the results as we went along). The cooking session went well and the buns were delicious.

Real travel journal - Prue from 'My Life as the Good Twin' sent us some scanned images and text from the travel journal she had as a child when she travelled around Australia. It was a lot of fun to read about her story of Kakadu and Uluru. The kids were fascinated.

Market Day - The Year 6 students organised a whole bunch of stores for the rest of the school to buy from. There was a really great variety of things including a petting zoo, obstacle course, guessing competitions, skill testers, and PLENTY of junk food. The kids in my class were very sugared up by the end of the day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Let's Get Graphing

These lessons were follow-up to the graphing lessons last week.

As I felt that we'd ended on a negative note with our graphing (and I'd had opportunity to reflect as I wrote my blog post) I decided to revisit graphing again this week. One of the boys from my class asked to have a circle time lesson so I taught the Maths this way instead of a traditional lesson. (If you are new to circle time, you can check out the other circle time explanations by typing circle time in the blog search in the top left-hand-side of this page.)

Check In: My name is ... and I feel ... about data collection and graphing.

Mixer: Change places if... (you have a brother, you ate cereal for breakfast, you have Foxtel etc) The student in the center of the circle calls out the requirement and then has to try to find a place when students change places. The last one to find a place becomes the new caller.

Activity: Explain the difference between 'favourites' graphs (those that ask about favourite foods, colours etc) and other surveys (such as hair colour, eye colour, pets owned etc). Students pair off and select a non-favourite style survey to investigate.

Debrief: In preparation for the next day, show students how to enter data into Microsoft Excel and create a graph.

Energiser: Human Graphs. Students form lines according to criteria (eg. amount of teeth lost) and teacher takes photo. Upload images to the interactive whiteboard and discuss the graphs straight away.

Check Out: Any questions about graphing with Excel the following day.

This lesson went REALLY well, except for a couple of the survey topics. One pair chose 'type of car your parents drive' which was a bit tricky for some students to respond to. Another pair chose 'how many letters you have in your letter folder' which proved difficult since the room was set up for circle time and students had limited access to their desk trays where their folders were stored.

The human graph part was hectic, but lots of fun. I was amazed by the differences in amounts of teeth lost. Some still hadn't lost any, while one had already lost nine!

Today we created the graphs with Excel. I did another quick demonstration to review the lengthier explanation from the previous day and set students to work. (The reason I did the two explanations was because we only get 30 minutes in the lab and I knew a 5 minute explanation wouldn't be enough for a new skill, but as a review would work well.) I was impressed by how quickly and capably students worked with this task. They were very proud of their work and I encouraged them to try making their own graph with excel at home.

NOW we're ready to move on from graphs as they have been left with a positive, successful experience.

Same but Different

One of the great things about working in a Teaching Team is that you share your ideas but still maintain your unique perspective and approach. We recently realised this in terms of how we approached one of the art activities with our classes.
We all wanted to make an artistic representation of boab trees. Bec suggested we blow ink with a straw to make the branches of the tree, and we were all keen...at that point. When the day came for my class to do the art activity, I was ready to tear my hair out. I felt I'd been tug-of-warring with my class all day and didn't think it wise to hand out ink and straws to my students! Instead, we used crayon for the background and simply painted the trees with black paint. Kim loved the illustration of the boab trees from the book "Are We There Yet?" particularly the detail in the rocky ground. She wanted to explore this concept with her class. The following pieces of art are the demonstration paintings that we used with our classes. As you can see, what started as one idea, became three different products as we brought our own perspectives to the task.

Bec's Boab

My Boab

Kym's Boab

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jolly Postman

One of the teachers I work with, Bec, put together a great unit of work around the book "The Jolly Postman" by Alan and Janet Ahlberg. Students made story maps of the journey that the Jolly Postman went on as he delivered his mail, and learnt how to write a letter and address an envelope.

Bec also made up a simple A5 letter template for students to use to write letters to one another. We made up red post boxes (as our postboxes are red in Australia) and encouraged students to start writing. I gave my students a folder to store their letters in so that they remember to reply to the people who write to them.

It has been amazing to see how involved students have become with this. One student even went home on the weekend and wrote letters to just about everyone in the class! I was surprised by this as it used to be hard to get him to sit still and write at all. As you can see, this project really has the kids motivated.

I have also been impressed by the quality of the letters. Students are trying to write small and neatly. They are also checking punctuation (with some reminders). Most of all, I love the content of these letters - they are using the social conventions for letters, and as time goes on, are making the letters unique to the person to whom they are writing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Travelling in the Australian Outback

This week my class continued their "Are We There Yet?" journey into the Australian outback in northern Western Australia (WA) and headed into the Northern Territory (NT). I found this great YouTube video of a helicopter ride in the Bungle Bungles, so we bounced in our seats as we imagined flying through this amazing area!

We also watched this BBC video of looking for witchetty grubs and digging for honey ants. It tied in really nicely with the section of the book about Alice Springs. (Unfortunately, it has embedding disabled).

It was quite an artistic week with students designing their own "possible creepy creatures in Tunnel Creek" pictures, watercolour paintings of Uluru at different times throughout the day, and crayon sunsets with black silhouttes of boab trees.

We searched for some photos of the places we 'visited' and printed them out. Students photoshopped themselves with a friend into these places using old-fashioned cutting and pasting with real scissors and glue! They then made up a story about their adventure in this place. Some stories were very exciting with lots of problems along the way.

A couple of students' relatives have sent us postcards of the places where they live, so we are getting to find out about different places that way. One student recently travelled in QLD, so he brought along his photos to show the class as well. I love the way that the wider community gets involved with our learning and students explore the topic from their own experiences and interests.

Next week we head further north in NT to visit Kadadu, Darwin and a few other places along the way.

Data Collection and Graphing

This week I worked some more with my students on collecting data and presenting findings in graph format. For the first couple of graphs I offered lots of support with the data collection and some guidance with drawing up the graph. For the final graph, I encouraged the students to work in small groups to carry out their own investigations. My goal with these sessions was to demonstrate that graphing is fun and can be easily done at home with minimal resources.

Here is an outline of the sessions:

Our Favourite Ice-creams

  1. As a class we chose 8 options for favourite flavoured ice-creams.
  2. I provided each student with a class list.
  3. Students asked each other what they're favourite flavour was and wrote the flavour (or code for the flavour) next to that person's name. They continued until they had interviewed everyone.
  4. I provided each student with a blank 2cm square grid.
  5. Together we wrote the title for the grid, wrote the flavours along the bottom of the grid, and wrote numbers 1-10 up the left side of the grid.
  6. Students used their data collection on the class list to colour in the columns on the grid.
  7. We discussed which flavour was most popular, least popular, and other information students could find out from the graph.

Cars in the School Carpark

  1. We formed a list of colours we expected that cars in the carpark might be (including 'other' as a possible option).
  2. We wrote this list on a piece of paper.
  3. We went into the school carpark and walked along the rows adding tally marks for each car we passed.
  4. Back in the classroom we wrote a numerical value for each set of tally marks.
  5. I provided each student with a blank 2cm square grid.
  6. Together we wrote the title for the grid, wrote the colours along the bottom of the grid, and wrote numbers 1-10 up the left side of the grid.
  7. Students used their data collection to colour in the columns on the grid.
  8. We discussed which car colour was most common, least common, and other information students could find out from the graph.

Group Investigations

  1. We discussed possible things that students might like to investigate.
  2. In teams, students decided what they would investigate and considered possible options for people to choose from. All investigations fell into the "favourites" category.
  3. Students went around and collected data by questioning students.
  4. Students presented findings on 2cm grid paper with title, numbers and options.
  5. I discussed the information with the students in their groups.

For further improvement, I would probably ask the groups to present their findings to the class. I forgot to copy off the class lists for the group investigations, which made the data collection a bit messier for my students. I was feeling stressed by the end of it, and the kids were sick of working with their groups. Perhaps tighter structure would have made this more successful, or perhaps it would have worked better if they were in pairs instead of fours.

It would also be fun to carry out an investigation over a number of different groups of children in different schools. Definitely something to keep in mind for next time, once I have connected with a few more schools.

Some investigations to graph at home:

  • Items in the dishwasher
  • Toys in the toybox
  • Times the television is on during the day
  • Types of books on the bookshelf
  • Sport statistics

Please feel free to leave your own suggestions of fun things to graph in the comments box.

Feeling Starved

This week I was very disciplined in the use of my computer. Overly so, in my opinion. It was a bit like one of those crazy diets where you only eat celery or something! The reason for this was that I just did not have any free time to devote to doing all of the things I love to do online. I wouldn't have thought that writing report comments would be so draining on my time - but it was. And now, THEY'RE FINISHED!
So, what was the result of my break from blogging, emailing, twittering, etc? Hopefully nothing long term.
  • My amount of visitors diminished (nothing new to look at).
  • I had things to tell parents of the kids in my class, but no time to email it to them (very frustrating).
  • I felt flat. I tried to keep up with a few blogs that I follow, but I didn't feel like I was learning enough.

Now that I'm back on board, I'm hoping to get a few blogs done over the weekend, I'm downloading the podcast from the K-12 Online Conference, and I'm keen to catch up on my readings of everyone else's blogs. Oh, it feels so good to be back. I think I'm addicted!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Visiting SA and WA

This week we began our imaginary journey around Australia with the book "Are We There Yet?" by Alison Lester. Early in the week we visited South Australia including such places as the Coorong, the Barossa Valley, the Flinders Ranges, Streaky Bay, Murphy's Haystacks, the Nullarbor Plain and Head of the Bight. I found photographs online to show the children what they places look like from different angles. We then wrote a journal entry pretending that we had traveled to these places. In the afternoon we painted pelicans like those that can be seen at the Coorong.

Later in the week we visited the bottom half of Western Australia, watching YouTube videos of The Pinnacles...

Quokkas at Rottnest Island...

Monkey Mia...

and Turquoise Bay...

We also watched a flickr slideshow of Western Australian Wildflowers.

Students then made postcards about these places and painted the pictures with watercolour paints. We put envelopes into our journals to store the postcards (in the style of The Jolly Postman book which we read recently in class).

We also found an online Geography flash game to use for practising locating the states. My only gripe with this is that it doesn't include the A.C.T.

During our lesson in the computer lab we used Google Earth to zoom in on places in South Australia and Western Australia. Students were quite excited to be finding the places that we had been 'visiting'.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dealing with Conflict

This week I read a post on Successful Teaching about teaching students social skills. I have been working with my students on dealing with conflict. I am trying to train them to work through their problems independently. I stand by to mediate, and then at the end check that both parties are happy with how the situation has been dealt with.

I taught my students this basic script:
1. Tell the person how you felt when they did what they did.
eg. "When you pushed me I felt annoyed and it hurt my arm"
2. Tell the person that it was disrespectful:
eg. "It was disrespectful"
3. Tell the person what you would like to see happen in order to move forward.
eg. "I'd like you to say 'sorry' and not push me again"

At this point, it is up to the 'offender' to respond with apology and/or appropriate action as suggested by the 'offended'. I often find that students will then turn the tables with the 'offender' describing how they have been offended.

For the most part, students in my class can now work through this quite well on their own. I do, however, step in when one party refuses to listen, acknowledge the impact of their behaviour, or responds aggressively to the discussion.

This strategy is based loosely on Restorative Practices - Corridor Questions, but I am trying to get my students to own the resolution rather than having to guide them through questions step by step.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fitness Update

As I watched my kiddies doing their run today, I realised that it is time for an update on here. They have come SO far with the whole daily fitness thing, and as we draw toward the end of the year, I wonder what will happen for them next year.

Today we did a pretty standard "count your laps between the goalposts" kind of deal. I ran (jogged) with them (despite not having the right shoes for it AND being in a tight skirt!) I think I counted 16 laps for myself. As I ran, I realised how independent my students have become. Everyone kept moving for the whole time - there was no grumbling, and students were self-directed in terms of when they ran and when they walked for a break. At the end of our 10 minutes, everyone came over to the "stretching bars" (part of the playground equipment where we do our stretches) and did the stretches, changing legs on my count. Sometimes these days, I even let the kids do the counting for themselves. Everyone is now used to the routine and has developed their fitness as a result. I notice that my students are more likely to run for other purposes throughout the day as well.

As my class is the only Junior School class that gets out there first thing in the mornings, I wonder what will happen for them as they head into year 2. At our school they will be moving on as a group, despite the fact that we have three classes in the age cohort. I wonder whether through sheer "power of numbers and influence" they will be able to encourage their new teacher to take them out for a run each morning. I wonder whether they will choose to do it for themselves if not given the opportunity in class time. I wonder whether it will have any impact in the long term!

If nothing else, I know that it has improved their fitness for THIS year, and improved my start to each day!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Are We There Yet?

This week the Year 1 classes began a new unit of work called "Are We There Yet? - A Journey Around Australia". We borrowed the title from the book by Alison Lester, as the unit of work is focused around her book.

The main focus for this unit of work is for students to learn some Australian geography - in particular the locations of the states, capital cities and a few common landmarks. We believe that this is a bit 'above' the standard level for Year 1, but feel that our children are up to the challenge. We're hoping that they will actually learn even more than this through the course of the unit as we follow the interests and experiences of students in the class.

Setting it up:
Pre-test - Last week we began with a pre-test to see what the kids already knew about the location of states and capital cities. We gave them a blank map of Australia and had the state and capital city names on the board for them to copy the spelling.

Travel Diaries - We gave the children new workbooks which will be their 'travel diaries'. On Friday students made covers for these using art styles inspired by the book/theme: My class made orange/red covers using paint and black and white oil pastels (to imitate the cover of the book); 1S did dot painting of various Australian animals; and 1N traced templates and painted geckos. The children glued a map of the "Are We There Yet?" journey into the front cover of their books. They also worked on a title page.

Travel Groups - Given that we've now finished the main assessment for the year, I decided that I am willing to move the desks back into groups rather than rows. My class is generally chatty, so the rows were helping to manage that, but for the rest of the year I'd like to give them opportunities to work cooperatively again. The work is going to be highly motivating so I feel that should be enough to keep them on task.
So...I asked my students to choose 1 friend, and then I put them into 'family' groups of 4. They will be 'travelling' in these families during our unit, so I got them to design their caravan and make a list of all the things that they will need to take with them on the journey. It was great to see them working on this and the discussion was really fascinating to listen to. For the most part, the groups were working together with all members doing their fair share, but I realise that I am going to have to put some structues in place to ensure this happens. I think I'll have to pull out Spencer Kagan's "Cooperative Learning" for a refresh on how to make this work.

Moving forward:
This week we will head off on the journey. I popped into the travel agent today to arm myself with some brochures, and I'm hoping to pull some materials from the internet tomorrow. We start out in South Australia - somewhere I've been, but have limited souvenirs from. We haven't got everything planned out to the letter yet. That's one of the exciting things about this unit and the team I am working in - some of the most creative ideas are coming from us as we go along.

I'll keep you informed of how the journey pans out.
I've added a flickr slideshow of images of Australia by John White Photography.

Working as a Team

Last week went by so quickly that I hardly had time to blink. It was a funny week - with the Alpha Show on Monday, and then Melbourne Cup Day on Tuesday. I struggled to get onto the computer at all, with most of my work focused around assessing, marking work, and then moderating with the other year 1 teachers. I'm really pleased with the end result. We have a fair and consistent approach that is backed by evidence.

We year 1 teachers, spent most of Tuesday together doing the moderating. It was a fun day, and we got to know each other a lot better while we waded through all the work. We were a lot more productive than any of us would have been alone. That's the great thing about this year 1 team - we work so efficiently together.

I'm not really sure what the recipe for success is when working in teams, but this team has it. We all started at the school this year, so knew very little about 'how things are done' at the school. In a lot of ways I think this helped us to bond together. We shared frustrations when we found out we had been doing things 'wrong' or had completely 'forgotten' to do something.

We've worked our way through the year together, improving things as we go and making things that little bit more efficient each time. We've already started planning how we can do things differently next year. It's rewarding to see how we have progressed.

Right now we are excited about the new unit of work we have just started. We keep coming up with extra ideas to make the learning even more fun. But that's the next post...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Alpha Show - Hercules

Yesterday we had a visiting theatre group at the school. Alpha Shows are becoming a tradition at my school - last year they brought "Cinderella" and this year we had "Hercules".

I wasn't sure what to expect as we headed up the corridor to the senior hall. When we got there we were met by a darkened hall with modern music, a smoke machine, and fancy light show. It raised my expectations immediately, and they were not disappointed once I got my class seated and settled.

The set was well designed and the costumes effective. I was particularly impressed with how well the show connected with students emotionally. That is the beauty of theatre - it's not like watching television - it connects with you on a much deeper level. I kept an eye on my students while the show progressed. One of my girls was brought to tears by the scene where Hercules was stolen from his home by the evil Hades. She quickly wiped them away and continued to watch the show. One of my boys had a twinkle in his eyes as Hades fought Hercules. He was swinging punches in his spot trying to help out Hercules as he fought!

One thing I really loved about the show was that it not only told the story of Hercules, but also presented the message that a true hero is not about outer strength, but comes from the inside.

What a great start to the new week!
Here is the promo for Alpha Shows. Other videos are available at YouTube or at the Alpha Shows Website.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Finishing The Way We Were

This week we finished our unit of work on "The Way We Were". While we've been learning some great stuff, it was starting to drag a little, and so, I organised the last few activities to tie up any loose ends.

To demonstrate what they had learnt about childhood in the past, I got my students to take turns pretending they were an old person who had come to tell the class about when they were a child. I wanted to see if they could remember a few things about the key topics we had covered. It might have worked better if we hadn't had such a muddled week. The kids presented points for most of the topics, and some did a REALLY great job, but generally they were tired and bored during the presentations.

We also made "Olden Days Photographs". Students drew pictures of things they'd learnt about during the unit of work. We did a coffee wash over these to make them look old, and then the kids went over the outlines with black texta or oil pastel.

Early in the week we planned a "Olden Days School Session". My class brainstormed things we'd learnt about school in the past and considered some ways we could make this work in our classroom. I later looked at a book about school in the past - in hindsight, it would have been great to have looked at this with the kids prior to the day.

Setting Up for Olden Days School
On the day I dressed in a long brown skirt with a white blouse and tied my hair back in a bun. I stuck up sheets of chart paper around the room to represent blackboards (one grandparent told us she used to have blackboards all around the walls). I put a crayon on each desk to represent chalk. I also put a little medicine cup on each desk to represent ink wells. I found some old readers (only from the 1980s) and put them out on the desks - one per child. I separated the desks and put them in rows. I borrowed a big brass bell from one of my teaching partners. I set up a 'fireplace' at the front of the room using a couple of red/orange scarves.

Playing "School"
When the normal school bell rang I met my class in the usual place and rang the brass bell. I used a very 'strict' sounding voice to get them standing straight in line. I told them to come in, put their bags on their hooks and stand behind their desks. I then played the British Anthem (as it was also our anthem in those days) on the Smart Board and modelled standing with my hand over my heart and singing. The kids quickly followed my lead and joined in with the words on the Smart Board. (I know, I realise the irony in using the Smart Board!)
I marked the roll and then instructed students to begin reading from their readers. I called on them one at a time to stand and read aloud from their book. We then had a spelling lesson. Students were called on to move to the 'blackboards' around the room and to write the word that I said. After we had practiced many of the spelling words, we had our usual spelling test. This was soon followed with dictation. As they wrote, students dipped their pencils in their 'ink wells'.
We then went outside to do breathing and stretching exercises. This was quite quick and straight-forward and then we played "Ring a Ring a Rosey". On return to class we had a singing lesson (singing Daisy, Daisy), did some Geography with a big map of Australia, and recited some Maths times tables as a group and some students individually.
By this point it was only 10:30 and I was completely exhausted! We still had half and hour until lunch, but I decided it was time to call it quits.

Discussing the Differences
While the class munched on their fruit break we looked at the book I'd found about school in the past and discussed some of the things we'd experienced during the simulation. We worked on a class Venn Diagram to compare school today with school in the past.
I was amazed by how much written work we were able to get through in the session, but I was also aware of where this system was falling short. During the simulation my class weren't discussing anything or sharing any ideas. They were simply parroting what they knew I wanted to hear. When I called on some students to read aloud they felt really self conscious and couldn't benefit from my support in a 'safe' environment.

And so, we've come to the end of the unit. I've taken down some of the displays and am looking forward to starting the next unit of work.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Stepping Back to Watch

Today is World Teachers' Day. I'm not really sure what that means elsewhere in the world, but in my school we wear badge for the day and some of the kids and parents say thank you. It doesn't really take up any of the teaching time or have any other impact on the day.

Today we also had our Walkathon. This last week I've been very busy trying to get all the notes sorted - permission slips, sausage sizzle notes, sponsor forms, medical information... I was frustrated trying to chase it all - not that I blame the parents, it was just A LOT of notes. On top of that, the notes were supposed to be collected in all different places by all different people, and then they put a ban on printing more of the medical forms, so I had to email them out! Aaaahhhh!
So, today, it was nice to have that all sorted and to be able to head off to the park for the day.

The walkathon went well. The kids enjoyed being out walking in the park and the scenery was truly beautiful. Every now and then a couple of kids whinged about how they'd like a break, but isn't that just what you do on a walkathon? A few of my boys decided to run it and got 8km done instead of the 4 that everyone else did. We had a sausage sizzle lunch and then had one of those: "So what's next?" moments. I don't think we had been told what was supposed to happen, and I don't remember reading it anywhere, so we took the kids for a play under a couple of really big trees.
At first the kids didn't know what to do. They looked a little lost and confused - how do you play without equipment or balls? After a few false starts: "No! We're not climbing trees!...Or swinging on trees!...Or hitting trees with sticks!" they seemed to get the hang of it. And, before long, they were completely absorbed in their own little nature games. It was fascinating to step back and watch what they were doing and observe how their play progressed without any direction from teachers. I saw some really great learning taking place - the sort of learning that you couldn't plan for!

It began with some boys discovering that you could hit sticks into the ground with another bigger stick...

They started digging holes and ditches as well...

The girls caught on and made some stick structures of their own...

Of course, not all of the Year 1 kids got involved. There were other games happening as well. Some kids started a game of 'families' or 'house' or whatever they call it these days. Some kids did clapping games, or walked around singing the 'schnappy' song. Some determined how high they could kick their leg up on a tree. And some built a home for a moth they found (until it blew away). There were a few who struggled to think of anything at all to do, and spent the time feeling bored. It was REALLY fascinating to watch how they amused themselves.

When we got back to school I continued with some sense of the 'free play' idea. We had a quick story and then I gave the kids big sheets of chart paper. I suggested that they could use these sheets to make a huge picture with a small group. I also suggested they could make an amusement park - or something. The cooperative work was great and the kids really enjoyed what they were doing. It was fun and I enjoyed seeing what they created together.

So, point of the story? I used World Teachers' Day 2008 to step back and watch what my students can do without me!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Future of the Mind - Part 1

Today I had the luxury of attending professional development on The Future of The Mind and Innovative Schools. If you have been reading my posts (I hope) you will know that this is something that I am passionate about. I am really fortunate to have a supportive principal who went out of his way to make sure I was able to attend. The day was divided into two main sessions. I will address the second session in a later post.

The first session was directed by Professor Martin Westwell from Flinders University. He has a well-developed understanding of neuroscience research and is familiar with how this research has been 'applied' in the classroom. The 'teaser' for this session was:

Within today's technology rich world, the environments that we create have the capacity to change the way that young people think, behave and learn in ways that were never before possible.

One idea that I took away from this session is that research findings from neuroscience do not, cannot and should not tell teachers how to teach. This research can 'inform' our teaching pedagogy, but should not take over from our professional judgements based on our relationship with, and knowledge of our students. Martin Westwell talked about the 'Neuro Myths' that people have adopted as they base their teaching on the 'scientific evidence'.

Neuroscience shows that different parts of the brain are active when students learn through visual, aural, and kinaestheic means. This does NOT mean that students should be labeled by their preference and taught only according to this label. Neuroscience may also show that people respond better to material when presented with humour, but we do not label these people as 'humourous learners'! Instead of forcing us to classify our students and teach to each specific learning preference, this information can simply remind us to vary the way that we present information to keep our students' minds active.

Another key idea was that there are no magic answers that are one-size-fits-all. We cannot generalise and say that any one specific strategy or technique will lead to better learning outcomes. Again, it comes down to the professional judgement of the teacher, who knows the intricate details of the needs of his/her students. We need to be creating an environment that will best meet these needs - taking from a range of strategies that are relevant to this group of children at this point in time.

Martin Westwell spoke about an experiment done on some mice. There were three groups of mice: A control group with no Huntington's disease, a group with Huntington's disease in a basic cage, and a group with Huntington's disease with an enriched environment (lots of cool playthings for mice!). Huntington's disease is a genetic disease - if you have the gene, you get the disease. HOWEVER, only 20% of the mice in the enriched environment showed symptoms of Huntington's disease, as opposed to 70-100% (can't remember, sorry!) for the ones in the basic cage. Their brain cells developed more interconnectivity than the brain cells of the mice in the basic cage. The point of all of this was the impact of the environment. By providing the right kind of environment, we can overcome all sorts of evils...

So, what does an Enriched Environment for children look like?
Martin Westwell suggested that it is:
  • multi-sensory
  • relevant
  • contains emotional content
  • involves interpersonal interaction (interdependent learning and parental engagement)
  • provides for exercise
  • considers nutrition/hydration
  • makes use of blue light

I am interested in ideas from your experiences. What do you think are the key features for an Enriched Environment for children?