Thursday, September 25, 2008

Teddy Bears' Picnic

Today my class had a teddy bear picnic and teddy related activities to celebrate reaching the next marker on our class goal chart. As a behaviour management strategy/award system, I give 'ticks' on the chart when I see the sort of behaviours that I want to encourage. These could be from individuals, groups, or the whole class.

Often I will reward students for walking silently in the corridors, working quietly at their desks, helping out in a special way, showing kindness to another class member, working cooperatively - whatever I think is appropriate.

I read about this in the work of Spencer Kagan as one element of his Cooperative Learning. I like for the students in my class to work together toward a common goal. After 20 ticks on the rainbow chart, the class reaches a sticker point. They then open the envelope to discover their reward. This was a teddy bears' picnic. The class is always very excited about opening the envelope and it can be something as simple as 15 minutes of free drawing and they will still be happy to have achieved that goal.

This time, as we have been learning about their grandparents' childhood, and singing The Teddy Bears' Picnic, I thought it would be fun to bring in teddies and eat lunch together. I was going to leave it at that, but I ended up doing more with the teddies than initially planned.

We began the day by singing some songs to the teddies (as seen in this photo). I took a photo of each child with their bear as they introduced them to the class. After that, we read "Boris and Borsch" by Robin Klein. This story is about two very different boys, with two very different bears and the adventures they got up to when they accidentally swapped houses. The children discussed with a partner which bear they are most like and which home they would prefer to live in.
Students then wrote a description of their bear using prompt words: is, has, does. For example, Fred is a big brown bear. He has soft fur and white paws. He cuddles with me when I am sad and helps to cheer me up.

Some children wrote three sentences, while others wrote many. We then stuck the photos at the top of the pages and bound them together to make a book about our bears. As students finished their writing, they found a quiet place in the room to sit and read a book with their bear.

We went to a special part of the playground called "The Native Garden" where native plants have been planted. The children sat with their bear and their friends and ate their lunches under a big tree. Once they finished, they played with their bear in the garden. Of course, one little boy's bear decided to 'climb' high up in the tree where the little boy couldn't get him! (I went back and climbed up to get him down when the children weren't watching! I still like to climb, but not in front of kids!)

After lunch we had a circle time with our bears and explored a few things with Maths.

Check in: We went around the circle and each child took their turn to say: My name is ____ and I think my bear is bigger than/smaller than/the same size as ______'s bear.

Mixer: We compared the sizes of bears in the circle, ordering them from smallest to largest around the circle. Students sat with their bear in this new seat.

Activity: We sorted the bears in different ways and then used Microsoft Excel on the Smart Board to quickly graph the data. We sorted by fur type, colour, size and leg type/movement!

Energiser: We played a version of 'hot potato' using three of the soft toys - a turtle, a teddy and a kangaroo. Students had to pass these three toys around the circle and avoid being caught out with the kangaroo. The turtle moved slowly, the bear average, and the kangaroo fast. One student covered her eyes and called stop when she chose to. Whoever was holding the kangaroo was out. My class got too silly and rude during this, so I had to stop, but I think I would try it again another time.

Check out: As we went around the circle, each child said "My name is _________ and my teddy bear goes to bed at ________." They moved the hands on a teaching clock to show the correct time.

By the time we made it to the afternoon recess, I was quite beared out, so we didn't continue with the beariness for the last hour. Probably if I were to do the day again, I would consider prizes for different types of bears with the intention of covering everyone - spottiest, biggest, smallest, happiest etc... I would also have liked to had some games or races outside with the bears, or to have played "hide-and-see" like in the song.

All in all it was a great day. I'm sure you also may have done teddy bears' picnics, and I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Numeracy Education Day

On Friday we had our Numeracy Education Day. Students were organised into mixed-aged groups for a series of activities moving from one classroom to another. Teachers prepared a 50-minute lesson that they presented 3 times during the day - two before lunch, and one after recess. This ran similarly to the Literacy Education Day we had for Book Week.

Teachers selected math activities involving space, measurement, problem solving, and chance and data. The activities were predominately hands-on math tasks with students working in pairs or small groups. Those working with 2D shapes created pictures using tangrams or other shapes. Some students went out to measure distances in the playground using metre trundle wheels. Others created a spinning colour wheel using instructions and measurements in centimetres. One group tried to solve brain teasers like matchstick puzzles.

My group was subjected to another Circle Time! This time related to chance and data. The group consisted of children from Kindergarten to Grade 2. I organised it as follows:

Check in: Students said their name, their class, and then coloured in the appropriate square, above their classname, on a graph. We then discussed what we can determine from this graph. Which class had the most members in the group? Which had the least? etc.

Mixer: One student stood in the centre of the circle and said "I like [McDonalds]". All children who agreed with the statement changed places in the circle. The person in the centre had to try to find a spot, leaving someone else standing in the centre. The game continued until everyone was mixed up.

Activity: The Car Race - I made another graph with numbers 1-12 along the bottom and some cute little pictures I found of cars. Students then worked in pairs to roll the dice and add the two numbers together. They then coloured in the squares above this number. The 'winning car' was the first one to reach the top of the graph (where I had some cute little pictures of checkered flags!) Before beginning, I got the children to choose which car they thought would win the race.

Debrief: We went around the circle and each group told me which car won their race, and how many spaces car number one moved. We then discussed why car number one didn't get to move at all. (It is impossible to roll 1 using two dice!) We then looked at the chances of rolling the other numbers, paying particular attention to the "winning car" numbers.

Energiser: I found a toss-a-coin tool on my Smart Board, but could have settled with an 'actual' coin! We then played a game of Heads and Tails. Students put their hands on their heads if they thought the coin would come up heads, or on their tails if they thought it would come up tails. Students who got it right stayed in for the next round. Play continued until one player was left and declared winner.

Check out: Students checked out by saying their name and one thing they had learnt about Maths through this activity.

I was really satisfied with how well these activities flowed and the discussion that arose as students explored chance through the roll of dice.

For more information about circle time, click here, or search this blog for 'circle time'.

Compliments to Strengthen the Heart

Earlier in the week, I did a lesson on "looking after other people". I followed this up by having my students work on complimenting one another. I photocopied an A3 heart, divided into 20 spaces (one for each of the kids in my class and for me to write a compliment in). After talking about some of the things we could write to build one another up, I set my students free to roam the room and write their compliments. We probably had about 20 minutes, and did not quite complete all compliments for all students. I think another 20 minute session will finish it off.

It was interesting to hear the comments that students made as they went around the room. Some, of course, got caught up in counting how many comments they had! But, most were really engaged in leaving compliments for others. I found that my students were quite interested in reading the compliments that I left. I think that they will learn more about how to compliment by seeing how others do it.

One little boy came running up to me after reading my compliment and asked, "How do YOU know that I am imaginative?" I laughed and told him that I see it in his artwork and in his writing. He confirmed it and told me that he is also very imaginative at home.

I really enjoyed this activity as it also gave me the opportunity to remember all the special things about these kids and to verbalise it to them. Too often I will think all the good things about them, but forget to tell them!

Creation Station Celebration!

The Creation Station in my classroom is still going strong. The children all want very much to be chosen to go to the Creation Station, and once there are producing very creative and colourful pieces of work.

One mother came in to see me about some other issue, but told me that her son is very excited about the Creation Station and has been talking about it at home. Another little girl wrote me a letter to remind me that she hasn't had a chance to go to the Creation Station yet, and was inquiring as to why not! So, it's a hit with the kids to say the least.

This week, as Spring has sprung here in Australia, I was going to take in some flowers and photograps from last year's Floriade festival in Canberra. I've actually decided to upload the photos to Flickr instead (see them here), rather than print them all out. The student computers are right by the Creation Station, so will be easy to access while students are working. I can even set the pictures to run through in slide-show. I have some empty vase pictures for students to create flowers to fill. I want them to have examples to look at, but also to create new flowers from their imaginations!

Another blog that I was reading refered to 100 Days of Monsters and the Daily Monster I am going to use this as inspiration after the school holidays. It involves creating a picture of a monster around an inkblot. I think that my boys in particular are going to love this idea and I'm sure I'll see some VERY creative monsters.
Let me know how things go for you if you decide to try this idea.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bringing out the Creativity of Kids

I don't really like to advertise on my blog, but when I find something useful, I want other people to know about it too. I bought a copy of this book by Taro Gomi while I was in New York City for a vacation, and I painted in it with my portable watercolour set on the plane ride back to Australia. The people on the plane must have thought I was really 'special', but I found it helped pass the time, and kept me somewhat sane.

I have been really inspired by the pages in this book. Unlike the average colour-in-book, this book helps you to think outside the box and gives some direction to your creativity. As a teacher, this is what I try to do for my students - to give them some guidance, but allow them to create something that is truly their own. It is important to me that my students not produce work that looks like a carbon copy (or in these days photocopy!) of everyone else in the class.

Combining the ideas of 'exploring creativity' and 'maintaining sanity', I set up a CREATION STATION in my classroom. It is really just a table with some watercolour paints, some crayons and some creative colour-in sheets. When students have been working well, or when I just feel like treating someone to something special, I invite them to the CREATION STATION while the rest of us continue as normal. For 20 minutes or so, they are free to get creative and use a different part of their intellect.

So far it has been working really well, and the kids have been loving their chance in the CREATION STATION. It's a simple reward, costs me nothing, and has benefits for all of us.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Behaviour Goals and Build-ups!

This week I'm trying a couple more things to work on how students are treating each other. Our class goal for the week is to "look after other people". I made a display with this goal and put up individual photos of all the kids in my class. Next to their photo, each student has considered a personal goal to meet this and written it on a post-it note. Some include "I will be a better listener", "I will say nice things", "I will respect property" etc. Throughout the week I will get my students to consider how they are going with their goals.

Today I also did a Circle Time session on "Build ups - Not Put downs". I showed my class the effect of put downs, by tearing up a paper heart as I gave examples of put-downs someone could receive in a day. In pairs students then brainstormed build-ups that we could use to build a wall. I taped the pieces of the heart back together as we went through the build-ups. (Unfortunately I couldn't get it back to how it was because my tearing was too eratic. If you want to do this activity, keep in mind how you will put it back together again!)

I've now made an A3 worksheet for each student with a great big heart on it. The heart has been divided into 20 sections (for the number of students in my class). Our next step is to travel around the classroom and write a build-up for everyone in the class. I am thinking that this should take a couple of sessions, as I really want them to be doing quality work and not just recycling the same compliment for everyone.

The Good Days

I have been trying to write whenever I have had a good day. Because, more often than not, I won't feel like thinking about school, let alone writing about school on the bad days.

So, what is it that makes a day bad?

For me, I think it is a day where the kids are busy with everything but their work. They seem to have issues happening with their friends; their Mum or Dad away with work or in hospital; or just have more 'fun' stuff to fill their minds with.

I get flustered, feel like I have no control, and end up angry. The more it gets to me, the less proactive I become, and the bigger the problems grow.

So, what makes a good day?

For me, it's when I'm well prepared (or feeling flexible); have fun, new things to try; and the kids are generally settled and ready to learn, but also prepared to discuss their thinking. When the kids can tell me what they've learnt, or how they've applied it, I get a real buzz.

I don't really know the magic formula. If I figure it out, I'll tell you! Or maybe you can tell me... ;)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Teaching Morality

Here's an interesting idea to discuss: How do we teach morality in a government school? In recent years, schools have been taking on more and more responsibility when it comes to teaching children social skills. Many programs have been developed with this particular goal in mind.

Some parents of children in my class have come to me at a loss as to how to deal with children stealing, or playing inappropriately. As a teacher, I don't always feel competent to help them with their concerns. I know how my parents brought me up, but I was brought up with Christian values and the Bible as a guide. And this advice doesn't work for people from other beliefs. I know how I try to deal with things in my classroom, when they arise, but I feel that this really is an area where parents could be carrying the load.

I have been trying to teach my students more about the meaning of 'respect' over the past couple of weeks. We read a book about respect. We filled out a Y chart of what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. We made posters for our classroom to show how to respect our classroom environment. We made a book of how to respect others in our classroom. I've been using the word throughout the day and rewarding 'respectful' students with stickers and computer time. I've been reminding students if their behaviour is disrespectful. But it seems that all this talk and all this thinking through and planning has had little effect on how the students are behaving. Well...maybe that is unfair. There have been some changes - the classroom is being left much tidier. And it has been a while since someone actually told me that they thought my lesson was boring or refused to join in.

I guess I'm hoping to see some more evidence of respect in terms of how the children treat one another. Maybe that is an area that just requires more training...or more time.

Please leave a comment to let me know how you deal with the challenge of teaching morality.

Teaching Math Facts

While teaching in New York City, I was amazed to see how easily young children can learn addition and subtraction facts through regular practice. I now use this new knowledge to train my students to add and subtract numbers more efficiently.

I used to feel that drills were not important in the teaching of Maths - that it was more important that they understand the process, than practice the drills. While I still believe that it is important for children to understand the process of addition and subtraction, I now see the value in using drills to support this.

Each week, I teach a new set of facts to my students. These may be addition facts, subtraction facts, or more recently multiplication facts. I teach my students the strategy they need, using hands on materials and demonstration models. Students then make a set of flash cards to practice these facts. For the rest of the week, my students are given a Fact Sheet to complete at the start of the Maths lesson. This worksheet contains 25 practice questions for the fact we are learning. They usually take about 6 minutes to complete this, and then if they finish early, they take out their fact cards and practice working out the answers. We go through the answers together at the end, and if there are any discrepancies, I demonstrate through illustrations on the Smart Board.

I found that by beginning with some of the simple facts, the class realises how 'easy' math facts are, and build the confidence to deal with the trickier facts later on. Adding zero, or adding one are great facts to do early on. They also like the subtracting zero, and subtracting a number from itself. I actually find that one of their most favourite sets is the doubles facts. They get very excited when they see how these connect with the multiplying by 2 facts. One of the most difficult strategies for some of my students was near doubles, or doubles + one, as it involves a couple of steps. I found that when students struggled with the concepts, they reverted to the use of their fingers to solve the equations.

I'm now a strong believer in the use of this focused drill time, for building confidence and fluency in manipulating numbers. My students now show excitement about playing with big numbers, and some of them are able to apply the strategies they have learnt to solve equations with one or more 2-digit numbers.

UPDATE: I found this great website where you can make and print out math fact sheets - Math Drills. com
(Photo by "Old Shoe Woman" at Flickr)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Author Study - Mem Fox

We just began a new author study on the work of Mem Fox. This has been really exciting as I have found myself building on different skills to the earlier author studies. I'm also seeing a much deeper understanding of authors and illustrators and an interest in exploring new books.

We began with Mem Fox's most famous story – “Possum Magic”, and I was fortunate enough to be able to get access to a Big Book version of the text. I also managed to find a DVD of Mem Fox reading the story (and also “Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge”). On the first day we just read the book and discussed what we liked about it. On the second day we watched the video and then did some map work using the Smart Board and a worksheet I created. My students pieced together a map of Australia and then labeled the states. I then asked the class to find the places that Grandma Poss and Hush visited, and draw the path that they travelled. On a blank map they drew the foods they ate at the places they visited. I was impressed by how much they picked up.

On Mem Fox’s website, she outlines how to read a book aloud with expression. I found it interesting, and have been encouraging my students to use some of her suggestions. In particular, I pointed out that Mem Fox pays close attention to the end of her stories and wants the reader to draw it out to enjoy it more fully. I read “Koala Lou” with one of my guided reading groups, and demonstrated how Mem Fox would stretch out the words on the last page. I've also been re-reading my favourite parts with the class, so they can experience my enjoyment of the way the text is created.

Today I read “Sophie” as part of our unit of work on The Way We Were. It is a great illustration of the circle of life and the changes we go through. After reading this, the kids made a timeline of their lives so far.

One of my favourite moments was when one of the girls pointed out that “Sophie” tied in with both the Integrated Studies and our Author Study. This made me realize that my class now pays attention to who the author of the book is (even before I mention it). Another student also pointed out that they had read another book illustrated by Craig Smith – “Cats” a recent book week nomination.

It’s exciting to see students developing this interest in authors and illustrators. I set up a mini Eric Carle and Lauren Childs sections on my class bookshelf so they can begin their own author studies during independent reading time - we'll see how that goes...

The Way We Were

This week my grade began a unit of work called “The Way We Were” focusing on what life was like when the students’ grandparents were children. I am very excited about this unit of work and have been searching out useful resources.

YouTube has some segments and trailers from movies and television programs of this era: Shirley Temple, Little Rascals, Popeye, Bambi, Singing In The Rain, Lone Ranger, The Wizard of Oz...

I found a local seniors computer club that we will communicate with via email. I contacted the convenor, and they passed my details onto relevant people within the organisation. At least 6 people have replied, so we will have a couple of people for each class. We will brainstorm questions as a class, write the email, and then send it off. I'm hoping we will then be able to scan in student work and send it to say thank you. We're also getting word out to the kids' grandparents to see if any of them would like to communicate with us via mail, email or fax.

The principal has agreed to prepare and present “A Day in the Life of Me as a Child”. I think this will be great! And another teacher has offered to bring along a little suitcase of goodies she has kept from her childhood.

We are going to create a “Time Machine” in the classroom where we will store and label artifacts that we can find. (We have a lockable storeroom we will use for this in order to keep the items safe.) One of the teachers grew up in a house that is about to be heritage listed, and so has many items to share and ponder. I'm going to check out what I can find at my parents' place this weekend.

Early next term we will have a “Grandparents and Grandfriends Day” where students will get to ask their Grandperson about their childhood. We will do some singing and activities together in the morning and then share a picnic together.

Another day we will simulate a school day of the past. We will research, plan and timetable it with the students so that everyone knows what to expect. I've heard of other teachers doing this (and finding it exhausting!).

My desire for this unit of work is that it will be driven by the memoirs and stories of students’ grandparents and the email communication from the Seniors Club. I feel this would be much more valuable to the children than if I just do a bunch of research and spoon feed it to my class. I'll let you know how things progress.

UPDATE: Click here to see an overview of our program: Overview of The Way We Were Feel free to use it to help direct your own program on personal histories, and feel free to contact me for further details.

ALEA Conference

On the weekend I attended the ALEA Conference for Literacy and Numeracy Week. I try to get there every year as I find it so inspiring. When I walk away I have a whole new set of things to try out and absorb into my teacher toolkit.

Recently I have been trying to use author studies and commercial picture books to teach my English content. In previous years, my focus has been more on the use of Reading Scheme materials. I have felt really excited about teaching through commercial picture books, but have been a bit worried about the lack of reading on the part of my students – generally I have been reading to them, as the writing in the book has been too small for the kids to read along.

At the conference on the weekend, we thought through a few options for overcoming this hiccup. I’ve decided I can scan or photograph the pages and display them on the Smart Board for the class to read along with. I also popped into my school library and found multiple copies of some of the titles I am interested in. This means I can use these texts for guided reading rather than being limited to reading scheme materials.

I was also challenged to give more specific feedback to my students, and to ensure that writing tasks that I set have a purpose and an audience. So…this week I got my class to design posters to remind students to respect our classroom environment, and a booklet on respecting others for students to read when they are sent to the thinking spot.

I found some great books I’d like to use later on: “Zen Ties” by Jon J Muth, “Woolbur” by Leslie Helakoski, and “Sunday Chutney” by Aaron Blabey. I’m thinking that I will use “Sunday Chutney” to help students consider what it feels like for the new kid at school and as a lead in to students writing letters for the new student who arrives.

I’m excited about all the possibilities with the use of quality children’s literature and am now looking with fresh sight at children’s picture books.