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?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Challenge of Assessment

While teachers are continually assessing students throughout the year - marking books, observing students at work, monitoring through quizzes - there are key times when student progress needs to be reported on and teachers are met by the challenge of providing tasks that will accurately determine student learning and performance.

When facing this challenge, there are many things to take into consideration. Below are some of the things that I work through when planning this type of assessment.

It can be difficult to get the timing right with assessment. I want my students to have the best chance of achieving the material, but also need to prepare the reports by about mid-term. This means that most of the final assessment needs to take place early in the term - before I get a chance to review the material with my students one last time. I develop an assessment schedule to help me plan out how I will gather the appropriate information in the remaining time.

In part due to the timing, but mostly due to the differences in learning styles, it is helpful to give students opportunities to show their learning through different means. Some children may like to complete a written test, others would prefer to demonstrate their learning, or present it orally.

More than one sample
This next consideration is related to the last. As much as possible, it is useful to have more than one sample that is used to determine a grade. For example: A handwriting textbook is great for showing how a student performs in formal handwriting lessons, however it is worthwhile to also consider how this translates to their writing in other curriculum areas as well.

Scope of Assessment Items
When developing a piece of assessment it is important to provide scope for students of differing abilities. My assessment task cannot only test for the outcomes that I taught toward. I need to include parts for students of lower ability and parts that will challenge students with greater ability.
For example, when testing for year 1 Maths outcomes, I use questions relating to Kindergarten outcomes, Year 1 outcomes and Year 2 outcomes. If students can only answer the Kindergarten outcomes, they are performing at an E level. If they can answer K and 1 outcomes, they are performing at a C level. If they can answer all questions, they are performing at an A level. Students who achieve a C level have been successful at meeting the grade standards.
Sometimes I find a test will be too easy and won't give an accurate spread of students. When this happens, I use other work samples or assessment items to assist my decision.

Developing rubrics may be time consuming as I prepare my assessment schedule, however it saves me time in the long run and helps me to become more objective when comparing students across the class or grade level. When I am moderating with other teachers, a rubric will help with consistency in marking.

Communication is important when preparing assessment and reports. Teachers of the same grade level can talk about their opinions of grades and discuss what they see when they look at a piece of work. I often find that one teacher will notice something valuable about a piece that I may have overlooked. The insight of others helps me to make more thorough judgements.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges I find with assessment and reporting is acceptance. At the end of the year I feel confronted by my failures. Despite all the work that I've put into my teaching throughout the year, I never feel that I've quite done enough. During moderation I will see that some students in another teacher's class have achieved a higher standard in some areas of the curriculum and I'll begin to second guess my own methods. I'll be frustrated, particularly when I realise that there is so little time left in the year to 'fix things'.
I think that somehow (stupidly) I feel that I am the last chance for this child - that if they haven't learnt everything by the end of the year, they will never learn it - which of course is false. As I head into this time, I need to accept that I have done my best for my class. I need to accept that I cannot control everything in my classroom all of the time. (Some of it comes down to the kids' personalities, interests and abilities as well!!!) And, I need to honestly reflect on my achievements through the year. There will be things that I can try to do differently next year - there always is - but there are also some great things that were done in this year.

Let me know what you see as the biggest challenges with assessment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thoughts on Homework

I am sick today. I have laryngitis so there is no point being at work. If I can't talk, I can't teach. If I can't teach, the kids play up. If the kids play up, I can't tell them not to. If I can't tell them not to, I find myself yelling hoarsely. If I yell hoarsely, I can't talk. If I can't talk...
So, I'm having a day off talking - hoping that my voice will heal miraculously with juice, vegemite on toast, water, fruit and lozengers.

Whilst lying in bed this morning, I caught up on what has been going on in my computer world. Loonyhiker from Successful Teaching had 'tweeted' about a Conversations Show at EdTechTalk, so I lay and listened to the show. It was all about pros and cons of homework - why we do it, what we expect, what we could do instead. I was really happy as I listened because I feel that my school is actually doing pretty well with this.

When I was in New York, the curriculum I taught had set homework for students every night - usually two sheets of Math homework. On top of this, I sent home a book for the children to read to their parents. And this was in KINDERGARTEN! Here in Australia, that is unheard of.

Homework is generally more relaxed here. In my current year 1 class, students are encouraged to change their readers daily. And that's it. However, we provide other opportunities for children to explore their learning further at home.

As part of our Jackie French Author Study, we started sending home a stuffed wombat with a diary. Students take turns to take the wombat home and write about what he got up to. They see this as a reward - not homework.

During our units of work, we encourage kids to think more about the topic at home. For example, at the moment I have children who bring in artifacts from the past and interview their grandparents for our The Way We Were unit. It's not 'set' homework that parents sign off on - just motivated students taking it further at home.

This week my class has been learning about postcards, so one girl asked her dad to send a postcard from the place he is visiting with business. Another boy went away for a week's holiday, and may send us a postcard while there.

Our P&C raised enough money to provide membership to Mathletics for all the students. It is an online Maths program with questions the students answer, levels they progress through, and live mental arithmetic competitions against other kids. This is one way that students can practice relevant maths at home at their own pace and level of difficulty. Teachers can monitor student activity and set tasks for students to complete. I often use examples from Mathletics during maths lessons, so students are familiar with them and can practice them more at home.

I'm really enjoying doing homework this way, and see benefits for the children's learning. The kids are taking responsibility for their learning, and are really motivated by the whole process. For me, there is no marking to have to do, but I can still see what the children are doing and achieving.

What are your thoughts on homework? Leave a comment below.

Valuing Diversity Activities

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the school was involved in "Valuing Diversity" Activities. Our school is very multicultural given it's proximity to all the embassies. It is really exciting to see the children exploring various cultures through a selection of activities. The hard thing with events like this is that what you present is only a snap-shot of an impression of a country and it's culture - not completely accurate, but still valuable.

On the first day, we divided the students into mixed grade groups (K-6) and in these groups they visited different 'countries' (one per classroom). Each teacher was responsible for organising 3 or 4 activities related to a country, that students could complete as a group without teacher assistance. The groups arrived, chose an activity, did the activity, packed up the materials, and were given a score for how well they did these things. Teachers were able to determine how many groups to have in their room at any one time. As each group had about 12 children, it was suggested that 2 groups would be manageable, 3 would be maximum. For most of the day, I had 2 groups.

The teachers did a great job of selecting a variety of activities for the children to experience - these included food tastings, games, art & craft, dancing, listening to songs/stories, and races. All the kids were really engaged and it was great to see the big kids helping the little ones.

In the afternoon we had a big assembly where the points were announced and the top three teams were given prizes.

On the second day, students wore traditional costumes from around the world. We met together to parade the costumes, and then shared a lunch of foods from around the world. Parents had kindly donated foods for the children to taste. One of the teachers played the didgeridoo and some of the kindy kids mimed the appropriate animals - kangaroos, dingoes and kookaburras.
Some Balinese dancers also visited from the Indonesian Embassy to show us some of their dance style.

Both days were really enjoyable, and the kids learnt a lot from the experience. It was well planned and organised and came together really well.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Seize the Moment

I'm generally one for seizing the moment. If I can see an opportunity for the kids to learn something new from an experience, I like to jump on board. The other day I came across a blog made by children in Year 2 in Brisbane - 2M Gems. They showed a video of their class pet praying mantis shedding its skin. Having never seen this before, I found it quite amazing to watch, and knew the kids in my class would be just as fascinated.

As I walked out to my car the next day I saw a dragonfly on my pjs, hanging on the clothes line. I pulled out my camera and took a photo - realising the link we could make between the video and the dragonfly. I was very excited by the idea, but when I got to school, our internet was down, and then the next day, the video was blocked!

Today I finally managed to beat the system. We watched the video, looked at my photo and then discussed facts about praying mantises (also on the 2M Gems website). On Friday we have our turn in the library, so I grabbed all the insect books and the kids looked through them and tried to find out about different types of insects.

There's nothing like seizing the moment...even if it takes a while!!

First Week Back and Too Little Time Left!

I've only been back at work a week, and it feels like a lifetime! It was a really busy week, and I crammed it full of all the things I was thinking about over the holidays. I'm finding that I have so many new ideas that I want to explore, but as it turns out, so little time. There are only 9 more weeks of our school year. Sometimes it feels strange trying something new so late in the year - why not just save it for next year? But I've decided that if you don't try it straight away, something else will take its place in your mind and it will never happen!

During the holidays I started my podcast and also started to use Twitter. Twitter opened a whole new world to me and I've been learning new things daily ever since. One of the things that really struck me whilst working on my podcast and meeting new people on Twitter, was that I still have a lot of work to do in terms of partnering with parents. This week I started to email the parents of the kids in my class - filling them in on the things that I was noticing about their children. I set up an email distribution list so that I could send out group emails for things like the new timetable and the term overview. As I was making posts about things happening in our classroom, I emailed them the details for this blog, and some people came and had a look. (Thanks Suzanne for being my first follower!) I've found this week particularly draining as I've set this up, but I'm sure it is going to get easier, as now I just need to maintain things.

It has been really exciting to explore the use of email. Whilst working in New York I used email to communicate with parents, but not the same way that I am trying now. In some ways it is adding to my workload, but in many ways it is meeting many needs at once:
  • First and foremost I'm communicating with parents
  • Secondly I'm recording observations about students (these can be referred to again later - in sent messages)
  • and Thirdly, I'm forming plans in partnership with parents for how to meet the needs of my students.

The next few weeks are going to be really busy with 'extra' things that seem to have come up in 4th term - 'Valuing Diversity Days', the school walkathon, photo day and various other things. It's all fun, all valuable learning, but my teaching team has realised our need to be very purposeful in the 'actual teaching time' we have left to gather the material we need in order to prepare our reports. It's going to be an interesting term as we balance the 'fun' with the 'assessment' (not always considered fun!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Grandparents and Grandfriends Day

Today we had Grandparents and Grandfriends Day. About a month ago we sent out invitations to grandparents inviting them to come to our class from 10am - 12pm with the intention of sharing what life was like when they were children. We didn't get many replies, so we were uncertain as to how the day would pan out.

Prior to the arrival of the Grandparents, I explained the structure of the session to my students. I reminded students of the sorts of questions they could ask and the sort of topics that we wanted to find out more about. Some of the children who did not have guests coming had brought in photos to talk about instead - so they shared their stories with the class. Then I got the kids to sign their names on the back of certificates Kym (another Year 1 teacher) had made to give to our guests.

When our guests arrived, I showed them a bit of a Smart Board presentation (thanks again to Kym) and then the children introduced their guests to the class and asked them three key questions:

  • What is your name?

  • When were you born? and

  • What was your school like?

Once everyone had been introduced we divided into smaller groups. In these groups students asked questions and listened to more detailed stories. Some guests even brought photos and artifacts with them. After about 5 minutes, the students rotated to a new grandparent/grandfriend and asked some more questions. This continued until everyone had had a chance to speak to all the guests.

As we still had a few minutes before we were due to have our picnic in the school's native garden, we sang a few songs for the grandparents - good oldies like "On the Good Ship Lollipop" and "The Teddy Bear's Picnic".

We thanked our guests for all their help and gave them their certificate. Then we headed out for our picnic. The picnic was lovely and it was a nice way to conclude the time with our guests.

As the kids had learnt so much during their chats, I didn't want to lose this valuable information. So when we came back in after lunch, the kids wrote down what they learnt in their Integrated Studies Books. I was amazed by how focused they were. They worked silently without me saying a word! As they finished off, I got them to jot down on a post-it note what they liked or didn't like about Grandparents Day. It was great to see their feedback. They were all very positive about the experience. Some of the comments were:

"I did like it, but I wanted to get more old people. But it was the best."

"I think it was good because it was a lot of time with them."

"I liked it because it was a bit like chatting - a conversation."

"I liked it all."

"I liked it because we were in groups and I was with my best friend and her granny first."

The class then paired up with each other and read the notes that they had made about what they learnt. Once they finished with that partner they found a new partner and so on, until I could see they were becoming unsettled. I think they enjoy sharing their work with each other like this.

Because everyone had worked so hard, we had a bit of a treat in the afternoon. We went out into the playground and did some skipping and hopscotch - both games from the past. For the last 15 minutes of the day we read a story called "Grandpa's Surprise" by Rosalind Beardshaw.

What a busy day!!

Feedback from Grandparents was positive - they enjoyed the experienced and had fun reflecting on their memories from their early days. We teachers also loved the day. It makes the learning so much more meaningful. The challenge now is to get the whole school to participate next year!

The Way We Were - Matinee Movie

On the last day of last term, I treated my class to a Matinee Movie. It was only for the last 15 minutes of the day, but the class really loved it. I got them to set up the seats like a movie theatre, facing the Smart Board. Then I got them to line up outside the door and 'pay me' 3-pence for their movie ticket (a little slip of paper with Matinee Movie written on it!) I told them that they must hold onto their ticket - so they could get back in if they needed to go to the toilet.

I played them one of the old old episodes of The Little Rascals. It was a silent film with the background music playing and those old fashioned written pages to let you know what is happening. I was amazed by how engrosed they were. I could have heard a pin drop! And those who went to the bathroom were sure to show me their ticket on their return.

I think kids love it when grown-ups play make-believe games with them.

Puzzling Artifacts

Yesterday I tried out something new in the quest to one day get podcasting up and running with my class. As part of our "The Way We Were" unit of work, I wanted my students to explore artifacts and make predictions of their use and functions from their observations. I wanted to see how this would work as a discussion forum recorded in Audacity.

These are the artifacts that I used. All kindly lent to me by Kym - another Year 1 teacher:

I covered the items before the class came back in from their recess break. When they came in I told them what we were going to do and divided them into panels of four. We ran one panel at a time with the rest of the class listening on as an audience.

My initial plan was that I would introduce the task on the recording and then hand the microphone over to the panel to do the talking. But as I found, this was a bit too high of an expectation given that this was the first time we had done the activity. I found that the panels needed more guidance as they talked through their ideas. I encouraged their thinking a little once they mentioned something relevant. I said things like "I like how Fred mentioned fire. Let's work a little more on that idea..."

I was impressed by how well the students did at working through their ideas. As you can see, not all of the artifacts are easy to identify! My next task is to edit the audio - as there were some silences while the children thought about things, and there were some reminders from me for the rest of the class to behave appropriately!

Now that I have a better idea of my role in the forum/panel, I would love to have another go and see where it takes us. Today one boy brought in an old iron - the sort you need to put in the fire to heat. I encouraged the class to share their ideas about what it could be, using the same technique. Maybe next week we will have another go at the same task, coming from a more experienced position.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what these artifacts are. Leave me a comment with your ideas...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Teaching Responsibility

I am discovering my own personal benefits of teaching social/emotional skills. When I teach my students about things, such as being responsible, it helps me to see the areas in my own life where I can improve further. And I've decided to share this honestly with my students.

Yesterday I read the book "I'll do it" by Brian Moses to my students. It helps children to explore the idea of responsibility. We discussed the pages as we read and then we all decided an area that we need to work on to become more responsible. We posted these goals next to our photos on the goal wall (see this post for more detail). I realise that I need to get better at doing things without reminders, and take more care for my things. My specific goal for this week is to take care of my computer and my iPhone.

I think it is important for teachers to reflect upon their own lives as they teach children values. None of us are perfect, or ever will be. There is something for each of us to work on, all of the time. Perhaps this is the best lesson that children can learn about values: to continually reflect upon the way we live our lives and be prepared to make changes.

What do you think?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Way We Were - Update

Today was the first day back to school for this term. Two weeks of vacation allowed us to relax a bit and I was impressed with how "ready to learn" the kids were today. We jumped straight back to work with students doing some really impressive writing.

We will be having our "Grandparents and Grandfriends Day" on Wednesday, so today we thought a little more about Grannies. We read "Our Granny" written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Julie Vivas. We discussed our own grannies as we read each page. Then students drew a picture of their granny and wrote a few sentences to describe their granny using 'is', 'has' and 'does' as guide words. Like I said earlier, there was some really impressive writing. One little girl even attempted a number-bulleted list of how her granny helps people!

I finally found a way to share lesson plans etc using Google Docs, so click here for an overview of our program:

And if you missed my earlier blog with details, click here:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Glancing Back - ICT in my childhood

I've been thinking a lot lately about the people who have influenced my life in terms of computer technology. My family didn't get our first computer until I was in Grade 7. Fortunately I had some computer access at school prior to that. When I was in Fourth Grade I had a brilliantly techno-literate teacher. He must have been one of the leaders in the field at the time. The year was 1988 and the teacher's name was Don Nethercott. I don't know what he is doing now, but would love to thank him for opening my eyes to the world of technology. If only I can do the same for the children that I teach. He seemed to be looking for ways to integrate technology into his teaching. He found computer programs on dinosaurs for our unit of work. We played Carmen and Sandiego to find out about Geography. We learnt more about angles, direction and computer language with Logo.

1988 was also the year when the National Science and Technology Centre opened in Canberra. In it's early days, they held a special event on Communication. I don't remember all the details, after all, I was only 10 at the time. Google tells me that the building was a gift from Japan. So, for this special event my teacher took me and a few classmates to the National Science and Technology Centre where we used computers to 'chat' with people in various places around Australia. We sent a fax to our school. We went back in the evening to do a video conference with children in a school in Japan. It was an amazing experience, and unlike anything I'd do with computers for the next 10 years!

I did some computer courses and learnt how to type (on old typewriters) when I was in grades 7-10. My next real exposure to computers was at university. My peers and I got hooked on Kangachat, an online chatroom. This was the first time I had ever used the world wide web. Since then, it has been a part of my life, slowly taking over bit by bit...

So, I feel inspired by my history. My fourth grade teacher went out on a limb to explore technology in the classroom. He tried things that most teachers were not yet ready for. Let's be inspired by this and push technology to the limits with our classes. Don't just wait for someone else to do it.

Early Childhood Australia Conference

I found out about this conference quite early in the school term and thought it would be a good one to go to. Teaching Year 1 puts me in the "Early Childhood" category, so I figured I could probably learn some great new strategies.

I was surprised to discover how many people attended - I didn't expect it to be so large. I'd be interested to know exact numbers, but I guestimate it to be about 1000. (Which is big compared to other conferences I've been to).

I don't know how I could have failed to realise that the largest proportion of people would be from childcare agencies. I struggled to find anyone else from the Primary School sector, and only saw departmental staff from my own system. They were there to present a workshop.

I felt a bit out of place for most of the day, and had to try to relate the things I was hearing to my own situation, but on the whole, I did pick up a few things.

Ferre Laevers and Julia Moons talked about Emotional Wellbeing - how to recognise it and how it can be monitored through observational checklists over time. This was an interesting idea to me, as I have never thought of keeping records of students' emotional wellbeing and involvement with others. Here is a copy of the manual.
Ferre also shed new light on how to really respect children. He told the story of one little boy chasing another little boy with a tiger mask covering his face. The boy being chased was visibly scared. Ferre talked about how he took the little boy onto his lap and talked to him about his fear. He acknowledged the feelings and worked it through with the boy. Too often we adults dismiss the fear with comments such as "There's no need to be scared! It's only a mask!" I hope I can take this insight into my own dealings with children.

Some of the workshops I attended related to leadership and team building. I don't see myself as a "lead from above" sort of person. I'd rather be a "support alongside" sort of person. But, as I reach the top of my "rung in the ladder" I am considering how I can stretch myself further. One of the big messages that kept coming up for me was about relationships. Enriching relationships with the kids, with other teachers and with parents. It's one of those commonsense things that sounds amazing in theory, but takes a lot of time and energy in practice.

The final session I attended was about the care of infants (0-2 years). Now, I must admit, I actually went to this session more out of personal interest for my possible future plans than for the benefit of my class or school! One of the presenters discussed the RIE approach in some detail. According to the website "the RIE Approach helps raise authentic infants who are competent, confident, curious, attentive, exploring, cooperative, secure, peaceful, focused, self-initiating, resourceful, involved, inner-directed, aware and interested." Sounds good to me!
The things that I took from this approach were to really engage with the child in uninterrupted time. Talk to the baby, don't just assume it can't understand you. Unfortunately I didn't get down who said it, but someone clever said "What they can do is not valued. What they can't do is expected." I know I will be looking some more into this approach if I'm ever lucky enough to be a mum.

One other cool thing I wanted to share from the day, there's this guy in New Zealand who makes cool stuff for kids to play with - fancy blocks and magnetic water play equipment. Here's a link to his website - Kidantics.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Thinking Outside the Box

Recently I flew on a Qantas plane, and was served Spaghetti Bolognaise. Spaghetti Bolognaise? Who serves Spaghetti on a plane? I wondered. It's slippery, it's messy and it leads to noisy slurping!

After a bit of a chuckle, I decided to give it a go anyway. Not because I was particularly hungry, but it did actually look good. And, to my surprise, it wasn't too slippery, messy or noisy at all. In fact, it was fun!

This experience got me to thinking. Some brave person out there decided they'd like to see Spaghetti on the menu for Qantas planes. I'm pretty sure their suggestion would have been met with serious opposition - it doesn't seem like a particularly 'sensible' idea. I'd love to know the discussion that led to it being accepted. My hat is off to that person who thought outside the box, and stepped out to give it a shot. Like I said earlier, it was a great addition to the menu.

So, how does this relate to teaching? I'd like to encourage you to explore a 'less than sensible' idea with your students. Try something new, maybe something that other people have been too scared to attempt. Step outside your comfort zone.

Feeling Challenged

I have spent the best part of the past two days trying to get my head around podcasting. I know how to find great podcasts, to download podcasts and have many ideas for using them in the classroom...but when it comes to creating my own podcast, it's a whole new challenge!

I am creating a podcast geared toward strengthening parent/teacher relationships. This is something I feel very strongly about and have put a lot of thought into over the past few years. But, the podcast idea is new. I figure that parents probably want tips, but quickly, and while they are multi-tasking other things. So, what better way to do this, than through a podcast. I'm hoping that I can share this with the parents of the children I teach, but also to a much wider audience.

Now, I'm just fumbling through all the technical aspects. I feel like someone learning to ski, or surf. It's strange, scary, and I have no idea what all the bits are, how they fit together and what it all means! I'm learning about RSS feeds, tags, and pinging. It makes me realise how hard things can be for our students when they are starting something new.

I will persist, and hopefully, conquer! Surely it can only get easier with time...