Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip: Making the Most of Dictionaries

I've been marking English books this week, and as any teacher knows, the more you look at misspelled words the more confused you become about correct spelling. Paired with that, I am trying to encourage my students to use more sophisticated words in their writing. I've found the free Dictionare on my iPhone to be quite handy in dealing with this quickly. iPhones seem to be the gadget to replace all gadgets these days, so if you have one, I'd recommend grabbing a free dictionary app for the purpose of spell checks. I've recently downloaded iThesaurus as well for all my synonym needs! Just for fun, I downloaded Word Twiddle (for $2.49) which will allow me to play with words a bit. This might make for a bit of fun with my literacy class, or at least get me thinking a bit more about the wonderful world of words.

For those of you who don't have iPhones (yet), I also came across a great visual dictionary that I imagine will be great for teaching visual literacy. Think online-multi-themed-picture-dictionary-with-cutaway-images. The Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary Online covers a number of themes from 'astronomy' to 'sports and games' and images can be embedded in blogs/websites. It also posts a weekly game for students which involves putting the labels in the right places. Thanks to Dominic P. Tremblay from Resources for Teachers for the tip about this resource. NSW teachers who are focusing on transport this term should definitely check out this resource for the relevant pages in the 'transport and machinery' pages. Here's a sample of the types of images available. I've chosen a spacesuit because my class will be investigating space exploration later in the year.

spacesuit - Visual Dictionary Online

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thoughts on Globalisation

I am currently undertaking a Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership. We have been reading about globalisation and I thought I would share my ideas with readers here as well as my colleagues.

In Chapter 12 of Education, Change and Society, Nigel Bagnall defines globalisation and addresses some of the impacts of globalisation on power, culture and the economy. He prompts us to consider implications for education. He mentions the "shrinking of the world as technology and the travel industry make it possible to be physically anywhere in a short period of time, and virtually anywhere anytime". He also shares two interviews with Australian teachers who were trained in Australia but were teaching in countries outside of Australia.

I have personally experienced this "shrinking of the world". I have many friends who taught in the UK, one who taught in Tanzania, and I too taught overseas. While I never planned to travel with my teaching, in 2006 I found myself searching for teaching jobs in New York City. Having returned from a 17-day holiday in the USA (4 days of which were in New York City), my husband suggested that we spend a year living in New York City. Thinking this was a throw-away line, I ignored it. But as time passed, our interest in New York grew, and I realised that there would be no ignoring it.

I began to investigate the process online and found that because of (but not part of) the USA-Australia Free Trade Agreement made between our government and the US government, Australians have access to a special working visa (E3). The difficulty behind this visa is that you need to have been offered a job prior to obtaining the visa. Impossibility at one point in time, but now made possible through the use of the internet. I used Craig's List and the New York Times Online to search for jobs in New York City.

More internet research ensued. I began taking digital workshops through the PAEC Teacher to Teacher Initiative. Through these workshops I developed a greater understanding of the latest ideas in teaching in the USA. I began applying some of these ideas to my own teaching in Australia. Even specific courses required to teach in New York government schools could be taken online. Unfortunately, at the time, I found it too difficult to apply for government schools as I was required to sit exams (two months apart) in New York City prior to beginning. From what I understand, this requirement has since changed.

I changed my search to private schools and used Go City Kids to search for and contact schools. After quite some time, I found a school that was interested in exploring things further. After a phone interview and many more documents sent via email, I was offered a position and my journey began.

My husband used online resources to find us an apartment. We checked out reviews on different areas and could see locations using Google Earth. By the time we actually arrived we had everything lined up and had quite a good idea of what we were walking into, having only previously spent 4 days in the city!

I taught kindergarten in a private school with a Classical Christian Education philosophy. We were located just two blocks south of Central Park. (You can read more about the adventure at New York, New York.) Whilst teaching at this school I stuck very closely to their curriculum and was amazed by what my students could achieve from this structured format. It gave me new insight into the capabilities of young children.

Now back in Australia, I try to combine the best of both worlds. I continue to access online resources from around the world to develop my skills and strategies. I connect with other teachers - both in Australia and beyond - through social networking tools. Through these communities we discuss and explore ideas relating to education and share strategies to enhance our teaching.

Globalisation has opened new doors and experiences to me that previously wouldn't have been possible. While I agree that not all aspects of globalisation are beneficial and that there is not equal distribution of the benefits, I feel that my life has been changed for the better through this experience as has the education of my students.

Literacy Unit - Rowan of Rin #6

We are working through the book Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda. Last week we read the last three chapters and began discussing the book as a whole. For an overview of activities in earlier chapters please use these links:
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3 and 4
Chapters 5 and 6
Chapters 7 and 8
Chapters 9 and 10

Summary - Chapters 11-13
Rowan, Marlie and Strong Jonn come to two tunnels and must decide which one to follow. They decide to check them both out. The one on the right gets very tight, so they try the one on the left. But the one on the left ends in a steep slide down an underground cliff. They take the tunnel on the right, but first eat and leave their packs behind, as with them, they cannot crawl through the tunnel. Having filled their pockets with the things they will need, Marlie leads the way. However, Marlie is terrified of enclosed spaces and seconds after entering she is pulled screaming from the tunnel. Marlie decides to turn back and catch up with Allun. Strong Jonn suggests that Rowan should also return, but Rowan insists that he will stay.

Rowan and Strong Jonn squeeze their way through the tunnel, occupying their minds with other thoughts to avoid the fear and anxiety building within them. They are relieved to finally make their way out of the tunnel and take a moment to recover at the top. Unfortunately, Strong Jonn is struggling for his life. The tunnel has scratched his body badly and he fears that he cannot go on. He urges Rowan to hurry home to his mother and abandon the journey. Rowan, however, decides to stay with Strong Jonn. He builds a shelter and fire and the two drift off to sleep.

The next morning Rowan and Strong Jonn continue the journey up the mountain. They meet the dragon who traps Strong Jonn against the wall with its tail. Rowan realises that it's all up to him. He also realises that the dragon is in pain. He speaks to it in the tone he uses with the bukshah when they are in pain. He determines that there is a bone lodged in the dragon's mouth and he reaches in to gently remove the bone for the dragon. The bone is removed and the pain subsides. While grateful to Rowan for his help, the dragon is now hungry and turns to Strong Jonn. Rowan remembers the final part of Sheba's verse and throws the compass at the sore part of the dragon's neck. The dragon yelps in pain and releases his tail just long enough for Rowan and Strong Jonn to escape.

A burst of fire blasts from the dragon's mouth, melting the ice around Strong Jonn and Rowan. The ice turns to water and suddenly they are caught up in an underground stream tunneling through the mountain. This is the stream that had stopped flowing in Rin. They ride the stream all the way back through to Rin where Star greets them and carries them the remainder of the way. The village is pleased to see them and surprised to hear how the "skinny rabbit" persisted with the journey and faced the dragon. The stream flows again and Rin is safe.


Code Breaker
  • Find examples of possessive pronouns in the text.

Text Participant
  • In groups of three, students act out Rowan and his conscience in determining whether to face the dragon. One plays the role of Rowan, one is his fear and one is his bravery. The person playing fear tries to convince him to leave the mountain and go home. The person playing his bravery tries to convince him to face the dragon and save the people of Rin. (This can work with groups of 5 as well. We then repeated the activity as a whole class with each person putting forth an argument. It was great to see what each person added to the argument. One group was particularly creative with their role play and asked to share it with the class. The fear and bravery actors jumped up into the scene with a "POOF". I recorded it, but to protect identities can't publish it here.)
  • Students also create the final interview video for their character. This time they choose their own interview questions and answers.
Text User
  • Students create a plot profile of the book - writing a one line description of each chapter and graphing each chapter for level of excitement (1 being calm, 10 being exciting). They compare and discuss their profile with others and see that others perceived the text differently so there is no 'right' answer.
  • Students use their plot profile to assist them as they write a Newspaper Report of the journey. They consider the most important and exciting parts to mention.
Text Analyst
  • Reread and discuss Strong Jonn's comments to Rowan about his bravery. How does this tie in with students' own ideas of what it means to be brave?

Here is the complete Rowan of Rin unit.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Fun - 27/3/09

Fun this week:

After all the difficulties with teaching subtraction with trading last week, I couldn't simply move on and ignore it. It was eating away at me. I had to conquer it. So this week, rather than moving on to multiplication and division, I spent some more time on subtraction. I found some great videos on subtraction with regrouping and played these for the class.

We then used the rhyme "If there's more on the floor, then go next door" to help us solve a range of two digit subtraction questions. This also helped with explaining the more difficult subtractions from 2000 etc. The rhyme can be applied by the first neighbour saying "I'm sorry, I don't have any numbers to spare. Let's try next door" and so on. I think my students really enjoyed the idea of the numbers being characters and fitting into a story!

My new challenge is to help my students to look at the question first before flying into the written solution. Too many were using the written method to find the answer to 50 - 49 which I know they can do mentally!

We also touched a little on multiplication and division (as I didn't want to overlook it completely) by reviewing some one-digit multiplication and creating the "families" for those facts. For example, 5x7=35; 7x5=35; 35 divided by 7=5; 35 divided by 5=7. Again, my students loved this idea of the numbers being in families. I'll have to remember this as I teach them other concepts - they like to bring the numbers to life!

Spiders in Spider Webs
This relates to our Rowan of Rin unit, but we did it in our homeclasses, so I've decided to include it in Friday Fun. We listened again to the passage in chapter 6 of Rowan of Rin where the characters face thick spiderwebs covered in big, black spiders. We used white oil pastels on black paper to create a web background. We then created our own spiders from shiny black paper and stuck them on the background so that they stood on the page with bent legs. We made the web sparkle in some places using some silver glitter paint. They look really fantastic displayed in our classroom.
Jonno and I were chatting about how great they were and that chatting lead to more ideas and so we decided it would be good to teach the kids how to write a description about spiders and spider webs and then attach their writing under their artwork on the display. We brainstormed some good adjectives and then students created sentences using these words. I suggested that they try some alliteration and rhyme but use no more than three adjectives per sentence. The writing that resulted was really fantastic. One of my students then suggested that we type up these descriptions in our lab lesson rather than handwriting the final copy. Brilliant idea - and a brilliant opportunity to teach some simple word processing tips - changing the page orientation, selecting all text, changing font etc. This lesson was also great for teaching the correct use of commas.

Communication - Assessment Task
As part of our Integrated Inquiry this term, we want our students to learn how to communicate effectively with others through a variety of forms. In groups, students selected a type of communication: phone calls, email, letters, postcards, cards, face-to-face, blogs, SuperClubsPlus webpages. In these groups they needed to consider the purpose for this communication (including advantages and disadvantages), the conventions and tips to effective communication with this form. They then needed to decide on the best way to present this information clearly to their peers - all while cooperating with others in their group.
Students had most of Friday to work on this, but still need a little more time to fine tune their presentations. They have been working very well together and have been learning a lot both about and through communication.

Both literacy classes did some descriptive writing this week using some ideas we obtained through PD last week. I found this picture of a soldier with a kitten. Students began with the sentence "[Name] is a soldier." They then wrote a description of his clothes, his face and the kitten in his arms. After this, students wrote a flashback to tell the story of how the kitten came to be in the soldier's possession. Linking the flashback to the description was pretty tricky for most students and didn't come naturally. This is something for us to work on in future lessons.

Earth Hour
On Friday our school turned off all electrical power between 11am and 12pm in recognition of Earth Hour. We tried to continue with lessons as much as possible. In Year 4 students wrote in their reflective journals and moved to spaces in the room with greater natural light.

Walk-through of Cross Country
Our Cross Country carnival is two weeks away so on Wednesday we walked the course that students will run - just to make sure they know where they will be going. The next day some of the students were complaining about how their muscles were sore from walking the track. Looks like we have some training to do before the big day!

Rowan of Rin
For information about what we learnt in our unit of work on Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda, click here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This week's tip: Tools for teaching Math(s)

This week I decided that you can never have too many tools for teaching maths. As I stood in front of my class explaining how to subtract a three digit number from 6000, I wished somehow that I could teleport somewhere far, far away and be replaced by the person who had all the right words at just the right time to make this tricky process perfectly clear.

These days, that perfect person is probably out there somewhere, and could quite possibly have made a video, flash activity or game to explain the process perfectly! And, these days, I have access to those materials and can display them on my interactive whiteboard for students to see and hear. And... if they don't get it the first time, we can replay those perfect words for another try. Then... I can help students as they work through some examples. I can use those perfect words to reinforce what students are doing.

So, today I'd like to share some of the wonderful resources that can be accessed as teaching tools and practice tools both in the classroom and at home. Some require registration (R), some require a paid subscription ($) and some are ready to go flash based activities.

Mathletics (R, $) is gaining momentum here in Australia. I worked with it at my previous school and we are in the process of registering at my new school. It is quite costly, but the school P&C paid for it in both locations. As far as I'm aware, Mathletics is the best at what it does. It is a brilliant system that continues to grow and improve while others try to keep up. They provide teacher training as schools get started.
When teachers make it a part of their teaching program it can have amazing results for students. Activities are relevant to classroom teaching and teachers have the option of setting activities as homework. There are opportunities to differentiate - selecting easier or harder programs for students to suit their abilities. Students design an avatar (character to represent themselves) and can win points and awards by working on Maths activities. Teachers can monitor student progress and development. If a school has the money and the support of teachers, I couldn't recommend this more highly. This is an example of high quality online learning.

Smart Kiddies (R, $) is similar to Mathletics, but provides different resources. It was offering resources to teachers free during school hours, but at a cost to parents outside of school hours. According to a recent email I received, this may be changing to a free product at all hours for all users. This is a great option if your school has chosen not to go with Mathletics. I am currently using this as a teacher with my Maths class, but have not registered all my students and given passwords etc. Here you can find video explanations, interactive whiteboard activities, printable worksheets and an online dictionary of mathematical terms. It's a great tool to draw on during Maths lessons.

Crickweb is free and ready to use. It is not limited to Mathematics but also includes other subject areas in the UK curriculum. As it is a UK program, all money activities are in UK currency and some activities are more culturally attuned to UK students, however there are great activities here if you take the time to check them out in advance. These activities are designed to work with interactive white boards, or one-to-one computers if you're lucky enough to have them!

Let's Play Math! is a blog well worth subscribing to if you teach maths. This blog is about playing around with mathematical ideas. Blog posts are fun and help to illustrate maths in the real world.

Peep and the Big Wide World is a lot of fun for the littlies. It makes me wish I was back in Year 1, playing with these big, bright colourful creatures! I think that the kids would get very attached to this game and I can almost hear their cheers as their teacher announces the use of one of the activities for an introduction to a Maths lesson. If you want to engage your students from the get-go, this is the tool you're after.

I'm sure there are plenty of others, but they're the ones I've come across recently. What do you think? What else would YOU recommend?

Image: Teleport by alisarincrimson http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3092/2737752623_0f8c9f1c9e.jpg?v=0

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What is the Teaching K-6 Carnival?

On the 7th of each month, Teaching Challenges hosts the Teaching K-6 Carnival. This blog carnival is a collection of posts about education from various bloggers around the world. Blog Carnival collects all the submissions and then just before the deadline I review the posts, lose the ads and compile them into an edition of the Teaching K-6 Carnival.

Blog Carnivals are one way of bringing all the great posts together in one place. Readers can get the highlights and delve deeper into the posts that interest them. Bloggers can share their writing with a greater audience. And hosts have the opportunity to read and review a range of great posts.

The next edition of the Teaching K-6 Carnival will be published here on the 7th. I have made some changes to allow for a greater range of posts. If you are a teacher or student blogger I encourage you to consider whether you have something you would like to share. We bloggers tend to think our writing isn't good enough, but we're wrong! People are interested in the things we are willing to share.

Submitting a post is easy. Simply go to the submit page, add in the link for the post and your details, select a category, type in the security code and hit submit.

There are now five categories bloggers might like to choose from, but please don't feel limited by these:

Gripes and Brags
This category is for posts about challenges (gripes) in the classroom and how teachers/students work through them. It is also for posts sharing the great things (brags) that are happening in (and out of) the classroom. Through this category we can bond and share in the things that are happening in classes around the world.

Innovate - Beyond the Slate
This category is for posts that address the use of both innovative ideas and learning technologies in the classroom. Try something new, post about it and then submit it in this category. This category is to keep us on our toes - thinking of fresh new ways to approach things and enhance learning.

In The News
This category is for posts that comment on educational discussions in the news or on the web. If you've read something great in a book, post, journal, newspaper or elsewhere, continue the discussion and submit the post in this category. This category ensures that we stay in tune with contemporary discussions around education.

Brain Strain
This category is for posts that delve into the concepts behind teaching and learning. They usually require more concentration than the posts in other categories, hence the name. Posts in this category help us to grow in our own understanding of learning theories and develop our teaching philosophy.

Look No Further
This category is for posts that are really lists, online journals or newsletters. I tend to think of it as the ads that are relevant!

I hope to read your posts soon. Without them, there is no "Teaching K-6 Carnival". Please spread the word to others, particularly if you come across a great post that fits the categories. See you back here on the 7th!

Read episodes of Teaching K-6 Carnival.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Literacy Unit - Rowan of Rin #5

We are working through the book Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda. Last week we read chapters 9 and 10 and focused on our perceptions of fear. For an overview of activities in earlier chapters please use these links:
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3 and 4
Chapters 5 and 6
Chapters 7 and 8

Summary - Chapters 9 and 10
Rowan begins to realise that the people in the traveling party do actually care about him and can be trusted. Together they relax around the fire while they eat - chatting and joking. Rowan thinks of home and the members of their group who should be arriving home at this time. He thinks of his mother, his sister and the bukshah. Another rhyme appears on the map to give them some advice for the journey ahead. The party begins to despair when they see a steep cliff ahead of them - blocking their way. Marlie encourages everyone to go on and they are pleased, on arrival, to find a cave in the wall of rock. They are greeted by the terrifying shrieks of bats flying at their heads. Boldly they continue after the attacks have subsided. As they continue onwards and upwards they see the rhyme coming into play before their eyes. Unfortunately, they come to a body of water that they must swim through in order to go on. Allun, having not grown up in Rin, was not taught to swim and must stay behind at this point. The other three brave the cold water and continue their journey. The party now consists of Rowan, Marlie and Strong Jonn.


Code Breaker:
  • Students find and practise reading descriptive passages fluently.
Text Participant:
  • Students determine interview questions and answers about the events of chapters 9 and 10, then create videos of character responses to these questions.
Text User:
  • Students consider the role of adjectives in creating a description and write a descriptive piece about a season or a photograph.
Text Analyst:
  • Students reflect on the fears of characters in the book.
  • Students have 5 minutes to brainstorm a list of fears/phobias.
  • Students write a paragraph about one of their fears including the reason for it and the way they deal with it.
  • Use students' lists to create a class word cloud of fears with Wordle.
  • Discuss when fear is good/bad and how it can be used to your advantage.
Here is the word cloud that we created with Wordle. You can also see it by clicking here.

Here is the complete Rowan of Rin unit.

Friday Fun - 20/3/09

This week was busy and flavourful. For me, as a teacher, I was significantly challenged and stretched in the after school hours through meetings, professional development and the start of my Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership. During school hours, I balanced normal teaching alongside assembly preparation and organisation for Harmony Day festivities.

Fun This Week...

The focus this week was on addition and subtraction. For fact practice, my group worked on adding a one-digit number to a two-digit number, and adding two-digit numbers with no re-grouping. We touched on subtraction with re-grouping, but students struggled to understand this. It is an area that we will need to work on some more, perhaps taking a step backward before progressing forward. We had some fun practising addition with a boat race game we found on Smart Kiddies - a maths teaching resource.

Harmony Day Activities
One of our students has arrived at our school from Malaysia. She is from the state of Kedah. We looked online at some facts and photographs of Kedah to get a greater sense of this student's background. We asked additional questions that came to mind. We then did a craft activity on the twin towers (Petronas Towers) in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The pictures were really colourful and effective on a black background.
Other classes learnt about harmony through stories, playing soccer together, making a paper chain with their names, poetry, multicultural games and craft activities. Each year level was responsible for determining how they wanted to approach the theme and presenting what they learnt in assembly.

In our school we aim for fortnightly whole-school assemblies, however due to other events that occur on Fridays, there are generally only three or four per term. Year levels take turns to host the assembly. The parts to an assembly are:
  • a welcome
  • an acknowledgement of country
  • the singing of the national anthem and school song
  • one or more class items
  • the presentation of merit awards (usually 2 per class)
  • other announcements; and
  • the presentation of a class award for good audience behaviour
Sometimes these also include school band performances and special awards. Families are welcome to join us for these assemblies and parents make a special effort when their child is part of the hosting class.
This week's assembly was a special "Harmony Day" assembly, so as well as the normal routine we had a parade of national costumes, class presentations of Harmony Day activities and two special songs that everyone in the school had been learning. It went for longer than usual and concluded a long, hot, tiring day and so students were more restless than usual. The general feeling, however, was that it had been successful.

Eco Bus
Because our school is taking great strides in terms of Environmental Sustainability, we had three bus loads of visitors come on Friday to see our approach. The Enviro Squad was on the job, proudly explaining our recycling system and taking visitors on a tour of the school. Tim and Tina, the Trash Twins, were out and about enthusiastically promoting the appropriate use of our bins. Everyone was doing their bit in the classroom and on the playground to demonstrate what we've learnt about protecting our environment. It was a superb effort from all the teachers involved in the Sustainability Committee and a credit to the school community's commitment to Environmental Sustainability.

Readers' Theatre
Students learnt and performed a readers' theatre of the story "The Amazing Laundry Hamper" This was a fun story with a lesson to encourage children to be helpful and clean up after themselves.
We're planning a performance for parents in two weeks time. They will be able to come along to see students present readers' theatre scripts and hear the Fife and Drum band play. The performance will be in the morning, so if we find that parents are unable to attend, we may see if some of the students from Years P-2 would like to come and watch.

Rowan of Rin
To read the next installment of our Rowan of Rin literacy unit click here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip - Get Organised with Track Class
Pat Hensley from Successful Teaching mentioned Track Class last week. As I'm about to start a post-graduate course I thought it might help me to get my stuff sorted.
Track Class is a free online student organisation tool, but I can also see potential for teacher use.
Students (or teachers) can load their classes, upcoming assignments and exams. The calendar helps you to keep track of what is due and when it's due. There's also a section for notes and file storage.
I'm planning to use it for monitoring my studies, but am also considering using it for planning and monitoring student assessment throughout the term. Using a tool such as this could help to spread the assessment workload over the term. I imagine it could be helpful for high school students who teach several classes and need to keep track of which assessment to collect and on which dates.

If you have any other recommendations for useful student/teacher organisation tools, please add them in the comments.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Blogger Behind This Blog #4

I'm not really sure why I do it to myself, but I often find myself cramming my life with a million and one extra commitments. I have some sort of goal that I am heading toward and I grab at anything I think will help me get there along the way. Living like this means that I continually experience huge amounts of learning and growth, but often feel as though I'm racing through life.

My current goal is to develop my skills as a leader. And it embarrasses me to say that. I feel like I'm big noting myself by aspiring to be a great leader. Somehow I've got it into my mind that leadership is an honour bestowed upon the worthy rather than a skill to be worked on and developed. Another image that comes to mind is that of the bossy-boots kid that wants to run the show and rule the game. I don't want to be that!

I'm about to begin post-graduate study in Educational Leadership to work toward the first half of my Masters degree. I'm also reflecting on my leadership skills using a new Leadership Framework developed by the Department of Education in my state. I'm beginning this journey with a degree of trepidation. There's a comfort in the known - I've been teaching for 8 years and have developed competence in this area. But leadership requires new skills and hard work. I may even make some mistakes! Learning is hard and it hurts sometimes - I just hope this won't hurt too much!

Here come some ramblings on my thoughts on leadership (prior to all the course material heading my way!) Feel free to leave now. :)

I'd like to be a leader who:
  • has a strong understanding of the big picture
  • provides a clear direction
  • inspires and motivates
  • brings out the best in others
  • provides opportunities for growth
  • supports and guides without 'bossing'
  • sees things through to completion
  • builds and/or maintains an effective learning community
  • communicates effectively in a range of situations
  • makes good use of available resources
While picking out a photo for this post, I found this one of some seedlings we were growing and it seemed a nice way of thinking of leadership. A good educational leader has a vision for the future, plants the seeds with staff and ensures they have the best resources and support for growth. He or she is alongside staff members helping them to become stronger and deepen their roots. And then I realised...that's what we teachers do - but with kids.

Those of you who have taken this journey before me, please feel free to share your story or leave your encouragement in the comments below!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Literacy Unit - Rowan of Rin #4

We are working through the book Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda. Last week we read chapters 7 and 8 and focused on plot development. For an overview of activities in earlier chapters please use these links:
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3 and 4
Chapters 5 and 6

Chapters 7 and 8 Summary
Val makes it through the spiders but with a heavy heart, as already she misses Ellis (her brother) terribly. As they continue the journey, a second message appears on the map. After reading the verse, Bronden is chosen to lead the party as they head through a misty swamp. The mist has ways of fooling the members of the party. They think they see their loved ones and hear them calling to them for help. This draws people off the path into the muddy sludge that pulls them down. One after another they are fooled by these voices and need rescuing. Bronden's courage is broken when she is fooled by the voices, so she and Val return to Rin. The remaining party tie themselves together with rope and feel their way through the swamp with a wooden pole. The party is now down to only four: Strong Jonn, Marlie, Allun and Rowan.

Code Breaker:
  • Look at sentence length and punctuation with particular attention to the use of commas. Discuss how this changes in high energy action scenes.
  • Practice fluent reading of chapter 8 with greater expression in high energy scenes.
Text Participant:
  • Again, in their groups, students make videos of character responses to the events of chapters 7 and 8. The Ellis group creates their own story for Ellis' journey back to Rin and create interview questions that allow Ellis to share his feelings of this experience.
Text User
  • Explore plot development in a narrative and the use of a high energy scene followed by recovery scene. Look at the features of each.
(Please Note: This week I have provided fewer activities as we had many disruptions to our classroom routines and could not fit in the full literacy program.)

Here is the complete Rowan of Rin unit.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Fun - 13/3/09

As I pointed out to the parents of my students, this week was a "hold your hat and enjoy the ride" sort of week. Monday was out due to a public holiday. My teaching partner, Jonno, and about a fifth of the Year 4s were out on Thursday for a rugby day and Friday was our swimming carnival. We had a bit of teaching in the middle there, but had to pack a lot into a few days!

I must say that Jonno was absolutely AWESOME this week. I was impressed with how calmly he pulled off all the sport organisation - and so professionally as well. The swimming carnival was a huge success and the kids had a fantastic day.

Fun this Week

Readers' Theatre
I spent Monday night making a quadruple batch of playdough. Hubby was confused: "Aren't you teaching Year 4 now?" I figured that even Year 4s like playdough now and then! Or at least the chance to express themselves creatively and explore ideas physically.
This week's readers' theatre was about B.W Hawkins and the Dinosaur Models which are displayed at the Crystal Palace Park in London. In line with the Art-full Pedagogies strategy from the Springboards into Literacy workshop I went to, I decided to give my students a chance to create their own playdough dinosaur sculptures before reading the script. Students worked in small groups to create their dinosaurs using playdough, match sticks, pasta and sequins.
Then, as students began practising the readers' theatre scripts, they had personal experience of what it's like to create dinosaur models and the text was far more real to them. Students put a lot of expression into their reading and were interested to see the process of B.W. Hawkins when making his models.

On Tuesday we had a special farewell assembly for our retiring PE teacher who has been in the school for 12 years. He has had a huge impact on his students over the years and has fed their enthusiasm for an active lifestyle. He will be greatly missed by the students, staff and wider school community.

We also had a visit from Stirling Mortlock, a well known local rugby union player. He spoke to students in grades 4-6 about Earth Hour and discussed the importance of looking after our planet every hour, every day - not just for Earth Hour. When we got back to class students began creating their own posters to remind people of appliances that use electricity and provide tips for reducing electricity consumption.

Class Meeting
We had a class meeting to discuss and complete a Biodiversity survey for the school's Student Representative Council (SRC). Students considered the areas of the school grounds they like, dislike and use. They listed the types of wildlife they have seen within the school grounds. They then considered changes they would like made in order to improve the appearance of the school grounds and the opportunities for biodiversity. The SRC is collecting this data from all classes, staff members and families in the school community.

We had a number of visitors in our school this week. Some teachers from the UK visited to see our school and the programs we run. My teaching intern also visited to meet students and get a greater sense of the classroom organisation. She will be beginning her 8-week internship at the end of March.

This week we looked at lines and angles in our maths lessons. I was surprised by how interested and enthusiastic the students were when it came to learning about angles. The questions students were asking showed great depth of thinking. It's disappointing that we could spend so little time on it due to all the interruptions. I look forward to exploring it further later in the year.

Will You Be Funky 4-Eva? Quiz
As mentioned above, Jonno took some of our kids (and some Year 5/6s) to a rugby day on Thursday. For a bit of fun and relationship building, I designed a trivia quiz (in PowerPoint) for part of that day. Students got into mixed groups of six and created names for their teams. Questions came from a mix of subject areas and some included photos or videos. Each team was given three coloured match sticks that they could trade in - one for a dictionary, one for a calculator and one for a computer - to help them with a question. Every fifth question was a "Who Am I?" followed by a team challenge. The challenges we got to were:
  • perform a nursery rhyme
  • present a tongue twister
  • build a sculpture or building with no more than 20 pieces of lego
It was a lot of fun and gave students opportunities to shine both academically, dramatically and technologically.

Swimming Carnival
The carnival was a lot of fun. Students competed in races (including a 'boat race' with rubber tyres) and then played in the pool. They even had some time on a water slide. We were all exhausted by the end of it, but the kids also had a disco at night. (I admit - I skipped out on that one).

Rowan of Rin
For details of our Literacy Unit on Rowan of Rin, click here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This week's tip: Embedding your Photos with Ease

I've been using Blogger for a few years now (including my first blog New York, New York) and while I love it most of the time, I find it very frustrating when I want to add more than one picture. All the formatting gets messed up and I spend a good half-hour just trying to get the pictures to work for me.

On the weekend I wanted to upload photos taken at the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Australia, and rather than go through the struggle again, I decided to give Flickr the chance to solve all my problems! I uploaded my photos to my Flickr account and stored them all in the same set.

To embed the photos as a slideshow:
  1. Click on the set.
  2. View photos as slideshow by clicking the little slideshow image
  3. After viewing the show, click the share option that comes up when you move your mouse over the picture OR While viewing, click the share option that comes up in the top right-hand corner when you move your mouse there.
  4. Copy the embed code and insert it into the html for your blog or website.
I was really happy with how easily this could be done and with how nicely it presents on the page. (I also like what I did with Jing today - check out those cool red arrows!)

Thanks for popping by today!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Springboards into Literacy

On Saturday 28th February I saw David Hornsby present "Springboards into Literacy" at the National Museum of Australia. Since then, I've been mulling over the ideas he presented and trying to find time to write a post to compile my thoughts and share them with the world!

David Hornsby was challenging the notion of teaching literacy in the structured literacy block where reading and writing don't intersect. He reminsced about the good old days when you could walk into a classroom and be absorbed into the theme that students were reading and writing about, when hands on learning, play and imagination were all part of the experience of becoming literate.

He began by reading us a couple of great books that draw you in and remind you the value of exploring quality literature with students. Both books were by Colin Thompson and present different perspectives of life and death. If you're looking for a book that's great for any age, check out The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley by Colin Thompson and Amy Lissiat. If you find it, you're in luck, as everywhere I've looked is sold out. (Might be time to buy online!) The other book was Dust and was darker and more solemn - perhaps better for an older audience.

David Hornsby then explored Springboards into Literacy through three different avenues:
  • Project Based Learning
  • Science
  • Art-full Pedagogies
Project Based Learning
David Hornsby discussed the Project Based Learning program at Croydon West Primary School, where students have enjoyed improved reading results as a result of their commitment to this program.
Here, students in the early years begin each day with 100 minutes of "Explorations" where they develop their oral language and social skills through project based learning and are invoved in activities such as construction, cooking, games, beads, computers, dress-ups, science experiments and interaction with nature. Students then move into share time where they have the opportunity to present and discuss the things they've learnt. After the recess break students start a session of free writing, during which most students write about what they were doing in the morning.
As James Britton said, "Reading and writing float on a sea of talk." For a detailed review of research on Project Based Learning click here.

Not being particularly scientific-minded myself, I found this session particularly valuable. David Hornsby began by posing the question "How do you teach science - not at all; through reading scientific texts; or through experimentation?" I'm ashamed to say that I don't give my students enough time to understand science concepts through hands on exploration and discussion. I try whenever possible, but I feel that sometimes our science-focused units of work don't really lend themselves to this sort of exploration.
David Hornsby pointed out that in order to really comprehend a scientific text we need to have first explored the concepts and the language to describe those concepts before reading the text. For the purposes of the presentation, he used videos of a teacher conducting science experiments. He invited us to make our hypotheses about what would happen and then showed us the video. We then had a chance to discuss and reason about the result. In a classroom this could lead into students writing an explanation and drawing a diagram.
Science can be used to engage students in reading and writing for real purposes. Through their experiences they can develop a greater interest and understanding of how the world works.

Art-full Pedagogies
David Hornsby finished up by discussing how the Arts can be used as springboard into reading, rather than a final product or response to reading. He talked about how art can be used to engage students in the topic and discussion prior to reading the book. I really like this idea and am trying to find ways to implement it with my teaching. David shared with us how students at one school considered their own perspectives on 'grannies' before reading the book Our Granny by Margaret Wild. Students created playdough grannies and did roleplay interviews as grannies. This developed the concepts and language the students needed in order to make connections with the text when they read it. What a great way of exploring critical literacy and the images and stereotypes we develop!

All in all it was a great day and left me with much to work on. Check out Friday Fun at the end of this week to see how I apply the Art-full Pedagogies with our Readers' Theatre lesson.

I'd love to hear what other people thought of this Professional Development workshop. If you were there as well, please leave your comment below.

Sculpture Garden Sunday

Today I popped in at Sculpture Garden Sunday at the National Gallery of Australia. There were kids and families everywhere enjoying the music and getting creative. It got me more motivated for my first lesson on Tuesday. Our Readers' Theatre is going to be about a dinosaur sculptor, so I thought it might be a bit of fun to sculpt our own dinosaurs. After seeing the fun ideas today, I'm keen to see how my students explore their own creativity with the resources available.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Literacy Unit - Rowan of Rin #3

We are working through the book Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda. Last week we read chapters 5 and 6 and focused on dialogue and feelings. For an overview of activities in earlier chapters please use these links:
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3 and 4

Chapters 5 and 6 - Summary
The party of Rin's strongest heroes (and Rowan) begin their journey. The journey is filled with challenges to test the depth of each traveller's courage. The steep climb exhausts Rowan who consequently faints - leading the others to grumble at his weakness. Rowan recovers quickly and, upon checking the map, discovers that a verse has appeared which seems to give warning about the forest they are about to encounter. With this new information, the party continues on. Deep in the forest they encounter a mass of spiders which they must pass through in order to continue their journey. Ellis, who has a paralysing fear of spiders, cannot bear the task and flees back the way they had come. With a sense of urgency, the others work out a solution to passing through the spiders and continue their journey.


Code Breaker
  • Look at punctuation and format for dialogue
  • Consider the alternatives used for 'said'
  • Students work in pairs to practise reading the sections of dialogue using appropriate expression
Text Participant
  • In their groups from last week, students consider how the characters were feeling during the events of chapters 5 and 6 and produce a news interview on video. (It is worth mentioning here that after watching the first set of videos, students had many ideas for how to improve them. We made these adjustments to the second set of recordings: costumes, fake microphone, interviewer and interviewee both in shot, filmed outside, use of tripod, introductions to characters.)
Text User
  • Discuss how an author provides insight into a character's thoughts and feelings by showing, not telling.
  • Students find examples of how different characters are feeling and the words that show these feelings. For example, when Ellis is terrified, Emily Rodda describes the sweat on Ellis' face rather than writing "Ellis was terrified".
Text Analyst
  • Explore how authors shape a story to win sympathy for the protagonist. Discuss why this is important and how it has been used in other stories ie. Cinderella, Snow White.
Bring it all together
  • Students write a short story using the things they've learnt during the week. They choose a conflict eg. A girl wants to go to the movies with her friends, but she needs to convince her parents to let her go. As they write they need to gain the reader's sympathy, show feelings without telling and use correct punctuation for dialogue including words other than said. (This was a much bigger task than I could have imagined, so I was lucky to have such a capable group. I was particularly impressed with one student who did a really brilliant job of bringing all these aspects together in his story.)

Here is the complete Rowan of Rin unit.

3rd Teaching K-6 Carnival

Welcome to the March edition of the Teaching K-6 Carnival. This month we don't have as many articles, but the ones we do have will really challenge you to stretch and grow as a teacher and learner.

Innovate - Beyond the Slate

Kelly Hines shares Why I Have the Best Job in the World posted at Keeping Kids First. She reminds us of what children are capable of when asked the right questions. Kelly posed the question "What can you do to change the world?" andgot an amazing response from her students.

Kakie presents How do children see & learn about race, color and culture? posted at Bur Bur & Friends: Community Park, saying, "As educators in this diverse world, it is important for us to understand how ALL children come to learn about color, race and culture in a way that is developmentally appropriate. This post is an excerpt from a book that does just that. It was written based on extensive research and studies and is a book all parents and educators should read."

Christina shares Present Movies posted at Early Childhood Teacher. Here she outlines a great video project she did with her students around the holiday season. She encourages students to form clues around a mystery present and as a result students develop oral language skills and thinking skills.

Also on the theme of holidays, Vera Lang presents Free St Patricks Day Crafts Templates: Prancing Leprechauns posted at Fine Craft Guild .com, saying, "This great project just costs 2 sheets of paper. ...and you'll have a REALLY CUTE Leprechaun Marionette! FREE template & tutorial. Pull the strings to make him dance to the rainbow's pot of gold. Fun & Easy Project for K-6 kids."

Brain Strain

In this edition we have two posts that will stretch your mind and help you to consider the mental workout required by teachers as students in their various roles. Both point out the importance of stretching beyond the comfort zone in order to make progress with learning.

Scott Barry Kaufman shares Learning about Learning: an Interview with Joshua Waitzkin posted at SharpBrains. This is a fascinating interview revealing what one can achieve when fully committed to learning. Enjoy a human brain in full display.

Graysen Walles presents Teaching - A Tough Career that makes a Difference posted at The Teachers Movement, saying, "Teaching is the greatest career on the planet, and it is also the most challenging career on the planet. Why?"

Look No Further

Susan Greenwald presents her book Two Plus Two is not Five at Teaching Addition, Subtraction, and Multiplication Facts. This resource can be used for systematically teaching children number facts.

Meaghan Montrose presents Effective Learning Strategies and Study Skills- Part 1 posted at TutorFi.com. This post is a set of study tips for students to use for completing homework.

Why not submit your post for the next carnival?

At this stage, editions of The Teaching K-6 Carnival will be posted monthly on the 7th. I will be collecting submissions throughout the month, looking in particular for posts that discuss and exemplify innovative teaching and the integration of technology in the K-6 classroom. I also invite a few "brain strains" to keep our minds alert and challenged. Please submit only articles of which you are the author and refrain from using this merely as a sales pitch.

If you have a relevant post that you would like to submit to the next edition of teaching k-6 carnival use our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Support this Carnival

If you enjoyed this edition of the carnival, you can support its continuation by sharing it with others. Link to us, add us to a tweet, stumble or digg us. Thanks!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday Fun - 6/3/09

Fun this week

The Egg
Our egg finished hatching and the alligator swam out into the container and kept on "growing". The girls took it home on Friday as we think it may have grown as big as it can.

3D Model of Rin
The same girls also made a lego model of Rin (from Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda). They brought it in to share with us. They said I could include a photo on the blog. (I hope I've labeled it right!)

Readers' Theatre
This week's script was about a family walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It included lots of facts about the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Prior to reading the script for the first time, I played a Flickr slideshow of images of Sydney Harbour Bridge and gave them some time (about 5 minutes) to talk about both the images and their own experiences of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Students were allocated to new groups and settled and sorted themselves quite quickly. We performed on Thursday - some in the school hall and some at the school amphitheatre. I made a video recording that we can look back on later to determine the progress students are making.

Our Integrated Inquiry focus this week was on Integrity. This is a tricky concept for children (and many adults) to grasp. We broke it down to honesty and responsibility. I also tried to explain it as knowing the right thing to do and doing it, even if no one else will see. We read and discussed a story about a king who was looking for an heir to his throne. You can read a version of the story here. We watched the following video:

We read and reflected on a comic about a boy, George, who wanted a puppy and had to learn about responsibility. I tried to show the following video where adults discuss the topic of integrity, but only the sound would work.

We were working on four times tables this week and using the strategy of double it, double it again. For example, if you are trying to work out 4 x 3, you can double 3 which is 6, and double 6 which is 12. I found that I needed to use a number of strategies with the four times tables as some students were finding them quite difficult. We will use next week to review the strategies we've learnt so far for the 2, 5, 10, and 4 times tables.
We've also been trying some more difficult number patterns that include two elements. For example, in this pattern the rule is + 3, then -1:
6, 9, 8, 11, 10, 13, 12, 15, 14, 17, 16
We also did some pre-algebra work balancing equations. For examples, please check out this video clip.

My Classes and SuperClubsPlus
In the lab this week had all the passwords we need so we spent some more time becoming familiar with My Classes. Students were able to create their own book reviews for others to read and comment on. The reviews were pretty good for a first try, but I'd like to see a little more effort put into content and editing. Students are getting a little lazy in an attempt to get their ideas down quickly.
Students are incredibly engaged with SuperClubsPlus and it's giving them a chance to achieve many of the outcomes in our curriculum. Students are communicating with one another both online and in person in order to "get their stars" and set up their homepages. In their reflective journals, this week, many students commented on their challenges, successes and plans in terms of what they are achieving in SuperClubsPlus.