Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Fun - 31/7/09

I'm enjoying my time acting School Leader C. I enjoy getting to know the other teachers better. I enjoy the variety. I enjoy the challenge of trying something new. I enjoy seeing the big picture perspective and then zooming into the detail in the classroom. I enjoy supporting other teachers with what they are doing in their classrooms. It has been a very enjoyable week.

Fun This Week

Last weekend I stocked up on ribbons, wool, beads, buttons and numerous other bits and pieces to use for our Textiles and Design unit. I raided the art storeroom and found some hessian just waiting to be used. I then handed the ideas over to my relief teacher to bring to fruition in my absence! Students pulled some of the strands out of their hessian square and then weaved ribbons through what remained. They threaded on beads and buttons to enhance their designs. Everyone was engaged and enthusiastic with their work.

Cooperative Reading
We made a great start to our new Cooperative Reading process this week. Last week students planned how many pages they need to read each week in order to complete their book by the end of the term. They also planned writing tasks and which weeks they will complete them.On Monday students read their required pages and completed an entry in their Reading Response Journal using the four roles of the reader.
On Tuesday students met together in their groups to discuss their reading. As I wasn't there for this session, I asked students for feedback. Next time we will allocate more time and try to find an easier way for the recorders to determine the key points to write down. We also need to get new batteries for the stopwatches that the Time Keepers use!

On Thursday students began working on their writing tasks. Some focused on the planning stage while others began their first draft. Still others worked on their reading as they still had additional pages to read. At the end of the session we had a sharing circle to report back how things were going and what everyone was working on.

So far I'm impressed with how well students are taking responsibility for their learning and working through the tasks they have planned for themselves.

Don't Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late
This week my literacy group read Don't Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems. Students discussed the different arguments one might give for staying up late. They then wrote a letter to their parents pleading to stay up. While I wasn't teaching for this lesson, I heard that my students were very enthusiastic about this book and enjoyed the activity. They have been giving me suggestions for what they would like to do next. One suggested that we could record our letters with the Snowball Microphone. Another suggested we make our own "Don't Let The Pigeon..." books. Yet another told me that she had found this file to show you how to draw the pigeon.
Look what happens when you hand back some control to students! They actually start to think of ways to learn for themselves!
Thank you also to Allanah K for sharing this Pigeon Teachers Guide. I'll have to buy The Pigeon Wants a Hotdog next time I'm in the US.

Division in Real Life
My Maths group has been having some trouble with both approaching word problems and using a calculator. This has been worrying me, so I have been trying to find ways to include one or both in my Maths lessons. This week we pulled up the Qantas website and made up some word problems, pretending that Qantas was having a half-price sale. I wrote up the word problem on the board and just changed the student's name and the original price each time:
..... found out that Qantas was having a half-price sale. If the original price of a ticket was .... how much is it on sale?
I selected students to choose where we would go and then the whole class tried to work out the sale price using calculators. This was an important process, and it was great to see students thinking through what you press on a calculator in order to work out half of a number.
To extend this further, I showed my class how they can use Excel as a shortcut to work out the prices by typing in a formula. This is something I hope to build on further.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Call for posts

I've been getting frustrated lately when I check my email account. I find that I have been receiving HEAPS of posts for the Teaching K-6 Blog Carnival, but most of them are of the "100 most...", "25 best...", "5 new..." variety, and what I am REALLY looking for are some decent conversations and real-life examples of teaching and learning in the classroom. Now, I realise that it is Summer Break in the Northern Hemisphere, so I'm happy for bloggers to submit something from earlier in the year.
This month I was hoping for a focus on Mathematics, so I'm particularly looking for posts about what you have tried with Maths and how it worked out. How do you determine what to teach? What have you learnt about the way students think and learn as they develop new concepts?
The deadline is August 5th, so revisit your blog posts and see what you can send me...please? Otherwise, the only Maths will be the 100 most, 25 best and 5 new whatevers!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip: It's not so much WHAT you teach, but HOW you teach

Quite some time ago I wrote about a teacher I had when I was in Year 4 and the impact he had on my interest in computer technology. He pushed the boundaries of what was possible and took us along for the ride. He recently got in touch with me after finding my blog in a Google search. Amazingly enough, he still had a copy of a news article about a special event that we participated in at the National Science and Technology Centre. He scanned it in and emailed it through to me, so I thought I would share it here. (You'll probably need to click on it to make it large enough to see properly!)
My tip for today is to think about the attitudes you are modelling when you teach. How do you model the use of ICT? As a frustration and annoyance? As a tool? As a part of everyday life? As the 'fun' part of the day? How do you want your students to respond to ICT in the future?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Friday Fun - 24/7/09

It was the first week back, but already the holidays are a distant memory. This week I began my 4-week role as an acting School Leader C. What does this mean? Well, as a beginner, it meant dressing up and sorting Mathletics for everyone across the school whilst also trying to start a new term with my class. I don't feel that I juggled it all particularly well this week but, for a beginner, I think I'm doing okay. I'm enjoying the opportunity and hope to learn and grow through it during the next few weeks. In the classroom we had a great start to the fresh term.

Fun This Week

Reciprocal Reading and Cooperative Reading

Mr Tucker's class is using a new series of Reciprocal Reading Texts this term and groups are focused on using the roles as they read.
My class is trying a version of Cooperative Reading where students take responsibility for planning the reading and writing they will work through during the term and meet together in small groups to discuss and support each other. This week students chose groups and books and then planned the reading and writing tasks they will complete each week. Two groups have an author study focus - Andy Griffiths and Jackie French. Three groups have a book focus - "Hating Alison Ashley" by Robin Klein, "The Red King" by Victor Kelleher, and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by J.K.Rowling. And two groups have a genre focus - horror and action. I look forward to seeing how the process continues next week as we begin the routines.

Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus
Our writing focus for the beginning of this term is on expositions and persuasive writing. To kick this off, I read "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus" by Mo Willems. We discussed some arguments for why pigeons shouldn't drive buses and then students wrote an exposition on the topic. Some decided that they actually wanted to write in support of pigeons driving buses. I am trying to encourage students to choose a few key points as their paragraph starters and then add supporting details. I am also encouraging students to include stronger vocabulary and linking phrases. Hopefully this will flow more naturally with continued practice this term.

Mr Tucker taught two dancing lessons for our students who don't do Fife and Drum. We will be preparing dances for our end of term performance. This week's theme was "flight" and it was really great to see all the students moving creatively and developing their own choreographed dances in small groups. I am really impressed by how well students are collaborating on tasks these days.

This week we got Mathletics up and running in the school. We launched it in Year 4 and it has been exciting to see how quickly students have taken to the site. Mr Tucker's class was listed in the top classes around the world and most students have achieved their Bronze certificate for this week. Mathletics will make up the maths part of our homework this term and Mr Tucker and I will be setting tasks for students to complete.

Minister's Fitness Challenge
Mr Tucker introduced the Minister's Fitness Challenge and showed students the website where they can add the activities that they do each week. This Challenge is an initiative to encourage children to engage in physical activity for at least 60 minutes each day.

NAIDOC Week Festivities
This week we celebrated NAIDOC week (even though it was officially July 5-12). Each grade did their own NAIDOC Week activity which they shared with the school at the special assembly on Thursday. The Funky Fours practiced the song Down River and also learnt about the symbols used in Aboriginal artworks. They created their own designs using oil pastels on black paper. On Wednesday students enjoyed a musical performance with an Indigenous performer. He shared about Indigenous culture and involved students in bopping along to some great music.

Athletics Carnival
Today we had our athletics carnival. Despite the frosty morning and a few early slips, the day was a huge success. We have lots of great little runners and had great participation rates across the school. Mr Tucker did a great job of organising the day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip: Dealing with Chain Email

Ugh! Yesterday we had our first incident of chain email in Year 4. It didn't come through anything we're doing at school or through any of our school email, but it does require our attention. As it turns out, some of our students have been creating their own Hotmail and other accounts. Because we don't provide email to students (except through SuperClubs which is carefully monitored) I hadn't realised the need to explain to students about email spam - particularly the dreaded chain mail.

The chain is one of the "send this on or you will be killed by a spirit" variety, which led to a fearful night for one of my students. I'm not sure how much further it has gone so far and I've been trying to determine the best approach to take. I think it is important to educate students about all aspects - the positive AND negative - of working in an online environment. With the right support they will know how to respond to these negative aspects.

So, today we'll watch this YouTube video:

We'll have a bit of a chat about what chain email is and how students can manage unwanted emails. I'll also remind students that they should be using SuperClubs for their email while they're still learning cybersafety!

What do you suggest? How have you faced this issue with your children/students?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tech Tips Tuesday

This Week's Tip: Use Charts to Visualise Your Thoughts

As I plan for next term I have lots of ideas floating around that I need to pin down on paper. This week I decided to do this using Smart Art in Microsoft Word 2007 and a Gantt Chart I created using Microsoft Excel 2007.

Smart Art
I am trying something new for my Literacy unit this term, which will allow for a lot more student direction. As is always the way, when a lesson involves greater student direction, a great deal of teacher preparation must take place before hand in preparing a 'map' for students to work with. I found the Smart Art feature (in the Insert tab) very useful as a 'map' making tool.

There are a number of choices for chart type, and they are very easy to insert and use. You can see a sample of the pop-up box here:

Smart Art allowed me to create visually appealing diagrams that should help students to comprehend the information and their choices more effectively. I was excited by how quickly I could create "professional looking" diagrams. Here are a couple of my samples - the content is still in draft form, but I wanted to share some examples of how you might use these.

Gantt Chart
I wanted to make a project timeline to show the steps and progress involved with introducing a laptop program in the Year 5/6 classrooms this year. This will help me to monitor the process and ensure that key items are happening at the required time. A quick Google search led me to this You Tube video attributed to rrphillips:

I followed the steps to create my own Gantt Chart. (Again, the chart content is still in draft form, only offered as an illustration of how a Gantt Chart can be used.)

I rarely find time to pretty things up, however do enjoy a well presented document. These were great tools, quick to insert and very effective. A nice addition to my teaching tool kit without additional software, downloads, uploads etc.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Last week I mentioned my new interest in crochet, particularly amigurumi. I've been playing some more with the idea over while creating my own crocheted creatures. I looked at a couple of patterns and was dumbfounded by all the crochet jargon for the instructions. It left me thinking, 'huh'? What I WAS able to decipher was that amigurumi are made by a spiral. So, I searched on YouTube for how to make a crochet spiral. There were some great videos there about how to start a spiral when making a beanie. She also gave some instructions on how to increase and decrease the amount of stitches. Armed with this, I had a go, and here's what I've come up with...

A bunny. (My sister in-law wants me to make one for her, too)

And a Frilled-Neck Lizard. (He's a little hard to make out, given the camouflage, but I thought it wasn't too bad for an early attempt!)

So, whilst making these, I did a lot of thinking about creativity and my own response to tasks, and what I like to see my students doing. I don't generally like to stick to a set pattern - I usually like to add my own twist. I take the main idea, learn the basic skills and then shape it to suit my own interests. And I like to see my students doing this as well. When I set a task, I don't want to see 30 exact replicas - that only shows me that students can apply the things I teach in the one way that I have suggested, and under my supervision. I want to know that students can apply their learning to their unique situations.

I do realise, however, that sometimes we need to practice the 'traditional' way of doing something before we are ready to bend the rules to make it personal. We need to have the opportunity to learn the essentials before we can play with the non-essentials.

As I approach the next unit of work (Textiles and Design), I'm trying to balance things in my mind in order to provide the required amount of guidance paired with the desirable amount of flexiblility. I need to find a way to teach my students to take the creative approach.

When I was a kid, I wanted to get everything 'right' and if I dropped a stitch, I panicked and couldn't figure out how to resolve the issue. I don't know how or when the shift happened. Somewhere along the way I must have realised that there were times when 'my version of right' was actually valued more by my teachers than the set pattern they put before us. I don't think I've actually let my students in on that secret yet!

How do you bring out your inner creativity? What things enable or disable it? How did you learn to let your creativity shine through? What do you like to create? Please share your thoughts below.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

7th Teaching K-6 Carnival

Welcome to the July edition of the Teaching K-6 Carnival. This month I've had a number of posts relating to professional development for teachers - with plenty of opportunities to expand your skill base during the Northern Hemisphere summer months. Because of this, I've included a "Reflect and Rejuvenate" category this month. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, you might find something here to inspire you to keep on powering through those wintery blues!

Reflect and Rejuvenate

Not yet a teacher? Considering it as a career option? Alvina Lopez shares Where Can I Find Teacher Scholarships? posted at Smart Teaching. Want to explore the world while studying? Anne Simone presents 100 Free and Useful Web Tools for Students Abroad posted at Best Universities.

If you're yet to discover the wonders of TED Talks, don't wait any longer. There's so much great material here that's easy to watch and very informative. Emma Taylor has sifted through these and offers 25 TED Talks That Will Change Your Life posted at Online Degree Hub.

If you're up for a bit of self-reflection, Susan White has the place for you at 100 Free Quizzes for Your Self-Improvement and Awareness posted at Online College Reviews - College Ratings. Take it a bit further to improve your health with Pankaj Gupta's 10 Little Known Ways to Improve Your Health posted at Best ultrasound technician schools.

Brain Strain

There are many differing opinions on the way that we coax certain behaviours from children. This month Keith Tusing shares his views on Rewards & Bribes posted at CM Buzz. Be sure to share your opinion and keep the discussion rolling. While you're over there, also check out Who is Your Target? to read how Keith is keeping children K-6 engaged in his Sunday School program.

In a knowledge society, lifelong learning is more important than ever. Brooklyn White presents 9 Tips for Being a Lifelong Learner posted at Accredited Online Universities. Reflect on how you're going with this, and consider how you can support the children in your class to become lifelong learners.

At times we all struggle with time management. But how do students learn this all important skill? This month Meaghan Montrose shares Effective Learning Strategies and Study Skills- Part 4 posted at

In the News

Mathew Needleman has written some informative posts about our roles as educators at Open Court Blog. In It’s Not the Curriculum, It’s Us he reminds us to quit shifting blame, and to take responsibility for creating engaging learning experiences. In Copyright for Teachers: Persistent Myths he gives a few tips on what we should and should not be doing in terms of copyright in the classroom.

Innovate - Beyond the Slate

Skype has opened up numerous options for communicating across the globe. This month Emma Taylor presents 50 Awesome Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom posted at Teaching This is a comprehensive resource for teachers who have access to Skype in their classrooms.

Innovation is not just about technology. In creating an engaging and dynamic learning environment for our students, we should be drawing on a range of resources and learning experiences. Wendy Piersall shares Plant Life: How Do Plants Grow? posted at Craft Jr., which provides hands-on activities for students to explore the life cycle of plants.

Over at Teaching Anne Simone shares 100 Terrific Cheat Sheets for K-12 Teachers.

Look No Further

Here are a couple of iPhone related posts that might be useful for educators with iPhones:

Alvina Lopez presents iKnow: 100 Best Reference Tools for Your iPhone posted at Online Degree Hub.

Emma Taylor presents 100 Awesome iPhone Apps to Work and Study from the Beach posted at Online College Reviews - College Ratings.

Why not submit your post for the next carnival?

The Teaching K-6 Carnival is posted monthly on the 7th. I am 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. For full details, please read my call for submissions.

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!

Tech Tips Tuesday

This week's tip: Taking it further with video

I've been playing around with the Flip Camera in my classroom for about a term now. I've also started sharing it around with other classes for special occasions. I took it along to a School Board meeting and to a P&C meeting and showed them a little video of how we have been using it. I thought this was important as our P&C purchased the camera, and may want to purchase more for other classes now that they've seen how it can be used.
Some of the ways we've used it include:
  • Recording discoveries on excursions and camps
  • Recording reflections and opinions
  • Recording team work
  • Recording special events and activities
  • Recording performances for self-reflection/self-assessment
  • Recording homework instructions
  • Recording speeches
So, where to next? Now I'd like to provide opportunities for students to delve into digital-storytelling or video production as a form of communication. I would like for students to use video to communicate a message in place of the pencil and paper method. But this is all new to me! Fortunately, someone else has already paved the way, and today I'd like to share some resources with you in case you are heading along this track also.

Picture This offers step by step instructions on how to get started with video in the classroom, with the all important reminder to begin with the areas that students need to work on - hence making it relevant!

The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling provides an introduction to digital storytelling along with examples and tools.

Another post full of digital storytelling links can be found at Making Teachers Nerdy.

For those of you asking "What is a Flip camera?" here's 7 Things You Should Know About Flip Camcorders.

If you've been working with video and digital storytelling, please let me know what's worked for you and what you'd suggest doing/not doing.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

New Gold Mountain #3

Unfortunately, I found it too difficult to keep up with regular posts about our unit on the book "New Gold Mountain" by Christopher W. Cheng. Instead, I am offering some suggestions for the activities that I found useful. Please also check New Gold Mountain #1 and New Gold Mountain #2 for earlier posts.

Learn to play Fan Tan - The Chinese miners regularly played Fan Tan, a card game, and often gambled away their new-found wealth. We had a few games and came to realise how noisy the game could be and how easily it could lead to frustration and arguments - especially if money was involved!

Letters back to China - In the book one of the characters writes a letter back to his village in China. He doesn't tell the truth about his situation given that he has gambled away all his gold playing Fan Tan! Students wrote two letters back to China: one painting a rosy picture of the situation, and one giving a more honest account.

Character Comparison - As a class we made a Venn Diagram to illustrate the similarities and differences between Rowan (of Rin) and Shu Cheong. Students became really engaged in this activity and sought out lots of great examples of similarities. When we had finished brainstorming, students wrote the comparison in essay form. I gave them an introductory paragraph and then helped them to work through a structure for following paragraphs. We thought of some useful phrases for beginning paragraphs: 'An important similarity is...' 'Yet another similarity is...' 'Both Rowan and Shu Cheong...' We also thought of some comparison connectives (I'm sure they have a proper name) like 'whereas', 'while', 'however', 'although', 'but', 'and', 'whilst'.

Historical Diary - I already mentioned that students created a diary entry from the perspective of a convict. Later in the unit we repeated this activity with students writing from the perspective of an explorer of their choice. I borrowed a huge pile of non-fiction texts about explorers from the library. Students were given about 30 minutes to research their explorer and take some notes. They then moved into small groups focused on the same explorer to share the knowledge they had uncovered. After this sharing time students went back to working independently and created their diary entries. They were given more time to work on this in future lessons.

Final Weeks - In the final weeks I wanted to give students a chance to take charge of their learning and self-manage their tasks. Students needed to complete the reading of the text and review, edit and publish one of their written pieces from the term so that we could compile them into a class book. Students responded well to this and most completed both tasks by the due date.

Thoughts on the unit...
This was a great book to use as part of our study of Australian History as it helped students to consider the non-European perspective. It provided us with an opportunity to discuss racism and to form arguments against racism.
I enjoyed introducing students to historical fiction and found the diary format an easy way for students to dabble with writing historical fiction for themselves.

Friday Fun 3/7/09 (a little late!)

It's not hard to have fun in the last week of term. There's fun stuff to finish off, and it's not really worth starting anything new, so the spare moments are fun too. On top of that, fun stuff is usually programmed into the week.

Fun this week

Another visit to the Ridge
On Monday afternoon we took another trip up the Ridge to do some weeding. We pulled up lots of verbascum and our area is now looking really great. We also took up some new brochures for the trail our school has been involved with and saw the sign that was recently installed. A journalist and photographer for the local community newspaper joined us and added our story (with front page picture) to this week's newspaper.

Green Up, Clean Up Day
The SRC held a fundraiser to purchase paint for playground markings to be sprayed under our new shade structure. Students dressed up in green and brought a gold coin donation. In order to 'clean up' and cut back on waste, our students were asked not to bring lunch items with extra packaging.

Jump Rope for Heart - Jump Off
On Thursday, we had a special assembly with Happy Heart of the Heart Foundation. The Skippy Chicks (our school's skipping team) demonstrated different skipping steps that students might like to try out individually, in pairs and with a long rope. Throughout the day classes took turns to rotate through skipping activities in the school hall. Students had fun, got fit and raised funds for research into heart disease, education and health promotion.

Mr Tucker's Balderdash Challenge
Mr Tucker was feeling more motivated than me as the week drew to a close. He set up a Balderdash Challenge with students competing for points in teams. He selected a number of Aussie slang phrases, and groups made up possible meanings for these. They then voted, with the most convincing definitions scoring the most votes.

Ned Kelly Paintings
Having learnt about Ned Kelly last week, we took a closer look at the paintings of Sidney Nolan and then students made their own Ned Kelly paintings using watercolours and ink or oil pastels. It was fun to see the unique perspectives students brought to the task. We really should do more painting!

Mr Tucker's literacy class has been reading the book "Matilda" by Roald Dahl, so on Friday afternoon we watched the movie as a celebration and to compare the two. It's a great movie that shows how we can triumph despite adversity. The kids loved it.

Field Events
We've split our athletics carnival into two sessions this year. An afternoon for the field events and a day for the whole school to compete in the track events. Friday afternoon was the field event session and many of our students competed in shot put and long jump events.