Thursday, January 31, 2013

Please don't trample my enthusiasm!

Today was the second day back at work for we teachers, and I think that tonight I've hit the wall with the exhaustion of it all. It has been an exciting time so far, but also a bit on the frustrating side. We're all feeling very motivated and have been inspired to think of great things we would like to establish in our classrooms this year, but we haven't got far past the inspiration. And I fear that if I don't start making sense of it all and get some plans into place, the momentum of the school year will soon trample my enthusiasm.

Yesterday we spent some time looking at the Australian Curriculum and how we will use it to plan, teach, assess and report learning this year. We had a quick look at the English and Maths curriculum and considered a bit of the scope and sequence and some key concepts we plan to teach. At the end of the day I felt more confident about using the Australian Curriculum and had a better understanding of the structure - particularly in English.

Today we worked with Sylvia Guidara, who excited us about the possibilities when using online resources with students. Unfortunately when it came to trying some of these out, we came up against the typical computer issues we face in the classroom - sign-ups not working, slow wi-fi, subscription services, and ethical questions. Not to mention the challenge of exploring a new resource to determine it's usability across the school. By the end of the day I was feeling a bit frustrated and remembered why I have avoided some of these resources in the past. Hopefully with a good night's sleep and a freshened up mind, I will be ready to think through the next steps to making the most of the resources Sylvia shared.

On the brighter side, I have been very excited about the iDoceo iPad app as a Classroom Organiser for this year. At the end of last year I wrote about how I was searching for an app that would "do it all." While I am still just testing it out, this app appears to be just what I have been looking for. Once I've tested it out properly with real students, I will write a more detailed review.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

And 2013 Begins

Tomorrow is the official start to the new school year for teachers at my school, however many of us were in there today, trying to get our rooms set up. I say "trying" because some teachers couldn't get into their rooms yet due to renovations, and others were overwhelmed by all the extra furniture that seemed to have been relocated for the renovations! It sounds like I'm complaining, but really I'm not. The start of a new school year is always exciting and nerve racking. You want to get everything just right for the moment when the students walk in, but that rarely happens.

I love getting my 'draft' class list and running my eye over the list - looking for siblings of kids I've taught, or checking for names of kids I know from the playground. It's fun to imagine the kids who very soon will be sitting at the desks I've just set out (but then again, will that arrangement work?!)

I pull out my brand new whiteboard markers and neatly write their names on the busy bees I have for my class jobs chart. And again on the birthday charts.

I set up the class computers and check the interactive whiteboard is ready to go. I put in my request for any spare computers that might become available.

This is all the fuzzy fluff that I can get away with in the day I'm at school but don't have to be. And I know that tomorrow the real work begins - no more leisurely time to put up posters or to ponder why none of my students were born in January! Tomorrow the brain needs to be switched on to think about curriculum and all the nuts and bolts that keep the education machine running.

And that is why my brain is buzzing and I can't get to sleep tonight!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tech Tips Tuesday

iPad for Preschoolers #4 Creative Play

Kids love to create - be it a ball of dough, a pile of construction blocks, a box of textas, a handful of craft materials or a musical instrument. Today I will share some iPad apps I've found useful to support your preschooler with exploring his/her creativity.

Lego App4+ With this app children collect Lego bricks, construct a vehicle, and drive the vehicle through an obstacle course. On completion of the route they are awarded a Lego puzzle to complete, which is then displayed in the scene they drive through. My little guy has completed this game but continues to play it as he enjoys creating and driving the vehicles. He particularly loves using the siren piece and the helicopter piece! Lego also has a story based Lego Duplo Zoo app which he enjoys playing, and this also has some elements of selection and construction.

Zoo Train Through this app, children play a variety of games. One of these games involves selecting track pieces in order to complete a train track for a mini train to travel on. Another requires children to select the passenger cars for a train and then choose a scene to see it pass through. There is also a musical game, a puzzle game and a word game. Given that it's a train game, it's proven quite popular with my little guy.

Toca Robot Lab This is a fairly simple game that draws on children's creativity. They select the parts to construct a robot and then try to collect stars as they move it through the factory.

Visual arts
Faces iMake This fun app allows you to create a picture using images of everyday objects. I have only recently purchased it, but had some fun designing some faces of my own before my little guy got into it. At the moment the premium version for iPhone has greater functionality than the iPad version (in my opinion) - so hopefully this will be sorted out through updates.

Play School Art Maker Based on the characters from the popular Australian television program Play School. Children can create a scene using a variety of craft materials and add animation by moving items around their scenery. There are also puzzles to be completed. My little guy is just getting started with this app, but loves completing the puzzles. He tries to create videos, but doesn't really understand that he needs to "move the toys and make some noise". I see it as a useful app that will grow with him.


Mozart Interactive This is one of my favourite music apps for kids. Children interact with Mozart's Rondo alla Turca by selecting which musical instruments will be included at key decision points. It's fun and it introduces kids to classical music and the instruments. Also produced by Melody Street LLC is My Musical Friends HD which introduces children to the different instruments of the orchestra.

Little Fox Music Box What a great way to experience three well-known children's songs! I think I 'purchased' this app when it was free, and I have been very happy with it. The song plays, the words scroll, and children interact with the illustrations. I particularly like the use of the seasons for Old McDonald had a Farm and think this is a great talking point with a toddler. Creativity comes into play in the Fox's Music Studio, where children can touch objects to hear their sounds and thus create their own songs.

Toca Band Another favourite of mine, this app is addictive and the songs you create get stuck in your head! In the usual Toca Boca style, you take on the role of conductor and create a band using a collection of characters with their unique sounds. Move the character up the levels to change their tempo and pitch. When this came on sale, we got it on all the iPads at school - and recommended it highly to the teachers! Too much fun!

Songs For Kids As my toddler has only just started singing along to songs, we haven't fully explored this app yet. It features 14 children's songs which children can sing along with and record their singing. The pictures are cute and interactive.

Tap A Tune This is another app new to me, but featured in the 'top' lists. I am yet to introduce this to my little guy. Using this app, children can follow cues to play children's songs and create their own songs.

Of course, this is just a taste of the many creative apps available for iPad. These are the ones that I have discovered to date, and which my two-year-old is using. Please feel free to leave a comment to share your favourites.

Other posts that might interest you:
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #1 Mathematics Concepts
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #2 Alphabet Apps
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #3 Let's Pretend

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tech Tips Tuesday

iPad for Preschoolers #3 Let's Pretend

Some of my little guy's favourite apps are those that allow him to play pretend. He enjoys exploring different roles both in the 'real world' and using technology. We don't set a strict time-frame for screen time (TV, iPad etc) however, we make a point of finding time for other forms of play. The iPad forms only one small aspect of his total play time. In most cases, he would prefer to take down one of his toy boxes and play pretend with actual objects. The iPad version proves most useful when he needs some down-time, or when we are travelling. That said, there are some great apps available which spark the imagination and provide opportunities for children to play pretend and learn while doing so.

Little Charley Bear
This is a simple app and free (at time of writing). It is based on the television program Little Charley Bear which is about a little bear with a big imagination. It contains video segments from the television episodes, with a puzzle challenge mid-way through the shortened episode. I can identify with the narrator in his interactions with Little Charley Bear, and I'm sure my little guy shares the frustrations of Little Charley Bear as the narrator tries to determine the things he is pretending to be/do! My biggest struggle with this app is that it is really just another form of 'watching TV' and while my little guy loves following Little Charley Bear's adventures, it is hard to justify - except as down-time!

Toca Boca Apps
We first discovered Toca Boca through Toca Kitchen Monsters (the lite version of Toca Kitchen) because my little guy loves cooking - both pretend and real. The beauty of these Toca apps is that the children get to cook for someone and see their responses to how it tastes. They select an item from the fridge, prepare it and then serve it. Other apps, such as Baby Chef by, allow children to decorate a meal and photograph it, but it isn't served or eaten. Order Up!! To Go by Chillingo Ltd takes it further than the Toca apps, but is designed for an older audience - thus my little guy needs me to help him with it.
We then tried out Toca Doctor, which allows children to pretend to be a doctor and solve problems to 'fix' the sick person. This involves giving injections, pulling out splinters, cleaning and dressing cuts, removing lice and more!
Toca Store is another of our favourites as we seem to go shopping in the real world on quite a regular basis. This is a great game for two (if you can convince your preschooler to share with you) with one taking on the role of shopper and the other shop keeper. I find it a useful tool for talking about money, numbers and counting as well. My gripe with this app is that if you run out of money, the magic purse winks and gives you more. While I'm sure we would all love a purse like this, it's unfortunately not a reality!
I bought Toca Train as a treat for my little guy, because he SO loves playing with trains. It was a winner! He loves controlling the train, stopping for passengers and reloading the cargo - just as he does when he plays with his wooden train set or Thomas set or Daddy's LEGO trains... (need I go on!)
We got Toca Hair Salon in response to my little guy's reaction to haircuts. We thought that playing with other people's hair might prevent his concerns about having others cut his. We're not quite there yet, but he does enjoy playing with this app and seeing the reactions of his customers when he cuts off all their hair, or sprays it bright colours!
One last app from Toca Boca that is a winner is Helicopter Taxi for iPhone only. It doesn't really qualify for this post, but is worth a mention all the same.

I realise that this post may read as an advertisement for Toca Boca, but this is not the case. They just produce quality products that Preschoolers enjoy. I'd love to see a Toca Builder in the future and maybe a Toca Emergency (eg. Ambulance, Police, Fire Officer).

Have you discovered any similar apps, which provide opportunities for children to role play?

Other posts that might interest you:
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #1 Mathematics Concepts
Tech Tips Tuesday - iPad for Preschoolers #2 Alphabet Apps 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Working Part-time and Sharing a Class

Since my return to work at the end of 2011, I have been working part-time - initially three days, and then four days. Today I want to reflect on my experiences as the fill-in person, and also sharing responsibility of a class.

When I worked three days I was the fill-in person for a Year 3 class, a Year 5/6 class and a Kindergarten class. By "fill-in" I mean the main teacher of the class had them four days in the week and then I did their fifth days either because they worked part-time or because they were acting in a higher duties role. I wasn't required to do much planning for these lessons, but rather just taught and marked book work. For the most part I was given the desired outcomes and sometimes a whole lesson plan. It was a good way to ease back into teaching and to regain confidence in my ability to teach. (I can't believe how much confidence I lost in my ability to do anything but mother - and after only one year!) On the downside, I didn't really build relationships with the kids and I didn't feel excited about what I was teaching - essentially it was someone else's idea.

Key things that help when filling-in

  • speak to the teacher in advance to assist with planning lessons (and thus not over-planning)
  • find ways to present the lesson in a way that is meaningful and enjoyable to you
  • make sure you mark all the work students complete - it is not fair to leave this for their usual teacher
  • use strong behaviour management techniques to avoid students taking advantage of you
  • get to know the students' names quickly and forge relationships where possible

Sharing a Class
In 2012 I worked three days on a Year 4 class sharing with a great teacher and one day on Preschool (2 classes for a half-day each). The shared responsibility on the Year 4 class was such that we split the role as fairly and sensibly as possible. I taught the Maths, ICT and Integrated Inquiry lessons on my days and my co-teacher taught spelling, handwriting, music and art on her days. We both taught reading groups. Splitting the subject areas made it easier for assessing and reporting as well. One thing that made communication easier for us was that my co-teacher was working full time in the school, so I could catch up with her on my days to keep up with what was going on. Something I struggled with, was that I often felt that I wasn't pulling my weight. When I'm the one responsible for completing everything, I get it done - sometimes right before the deadline. My co-teacher however, likes to keep ahead of the game and thus if I hadn't done it yet, she would. I have issues with other people doing my work for me, so I found it hard! I don't like to burden others with my procrastination!

Key things that help when sharing a class:

  • divide up the administrative workload so each knows what is expected and when
  • communicate - in person where possible, through email, or in a communication book
  • try to avoid teaching the other teacher's follow up lesson or leaving the follow-up for the other teacher 
  • be prepared to compromise - neither of you can run the classroom entirely they way you would on your own
  • leave the desk/classroom tidy at the end of the day - perhaps have just one pile on the desk for books/papers that are being used regularly, share shelf space for resources.
  • mark and assess on the work you teach
  • meet with parents together as much as possible so that each knows what has been discussed and can contribute own perspective

So for 2013 I have been given four days on the one class, with another teacher doing my fifth day. I'm really looking forward to being the main teacher responsible for the class including full reports, parent contact etc. I'm planning to leave the "fill-in" teacher with journal, handwriting, and other subjects that require minimal assessment/reporting. I'm really looking forward to diving back into it all.

What experiences have others had when working part time or sharing a class?

The Year That Was - 2012

Waiting for a train
I realise I've missed the boat a little on this one, but I had it half-written at the end of the year and just needed to return to it to add the finishing touches (photos, links etc)

January - Enjoyed the summer holidays and my flourishing veggie patch. Had a great bunch of basil, sweet juicy corn and more beans than I could keep up with. My tomatoes struggled because we had too much rain and the plants were infected with fungal disease. Took a simple family trip to Sydney to show the little guy some new sights and experiences!

Term One - Returned to work for a new school year teaching a Year 4 class three days a week and Preschool one day a week. Revisited the Rowan of Rin unit of work I taught previously and enjoyed the greater availability of both video cameras and laptop computers this time around. Also began using CARS for assessing and teaching comprehension strategies.

Struggled a little initially as I tried to determine what "Penny the preschool teacher" entailed. As it turned out, I was trying to squeeze too much into the day and over thinking things. Came up with a plan to simplify in Term 2.

My professional development focus was on the Quality Teaching model. I was a little disappointed to miss out on some other PD opportunities due to working part time or lack of available time in the evenings due to being a mum of a toddler. I have the passion and desire, but no time!

Holidays - prepped my veggie patch for my first winter crop which resulted in great garlic and onions come summer - but spinach and Asian greens were unsuccessful. It felt like the garden just froze until spring! Enjoyed Easter and had our first egg hunt with the little guy in the backyard.

Term 2 - Taught a Year 4 geology unit of work and, towards the end of term, started an Australian History unit. As we were using the new Australian curriculum, much of the content was new to me and I needed to do a bit of research in order to understand and explain how volcanoes/mountains etc are formed. In ICT lessons we began to explore responsible digital citizenship within our system's online learning community. Students began designing their homepage and wrote a blog entry.

At the Preschool I taught fundamental motor skills - catching, kicking, balancing, running, jumping. This meant I no longer had to organize table activities for the students and gather the materials. It made for a more relaxed day. The morning group also partnered up with their Year 4 buddies for activities on a fortnightly basis.

Holidays - Spent time preparing for our big trip to the USA.

Term 3 - We finished the Australian History unit and began a Technology unit involving textiles - my favourite Year 4 unit. Students learned new skills in sewing, knitting, crochet, macrame etc. For their main assessment task, they designed and made a gardening pouch.

The Preschool fundamental motor skills program continued as did the buddies program.

Holidays - I took long service leave for the last week of term and my family travelled to the USA to see friends on the West Coast. During this time we visited San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma, Portland, and Seattle.

Term 4 - This term got a little messed around with sickness. There were some weeks where we bounced from Matthew being sick, to me being sick, and back to Matthew being sick again. Despite being vaccinated, he managed to catch a mild dose of chicken pox, during which time I decided to toilet train him! It was time well spent!

When I did manage to get back to class, we were very focused on getting assessment and moderation completed and reports written. We finished off our Technology unit and saw the year out with a range of craft activities.

At the Preschool, I ran an ICT program to introduce students to the basics of using the computer lab. They logged onto the network and brought up the Maths Circus program from a Maths Activities folder. The key fine motor skills they learnt were coordinating ctrl + alt + del and double-clicking with a mouse. They enjoyed playing the Maths Circus games, modifying the difficulty level and sharing their achievements with their friends. At the end of the lesson they closed down the program and logged off the computer. Basic skills - but essential. I was really proud to see how far they came over the term and to know that their Kindergarten teacher has no excuse for not taking them to the lab now!

It was a good year all 'round, and I'm looking forward to what the next one has in store. Happy New Year all!