May 1, 2013 — Art & Craft, Environmental Education, Inquiry, Literacy Tagged art, children, craft, creativity, environment, lesson, The Lorax
This term our Level 3 Inquiry topic is “How does science help us understand the human impact on the land?” We were initially going to say “…on the environment?” but some teachers in the team felt this was too broad. Personally, as a teacher who has just started experimenting with Genius Hour, I felt “land” was a bit limiting. Plenty of time to work on that!
I love to start off a new unit with some kind of story, either a traditional book, audio book, short video… something visual to hook the class in. In the past I have always used The Lorax as a hook for an environment unit, but had to thin carefully about it this time given the recent movie release. I wanted the class to really take in the message of the story, not just to be comparing it to the movie.
I found the old original clip and we watched and discussed it. We spent a bit of time discussing how scientists might have helped, or what they would do (measure pollution, count the endangered animals, treat the water, find ways to make ‘fake’ truffula tufts, etc).
One thing that really stick with the student was the Lorax’s comment that he spoke “for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” They began to discuss what the trees would say if they could speak for themselves, and this display was born. Another class is adding their own truffula trees, so it’s not quite done yet!
A growing forest of truffula trees
It doesn’t escape me that this display, speaking for the trees, is made of paper. However we made sure to use recycled paper, and the girls already have plans to re-recycle when we are done!
How have you used the Lorax for Environmental Education? What is your favourite environmental story?
April 27, 2013 — Classroom, Genius Hour Tagged 1:1, children, creativity, engagement, genius hour, interest, lesson, passion, students, teacher
We display this sign on our IWB and our classroom door during Genius Hour
Yesterday we had our second Genius Hour session. The class has been buzzing about it all week and I was excited myself. Now that we had the initial questions, where would these take my students? Where might a question about the history of salami finally end up?!
Overall, I would say the session was wonderful. The students were engaged, interested and passionate about what they were doing. We began the session with a class meeting, everyone had their Learning Journals and their questions from last week and our Genius Hour sign was on the board. We took a couple of minutes just to talk to those around us about what our question was and why we were interested in this topic – the energy rose immediately as students remembered what had got them interested in the first place.
A mind map of interests and some initial questions – about Salami!
As we settled down to the serious business of research, we had a chat about plagiarism, recapping what we had already talked about previously. We also took a look at the great info on KidsHealth. At this grade level, all our school requires is a bibliography, so we talked about how to set it out.
As I watched the students at work, listening to their conversations and enjoying their enthusiasm, a number of issues started to become apparent. Questioning, research skills and thinking stamina are the main challenges I can foresee.
Firstly, many students have no real concept of following a line of questioning. Their initial questions were very limited and once they had a date, or a name, they felt they were finished. I conferenced with some of these students, modelling deeper questioning and we were able to move on but I can see that a lot of work is needed in this area. To my great delight, I heard other students having these same conversations, one went something like this:
Student 1: Do you know I’m finished my Genius Hour?
Student 2: Already? How?!
Student 1: Oh, I just found the guy’s name who found out about volcanoes and why they explode.
Student 2: Wow. Who was he? Was he famous? Did he find other stuff? Which volcanoes did he find? How did he know? Did he go in one? (The excitement in her voice as she thought of all these questions was adorable!)
Student 1: …I dunno. I just know his name.
Student 2: Well, that hardly makes you a Genius does it? Do you think you would be able to find out something else about him?
Student 1: Yeah, I guess…
I made it a point to come back to this student 10 minutes or so later, to check in on his progress. He was full of excitement about how he was going to make models showing what people thought about volcanoes through history and how we learned about them, and how much more research he had to do – completely different to what I had overheard minutes before.
A little research and a lot of cooperation!
We finished with another class chat, students sharing the most interesting things they had found that day with those around them, and what they were thinking about doing with their information. I’m being very careful to tell them that while they are finding their information they might change their minds a few times about what they want to do. Here are some of our ideas so far:
* Creating an emotive piece of art
* Making models of volcanoes
* A model of the ‘perfect’ restaurant
* Designing a ball gown
* A poster of original StarWars movie character designs
* An interactive game about anatomy
* A presentation about quantum physics
I am already looking forward to next Friday!
April 21, 2013 — 1 to 1, Classroom, Genius Hour, ICT in the Classroom Tagged genius hour, learning, teaching
I spent a huge amount of time in the recent holiday break researching ways to innovate my teaching and one concept that kept coming up over and again was that of “Genius Hour.” It sounded so interesting that I had to find out more.
There are a great number of people on twitter who share their #geniushour experiences, and this was where I started asking most of my questions. I was directed to a number of very helpful educators, especially @JoyKirr and @gallit_z, along with excellent web resources such as this Genius Hour LiveBinder, a great Genius Hour wiki and Gallit Zvi’s own blog, Integrating Technology.
The result of all this research was an overwhelming desire to get back to school right away so I could introduce genius Hour to my students. I already knew that may of them had passionate interests I had tried to incorporate and encourage through our inquiry and ‘free’ writing sessions, but this had the potential to be so much more meaningful, so much much more exciting!
When sending out my Week One planner to parents and students during the last week of the holidays, I blocked out the time on Friday and just added the label Genius Hour. Right away I received DMs on Edmodo from students asking “What is Genius Hour?” and I kept them talking about it all week. What did they think it was, what might it be? (As an aside, the most disappointing possibility raised by a student was that genius Hour might be a chance to study for our upcoming NAPLAN standardised tests!)
So, Friday came around, I was still just as excited as the students. I had seen lots of posts showing what students had come up with in other classes, but not a lot about how to start it all off, so we talked about what a genius is (students’ definition) and what were some of the things that they were really interested in that other people might not know about. We then spent 10-15 minutes in silence to brainstorm these ideas. I felt that this silent thinking time was important as I wanted students to really focus on their own thinking, not that of their friends. Following this, they were able to share lists with their friends and this was where they started formulating questions. I am hoping that over a couple of weeks of questioning and investigating, students will find something that they can build on to investigate, design, develop or present. At this stage, I am happy to give them the whole term (11 weeks) for their projects, but I have a feeling some students may cover a couple of projects in this time.
Students currently have 5 or 6 questions listed in their learning journals beside their initial brainstorms and I asked them to chose the one or two that they felt were the most important or the ‘main idea’ to share on Padlet. Super impressed with what they came up with. Even those questions that on first glance seem quite simple “When was the t-rex alive?” are quite an achievement for those students.
This is where Genius Hour starts
Super excited to see what happens next week!
April 2, 2013 — 1 to 1, ICT in the Classroom, Literacy Tagged 1 to 1, 1:1, back to school, brainstorm, brainstorming, break, creativity, environment, ICT, inquiry, lesson, lessons, Padlet, questioning, Tagxedo, think, thinking, word cloud, Wordle
I am really looking forward to starting a new inquiry unit after the Easter break and having a whole lot of new tech in my students’ hands. All the tools that I have struggled to use effectively will be so much more meaningful when students can access them simultaneously and much more regularly. To get us started, I’ll be looking at how to use the new ultrabooks to support our existing procedures.
An old favourite for the beginning of a new unit is a word wall or wonder wall which can be added to or reflected upon as the unit progresses. I am really looking forward to using Padlet for this purpose. For those who have never used Padlet, the best way I can describe it is an interactive digital noticeboard. You can set your board to private or board, students can add text, links, videos or pictures on any topic you wish. By posing our inquiry question to the students, they can add their current understandings. I am interested to see how much further the class can take their ideas when they are not slowed down by taking turns and waiting for me to transcribe their answers! Here’s our blank wall (the question is the same for all classes):
Our blank Padlet wall, ready for student input!
To get us going with our topic word lists, I am going to ask students or small groups to use Tagxedo. This outstanding application is a step up from the word clouds that old favourite Wordle can create. The main difference with Tagxedo is that you can choose shapes for your word clouds. I’m thinking of dividing the class into groups and giving each a different habitat/biome and asking them to come up with as many words as they can, rather than the usual alphabetical lists. Here’s an example from the Tagxedo gallery:
A Tagxedo world cloud about African Elephants.
I am really interested to see where this goes. There is much potential here for students to really challenge their thinking.
What are some of your favourite beginning of the term activities? Please share them in the comments!
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March 24, 2013 — ICT in the Classroom Tagged 1:1, Edmodo, edtech, elearning, ICT, lessons, multi age, multi grade, netbooks, pinterest, students, support, teacher, twitter, ultrabooks
I am only relatively new to blogging, and still finding my way as I go.
Over the coming weeks you will notice a change in focus here, from mostly random general teacher chat to something a little more focused on the ICT changes taking place at our school.
I will find myself in the odd situation of having 8 NEW ultrabooks in my class, the first time in my 10 years at this school that new classroom tech has been purchased. I’ll be gladly handing in my dusty old desktops, relishing the new-found extra classroom space and trying to work out a way of integrating all the things I have longed to include in our daily learning routine.
A group of students crowded around a group of desktops will soon be a thing of the past in our classroom.
I also have another big change to come, in a further 12 weeks from now, half my class will move on to a 1:1 program. I have a multi-age/grade 3/4 class and our year 4-6 students are going 1:1. Effectively this means that my year 3s, with the 8 ultrabooks at their disposal, will have a 1:2 ratio. Not so bad after years of 1:6.
So stay tuned, I’ll be sharing many of the trials and tribulations along the way. And not just in the classroom. I am the ICT coordinator for the school, so I am the one organising all of this for ALL the other classes!
I am starting to get things together on Edmodo, twitter and Pinterest, so if you are interested, look me up
And here’s my question for you: If you were to introduce a 1:1 scheme into your school or class, what is the FIRST thing you would do once the students had the tech in their hands?
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February 17, 2013 — Art & Craft, Classroom Tagged art, circus, craft, creativity, elephant
As part of our Back to School theme, we have been turning our classroom into a Circus Big Top. We have a clown juggling our monitor jobs, an elephant to tell us what noise level we should be working at, Clown Faces on the door to introduce ourselves… and creatively designed paper elephants.
All students were given the same instructions. Use any or all of the shapes, in any way you wish, to make an elephant. Only one rule- you cannot alter the shape in any way (not cutting parts off, out, etc). here is what they were given.
Being a new class, I was interested in the type of questions they asked and the amount of creativity the students were willing (or able) to express. The first questions were as predicted -
“Do I have to use all the shapes?”
“Which way does the paper/elephant have to face?”
“Do I have to make the whole body?”
“Can I cut this part off?”
I am always interested when starting the school year to see the limits that previous teachers have placed on students’ creativity. You know, “You can draw anything you want, but it must look like this…” And I am always amazed how fearful some children become when given the freedom to make their own choices.
“Can I colour the elephant?”
“Yes, of course you can. Any colour you like.”
“So… can I colour it pink?”
“But… can I draw spots on it?”
“You can decorate your elephant any way you like!”
And with constant encouragement you see the look of skepticism (surely if I make my elephant have red stripes the teacher will tell me off?) change to one of excitement.
The students did a great job. Here are some of my favourites.
If you would like to give it a go, here is the file. Enjoy!
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February 17, 2013 — Back to School, Classroom, Homework, Literacy, Numeracy Tagged homework, literacy, students, teacher
It’s that time of year. Most of the class routines have been set up and it’s time for the first weekly homework task to be distributed. At this stage it is more about setting up the routine than the actual content, but I still want it to be worthwhile.
I work in a school that has a very specific homework policy. It clearly sets out what students and parents at each level should expect to see as homework tasks. Our level takes it one step further, with every teacher setting the same homework for all the four classes. I have never been comfortable with this. I would much rather vary homework tasks to suit the needs and interests of my class. Yes, students have individual spelling and maths based on their ability. But what about research questions? Why should every child in the class what to research the same topic? And why should I have to read 27 answers cut-and-pasted from google?
Students, and parents, seem to fall into two distinct groups when it comes to homework.
The first group are never satisfied, they always want more. More spelling words, more maths sheets – and that’s all they want, worksheets to be completed, no investigations, no research, just plain old question and answer. I usually answer requests for further homework with suggestions of alternatives, read a newspaper article and write about what you learned, read to a younger brother or sister, write a letter to your grandparents, research a favourite topic and make a poster… anything BUT another homework sheet!
The second group will struggle every week to submit the tasks. Parents come into the classroom telling me the homework isn’t done because they watched a movie, it was the sisters birthday, they went to visit gran, they have sports training, they have language school or tutoring homework… the list goes on. These families have a thousand reasons NOT to do school homework. They don’t value the tasks and they don’t see that besides the skills practice homework sets up valuable routines for later schooling when time must be carefully managed and demands of life prioritised – you just can’t watch that movie if your unfinished essay is due the next day.
Then there is the timing of homework. Ours goes out Monday and is due Friday. School work is for the school week and we want students to be free to enjoy the weekends with their families. This is part of our school policy. Parents from both groups want homework on weekends so that their child is busy ‘learning’ every day.
What do you think about homework? Do you set it? Why? What does it consist of? What questions do you have about the merit or value of the concept as a whole? How involved does your school get?
January 19, 2013 — Back to School Tagged back to school, break, cope, familiarity, holiday, lessons, routine, support, teacher
The countdown to the first day of school is well and truly on, only 10 days till the school year starts!
As I am looking through my notes, spending the last days of my holidays preparing for the year ahead, I find that the familiar routines of school – literacy lessons, maths rotations and the like, take some of the fear away.
Sure I am teaching a new year level, and will be looking at 27 faces I have only ever noticed in passing… but I know how to do this! I can run a literacy lesson based on CAFE literacy and I can teach maths using open ended questioning and investigation rather than depending on photocopied worksheets.
What are the routines and structures in your daily teaching that you find reassuring?
January 16, 2013 — Back to School Tagged back to school, break, sale
Just a quick note to say that I have a 10% off Back to School sale starting tomorrow. It runs for four days and includes all my back to school materials. Don’t miss out!
For those of you still dreading the start of the school year – enjoy your last 2 weeks of holidays!!
January 14, 2013 — Back to School Tagged australia, back to school, break, colleagues, help, holiday, students, summer, teacher
How is it that those three words can fill me with such dread, and excitement, in equal measure?
I am going into a new level – year3/4 after teaching in 5/6 for the last 4 years, and I will be working with a completely new team. New in the sense that the five of us have never worked together, but I have worked with 3 of these teachers in other teams, and all 3 of them made my life hell – so there is another battle to prepare for!
However, having been off work with an injury sustained on school camp, I have had lots of planning time available to me, and I feel like I have the whole term planned out. Of course, I know that nothing in a school ever goes to plan, but it is nice to have that feeling of preparedness.
I have been preparing all the start-of-year materials that I would normally just make on the fly – so I hope my classroom might look a little more organised chaos this year!
It is really important to me that students are aware of the routines and expectations of the classroom right away, so I have prepared all my posters, thinking charts, etc to help us work through this.
And because I know many others out there are struggling with that balance between admitting summer holidays are almost over, and the need to start thinking about school again – all the materials I have been creating are on my TpT store…some of them are even FREE!
What is it that you find most difficult about the last few weeks of summer break?