Sunday, 23 December 2012

Money Money Money

It seems fitting that in a class with a rabid avid ABBA fan that one of the two maths topics I had to cover was money. Even more fitting is that one of the concepts we needed to talk about was money around the world...
Money, money, money. Makes the world go 'round.

The concepts on the table were that money is a decimal system and that different countries use different currencies (but that they too are mostly decimal systems) and making purchases and change to the nearest 5 cents.

I discovered early in the process (within three minutes of opening the discussion) that most of my students (years 3 and 4) didn't understand the concept of money itself. Of course, they understood how to use it, but not that money is a medium of exchange with a representative value. It's actually a very abstract concept that takes a little mental gymnastics to grasp. Luckily for me YouTube abounds with funny, and quick, clips about the history of money that explain it visually.

The class comprises children from a wide range of countries and so our discussions moved fairly naturally into the currencies of their home countries.  Gotta love those moments of classroom serendipity!  Follow up learning involved handling foreign currencies, exploring their shared and different characteristics and searching a world map for their origins.

The currency we were using has been collected over a number of years from my, my family's and friends' adventures.  One of my favourite teaching moments so far has been the look on a student's face when she picked up a banknote and realised that, like her, it was Mongolian. To watch her move around the room showing  her classmates made me feel like I'd won the lottery because, ladies and gentlemen, that made all the abstract, conceptual, airy fairy talk about money MEAN something to every child in the room. Five minutes later we had a rerun with another student with Fijian money. Woot woot!

Here's a quick question for you... Which country has ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS printed on the rim of its coins (as being examined in the photo on right about)?

Being so close to Christmas opportunities to practise purchasing and making change were plentiful. My local department store generously provided me with a class set of catalogues from which each student wrote an unrestrained (and almost invariably obscenely huge) wishlist. For many of the children the challenge lay in tallying their items' costs because it was their first experience adding decimals. (Calculators were well used!) The funniest part (for me at least) came when I later gave them each a budget of roughly half their individual original price tally and they had to modify their wish list and tell me how much change they'd get from their budgeted amount. Ha! Yes, I am that mean!

Following this we planned a class market. As a class we designed a currency - recalling the shared characteristics of the foreign currencies and that it needed to be a decimal system - and formed sales units. Each sales unit designed and produced a small paper based Christmas product (i.e. cards, wrapping paper, note pads, gift tags, post cards) and set a price point. (Four of the five groups discovered the efficiencies of a production line which resulted in some pretty challenging conversations.)  Each child received a small payment and trade opened. Some stalls sold out while others struggled but... Everyone bought and sold something, several somethings actually! Our neighbour teacher came to do some Christmas shopping also which pleased the children immensely.

At the end of the day, the lessons learnt were many and varied. Perhaps the most interesting - particularly at this time of endless retail torture therapy - was that it's hard to work behind a sales desk making change and keeping up with customers' demands. I wonder if that experience will stay with them?

Friday, 21 December 2012

LOVE this calendar!

I have NO affiliation with this company but have completely fallen in love with this calendar. All of the images are children's book illustrations. They are beautiful! Imagine this in your classroom? Or even at home!  (To make it even better, it's formatted in such a way that when you're done with the calendar you can easily re-purpose the image in a 5*7 frame.)

It comes as a digital file for you to download and print as you wish. I plan to take mine to that local office superstore that I won't name (but may have gone weak at the knees at the idea of visiting a time or two) and have it printed professionally.

Go grab one for yourself from My Little Bookcase.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Possible (if not overly successful) cycles of life

Our science topic to finish off the year was life cycles.  The curriculum standard says 'living things have life cycles' which is pretty explicit wonderfully broad and allowed for plenty of creativity in our classroom learning programme. We looked at both a conceptual understanding of life cycles and an experiential understanding with several live examples in the classroom.

Our investigation took us from the ubiquitous butterfly through silkworms, frogs, chickens and humans to peas, beans and sunflowers. We drew life cycles, we labelled life cycles, we wrote about life cycles, we created life cycle art and we observed life cycles.

We tried to hatch silkworms from eggs. Tried. And for about three hours were mildly successful: three eggs hatched and for a very brief period we were able to watch the tiniest caterpillars any of us had ever seen munch away (on the mulberry leaves my husband delivered upon taking my frantic "one's hatched!" phone call) before they curled up and dropped off the mortal coil.  Whilst not the most effective of demonstrations in terms of life cycles, it was a great opportunity to discuss science as a human endeavour and the scientific inquiry process. Not all experiments succeed - and that outcome is, in itself, a result to be analysed and evaluated.

For some reason everyone loved handling them.
Kinda creeped me out though!
We also kept mealworms, with limited success. My research lead me to believe that mealworms are SUPER EASY to keep and will change into meal beetles within three weeks. They are, but they didn't. Term finished a week ago but I'm still waiting. If you live in Adelaide and want to go fishing anytime soon, look me up: I've got bait for you!

It wasn't all doom and gloom though. One of the other classes in our school was incubating chicken eggs. We kept track of those and were there to see the chicks the day they hatched.

Planting the peas.
We planted peas and whilst didn't have time to watch them through to flowering, we did watch them right through germination.

We planted the peas in empty CD cases. As they germinated we were able to see both the roots as they moved downwards and the shoots as they grew upwards.We set them in the window to grow, the case acted as a mini glasshouse and we saw AMAZINGLY quick growth.

The children took great pride in the growth of 'their' pea and went to great efforts to keep them watered. (Removing the CD insert leaves a narrow empty band on one side of the case which enables watering with a pipette/syringe.)

Looking out of our window.

Looking in our window.

Day 1.

Day 21.

Check out this pin to see where I found the idea.  (Loooove Pinterest!)

The culminating activities for this unit of work were a double page spread magazine article (for a local science magazine for children) and a whole class game show. I have to say... I think I learnt almost as much about life cycles as the children did.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Cough, cough. I'm getting there.

OK, so I've been a tad quiet missing for a couple of weeks thanks to a delightful bout of some unnamed virus that masqueraded as whooping cough. Fortunately (for everyone) it wasn't whooping cough and after nearly three weeks I'm finally on the mend.  I've learnt a few things these past few weeks:
  • Children have a sixth sense about their teacher's voice and grow quiet to watch it disappear.
  • As soon as it's gone they make up for the loss by increasing the volume of their own voices.
  • Children's empathy and concern for illness in others is matched only by their need to remind everyone that coughing and hacking is 'gross'. (They're correct, of course, but the constant refrain of 'ew' everytime I turn blue from coughing is not overly helpful.)
  • Creative writing  (or not so creative, which in our case meant dictation straight from a novel) soothes the savage beasts has a calming effect on children.
  • My tolerance for noise is distinctly lower after four nights of broken sleep, and almost imperceptible after five. (Good thing a school week has only five days!)
  • Small group work sounds like a good idea for a teacher with little to no vocal range, except when all of the students are working in small groups and the associated noise, whilst full of rich learning discussions, is slightly higher than the five sleepless nights can tolerate. 
  • My class works well while listening to quiet music: their previous teacher taught them that if she couldn't hear the music, they were too loud.  (Thanks Mrs. Jane!)
  • It's OK to not plan every moment 100% thoroughly. Feeling like death warmed up has meant I've not planned quite as meticulously as I'd generally like to BUT by keeping my eye on the goals and intended outcomes has enabled me to plan  loosely but carefully. I'm still reflecting but aside from a few organisational hiccoughs (not having appropriate resources because I was slow off the mark before school and didn't collect them) I'm pretty happy with how we've traveled. I'll let you know as I reflect more.
A day off didn't kill me. I thought it might. Genuinely. I took only one day off  (and that had to be forced by my husband and a visit to hospital) and suffered through it feeling guilty and anxious. I needn't have. My class was shared by the principal (!) and a good friend so they were in great hands. And if they'd copped a shabby reliever? They would have coped. And so would have I.

So. I'm feeling somewhat better... 

Look out world, there's only a week and a half of school left from which I intend to squeeze as much as I possibly can. I wonder if my class realises that we're working right up until the end of the last day?

Using Evernote to capture a student using a
particular strategy during maths stations.
On another, related but different, note... Isn't technology wonderful? This isn't exactly groundbreaking news but these last few weeks have reinforced for me the value of technology: both in the classroom and for me as a professional. Just by way of a quick example, I've been using my tablet to snap photos of the kids as they work. I have the Evernote widget on my tablet which enables me to upload the photos directly to a notebook - either for that particular student or for the particular project.Using Skitch I can directly annotate the photos to point out exactly what I'm trying to capture. Or I can record the children's discussions and upload that directly to their folders. Love. It. Professionally I'm forming a network of other professionals to whom I'm linked on Twitter (and elsewhere) and from whom I am constantly learning. Whether they realise it or not, this quasi-PLN has kept me company (and interested) through many nights when sleep was not an option. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Shoot for the stars...

Did you know that Uranus and Neptune are blue - in part - because of cow fart (methane) gas? No, neither did I until I discovered it with my class of 5 and 6 year olds a couple of weeks ago. It's amazing what you can learn with kids leading the adventure!

The other thing I didn't know about space until just a few weeks before that particular life changing discovery is that space (in the blue fart gas giants sense) doesn't feature in the ACARA  content descriptors until Year 3 and then again in Year 5. And so what does an intrepid space explorer do?

Well...After a bit of hyperventilation and a good swig of a lovely Clare Valley shiraz I decided that I would use space as a carrier for the 'Science as a Human Endeavour' and 'Science Inquiry Skills' strands. And in case you were wondering, this meant working towards these descriptors:
Science as a Human Endeavour
Nature and development of science: Science involves exploring and observing the world using the senses 
Science Inquiry Skills
Questioning and predicting: Respond to questions about familiar objects and events
Planning and conducting: Explore and make observations by using the senses
Processing and analysing data and information: Engage in discussions about observations and use methods such as drawing to represent ideas
Communicating: Share observations and ideas
My unit plan grew around these goals. The topic could have been gyprock or giraffe mating habits but... Well... I don't know much about the first and, to be honest, even less about the second, so space  seemed like a pretty safe option. 

I collected a whole pile of books (yes, the old school style ones with pages that can - and do - rip), some charts, some posters, a load of youtube clips, some models, some blow up globes, a lot of space stickers, a lovely quilted wall hanging featuring photos of space, my very special hand painted space shoes (they're amazing - go check out the artist's blog entry about them ) and set them out in front of the class and asked what they  already knew about space.
"Space holds up the moon!"
"There are asteroids in space, but mainly in earth."
"The sun has grey spots on it where it goes out until someone lights it again."
"There are planets on earth and the sun is in space."
"The sun goes down into the ocean at night." 
You get the idea. Following this we worked with some Grade 5 and 6 students to explore the books and charts before deciding, as a class, that we wanted to explore the space around earth - which I expanded to mean the solar system. We decided on some questions we wanted to answer about each planet and 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1! Blast off! We became space explorers.

As you can imagine it's a little hard to use your senses to explore space in a particular meaningful way and so I had to get a little creative. We held 'moon' rocks, and tried to land on a gas giant by jumping into the air in the playground. We compared the number of moons of each planet. We all span around the sun to understand day and night and drew great big orbit rings on the carpet to follow to understand why the further away from the sun the longer the orbit takes.  We learnt that some planets' days are longer than than their years - and how that related to our spinning and orbiting.

We created a journal of our explorations. Each day we visited a new planet - we knew the way because we learnt a 'cool' rap early in our exploration - and created a page for our journals. Each child chose what to include in their own journal and I helped with vocabulary and spelling.  (The literacy component of the whole thing was quite astounding - I was stunned at the writing achievements.) We ordered planets and we made a space display of our favourite facts. We sang, we danced and generally lived it up as space explorers.

Did we meet the goals though? Did we explore and observe with our senses? Definitely (even our sense of smell was involved once we learnt about Uranus and Neptune)! Did we respond to questions about familiar objects and events? Not only did we respond but we posed questions. Did we plan and conduct inquiry? Yes, with all of our senses. Did we discuss our observations and represent ideas? All day! (I think I owe some parents an apology for their children's latest obsession!)  Did we share ideas? Um... yes. Yes we did.

At the end of the day the children proudly took home a completed Space Exploration Journal and a whole range of science experiences. I probably learnt almost as much about space as they did but more importantly I learnt valuable lessons about teaching Science as a Human Endeavour and Science Inquiry Skills and about myself as a teacher. Onwards and upwards... Shoot for the stars and all that jazz.

Did I mention how much fun we had?

Monday, 12 November 2012


This whole teaching caper is rather exhausting. In fact I'd probably go further and say there are times when it's overwhelmingly so.

Part of my problem is that I want too much. I want to plan amazing, engaging and rich learning activities. I want to deliver a learning plan with shape, purpose and fun. I want to create meaningful and aesthetically pleasing  resources. I want to read everything that comes across my desk. I also want to keep my desk clear so that when, no if, I get the chance to sit at it I can actually work there. I want to talk to the other teachers and learn from their experiences. I want to reflect on my practice more. I want to learn to document better. I want to use more of the amazing things I'm learning from the people I'm starting to follow on twitter (look me up: @MarkeetaRP) and other places. I want to sit and chat with my kids (the ones at home too). I want to spend time with my new husband. I want to maintain and build my relationships with friends - old and new. I want to use some of the hundreds of cook books on my shelf. I want to finally unpack (since I moved in July). I want to go to bed before midnight. I want... I want... Oh.

I want to do it all. And I'm trying. Maybe it's not the teaching caper that's so exhausting after all?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Swings and roundabouts

Today I used a (pretty plain and in dire need of some design remediation) powerpoint presentation to work through the language of chance with my class. (Any tips on good powerpoint presentations will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!) Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I was inordinately excited by this idea and woke this morning unable to think of anything else. In fact, my excitement reached such levels that even I could foresee imminent disappointment.

However... The big guy in the staffroom in the sky had other plans and my presentation worked! For nearly an hour we worked through the language of chance and here's the exciting part: the children were all engaged and laughing the whole time! Yep! All 20 of them! We used the IWB, their books, mini whiteboards and a whole load of silly ideas mixed in with some pretty deep learning. Happy dance! 

We followed this lesson with a really casual quiz on life cycles. The children 'competed' (in teams) by writing their answers to multiple choice questions on whiteboards and then 'defending' their choices. As a formative assessment task it worked very well (I kept notes on who was unclear on which concepts) and as a learning task it was even better: the children were engaged, applying their understandings, discussing and debating their answers and - quite comically - hording information to pull out for later questions. Another happy dance! (Who needs the gym when I can get this much exercise just enjoying my job?)

And later we practised our end of year performance piece. *Sigh* Kids. Rap. End of the day. New teacher. 'Nuff said?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Classroom Experiments

Yesterday I moved in with the class with whom I am to spend the rest of the year. The class' long term teacher is counting down the days until she becomes a first time mother and the children are grieving her departure. She has left me a lovely group of children with a broad range of abilities, interests and temperaments. So... my thanks to her!

And so... It's not my classroom BUT I'm not handing it back to anyone so it's more mine than the other two have been. Yay! Let the fun experiments learning begin!

I'm really proud of some of the work my last class did and will share that soon but I'm incredibly excited about what I'm doing with my new class. I've been reading, viewing and listening to a flood of inspirational educators recently and I'm adopting what I can into my own practice. Let me share just one:

Professor Dylan Wiliam is a 'teaching guru' who, amongst other things, argues that we can improve student engagement and success without spending squillions of dollars and has a whole toolkit of ideas to do so. BBC2 made a two part documentary about some of these ideas which is an easy but engaging way to spend a couple of hours. Some of his ideas are of the 'd'oh,why didn't I think of that?' kind, and others are a little more inspired.  I've taken three of these ideas and tweaked them.

My new class has already learnt that during class discussions we don't raise our hands unless to ask a question. I have all of their names on 'lollipop sticks' (actually they're tongue depressors because they're bigger and I don't have to strain to read the names, oh... and it's what we had in the art cupboard!) and every child needs to be prepared for every question or point. Everyone is engaged and thinking all the time. It's not just the usual kids with the answers raising their hands that have airtime but everyone. I LOVE this way of working. I'm also making a huge effort to listen to the answer and pull another name to give feedback/add to the answer/question the answer rather than simply say 'yes, great answer'. So much great thinking and discussion coming from just this change.

As the class is new to me, I didn't know everyone's name. I provided a simple template and some scrabble letters for them to cut & paste (that was purely because I liked the look and I needed something easy to read) onto a triangular prism folded name plaque. The other two sides have the words "I'd like some help please' and 'I understand!' printed on them. (This is a MAJOR tweak from an idea to use three coloured cups to indicate understanding.) While the children work at their desk they move their name plaque to the appropriate sign OR during direct instruction I ask them to hold up their plaques. I can then pull small groups who need help while the others move forward independently. I'm not sure who more loves this idea: me or the children.

Mini whiteboards are the best classroom tool! Today the students used them while they were working in pairs to show me the outcome of their discussion; individually to show me their understanding of a particular term; and in small groups to show me a life cycle diagram. Having the whiteboards held up for me to glance around the room meant I can quickly gauge understanding and better direct the rest of my instruction. LOVE IT!

Another work I'm enjoying at the moment is Harry Wong's First Days of School which prompted me to put together a powerpoint presentation with (just about) everything I wanted my class to know about me and my expectations. It set a great tone and there have been very few surprises for them as we've moved forward.

And forward we are moving. Forward with our experiments learning.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


All through my education studies we, as undergrads, were told how hard it was going to be for us to secure employment as teachers. The message driven home was that unless we were prepared to move to the outer boondocks we'd be extremely lucky to work in anything close to a fulltime capacity for quite a while after graduation. Like a lot that we heard at uni, this little gem of (mis)information was not particularly helpful or relevant to me.

I finished my studies in July, registered as a teacher a couple of days later and started work - as a temporary relief teacher - the following week. Since that first day the total number of days outside of school holidays and weekends that I've not worked is two. Two days in over a term. Not bad for an inexperienced newbie who thought she'd be lucky to work one or two days a week!

I stumbled into a school which was rather keen to find new blood (in the relief teacher sense). On my 5th day of teaching they offered me a two week position which later extended to six weeks. Another four week position followed and then another six week position. All back to back, and all in the same school. I realise that this is not the standard experience of a new teacher BUT... BUT... It is my experience and I love it! After all the years of studying and looking forward to being in my own classroom... I LOVE IT!

Whilst I don't technically have my own classroom yet because I'm minding other people's classes I am teaching in the same classroom with the same children for extended periods. Finally I am IN THE CLASSROOM.