Sunday, 14 July 2013

Alphabet posters

I had a contract earlier this year with, as I mentioned last time, a group of wonderful 5 year old people. I walked into this class with no background knowledge other than 'their regular teacher was away on a cruise and the teacher originally booked to cover this period had a family tragedy and was, at the last minute, unable to take the class'. I had all of one day to prepare so our first day together was a whirlwind of formative assessment couched as getting to know you activities.

I'll admit that I found my first day in this class terrifying! Aside from walking in with only generic plans (and feeling woefully under-prepared), these children had already experienced a week of a relief teacher and come from a community that doesn't welcome strangers particularly readily.  Let's just say that they didn't share my enthusiasm for getting to know each other. And why should they? They already knew each other!

That being said, we pretty quickly settled into a routine of morning literacy and numeracy blocks.  We ran explicit class discussions followed by 5-6 work stations through which the children moved.  Several mornings each week I was incredibly lucky enough to have in-class support for the two children with special needs. This allowed me to work with small groups in 'guided reading' type activities. (In as much as guided reading is possible with children who are still in the early days of letter/word recognition.)

One of all of our favourite literacy stations was creating alphabet posters. We made a few varieties ranging from cutting jumbled letters and pasting them into order, to a space themed poster (letters were written on stars and planets) during our space week.

Everyone's favourite poster was inspired by a pin that you can see here. (What a surprise that I found inspiration on Pinterest!!!) It was basically a grid with each 'hole' containing a letter written in a different colour crayon and painted with a water colour wash.

 It's not a particularly difficult process but it does take lots of patience because there are a few steps.

  1. Draw the grid. (I draw one before class and photocopied it because I know myself well enough to admit that I simply do NOT have the patience to have helped every child with theirs individually, and also to admit that I'm a perfectionist and wanted these to have reasonably regular grids.)
  2. Write the letters in each hole. We wrote ours in pencil first and then traced over with crayon but if you're brave confident enough you could go straight to crayon.
  3. Trace over the grid lines with crayon. (I had to help some of my little guys with this because drawing along the edge of a ruler actually requires quite some fine motor control.)
  4. Carefully paint each grid hole with different coloured watercolour paint. If you're a perfectionist (like me... Are you starting to sense that this was not the best project choice for me?) then it's best to walk away at this point because if you're working with 5 year olds they WILL use too much water/paint and the colours WILL mix. I worked REALLY hard to keep smiling and calmly repeat "not too much water, wipe your brush on the edge" over and over and over and over... In the end the children did a marvellous job and I was able to breathe easily again.
 When I photocopied the grids I also trimmed the pages a little so that I could mount them on coloured paper more easily. We thought they looked great.

What's your favourite alphabet art activity?

(Art Projects for Kids is the blog where this project was originally published and is quite brilliant, but I suggest you make a cup of tea and pull up a comfy chair because it's a treasure trove so you'll want to settle in for an afternoon of oohing and ahhing!)

Friday, 12 July 2013

Shooting for the stars Mach 2.

Some of you may remember that I taught a unit of work about space to a group of reception children last year. I loved it. They loved it. Happy dances all around.  (If you can't remember, or never read about it, you can here.) Since then I've put together a much more involved grade 5 unit of work on space and have pinned about 9 gazillion awesome space resources (they're spread through my Classroom Coolness: Science board if you're interested). I've also revisited my reception unit of work with another class.

Let me set the scene: towards the end of the third week of a four week contract, in another reception class, the students were using their bodies to make letter shapes and I was using my tablet to capture their attempts. The students reviewed the photos and modified their letters as they saw fit. Being five years old these students were, naturally, curious to see the other photos on my tablet and so they stumbled upon the photos of my first space unit*. (Remember those cool photos of the children creating a solar system with their bodies? That's what piqued my class' interest.) 

"Why did you teach them about space? When are you going to teach us?"

Well there's actually no answer to those questions that are acceptable to most 5 year olds!  We had one more week together and no pre-arranged commitments so I threw caution (and my plans) into the wind and announced that the following week was to be Space Week

We completely immersed ourselves in learning about space, becoming space explorers who visited at least two planets a day. We read, wrote and drew about stars and planets. We created art work and made human models of the solar system. It was, like last time, a fantastic experience.  

How was it different to last time?

  1. We concentrated on Space (to the exclusion of everything else) for one week instead of focusing on it for a session a day over four weeks. There are advantages to both, but I understand that this way is certainly not often possible or desirable.
  2. The students were much younger (mostly in their first (or second for a couple) term of reception) and so relied more heavily on me for guidance with their writing. 
  3. The prior knowledge was much lower, so I started very differently. I used a community of inquiry approach to determining the prior knowledge. The students LOVED this experience because I talked it up as something that we, as teachers, use to share our understanding. They really stepped up to the plate and made sure their contributions were well considered. (If you've never used the community of inquiry method, here's a good place to check it out.)
  4. Our inflatable solar system.
  5. I approached the learning from a narrative perspective. Each day we climbed inside our space ship, put on our space helmets, buckled our belts etc., before zooming off to the next planet. I hung an inflatable solar system in our room so that we knew which planet we were looking for each trip. As we pulled up our space ship we made observations about what we imagined we could see and record these. We compared our observations with recorded information on posters, in books and on websites. We were often surprised at what we learned in these comparisons.
  6. There was less writing (although we wrote plenty - more than for the whole other three weeks put together!) and more art. These children LOVED their art. Check out some of these amazing solar systems they created.
    And some of the wall hangings:

  7. We went outside to create our solar system rather than drew it on the carpet. (Don't get me wrong: using chalk on the carpet is an amazing use of a very under-utilised space and we did loads of carpet drawing in this particular class BUT it was a sunny day so we went outside. Where better to pretend to be the sun than out in the sunshine?)
  8. Our leadership team bought into our explorations and often popped into the classroom to see which planet we were visiting. The children LOVED sharing their learning and showing off how much they'd learnt. (I loved watching them share their learning and showing off how much they'd learnt EVEN more than they enjoyed doing it.)
  9. We were able to share our learning with the other junior primary classes who all came to see our space journals, solar system hats, solar system wall hangings and art during one big exposition on the final day. Boy were we proud!
So, whilst it felt a little like I was cheating (because I was able to recycle a bunch of my resources and planning) my second space unit was really quite different.  I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to teach an older group about some space related topic. It's such a fun topic!

How do you teach about the solar system and space?

*I only use my tablet at school and am very careful around which photos remain accessible in this way.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Another confession...

I have a confession to make: I've been putting off writing on this blog.  This past term I've been a relief teacher and, on more than one occasion, fell into the trap of thinking of myself as just a relief teacher which meant that anything I taught was just relief teaching and of little value.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the implications that kinda thinking has for this blog.

You know what though? I'm not just a relief teacher. Or just a contract teacher. 

I. Am. A. Teacher. 

So, my months of self-doubt and questioning are over. A couple of shares to get this blog going again:

  • Remember how one of the things I love about relieving is learning from other teachers? Well, I recently stumbled over these photos that I took a few months ago. If you're a fan of  Look Say Cover Write Check as a spelling activity, this is an awesome way of doing it. Using an A4 card folded into thirds you can make neat little folders that can be stored easily and reused for the whole year (or quite some months at the very least.)


  • I taught design and technology (school wide) for a few days early in the school year.  One of the age groups made trioramas with models made from air dry glue (the recipe for which I found here on pinterest). I asked the students to show me something they did or somewhere they went during the holidays. 

  •  I took a four week contract in a reception class at the end of term 1 while their regular teacher was on long service leave. I was very conscious of leaving very clear notes about what we did while she was gone and so I started gluing small slips into the students' book explaining what we had done. I hand wrote specific notes about each child when I glued them in. I was particularly pleased to be able to communicate so clearly with the regular teacher about progress and  how I differentiated the children's learning activities. It took only a few minutes because I used my lesson planning notes. I hope to continue this practice as I move into my new contract.
    I think it also serves well in demonstrating my engagement with  a slew of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.
So, I'm back. I'm excited to be sharing a grade 3/4 class with an inspiring teacher. I have a .4 contract for the rest of the year and will also be available for relieving for the other three days of the week.  It's going to be a busy couple of terms,  but now that our house renovations are coming to a plateau for a few months it will be manageable. Stay tuned!