Friday, 31 January 2014

One down...

Thirty nine to go. And already the idea of it ending makes me sad. I have 21 delightfully challenging and interesting young people in my care, and I adore them!  My classroom is a peaceful and inviting place. My team comprises four very different individuals which makes collaboration interesting and productive. The wider staff is fun and supportive. The leadership team is great.  I love my new job.

I cry every single time I read this.
It deals with death so beautifully.
Some highlights so far:
  1. Meeting my class. Starting to make connections. Watching tears well in one little man's eyes when I told him that I believe in him. (I said it many times because he didn't want to believe me; it was a little bit like that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Willliams' character tells Matt Damon's character that "it's not his fault".) 
  2. Allowing my class to see me nearly cry while I read a picture book to them. (Yes, they are year 6/7s but nobody is EVER too old for good picture books. And this one is amazing.) 
  3. Reading to my class. Reading with my class. Setting up the class library (well, more like guiding the children through the process because it's their library so they did it all). Starting our reading journals.
  4. Reading the students' end of week reflections. (I insisted on at least one positive comment and one comment about future growth.) 
  5. Collaborating with the other teachers in our 6/7 unit. Love it.
  6. Hearing, from a parent, that one of my students already loves me (always gratifying right?) and is boring the family senseless with endless commentary about "things that Mrs RP said". I'd better keep that in mind hey?
  7. Setting up a Facebook group for the parents of my class. Within 24 hours I have nearly half the class represented. How awesome is it that I can communicate so easily and directly with my parents?
  8. The school's very well developed value system and use of Play is the Way. (If you're unfamiliar with PitW, I highly recommend you check it out.)
There are so many more, but off the top of my head this was a good start. In case it's at all ambiguous... I love my new job.

Monday, 27 January 2014

And for a change in proceedings...

... I have a contract for this year! Actually I've known about it for nearly a week now but I've been so busy sorting out the classroom and getting my head around a whole new year level that I've not had time to scratch myself let alone blog about it.

So, I have a class of 22 year 6/7 children in a collaborative unit of four 6/7 classes. None of the classes has more than 23 at this stage. AMAZING! Two of the classes are mixed gender and the other two are single gender. Interesting huh?  We're a 1:1 Ipad unit in a completely Apple school, so this little Microsoft/Android user is on a steep learning curve with a new Macbook Pro and Ipad. Lots to learn!

I'm a bit in love with my classroom. It's apparently the biggest in the school, and it's beautiful. (So far as classrooms go!) I've set  it up along the ideas of learning spaces: I have a desk area, a reading area and an active learning area which doubles as a group meeting area in front of our Apple TV. (No IWBs in this school - all Apple TVs.) Our unit has a lovely open common space linking our rooms which we've set up along the same idea. (And by we I really mean they because that was pretty much done before I arrived.)

Here's a sneak peak of what it looks like...

One friend has described it as having a rather minimalist look. I guess it does, but it also feels really warm and inviting. Once we've got books on the shelves and work on the walls it will look rather different I imagine.

The planning process has, so far, been fantastic. This school works VERY collaboratively so we plan as a unit team.  The four teachers in our team are all very different which has lead to some great ideas being generated. They've all taught this year level before which makes me a little less concerned about my lack of experience in it - I know they'll keep me on track.

School goes back tomorrow and I'm both incredibly nervous and excited. This is the first time I've started the year with a class, and my first time teaching year 6/7.  Wish me luck!

Friday, 17 January 2014


My love affair with Pinterest began quite some time ago and, if I'm honest, often vies with my children/husband/housework for my attention. I've improved recently, but it's still an issue.

It's hard to not find yourself engrossed though when it's such a treasure trove of ideas. One of my favourite Pinterest ideas of the last few months was the project my year 3/4 class made as a Christmas gift for their families. You can find the pin that started my excitement here.  We made coasters from 10*10cm tiles.
The photos don't do them justice. They looked great.
The process was a little fiddly and time consuming (that appears to be a recurrent theme in my blog lately) but completely manageable.
I introduced the project by having the kids brainstorm (or thought shower if the term brainstorm is too un PC in your part of the world) all kinds of words that relate to Christmas. We covered an entire whiteboard with them. It's quite an interesting exercise in showing family values and culture.

My nearly complete coaster.
I then showed them my 'nearly' completed coaster. They were impressed by my 'artwork' as only 9 and 10 year olds can be. :) I then asked them to rule up a 10cm*10cm square using the corner of a piece of paper as two sides. That was my first mistake. GIVE them the square already ruled up. It will save time, heart ache and a whole lot of 'tell me what you know about squares and then tell me if what you've drawn is one'.

Filling their square with a 'word cloud' of as many of the Christmas related words as they liked was harder than you'd imagine. Lots of 'design issues' (to quote one little gem) and more spelling mistakes than I care to remember.  (How do kids do that? How do they incorrectly spell a word that's right in front of them?)  When we were all happy with their design they traced over it in black pen and erased their pencil.

An example of what each kid
got back from me.
I then gathered the squares and, here's my second mistake, took them home to scan and create a 2 by 2 grid of their design. Why didn't I just run them through the copier a few times? *Sigh* Well, to be honest I didn't do that because we'd blown our photocopying budget and I was trying to be frugal. Ha! Next time I'll just kick in some of my own money and do it because I don't get paid enough to spend an entire Saturday morning scanning, copying & pasting and printing kids' work at home.  (Yeah right, like I won't do it that way again just to make sure their work is exactly the right size/shape etc. Control freak!)

Third mistake coming up... I explained that whist the base of each coaster was, obviously, exactly the same they were going to use colour to make four different coasters. I let them use pencils, pens, coloured markers... Don't. Let them use pencils or ball point pens but NOT coloured markers. You'll see what in a moment.

Thanks LifeStyles!
They cut the four bases and used Mod Podge to carefully adhere them to the tiles. I was really fortunate that a lovely man at one of our local tile shops sold me some 'end of lot' tiles for a very reasonable price. The fact that they were blue and grey didn't matter at all because the art covered the colour completely.
 (I think I paid about $25 for enough tiles for about 200 tiles.)

Even unfinished they look great!
After adhering the art to the tiles came the painstaking process of waiting for it to dry before applying two more coats to the top. It was about now that I discovered that coloured markers were a baaaaaaad idea. They bled into the Mod Podge. It wasn't a disaster but it did mean that the kids had to be very careful about dabbing not painting their coasters with Mod Podge at this stage.

Drying between ooats.
You can see an extreme case of
bleeding near the words egg nog.
For the final coat we mixed a little glitter glue in with the Mod Podge. Nothing like a bit of sparkle to brighten up Christmas coasters!

We applied little self adhesive felt feet on the back at this stage too because the underside of the tiles was a bit rough.

Drying after the lacquer was applied.
In case  you thought I'd finished making mistakes, I have just one more for you. I wanted to seal the coasters with a lacquer to make them water proof - after all, what good is a coaster if the condensation from an icy cold beer water is going to ruin it the first time it's used? Anyway, let's just say that I hope the smell of the lacquer wore off the coasters faster than it did out of the room in which I applied it.

We finished the project by tying the four coasters together with some ribbon. I wish I had a photo of them all to share because they looked so pretty. :(

 So, there you have it.  A great outcome after a few hiccoughs along the way. I'd do it somewhat differently if I did it again, but isn't experience an awesome teacher?

What's your favourite gift to make with your class?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Variety Christmas Party

For years I have wondered about the Variety Christmas Party... I have friends whose children go and so I've heard how they love it and how well it's run. I never really had a clear picture of what happens at the party to love so much or how it was run so it's been a bit of an enigma.

Until now... This Christmas I checked it out for myself! I attended the 2013 Variety Christmas Party with the primary and junior primary special classes from my school. I'm not sure who was more excited - the kids or me?

Imagine this: an enormous exhibition hall set up as a kids' party. There was an army of face painters (I didn't get a firm count but if I had to guess I'd say there were 30); a group of tattooists (obviously the airbrush kind, not the needle and dribbling blood kind); clowns; characters from the kids' favourite TV shows; photo booths; a fire truck; a magic cave; ten pin bowling; balloon artists; one of the enormous access swings for kids using wheelchairs; music and dance acts on stage; a rally car set up for the kids to investigate; kids' party food; and towards the end SANTA arrived!  Amazing right?  Well, it gets better.
Some of the performers.

Santa's mode of transport for the day.
On arrival we were greeted at the door and given our table number. There were OVER 250 tables!!! (Of ten guests each.) Each table had an 'attendant' who worked tirelessly all day to keep us comfortable. The attendants were all volunteers, many having taken the day off work to be there. (Many of them were corporate volunteers who were taking a work sponsored volunteer day.) Our attendants were fantastic: they interacted beautifully with the kids -  one even learnt all of their names (!) - and were very diligent in keeping everyone 'watered & fed'. 

On departure each child was presented with a gift! Not just a balloon or a lolly bag but a backpack full of other gifts. I was stunned. 

Oh, did I mention that a we were provided transportation to and from the party?  Yep. Even that was taken care of for us.  

The team who run these parties are truly wonderful. I was incredibly impressed and grateful to the Ladies of Variety for organising such an inspiring event for young people in need. Thank you and well done! Please support Variety's fundraising efforts.

You've probably noticed that I've not mentioned the children yet.  Well. There's a reason for that. Their reaction was somewhat overwhelming. Even for those kids who've been to many of these parties, there was still such excitement and genuine happiness. I simply don't have the words to describe it. (I can already imagine the stunned silence from some of you.) Everything was great but their responses will always stand out as the highlight of my day. 

NOTE: These photos are from the official Variety Christmas Party website because all of mine have our students in them... Sorry!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

I'll just take a fraction more cake please...

In my year 3/4 class our last major push in maths for 2013 was FRACTIONS. Yep, we thought we'd go out on a high note. Actually, the kids all seemed to enjoy it as a topic and it was great to see their development. (As an aside, that's one of the advantages of composite classes - seeing such a broad range of development levels right in front of your eyes.)  

As I've probably mentioned about a dozen times, my co-teacher was our school's maths co-ordinator which was a double edged sword: she REALLY knows her stuff and is an amazing resource v's she REALLY knows her stuff and compared to her I feel rather inadequate. Of course each of those sides plays into the other and I learnt bucket loads from her. At the start of our fractions unit she told me that we needed to be careful to guide the kids to see fractions not just as 'part of shape' but as equal parts of a quantity. That really stuck with me (partly because I'd never thought about it that explicitly) and I focussed almost entirely on fractions of quantity rather than fractions of shape. (Notice I said almost because I did use shape when introducing equivalence.)

CC BY-SA 2.0 James Petts
My favourite fraction work came when I asked the class to help me with my Christmas catering. I presented a table with a long list of food items; the number of attendees I expected; and what fraction of the food unit I expected each person to consume (including different fractions for children and adults). Some were fractions of quantity (e.g. each child will eat 1/4 of a 12 pack of mince pies while each adult will eat 1/2) while others were more like fractions of shape (e.g. each child will eat 1/8 of a Christmas cake while each adult will eat 1/6). 

On first setting the task I felt like I'd let the team down - it seemed rather dry and uninteresting BUT the kids loved it. It had relevance to their daily lives at that point, and it was meaningful. I made sure the range of difficulty was quite broad and explicitly stated that I didn't want them to work from the top to the bottom but to choose their own items (and I set each child a minimum target number of food items to work on). The variety allowed the kids who need extension to find the challenges while the kids who needed support worked with me in a small group. 

The sharing and reflection session at the end was inspiring. My role was limited to very sporadic guiding through the social issues of turn-taking and airtime-hogging. So many different strategies and techniques that had not been formally introduced were shared.  So many 'a-ha' moments. So many organic 'what about if you do it like this' moments.  I always loved maths as a student but love it even more now as a teacher. The way we teach it is so very different... I wish all those people my age who hate maths because of the way they learnt it at school could sit in on some of our lessons and see how much fun it can really be.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.1 Physical, social & intellectual development and characteristics of students
Standard 1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities
Standard 2.1 Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area 
Standard 2.2 Content selection and organisation
Standard 2.5 Literacy and numeracy strategies
Standard 3.1 Set explicit, challenging and achievable learning goals for all students 
Standard 3.2 Plan, structure and sequence learning programmes
Standard 3.3 Use teaching strategies  

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Let's Frame 'Em

I mentioned in my last post that I collected content for our end of year gifts by asking the children to make three positive comments about all the other people in the room. I love this project. The kids love this project. Their parents love this project. It's a winner. Take a look...

And it's so simple.
  1. Collect as many positive comments about each child/teacher as possible. I've done this a couple of ways: by giving each child an A3 sheet printed with the class list with room for to write their comments next to the names; interviewing each child individually whilst sitting in front of my computer and typing their comments directly into a spreadsheet. It really depends on the age and ability of the group.
  2. Collate all of the comments about each person into one digital file. Add the person's name.
  3. Use one of the web 2.0 tools such as to create a word cloud.
  4. Print.
  5. Frame.
The little hints that I have to share about each stage: 
  1. First up let me tell you that this is the hardest part of the whole task:
    1. Some kids just don't invite positive comments from their peers. You know the ones I mean: little Johnny who is still learning about social skills and personal hygiene. (Note: I'm not suggesting that little Johnny can't be described positively but that his peers aren't necessarily the ones who are going to do it.)
    2. Getting appropriate comments without spilling the secret is, in the case of some children, impossible.  Again, you know the ones I  mean: the ones who think 'you're phat as!' is a compliment.
    3. Getting comments that are one or two words long can be tricky. I encouraged the use of adjectives or two word noun groups.
    4. In a class of 31 students and 2 teachers that's 32 lots of 3 comments. That's actually a lot of work for some kids; especially if you ban words like nice, cool and epic. (Which ,of course, I did.)
  2. Can be time consuming and mind numbingly boring. (Also very funny. I had to laugh at 'he is learning not to hit me in the face so much and nearly always apologises now'.) Be mindful that if you are using that the more frequently a word appears in the list the bigger it will be in the word cloud. If you want the person's name to stand out you need to add it however many times to make it appear most frequently.  Also... I used this stage to add any characteristics that I wanted to encourage.
  3. There are a few around. I like for its simplicity. It's a bit clunky and I get frustrated with having to reset the 'custom palette' BUT it does exactly what I want it to do, for free, pretty easily.
  4. With you can't save directly to a file (unless printing to a pdf in the print dialogue box) so I use a snipping tool to then save as a jpg. I then inserted the jpgs into a publisher document to get the exact size I wanted for the frames I'd bought. Have a play to find what works best for you.
  5. I bought small inexpensive frames for the kids from Ikea. I glued a little slip on the back saying that these words were how their classmates and teachers had described them in 2013 and that we hoped it reminded them of the awesome time we spent together. 
Easy, a little time consuming but SO well worth the effort. I wish I could share the photos I took after I handed them out because the reactions were beautiful.  They have a longer effect too. A few weeks ago I ran into the mother of one of my students from last year who told me that it's still on her daughter's wall (a year later!) and that her daughter will often take it down to look at when she's feeling stressed about life. Gotta tell you: hearing that made my day. 

Should you ever decide to give it a go and run into trouble please get in contact and I'll see what I can do to help!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Christmas at School...

I've been a teacher for two Christmas periods. The two experiences could not have been more different.

The first year I had taken over a year 3/4 class, after their regular teacher took maternity leave, in a school with huge cultural, religious and economic diversity. (Christianity was definitely a minority faith.) Christmas wasn't really a big part of our programme; we focussed on celebrating the end of the school year, the coming of summer and our progress & successes. I had the delightful experience of having one child (of Islamic heritage) ask me "what is Christmas all about anyway?" (I didn't need to answer as two of his classmates (one who attends a Latter Day Saints temple and the other a devout non-denominational Christian) explained it beautifully in a way I never could.)

This year I had the honour of working with two classes in the run  up to Christmas: the year 3/4 class I co-taught two days a week and the primary special class I took over for three days a week for the last 5 weeks of the year. This school culture allowed and encouraged the celebration of Christmas.  So... We used the celebration of Christmas to direct some of our learning.

Primary Special Class
The other teacher in this class and I ran similar but separate programmes. She arranged a neat little booklet of Christmas puzzles, mazes etc. for the class to work on as they had time and interest. I encouraged them to continue working on this if they finished some of our work early. I think a couple of them felt a little frustrated by this because it meant they NEVER had any 'nothing to do' time. Gotcha! The last three weeks of term we had a Christmas Extravaganza, following on from two weeks of talking about celebrations in general. I'm still amazed at the sheer amount we crammed into our time together. Here's some of it.
  • Using a Christmas lights template we created posters that highlighted the ways we each 'light up' our school. (E.g. I'm a good friend and support people when they're feeling sad. I'm like to include people in my games in the yard.) This particular cohort found the self-reflection needed for this REALLY hard, so we sat as a group and showered each child with positive reflections. They then chose their favourites and we helped them write the sentences.  We decorated the lights with glitter! I'm not sure which was brighter - the glitter or their faces during the brainstorm?
  • We used our measurement and ordering skills to make beautiful Christmas trees. I didn't take any photos of them which quite saddening because they were gorgeous. General gist is that I provided each child with 12 slips of precut paper. They had to order them longest to shortest and then lay them out like a Christmas tree. It was quite a challenging task for a few of our class so we were very proud of their finished products. Here's the image that inspired this project anyway: 
This is from Mrs Lee's Kindergarten blog.
She has some great ideas, go check her out.
  • We made gingerbread cookies. I found an amazingly simple recipe that works really well for school settings because there's no waiting around for bicarb to do its thing or anything overly complicated. (It works even better when the oven door closes which ours didn't do to start with, but that's a whole other story that doesn't warrant telling because I'm the idiot who didn't see the tray in the way.) Anyway,  the recipe we used is here. (I altered it a little by swapping golden syrup in for the honey because I'm not madly keen on honey.)
  • We made cinnamon Christmas tree decorations. Oh my goodness, I loved cooking type activities with this class. The opportunities for multi-sensorial learning just abounded. LOVED IT! The recipe I used can be found here.  Each child took home a little bag of about 15-20 hand cut decorations. I had to be VERY clear that these were NOT for eating... They looked just like the gingerbread we made. 
Some of the decorations after baking.
  • We played Christmas maths games, did Christmas riddles, sang until we were hoarse, and wrote pages and pages about our Christmas memories, wishes, and plans. 
  • We made a range of cards for different people and in different styles: some by hand in whatever style each child chose; some by hand with specific instructions; and some on the computer using shapes to create silhouette images.
  • We sewed finger puppet and put together bon bons. (Never again... They were too hard, and too fiddly. Not even I enjoyed that one.)
  • We learned how to play Jingle Bells on chair drums. I was so proud of the class for this one, and it was somewhat of a process so I'll blog about it separately. 

Year 3/4
My co-teacher and I had planned our programme to continue most of our teaching and learning programme pretty well until the end of term so Christmas didn't take over this classroom quite as much. I also wanted to focus a little more on celebrating the kids' personal progress and successes than an event that for many of the children means little more than presents and good food. Here's a quick overview of some of our activities.

  • We made posters with painted finger print Christmas lights along the top underneath which each children wrote a positive memories on every other poster. (That was tough work!)
    Interesting way to get my name in lights... :)
  • Along similar lines I asked each child to provide me with three positive adjectives or comments about every other person in the class (children and teachers).  At the time they assumed that we were focussing on finding the positive in others and developing our descriptive writing. Ha! I was actually collecting the content for the end of year gifts I made for them. I'll tell you about those in a later post.
  • We followed up our unit of work on  procedural texts with a session on critiquing procedural texts for creating origami Christmas trees. 
  • We did a couple of gridding activities with Christmas shapes.
  • We made Christmas trees that highlighted warm and cool colours.
    A couple of the kids' completed work.
  • We made cards for our families.
  • We had two massive Christmas soft toys (a Santa head and a reindeer head) that went home (with journals) with different children each night.
  • We made coasters for our families. (I LOVED the coaster project so stay tuned for a whole post about those.) Here's a sneak peak though...
Nearly finished...
So... Just a bit different to last year! Both years have been amazing though; I love my job.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Holiday Howdy.

So here we are, four weeks into the summer holidays and I'm only just now sitting down to get moving towards the blogging goals I set myself for my summer break. Time to step up Mrs R-P!

I was pretty well out of action the first three weeks of the holidays due to some eye surgery that has had a ridiculously slightly longer recovery than we were expecting. I'm still quite unsteady on my feet and am walking into the odd wall but that's not overly unusual for me... I'm not the most graceful gazelle in the herd.  I've struggled with the enforced 'quiet' time, but have used it to catch up a few podcasts and TED talks.

Here's a sampling of my playlist over the last few weeks.

Sir Ken's TED pic.
Sir Ken Robinson: I will stop whatever I'm doing pretty much anytime to listen to this man. He is funny, insightful and BRILLIANT.
His TED talk 'How Schools Kill Creativity' is wonderful (and can be watched here); and his Google 2012 Zeitgeist talk 'The World We Explore' stayed with me for days (and can be watched here).
For a bit of a change in pace, here is an RSA Animate adapted from a talk Sir Ken gave about the changing paradigm of education. (This one is good to watch rather than just listen... Although having already seen it, I enjoyed listening to it again.)

Rita in full flight during her TED talk.
Rita Pierson: Oh my goodness. In this TED talk she says: " Every child deserves a champion - an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be". I have this written in my school diary and look at it every day.
There are piles of Rita's funny stories around also... My husband had a good chuckle at this one.
Kid President: Yeah, OK, not the most intellectually stimulating stuff of all time but the concept is fantastic and the kid is awesome. Kudos to the family that created such loving and strong relationships that this is the outcome. Check out his photo here - how can you not love him?
Josh Clark & Chuck Bryant: Oh you don't know them? Bwa ha ha. Josh & Chuck are the presenters of one of my favourite podcasts of all time: Stuff You Should Know. The basic idea is that Josh & Chuck (and I presume a team of researchers) unpack and delve into a range of weird and interesting topics and present a twice weekly podcast. So, for example, you might choose to listen to 'How the Rosetta Stone Works' (here) or maybe 'How Braille Works' (here) or just for something completely out of left field 'What's the Most Expensive Toilet in the World?' (here). (I've only listened to the first two of those three, but believe that the short answer to the third  is that it's made of solid gold and can be found in Hong Kong.)  I've played a few of these to my 12 & 14 year old sons and they love them. I'm pretty sure that some of them would make great classroom listening too.

CC by 2.0 Michael Janssen
Music: pretty much anything my husband chooses. He's the music man in our family so for the most part I defer to his judgement. And he's pretty good at picking the mood of an audience.  Otherwise, if he's not around, I'm loving Check it out, it's good.

Just a sneak into my summer break so far. Now that I can cope with more than a few minutes in front of a screen I've big plans for blogging this coming week. Stay tuned. In the meantime... How are your holidays? Or alternatively for my North American friends: I hope you're coping with the fall out from the polar vortex. Stay warm if at all possible. :)