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Friday, 31 August 2012

Teaching Math Through Problem Solving

My teaching partner and I have been talking about the first day of school.  This year, we're both going to be teaching Math through Problem Solving using the 3-part lesson.  So we've decided we are going to jump right in on the first day of school; what better way to establish our classroom climate?

We've chosen an open-ended problem so that we can see what our students know about Number Sense and Numeration.  But we will also be assessing what they know about working in groups and Problem Solving. 

We will begin building our :
  • "Strategies" chart
  • "How to Work in Groups" chart
  • "Problem Solving Framework" chart 
Those bulletin boards won't be bare for very long!

Here is a link to great problem solving activities for grades 5-8 from the University of Waterloo:

Here is a link to an excellent monograph on using the 3-part lesson in Math:

Make sure to check back in next week, I'll post samples of my students' work, our anchor charts, and let you know what I've learned about my students!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Classroom Reveal

I've been into the school every day this week, getting ready for "opening day".  I haven't been alone, my colleagues have also been busy bees getting their rooms ready for their students.  I love this time of year, when all of the adults are in the school, in their casual clothes, getting things ready for the kids.  There is such a sense of excitement in the air!  The custodians are running around patiently moving furniture for teachers who are trying out new floor plans.  The secretary is busy welcoming new families who have come in to register.  It is kind of like Christmas Eve when parents are wrapping presents and putting them under the tree for their children.  What a wonderful time of year!  It is so great to be back!

My classroom looks and feels great.  It is bright and cheerful.  I'm really happy with how it turned out.  You might be surprised or disappointed to see that my bulletin boards are bare.  I don't like to put anything up on the bulletin boards that hasn't been taught.  I know lots of teachers put up beautiful posters of Reading Comprehension Strategies, or Traits of Writing.  But I won't put up anything like that until it has been taught.  Once I teach a strategy, I provide the students with a visual poster, I explain the poster, and I post it.  Otherwise, all of those great posters and anchor charts just become wallpaper.  I like to gradually turn our bulletin boards into "Learning Walls" - reminders and evidence of all of the great learning we have done throughout the year! 

 I have a rather large Mentor Text collection, you can find some of my favourite titles on the book shelf.  If you hover your cursor over a book you can read how I use it in my teaching.

You can see that all of the books for my classroom library are still sitting in bins.  I like the kids to sort the books into genres and organise them onto the shelves.  I want them to take ownership of the classroom library.

I  like the blue and green colour combination.  We have beautiful green cedars right outside of the window.  I chose sky blue for the walls and the kelly green for the bulletin boards in an attempt to "bring the outside in".   The research suggests that people score higher on cognitive tests when they are looking at nature!

I would greatly welcome your feedback and suggestions.  Please consider leaving a comment.  Click on the comment (or "no comments) section, leave a message, and then when you have to "comment as" you can select "name/URL" (scroll down for that option) and just leave your name if you don't have a blog of your own.  I'd love to hear about your preparations for the new school year!

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Digital Tools

Today at Pearson's Celebrating Literacy Conference the keynote Speaker was Heidi Hayes Jacob.  She shared a fantastic repository of links to hundreds of exciting digital tools.  I can't wait to get into the classroom and start using so many of these tools!  Some of my favourites include:

Newspapermap - allows you to read newspapers from anywhere in the world in English!
Google Art Project - allows you to take your students through many famous world museums and study the art within
zooburst - lets you create your own digital pop-up books
gapminder - unbelievable graphing tool!

Curriculum21 — Clearinghouse

Monday, 20 August 2012

Friendly Conversation vs Professional Dialogue

Have you ever considered how important "talk" is to learning?  Today I went to the Pearson Celebrating Literacy Conference and heard two excellent speakers, Lucy West and Pauline Gibbons.  Both speakers shared the importance of talk in the classroom to promote student learning AND to promote teacher learning!

Lucy West discussed the importance of "Dialogic Teaching", or teaching through dialogue.  But we can't assume that children know how to dialogue.  In fact, in my experience, children don't really know how to converse with one another, they seem to talk more AT one another than WITH one another, working hard to get their point across, not realising that they need to listen to one another as well.

We have to teach children explicitly HOW to converse with one another, how to share ideas, how to questions one another, how to seek meaning in conversation.  One way to do that is to model "academic discourse" for them.  I'm talking about discourse between yourself and a colleague.  Do your students hear you discussing teaching practices and strategies? Do they hear you questioning one another and asking for opinions, clarifications and advice? 

Lucy West suggests that we are too "nice" to one another in schools, that we have far too many "friendly" conversations with our colleagues.  Schools are very nice places.  We don't like to hurt anyone's feelings.  How many times has a colleague shared a worksheet that they are having their students do, a worksheet that is clearly busy work, that has no redeeming academic value whatsoever, and you've said "wow cool", instead of "What do you hope to have them achieve by doing that?"

I once had a teacher tell me that her students had greatly improved in their ability to copy off the board.  I said "That's great", instead of "Why do you want them to copy off of the board?" It was a perfect opportunity for a professional conversation, and I wasted it!

Maybe we have to stop being quite so nice with one another.  We need to start challenging one another's practice, (we can still do it in a "nice" way).  It is only when we challenge one another, questioning what we hope to achieve, that we can begin to nudge one another forward in our professional practice.  We have to move from friendly conversations to Collegial Discourse. Like medicine, engineering, technology, (and so many other professions), teaching is not static, we need to grow and change just like the students in front of us do.  And we can't do that alone.  We need our peers to help us reflect, question, analyse and study what we do so that we can learn to do it even better!

I'm very lucky because this year I will be working with a group of other Grade Six teachers from all across our board.  We range in ages from 25-50 with very different skills and teaching experiences.  We've already met twice this summer.  This group inspires me to be the best that I can be.  We're proof that you don't need to be working in the same building to be part of a Professional Learning Community that challenges you to learn and grow!

If you are interested on learning more about dialogic teaching, check out Lucy West on her website!

Lucy West

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Classroom Makeover

I can't tell you how excited I am to be going to a new classroom in a new school.  If ever I wondered if this was the right career move for me, I doubt no more, because I am just itching to get in there and make it my own.

I'm moving into an older school, which means the classroom is huge, but also extremely cluttered.  There were textbooks on the shelves from the 70's!  The first step in getting the room ready was cleaning and decluttering.  If you are moving into an older room where teachers have retired from, do yourself a favour and get rid of everything!  It can be so overwhelming to have someone else's materials in your room.  If you are like most teachers, you may be reluctant to get rid of it, but trust me, if it is more than five years old, it is out-of-date!  Start fresh!

Here's what the classroom looked like in June.  Not so fond of the colour combination.

Decluttering begins!

A little bit of paint can work miracles!

The next step will be the most exciting one- putting the borders on the bulletin boards, planning the layout, setting up the desks....   I was able to score a horse-shoe table for Guided Instruction.    Stay tuned to see what the final product will look like!

The Birth of the Classroom Library

I have over 1500 books for my classroom library.  It is one of my most prized possessions!  I've been spending the last few weeks on Pinterest looking at pictures of so many beautifully organized classroom libraries, I am just itching to put all of my books into their baskets and onto their shelves.  But I am not going to.

A few years ago, I read Frank Serafini's Lessons in Comprehension, and he suggests "birthing" the classroom library with the students.  So during the first week of school, I will gradually introduce the students to the collection of books that I have as I "invite" them into the "World of Reading and Literature".  Each day, I will place a collection of about 30 books onto each group of desks.  Students will have five minutes to peruse the book collection at their group.  Then I will ring a bell, and they will rotate to the next collection of books.  That way, the children will see about 150 books a day.  Together as a class, we will then determine labels for the various genres that they noticed, and we will begin to sort the books into those categories.

Meanwhile, we will also create anchor charts for Reading by exploring why we read, how we take care of books, strategies for choosing an appropriate book, when to abandon a book, and what good readers do.  I like to read a page from my husband's electrical engineering textbook.  I read it fluently and expressively, demonstrating how well I can decode all of the words.  Afterwards, I explicitly state that I can decode all of the words, and that for the most part, I even know what each of the individual words mean, but as a whole, while I can read it beautifully, I have no understanding of what I just read.  I explain that in order to understand a text, I have to have some background knowledge on the subject matter.  If not, I have to read a much simpler text on the topic.  We talk about the fact that reading is about making meaning, it is about understanding, and that the goal for this year, is to understand deeply what we read.

For the first week of school, we continue to view the books in the library, but the library is not yet "open".  Once we've viewed most of the books, and we've categorized the books, the children are responsible for organizing the library.  I then announce that the library is "open"- by now they are usually thrilled because they've been salivating over the books all week and not allowed to read them (a little reverse psychology).  They each select a book, and then I tell them that they have a seven page book report due the next day.  (I love to see their chin drops!)  I then explain that they have to read the first seven pages of the book they have chosen, and write me a paragraph explaining why they chose the book and if they think they will like it. 

You might wonder where all of my books came from.  Many are free picks from Scholastic, many are books my own three children have outgrown, many are from garage sales, but most are from donations.  Parents are more than willing to donate books that their children are finished with, you just have to let them know that you welcome their donations.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Snowball Fight on the First Day of School?

Is it too early to start thinking about the First Day of School? 

I wanted to share one of my favourite activities that has gone well every time I have used it.  Every year, on the first day of school, I like to have a "snowball fight" with my students.

Here's how it works:
  1. Give each student a blank sheet of paper.
  2. Have each student share information about themselves on the sheet of paper; make sure they don't put their name on it. Write one up for yourself as well, e.g. I am female; I have one brother and one sister.  I love to read; one of my favourite authors is Chris Van Allsburg.  I have two dogs and a cat.  I love to swim and dance.  My favourite colour is purple.
  3. Once all students have completed their sheet, ask them to crumple their sheet into a ball.  (I love the looks on their faces when I tell them that).  Then tell them that you are going to have a snowball fight.
  4. The rules for the snowball fight:
    • everyone stands up and pushes in their chair
    • when the whistle blows, freeze in place
    • when the snowball fight starts, they throw their "ball" at someone else. They can then pick up a stray "ball" to throw again.  Continue throwing the "snowballs" around the room until the whistle blows.  Make sure that you participate.
    • Tell the students that the game will continue until someone starts to yell or run.  I find 3 min. is about as long as they can last.
  5. Once the whistle is blown, everyone picks up one "snowball" to take to their seat. 
  6. Ask one student to open up their "snowball" and read what it says out loud.  They then have to guess who wrote it.  If they can't guess, open it up to the class, if no one can figure it out, ask the person to name themselves.  That person then opens up their "snowball", reads it aloud, and tries to guess who wrote it.  Continue until all of the papers have been read.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Math Camppp

Math Camppp was awesome, I am so glad we went.  We stayed at the Kempenfelt Conference Center in Innisfil.   The food was amazing, and it was entirely free to any teacher in Ontario, paid for by our Ministry!

The focus for the entire week was on fractions- teaching strategies for teaching fractions, how to represent them, how to assess student understanding and misconceptions, how to support students with learning disabilities to understand them, questioning strategies-; and the guest speakers were excellent - Marian Small, Cathy Bruce, Shelley Yearly...

Here are a few photos from the week.

Practising our "Descriptive Feedback".

Representing Fractions as an "Action"- Operator or Quotient

"Relationship" models for fractions:  Linear, part-to-whole both continuous and non-continuous,

Why do we seem to always teach using only the part-to-whole representations of fractions????

Here is a link to the Math Camppp Wicki with all of the presentations and handouts.

Lastly, here is a link to Trent University's Math Education Research Collaborative which is full of excellent tips for Math teachers.