Monday, 18 February 2013

Nouns are naming words

Last week we finally got some artwork up on our back wall - even if it was only a simple task!
Teaching only two days a week is really chewing into my time for art and finishing things off.
Since the students have been learning about nouns in English, we made a "picture dictionary" on the wall. Each child nominated a noun (something they might be able to draw) and they used black permanent marker to draw the outline on cartridge paper. Next they used water colours to fill in the spaces.

They glued the noun word onto their artwork once it was dry.
I hope this display might be useful for them when they are writing as they now have a bank of words from which to choose. And maybe they will remember what a noun is as a bonus!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

iPad apps for the classroom: Striking a balance

This year I am lucky enough to be getting six iPads for my classroom. This will give me a ratio of 1:4. If I use my personal iPad and my iPad mini, this could give me a ratio of 1:3 when I need it. (Plus one student brings his own iPad. Someone heard that iPads are good for kids with special needs so some kids have their own. That's another post for another time.
So I have come to the exciting part of the iPad journey - deciding which apps to load on the new iPads from the hundreds of thousands of apps available in the App Store.
I haven't got an unlimited budget but I don't want to download too many apps because it gets overwhelming. (To be honest, I'm not sure what my budget is, but I know it won't be infinite - I am lucky that I have been given the money for the iPads - I don't want to push the limits too far!)
Some of the free or cheaper apps are great and have been my "go to" apps up until now. (See my post on Sonic Pics and Pic Collage) Sometimes the old adage "you get what you pay for" really comes into play. The convenience of a good quality app that doesn't keep trying to sell you things is priceless.
Costs aside, I want to provide my students with a good range of apps so they can select the right tool for the right task.
I will provide them with some "drill and practice" and content type apps, and, of course, some logical thinking and strategy games, but the main purpose of the iPads will be as tools for learning, creating, sharing and collaborating. I want my students to be creative producers of knowledge, not passive consumers.
To assist in my quest for the right balance, I have started a Pinterest board for iPad apps for Year 2. I have put the links to the iTunes store and a brief description of each app. Hopefully this will make it easier next week to find them again and to select the ones that I decide I want now, or down the track. I am also hopeful that people will stumble across my Pinterest board and leave useful comments about how they have used these apps in their own classrooms.

I am working on a concept map that will hopeful clarify my thinking about how I intend to use the iPads with the students and which apps will best meet these needs. I will update this post as I go until I have worked it out.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Collaborative Planning using Web 2.0

This year I am beginning in a new role as Curriculum Support Teacher at my school. I am very excited as I am absolutely passionate about curriculum and I love to share my enthusiasm with others and (hopefully) help them to ignite a passion for teaching and curriculum too.
I will have three days a week in my new role and two days a week in my Year 2 classroom - the best of both worlds!
This will mean that I will have to relinquish a lot of the responsibility for the classroom goings on. My new teaching partner is enthusiastic about coming on board so hopefully she will survive the first little part of the year while I am learning not to be such a control freak. After (more than) 10 years of being able to do my own thing, I am going to need to adjust to the idea of sharing. It will be good for me. ;-)
After the huge learning curve I experienced last year when my life was opened up to the world of blogging, twitter, pinterest, dropbox, evernote and other ways of reflecting on, organising and sharing my teaching experiences, I am keen to support other teachers at my school to take the plunge!
I have just set up a collaborative Pinterest Board for the Life Stages topic that we will likely be studying in first term. 
I invited my fellow Year 2 teachers but so far I haven't had any responses. (Most probably because they are enjoying the last moments of their holidays before we have to come back to work!) I am hoping that this will be a new way of sharing our ideas that will be quick, simple, fun and collaborative. I don't expect that any of us will be able to do even half of the activities that I have pinned already but Pinterest is a nice visual display of resources. The collaborative board will be kind of like a menu of ideas that people can pick and choose from, and if there is nothing there that they like, they don't need to choose any. Hopefully they will add to the ideas as well.
In the past we have shared links in emails but sometimes we get a lot of these types of emails from each other and it can take a while to check all the links and try to work out what idea on the page the other person thought was relevant. Often I get one of these emails and read the first part and think "I'll check this out later" and then bury it in my disorganised inbox, never to be seen again. 
I have tried searching my inbox (either using the approximate date, the person who I think I can remember that sent it to me, or a possible keyword) and this sometimes works but can be very time consuming. I am hoping Pinterest will open up a new and better way for us to collate our ideas so we can retrieve them easily when we need them.
My teaching team are wonderful, and even though they think I am a little crazy, they usually give things a go just to humour me.
If this works, I am hoping this will be an effective and time-efficient tool for supporting the curriculum in my school.
I am also in the process of setting up a blog for my new role that will be situated within the walled-garden of our LIFE Learning Management System. Hopefully using LIFE like this will help me to get used to it so I can apply it more effectively in my classroom as well.
My hope is that I can share information with my colleagues about curriculum matters in a way that is easy for them to access when they need to without overwhelming them with too many emails which may or may not be of interest to them.
I think this year is going to be full of challenges for me, learning to use these tools in new ways and supporting others in beginning a journey to more collaborative practice using Web 2.0.
What tools do you use for collaborative planning?
How do you share your ideas with your colleagues at your school?

Deskmats and Whiz Words

I have been busily preparing for the first day back at school. There always seems so much to do, and a lot of the jobs are fiddly. At least during the holidays I get the chance to play around a bit with these fiddly jobs and as I don't feel so rushed I find it takes all day to get the job done to my expectations.
Today I created files for my deskmats. These placemats are very handy. Last year I used them everyday as part of my morning routine and the students referred to them often during both literacy and numeracy activities. It is very useful to have the help right in front of them.
I have made a simple freebie version with the Whiz Words on a mini-poster. These could be printed two-to-a-page and glued inside a homework or writing book as a quick reference for some of the commonly used words.

My full placemats are available in three different fonts and in two formats. I use Queensland "qcursive" font which is a precursive font with exits and entries. It is great to have a handwriting model on their desks everyday. I also included a copy with a beginners font for younger students and a plain font for people who don't use the Queensland font. The PDF version is simple to print and all the hard work is done for you. If you would like to customise your deskmats, I have also created a PowerPoint version.

Monday, 7 January 2013

'Tis the season? - Well, it was...

This Advent I used the Jesse Tree as a focus for our class liturgy. This tied together nicely many of the ideas we had learnt throughout the year.
(I have been meaning to write this post for well over a month. In fact, it might have been more useful to others if I had shared my Advent ideas while it was still Advent, but you'll have to tuck this away for Advent 2013! I am writing it now so I will remember myself.)
Way back in Term 1 we had learnt about the liturgical seasons. I was very pleased that so many of the children were able to recall things we had done that long ago. It gives me hope! This term we had focused on different forms of prayer and we had been reading the Old Testament stories in our daily scripture time. The Jesse Tree Liturgy tied all of these things together nicely and was a fitting end-of-year celebration.
We learnt about the Jesse Tree in class prior to the liturgy and had made a bulletin board display. (The colours are not the best - I was using up the scraps of cardboard etc in the room - but it was a simple display idea.)
Each child made an "ornament" to place on the tree on the bulletin board. The ornaments show a picture or a symbol that the student felt represented person in their story. There are lots of websites that have lists of Jesse Tree symbols and they are not all the same. I kept searching until I found one that had the right number of symbols so each child got one and I also looked for one that had a fair proportion of women represented as well.

The words on the sign say: "The Jesse Tree is a symbol of Advent. The symbols remind us of the stories from the Old Testament that point to the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesse was the father of David and was Jesus' great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather." I think there are supposed to be about 24 "great"s but I don't think my kids were bothered with counting them.
On the last morning of school we had a prayer celebration to end our year. You can access the words of the liturgy from my TeachersPayTeachers site.
The songs I used were by Michael Mangan from his This is the Time (Songs for Seasons) Album. The children were already familiar with these songs. You could easily substitute other hymns or carols.
The students made their own symbols (white paper circle glued onto a slightly larger coloured circle) and they glued the words for their prayer on the back so they stood up, read their prayer and placed it on the tree in a reasonably seamless manner.

We set up the sacred space in the middle and the children chose what to put in there. There was a lot of purple because that is the Advent colour. (They learnt that in first term!)
Just as we started the liturgy I realised I didn't have any matches to light the candle. Luckily I was able to download a free Candle app on my iPad mini and save the day!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Science with Santa

To finish off our Physical Science unit on forces and to have a bit of festive fun we conducted an experiment to see which surfaces would be easiest for pulling a sleigh across.
The children were introduced to the idea via a letter from Santa which told them that Rudolph was too sick to pull the sleigh this year so he was going to have to use one less reindeer. To make it easier for the remaining reindeer, Santa needed to know which surfaces were the best for pulling the sleigh.
You can read about our experiment from the students' point of view on my class blog.
The first lesson involved the children discovering the letter from Santa and then thinking about different surfaces that Santa might travel along (when he wasn't flying, of course). We are seriously lacking snow and ice in Brisbane this Christmas!
The next lesson was very fun and creative. The students has to design their own model Santa sleigh to be used in their experiment. We had round tubs for them to use as the base. A more rectangular shape might be a bit easier (such as a margarine tub) but we needed something that we could get 24 the same.

In the following lesson we used spring balances to measure the force in Newtons (which was not really in the Year 2 Science curriculum but it was fun anyway and it did allow them to do a real experiment with simple measurements). If you would like to use the experiment worksheet we used, it is available from my TPT store.
The final part of the lesson sequence was to write a letter back to Santa with the findings. One of my students who struggles with writing used the iPad to record his letter instead.

This was a great assessment of the students' understanding of Science. It was interesting to see which students clearly understood the purpose of the experiment and were able to articulate this in their letter to Santa. A few of my "super-competitive" types were at first confused because they decided that the surfaces that had "the biggest number" must have been the best. It took a little while for them to realise that they were looking for the surface that needed the smallest number of newtons because they needed the "easiest" surface.
Since we had no icy surfaces, we used soapy lino to make something slippery that might be similar to ice.
The children's measurements were not exactly accurate and they didn't quite grasp the idea of having to keep the weight the same each time but they seemed to get the idea that some surfaces were easier to pull things along than others, which was the main aim. And they had a lot of fun!

Poinsettias for Christmas

During the last few weeks of school we did a number of Christmas related activities based on some beautiful Christmas books I own.
The first of these is The Legend of the Poinsettia which is retold and beautifully illustrated by Tomie dePaola.

The story is set in Mexico and tells of a little girl whose mother falls ill just before the town's Nativity celebration. Her mother is unable to complete the family's gift for the baby Jesus and the little girl is unable to complete it on her own. Luckily a Christmas miracle occurs and the girl has a beautiful gift for the baby after all.
This story is a good Christmas story because it opens up conversations about gift giving at Christmas and how it is "the thought that counts". It also explains one of the Christmas decorations - the poinsettia and introduces the Christmas colours of red and green. We had a discussion about how the people in Mexico celebrated Christmas in the story and how this is the same and different from some of our own Christmas customs. We are a catholic school so many of the children do go to the Christmas mass and take part in the nativity so it was nice to see how another culture celebrates this idea.
To reflect on the story and to brighten our classroom, we made a very simple Christmas craft: a poinsettia.

I prefer to use painted paper because it has a richer texture than coloured construction paper and it is fun to paint the paper yourself. Each child painted one A4 sheet of red and one A4 sheet of green on one day and the next day they used this paper to assemble their craft. We re-used paper from our classroom to make the activity even more environmentally friendly.
I make hand-drawn "star" templates on light card in red and green and write "cut 1" on the green and "cut 2" on the red. The green one is slightly larger than the red one. If you are not game to free draw yours (even though I think they look better) you can print this image. (You will need to adjust the size to suit your paper.)
I make only enough templates for about a third of the class for each colour (about 8 red ones and 8 green ones for a class of 24). It doesn't take them long to trace the shapes and it is good for them to be a bit patient and practice their turn taking skills.
They turn the paper to the "white side" before tracing in case they make a mistake and they push the star to the edge of the paper so the leftover pieces are useful for other Christmas crafts later on. They need to be careful so they fit two red stars on the same page. 
To assemble the craft, simply stack the two red shapes on top of the green on and turn them slightly so you can see the different points from behind. A little dab of glue in the centre is enough to hold them together. I give them little squares of yellow crepe or tissue paper to scruple into balls for the centre of the flower.
They are really simple to make. It took me longer to explain it than it does to make them.