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Back to School 2017!

After being off for over a year on maternity leave with my son I am gearing up to return back to the classroom! I decided I would accept the challenge of a new school and asked my former principal to release me from my old school. Fortunately I ended up at a school very close to my home, and with an admin team that I have already worked with and admire.

I am just starting now to dust off the cobwebs of being away from teaching and hope to get ready for the Fall with some back to school tips I have used in the past that have helped me feel more organized, ready, and calm ūüôā

  1. Start going to bed at a decent hour and waking up early
    In the Summer this is easier said than done, however the few weeks before school starts it is so helpful to start getting your sleep cycles and body into the routine of going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up early.
  2. Get the Planner ready and make a To Do List
    I am a major agenda/planner junkie, and sometimes have a few on the go. I have decided to try to consolidate into 1 planner for school / home so that my brain is less scattered this year. One of my favourite things to do to be ready for back to school is add in all the dates I have been given ahead of time (conferences, professional development days etc). I also go in and add birthdays, and other holidays so my planner at least is ready for work. Make a list of what is the most important stuff that needs to get done before the first week.19287279970_ca010938d4_k
  3. Create a warm, inviting space you’d want to learn in
    The summer is tough when looking on social media at some of the amazingly beautiful classrooms out there. The decor, the colour schemes, the organization – it can be almost overwhelming to see, especially when your own classroom has no theme, decor, or design whatsoever. My main goal with my classroom environment is to create a space I’d want to learn in. I do add some decor, and one time I did do some bulletin board borders, but mainly I try to set up the tables in nice arrangements, ensure I have some flexible seating, add some lights that aren’t fluorescent, and buy a bunch of easy to maintain plants to provide some greenery. (Look for my classroom tour soon)

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    My attempt at some “decor” in my space a couple of years ago
  4. Try New Things!
    Sometimes the social media space for teachers is overwhelming (see above) but most of the time it is super inspirational. Every new school year I find it helpful to pick 2-3 of my favourite things other teachers have done in their classrooms to try to emulate in my space. For example, I am going to attempt some whiteboard art this year – inspired by Mrs Ws Whiteboards and I am very excited to try to “Keep the Quote” in my classroom thanks to Miss 5th

Those are my top tips for back to school, I am so excited to be teaching again in the fall, and look forward to more connections, blog posts, and learning! I am so excited for Back to School this year I have joined up with a bunch of teacher bloggers for a sweet giveaway! Click below to enter to win a $50 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card, and a $15 Starbucks Gift Card – great way to start the school year.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

Spring

With Spring comes a busy flurry of student activities. ¬†I find that my calendar fills up way faster in April and May with in-school residencies, and other school-wide events. ¬† We’ve been very busy learning about Democracy and the Election process in Social Studies – our students participated in Student Vote, and were almost bang on with the way the Election results actually were reported! ¬† A testament to the research and critical thinking skills our students have developed.

In Science, we’ve been busy at work learning about Sky Science – the moon, sun, stars, planets, and space technology! ¬† This unit is always a favourite amongst the kids, as they love the chance for inquiry, and deep exploration about the great big universe we live in!

My Grade 6s just finished their first Provincial Achievement Test in Writing. ¬†They had to write a short story based on a picture prompt, as well as a newspaper article based on information they were given. ¬† I’m not a supporter of standardized testing but want all my students to be successful in a system that I can’t singlehandedly change. ¬† So we did some test prep, and we talked about ways to de-stress and take care of our mental health. ¬† This group did very well based on my first glances, and they seemed calm and cool about the whole thing.

I managed to get a large piece of wood installed outside my classroom so our class debated and discussed a theme, and then sketched images based on that theme, and then democratically we voted on the top 3 designs. ¬†I took those 3 and combined them to create a great mural for this year. ¬† The best part about the wood is that we will be re-painting it over and over again so the art changes with our learning ūüôā

Here are some photos of some of the going ons in our busy Room 14!

Painting our Train Mural - keep on moving!
Painting our Train Mural – keep on moving!
Drumming residency
Drumming residency
Student Vote day!
Student Vote day!
Paper Mache bowls for our Healthy Eating Unit in French and Health!
Paper Mache bowls for our Healthy Eating Unit in French and Health!

EdCamp Musings

Today I had the great opportunity to attend a PD away from my school, and join 400+ teachers from around Calgary (as well as some pre-service teachers) who want to discuss some of Education’s tough questions and movements.

EDCAMPYYC 2015 is about meeting with other like-minded professionals to create a learning network and discuss topics that we are passionate about.

Entering the new highschool up in Nose Hill; Robert Thirsk Highschool is beautiful.   It still had that new school smell, and was exceptionally laid out.  What a treat it must be to get to work there.   They had some beautiful living walls, and a lovely outdoor terrace for teachers to shmooze and have breakfast.

My first session was put on by Joe Bower¬†who is an advocate for a shift away from grades and tests. ¬†He facillitated an excellent discussion about the “whys” and the “hows” related to moving away from giving students tests and grades. ¬†We discussed the difficulties, the roadblocks, and some of the successful ways teachers from K-12 were managing to provide formative feedback, collaborative reflections, and more. ¬† Joe did an excellent job inspiring the crowd with his own personal anecdotes about dealing with parents and kids who are still “number obsessed”. ¬† He explained that every number is subjective.

Some take aways from this discussion were:

Рthat we need to teach kids how to collaborate and share their learning.  Many know how to talk about their weekends, but when they have a school q. they raise their hand to ask the teacher.  Have to teach and train them to use each other as a community of learners

– instead of tests – look at objects, performances, and portfolios (digital or physical) – students always need to know the purpose and context of every task in order to be engaged.

– Success and Failure should not equate to Reward and Punishment, but INFORMATION!

– We need to give students a space where they can take risks, where a number doesn’t define them, where process is important, and reflecting on how they grew from the process.

Secondly, I went to a discussion about Outdoor Education, put on by Paul Kelba.   He shared some great links and a video about the importance about getting outside.  We discussed together the challenges and roadblocks to getting outside to be active and to do field work or field trips.   Many common roadblocks are the paperwork, costs, not enough volunteers, and resistance from teachers, or kids themselves.   We discussed ways to overcome some of these roadblocks such as going on walking trips (cost saving, and almost no paperwork now thanks to the CBE and their walking distance trip letter).   We talked about creating dialogue with parents to help stress the importance of doing field trips and the need for volunteers at your school and using student teachers/university students as volunteers.   Overall I was very inspired to get outside more, and take advantage of our beautiful city.

Some take aways

– the benefits of revisiting the same place multiple times in a year
– using GIS
– mapping and orienteering
– using art and science outcomes for any outdoor trip – journaling, reflection, field studies, etc.

Passion Projects!

For the last few weeks of school, my classroom was engaged in learning through Passion Projects!  I took inspiration from Genius Hour and other project-based ideas and had my students make a list of topics they loved.   They then had to narrow their topic and then turn their topic into a question/experiment/math problem!    

Some awesome examples:

РHow many different outcomes of shish kebabs are there with 4 meats and 7 vegetable options?   The student then made some of these outcomes to share with his class

– How do I make the best chocolate pie? This student made 24 different “tarts” that explored various outcomes when you change one of the ingredients (amount of sugar, type of chocolate, amount of salt, cooking time etc)

РHow do I make a video game?  The students used Scratch coding to make a basic game!

This has been an engaging and exciting way to end the year.  We have 3 days left.

Watercolor Techniques & Positivity

Masked off and exploring techniques
Masked off and exploring techniques
Tape removed, great negative space!
Tape removed, great negative space!
Awesome techniques
Awesome techniques

 

The past two weeks my class explored watercolor painting techniques.  We explored many techniques that I showed them (wet-on-wet, splatter, using salt, using plastic wrap etc.)  Then I let them do their own experimenting in their Visual Journals.   Many of them commented that it felt like a Science class Рawesome!

Each student was given a piece of watercolor paper, they loved how heavy it felt, and its texture.    I asked them to use masking tape to create negative space on their page.  Many chose to go with a geometric design, but some were also random.    Each section they created they were asked to demonstrate their new understanding of the techniques.  They could layer different techniques, or highlight just one.

We left those to dry for a few days and did some lessons in Health surrounding body image, relationships, and self-esteem.   Afterwards we made a list of ten positive things about ourselves.  We talked about being ourselves, loving who we are, and accepting our mistakes as learning opportunities.

After this was done we did a photography lesson!   The kids were so excited with all the different components to this project.   We discussed shooting close up faces for impact (SCUFFI), and using lighting to help create value on our subjects.    Students loved going outdoors and taking lots of various portraits of each other.

Final step was to put everything together in a creative way. ¬† Don’t you just love how they turned out?

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Ancient Athens

My students had to explore life in Ancient Athens by using books, and some critical thinking skills to create a timeline of a day for a slave, metic, citizen, or woman.

We had some amazing costumes, props, and paintings created, but the most fun was the students bringing in food to make some traditional Greek recipes.

We made: stuffed grape leaves, homemade tzatzkiki, chicken pita wraps, and watermelon soup!

Ancient Athens (8)
Watermelon Soup!
Ancient Athens (3)
Stuffing the grape leaves
A citizen dressed up in armour
A citizen dressed up in armour

What an exciting day we had sharing in the cultures of the past.   It was so rewarding to hear them telling their peers how they learned how to properly use kitchen tools and chopped onions and garlic.

Photography and Math

Last week in Math, we were learning about shapes and angles! ¬† Students were exploring angles around us in our classroom, and in our lives. ¬† Then applied this knowledge to understanding the interior angle of shapes. ¬† We concluded that because a triangle is like half of a square that if a square is 360 degrees, a triangle’s angle measurements should be half of that, 180 degrees!

After some use of the protractor, we did a photography project relating to angles!   We talked about how different movements of our camera can make a different angle in relation to the ground Рsome students even were able to make some fairly good estimates of what the actual angle was.   For example, having your body on the ground with your camera on the ground and taking a picture of the object on the ground = 180 degree angle!

Students had to choose ONE object and take as many different angles of the object that they could.  The result, some interesting perspectives on ordinary objects!

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The display outside our classroom with our photo collages!

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30 Day Drawing Challenge!

Before beginning the day, while I check homework, do attendance, and collect any paperwork – students are given a daily drawing “prompt” on the SMART Board.

This particular challenge was 30 days long, so on the first day, students divided a two-page spread in their journals into 30 sections.   As you can see, some did random divisions, and others were more mathematical (dividing each page into 15, by creating 3 columns and 5 rows).

Some examples of the challenge were:

– Draw a Science project gone wrong
– Draw a word in graffiti style
– Draw a mysterious building
– Draw something taped together
– Draw an ancient cell phone
– Draw your favourite character as a zombie

Can you spot any of these in each of the student samples of the Drawing challenge?    Many of them did them in random order, some were more linear and went day-to-day, in order.

This is a great activity to keep students busy, and thinking while you get prepared for the morning. ¬† ¬†There were so many creative interpretations of each day. ¬† I always ensure not to “instruct” them too much with examples. ¬† I have my own page, but I usually do them AFTER the students have had their prompt.

 

Circuits!

Here is one of my students’ projects – they created a switch that open and closed the circuit by opening or closing the front door of their “house.” This was intended to be an alarm system that would make a light go on if the system was engaged. The tin can in the corner was a sound that alarmed upon walking into the house.

And so begins Spring Break…

*sigh* after two days of Parent Teacher Conferences I was exhausted. ¬†While I enjoy having parents come and be a part of their child’s world for awhile, it is a long day of teaching, and then meeting with parents until the evening. ¬† Most parents were so thrilled to see their kids’ Electricity Projects, and Visual Journals. ¬† All of my interviews went great, and I could really sense the kids and parents felt pride in the work that was being shown.

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The last week of school for Science, students did mini-experiments which we named “Eye on the Exhibits” ¬† After exploring and making observations, students had to create a journal page that was like a lab write-up. ¬†¬†

 

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In Math last week we began exploring the relationship between capacity and volume.  Students learned about displacement, and how to measure the volume of an irregular object using capacity and displacement.   Yes, the camera is waterproof!

 

It was a great last week, and although I am fortunate for the break, I am looking forward to going back to school in April fully recharged and ready for a great 3 more months of this school year.

last week of february

This week was super busy! ¬†Our class has a school-wide assembly to host in March as well as a Silent Film workshop that took all of Wednesday for filming and editing. ¬†It’s been quite the creative chaos in our classroom.

creative work

As a class, we decided to create a large mural – pictures to come for our Kindergarten buddies’ play. ¬†We helped make the costumes they would need as well. ¬† We also have some students doing a dance to the new song from the Lego Movie – Everything is Awesome!

On Wednesday, students created Silent Films and edited them using iMovie.  They turned out so great, and were very comedic.  As a class we had a discussion about humour vs. being silly for no reason, and the message came across well.  We had some creatively funny stories!

Looking forward to this weekend, I have a lot of work to do, but because the weather outside is supposed to be in the -30 range, I’ll be bundled up with my laptop and some warm beverages to work.

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