Genius Hour

Genius hour has been around for a long time and it’s a project that has had several different iterations in my classroom over the past few years. This year I would say has been one of the most successful for me.

I introduced it by reading a couple of picture books, which I think work well at every level. The first, one of my latest favourites, Rosie Revere, Engineer, is about a girl inventor who’s inventions turn out to be a “fabulous flop”, but she doesn’t let failure intimidate her.


The other, What do You do With an Idea?, was shared with me by my Assistant Principal @shafinad about a child who has an idea that keeps niggling at her until she pays it some attention.

We read the books together and talked about how genius hour might be an extension of the inquiry work we had already undertaken as a part of the BP Energy project we had undertaken as a school.

Every student, in consultation with the teacher, wrote an inquiry question that would guide their work. We were clear at the start that this might be a research project or it might be a different way for them to demonstrate energy and natural connections to empowering learning.

As a class, we brainstormed a rubric that could be common to all projects. Because I couldn’t guarantee that all projects would fit into the science curriculum, I was more comfortable pulling objectives from the language arts curriculum and in integrating some work from the new ministerial order.

Students were given one hour per week, which has quickly become their favourite hour! Many have chosen to work in Google Slides and to share their work with me online. An unexpected benefit to this was that students are able to see each other’s work in the shared folder and have jumped into providing each other with positive feedback and edits. A little surprising to me is that we have not had a single incidence of students vandalizing other students’ work, which tells me that we did a good job at the outset of the year talking about digital citizenship.

Other interesting projects include a student practicing a violin solo, a representation of our school in Minecraft, a stop-motion book trailer, and a tri-fold poster.

Many students are inspired by other projects they have seen and are excited to take it on again next year. I have not had students balk at having to go back over their project and edit or revise and some students. Who were initially reluctant to engage have taken on interesting projects like Chemistry in the Kitchen, which I personally cannot wait to see!

Looking forward to sharing links when we have some completed projects to share!

Literacy and The Power of Wordless Books

Wordless books are such a powerful source of inspiration in my classroom. As an immersion teacher, one of my primary concerns for students is always in building their vocabulary (it’s pretty hard to read, write, listen and speak without words), and increasingly, my immersion classroom is also a learning space for ELL students. As a budget concious teacher, I love that wordless books serve my classroom in both English and French.

I find that there is something magical about a book printed on paper and shared with a group of students sitting near enough to see the images. When sharing a book with my class I ask them to be patient as there are sometimes small enough details that it takes a minute for me to show the book around to the entire group.

For very young students, wordless books allow children to demonstrate reading behaviour as they develop the literacy skills to make sense of text.

But wordless books aren’t limited to only very young students. I have used wordless books with every level from Grade 1 to Grade 8.


Use them to talk

Wordless books are an excellent source of vocabulary. One of the activities we do is a PWIM (picture word induction method) type activity where students look through the book and “shake out” as much vocabulary as they can find. Students write this vocabulary on sticky notes, which we post in the classroom and use for writing later.

Use them to tell
Wordless books are a great way to take away the intimidation factor in getting students to use second-language vocabulary. As we read, I often ask students to turn and talk to a neighbour about the action occurring on the page. The key to success with talk time is to keep it short! 30-45 seconds max! After that, students tend to get into off-task discussions. This is a one sentence discussion. I will often ask students to make connections or predictions as we read. This is a structured response (In the book when ________ happened, I made a connection to ________ in my own life when______). I don’t use a “fill-in-the-blank” format, but I want students to use a formal structure for responding or predicting and to think critically about their reading.


Use them to write 

Asking students to write using wordless books is a great way to take out the intimidation factor of not knowing where to start. There are lots of ways to have students write:

1. Each student write a one-paragraph part of the story. In the end you have one coherent story to publish as a class.


2. Each student write the entire story. Each page can be one or two interesting sentences.


3. Each student write a well-developed short story about a single image and the class publish a collection of short stories at the end.



The Book With No Pictures 

Now for the complete opposite! The Book With No Pictures is an awesome way to illustrate the power of interesting language and effective punctuation for students. It’s funny and students love to play with the voice of the author.
  
After reading a book with students I will leave it out as a highlighted book in the classroom library for about a week or so. The highlighted book of the week becomes a hot commodity for a while and then I usually put it away to help it maintain its magic. When I put it back out again months later, students are delighted to “rediscover a book”.

Wordless books are an excellent way to integrate technology into the classroom, too. For me, there is something very visceral about opening the pages of a physical book and I think for children that turning the pages of a physical book is important, too. A good way to integrate technology at this point would be to use an iPad as a part of publishing student work. I have used book creator to photograph each page from the book and add student text directly onto the original author’s page. I have alternated pages (one from the author, one by a student author). This app also allows students to record their voices as they tell the story (good way to integrate speaking as story telling).

I think that wordless books really support the multi-literacies required of children in today’s classrooms. Today’s child is exposed to many types of text where not only the words on the page are important to understanding the message but where images have an equal importance in helping the reader understand.

Permaculture/ Community Garden Project: part 2

I really had a lot of fun teaching today and just want to reflect on the successes we had in the classroom today.

My teaching partner organized a guest speaker today who is the grand-parent of one of our students. He put a lot of time into organizing our guest for the day and preparing the links to King George’s community garden/ ecology project.

We started off our inquiry by asking a question: what do bees contribute to our ecology?

As soon as students entered the room there was a different energy as they noticed that many artifacts had already been set up around the room. Our guest speaker was a francophone, so it was interesting for students to hear another new accent and learn lots of vocabulary.

While Burt presented, Robert and I took notes in a way that students are accustomed to seeing: on chart paper.

After the presentation, students had the opportunity to explore the artifacts and taste fresh honey.

They took a short break for recess and were then ready to organize their ideas. We began with an open reflection in their visual journals where students were invited to reflect through images and words about what they remembered or most enjoyed.

After the initial reflection, we gathered students to reflect together and to organize notes into 4 student-chosen categories. They colour-coded their notes and organized them into a concept web, which they will use in the following days to write a well-organized essay.

Part of the purpose of this modeling is to guide students in their genius hour work. While we had only planned on an hour for the presentation and reflection, the lesson actually extended all morning and unfolded rather organically. It was so much fun to play off of each other’s strengths and to build a lesson that was so rich for our students.

Poetry Month

  April is poetry month. This month we celebrated by reading and writing poetry and playing with figurative language.

The poetry of Shel Silverstein inspired us to write many different kinds of poetry: list poems, concrete poems, rhyming poems and epigrams.

Today we read the book “Green” by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, which inspired us to explore color and to create interesting imagery. I read the story and students took talk time to tell one another an interesting sentence about what they saw. Then students used paint cards to write a colour-inspired poem. I was really excited to see how engaged they were in writing.
   

 

 

I would definitely say that this was a success.

Daily 5 in math

I feel like I’m still getting the hang of Daily 5 in math in grade 3; with every change of grade level there is a learning curve while learning a new curriculum and gathering materials that support the learning. 

This week my students are moving into multiplication and division, which has them over the moon (maybe because they perceive this to be “big kid” math).

Our centres are:

Math by myself: copy new vocabulary and begin this chapter’s illustrated dictionary.

Math with the teacher: guided introduction to the concept.

Math with a friend: textbook practice

Math problem: continue work on designing the community garden for our school.

Math with technology: IXL on the computer or splash math on the iPad 

Math games: I have… Who has…

I started the students who already have a foundation in multiplication and division at the more independent work and those who were still at the introductory stage in more supported work. I love that this allows me time to really target students at the right level for them but also allows them to interact, practice, and learn from one another. 

Puzzle Permaculture

Our school is currently engaged in a hands-on, design thinking project: Puzzle Permaculture. This project goes well together with the BP energy project first undertaken by our Arts Ed teacher and adopted by every teacher in the building. For this project, the Grade 3s are exploring the idea of creating a community garden and integrating solar technology into our school. Both projects will take place over a couple of years, so we’re asking students to take a long view of our community.

Today, students participated in project, in which they got to design a garden that will fit within the space reserved for it here at King George School. The students first got to play with their ideas for the garden and then got to learn a little bit about the placement of plants in terms of sun exposure and plants that help each other grow.

It was interesting to see my students engaged in hands on learning and using a new model of gardening than what so many of us have grown up with: a rectangular patch of dirt with rows and rows of vegetables and maybe a row of flowers at the end or around the edges. I was excited to see them asking real questions about what plants might grow here, exploring possible problems and solutions.

The Math Lab

Many years ago, I worked with some colleagues at Hawrylak to develop a math lab for our students. We put all of the French Immersion students in Grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 together in the Shared Learning area.

We created an extensive bank of levelled math problems and colour coded them according to difficulty. Each student was allowed to choose their own level with the understanding that they were each responsible for the work they did each week in math lab.

Each student kept a math journal. At the top of the page, students were required to record the colour of the problem and the number of the page they were working on. These problems were evaluated through meetings with the teacher, which allowed students to get one-on-one, just-in-time feedback. During this time, we had the support of every classroom teacher, the learning support teacher, and the vice-principal, which helped to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio. Our goal was to check in with each kid every day and ensure that they were getting exactly the support they needed.

I enjoyed this time with my students and am looking forward to adapting the math lab format to my current classroom. I have developed a bank of problems that are eau levelled. So rather than choosing a different coloured sheet, which might be a deterrent to some students who are embarrassed about choosing easier problems, each student gets a problem sheet that looks the same as the others and on the sheet there are four different levels of problems.

Many of the problems I have used for the first batch have been inspired by the book 50 Leveled Math Problems.