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.

The wonder wall

The wonder wall came about quite by accident one day. To be honest, open house was coming up so I hastily threw a hand-made “tableau de découvertes” poster up on the blank bulletin board, not knowing really what I had in mind but knowing that I wanted it to be an organic place for students to ask questions and share answers.

Then after parent night, the board was left alone until we went outside to observe the soundscape around our school. When we came back in we discussed what we had observed with all of our senses. One of the students remarked that she had seen pussy willows. My teaching partner noted that it was impossible for pussy willows to be out because it was the wrong season.

This was the question that constructivists seek: that moment where a learner’s understanding is challenged and the paradigm is forced to shift. I was just so happy to see the moment come so organically.

If it was impossible, how had our student made such an observation? The next time we went outside we looked for pussy willows… And sure enough they were there. Not because they were ripe and had opened on their own but because students had stripped them off the branches and had dropped them on the ground. We took one of the stripped branches and stuck it up on our bulletin board. Next, the questions started to come fast and furious: what would happen to the plant if all of the pussy willows were stripped off? Would birds eat them? Immediately, we needed a place to organize our questions. I stuck up three large sheets of paper for “my questions”, “what I think I know”, things I have learned” and the side of the board was reserved for “ideas that turned out to be mistaken”.

As the weeks passed, students were welcome to add questions and to add answers they thought they already knew. The wonder wall has been quiet over the last few days, but we are ready to give it another boost next week when we begin some student-lead research. My assistant principal @shafinad has shared the brilliant app aurasma with me and I’m so excited to have the students start creating videos that link directly from the wonder wall to videos of their learning! In the past I have created similar “off the wall” projects that linked from QR codes, but I think the Aurasma will be much more dynamic and students will be more inclined to scan one another’s work.

I would love to guide students to linking their work from last year on animals to their research this year. I think it would show them that the work they do never has to be entirely left in the past. In addition, it takes the work out of the four walls of the classroom and into the up-and-coming-learning-commons.

More to come!

How can I use technology in my classroom: blogs

I have used edublogs for some time now with lots of success. I like that it meets the CBEs tools 2.0 guidelines (this is key!) as everything can be locked down and moderated by me with lots of freedom for students. There is an app, which makes it easy for students to access. There is a cost for the pro version ($39 for a single classroom with a max of 50 blogs or a bulk upgrade that works out to about $8 per classroom), but I consider one of the costs of doing business. I have always allowed myself a certain budget for classroom extras like smelly stickers, coloured sticky notes, etc… whatever makes it fun to be in my classroom, but have recently begun to allocate my personal budget to technology-based expenses, like blogs. Our Calgary Public students also have the option to blog using D2L, which I think could be fairly easy, but requires students to log in, adding a small layer of complication for young students, but also adding a layer of security.

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Students have quickly developed the habits of good bloggers. They visit often. I often use blogs as enrichment work, where students who are “done early” can go and write. In grade one, we use them often for sentence writing using dictée words. In grade four I used them for movie and book reviews, book reflections, and word work.

My students have developed the habit of taking pictures of work that cannot be recorded otherwise (for example, building with shapes) and posting to their blogs. This way students can mark up their work and tag it so that they can easily find it and reflect on it later.

Students have the ability to read and post on other students’ work, which requires some pre-teaching around good Internet citizenship, but even after all these years, I have never had a student post an inappropriate comment.

My tips:

1. use a common login name and password and make it as short as possible especially for young learners.

2. Set up the edublogs app on your ipad and plug in all student names so that when they go to login all they have to do is find their name and click on it.

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3. Name blogs with a common name and link all blogs from your class page. This way students can easily find each other’s blogs.

4. Don’t force it. If you have students who are reluctant to blog you can’t force them to share. My feeling is that we need to respect the feelings of students who feel self-concious about sharing. In the past, I have had these students keep a paper journal when their peers were blogging on the computer or to have them blog, but to lock their page with a different password that was only known to me and her parents.

5. Decide how you want to use the blogs. I have a class blog, which students are welcome to post on, and individual student blogs, which students tend to use most often.

6. Use the blogs OFTEN! I have found that by sharing the fact that I blog, blogging often with students, and frequently sharing their blogs in class, students have become excited about their blogs. It is a way to make their learning explicit and they enjoy sharing.

But aren’t I just making extra work for myself?

I think it’s true that what you do in your classroom must follow your own personal interests and students tend to adapt from year to year. There are teachers who love music and students spend a year learning through music, there are teachers who love art and students spend a year learning through art. Technology is no different. Students in my classroom tend to get an immersion in technology for a year but it’s no different that any other creative extension in our classrooms. It allows students to speak, to photograph, to make movies and to express their learning in ways other than pencil and paper. I find moderating blogs and providing feedback no different than when I sit down at my desk with a basket full of journals and a purple pen (I love my purple pen!) except that I know my students are more likely to read the feedback and questions written on their blog and making edits and revisions becomes simple.

Moderation generally takes me a few minutes per week for comments and the same amount of time I spend marking journals per week. I have everything tied to my own smart devices and tend to moderate “as I find the time”… a few minutes after school, recess time, a few minutes before school.

With blogs, students know they have an audience and I find the quality of their work tends to improve as they know they are being read.

I generally use the blogs for the year I am with students and leave them open to my students for the year following. Most students lose interest in their blogs after leaving my classroom, but there are always a couple who continue to publish without prompting.

I personally blog at the value of wonder to share ideas and keep a record of my “good” ideas. I don’t know about you, but the last time I changed classrooms I moved 10 large Rubbermaid totes. Which is ridiculous. Time to start keeping a digital record of what works and what doesn’t. I love that my posts can be tagged for easy finding later on. Looking for a quick idea to throw in a math centre? I just have to look at my tags.

Excellent examples of teachers using blogs in primary schools include Kathy Cassidy and Danielle Maley.

Eric Carle Artist Study

I have been working over the past few weeks on an author study on Eric Carle with my grade ones. We have been working on the needs of plants and animals in science, so his books fit in nicely. This art project took place in three parts:

1. Tissue paper painting. This did not work so well for me. A half a dozen of my students created beautiful pieces but most had a hard time understanding what the final project was to look like. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

2. Eric Carle butterflies. Students each painted four sheets of paper. The instruction was to use vibrant colours that were neighbours on the colour wheel.

3. Cut out the shapes to form a butterfly and glue them onto large white background paper. I liked the result so much that I decided to use the same style for our classroom collaborative art project that will be auctioned off in a school fundraiser this spring. I cut small papers 3″x3″ and had students create butterflies, houses, community buildings, and people and plants we see in our community. They were allowed to let the art escape the confines of their paper and the effect was beautiful. I will choose enough art so that each child is represented in the auction piece and the remaining “inchies” will be matted and sent home as Mother’s Day gifts.

Eventually the art will be linked via QR code to the students’ blogs, which will host their related inquiry work on Alberta lakes and animals.

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Math Centres

Today’s math centers are:

1. Math with technology: students will be using the ipads and ipods to create an “ebook” about “plus grand”. During centres, I will send two groups of students into the school with our mascots Coco and Biscuit to take pictures of things that are “plus grand que”. Students will return to the classroom to stitch their photos together into a book.

2.

Math by myself: students will complete an addition worksheet.

3. Math with someone: students will use manipulatives and their math journals to create addition stories.

4. Math games: there are two today: addition war and addition tenzie

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The “Studio”

I began working with puppets in the primary classroom many years ago when I first attended a workshop on francisation and how to encourage the use of French among children who were born of Francophone parents but who’s families no longer used French at home. Paul et Suzanne were introduced to me! Two simple puppets who I used in the classroom all the time to demonstrate a back-and-forth conversation. My students at the time really connected with our “special guests” who often expressed happiness or disappointment, depending on my needs :)

Fast forward a few years…

I have been slowly integrating puppets back into my grade one classroom. My school has had a focus on Lister’s approach to intensive French and I was looking for a way to model a conversation for my students. After modelling, my puppet would travel the classroom.

I asked the first student: qu’est-ce que tu as mangé ce matin?

Student: j’ai mangé une pomme.

Puppet: ah! Tu as mangé une pomme?

Student: oui! J’aime les pommes! Et toi? Qu’est-ce que tu as mangé?

Puppet: j’ai mangé trios carottes!

Student: ah! Tu as mangé trois carottes!

Puppet: oui! J’aime les carottes!

The conversation took a couple of weeks to build using the intensive French model, but in the end my students were able to have a fairly organic conversation. I think it’s still a work in progress, but I’m excited to see where it goes.

Following this, we opened a “production studio” in a corner of our classroom. It required three people on a team: two puppet masters and a director to work the camera (we just used photo booth). In the video you can hear me coaching a bit, but following this, I left the studio open during literacy centres and listened in on their conversations. Pretty exciting to hear and I had a hard time keeping kids out of the studio when I wanted them to sit back down!

Our current plan is to leave the studio open and share the results during a school assembly.

A technical note: I found that the classroom has to be quite quiet to make it work so that we can hear the dialogue. We might try opening the centre during reading time and using a couple of mics. My class generally reads silently for 10 minutes after lunch while I work on guided reading with a small group. I don’t see why I couldn’t also have a small group working in the studio at the same time.

Reading Buddies

The best way I ever heard professional learning from our peers put was “steal something good”. It’s always very intimidating to have our teaching peers in our classroom when we feel that we are being “evaluated”,  but sharing something successful always comes more easily. My reading buddy structure is something I stole from @TSpasoff when we worked together #Hawrylak in Saskatchewan. I was always the big buddies and she was always the little buddies.

Each student in my class has a magazine box ($1 per 2 boxes from the dollar store) and each student has a pencil case ($1 ea from the dollar store). I could use plastic ziploc bags, but the canvas pencil cases are more durable and I have used the boxes and pencil cases for the past 4 years for various purposes.

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I spent one 30 minute session with the Grade 4 students, teaching them the routine. I walked them through the routine and modeled with them. The Grade 4 teacher, M. Corbeil, came to my classroom and spent the half hour with my students. After this initial training session, the Big Buddies know how to be a “teacher” for the Little Buddies.

Inside the pencil cases, I have placed flash cards that are leveled for my students. Some begin with letters of the alphabet, some with sounds taken from the “Village des sons” kit, and some are working with the first 100 sight words for Grade 1 French Immersion in Alberta, which I took from @Shannon_Wiebe who has her blog here. (I initially met Shannon online via Twitter when I first moved to Alberta and was looking to make professional connections)

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Inside each box is a pencil case for sight words, two or three books from our home reading program, and a notebook. You might notice that I’m slightly obsessive about numbering my students. That way it’s easy to put any missing pieces back in the right place. When I was a grade 4 teacher, I even had my students number each of the words in their pocket just in case of words that were dropped on the floor.

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The Big Buddies are in charge of running students through their flashcards and know that I only want them to give students positive feedback. When a word is read correctly, the Big Buddy puts a check mark on it. If it is read incorrectly, the Big Buddy reads it, the Little Buddy repeats it, and it goes into another pile for more practice. Once a word has three check marks the Little Buddy has mastered it and it goes home. When the pile of flashcards gets low the Big Buddy lets me know and I refresh the pile with the next level up.

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After working through the flashcards, Big Buddies help their Little Buddies move on to reading the books. Little Buddies are responsible for reading and Big Buddies are responsible for “helping” to read by using reading strategies (sound it out, use the picture cues, what sounds do you recognize).

After reading, big buddies must provide feedback, both by “telling” their buddy and by “writing” their feedback so that I can see it. I have trained the Big Buddies to share two stars and a wish: two things their buddy did very well and one thing they might keep working on for next time. This feedback is valuable for me and my mentor teacher also had big buddies prepare a feedback sheet for parents at the end of the term. My hope is to have big buddies prepare this to share with one of our “Sharing my learning” sheets for parents, which my Grade 1 team sends home approximately once per month.

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Little Buddies are then asked to write and draw about the story that they read that week by using words that they know, that they find in the classroom or that they have in their pencil cases.

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When students are ready for a new book, I have them make the exchange during a quiet reading time – 10 minutes after lunch recess – students know their reading level and are responsible for making the exchange. The books come from the baskets I have organized for our home reading program. I have the good fortune to be teaching in a school and in a classroom with LOTS of leveled books in our reading program. As a part of our home reading, the Grade 1 students take home 3 books per week. There are generally lots of books left over in the classroom to put another 2 or 3 into each reading box.

During the 30 minute buddy period,  M. Corbeil and I circulate, ensuring that all students are on task and giving Big Buddies feedback. So far we have found this to be very successful and we have had very little trouble keeping students engaged. The Little Buddies get good one-on-one practice and Big Buddies get to review reading techniques, modeling and mentoring their Little Buddies.

In addition, I find that the reading boxes are easy for me to pull out if I find that I have a quiet few moments in the class; it’s easy to pull a student and their box and do an intensive 10 minutes of practice.