Drama as math provocation

This week my students are putting the finishing touches on scripts they’ll be using to create short films to present a math problem to visiting schools. The plan is for the viewer to watch the film, determine a problem, and solve it using math.

This, my friends, is no small undertaking. I’m nervous but that’s usually a sign that my students are on to something big!

Looking forward to sharing more soon!

Mini Author Study: Jon Scieszka

Students are working on narrative writing this month, so it has been useful to take a look at examples of good writing.

Students got to fall in love with the work Jon Scieszka and have loved discovering his MANY other books. One of the things I love about Jon Scieszka is that his work is accessible on many levels. He has published easy readers, picture books, short novels and long novels. Kids who love his work can find something explore independently and find something that they can read on their own.

How does the author’s voice change the story?


What happens after a story “ends”?


How can perspective change the story?

Students worked on connecting these stories to stories they already knew. There can be many versions of stories we already know.

What strategies do you use when you don’t understand? How do writers use other languages in their writing?


Henry Baloney is full of words from other languages that readers have to sound out. This lead to an important conversation about context. We can not know what a word means and still make sense of what we read.

How do authors create a unique voice for each character?


Laugh-out-loud funny, Cowboy and Octopus helped students to see “voice” as both Cowboy and Octopus have a unique and consistent voice. In addition, students saw that grammar matters. There is lots of interesting punctuation for those that are ready for it: quotation marks, question marks, ellipses…

What is the difference between editing and revising?


As students are working on their own narrative fiction, this was an interesting read. Students got to see that a few small revisions can make a big difference in the stories we tell.

 

How can your knowledge about the real world be used in writing fiction?

We read Me Oh Maya as an audio book and as students listened they created a graphic novel version. We talked about the conventions of graphic novels and how stories are told visually. We drew up a short rubric for our work. This was a relaxed way to listen to the story and to create personalized representations. This year, my students are over the moon about Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi (if you are not already familiar with the series you seriously need to go check it out) and are practically climbing over one another to read the series. They are already familiar examples graphic novels and it was easy to draw out a list of guidelines that we use to build a rubric.


I’ll post some rubrics when I get a chance!

Wordless Books for Inferring

  
We used this book today in ELA to talk about making inferences. It’s a beautiful book packed with rich illustrations that often had students gasping. They inferred using, “I see __________, I know _________, I can infer __________.” It was an interesting exercise to have students slow down and think about why their brains had leaped ahead to making inferences.

Make the walls talk

   

This “little” project actually took a lot of time to put together and the end result is the culmination of a great deal of student effort.

The final project brings together a unit’s worth of study in science and art. We started building French vocabulary in September with a science PWIM. This really is one of my favourite ways, especially in immersion, to help students build subject-specific vocabulary. It gives them a purpose for learning new vocabulary and provides an entry point for every child.

Through out the unit we referred back to our board.

I chose Abby Diamond as an artist study simply because she is an artist whose work I admire and whose techniques work on many levels. Her work appears simple but is actually technically difficult.

The art portion of our work started with two-minute sketches where each student was invited to look for the shapes within an animal photograph and to spend only two minutes sketching it. This work was personal. I told students that they would not be required to share with anyone. While I believe that feedback makes work better, I also believe that it’s important to have time to create without the pressure of sharing that work. Sometimes we need the freedom to just create for ourselves. The work pictured below is shared with student permission. 

    

   
   
After two-minute sketches, we did a five minute sketch of one animal followed by a viewing of Austin’s Butterfly and a discussion about how to provide specific, actionable feedback in the form of two stars and a wish.

   
   
Students created two drafts of the same animal. We spent a great deal of time with CPAWS and at Bow Habitat station discussing animal needs, where our chosen animal might fall on the endangered list and how we might help improve the security of our chosen animal.

  
Students then engaged in further study of Abby Diamond’s use of colour and colour theory and and watercolour techniques and, after creating multiple drafts of their drawings, they painted. The paintings were finally inked.
    

   
 After inking, students reflected on their work and recorded a video in the studio. On a personal note, the studio is a work in progress in my classroom. I think this is an excellent way to get students talking and creating in a second language but there is always a balance between the need for teacher supervision and the need for students to record in a quiet place. We have a pop-up studio that is simply a trifold where students post the materials they need to record.

  

In as much as possible, this work is managed by students. They do the final recording, write the final script and help each other with negotiation of meaning in the second language. I have been enormously impressed with student willingness to create multiple drafts. They watch themselves on video and resize they have missed information or want to improve pronunciation or fluidity and they have another go.

For the purposes of this project, I took the video off the iPad and put video together with image using the desktop computer for the sake of time. The process took me about an hour to upload.

The final product is a bulletin board that is scannable. Using a school iPad, students can scan the art work in the hallway and start a video, extending the learning beyond our four walls.

My goal is to have students create individual tags that will be laid over the art to create feedback loops for learners who will be able to scan and hear the feedback from their peers.

Lessons from this project: students ended up filming one another with screen rotation locked so all of our videos ended up being upside down and had to be fixed in post production. The technical aspects of video production need to serve the learning outcomes and I’m certain this is an aspect students will now check before filming! Thanks to @boyerclay and @mrsmaley for coming to our rescue on Twitter when I couldn’t resolve it on my own 😉 My PLN totally rocks!
   

The Deskless Classroom: Environment as the Third Teacher

The grammar of the classroom tells us what is possible there, tells the learner what to expect, how to act, how to interact, what is important.

You know those teacher dreams that happen in the last few days of summer where a classroom full of kids just won’t sit and listen no matter what the teacher says or does? Those are the dreams I had the week of the big reveal where we created our room and I knew I was in for something different. Our space now is unlike any space I have taught in before; wholly owned by students. I love that it has truly taken me away from being the centre of attention and creating space for student agency.

This is a space where design follows purpose.

Visible: The Word Wall, The Share Wall (which students REALLY want to be a Lego wall, but budget constraints mean they will have to content themselves with the Learning Commons Lego wall), Student-created bulletin boards

 

I never would have imagined at the outset what an all encompassing project this would be (but, Tracy, you’d say, didn’t you plan it?) the answer is yes, but it took more effort and more time than I expected, but the payoff was also far greater than I expected.

 

Visible: The Art Gallery, The Tipi (currently a tent that will be replaced after consultation with an expert) The Dojo: where students become leaders

 

My students can do math about our space. My students can discuss our space in French. My students plan and own their learning and the products that will be made in our space. My students are excited to be here. My students own this space!

What did they learn?

The students built on the 21st century competencies outlined in the ministerial order on learning in Alberta.

They collaborated, problem solved, researched, and communicated solutions, all in French!

Collaboration Café: Knowing I wanted a sofa in the classroom, I haunted Kijiji for several weeks before scoring a deal on an Ikea loveseat that the seller had not even unboxed yet!

 

Making the Maker Space: probably one of the classroom spaces the atudents are most proud of

 

 

 

The Stage: this space was supposed to be a raised balcony in the class with a reading space underneath but a budget of zero meant using what was already in the school. The stage will be the floor while seating is raised.

 

The Alphabet: some students still need support with letter formation and alphabetical order. The low placement allows students to interact with it.

 

The Traveling Trolley: contains our Daily 5 word work stations as I teach ELA in two classrooms.

 

The Genius Bar: a stand-up workspace with built-in storage

 

Teacher Space: an unexpected benefit of having no teacher desk: I have no place to leave my stuff out at the end of the day. My space is tidy(ish) and filed at the end of every day!

 

The reading corner/ collaboration café

 

The Low Table
If there is low seating it follows that there should also be tall seating, right?

 

A reflection at the end of the build on what might be possible here!

 

But what would you do differently?

The question was asked by a colleague who appreciated the space but wondered what I learned.

  • I would have owned less of it – let the students create more and solve more problems. Want a sofa but have $0? Let’s find a creative way to solve this… make it with cardboard, repurpose old furniture, have a bake sale…
  • I would slow down more. I felt pressure to have the space completed, but it was such a rich learning project that it could easily have been given more time.

This is a space that will need to be remade at regular intervals to meet our current needs. 

When we have a minute, I will have my students podcast about their learning.

On a related note: one of my students from last year dropped in last week to share his genius hour project where he read a novel, wrote a script, and filmed a stop-motion animation book trailer, and now my new group of students is fired up and ready to start creating!

Literature in the Math Classroom: Robert Munsch

This post was inspired by Darling Son’s bedtime stories, as my classroom lessons often are. This is our chance to catch up at the end of the day, but the teacher in me often uses what we read together in my classroom. Tonight, The Boy in the Drawer rang a bell for me as I’m working on measurement with my students through our classroom redesign project.

As suggested by Geri Lorway during last school-year’s math in residency, I’m starting the year with measurement as it integrates so many of the skills students will be using through the year. This post is just an odd collection of stories that I have used in the Grade Three classroom to support our math work. I developed a project-based unit, which I have been using to start the year, with a colleague, Isabelle Bujold, who I attended a PBL workshop lead by Charity Allen with in the spring of 2015.

More on that in another post.


Math and literature are made for each other; after all, story is everywhere and looking for math in literature is a good way to get students in the habit of looking for math in the everyday stories around them. When we are looking for rich, open-middle or open-ended math tasks, what better place than to begin with story.

What follows are just a few ideas and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Usually as we read, I ask students what kind of math questions we might be asking, which they record using a mind map in their math journals (an unlined notebook. I like the unlined notebooks because it lends itself to students representing math thinking using the strategy that works best for them. Otherwise, I usually like to have students record math on graph paper as it helps keep things organized.)

Moira’s Birthday Party

Moira wants to invite the entire school to get birthday party! What math questions might we ask as we read? How did you estimate the total number of guests at the party? How many more cakes will come in the second delivery? What will be the total cost of the cakes? What information will we still need to gather to answer this question? What will be the cost of the pizzas? Where can we look to find the price of the pizzas? How can the pizzas and cakes be divided amongst the guests?

Materials: pencil, paper, fraction manipulatives, pizza flyers (or online), grocery story fliers (or online)

The Boy in the Drawer


In this story, a little girl is bothered by a little boy who shows up in her sock drawer. The more she tries mean tricks to get rid of him the taller he grows. She learns that kindness is the only way to get rid of him.

I used this book in the math classroom to have students work on measurement. They each chose a starting size for the little boy and each time he grows they add to his height.

Extension: have students estimate: how much water will it take to fill up a bread box? Estimate the number of socks in Shelley’s bedroom. What are you using to help estimate?

Materials: pencil, large paper, centimetre rulers, meter sticks, water and a breadbox (why not try it for real?)

Stinky Socks

For this little girl a new pair of socks is a big deal! What math questions might we ask about this story? What information do we still need to gather?

Materials: pencil, paper, catalogues, scissors, glue

Alligator Baby

This little girl’s parents end up making several trips to the zoo in the search for their own baby! What information do we still need to know to do the math? What distance will this family have covered in their car and on bike? What would be a good unit of measure to measure that distance? (mm, cm, km?) How tall is each of the babies? What unit of measure might we use?

Down the Drain  

Adam asks his father to buy him many items. What math questions might we ask about this story? Where will we find the information we need to finish our math story? What is the estimated total of what his father bought? What is the actual total of what he bought? Why do we estimate?

Materials: pencil, paper, catalogues, scissors, glue

The Deskless Classroom – part 2

Close your eyes and imagine a classroom. What does it look like? What furniture is there? What colour are the walls? What does it smell like? How do you feel in this space? If you’re like me the image that comes to mind is of paper-lined bulletin boards, colourful borders, tables and desks neatly arranged, shelves full of books. I can practically smell the wax crayons.

This classroom in my mind is Pinterest-perfect. As a teacher, it’s kind of a nerdy heaven. Most teachers I know are experts at creating an inviting space. But I think this space, even with the addition of a computer or two is designed for a different kind of learning than is done in modern classrooms.

What if a classroom looked less like a classroom and more like an artist’s studio? Go ahead and close your eyes again… My image is that of a messy space full of artifacts and materials for making. It’s a space for something completely different, isn’t it?

This is what greets most teachers when we walk back into schools after summer. Clean (although usually we put a little elbow grease into getting it back to the bare bones). This year, this is the same place that greeted my grade 3s. 

I was only mildly nervous over the first few days and only became really nervous the night before kids came  back for the fall when I read one of those “Dear Teacher” posts on FB. You know the kind I’m talking about… “Dear Teacher, I see how hard you have worked putting your room together over the summer, the boards neatly papered, the shelves full of books, organized for reading…” and I panicked a little. “OMG, parents are going to think I just traipsed in this morning without any thought to my environment!” when the opposite was true.

I actually spent a lot of time over the summer reading The Third Teacher, talking with my PLN and thinking and sketching. On the days of prep, I also put a lot of elbow grease into this space. Even when it’s “empty” it takes a lot of work to get a classroom to a blank slate.
  

I had an idea of what I was going for and it took a lot of self restraint to keep myself from creating the corners and “zones” that I had created in the past. “But how will they know where to find a pencil? Where will their agendas go in the mornings? Colour-coded notebooks… where will I put them…??”

In the end, I went for as blank a slate as possible. I pushed everything out of the way. I welcomed students in to what looked like a familiar meeting place. The benches in front of the computer and we worked from there.

“Does this room look like it might be missing anything??” I asked. And students quickly rattled off a litany of things that they were missing in this space for learning.

We worked through a google presentation prepared by Shafali, a teacher at another school, who I connected with via my Assistant Principal @Shafinad. We created empathy for students. What kinds of things might we include in our space? What might we be able to accomplish in this space if it looked different than a traditional classroom? What do we want to create here?

Students began the ideation process by breaking into five groups and recording their ideas on sticky notes. This, I might add, is not always an easy task with second-language learners at the beginning of grade 3, but I refused to do the work for them. They invented spelling, they drew, they collaborated to communicate ideas, and in the end, I scribed a few ideas. Very few.

   
 From there, I had students begin a sketch in their journals.

  
Then they put their heads together and drew a large poster.

   
 Then they cut out pictures.

We put our ideas together and grouped all of the ideas into categories.

Then we broke the categories down by student group and decided who would represent which part in the maquette. They knew that we didn’t have a million dollars to make this space. We would have to be  creative.

   
 Then students brainstormed about how to represent and measured our classroom, which told me more than I expected about them as learners.
We are not done yet but are starting to get close. Looking forward to sharing our final product!

Fun with Procedural Writing

We found inspiration in How to Train a Train, which my students enjoyed in spite of its very simple story.

  
After reading, we brainstormed the elements of procedural writing. Students determined that there had to be a title, an introduction, several steps that each started with a verb and an evaluation step so that the person following the instructions would know whether or not they had succeeded.

Then students headed off to try their hands at writing through the writer’s workshop procedure.

They had a blast brainstorming what their “how to” might be about.

The rest of the week will be very busy with innovation fair and celebration of learning so we have a few fun things planned for the spaces where we are not otherwise tied up.

Students will read and write recipes, which will support our work in ELA procedural writing and math fractions. We will be cooking but I haven’t yet decided what to cook as I think that will depend on how hot it gets this week… Maybe we’ll make ice cream!

I think we’ll finish off the week with this cute idea:

 
Procedural writing about how to blow a bubble and then we’ll blow some bubble gum bubbles and write our successful attempts as a fraction of the total number of attempts. 

Some days you just need to play while learning 😉

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.

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.