“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Liebster Award

The Liebster Award!

I just found out that I was nominated for the Liebster Award!   The award is given to new bloggers with 200 followers or less and I certainly qualify (but I am  happy to have any and all new followers)!  I was nominated by Mrs. Sommers at What's Working This Year in Kindergarten  I love her blog design....I so I wish I had seen it first!  LOL!  Thanks for the nomination Mrs. Sommers I will be sure to "pay it forward"!

Here is how it works:

1. Post 11 random things about yourself
2. Answer the questions the nominator set for you
3. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
4. Choose 11 other blogs with fewer than 200 followers to nominate and link them to your post.
5. Leave a comment on this post if you were nominated so I can learn more about you and see who you nominate

My 11 randoms:

1.  I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, and I bought the house two doors down from where I grew up.

2.  I never wanted to be a teacher...I just kind of went that path...with some urging of a university professor...and it was the best "intervention" ever!

3.  I have two Boston Terrorists named Bella and Smarty.

4.  I love to watch the "Housewives of __________"fill in the blank (NYC, NJ, Miami, Vancouver, Atlanta) shows!  My little indulgence!

5.  My best friend is also my life partner...after 9 years together.  We are so lucky to have each other!  He is my rock!

6.  I read novels voraciously....2 minutes at a time... while I brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush each morning!  You would be amazed at how much reading you can do this way!

7.   In high school I played flute, piccolo and oboe.  I was part of a choir which toured all over Europe too!  BUT I no longer sing or play an instrument.

8.  My hubby and I are both LEOS!  Watch out if we decide to roar!

9.  My last vacation was to take my daughter to Disney World, Orlando 2 years ago.  Lots of great memories!

10.  I am a caregiver to my mother who is 85 and suffers from Alzheimer's and my brother who is 47 and has multiple malignant brain tumours.  To say my life is busy is an understatement.

11. My  only "artistic" talent is painting my nails.  I am obsessed with nail art!

The questions from Mrs. Sommers and my responses:

1.  What is your current favourite article of clothing?
Black Pilate's/yoga pants.  I must own 10 pairs of them.  Super stretchy to cover a MULTITUDE of sins!

2.  What is your dream car (obviously, money is not an object)?
A bright red Dodge Challenger.  I had a rental for a week a few years ago and FELL IN LOVE!

3.  What is your favourite flavor of ice cream?
Although I am lactose intolerant...I would have to say Baskins Robbins Pralines and Cream.

4.  What is your most memorable teaching moment?
Winning the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in Math, Science and Technology.  I was nominated by central board staff, my principal, parents and students.  It was such as shock, and an honour to win!

5.  What is your favourite lesson or topic to teach?
I love to teach math.  Currently I am working on implementing Interactive Math Notebooks.  I do not use textbooks, and I try to integrate math with the topics I am teaching (e.g. creating paper air planes and holding contests to see which can fly the furthest, collecting the data, graphing the data and creating a brochure to promote the design of the best air plane...integrating technology of course!

6.  Do you prefer to read books or magazines?
I read ANYTHING and everything, newspapers, books, magazines, the back of cereal cartons...!

7.  What made you want to get into blogging?
I was inspired by all the great ideas I was getting from other teacher bloggers.  I found so many "kindred souls" out there.  I wanted to be able to share some of what I have been doing for the past 23 years both in a and out of the classroom.

8.  What was your most favourite vacation that you ever took?
Touring around Europe when I was a teenager.  I visited  France, Italy, the UK and Wales.  I will never, ever forget the bridges in Venice!

9.  What is your favourite pizza topping?
Okay, I know this is weird, but I have to say artichoke hearts AND goat cheese.  LOVE this combo!

10.  Why did you decide to become an educator?
I thought I would end up working at the bank I had been at for four years putting myself through university.  I decided it wasn't for me.  I was "encouraged" to try the Bachelor of Education program by my philosophy professor.  I was lucky enough to be part of a con-current teacher education program, so I was able to take 3 years to get my degree at the same time as getting my B.A. in Sociology.  I student taught for 3 years, and realised at the end that I was hooked!  I have never looked back.

11.  What is your favourite holiday?
I love Thanksgiving and Christmas equally...because I love to cook a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings and share with family and friends.

My nominations are:

1. Taking a Walk on the Teaching Side
2. Reading with Mrs.D
3. The Craft of Teaching
4. Tales of a First Grade Teacher
5. Teaching with Moxie
6. Rock & Teach
7. Lessons from the Middle
8. The Digital Primary Teacher
9. Pocketful of Centers
10. It's a Jungle Out There
11. The Teaching Bug

The questions for my nominees are:

1. List five adjectives that describe yourself.
2. What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
3. When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
4. What do you want to be doing in five years?
5. If you could have only one powered appliance at home/work what would it be?
6. What is your favourite subject to teach? Why?
7. What is your least favourite subject, and how do you overcome your indifference toward it to teach it well?
8. What do you think is the funniest word in our vocabulary?
9. What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
10. If someone wrote a book on your life what would you like the title to be?
11. What would your students say was the most important thing that they had learned after spending a year in your class?

Saturday, 24 November 2012

APEC Revisited

Lately I have been reflecting on strategies that work in my classroom which help students respond to questions requiring an extended answer.  Here in Ontario, students encounter these types of questions when they write standardized tests such as the EQAO Assessments in Language and Mathematics (written in grades three and six).  They also need to develop the ability to answer in extended form when they write the CASI (Comprehension, Attitude, Strategies, Interests) reading assessment twice each year between grades four and eight. 

One of my first blog posts ever was about how I use APEC in my classroom.  Several years ago, I created a series of pages which I turned into posters and have been using in my classroom for the past few years. You can read more about this strategy here. 

This year, I wanted to improve my teaching of this skill, so I have created two response sheets.  You can download your own copy of BOTH sheets FREE by clicking on either image above.  One sheet is for use when teaching extended response for reading and the other is for use with mathematics.  I hope that you find these organizers useful.  Please leave me a comment here or at my TPT store about how you are using them in your classroom.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Awards and Share the Wealth Saturday

 Happy Saturday to everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and colleagues.  This week has been super crazy for me.  On Thursday night, I was asked to attend the Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement awards ceremony with my principal and another member of our school team.  The Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement was established in 2009 in honour of Dr. Stephenson’s lifelong commitment and contribution to Ontario’s publicly funded education system. This recognition program acknowledges school communities throughout Ontario that have distinguished themselves through their leadership, data-driven strategies and whole-school approaches to help every child succeed. Each of these schools has adopted an action plan based on their unique circumstances to work toward improved student outcomes.  It was nice to have an evening out with colleagues, and to have our school honoured once again for excellence.  Last year we received the Weston Foundation award for Excellence in Mathematics education.  I am very fortunate to work at a school which continues to strive to provide excellence in all areas of education.  The staff and students are my inspiration each and everyday.

That's me on the right...with my colleague Marlie and my principal S.Bauer in the middle.
After the awards dinner on Thursday night I had to hop into bed and get a good night sleep as it was parent/teacher/student interview day for me.  Our Fall Progress reports had been sent home on Tuesday, and I had 24 interviews booked back to back from 7:30 to 3:30 p.m.  Normally, I would have held some of the interviews the evening prior, but this year had the award ceremony to attend.  In the midst of all this, I knew I wanted to write a blog post and to support Mr. Hughes from the blog "An Educator's Life" with his regular "Share the Wealth Saturday." 

 I was trying to think of something I could share this week that might be of value to you my readers but also link into what I was doing at school.  I am fortunate to have been working with a student teacher candidate from the M.Ed program at OISE for the past month.   My student teacher was going to take part in the interview process with me, and I was trying to think of ways to demonstrate how to make an interview flow smoothly, especially given the time constraint of 15 minutes per interview.   I put together a conference sheet which has helped me immensely during interview time.  I find often the parents come to the interview and they are unsure about what to discuss with the teacher.  I created this little "script" and conference sheet to keep me on track and give the parents some talking points.  If you would like your own copy just click on the image below for a FREE download.

I cannot tell you how successful using this little "tool" was. I was able to easily facilitate conversations with the parents, take notes, and keep to my time schedule.  I can now go back to the forms, review my notes, use them to make updates to my IEPS, and follow up with any questions, concerns or requests.  It will be invaluable in assisting my "memory" as holding 24 interviews in one day got to be a little overwhelming by the end of the day.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to share with you some information and pictures of my next adventure in the classroom....Interactive Math Notebooks.  I started them last week with my class and the students were super excited.  Right now, we are working on Patterning and Algebra, with a focus on Triangular Numbers.  I decided that introducing IMNs would be a great fit for this activity.  I will share more details in upcoming posts.  Please come back and check in soon! 
Have a happy and healthy weekend everyone!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Electricity Games Galore!

For the past few weeks, I have been meaning to write about the big project my class just finished.  It has been very busy at school and I finally have a chance to share some photos and the instructions for this project with my blog followers.  

Each year for Hallowe'en the students in my class run a "Penny Arcade for UNICEF" at our school.  I like linking this project with a social justice theme.  All funds collected are donated to UNICEF.(The United Nations Children's Fund - UNICEF - works for children's rights, their survival, development and protection, guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.)

Students in costume with their finished game.

I start to prepare my students for this project well in advance of the day.  During the summer, when I send home a letter to the families of my upcoming class, I remind them that the first big project will be creating an arcade game using electrical circuits.   I suggest they start to think of ideas for games by looking on the Internet, and by reflecting on successful games they have seen at previous years arcades.  

Once school begins, I start teaching about the concepts of electricity immediately.  I post the vocabulary we will be using on a bulletin board in the classroom (see free download for your copy of the vocabulary), along with some posters of circuits (both parallel and circuit).  I make good use of our school board's media department and borrow a variety of videos and DVDs which demonstrate basic concepts to the students.  I am also fortunate enough to be able to borrow science kits which contain materials to build the games.   I also have collected a large personal collection of things such as battery holders, bulb holders, alligator clips, LED bulbs (cut up from Christmas lights), electrical tape, wire, batteries, wire strippers, etc.  I keep adding to my "electricity" box whenever I find things on sale or at the local dollar store.  Over time I have amassed quite a large stockpile of materials for my students to use.

At the beginning of the project, I give my students a science notebook which they will use for note keeping for the duration of the project.  It is essential to get them into the habit of writing down their notes, creating diagrams, and drawing illustrations early on in the process.   I model how each page should look, including a date, title, and neat, legible writing.  I encourage them to carefully record each step of the process, and spend time each period constructing and recording their findings and the process they used each day.  I collect the notebook at the end of the project as part of my overall assessment.

After doing some "diagnostic" activities in which I have the students create both a parallel and a series circuit for me using simple materials from the science kit, I hand out a copy of the project outline. Students can work in pairs or individually to construct a game.  (I do this to allow for the distribution of materials.)   The project outline is kept generic, as each year I may change it depending on the needs of my class and availability of materials.  This year, the game my students created had to include a parallel circuit, a series circuit and a light and a buzzer.  The buzzers can be expensive, and they can be easily broken.  Some years I don't have enough buzzers so I can only use light bulbs and LEDs.

Click on the image above to see the entire project in my TpT store.

Students create a plan for me in their science notebooks.  They split each page of a 8 1/2 by 11 notebook into four squares.  Each square must include one step in the planning process.  They are to use words, pictures, and diagrams in the planning phase.  They also have to create a circuit diagram of the entire game prior to having their plan approved by me.
I keep a checklist of each step in the process on a clipboard.  During each science period, I circulate and check in with each group of students to see what stage they are at in the planning or constructing phase.  Once I have given students approval for their plan, they are able to start collecting materials for the construction of the game.  I use plastic bins which I purchased at a dollar store for each pair of students.  Students label the bin and keep all their components in it during the game construction.  I encourage the students to bring supplies from home.  Things such as cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, aluminium foil (for making pressure switches) are brought in and shared by the students.  I also have some large cardboard display boards which work well for creating flat board surfaces or for stand up games such as the PLINKO game you will see below.

Students working on construction
Construction takes a LONG time.  I started the construction phase with my class on September 19th this year and they were finished the day before Hallowe'en.  I allow this much time so that the students can prepare the day before the arcade by making their "oral presentation" to the class just prior to the big event.  This allows them one last chance to iron out any kinks before the actual arcade display.

My class spent approximately 60-80 minutes per day working on this project during science time.  Some days we missed out because of a field trip or special event, but for the most part we worked on the projects every day until completion.

A maze game where the circuit is closed when a marble falls on a pressure switch.
 What is interesting to me as an educator is allowing the students to "learn on a need to know basis".  As part of the science curriculum in Ontario, students in grade six do need to learn about "switches" and I provide a variety of switches for students to use, mostly "knife" switches which come with the science kit.  This type of switch will only work in certain situations.  As I do not allow my students to "operate the game manually", the switches must work as an integral part of the game and not be turned on and off by the game creators themselves.  This allows for the "need to know" moment.  Many students had to learn how to create pressure switches which would allow their games to function the way they wanted.  I do not teach explicit lessons on how to create these types of switches, but I do provide basic instructions on a laminated card which I post with my electricity posters and vocabulary words.  The instructions are open ended enough that students can learn the basic concept but are challenged to vary the materials they use based on what their specific project calls for.  Below you can see one of my students has created pressure switches using "foam" and cardboard circles.  They used the foam once they realised that the switches they made out of plain cardboard were too stiff to allow for the switch to close under the weight of the object falling on the switch.

Student making multiple pressure switches for his game board.
 Students created a variety of different games which allowed students from junior kindergarten to grade five to experience challenge and fun.  Below you can see one game which was appealing to all ages, but the students differentiated by creating skill testing questions for each grade level.   You can see the Popsicle sticks below in a container.  Each stick had questions geared to a different grade level.

Game board in two parts.
 Games were decorated at the very end of the construction phase.   Students used paint, stickers and foam decorations I found at the dollar store.  I did allow students to use a glue gun to aid in construction, but this was done only with direct teacher supervision.
A finished game using a maze and pressure switches.

A finished game.

A catapult game created by one student.

Playing a "golf game" at the Penny Arcade.

Students attaching wiring to their motor.

Painting the inside of a "plinko" type game.  The students attached wooden skewers to the poster board using a glue gun (under direct teacher supervision).

A work in progress.

Construction continues.
On Hallowe'en day the students set up their games in our gym.  I put Hallowe'en themed table cloths over the large tables and gave students plastic bins to collect pennies in.  The students from kindergarten to grade 5 signed up in classes to visit the "arcade" in half hour periods.  My students had created posters to accompany their games.   These explained the prices (2 to 5 cents on average) and instructions about how to play the game.  My students provided the candy which was given as prizes for winning games.    Each class visited during their allotted time and had a great time playing the games, and collecting a LOT of candy!

Instructions on how to play the game.

This poster accompanies the game below.

This was one of the most successful and popular games at the arcade.

I link this project with language arts as well.  Students gave a brief oral presentation prior to the Penny Arcade which demonstrated that their game worked, how it could be played, the choices they made in terms of circuits and switches, the materials used and the safety considerations given. 

Now that the arcade is over, the games have been deconstructed and reusable pieces saved or recycled.  The science kits have been packed up and shipped back to our science kit centre.  I have put away all the decorations and my materials for next year BUT the student learning has not finished.  Students are now working on crafting a science report which will summarise the entire project.  I taught some modelled lessons on report writing, shared exemplar work from previous years students, posted a report writing anchor chart, and gave the students a checklist of "success criteria" to assist with writing the report. 

Students were given a week to write a rough draft, which they handed in to me yesterday.  I gave each student written and oral feedback based on the criteria. Students now have another week to revise, edit and meet with a peer to receive feedback on their final report before they submit it to me for final evaluation.  I made sure I took lots of pictures during the construction phase, during the presentations, and during the penny arcade itself, so that students would be able to incorporate these into their final reports. 

I look forward to collecting the student notebooks and the final reports next week.  I have already used the evaluation rubric (included as part of the package you can download by clicking on the project outline) to assess the construction and oral presentation.  I will be able to add my evaluation of the knowledge and skills acquired from their notebooks and final reports.  This integrated project is challenging for the students and for me their teacher.  Ultimately though they are successful and feel a great sense of accomplishment.  All their hard work is presented to the entire school, and all the funds raised go to a very worthy cause.   One student came to me this week and said "This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do!"  I smiled and reminded her that "in this class we don't do easy, we make easy happen through hard work and learning".  She agreed and said how proud she was of being able to accomplish something she thought she would never be able to.  What more could a teacher ask for?