Corre's Blog

Personal Professional Portfolio

One Man’s Waste …

TerraCycle was a company that I had never heard of until about a year ago when swapping Teachers Convention learning with some colleagues.   Their enthusiasm was contagious, as they talked about this new way to make our school a greener place.  As a Grade 4 teacher who covers a ” Waste and Our World” unit each year and the teacher facilitator of our school’s recycling club,  my ears instantly perked up!

Through further discussions I learned that TerraCycle is  a company that recycles various products that are otherwise thrown in the garbage. The company turns this waste into various products such as pencil cases, garden paving stones and even park benches.   Terracycle then awards the people contributing ‘waste points’ based on their contributions.  These points can be used to buy these products or can be converted into dollar value and used to donate to various charities.  The best part was that it was all FREE!

When the leadership group I work with at our school was looking for a project that would make an impact both locally and globally,  TerraCycling seemed just the thing.    The leadership students set up small bins in each classroom, where students can recycle their plastic bags, Lunchable containers and cookie and cracker wrappers. They even set up a Tassimo up-cycling container in our staff room to encourage their teachers to get involved!  Each month they meet to empty these containers and package them into boxes that are shipped free of charge to TerraCycle.

So far this year, I am proud to report that our school has up-cycled 1415 sandwich bags, 3356 cookie and cracker containers and 70 Lunchable containers (with another order currently on its way).  We were also recently selected as a winner in the Mr. Christie’s Monthly Sweepstakes for sending in a shipment larger than 700 wrappers in the month of December.

Our leadership group has decided to divide the points our school has been awarded between all the classes so that everyone who has helped collect the waste can see first hand how their efforts can make a difference in the world. Already I have heard classes discussing using their points to buy water containers for a family in need and others that want to use their points to send a teenager to cooking camp.   I am excited to see what each class decides to do and to see this program continue to grow in our school.

Wondering if anyone out there has any other Great leadership initiatives that I could take to this enthusiastic Grade 5 and 6 group?


Christmas as a Canadian Settler


I love Christmas time with my students. Though it is a busy time where I often struggle to keep my daily routines, I love the excitement and energy that this time of year invites.  Each year I try to complete the majority of my units before the Christmas break so my students can start fresh when we return to classes in January. Each year I am left searching for meaningful learning activities to fill the time between the final assessments and the beginning of the holiday.
This year, I concluded my social unit a week and a half early, and as a result, I had time to try something new.  I came up with was a Canadian Settler Christmas project.   The project started with a Venn diagram where my students compared the Christmas they witnessed on an Anne of Green Gables Christmas special to their Christmas. My students were instantly intrigued and to my surprise, they loved watching the film that was 30 years old!   The discussions, level of interest and engagement exceeded my expectations.

The next step was letting each student pick the part of a Settlers Christmas they wanted to research further.   Students were then put in groups based on similar interests.  Upon gathering their information, students designed centers that all members of our class could take part in.  Their ideas blew me away, and  in the end, our settler Christmas celebration included:
1. Baking biscuits to eat with preserves.
2. Making a balancing acrobat with a cork and skewers.
3. Making almond candy
4. Finger knitting and cat’s cradle
5. Making potpourri satchels.
6. A games center that included drop the hankie, blind mans bluff and square dancing.

When the day arrived I had students dressed in settler themed outfits while others played harmonicas. Some even brought their own preserves and stories about making them; the enthusiasm was contagious. The day was a hit and our finger knitting and chatter about the activities continued well into the afternoon.
Hearing nothing but rave reviews from students and parents alike, I believe I will make settler activities an all-day activity next year!  I already have hopes of including a presentation from our local museum on the topic and possibly working with a colleague to get his students to interview their Grand-buddies to enhance the project even further.

Wondering if anyone else has any successful Christmas learning activities that they are willing to share? I am always adding to my idea bank 🙂

Math Stories

Story hour at Collins Playground, Seattle, ca. 1912

One observation that I have made, throughout my career, is that students regardless of the grade,  Kindergarten to Grade 6, LOVE to be read to.

This year Language Arts is not part of my teaching assignment  thus I have focused my read aloud selections on cross curricular connections that I can make to the Math, Science, Health and  Art curriculums.

I have found great success incorporating picture books into my anticipatory sets for my math lessons.  I often start my lessons with a story that relates to the math concept we are working on.  Typically my students finish a snack as I start the story. By the time I make it to page 4 they have their snack packed away and have  whiteboards and markers ready to tackle the math presented in the book.  Many of the books listed below have questions for the students to answer incorporated into the story while others require the teacher to  stop at appropriate times and  ask  students to solve related math problems.   For each math questions my student show their strategy and answer on their whiteboard, compare their thinking with a partner and then we share the strategies.    The books listed below are great at increasing the complexity of the problems as the stories continue.  For most books, I have been amazed how engaged my students are in both listening and developing strategies that they apply in attempt to solve the  problems.

My students especially loved books like Anno’s Magic Seed because it threw twists into the story that  required multiple operations and calulations.  It was great to see my students share their work on white board and engaging each other in conversations about the story.  By the end of the book my studetns were completing multi-step calulations and loving it!

Most of these books came from lists that I found online. After putting my own filter on the lengthy list, here are my top seven books for our  multiplication unit:

  1. Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar – Mitsumasa Anno
  2. Anno’s Magic Seed– Mitsumasa Anno
  3. One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale – Demi
  4. Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream: A Mathematical Story – Cindy
  5. 365 Penguins – Jean Luc Fromental
  6. The Best of Times: Math Strategies That Multiply – by Greg Tang
  7. Minnie’s Diner: A Multiplying Menu – Dayle Ann Dodds

I know that this is by no means a complete list and like with everything else I am still learning and adding to my repertoire.  Each new math unit will bring new stories! I look forward to exploring “shape” books as we embark on our new unit next month.

I would be excited to hear about any math books that you have used to teach upper elementary math lessons.

Learning to Love Knitting

Diamond Fibers Yarn Cashmere Lace from Got Cashmere?

With the second report card now behind me, I recently took a look at the Art big ideas that I need to cover before the end of the year.  There it was… the objective I have stared at blankly in years past…. the dreaded Fabric Arts.

As a teacher, I have devoted much of my professional development time over the past few years collecting unique  Art projects that can help my students develop their Art skills.  I am lucky to have an amazing artist/ administrator in my school whose expertise has been invaluable to  me.  I have used many of her ideas and I will be forever grateful for all that she has taught me.  I have also started following many Art teachers’ blogs, and as a result, I  have a collection of amazing art blogs that I learn from on a regular basis.

In an effort to tackle those material art objectives, I recently decided to teach my class how to finger knit.  It started with a single finger knitting Truffula Tree Bookmark project to honor Dr Seuss’ Birthday .   In this project, my students created a single link chain with a pompom on top. As a knitter myself, I know this is not the most popular pastime. In fact, when I shared this hobby with my students on the first day of school, many of them told me even I was not old enough to knit! Thus, I was shocked when this knitting lessons was met with great enthusiasm as the students talked about their knitting all week!

Last week, we followed up on this enthusiasm by teaching the grade 3’s how to make a Truffula Tree Bookmark.  It was great to see my students  passing on their expertise to the younger students as they embraced this leadership opportunity.  We also expanded on our skills by learning to 4 finger knit necklaces or scarves.   Once again, my students excelled and I loved hearing the stories of how many of my students were digging out the yarn at home and teaching their families how to finger knit!

I look forward to repeating this lesson with my classes in the future, and now instead of dreading Material Arts, I am excited about the next project we take on.   I would love to hear any “Material Arts”  projects that your students have loved just as much as my class enjoyed knitting!

What is your sentence?

What’s Your Sentence?: The Video from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

A few years ago I was introduced to this Daniel Pink “Whats your sentence?” video at a staff meeting.  As a room of adults we found this to be a very challenging question to address.  Though we might not have had a sentence to share at this time, I believe that we all walked away thinking and trying to formulate our sentence in each of our heads.   This powerful video is often one I have returned to through the years as I revisit my own sentence to tweak it to be just right for me, the person I want to be and the legacy I am hoping to leave behind.  As an educator, I think these are two essential questions that we need to answer as we are influencing and interacting with the students we are entrusted with each day.

Today in the spirit of new years resolutions, I showed my class ranging from 10-12 years old this video and asked them to come up with their first draft of their sentence.  We followed this up with an art project where students picked one word they hope people would use when they are describing them to others. We are now in the process drawing  the letters in sign language that will be used on an inspirational poster to hang in our room(with their sentence on the back).  As expected, the kids are loving experimenting with sign language and experimenting with drawing the hands,  but this assignment was interesting to me on many other levels.

First, it was surprising that it was my students who often struggle in other learning who were my first to complete the assignment.  It seemed that though math and science learning may be hard for them, they seemed to have the clearest idea of the person they wanted to be.  This was great to see and I was glad to see their confidence shine through.  On that same note, it was my students who excel in my math science classes that struggled the most with this assignment.  It was surprising for me to watch regularly confident students struggle to explain what motivates them and explain the kind of person they want to be.

I was also shocked that when offered the chance to video their sentences to share on our blog, just like the people in the video we watched in class  (something that this group usually jumps at), few of my students volunteered.

It was a powerful lesson and one I look forward to revisiting again with my students.  Just like my sentence, I am sure their sentences are not yet complete. I was very proud of our initial drafts and hope that they too will reflect on these questions regularly and keep trying to improve everyday just like their teacher.

As we embark on the new year full of new beginnings and new resolutions, I hope you all find your sentence.

Outside the classroom walls

I remember as a student the butterflies I used to get when I saw one of my teachers out in public. My mom was a teacher so I knew that my teachers had lives outside of the classroom, but there was something special about seeing my teachers in their real life…and them seeing me in mine.
I believe that as a teacher, it is essential to understand that our students have lives outside the classroom and to celebrate that. Often this can  simply be a conversation or question about their nights, weekends, holidays or interests.  Other times, it is incorporating their interests into learning activities and finding books and websites that will engage  students in their learning.  Sometimes it is attending community events that  students are involved in.  Regardless of the event, I love being a part of all of this and seeing the sparkle in my students’ eyes by knowing that they are special and that I am there just for them.  Often, it is just a few hours that a teacher sets aside but it can mean the world to a student.
Each year I try to make it to as many community events that my students are taking part in as I can.   A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to watch one of my students achieve a life long dream, as he had skated with our local junior hockey team,The Edmonton Oil Kings. It was great to see his eyes light up when he saw his teachers there. I also loved the conversations and related math problems that followed the next day at school!
Last week I had another student bring me her soccer schedule and I look forward to making some new memories with another student.   The few hours it takes from my week is more than worth it.

Learning leader?

Last week I embarked on a new adventure as I attended mt first learning leader meeting.  I entered this new adventure with mixed emotions.

I am eager to learn different ways that I can use I-pads in my classroom. Currently, I have only used basic applications but I know that they have potential to make a huge impact on both me and my students.  I am excited to see where this road may take us.

I am excited to make new connections with educators both within my division and around the world.  I am always striving to create new and engaging lessons for my students and I know that there are many amazing educators out there that I can learn from. I started a twitter account last year, and though I am still a twitter “lurker”, I have already benefited from lots of amazing lessons and resources.

I have always struggled with the sharing piece, but I see how this is a vital and important part of the puzzle.  That being said, I can relate completely to the video that George Couros shared with us:

So here we go, I am now stepping into the uncomfortable zone and putting myself out there.   I hope that with time and encouragement, I will become more confident in pushing the ” publish” button.    I look forward to the adventure.

Building Blogs To Be Proud Of.

Questioned Proposal

My students love their blog /e-portfolios, and I as there teacher, also love their blogs.
I see their blogs as a showpiece of their talents. It’s a place where they can express their creativity and share their passions with the world. I see them as something my students can build with pride and use as a tool later in their life.  It’s a way for them to keep track of their accomplishments and share all of their potential with others.

Each blog session I have planned for my students, I plan with this vision in my head and excitement in my heart.   However, the final product never seems to match the gradure expectations I set out with.

My original thought was  if I opened it up and allowed my students to blog about whatever they  were passionate about, I would see a spark in their creativity and their writing skills would shine. Much like their teacher, they had  tonnes of wonderful  things to share about these topics in conversations, but in writing, there enthusiasm faded away.
My school district has  been focusing on Critical thinking the last few years so I next turned to setting criteria for a great blog post, hoping that might help give my students the direction they needed.  The result this time was a bullet list in which they cross off each of the criteria.  These bullet lists have started us on a new journey of how to turn a  bullet list into a paragraph, a necessary but time consuming task.
I know  modelling can also be a very powerful tool so I tried showing them other blogs as a model and writing sample posts together as a class,  but I have yet to find the effective tool to get them writing with the passion that they are able to verbally share.

I know like anything worth teaching , blogging skills is a process, and I myself am still on this journey.   I am slowly becoming more comfortable with putting myself out there just as I know my students will as well. All of this will take time, time which I am willing to give them . But In an effort to make this process more enjoyable for everyone in my class, I am asking if anyone has any blogging lessons that they have tried with their students that captured the  potential in their students.? We would love to learn from others.

Goals for a Great Year

As the days in August passed, I began to ask myself – “What shall we do on the first day of school?”   This year, like most teachers, my plan for the first day was packed with enough activities to last for the first three days.  The first activity – guessing game “Get to Know Your Teachers” proved to be big hits for my grade fours and fives. This was a fun “hook” that created a positive atmosphere and paved the way for us to establish
the classrooms rules and expectations.

Over the years, I have tried several different things with various degrees of success. One year we made trail mix and then the students wrote the
ingredients for a good year followed by the steps that would need to be followed to make that happen.
However, this year my partner teacher suggested a more basic approach.  We simply asked our students the following three questions:

  1.   Why do you come to school?
  2.  What do we each have to do to ensure that we can all learn?
  3.  What are going to be our classroom expectations?

The students’ responses and related discussion shocked me. We came up with the following to post on our wall and sign.
We believe in:

  •  inspiring others
  •  being leaders
  •  being trustworthy
  •  teamwork

Although these seem simple, they encompass all that we hope our classroom will be this year. I believe that involving students in meaningful
dialogue sets the tone for an open, honest, caring classroom.  I have had a great first few months with a group of students that are all of these things and look forward to the rest of the year.

Garbage Art

recycling art

This year I started my Grade 4 Science with the unit Waste and Our World.  This year my Grade 4’s seemed particularly interested in the outcomes and activities. They were inspired after viewing the art displayed at the Alberta Art museum and at the SanFransisco Aquarium at the Bay so I suggested that they create “Garbage Art” as a culminating activity.

The criteria we set was as follows:
• must be made of all recycled items (parent should not buy anything)
• must show creativity

My students were excited about the activity from the onset and this contagious excitement continued to completion day. I was blown away by
the unique and creative projects that they came up with and how engaged they were in the process. Each project depicted originality and creativity and NO two were the same.

I am not an artist and planning engaging Art projects is always a challenge for me. I feel that it my job to expose my students to various
art forms, techniques and to help them develop an appreciation for art. But finding ways to meet these objectives is not easy. Although I try to
think of open ended projects that allow creativity, the end results are frequently 23 student projects that look very similar.
I have always struggled with the idea of creating a sample as a guide for students to follow. Although some students seem to enjoy having
an idea of what the finished project might look like, they frequently become frustrated when trying to emulate the example provided.  I have searched for the activities that would engage my students and stilllet them explore.  Alas in the “Garbage Art” activity, I found it and I am delighted with the results!

Of course I could not have done this alone and need to say a huge thank you to the parents in my room. They helped students gather the materials
and listened as each child developed a plan.  I was also fortunate enough to have had 2 volunteers who were very experienced with glue guns. This project would not have been such a success without them!

Just wondering if there are “non-art” majors with some interesting ideas that allowed them to capture the true artist in their students.

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