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Archive for the category “Engaging Learning Environments”

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.

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