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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!

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.

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.

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.

What Inspires You to be a Reader?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by deardarling

First of all, I would like to thank Melanie Holtsman for posting her fall blogging topics and sparking the fire in me to get started on my personal blog.  Though I am too late to take part in the challenge, I hope to use these topic ideas as a springboard to start my own personal blog as well as a start my students on their own personal blogging challenge … wish me luck.

The first question posed to readers was :

  • “What is your life as a reader like?
  • Do you read for work, pleasure, instructions or emails?
  • Who/What is your favorite author and/or genre?
  • What is your favorite reading spot?
  • What did you like to read when you were the age of your students?”

I can honestly say that I was not a child that had an innate love for reading. I was always way more interested in the social aspect of life and saw reading as a means to an end rather than a passion. Thus, today as an educator, I can sympathize with my students who have multiple commitments and have trouble getting their home reading fitted into their day.  I have come to realize that sometimes I need to get creative to spark this passion in some students, as a love for reading can look as different as each of the students that are in my class.

Today those precious relationships in my life with friends and family continue to take priority, but I have learned to love this once daunting task. In fact, reading now takes up a large portion of my day.  As a teacher, I spend time reading my students’ work, the notes from parents, and the e-mails from my colleagues.   Children’s literature also takes up a portion of my reading time as I strive to find reading material that interests all of my students and enhances the curriculum.

Reading also plays a role in my personal life, be it reading before I go to bed each night, or reading the e-mails or personal notes. I can not imagine what my life would be like without this skill.  As a learner, I regularly take University classes that require me to read textbooks and I also have started to incorporate reading other blogs as part of my professional development.

I was inspired by the post that challenged students to list 100 things about me as a reader. Though I too was not able to make it to 100, I found it really helped me highlight all the aspects of my life where reading is an essential skill and really think about the role that reading plays in my life.

I have now opened this challenge up to my students and have asked them to reflect on the same questions listed above as the first entry in their e-portlfolio.  As the Blogfolios’s in our school are meant to show growth, over time I will also be asking each student to record their reading of a 100 word passage to add to their post.  My students will use their prompts to guide their reflective writing.   Each student will then be asked to assemble their own list of 100 things about each of them as readers which we will continue to visit periodically throughout the year.

Though the task seems large right now, I have high hopes for the reflections that the students will complete.  I believe we could all benefit from reflecting on these questions and ask all the blog readers out there… What inspires you to be a reader?

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