Friday, 28 September 2012

The Importance of a Strong Team

Tonight I helped my student teacher put together her portfolio for her first teaching interview. *exciting* As I went through all her work samples and pedagogy material, I began to think about my own experiences in teaching. I pulled out my own teaching portfolio and the reminiscing began of the different lessons and activities I have used and the, oh so many, students I've taught and wonderful teachers I've had the privilege of working with in only my short three years of teaching. 

One thing really stood out to me tonight . . .  THE IMPORTANCE OF A STRONG TEAM. Teaching is about working together for the benefit of the students and I have been so fortunate to have been part of absolutely amazing teams full of passionate and enthusiastic educators.

In my first year of teaching, I was a part of the Canadian and World Studies department (known in Australia as Humanities). As this was my first "real" teaching job, I could not have asked to have worked with a better team. My team leader/department head is an amazing teacher (side note . . . she has won a Premier's Award for Excellence in Teaching) and a huge inspiration. And I could not have done it without the help of my co-workers that taught the same program as me (I like to call them my "unofficial mentors"). They helped guide me and provided constant support. When I look back now and the work we created, I am amazed with how wonderfully we all worked together and the fantastic program and course that we ran. We shared a common passion for the course and learning, and looking back now, that passion is so clearly evident in the activities and lessons we ran. 

Then, I decided to move to Australia, and the learning curve began all over again. Once again, I believe that I wouldn't have survived my first year teaching in Australia without the support of my team. The genuine willingness to help each other out and work for the communal benefit of the team is something I will always take with me. I was thrown into a new curriculum, in a new country, a primary school (not a high school, in which I used to work) and also in an area with a very different socio-economic profile compared to where I taught in Canada. Was I in over my head??? Most definitely, but through perseverance I did not sink, I swam. I swam because of the support of my co-workers, the help with report writing, the explanation of a new curriculum (VELS), the sharing of resources, the time put into showing me how to run guided reading sessions, and so much more, including lollies and baked goods at meeting (and for those who understand this joke, melted cheese with jam).

So where am I going with all of this?   THANK YOU . . .Thank you to all of the amazing educators and co-workers I have been so fortunate to have worked with. Your passion for the job is infectious (as you can tell with this blog) and I truly, truly appreciate every person that I have encountered through my teaching journey so far.

For those in Australia, I hope you all have a wonderful second week of holidays, and for those in Canada, I hope you have had a wonderful first month of the 2012-2013 teaching year.

Olympic Classroom Decor

Just thought I would share the amazing work of my Educational Support staff during our integrated unit on the London 2012 Olympics. This definitely added some character to the room and helped enhance the theme. 

The rings were made from hula hoops covered in streamers to match the Olympic ring colours. The torch is made of tissue paper, construction paper, and metallic mesh. Once again, amazing work and I truly appreciate all that she does for our classes.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

School Holidays

I've been trying to post frequently on this blog but as school holidays has hit, my blog has been a little stagnant. But I would love to explain why . . .

Over the past three days, my co-workers/friends and I have been participating in the Victorian Teacher Games. This is an absolutely amazing event and one that I look forward to every year. This is my second year of participating and hopefully will be one of many. 

It is basically three days of sport competition . . . teachers vs. teachers. You create teams with either teachers from your school or other friends and compete against other teacher teams in a variety of events. And if sport isn't your thing, there are other social events such as paintball, orienteering, ten pin bowling, lawn bowling and trivia nights. And every evening there is a social function (imagine thousands of teachers in one pub/venue).

It is great fun for all and I truly wish that other states/countries could be fortunate enough to have an event like this. 

Happy Holidays :)

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Where in the World...

As we finish up our integrated unit on the Olympics, our class is moving on to learning about different countries and cultures around the world.

This activity was used a segway from the Olympics into countries and cultures. Students worked in pairs and were given a map of the world that did not have any labels. Using their personal netbooks, atlas books, maps on the walls, and resource books in the class, partners had to locate every country that has hosted a Summer Olympic Games. 

Next, they were to create an "annotated map". Each country located has an arrow coming out with the name of the country, the cities that hosted the Olympic Games, and the year the Games were held there. 

This is an activity that I have used when teaching high school and simply modified for primary school students. A strategy that can be used across multiple ages is what I call a successful activity!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Writing Ladder

Another strategy for giving students greater accountability and ownership over their work!

As my students were working on writing their information reports, I found that many students were struggling to move on in their writing. Students spent more than usual on certain paragraphs and I couldn't understand why. Now, not that this tool explains it, but it was an excellent way of helping students finish their work. 

We started with every student having a little laminated name tag. I created a writing ladder that had a new coloured paper for each part of the information report. All students put their name tag on the top of the ladder (the classification). When they finished writing this part and it was checked by the teacher, they moved their name down to the next part of the ladder/their information report. 

This strategy relates to the e5 Instructional Model components of engage and evaluate.  

- Engage: Teachers provide support for students to create and achieve their learning goals. 
- Evaluate: Students are able to evaluate their progress and achievements. 

Students absolutely loved this writing ladder and could not wait to see their name move to the next part. It worked extremely well as I would tell students the expectation was that their name moved to the next part during a writing session. Instead of just having the expectation verbally stated to the students, the visual of seeing their name moving and them making progress helped students to write wonderful reports!

Hundreds Chart

Does this look a little different to hundreds charts that you are used to?

There are a few reasons why our typical hundreds charts (starting at 1 and working the way down to 100) need updating.

First question . . . why does the chart start from the highest number, you ask? The answer to this question is quite simple. How do you count..up! So in actuality, the chart starts at the bottom at zero and we count up to 100+.

Second question . . . zero, don't we start at one?!? Our hundreds chart and number lines should always start at zero. Take a look at the patterns that can be identified by simply adding the zero. Ten numbers can be found in each group of tens which makes this an excellent tool for "adding ten" strategies. Adding the zero to your hundreds chart can also do wonders for teaching the concept of place value.

Here are some links to additional information on adding the zero onto your hundreds chart:

Friday, 21 September 2012

Graphing Brainstorm

Here is another example of how to use a progressive brainstorm. This time I used to it introduce different graphs to the students.

Check out my past blog post "Progressive Brainstorm-Fractions" to learn more about how they work. This is a strategy to be used with EAL (English as an Additional Language) students in your class and as you can see, it can easily be used in maths classes also (extra bonus)!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hot Seat

I've been focusing on questioning in reading and an activity that I found really useful and students love is called "Hot Seat".  I learnt about this activity when I was on a professional development workshop titled Teaching EAL Students in Mainstream Classes  presented by Margery Hertzberg.

During the reading session students read a passage that includes some details on a character, whether fictional or real. After reading the passage, the student is put in the hot seat. They sit on the teacher's chair and take on the role of that character. Students in the class are then able to ask the character questions and the student in the "hot seat" needs to answer with the information they've gained from the passage.

Some questions may be evaluative or inferential, thus, students in the hot seat have to make an inference about how the character may act or feel in a specific situation. 

This activity works well for assessing students comprehension of the passage and also the ability of students to form literal, inferential and evaluative questions. For reading, I follow John Munro's High Reliability Literacy Teaching Procedures. One of the strategies is questioning and this activity falls right into this category.

I would love for other teachers to try this out and send me their feedback and any modifications that worked well. :)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

On Being a Teacher

Both in Melbourne and in Ontario (my home province) teachers are renegotiating their collective agreements with the government. Here is a photo I found on a Facebook page supporting Ontario teachers. Just a nice laugh to end my day that was full of teaching and then parent-teacher interviews.

Fractions K-W-L Chart

I normally don't use a K-W-L chart in maths but I decided to give it a go and achieved great success with it. After completing a pre-test, students created a K-W-L chart for fractions. It worked well after a pre-test as students were able to activate their prior knowledge and will in the What I Know section easily. They were also able to create questions and wonderings for the What I Want to Know section based on the questions they were unable to answer on the test and new vocabulary they encountered. 

Although this proved to be a simple task, it links directly to The e5 Instructional Model. This task relates to the explore component of e5 by promoting questioning, eliciting prior knowledge and having students make connections to past learning experiences. The questions and wonderings generated by students in the What I Want to Know section has now guided the sequence of our unit on fractions and become the focus of learning during this unit. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Amazing Interactive Maths Videos

AMAZING! I love Spy Guys + Students love Spy Guys = Winning for All

Check out Spy Guys and Math Live

Both websites have a number of different lessons on various maths targeting grade 5 and grade 6 levels. Students especially love the lesson on fractions with the "pizza man". Each lesson is interactive and can be used with an Interactive White Board and touch screen. There are mini-activities and games associated with each lesson too. 

Check it out! An easy and excellent way to incorporate ICT into the classroom :)


Monday, 17 September 2012

How Many Ways Can You Represent a Fraction?!?!

At the school I work at, we set learning goals for each class based on a set of data that is analysed during our Data Professional Learning Team meetings (based on the AIZ model) . 

My new goals for maths revolves around a unit on fractions. The first goal set was to "represent simple common fraction using physical models". These goals are based on the VELS standards for the grade level. 

 An activity that worked on achieving this goal with my class was creating a thinkboard. To the left is the example I modeled with my class.

On a poster, students had to represent the fraction by showing it in fractional form, written form, a pictorial representation and finally by representing the fraction as a set using physical models.

Some students created excellent posters. The difficulty most students faced was with creating a pictorial representation. Students struggled with the concept that each piece of the fraction needs to be the same size. Some didn't use a ruler, or tried creating a picture of the fraction in a circle but not having each piece the same size. After a few tries, students finally understood the concept. 

Here is some of their work:

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Writing Goals

For this writing unit on information reports, I used some new techniques that I felt really worked well to help students with their writing and to track their own progress. Again this is all part of the idea of giving students greater ownership and accountability over their work. 

We usually have students set writing goals for each new genre. This time, instead of students just creating writing goals and tucking them away in their notebooks, we created a class writing goals poster. 

To set our writing goals, students were given their pre-tests back and they had to use the rubric that we created as a class to mark their work. From that, they needed to choose the three areas that they felt they needed to improve upon from the rubric. 

These areas then were turned into writing goals. As a class, we shared our individual writing goals and  create a class list of the top goals.

 The photo is a little hard to see because it is laminated, but the goals they selected were:

1. Have a detailed plan

2. Include a title, classification, description and conclusion

3. Write in full paragraphs

4. Write in third person

5. Use descriptive language

6. Use technical language

They are along the left side of the poster. Then, when we worked on our group editing session, students added their names (on pink stick notes) to the box corresponding to the goal they achieved. As you can see, many students decided that they still need to work on adding descriptive language to their information report. They can then go back and revise to ensure they have achieved all these goals in their writing. Students love seeing their name beside each goal and really worked hard because of this.

Information Report Writing Wall

It is hard to see the title because it is laminated...but if you look closely, the bubble letters of the title are filled with a newspaper print font. I found these alphabet labels on SparkleBox and there are tons of other alphabet prints that look great.

On our wall, we have our deconstructed information report, a rubric that we created as a class, a checklist of what to include in your information report, a list of different subheadings that can be used, an example of a classification, and our writing goals poster. We began this writing unit with a blank writing wall and continued to add posters as we touched on different features and parts of the structure for writing information reports. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Past, Present, Future


As a pre-test to our integrated unit on Environmental Degradation, students were given the task of creating a past, present and future representation of the community they live in. 

Some of my students created wonderful work and drew very futuristic images of the future. One student drew the future as a bunch of tree stumps. She has used her prior knowledge of the environment and deforestation to project how human impact can negatively affect the future. This is what we were looking for. As only one student did this, it provided a starting point in teaching and finding out activities for the students. A post-test to this unit would be the same activity and hopefully more students will be able to apply their knowledge of human impact on the environment in their representations of our community in the future.


Excellent idea created by my teaching and learning coach.

Check out her blog:

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Reading Groups

It has taken me a while to organise my reading group in a way that runs smoothly and I think I have finally sorted it out. At the beginning of the year, many of my students were not independent learners, so if I was working with one group, many of the other students in the class struggled to complete their assigned tasks. I kept changing and modifying my lessons and tasks until I realised that it had to do with the structure of my lesson.
Our lessons run on a whole-part-whole basis that starts with a whole class focus, then has students break off into groups to complete two individual activities, and finally return to the carpet for share time. During our reading session, there is always a group working on an oral language task (especially since 94% of our students are EAL learners), another group on a computer task, next doing a follow-up task, and a guided reading session with the teacher.
Instrumental to my reading group is a task board. Each group knows exactly what task they are working on and during what part of the lesson.

Although I have always used a task board, I have found that creating book boxes for each group that includes all the materials they need for that lesson is also essential.

And the last thing that makes my reading group run smoothly are task cards. I create new task cards every week for each new activity I have planned. If a group is working on oral language, they will have the task card in their book box. So not only do I verbally explain the task to the students, they also have a card in their book box that explains the task.

Here is an example of what you would find in a book box: guided reading books/materials, task cards for the various activities, and any worksheets or handouts that go along with the activity

Deconstruction of an Information Report

In the beginning of our unit on information report writing, as a class, we deconstructed an information report on the Olympics. I wrote on the large paper and each student had their own copy to fill out as well.

The lesson prior to this was the research chart, in which students had to locate similar features and structure of five different information reports. They used their knowledge from this lesson in the deconstruction. (See post: Features of an Information Report)

*Sorry for the terrible photography!

Olympics K-W-L Chart

I thought it would be a neat idea to create a massive K-W-L chart for our integrated topic on the Olympics and the students loved it too. Each student created their own K-W-L chart and then contributed parts of their charts to our large class one.

Also, instead of just What I know, What I want to know, and What I've learnt, we also added another column for How I am going to find out. This was a great idea because it helped students come up with a number of resources they could use in their research during this topic.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Ask the Right Question

An excellent oral language game that I've used in my reading group is called "Ask the Right Question".

Students play in a group and each person is given a card with a word and picture related to the word on the card. To get the point, students need to ask a question to their group to have students say the word on their card. Almost similar to a Jeopardy, the word on the card is the answer to their question.

For example, if the word on the card is "Olympics", the student may create the following question: "What international sporting event was held in London in 2012?"

This is an excellent game to play with all students but primarily works well with EAL students in your classroom. Many students try to simply give clues, instead of asking a question, so this game forces students to improve their questioning skills.

My students have loved playing this game although it seems like such a simple concept. It can be change for any topic or book that you are studying at the time. Vocabulary cards can then be re-used for other oral language games, such as 20 questions and charades.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Features of an Information Report

We usually start a new writing genre with a pre-test and then deconstructing a text from that genre. This unit, we did a finding out activity with the students prior to the deconstruction. It worked exceptionally well and when we began to deconstruct an information report, students were able to use the knowledge gained from this activity to help them deconstruct. This idea was given to me by my teaching and learning coach. Check out her blog here:

Students were placed in mixed ability groups and given a chart. There were five different information reports floating around the room that they had to analyse. Essentially, students were trying to find similarities between the texts to identify the features and structures of an information report. 

I really enjoy these types of activities, where students are finding out the information, creating links and doing their own exploring to find the answers. Rather than giving students a list of the structure and features of an information reports, students work together to create their own list. During our share time at the end of the lesson, students were able to create this list.

Sunday, 9 September 2012