Showing posts from January, 2011

January 31 - Fractions, free-play and 3 part lessons

I was sitting around enjoying some playtime with my son over the weekend, when he picked up his Melissa and Doug cutting foods and started playing.  I knew I was starting a unit on Fractions the next day, so I packed them up and stole them.  I know, I am a terrible father. I got some apple juice and some wooden knives and we had a tea party.  I tried not to give any instructions, just to let them have free play with the toys (even though it was quite comical to us all that a bunch of grade 5's were playing with a little baby toy). As the tea party started, several problems arose.  First, they was obviously not enough food for everybody to have a piece of everything.  This led to arguments over who got what (mostly the watermelon and the baguette were the popular items).  So, once a fair consensuses was reached (paper rock scissors) they started cutting and sharing.  They poured themselves REAL apple juice, and pretended to eat their wooden food. Once everybody was full up, I asked

January 30 - Inquiry Teaching Strategies

Here is a graphic organizer I made of some teaching strategies to guide me through our Units of Inquiry.  Certainly not an exhaustive list, and maybe a bit cryptic, but it makes sense to me.  These are all strategies I have picked up over the years and logged in my journal, though a great deal of them I got at Tokyo International School at a seminar this past November with Kath Murdoch.  The Inquiry model is the Kath Murdoch Model , but I imagine that all Inquiry models have roughly the same elements.  Use it if you would like to: PDF Inquiry Strategies

January 28 - The best ever read-aloud book

The End of the Beginning: Being the Adventures of a Small Snail (and an Even Smaller Ant) This book is so wonderful; full of adventure, compassion, inquiry, questioning skills, philosophy, humor, paradoxes, etc. etc.  If you have a group of children in front of you, I heartily recommend reading them this book.  I have used in grades 1, 3, 5, and 6.  I have also read it to my 14 year old cousin, and everybody loves it!  I won't say anything more, enjoy it for yourself on your own level, and make it apply to your life.  Enjoy!

January 26 - Unicorn Math

Here is a great problem with did for division and patterning.  This problem is a bit of an inside joke within my classroom (we love unicorns and have created our own world), however the problem is great and requires big thinking and problem solving.

January 26 - Earth Math

We learned today that the Earth's plates move at a rate of about 3-4 cm per year (or the rate of fingernails growth.  Therefore, it would be easy to calculate how much the plates have moved in your life.  Age x 4cm (if you choose 4 as your default). OV-40cm TW-36cm Next you can make a timeline and show it visibly, with the whole class on it (and yourself, if you want to).

January 26 - Maps and Perception

We have been studying the Tectonic plates of Earth in our UOI.  I came across a great video that shows how the Earth transformed from Pangaea to the present and what it will look like in 250 million years from now. h ttp:// This led to many discussions, including what the pros and cons would be of living on an Earth that was essentially one Island.  It was at this point in the discussion that we took a look at Buckminster Fullers Dymaxion Map. If we look at this map of the world (which is actually more accurate), doesn't it appear that we already live in one island?  How does your perception of Earth, and of your country change when you look at this map? We reflected on this in our journals.

January 25 - Making Inference with Metaphor

Today we played a fun game.  We went outside and looked for an object to describe.  Once we had a found an object that was acceptable (not to obvious , not to obscure ; this was a great way to add some new words to our word wall!) we went back inside and tried to explain our object using Metaphor.  For this we used the five senses and wrote one metaphor about our object for each sense: Sight: Like a helicopter in motion Sound: As silent as the night Smell: Like a summers breeze Taste: Like sticking your head out of a fast moving car Feel: More dangerous that a million knives Once we had our metaphors sheets completed; we exchanged them and tried to make inferences about what the object was.  Then, we exchanged again and again, until we had seen all items in the classroom.  Once we had viewed all of them, one-by-one we stood up and shared our work with the class, and listened to constructive criticism and feedback from our peers. The metaphor above was written by TW.  Can you guess

January 24 - Thinking Big with Michael Faraday

This was a response I asked my students to formulate in their writers notebook.  We have been practicing structure in our writing and making personal connections.  This activity led to a very interesting discussion about the history of electricity, the scientific method, and metaphors.  Try it out!

November 24 - The Ask Me About book and a window into the classroom

I have been reading The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, and it has been an interesting read for the most part.  I do not give homework, never have, and it has been good to see my reasoning behind this decision backed up in such a logical and rational way.  Many of the myths associated with homework have been true in my experience in Elementary schools; it leads to greater independence, it helps to reinforce the learning done at school, it teaches organizational skills, etc. etc. etc.  I have not seen any of this happen because of homework, nor have I seen any of these attributes even supported by homework.  In fact, I feel it fosters the opposite of these skills.  For those reasons, I made a vow to never give homework.   It makes me think hard about what it is I am doing with the time we have together, and forces me to plan accordingly. It also made me take stock and think about how are some other ways that I can give parents a window into my classroom.  If they are not standing over litt

January 21 - Rethinking Division in Elementary School

We have been whizzing through our division unit.  The students are excited to use new strategies that they have invented on their own, and have been learning from their classmates.  They particularly liked the fact that division is actually the inverse of multiplication. Here is the thought process that one of my students shared with the class during our math congress (almost verbatim): Me: Okay, today we are going to solve the problem 342/6.  Anybody have any ideas where to start? Student; So, 342/6 is the same as 6 times something equals 342.  Well, I know that 6x50=300, that's easy. And I also know that 7 times 6 equals 42, so if I add the 50 and the 7, the answer should be 57 with no remainder. Even if the question does have a remainder, it is still a simple process to figure it out mentally.  Of course, once you start getting into bigger and bigger units, 2 and 3 digit divisors, then this gets more complicated.  Then again, so does the traditional algorithm. Speaking of the tr

January 20 - SpicyNodes

We made our first spicynode today.  It is like an interactive graphic organizer.  It is free and easy to use, and my kids enjoyed doing it.  I gave them three questions and sent them off to do some research.  Once they gathered their data, they had to decide how to present it in graphic form.  Then they inserted it into spicynodes.  Here is the final result:

January 19 - Inferences with Facts

Start with a brainstorming session about what a fact is.  This is an interesting activity in and of itself and will lead to serious debate.  Put them into groups and have each group come up with a definition of a fact.  After that, share all the facts and have a democratic vote on which definition to use; or have them debate and defend their definitions; or even let them go back to their groups and redefine their original work. Once you have decided on a definition, give them a table with two headings; Fact , and Inference .  Next, give each student an article or short reading (junior scholastic is great; , or if you have any other recommendations I would be thrilled to hear about them).  While reading the article silently to themselves, students write down four to six facts that fit the definition they constructed earlier. Switch sheets.  The goal is two take a look at the facts that the other person has written and make inferenc

January 18 - Math Problem of the Day

Here is our daily math problem.  Great for introducing division, and getting them thinking about math and drawing.  I am thinking of starting a section on the blog to put all these documents up on.  Anyway, here it is!

January 18 - Question Web and APES

This is a way to link questioning skills with inferences (see previous posts on activities for introducing these two concepts). Introduce the students to a question web.  A question web is just like a brainstorming cloud, expect rather than a concept in the center we have a question.  As we are reading, we are writing any evidence that we think may help us to answer the question around the web.  Once we have finished the reading, we start to look at the evidence and choose which points are the strongest, and which are weakest (highlight the strongest point in a different color perhaps).  Then we can take our evidence and begin to formulate our response.  I use the APES writing model to do this, as it gives students a framework and structure for giving solid responses backed up with evidence and personal connections.

January 17 - Creativity

Utterly brilliant. I know it is about ten years old now, but it still applies to our world. For Education and teachers, Ken Robinson paints a great portrait of what the end product of education should look like. Though he doesn't go into specific details about how to fix education (aside from the big idea theories; which I think is enough), he gives enough evidence that creativity is a vital part of human ecology to keep a creative teacher going. The idea of cross subject (trans-disciplinary learning, or integration of subjects) has been catching on in the education world for the last decade. It is now the standard for most Teacher Training Universities in the world to teach this type of pedagogy. Hopefully, the methods get better, the teachers get more informed and passionate, and everybody wins. That being said, the world isn't as simple as that, and things are constantly changing. My favorite quote, and the thing that has made my mind think the most is; &

January 17 - Idea of the Day; The Q-Chart

I got this from a good friend of mine in Toronto.  Great for getting kids to dig a bit deeper with their questions, or for determining the difference between types of questions and when is an appropriate time to ask a specific type of question.  Break it down with students and try and categorize each color.  Understand the differences in meaning and usage.  Use it as a prompt for a read-aloud ( I am looking for some big picture good purple questions ) or use to gather information ( we need some basic yellow questions for background knowledge before we can proceed forward ). The ultimate goal of this chart is to eventually remove it from the class and have the students ask the right type of question in the right circumstance without prompts. Try it and see if it works.

January 14 - The Art of Inference

These two activities are ones that I picked up from two great Educators.  The first was from a workshop I attended at Tokyo International School with Kath Murdoch.  The second was picked up at a workshop at the University of Toronto (OISE) from Garfield Gini-Newman.  Both great activities; highly recommended for showing teaching kids the concept of making an inference. What's Under the Mat Put an object under a mat (sheet, towel, etc).  Make sure the object is obscure enough that they won't get it right away, but not so difficult that they will have no idea what it is.  I took a small plastic stand that is used to hold up glue guns from the art room.  It worked wonderfully, because even after we took off the towel they still didn't know what it was, and had to make further inferences based on its color and over state of disrepair (glue burns and stains).  This can be done in small groups (though you might need a lot of items depending on the size of your class).  Here is wh

January 14 - PE class; Science and Snow Shoes

There is a lot of snow where we live.  In order to better use our environment, and to have nature as our teacher , we decided today that we would take our PE class outside and try some experimentation in the snow.  We broke it down to two basic experiments: 1.  Step in a batch of fresh snow with your boots on and measure the hole.  Then, step in another patch of fresh snow with you snowshoe on and measure the hole.  Record depth and make observations. 2. Make a course through a patch of deep snow and run it with your boots on.  Time the results and record.  Then, find another course and run it with snow shoes on.  Record the time.  Make comparisons and observations. It was a lot of fun, though a bit chilly.  And guess what; snow shoes really do work!  Here is a snippet of our results: Though the difference in time does not really tell us much, we concluded that this was due to our inexperience using snowshoes.  We all concluded that, despite our inexperience, that running and walking i

January 13 - Math Problem of the Day

I cannot even begin to describe how amazing this question was.  It was so incredibly difficult and challenging, but all the students stuck with it and gave it a go.  There are so many levels on this.  What a puzzle!  I need to make more of these. You have a full-time job in the summer vacation months of July and August; and you save all the money you make in an account at the bank. You do odd jobs and gardening 4 days a week.  For each job you do, you receive $12.  It takes you an hour and a half to complete a job, and there are about 9 hours of good sunlight a day.  Your mother will not let you work more than 9 hours a day. At the end of the summer; how much money will you have in your savings account? Try this as a lesson in perseverance and organization.

January 12 - 50's Pulp Sci-Fi

Today was the first day of our unit on natural disasters.  Our Central Idea is Understanding the Earths natural processes can help humans respond to natural disasters .  I have been excited for this unit as it will be very heavy on Earth science and Eco-literacy.  Hopefully we can build on our understanding of the Earth and start to notice some of the patterns and systems that exist in the great web of life on Earth. We started our learning with a simple look at the central idea.  I decided that this would be mostly a talk based diagnostic assessment.  The class was broken up into smaller groups and then I asked a series of questions based on the Central Idea.  What are the Earths Processes?  What are some of the ways that Humans prepare for Natural Disasters?  Can we stop Natural Disasters?  Why are Natural Disasters important to the Earth?  During this whole process I was circulating the room and listening to the talk and taking notes.  I was also writing down any interesting

January 12 - An Apology to Twitter

I have been thinking a lot about how I can improve my network of support and ideas.  This diagram from is a great visual of what I want to accomplish with my online PLN.  At the present moment, I work in a small school, and although we have a VERY dedicate and passionate staff, there just aren't that many of us.  I am still on that journey of figuring out how to do it, but I can say that in the last two weeks my life has really been flipped upside down with the introduction of one simple application. Twitter. I was always firmly in the anti-Twitter camp.  Over the last few years I have called it everything from a waste of time , to stupid , to the largest waste of human resource in the history of mankind .  I was wrong.  And thus, I am formerly apologizing to Twitter. Ready..... Sorry Twitter.  I am sorry about all the hurtful and destructive things I have said about in the last two years.  I am sorry I openly mocked you in public

January 11 - I finally caved...

It feels good to be back in my classroom, even though there is no running water, the heaters are blowing cold air, and there is a metre of snow outside.  I feel strangely, comfortable. I finally caved and gave into my students demands.  They had been bugging me to set up a class reward system based on money since the beginning of the year.  I have resisted because I would rather the motivation to learn come from exciting and challenging projects, rather than a reward system.  As a teacher, I have never used such a system and thought I never would.  Until now. One of my boys gave a passionate speech and assured me the this would be a valuable learning opportunity.  He told me that it would not be a reward system, but rather a way of building responsibility and practicing math skills.  As a class we brainstormed some ideas and came up with the following rules and regulations: What is the purpose? -        Related to real life; getting used to handling and spending money -        Helps ou

January 10 - Online!

New blog is finally online.  Just have to play around with the widgets and customize it.  Though that can wait, as today is my last day of winter holiday, and I intend to enjoy some time with my son and my books.  Tomorrow, it is back to reality!

January 8 - Buckminster Fuller

I just finished Buckminster Fullers Universe: His Life and Work .   Here is my brief review from Goodreads. A stunning portrait of on of the most incredible human minds of all time.  Buckminster Fuller is a fascinating thinker, and the author of this book does a great job of breaking down his difficult to following thinking out loud style of communication.  For Educators, it will inspire you to create a challenging atmosphere that brings out the best of your childrens creative mind.  Many of Buckys ideas are easily translated to great classroom activities. A must read for anybody interested in the power of human potential and the future of our small planet.

January 6 - Almost there

Most of the content has been moved over from Wordpress, I just need to fiddle and play about with the look and theme.  For now, I am off to bed, secure in my thoughts that a new year of tech upheaval is well underway.  Oyasumi nasai.

January 6 - Fresh Start

After my frustrations with Wordpress, I have decided to join the Edublogs community.  I am looking forward to a new and exciting year.  There seems to be a lot more options for teachers and the networking is wonderful.  It also appears to be better suited for hosting videos and audio files. Only five more days and then back to work!