October 29, 2015

Halloween Cootie Catchers

My class had fun this morning making Halloween Cootie Catchers designed by John Mong.

The students loved colouring and folding these crafts, and the simple and clear directions made this a stress free and enjoyable activity for everyone.

There were six scary characters to choose from: a skeleton, jack-o-lantern, mummy, werewolf, Dracula, and Frankenstein. My students insisted on making one of each! Here's how they turned out...

As you can see, some of my students decided to ignore the recommended colours and design new creatures like robot jack-o-lanterns! The nice thing about this craft is that it's great for Halloween, but it can also be used at any time of the year, because monsters are always in style!

Visit John Mong's newly created store to purchase this great Halloween craft!

September 16, 2015

Week of Inspirational Math

This week my class is taking part in a Week of Inspirational Math—a five day program created by Stanford University's youcubed team as a way of "inspiring students through open, beautiful and creative math." After registering for a free account, teachers can easily access videos, lessons plans, and activity sheets from the youcubed website. 

On the first day, my students watched a short video about how their brains work and how anyone can be good at math. We discussed what they thought of the video and then talked about the pros and cons of working in groups. The students shared what they wanted people to think about when working in groups and what they thought would make working in a group easier. 

We then moved on to the Four 4's activity, which involves writing the numbers 1 to 20 on the board and having the children try to find every number between 1 and 20 by using four 4's and any operation they want. So to make the number 8 they could write 4 + 4 + 4 - 4. 

My class found this difficult as they are not all that comfortable with multiplication and division yet, but we just filled in as many numbers as we could and then left the rest. Here's what our white board looked like as we were working on this activity:

Even though it wasn't an easy task for my class, it was a great way to assess where the students are at, and it forced them to think deeply and use their brains.

My class has completed activities for the first three days of the program, and they have really enjoyed it so far. I think that this is a great program to use with students at the beginning of the year or at any time of the year when you need a break from the regular math program and want to add something a little different into your math block.

September 07, 2015

Cool School Design by Takaharu Tezuka

It's my last day of vacation before the school year officially starts (yikes!), and I wanted to share one of my favourite TED Talk videos as a reminder of how important it is to give children plenty of time for imagination and play.

Architect Takaharu Tezuka clearly understands what children want and he demonstrates this with the innovative school he designed for Kindergarten kids in Tokyo. I showed this video to my Grade 6 class last year, and even though they were considerably older than the little kids in the video, every single one of them said they wished that this was their school.

September 06, 2015

Dyslexia in the Classroom

I teach at a small private school that specializes in children with learning disabilities. About half of the students have dyslexia, which means that they have difficulty reading, writing and spelling.

Often, the traditional approaches to teaching children to read and write do not work for children with dyslexia, and unfortunately many people with dyslexia are never properly diagnosed and they continue to struggle with reading and writing throughout their whole lives without ever knowing why these things are so difficult for them.

Even if a child is diagnosed as having dyslexia, there are very few teachers in the school system who know what to do with this information once they get it. And it's not their fault—dyslexia is the most common learning disability, but teachers receive little to no training on working with children with dyslexia.

Before starting at my school a few years ago, I was one of these teachers. I had a vague idea of what dyslexia was, but my knowledge was very limited and when I look back it is clear that many of the students I worked with didn't just have "poor reading skills," they had dyslexia.

There are two approaches that my school uses for children with dyslexia. The first is the Orton-Gillingham (OG) method, which is a language-based, multi-sensory program that is most effective when used one-on-one or in small groups. It can be difficult to incorporate OG into a large classroom (although parts can be taught in a whole class setting), but my school has individual remediation periods where students are put into small groups to work on whatever they most need to work on, so this is where OG usually takes place. My school uses Susan Barton's Orton-Gillingham program, but this is just one of many options.

The second approach we use is called Real Spelling. I LOVE Real Spelling, and it is something that I always try to incorporate into my Language program. Real Spelling involves word inquiry and teaches children to make sense of how words work by investigating morphology, etymology and phonology.

Here's a great example of how Real Spelling and structured word inquiry can be used in the classroom:

The official Real Spelling website is a little out-dated and is largely used as a place to buy the Real Spelling products (which are great—my school owns the Real Spelling Toolbox and I use it regularly), so I would also suggest checking out the many other amazing blogs and sites that discuss Real Spelling and structured word inquiry. Here are a few of my favourites: WordWorks Kingston, Real Spellers, and Linguist-Educator Exchange.

I think the most important thing I've learned in the past few years is that ALL students should be taught to read using approaches like Orton-Gillingham and Real Spelling—not just students with dyslexia. I have seen improvements in reading ability in all my students when using structured word inquiry, and I will now always incorporate this into my Language block even if none of my students have dyslexia.

I plan to post more about how I use structured word inquiry in my classroom in future posts, so stay tuned!

August 29, 2015

Self-Portraits for Kids

Self-Portrait by Grade 5 student
Back to school is right around the corner, and one of the first things I like to do with my students is
have them create self-portraits. 

But instead of just giving them paint and paper and telling them to go ahead and paint themselves, I use this activity as a fun opportunity to get to know my students better and have them think about who they are as people and how they want the rest of the world to see them.

Before I even tell the class that they'll be making their own self-portraits, I start by showing them a number of different self-portraits by famous artists like Van Gogh and Raphael. The students are then asked to analyze the choices that each artist made in their paintings. 

After discussing these self-portraits as a class and learning about the artists and their painting styles, students are asked to think about their own character traits and personalities and decide how they are going to represent themselves in their own self-portrait. I have my students fill out an "All About Me" graphic organizer and a sketching sheet as a way to organize their thoughts. This also allows me to incorporate some writing into the art project.

When the graphic organizers and sketching sheets are filled out, students then begin the process of creating their own self-portraits. My preferred materials for the self-portrait are cheap canvases from the dollar store and pastels or paint, but buying canvases can get expensive when you have a large class so using regular white paper is completely fine, too.

Once the self-portraits are complete, students write a half-page blurb about themselves and about why they chose to represent themselves the way they did in their pictures. I have students fill out a template that is then cut out and hung up on the wall underneath each student’s self-portrait.

Below is a not-so-great photo of some of the self-portraits my students created last year. I'll try to take some better quality photos this year!

I know that teaching about artists and art history is not an area that all teachers are comfortable with, so I've created a Self-Portraits Mini-Unit that includes lesson plans and teacher scripts that will allow teachers to confidently teach their students about famous artists and their self-portraits with no prior knowledge of art history required. Copies of six famous self-portraits, graphic organizers, sketching sheets, and a writing template are also included. 

I hope everyone has a great first week back at school, and if you end up making self-portraits with your class send me some photos and let me know how it goes!

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