Wednesday 27 February 2013

The Edible Fraction/Percent/Decimal

Often fractions to decimals to percents can be one of those topics that students who struggle with poor number sense find challenging.  Because of this, I often resort to teacher-led instruction on this unit.  I was finding that my traditional mode of delivery for this unit is mainly lecture, board examples, and worksheets.  As much as you can try to make the worksheet questions entertaining and fun, I thought that I would tackle this concept by a hands-on activity this year.  Their mission: to visually show using any objects they wanted, a fraction, and then show how they convert to a decimal and a percent.  They then had to take a photo of it and submit the photo as the mark.  The idea came from the "Twizzlers" math picture book where they show licorice in fractions, the conversion to decimals, and then percents.

This project let me to some very interesting observations.  My stronger students in class were very creative in their representation of the fractions/decimals/percents, but some of them ran into issues as they were trying to get too fancy.  Some of the students that I would say had a weaker number sense took on a great leadership role in this activity.  Their pictures were clear and concise, and often were easier to follow.

Another bit of a risk that I took with this activity, is that in other photo-based activities in either Math or Science I have been using the school cameras.  This time I allowed the students to bring in their own camera and they needed to email them to me once they were done.  The excitment was huge that they were allowed to use their own devices.  And the maturity around using the devices was also impressive.  The students were working in groups of 4 for this activity.  Again, I was very pleased to see that in many of the groups, the leader of the group was not who I would have anticipated.  Leadership and confidence came out of the woodwork on this one.  And lots and lots of having fun!  Since we were using the larger white boards as the background, the students could still show their work and their thinking behind their conversions, which is important.  And with each group very much engaged, it was easy for me to get around to each group and make sure that their thinking was correct and on the right track.  It was a fun couple of days and I was impressed with the learning and practice of the topic.

Post courtesy of Shona Becker

Monday 25 February 2013

Wasteland (Comparative Civilizations 12)

"Wasteland", a film by Lucy Walker about the artistic endeavours of Vik Muniz, tells the story of "recyclable object pickers', or 'catadores' who make their lives and living in the landfill of Rio de Janeiro.  He changes the lives of these people by photographing them and then, as a group, creating artistic renditions of those photographs using recyclable material from the landfill.  Those renditions are then turned back into photographs, and then auctioned in London, where one fetches a sum of $50 000.  The money is then given back to the project's catadores who use it for various purposes, such as the creation of an adult school.

As a class, we take two periods to watch the documentary and then discuss the term 'hero' and what it means, who embodies the principles of heroism, and who are our current or past heroes/heroines.

From there, students are to select (as a group) one person (dead or alive) who is a hero/heroine to them.  Then, they are to gather recyclable objects for Friday's class in order to create a portrait of their chosen hero/heroine.  They are given the one class to place the objects on a student sized whiteboard in order for the photograph to be taken.  We aren't auctioning them, but if anyone wants to buy a photo, we'll consider all offers over $1000. ;)

Post courtesy of Lesley Lacroix

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Science Songs (Grade 4/5)

You know how a song can get stuck in your head sometimes and then you find yourself singing or humming some annoying snippet of it well... PERFECT!  We want information to "stick" in our students' minds better so we have been making more use of songs in science.

Last year we used head, shoulders, knees, and toes for a song parody for part of a unit on government.  This time we found some examples of song parodies to show the students first so they understood what a parody was.  Then we brainstormed well known nursery rhymes type songs (is that what they are?) and Christmas carols.  The students were carefully grouped together and given limited time to create a song that covered the key learnings of the muscles, skin, bones mini unit in science.  They could pick any song to parody.  The results were surprising, and by adding more choice to the activity students were more creative and came up with some great stuff in the very limited time we had (we were in a bit of a rush).

Music and song- another powerful learning tool!

Post courtesy of Kent Percevault

Thursday 14 February 2013

Dear Penpal

When you write an email or a text to a friend, do you care about your sentence structure? grammar? spelling? And what about when you write an old fashioned letter (and actually go to the post office or put it in the letter drop)? Do you care about your spelling and grammar then? These are the questions I pondered whilst I was marking my immersion students' penpal letters last weekend. They are corresponding with students in Ottawa in French and so both parties are writing in their (likely) second language. Most of my students seem quite engaged in this project.  Who wouldn't want to "pass notes" with someone on the other side of the country and get points for it? Or so I thought...
Here's what I have learned so far by reading their penpal letters:

1) In terms of quality of writing, it was a "mixed (mail?) bag".  Some letters were very well written; the author had taken care with his or her work- so as to not make a mistake and have their penpal see it- that would be embarrassing! Other letters were not so carefully written and met the bare minimum requirements- hmm either the student didn't like the writing process or hasn't decided yet if they really care about having a penpal? Others were somewhere in the middle. They had good questions for their penpal, but perhaps lacked good sentence structure, spelling or grammar.
2) I learned stuff about my students! It's interesting what they will share with someone their age (albeit someone they have never met and in a different province) that they don't share in class. I discovered a lot about their families, hobbies and interests by reading what they wrote about themselves.
3) I thought students would take more care in the editing process of writing their letters since someone (other than me) would actually be reading them. I'm not yet convinced that this is totally true.  After all, do kids that instant message each other via FB, Twitter or text message (and who have never met) care about spelling and grammar? And is it different when you text or email someone vs. when you hand write a letter?
4) Finally, does it even matter if their grammar, spelling and punctuation is correct in this authentic cultural activity? Is the benefit of the task simply in doing the task itself?

    Questions aside, I'm very much looking forward to continuing our correspondence with our penpals in the nation's capital. Perhaps exploring the writing process further with my students will just be an added bonus.

P.S. Perhaps one of them has met Stephen Harper? ;)

P.P.S. Here are two examples of student letters:

Post courtesy of Melissa Hunter

Monday 11 February 2013

Sharing Creative Resources

French teachers Lindsay Anderson and Marcus Krieger have both recently tried a new resource (Rage Comics) in their classrooms. Lindsay's student accessed an app on his phone, and Marcus used the web-based program as an option for his entire class (after learning about it during a sharing session with Lindsay) Their respective posts are below:

Lindsay: I have always seen these little comics on my cell phone (funny picture app called "Rage Comics").  This student handed an assignment in by using a program that uses the funny picture app template!  He had fun making it, and everyone wanted to see it because they recognized the pictures.
The original assignment was to draw, use the computer, or act out a skit for the vocab. He came up with the idea on his own.

Marcus: My French 9 classes were in the library and computer lab last week creating a story. Students had the option of creating a comic strip (by hand or by using Comic Life or - which creates a comic with "rage" characters), a children's book, a storyboard, a poster, or a Power Point among other options.  The purpose of the project was to use their knowledge of French verb conjugations and vocab to write a story that flowed and (sort-of) made sense. We had brainstormed ideas and everyone had some (or all) sentences written out before heading to the library.

The majority of students chose to either draw cartoons/storyboards or use ragemaker to create comic strips. One student used ragemaker to make a children's book. 

Here is one student's comic strip as an example of what can be done using ragemaker.