Monday 25 November 2013

Show What You Know- The Brain (Grade 4/5)

With our school-wide focus this year being Social Emotional Learning (SEL), our staff has committed to using the program "Mind Up". This program was chosen because of its application across the grade levels K-5 as well as its ability to teach kids specific SEL skills such as self-management, self-awareness and social awareness. The first part of the MindUp program entails teaching students about 3 main parts of the physical brain and the job each part does. Students learn that the Prefrontal Cortex (wise old owl) is responsible for planning and organization, the Hippocampus (filing cabinet) stores facts and memories and the Amygdala (watch dog) controls their emotions. One of the major learnings we want students to come away with is that in order for your PFC and Hippocampus to be available to its user, we need to keep our Amygdala in a calm state of being. After spending a few sessions learning about our physical brain, I gave the students a task of choosing between 3 formats in order to "Show What They Know" about the brain, its
different parts and each parts' purpose. Students were able to choose between demonstrating this
knowledge through the use of play-dough, window writers or auto-rap. Students were given the choice to complete this assignment individually or in partners. I specifically chose to appeal to the students' various learning styles and learning preferences. Offering these choices also offers a need-fulfilling way to approach each student's individual need for freedom, power, fun and belonging (Glasser's Internal Needs Model). It was interesting that there was a diverse mix of who chose to use which format although most students chose to work in partners. After going over the project's criteria with the class as a whole, I gave the students a 45 minute period to complete it. This turned out to be more than enough time. We then took another 30 minute period to have groups present. The class as a group decided if each group had met the expected criteria and students were given their mark on the spot based on this assessment. All students met the criteria with ease and were pleased with  both their presentation and their final product. The photos shown are from the students' "Show What You Know: The Brain" presentations.

Post courtesy of Heather Rose

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Not giving up… the results get better

Sometimes when I have tried to get students to "Show Me What They Know" - and I give them the freedom to use their own strengths or interests, I have been disappointed with the results.  Perhaps it's the fact that the samples we all show each other are those which we are proudest of and then when the results of my students don't measure up I think that somehow my approach isn't working...and that niggling thought in the back of my mind drags me back to considering marking the 'Presentation' or 'Creativity' to up the results.

However this year I am beginning to receive much better results and I think it is because:

a) I'm doing a better job
b) I've got better students or...
c) Examples that are from my own classes have given the students a chance to see the possibilities...
d) They had Russ last year and are used to taking risks

Well it's c (as you all know because it is always C and because it is the longest explanation - thanks UBC Assessment class)...and of course D but I didn't want to grow that ego any more.

It has simply taken time for me to gather up and have different examples (some big and extensive and others simple but brilliant) that have sparked my students into finding ways to show me their knowledge.  Thus my nerves have been somewhat eased and my belief in allowing students to use their own interests reinforced.

Keeping my students' work from previous years - and saving samples in files on my computer - has begun to pay off and it is great to see.

Realizing this I have asked students to record (with their cell phones) even some simple white board work - Recently I asked my students to show me the difference between a laissez-faire (1930's Canada) government and a welfare state (today) without using words.  My favorite is below.  I'm hoping that by showing it to future classes when I ask them to try the same assignment that it will lead them to think of different ways to show the difference between the two concepts.


(The students used the idea that some suggest those who are out of work (down and out) are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps - while others think they don't have the skills necessary and could use a hand up)…

Post courtesy of Dave Searcy

Wednesday 13 November 2013


In an effort to build relationships and increase relevance in my courses I've been focusing on building connections. 

I want my classes to be places where students feel comfortable to share ideas and to try new things. I've worked on building connections between everyone in the class. I've designated time on Mondays to classroom discussions (we focus on current events in Social Studies, but will often talk about the weekend and what the students are doing in their lives). I haven't implemented the 2 x 10 strategy yet this year, but I consciously make an effort to check in with students (especially the ones that struggle academically or socially in my classes). Another strategy that has been very successful this year has been the use of name cards and designating the seats that students sit in each class. Students made name cards on one of the first days of class which I put in a different seat everyday so that students have the opportunity to work with everyone in the class. We do a fair amount of partner work so I'm hoping that by working with everyone in the class the students will slowly feel more comfortable sharing ideas with everyone - I think it's working (some students that were really reluctant to speak in class are starting to be more open). The cards also break up the cliques that can form when allowing students to choose their seats which really helps classroom dynamics by integrating the shier students into the class and prevents the more confident groups of friends from intimidating others. 

In an effort to make subject matter more relevant and provide students with an opportunity to create connections with the material I am now teaching Social Studies thematically instead of the more common Chapter by Chapter approach. It makes for more work when preparing my classes, but it allows students to understand why we talk about historical events that happened hundreds of years ago. Being able to learn about what's happening in Syria or changes in social media give students a chance to personalize the subject matter during our Revolutions Unit. I'm hoping that students will finish the course with a better understanding of some major themes as well as being more aware of what's happening in the world (and why it's happening) than if we focused on memorizing facts and figures about the English Revolution. If I do continue to teach English in the future I'd like to try to move towards teaching a theme-based English course as well.

Post courtesy of Marcus Krieger