Thursday 12 June 2014

Cross District Pen-Pals (FSL)

My grade 11 FSL class is mostly boys (very hands on and high energy boys).  Last year, with the same group of students, I realized that textbook/workbook work did not work for them.  This year, one of the things I have been doing with them is activities with other local classes.

For example, there is a section in their textbook about body parts and another section about how to give commands.  I taught the students some commands and the body parts, and then told them to come up with 10 command instructions using said body parts.  For example, " draw a large head with 7 eyes"... "add a pig's nose" etc...  I then told the students to draw their instructions.....

Next, we sent the written instructions to Kathryn Stel's grade 10/11 class at Princess Margaret.  She handed out the instructions, and had the kids follow them....drawing their "monsters".

She then mailed them back to me and I gave the kids their original drawings, plus the Maggie students' drawings.  They compared how alike they were based on how good their instructions were.... I even gave a  little cookie prize to the most similar.

The kids loved the activity because they got to learn the vocab by doing something fun, and by engaging with another class.  They bugged me about the assignment for 2 weeks-right up until they got the replies because they were so excited!

Post courtesy of Lindsay Anderson

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Why Inclusion?

Often people ask why inclusion in classrooms? Inclusion is how we ensure that every child feels welcomed and that their unique needs and learning styles are appreciated, enhanced, and valued by their peers.  Inclusion does not mean that an educator must water down curriculum content and academic expectations.  Inclusion offers ample opportunities to enrich learning for all students, of all strengths and abilities.  Students learn to appreciate, not tolerate, members of their classroom community, and diversity becomes the learning environment in which children can grow and mature as more open minded, and caring individuals.

Our world is changing.  It brings with it the new face of technology, and social media, and complex issues faced by today's youth.  There is an immediate need to develop appropriate social skills that are often lost through the lack of personal interaction amongst many children.  A resource teacher can begin the process of developing social skills with his or her students, however, it is still a controlled and artificial setting of role playing, discussions, and analysis.  The classroom offers a multiplicity of opportunities to observe and implement appropriate social skills amongst peers. Inclusion and promotion of social skills will help turn back the clock of time. It will return us to the core values and leave the cyber world lost in space.

Students with learning challenges who are included in the regular classroom can display higher levels of social support from the majority of their peers.  At Maggie, we pride ourselves on doing things for others.  We are community citizens, and global citizens who understand the intrinsic value and positive self worth through helping others.  Students with special needs develop larger friendship networks through inclusion and learn appropriate social skills under the guidance of the classroom teacher.  The staff at Maggie realize that the benefits are mutual between students with challenges and those more fortunate not to have to struggle in certain learning environments.  Curriculum content and social skill development can go hand in hand when implemented on a regular basis in a classroom setting. 

It is through diverse teaching and assessment methods that educators can set up opportunities for peers to learn from each other and value one another for their uniqueness.  As educators, when we provide a social component to the academic day we help to foster collaboration, cooperation, and the understanding of other perspectives. We bring back the face-to-face conversational skills of listening, give and take responding, and appreciation for others.  In turn, we promote positive self-worth, and improved self-esteem. There is no child that will not benefit from a sense of being valued, being heard, and feeling like he or she matters in this world. All children need to feel like they belong. With collaboration and clear communication between the classroom and resource teachers, the regular classroom can become an optimal setting for meeting the needs of all learners. 

Post courtesy of Jindalee Webb

Monday 9 June 2014

My First Year in Through A Different Lens (Elementary)

I am a new teacher that joined TADL because I have seen the type of teachers that participate in the group, and am familiar with the kind of lessons they create.  I want to create those kinds of lessons, so I am here.  I am still practicing and have used as many strategies as I can to increase students’ engagement and learning.

Some of the things I have tried so far are:

·       Games to practice math concepts

·       Mnemonic device creation to remember facts (acronyms, songs)

·       Adding motion to activities (scavenger hunts / musical chairs activities etc…)

·       Trying to keep things ‘hands-on’ (modeling clay, paper models, experiments)

·       Songs and skits to convey/ check for understanding (some recorded)

·       Lots of group work

·       Trying to incorporate different forms of media in lessons

I am trying to ensure that most of my lessons include reading, writing, hearing, speaking, touching/building, watching, and moving. In particular, I am trying to include a video/audio component to as many lessons as I can. I know there is much more for me to learn, and I am finding that when I try to make my lessons reach as many learning styles as possible, student engagement and achievement increases. From my point of view, the lessons ‘feel good’, and that’s a feeling I am chasing.

Today, my class got to write a song with professional song writer, Lawry Olafsson.  I was worried that some of my students might tune the process out or do something disrespectful during the activity. My students were worried that it would be just a singing class, or that they wouldn’t get much say in the song writing process. As a class, we had a quick talk about our topic for a song, but really didn’t know what we were about to do.

We were all surprised; the students all gave 100% and they got a complete say in the creation of a song that they really like. I was further surprised to see that some students who are generally worried about presentations (especially singing) and sharing ideas, really stepped up to the plate, and made some fantastic contributions to the song or sang loud and proud. Those who weren’t comfortable sharing, were still engaged enough to be muttering their suggestions to friends or to themselves. Over all, the class was so engaged that they were surprised by the recess and lunch bells, and some even wanted to stay inside to work on the song.

The song writing couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time, as we are currently working on poetry. Students were familiar with things like rhyme schemes, and juicy or descriptive words, and were able to contribute to the creation of lyrics with confidence. Our end product was a solid song that met its aim of telling people about Naramata School. I like that the students were engaged, and working hard. I really like the connection between songs and poems that students made, and that they got to use poetry skills that they learned in-class.

Post courtesy of Adam Surina

Sunday 8 June 2014

Scavenger Hunt For Notes

I decided to try something different for the Short Stories unit in English 8.  The goal was to learn the important vocabulary for the unit.  Instead of having the students copy out the definitions from the projector, I posted the definitions around the classroom.  Students had sheets containing only some of the definitions and the objective was to get them up and moving around in order to find the definitions and copy them down onto their sheets.

My quieter class was a bit slow to start; they looked for the definitions closest to their seats so they wouldn't have to move!  They quickly realized that they would have to move in order to find ALL of the definitions!  They did, and they were all engaged. 

My louder and more rambunctious class was up and moving as soon as I said "go"!  I thought it would be a complete gong show BUT they were quieter than ever and completely engaged in the activity!  I will have to make sure I incorporate more of these types of activities in English this year for this class!

Post courtesy of Lauren Vallis

Thursday 5 June 2014

Socratic Dialogue with Back Channel (Grade 12)

My colleague Trevor returned from the ASCD conference with a strategy for teaching Socratic dialogue with an added element of a "backchannel" so more students would be involved. The idea is that in a regular classroom discussion, there is only one person speaking at a time and it can become difficult to maintain the focus of the rest of a large class. Sometimes 5 or 6 people dominate and no one else speaks. Today we set up 10-12 students facing each other in the "inner circle" who had an oral discussion. The remaining students were set up on the perimeter and commented on their iPads using a platform called "Today's Meet" which quickly allows someone to create a discussion forum that is projected up on the overhead. The question we were discussing was "Should the Washington Redskins NFL football organization get rid of its name and logo?" 

Students read 4 articles (2 in support of removing the name and 2 in support of keeping it) and the discussion began. Emphasis was strongly placed on the spirit of "collaboration" as opposed to "debate". It was made clear that the point of the exercise was to collectively work through the issue, and not to promote or defend a particular point of view. Students in the middle discussed the issue for about 20 minutes while the outside circle "chatted" on line and then everybody switched roles. I moderated the verbal discussion and Trevor moderated the online backchannel. 

Results and Feedback

My first impression was that there were significantly more people engaged than there typically are in a regular classroom discussion. Students were more fired up about the issue than I expected (I don't have a lot of NFL football fans in the class and had worried the topic wouldn't be engaging enough) In reality the discussion was intense and at times it was difficult to keep people in the outside circle from speaking out instead of typing. Some students still spoke up more than others but in general almost everyone contributed at least once. One student didn't make a single comment in the inner circle or online. Student feedback on the process itself was generally positive. Some struggled with the technology (and trying to type on the iPads which is quite difficult especially when you are trying to type quickly) and most students had a clear preference for either the verbal or online format. 

What we would change/improve (Trevor and I debriefed after the session)

1. We would try to provide more laptops so students could type more quickly and keep up with the conversation. 
2. We noticed that many students commented online without specific details, for example "I agree with Kadin" (without any specific info about why they agreed.) We will emphasize articulating reasons for opinions in the future. 
3. Trevor mentioned that many students struggled to contain their emotions, and perhaps we should reinforce the concept that regulating our emotions while dealing with difficult issues is an essential part of effective communication. 
4. My husband (who teaches Social Studies) commented that this topic might not be the best one for a discussion as there really is only one side. The team name is unacceptable. Period. Allowing students to consider the arguments in favour of the name won't help move them in the direction of empathy. I'm still undecided. While I was surprised at how many students originally didn't even think the name was offensive at all, I felt it was more important for them to discuss the issue and think about it than for me to simply give them the argument that the name must be removed. For what it's worth, the individual reflections at the end indicated almost all of the students were in favour of changing the team name. 

Overall, both Trevor and I felt this strategy was successful in engaging more students than in a traditional classroom discussion and that it would be effective in other subject areas as well. 

Post courtesy of Naryn Searcy 

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Highlights from Princess Margaret

With the end of another school year comes the chance to compile some of the great work being done by the teachers and students at Princess Margaret Secondary. With 27 members in the group it was impossible to include everything that happened this year in a single video but we did our best! Thanks to everyone for contributing your ideas and bravely sharing your challenges and successes with each other throughout the year.  Thanks as well to the various groups from outside of our district that came to our school, including Ron Canuel from the Canadian Education Association (CEA) who visited in person to present the Ken Spencer Award to our staff. It has been an exciting year.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Keeping the Virtues Alive - Character Education

Kent and I wanted some way to review the good character traits we had worked on with our classes this winter.  We continued with the ‘Sticking with Good Character’ board, where each student was featured with a picture.   We have a supply of little sticky notes on the board.  The students continue to  recognize their classmates showing good character and write it up on a sticky note.  (John came in early to do homework he forgot – responsibility.    Jenny was having trouble in the skipping lesson but didn’t give up – perseverance.     Bob brought back the ball we borrowed from Division 3 after lunch – trustworthiness.)  

The second review activity was assigning a few students to each of the ‘virtues’.  Each group will be writing a morning announcement to read out over the P.A.  They will define their virtue, say why we should practice it, what it can be like when we don’t practice it, followed by specific ways students could practice it that day at school.  Then they will make a small motivational poster for it using the Big Huge Labs Poster Creator that we will post up on a hallway bulletin board by the water fountain.  We are hoping to bring this activity to the entire school, since our classes are the oldest and therefore leaders. Moreover, it is always great to take the learning outside of the walls of the classroom and make it relevant for our students.

These virtues are abstract ideas and big words for elementary school kids.  By linking them to familiar scenarios and by giving the students specific ways to practice them, the virtues have become something that we can talk about in classroom discussions and behaviours we can recognize.    

Post courtesy of Judy Schneider

Monday 2 June 2014

Stop Motion In History 12

A colleague introduced me to a free app (Stop Motion-Animation Maker Pro) that allows students to create video-esque 'flip books' using white boards, markers, and either a tablet or smart phone.  Their assignment was to select a portion of WWII history and create a short video with voice over that demonstrated their knowledge of a particular battle.

The app itself is relatively easy to use, although I must admit that many of my students navigated through it and learned its nuances more quickly than I!  

The progression worked like this:

1.  After selecting a topic (in the example posted, this student chose the Battle of the Atlantic), students are to make use of their notes from previous lessons along with any other information available (texts, internet sources, etc).  

2.  Using a white board and markers, students draw a series of simple illustrations, taking a picture using the stop motion app, of each illustration.  Illustrations are to vary slightly in degree from one frame to the next.  The stop motion app has an 'onion skin' feature that allows for adjustment of the opaqueness of the camera filter, so that students can see the previous picture under the new photo taken.  This allows the photos to be lined up in order to create that 'flip book' effect.

3.  Once their pictures are drawn and photographed, students are then to record a voice over of information relevant to the images they have drawn, but also including other pertinent details that perhaps couldn't be illustrated.

The final products were excellent with some students drawing very simplistic figures, like the stick figure you see in the image above, while other more artistic students took more time to descriptively depict the scenes they imagined from their chosen WWII conflict. 

Here is a selected piece of work:

 Post courtesy of Lesley Lacroix 

Sunday 1 June 2014

Creating for an Authentic Audience

Last week the Penticton Art Gallery hosted an opening night for an exhibit of work produced by local high school students. The Princess Margaret selection from Brad Gibson's art classes included 3 sections: A mask project (Grade 9/10) A Tea Pot Project (Grade 11/12) and a set of Dry Point Etchings (Grade 11/12).

Brad commented that there are many advantages to exhibiting the student work in a public forum. "It takes the projects out of the context of the classroom and puts them into the professional environment of the art gallery," he said. Students see their work from a different perspective and in a formal display which signifies respect. They also get to observe other members of the public appreciating and discussing their work. Students were aware before they began their projects that these would be going on display at the gallery, and though any work performed by Brad's students is of a consistently high quality, the expectation of a public show was an added incentive for students to take the work extremely seriously.

A second benefit Brad mentioned was that the exhibit allowed him to showcase the wide range of students that choose to take art at Princess Margaret. Students are allowed to enter the art program during any year of their high school career, and with any level of experience. The display showcased the extraordinary products produced by a very varied group of students. After the opening night students were extremely positive about seeing their work on display and valued by members of the larger community. Opening night of the exhibit was well attended and many parents also commented on the value of seeing their child's work on display in a public forum. It was a great reminder of how important it is to provide students with an audience for their work beyond the perspective of the regular classroom.

The show runs until June 15th.