Monday, May 16, 2011

Good geography game

We're currently working on an activity related to continents and oceans, so I thought I would repost this game I linked to earlier in the year. Other than leaving out the Antarctic Ocean (a small detail), it is accurate and uses the terminology the students need to be familiar with. I would suggest using it to build familiarity with the continents and oceans over the next couple of weeks.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The weekend is upon us

After another week of fun and learning (although you'd have to ask the kids if that's accurate or not), we find ourselves at Friday once again. Some students are fairly ambivalent toward the onset of the weekend, others count down the minutes, and small group are actually disappointed that school is over for another week. I guess that means I'm doing my job, right? I am personally looking forward to getting in a good weekend of spring cleaning and socializing as we move into what promises to be a fairly hectic last month of school this year.

I was reflecting with some other teachers earlier in the week (as we are prone to do), and the discussion turned to what effect having such a small class (14 in my case) has on the students' attitudes and dynamic with one another. It made me think, and I have really been paying attention to this over the last few days. My first conclusion was that there are probably positive effects in terms of the physical space we occupy. By not being able to run away or isolate themselves or others, students are compelled to work things out more often, and accommodate others in class. There is also a tendency to break down pre-existing cliques, and expose students' strengths and weaknesses as friends and "co-workers".

I think that the end result can be a more cohesive, focused group than in some larger classes. The added bonus of my being able to pay more attention to specific situations and students probably helps here as well. It allows me to direct conversation and activities in a way that help students gain a deeper understanding of each other an themselves, and become more comfortable with their abilities to share, interact and learn together.

I attended an interesting seminar at the ACPI (Association Canadien des Professeurs d'Immersion) conference I attended last October. The speaker's main idea was that students in contemporary North American classrooms stand to benefit most in the long term if they learn to work collaboratively in a way that benefits themselves and others equally. The jobs of the future, as he put it, will be filled by people with a wide array of skills, good leadership abilities and the ability to solicit and assimilate information from other people and sources. I think that this end is served well by the small class size we have enjoyed this year, because students' physical, mental and emotional comfort zones are pushed frequently and they are forced to adapt if they would like to succeed.

Continuing on that last point, my favourite thing (so far) about this late stage of the year is the personal and collective growth of the students in my class. Through the rich experiences they have at home, in the community and at school, they are quickly turning into very conscious, aware individuals. The speed with which they are now able to make decisions and find things out for themselves is staggering to me, and makes me very optimistic about all of their prospects in upcoming years. I was apprehensive at the beginning of the year, as I'm sure many new employees are. My pervasive concern was "What if these kids get to the end of the year and aren't ready for Grade 5?". I realize now that they would have been ready with or without my aid, but that their degree of readiness has been increased by their hard work and the efforts of their home and community networks.

Have a great weekend, and don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Things will stay very busy up to the end of the year, so let's not slow down now!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some Wednesday fun

A bit of a time-waster here, but this game is really fun and requires some serious thinking and experimenting. Hope you enjoy, and just a warning; don't start playing it too early in the day, or you might not get anything done...

More busy days at Beachy Cove Elementary

The morning was taken up by Spring Concert practice again today, which seems to be shaping up nicely. I have been trying to sit in on the last 20 minutes or so each time, just to see the progress and the excitement of the students involved. The parts from our Earth Day Assembly have been reassigned, and several exciting new elements have been added. The end result is a more detailed, coherent presentation that provides entertainment and information about water supply and conservation.

Because the students missed their gym class to practice, Ms. Tapper was kind enough to take all the grade 4 students outside after recess. This left enough time to go to the library, then lunch! After lunch, we did manage to get lots of good work done on fractions, health and social studies in particular.

To evaluate this unit on Summer Safety, I will be asking students to create a pamphlet on some element of staying safe in summer. This will require them to pay attention to formatting, content and composition of an informational text, something we have spent plenty of time on this year. Each student will have to discuss an activity, then outline possible dangers, preventative measures, examples they are familiar with and other important details. I will also be asking them to include pictures and diagrams as they see fit. More information will be sent home on this in the coming weeks.

As the playoffs move on, the disparity between the leaders and the rest of the pack (where I find myself) is growing larger. It is still causing some excitement, and stirring an interest in math which was the idea. I'm getting over the loss of my beloved Habs day by day, and am somewhat consoled by the fact that Ryan Kesler has started to accumulate some points for me.

Here are a couple links to sites that have ideas for activities and experiments related to the properties of sound. I mentioned last week that there will be an assignment requiring students to create a project that demonstrates the principles of sound in some way, so this might be a good starting point. Most are relatively inexpensive, straightforward and tidy (something I know is valued), and results are usually easy for students to see. Let me know if you try any at home!

Enjoy the rest of your day!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A second post

Hi gang, just a few more notes before I tune out (ie. tune in to hockey) for the night. The class is really humming this week, with a different dynamic since we are missing 3 students (in Florida). This makes it more challenging to keep things moving at our usual pace, but opens up some opportunities for more one-on-one work. On the other hand, it will be fun to see the presentations our "missing" students will have prepared after they return.

Students that have taken time away so far this year have returned with a wealth of stories, journal entries and other information that has proven valuable to other students' learning and enjoyment. I generally encourage students to take the time to engage in extra-curricular activities and travel, especially when they are able to take these opportunities to enhance their learning and elaborate on things we are doing in class.

Another note: the presentation of our Personal Projects will take place on May 25th. The exact details are yet to be finalized, but it will be open to parents and other family members as well as other students in the school.

Take care, talk to you tomorrow!

Here comes spring...

Not much to post today, as we move along with numerous preparations. Here are a few notes for now, with another post to follow later (when there isn't as much sun to enjoy!)
  • I have been asking students to bring in/email things they are currently working on for their personal projects, since I will be giving them additional support and time to work on them this week. If you have any questions, please let me know.
  • We are preparing for the Spring Concert, which will take place at 7:00pm on Thursday, May 19th. Tickets cost $5, and will not be available at the door. For that reason, please send along money soon if you would like tickets.
  • A newsletter went home today, with lots of important information.
  • Students are going to start working toward gaining their "Smartboard License", which will require them to complete tasks and demonstrate knowledge of Smartboard software, techniques and terminology. We will be starting this soon, since we have a new computer with the Smartboard programming installed. Hopefully, our Smartboard won't be far behind.
  • Anticipate a math test in the next couple of weeks! We will also be carrying out a pizza-making activity that will wrap up our fractions unit.
  • Social Studies has now moved into the Physical Geography unit (much to the joy of the class). This will involve more hands-on work and possibly some additional tasks to be completed at home.
More later, but enjoy the sunny day!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What a literate bunch!

Today was dominated by the PIRLS test, as mentioned in previous posts. It is a test that is administered every 5 years, to assess literacy levels, skills and preferences in English-speaking nations around the world. The test took about 2 1/2 hours from end to end, including a questionnaire similar to the one that was sent home to be completed by parents.

This was a more formal test than I would usually administer, so was good practice for students. Everybody complete it to a satisfactory level, and seemed to have a good comprehension of what they were reading and expressing. Since there is a lesser focus on levelled readers know, it was interesting to see students reactions when confronted with texts that are (theoretically) right on reading level. I kept some of the resource materials to extrapolate on these tests during class.

This afternoon, we completed most of the remainder of our ArtsSmarts projects. These will be presented at a school-wide Art Day celebration, something that the class seems excited to participate in. Today we attached pictures and decorated the covers to reflect the content in their project. As usual, it was neat to compare and contrast the finished projects as reflections of their varied understandings of the project. Fun stuff!

As a lead-in to our next unit in health (outdoor/summer safety), we went outside to brainstorm and explore some situations that can present risks during the summer. In groups, the class spotted possible activities that they could be involved in (boating, swimming, climbing trees, playing sports, etc.) and wrote a list of precautions they might take to make sure they can complete the activity in safety. This was a great way to assess their prior understanding.

I have decided that part of the assessment for out science unit on sound will be to create a simple demonstration of a noise-maker or contraption that uses sound somehow. This will be complimented by a very straightforward quiz, which should take place by the end of May. I will give plenty of examples, but some students are already thinking of instruments, noisemakers or demonstrations that they might be interested in creating. They will be accompanied by a short write-up/illustrations/presentation as usual.

I made a couple of omissions and errors on the revised player lists for our hockey pool, which will be rectified by tomorrow. As we stand now, everybody is within 25 points of one another and things seem to be getting closer by the day.

Have a great evening, and let me know if you have any questions.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The golden rule and other light reading

We kept moving right along today, in an effort to get a good jump on the material we will be covering over the next couple of months. The main activity today was in social studies, where students worked in groups to compare and contrast the positive and negative consequences of exploration. Building on an activity from yesterday, students broke into different groups and made some tables that organized the information from 3 different case studies.

The groups each had to conclude by making a statement about which case study had the greatest net positive consequences, and which had the most negative. It was interesting for the students and I to see how different people took the same information and interpreted it. I think that this is an important lesson, as it was a great demonstration of bias, decision making and the difficulties of comparing information. It was also a good illustration of how searching for MORE AND MORE information (ie. online, etc.) isn't always necessary; what is most important is to process the information we have and use that to form well-rounded opinions.

The class presented their findings in front of the class, then carried out a group self-evaluation. This is a key part of the grade 4 curriculum, but is something I haven't focused on too much. I had students evaluate themselves and their group mates on several criteria, then submit it confidentially with their individual write-ups. I know that not all students like group work (understandably), but I feel like this gives them the time to reflect on their own contributions and share any frustrations they have about how the exercise went in general. It also allows me to tailor my instruction to address any persistent issues.

This afternoon, we had a religion lesson about The Golden Rule (do unto others...). It sparked some great discussion and questioning, which made me very happy. Discussion on the basic principles of morality that span religions, philosophy and other belief systems will be the foundation of our religion curriculum over the rest of the year. It was also particularly relevant today, as I fielded several questions about the recent assassination of Osama bin Laden. Students were generally either very resolute or confused in their opinions, so it was useful to talk about it in terms of our basic moral code. If your child has questions our concerns about any of the things we discussed today, I would encourage you to ask them questions and get them thinking about it.

Take care, enjoy the sunny day, and I will talk to you soon. Tomorrow we will be writing the PIRLS test and finishing up our ArtsSmarts, so hope to see all students in class for those things and a few surprises.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Back to school

We got right back at it today, with a flurry of activities designed to get the class immediately back into our daily routines and re-establish the patterns, roles and practices that they had been helping us progress greatly in the weeks before Easter. We carried out a small research project, some individual and group writing exercises, and an Easter Egg-fuelled "Math Blitz" to review and expand upon our work thus far on fractions.

For a first day back, not too bad! I was impressed with students' willingness and ability to pick back up on what we had been doing before the vacation, so thanks for helping your children stay in practice over the 10 days we were off. I did not collect students' Journal reflections today, but will take them in tomorrow to discuss with each child individually.

Corrected health tests were sent home today, and should be signed and sent back ASAP. I was happy with the results, but I did mention to the class that I see a very high correlation between "Time spent paying attention" and overall marks. There is also a very clear divide between occasions when students take their time and give good detail in their written and oral responses, and occasions when they rush. The resulting marks are never a coincidence!

A few other points on upcoming events:
  • I sent home a survey to be completed in advance of the PIRLS literacy test that the class will be writing on Wednesday. This is to be completed by each student's primary caregiver(s), and sent back in tomorrow (May 3rd). It is a confidential survey that will be sealed anonymously, only identified by a barcode that corresponds to each student's test.
  • It seems as though many students have finished their Personal Project, and others are quickly nearing completion. I was glad to hear that students were able to find time to get some things done over their holiday. They were very eager to share their developments. If there is work left to do or things that you are unsure of, let me know and by all means send things in for review.
  • We are starting a new unit on Summer Safety in health, and moving on to Sound in science and Geography in social studies. I will (I promise) post a few helpful links and resources relating to these topics in the upcoming days.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments, and lets have a great final couple of months!