Sunday, 16 July 2017

10 Must-Read Tips for Back to School Success

1) Create Bulletin Boards

I'm putting this one first because it is my favourite!  I love a good bulletin board.  Each year I search for the best possible idea, and change my mind soooo many times before I actually commit.  Check out my Pinterest board to see what's currently on my mind. 

2) Set Up Seating

This year, I'll be starting out with flexible seating.  When I began with flexible seating a year and a half ago, I created 4 posts on the topic.   I'm in a new room now, which is much more flexible.  I've been very fortunate that admin has been on board to support this venture.

In the past, before flexible seating, I've set my desks up in two's for the first week of school. I've also started in groups. 

3) Parent Letter

Draft something that lets parents know about important classroom routines and school procedures.  You might choose to also include a survey.  I've used this foldable version by Ashley Reed for a few years.  I love pairing it with Astrobrights paper.  Many parents have commented on it as well!


4) Sharpen Pencils

I'll be honest,  I do one of two things here.
1) Find a small child who is willing to work for candy or a gift card.
2) Buy pre-sharpened pencils.

You might even want to consider a pencil management system like my friend Erin, at Mrs. Beattie's classroom, uses.


5) Prep Community Building Activities

 Setting up a strong class community is crucial.  This post has several great ideas for building classroom community and links to several more!

6) Sort Supplies

This might be my second favourite part of school setup.  I love all the new supplies! With flexible seating, my students don't get supplies in the traditional way.  Meaning, I don't have desks that are vomiting out a mess of pencils and crumpled paper.  We use shared supplies.  Kids grab a bin and have access to pencil crayons, markers, scissors, and glue anywhere in the room.

7) Substitute/TTOC Binder

Prepare as much of your TTOC Binder as you can ahead of time.   There will be some info you won't know until school actually starts, but a lot of it can be prepared early.  Some of the info I have in my binder includes:
- Where to Find it (in the classroom and around the school)
- Classroom Procedures (morning meetings, inside recess, etc)
- Safety Procedures (fire drills, lockdown)

8) Emergency Procedures

From fire drills to lock downs, there are so many things to consider.  You'll want to consider all scenarios ahead of time, especially if you're in a new room.  My emergency procedures are typed up in my TTOC binder.  I have a class list on a clipboard near the door.  

I like this tutorial for simple window covers by Kindergarten Works.  My covers are on magnets, but this option would be really great for a wooden door.

9) Organize Class Library

My class library is organized mostly by genre.  Really popular series, like "Who Would Win", or "Captain Underpants" have their own bins.  The labels I created match my genre posters so students can easily compare.  Each book has a small label on it with an image that also coordinates.  Since I've started this system I have rarely had to rearrange the books.  Kids know where to put things back properly, and they do!


10) Rest and Relax!

Don't forget to take a break.  You don't want to be exhausted before school starts.  Mrs. Beers has an awesome post on the summer teacher refresh.

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Sharing Personal Identity Through Plaster Masks

Giving students opportunities to share their interests, explore their identities and self-assess their personal awareness are essential parts of the new British Columbia curriculum.  We found a fun and engaging way for students to tackle these competencies this year.

Early in the year, our students worked to cover each others' faces in plaster strips.  (You can purchase this at any art store, like Michaels.)  It usually comes in large strips, so you'll need to cut them down ahead of time.  Students just wet them with water and smooth on.  Don't forget to coat the face in LOTS of Vaseline first so the mask comes off easily.  We dimmed the lights and played some soothing music.  The students were very kind and compassionate to one another.  We heard things like:

"You're doing great! We are nearly finished."
"Do you want me to cover your nose first, or your mouth first?"
"Just take deep breaths, you're doing awesome."

It was a great strengthening activity for our growing community. 


The masks sat in the cupboard, tucked away until January.  We just had too much going on to tackle this job until then.  In the end, I actually think this turned out well, because the students thought deeply for months about the pieces they were going to use to represent themselves.  Once it was "go time" they had very little trouble stating what they were going to use and why.  

As a group, we built criteria for the masks. You can see it in the image below.  If you do this task, I encourage you to build criteria with your students as well, but you're welcome to download a PDF of the criteria sheet we used.

This is my mask.  I shared it with the students as an example of meeting the design element criteria, but also as an example of justifying choices.  I wrote 5 different versions of my justification, with varying levels of description and attention to punctuation and spelling.  Students had to debate the order from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest).  Once determined, these were placed on a bulletin board in the room and used as a reference/self-assessment tool for the writing piece (more on that below) that accompanied their masks.

This mask belongs to one of my students.  I love the soccer ball background and the fact that he was comfortable enough to add the flowers to honour the nickname his mother has for him.

Here are the masks all up in the hallway.  You can see in this photo the writing pieces students did to accompany their masks.  Students were to write to justify each piece placed on their mask.  They had to state how it represented their unique personal or cultural identity.  They were not able to say things like "I like to read, so I put on a book." It had to be much deeper than this and really connect to who they were. The majority of the students nailed this job!

One of my favourite pieces of writing.  This child is so insightful.  Although her mask is not as eyecatching as the designs of some others she was accurately able to justify each piece she selected and how it represents her personal and cultural identity.

Finally, students used the Positive Personal and Cultural Identity core competency to self assess.  I gave them the profiles directly off of the Ministry site.  I had a copy under the document camera and we discussed what the vocabulary meant.  I was a bit nervous that it would be too wordy for my students, but it really wasn't.  Even at grade 3 and 4 they were completely able to understand the profiles.  We shared as a class some examples of each others' work that represented the profiles.  Finally, students wrote a number in a circle at the top of their paper of the profile number where they felt their work best fit.  I was so impressed with how accurately they did this.  No one selected the top profile.  It was a very powerful little activity!

Next year, I'll be sure to do this task again.  I loved seeing the masks grace our hallway each day.  Such a wonderful way to bring us all together and understand each other a little more.

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Saturday, 8 April 2017

How to Encourage Creative and Out of the Box Thinking in Students

What Is Creative Or Out Of The Box Thinking?

Today we’re talking about creative problem solving and out of the box thinking. This means going beyond the obvious answers and coming up with something new and unique.  Creative thinking isn’t really about planning a craft project; creative thinking is about coming up with fresh ideas.
You’ve probably heard the term to think outside the box. It means that you look at a problem or a situation from a different angle. You get past the obvious answers and solutions. You go beyond and come up with something unique and different. That’s what creative thinking is all about. It’s about stepping outside the box that you usually think in. It means going outside what everyone else things you should do. It may even mean going outside your comfort zone and trying something completely different.  When students start to get creative and think way outside the box, anything you come across can serve as an inspiration to spark an interesting idea. That’s what we’re talking about here. 

Why Is Creative Thinking Important?

Creative thinking has been called a 21st century skill.  When students think creatively, they are not only generating ideas that have value to them, but they are also being prepared for life beyond the classroom.  The sooner you get them started in the right direction, the faster they will pick up these thinking skills. That, in turn, means they will reach their professional and personal goals quicker and more easily.   The B.C. Ministry of Education has recently developed a profile for Creative Thinking.  You can view it by clicking here.   I enjoy sharing this profile with students, so they can easily see ways in which they need to grow.

Teaching Your Students To Become Out Of The Box Thinkers

So, how can you teach students to think creatively? Try some of these ideas:

Creating The Right Environment & Culture

There’s a reason innovative companies like Google pay a lot of attention creating an environment and culture that promotes innovative and creative thinking. You won’t find boring cubicles or little box offices at the Google-Plex. Giving people little boxes to work in makes them think inside the box. If you want to cultivate creative and out of the box thinking, you have to create the right environment.  How this looks will be different for every teacher, the students in their room that year, school rules, etc, but it can happen.  

Flexible seating is just one way to make this work.  By allowing students to chose a spot where they feel more comfortable, creative thinking is much more likely to occur.  I've blogged about my flexible seating adventure here, and that post links to three others as well.

Allow Choice in Tasks

Criteria and rules are good and certainly necessary to a degree, but they can also be very limiting when it comes to creative thinking.  Allow students choice in their end task can lead to a lot of out of the box thinking.  Wherever possible, I allow my students to choose how they present their learning to me.  It could be an iMovie, a poster, a diorama, an essay.... as long as they can show me they've met the learning outcomes and justify their thinking, I'm happy.  Here are a few examples of a winter traditions project.  Same criteria, totally different results:

Creative thinking is all about innovation and trying something new that wasn’t tried before. Don’t make it hard on students, or make them jump through hoops before they can try something new. Yes, there needs to be some balance between rules and regulations that keep everyone safe and on task, but don’t forget to lengthen the leash as well if you’re serious about creating a climate of innovation.  Find that balance, and look for the sweet spot that keeps things in order while also fostering creative and out of the box thinking. When it doubt, ease up on the criteria a bit and see how things go. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that you don’t need to run as tight a ship as you thought. 

Give Them Time To Think And Innovate

Allow students time to work on tasks that inspire them.  This time goes by many different names: Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% Time, Personal Inquiry... It's all the same. My students worked on their inquiry projects for about an hour a week all year long.  In the end, they presented with an oral piece, an artifact, and something written.  This student created an inspiration board and a menu for her coffee shop and gave a business pitch as well.  Very different from the student who investigated the circulatory system!  Both great inquires.

Get Playful About It

Playing is a great way to encourage creative thinking. Why not take advantage of that fact and find some ways to incorporate games, puzzles and the likes in student learning?  There’s a lot you can do regularly to encourage and promote out of the box thinking. Above all, have fun with it. A playful attitude will go a long way.  Here my students are learning about circumference and pi on Pi Day with a breakout box (some of the math was way above their grade level, but anything is possible when fun and games are involved!) 

Encourage Discussions

I find that kids aren't often given enough time to talk about their learning.  Let them brainstorm, discuss, and debate.  When one student provides an idea, it can spark many more.  Allowing students the time to talk helps them to become respectful, critical thinkers.  In this photo, my students are debating trade prices in a fur trade simulation.

Reward Creative Ideas Even When They Don’t Work Out

Some creative thoughts will work, some won’t, but you want to continue to get more creative thoughts out of your students. The best way to ensure that happens is to encourage each and every one positively.  Get in the habit of responding in a “That’s a great idea… what if…” type way. Don’t disregard anything out of hand. Instead, let them know you heard their idea and then gently lead it in a different direction.  Not only will it help keep the child who came up with the thought motivated to keep going, it may also spark a spin-off idea in someone that may end up being just what you were looking for.   Make your classroom a place where all innovation is appreciated and welcome, no matter what. It will go a long way towards building and growing this culture of innovation and creativity.  Next year, I plan to add an "Epic Failures" bulletin board to my classroom.  When kids try something that doesn't work out, it gets added to the board.  Failures can be celebrated this way.  This idea was inspired by A.J. Juliani (he has written several excellent books - I recommend you read at least one!)  I'm thinking that this will go right in the middle of the bulletin board to start us off:

Don’t Forget To Lead By Example

As the teacher, you should do what you preach and lead by example. If you want your students to take the time to think something through and come up with a better solution, make sure you schedule in those blocks of time for yourself too.  If you want kids to work together and brainstorm to spark new ideas, participate. If you want to create a brighter and more fun environment, go make some changes! Lead by example and they will follow.  Keep encouraging people to learn more and have fun. Make them think and work on showing off your own creative thinking. Give students space to think and see what they’ll come up with for you.  

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Sunday, 19 February 2017

How to Edit An Editable TpT File with Powerpoint

I get questions on occasion about how to edit my editable products.  If you're not sure how to do this, read on.  This tutorial is for you!

Step One:

Open the file with Powerpoint.  On the left side you'll see a small preview of each page in the file.  The file I'm showing you, my chalkboard themed schedule cards, only has one page.   On the right, the larger version is the one you'll actually be working with and editing.  If the font doesn't look like it's supposed to, you likely do not have the correct font downloaded on your computer.  There's typically instructions within the file or the purchase details about what font you need and where you can get it.  This file uses the font "Return to Sender".


Step Two:

Click on the piece you're going to edit.  Here, I've just written "Type here" so buyers have a text box already made.

Step Three:

Highlight the text you want to edit. 

Step Four:

 Replace the standard text with whatever you want it to say. 

Step Five:

Highlight the text again.  Adjust the font size to fit the area using the top toolbar.  If you hover your mouse over the outer border of the text box, your cursor will change to what looks like a compass rose.  You can now click and move the text box so it fits your area better. 

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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

How to Host a Book Tasting to Teach Genres

Teaching students about what types (or genres) of books they like to read, and why they like to read those genres is very important to me.  Too often I see students get stuck reading only one series over and over.  Don't get me wrong, I love Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants, but my heart bleeds when those are the only books a student is reading, and are afraid to jump into anything else.  What's even worse is when they check a book out of the library one week, return it the next, without ever actually reading it!  By learning about genres, students can use clues on the book cover, spine and back to tell them if its something they might be interested in.  This is where a book tasting comes into play.  We had already spent about a week talking about genres, and this event was my assessment piece.  Did they know why books fit a certain genre? What clues would they use? Could they justify their thinking?

I love setting up room transformation events.  The reaction from kids is priceless!  A book tasting is one of those events.  I set the room up the night before, and then put this sign over the little window in my door so students couldn't peek in.  They are used to seeing me greet them in the morning, but not with the door closed!  Intrigued before they even came in the classroom!


Once I let them enter, this is what they saw: tablecloths, place settings, candles, snacks, books, and menus.  The set up for this was really so easy and quite inexpensive too!

 Basically everything was purchased from the Dollar Store.  Each table was decorated with a centerpiece consisting of a plate, flower, glass cup, gems, and a candle.  The candles are the plastic battery operated kind.  I bought one bunch of fake flowers, and put one on each setting. 

I first sat everyone down at the carpet and played them a short video I created with iMovie.  Essentially, it told students what we were going to do, why were going to do it, and how.  They thought it was so hilarious that my voice was in a video!

I had 5 table groups set up, with 6 settings at each.  Every table showcased a particular genre, but it wasn't labeled or identified anywhere.  Students sat down at a table and took some time to examine the book in front of them.  They recorded the following:

- title
- author
- thoughts on the book based on the cover

After giving a few minutes for this, students then read for 5.  Once the 5 minutes had passed, they returned to their menu to write down:

- thoughts on the first few pages
- clues they found to the genre
- the genre of the book

They then rotated and repeated this process four more times with four different genres.  Of course, before moving on, they had a little snack at each table too!

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Celebrate Halloween in the Classroom with these 10 Healthy Snacks

They might be cute, they might be creepy, but these ten ideas for halloween snack food are easy and healthy!

Save the candy for Trick-or-Treating.  This Halloween celebrate with these spooky snacks that are actually healthy!  

This vegetable skeleton is adorable and a fun way to get in those veggies!

For a frozen treat, try these "Boo"nana pops!

Looking for a reaction?  This pumpkin puking spinach dip will get you one for sure.

Fruit, pudding, cereal... Cute Food for Kids has a ton of adorable monster cup ideas!

Bananas, pretzels and raisins make some spooky spider snacks!

These super simple gauze wrapped mummy apples.

Practice your cackle while eating these cheddar witch's fingers.

These goulish strawberry ghosts will get gobbled up in an instant.

Kids will laugh as they chomp on these hilarious apple teeth snacks.

Graham crackers, cream cheese and jam make for some disgusting, but healthy, bloody band-aids.

Inspired by this post? Pin it using the image below!

They might be cute, they might be creepy, but these ten ideas for halloween snack food are easy and healthy!

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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Mystery Investigation: A Kickoff Activity to Personal Inquiry

A kickoff activity for personal inquiry

This year I am going to do some personal inquiry projects with my students.  You've heard all the names.... Genius Hour, Passion Project.... I'm calling it what it is, and that's personal inquiry.  Personalized learning is really at the heart of the new BC curriculum and I'm doing my best to dive right in.

My bestie teaches across the hall from me and we're planning on team teaching personal inquiry to better meet the needs of our students.  I can assist with inquiries I know more about, and vice versa.  If we have students with similar inquiries, we can pair them for collaboration and feedback.  We want to make sure that when we begin, students will have some understanding of what it means to inquire.  Sadly, many students aren't provided many experiences to be curious and investigate. We wanted to give them that experience to connect back to once we begin.

We decided to go with this:

Humpty Dumpty - Did he fall or was he pushed?

We had so much fun setting this up!  We decided to go full force and even dressed the part.  We each wore blazers, dress shirts, and ties.  Crystal had the hat and glasses and I had a huge magnifying glass.  From before school even started we had kids talking, wondering, whispering about what was going on.  We were the buzz all around the school!
An outfit goes a long way in setting the stage to engage!

The Setup

This activity was set up in the multi-purpose room so we could keep it secret until we were ready for it.  We created a brick wall using a cardboard box.  We wrapped it in brown bulletin board paper and just drew the brick lines on with a Sharpie.  Humpty Dumpty's chalk outline is drawn on the floor with a chalk pen.  Turns out our floor is not level as the egg was running away!  We dammed it up with the egg shells after I took this photo.  Oops!

We marked the area off with tables from the room and then cones and Caution tape.  The tape is from the Halloween section of the Dollar Store, so it's got a spooky font, but it worked.  Only one student commented on that.

Did Humpty fall or was he pushed?

The clues were...
1) Humpty Dumpty's remains
2) A banana peel
3) Vasoline
4) A whisk
5) Boot prints (we painted the bottom of a boot with brown acrylic paint and stamped it on the floor)
6) A shield, sword and toy horses (for all the kings horses and all the kings men)
7) A chef's hat
8) A princess dress

Clue two: a banana peelClue 6: All the kings horses and all the kings men

The Investigation

The story we told is that as two broke teachers we rent the multipurpose room out on the weekends for some extra cash.  This weekend, something bad happened and the police needed our assistance to solve a mystery.  We set everyone up with a clipboard and paper before entering.  We told them ahead of time that they needed to be quiet at first, so they didn't influence anyone else with their opinions.  They were just to observe and take notes.

Analyzing and inferring from clues

Students used words and pictures to assess the scene.  We asked them, "What do you see? What do you wonder? What do you think?" and after about 15 minutes of investigating we began to discuss.  We made a t-chart that read "intentional" on one side and "accidental" on the other and students gave us their evidence to support both ways of thinking.  We set them loose to observe again with their new thinking.

Analyzing and inferring from clues

At the end, they had to form an opinion of what really happened.  There were many detailed descriptions with lots of evidence, but I especially enjoy this one.

Before wrapping up, we asked the students if they were to continue the investigation what next steps they would need to take.  They told us things like comparing the boot prints to those of students to see if they were suspects, sending the egg to a lab for DNA testing (haha), talking to specialists, and checking to see if the school had security cameras that could give us more information.

Next week, when we begin to talk about the inquiry cycle, students will now have something to link back to.  We plan on making an anchor chart with "Traits of an Investigator".  We can remind them of how they were curious, and how they investigated further.  We can link back to the fact that they had questions and took steps to investigate those questions.  Although personal inquiry is not a murder mystery, there are many similar steps. 

It took less than an hour to set up and we investigated for about an hour as well.  Take down was super easy and was completed over recess. 

A kickoff activity to personal inquiry
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