Travel Takes Over – Like A Backpacker

At the top of Cerro Santa Lucía, Santiago 2013.

Hi everyone,

Before I left Australia for my trip around South America, I was intent on keeping OpenEdToolbox up to date.

Unfortunately it is turning out to be too hard a task to keep my mind in both places at once. I am sure that I will return to this blog and the wonderful community of teachers in future, but for the time being I am investing my time in my travel page which can be found at www.LikeABackpacker.com

If you have any education related questions that you have regarding the content on OpenEdToolbox, please don't hesitate to drop me an email via teddy.mercer@gmail.com. The conversations I have had with people via this site have been awesome, and it would be great to keep those connections strong. Thanks to all those people who have contributed thus far.

Until next time,

 

Teddy.

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2013 – The Year Ahead

Happy New Year to everyone and I hope you are all still enjoying a hard earned and relaxing break.

As you may have been able to tell by the frequency of my posts, I have been enjoying a break away from work too. The good news is that I’m not quite ready to slip back in to work mode just yet. In fact, I’m writing this post from one of Ballarat’s (in my opinion) best coffee houses – The Unicorn. If you’re ever here for a visit, it’s a must try!

Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday morning during the holidays!

Having said all of this, I know for a fact that teachers are beginning to think about the year ahead and the endless adventures, laughs and challenges that will be your new grades. Graduate teachers are nervous about the ‘great unknown’ that will be their first year of teaching (no amount of university will ever prepare you!) and experienced teachers are excited to get back into the classroom and share their knowledge with their students and colleagues alike.

Me? Well, here’s the thing. On the 4th February I’m flying to Santiago, Chile, to begin a year long (maybe more) adventure around the South American continent. In the last few months I have left my position at Canadian Lead Primary School as a Grade 3/4 classroom teacher, sold my beloved road bike and numerous other possessions on eBay, bought a hefty amount of overseas currency and done hours of planning, reading and research for my eagerly anticipated trip.

So what’s in store this year for OpenEdToolbox?

I guess one of the best things about traveling in the 21st Century is the ease with which we can communicate. I’m looking forward to staying in touch with my brilliant PLN on Twitter, my friends on Facebook – and what they’re eating via Instagram! I’m hoping that among the great travel experiences that I encounter it will be as if I never lose touch with current education debate, passionate teachers and their wonderful ideas. All of this will enable me to return to my profession enriched, culturally and academically, and more committed than ever.

With all of the extra time on my hands (fingers crossed!) I plan to continue my work with OpenEdToolbox. This is largely due to the amazing responses I have had via email and Twitter to some of my posts, and the opportunities I have had to collaborate with others. I have been discussing some exciting opportunities to work with Education Services Australia  and their amazing maths300 resource, and I am also planning some collaboration with Fractus Learning. In addition to this, I plan on writing a live travel photoblog to document and communicate my experiences overseas, the details of which will follow shortly.

Thank you to all of my followers and readers for their encouragement and support, and I look forward to learning with you in 2013.

Nos vemos!

Teddy.

What are your grand plans for 2013? What are you most excited about sharing with your students this year? Please share your comments below.


Teaching the Whole Child: The Importance of Creativity in Education

I have had the fortune of working closely with Sally Gregory on a range of projects during my time at Canadian Lead Primary School. She is far too modest to say it herself, but she is a skilled musician, a talented director and above all, an outstanding educator. She has taken the time to write the guest post below outlining her take on Music education and its value in our primary schools. – Teddy.

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It has taken a great deal of persistence and nagging on Teddy’s part for this post to be written. I think it would have found it easier so play one of my own songs for a crowd of thousands than to somehow put the cacophony of thoughts in my head about music education into a ‘brief and succinct’ blog post.

I was one of the lucky students who went through the mainstream education system in Australia and came out the other end with not only knowledge but also a love of music. Unfortunately this was not due to the quality experiences at school, but the foresight of my mum to pay for me to learn at a private music school. This is a classic illustration of what I like to call ‘The Great Divide’.  On the one hand, there are amazing educational opportunities for young musicians who can afford to access them. On the other, most students in government schools don’t have this opportunity.

Why not music? The excuses will come thick and fast if you ask. Not enough money, no teacher expertise, lack of resources, not enough time or just not a priority. In primary school music, dance, drama and visual arts are all thrown under the one blanket of ‘the Arts’ with vague statements thrown around about how to teach and access them together. Surely they are all the same?

Wrong. To put them together and to say teaching any part of one is enough diminishes their value and educational benefits.

So what are the benefits?

Here is where I struggle to articulate what it is that I so passionately feel. I could quote endless results from case studies about the benefits for school communities, how music has turned schools around, increased attendance and made students feel more connected to their peers. I could provide links to research into the educational benefits, how it assists student’s brain development and learning in literacy and numeracy. I could talk about the value of creativity or about music for enjoyment and the response it evokes in all of us.

But ultimately, words can only go so far in expressing the worth of music.

Evelyn Glennie, a deaf virtuoso percussionist, has developed a better understanding of sound than most of us will ever achieve. She can determine the pitch of a note through touch alone. Most would argue that music is of little significance or value to someone who can’t hear and yet the impact it has had on her life has been significant.

I challenge all those out there who proclaim often and loudly that you’re not musical to think about what experiences lead you to come to this conclusion. For teachers in schools without a music program please consider how you might be able to use music to benefit you students and school community.

Music Matters- A short documentary about the music education program at Canadian Lead Primary School

 

You can find Sally Gregory on Twitter: @SalGregory

 

Are you a Music/Arts educator? What are your thoughts?

What does the Music/Arts program look like at your school?

How do you bring creativity into your classroom? What benefits have you seen?

Please share your comments and expertise in the space below.


End of Term Maths Fun: Fermi Problems!

Towards the end of the year, in the last couple of weeks of Term 4, I always find it difficult to keep the balance between work and fun. Part of me just wants to kick back and relax with my grade, but the other part knows that if I do I’m bound to face some issues with behaviour.

I realised that the solution is simply to choose relevant, fun activities that are whole-class oriented and allow for some flexibility in timing. Of course, the odd after lunch Christmas craft activity is thrown in too! I have even thrown in a free resource for doing Fermi Problems in your classroom before the end of the year!

Nobel Prize Winner, Enrico Fermi. By Department of Energy. Office of Public Affairs, via Wikimedia Commons

The solution? Fermi Problems. Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) was a physicist who was also famous for amusing his audience with problems. One of the most famous questions he posed was, “How many piano tuners are there in the state of Chicago?” (See the video below for the answer!) A Fermi problem sounds tricky, but anyone can solve them using a series of estimates.

Some examples of Fermi problems are:

  1. How many blades of grass are on our school oval?
  2. How many people would fit in our classroom standing shoulder to shoulder?
  3. How long would it take everyone in our classroom to go down the water-slide at the local swimming pool, twice?
  4. How many hairs are on your head?
  5. how many Mars Bars would it take, lined up end to end, to reach from one end of our school to the other?

These multi-level problems can be introduced around Grade 3/4 (using the scaffold resource in this post) but extended way beyond that into secondary classrooms. My grade have had fun this week, firstly estimating how many cola bottles were in the jar, and then answering and developing some questions of their own!

We brainstormed strategies together to solve the problem.

We brainstormed strategies together to solve the problem.

SAM_0407

I asked students to draw their Fermi after I had spent some time describing him, with some crazy results!

The cola bottle prize was an excellent 'hook' for the lesson!

The cola bottle prize was an excellent ‘hook’ for the lesson!

To finish this week, we are breaking into four groups on Friday and each constructing 30x30x30cm cubes out of cardboard. I’m then posing the question to them:

“How many full water balloons can we fit into our teams’ cubes?”

Of course, we’ll be finishing with a water fight on the oval!

To all Australian teachers, enjoy your last few days with your grade for 2013! To teachers elsewhere, sorry you don’t have the weather for a water fight! Don’t forget to check out the free resource below.

Cheers,

Teddy.

Click here to access the Fermi problem scaffold that I used with my grade. All I ask is that you retain the watermark to respect the work that has gone into producing the resource and keep sharing this page!

See the video below for a slightly higher-level stimulus to hook students into Fermi problems:

Here are some great links that inspired this post:

 

http://mathforum.org/workshops/sum96/interdisc/sheila1.html

http://www.edgalaxy.com/numeracy/2012/8/22/an-excellent-collection-of-fermi-problems-for-your-class.html

 

I’d love to hear what lessons you have been using to have some fun in your classrooms towards the end of the year, please share your ideas in the comments section below!


Personalised Learning and LOTE – The Confucius Classroom

Last week we were lucky enough to take 45 enthusiastic grade 3/4 students to The Confucius Classroom at Mount Clear College in Ballarat. They are each currently completing personalised learning projects for their Studies of  Asia unit, and using this excursion they were able to investigate similarities and differences between Australian, Chinese and Japanese culture.

As some of you know, I teach at Canadian Lead Primary School in Ballarat, so the centre is just a 5 minute bus ride down the road. We are so incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful resource on our doorstep, and for any other schools learning Chinese or Japanese I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the centre as a fantastic immersion opportunity. Our thanks go to Johanne Reyntes, who is brilliant at what she does with the various programs outlined below. These are just a few of the great workshops available for students.

The students were treated to some amazing Asian cooking experiences using the kitchen facilities and Jo’s skills! They talked about the ingredients that were used and tried their hand at making their own pork dumplings. The centre is fitted out with several interactive LCD screens, and the students watched the process before trying it themselves.

Once they had finished the dumplings and were waiting for them to cook, the students put together their own recipe book to bring back to school or take home and try more recipes.

There was a green screen room, where students were dressing up in traditional Asian clothing (with some hilarious results!) and learning about some of the various forms of dress. We were able to transfer the images onto authentic Asian backgrounds back at school and students could then use them as a stimulus elsewhere in their learning.

The centre is very tech-friendly and has enough iPads for a small group of 12 students. The best part of this rotation was the students’ enthusiasm to explore different apps, and use them as an investigative tool. Some of the best apps (as recommended by the students) were:

The centre has a relaxing atmosphere. There is quiet, soothing Chinese music playing in the background and the walls and ceilings are decorated with traditional Asian cultural items and hanging lanterns. It is clear that a lot of time and thought has gone in to the smooth management of the centre. Students are given badges to identify which group they will be working in and a clear timetable of activities is set out for the day, and each activity was easy to pick up and teach for a classroom teacher.

I think that the key to the working environment is space. Students have ample room and flexibility to choose where they would like to work. Furniture is approximately a 1:2 seating ratio, small and moveable, and other students work on the floor.
Our students have come back to school, rapt with their experience and ready to dive into their last personalised project of the year. Thanks again, to everyone at the Confucius Centre!
The centre has some details on their website, linked to the Mt Clear College website, here.
On a side note, right next door is another excellent resource for teaching science. The Earth Ed Centre offers some genuine, hands-on science experiences for students of all ages, and some professional development opportunities for teachers too. Their website can be found here.
Please leave your comments, links, questions and feedback below.
Cheers,
Teddy.
Disclaimer: I have in no way benefited from the writing of this post. My efforts are entirely voluntary, as they should be, for such a great resource!
How do you immerse your students in experiences to prepare for project-based learning?
Can you share any local (or otherwise) resources that provide similar opportunities for student-led learning?
What opportunities does your LOTE program provide to students at your school?

An Innovative, Open-Ended Approach to Mathematics Teaching Pedagogy

I am incredibly excited this week to be procrastinating from report writing by taking up the opportunity to write for Education Services Australia, and their incredible online resource: maths300.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the resource, here is an excerpt from their ‘About‘ page, below:

“maths300 is less prescriptive than traditional pedagogy.  The lessons build on important algorithmic skills, but also encourage students to develop reasoning and communication skills beyond the textbook. Students are often required to work in groups, to think creatively and to apply a number of different strategies to solve a problem. This process is called Working Mathematically and features in most lessons. The extensions section provides huge scope for extended investigations and cross-curricula activities.”

The lessons are presented as mathematical adventures, and all of them contain rich activities that promote discussion encouraging students to work like a mathematician (one of our numeracy catch-cries!). In our classroom, I have used them exclusively with Kevin Cummins’ Maths Toolbox which he shares on his superb education resource, Edgalaxy.

‘maths300 lessons are presented in an illustrative style based on the Mathematics Curriculum and Teaching Program (MCTP) style. The MCTP is arguably the most successful professional development program prior to maths300.’

In combination with this, schools are able to download the accompanying software package which, although simple looking, allows students to complete investigations with a real-life contextual edge. One example is the Footy Finals lesson (great for September, AFL or NRL!) where students have the opportunity to investigate the chance of their team winning the premiership starting from 1st-8th position.

When I submit my maths300 lesson plan, I also plan to make it available via OpenEdToolbox, so watch this space!

Cheers,

Teddy.

Have you used MCTP or Maths300 in your schools/classrooms?

What sorts of maths ‘adventures’ have you taken your students on?

How do you apply real-life context to your numeracy classroom?


Supporting Struggling Readers in the Classroom

This post has been inspired by a wonderful resource recommended to me by Leslee, our Literacy Leader at CLPS: Guiding Readers and Writers, by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.

Making topic-specific texts available for students, in a variety of formats, is integral to achieving success with engaging young readers.

I find it challenging to consistently engage low literacy students who need extra scaffolding to find success in Reading Workshops in guided and independent work. This post contains some ideas for fostering your struggling readers’ approach to independently selecting, reading and engaging with literature, thus supporting their continued development in reading.

1. Keep track of ‘Reading Conferences’ with lower-level readers, give regular feedback

Direct, relevant and regular feedback is the single most important teaching practice that we can employ as practitioners. Giving lower-level readers the opportunity for regular 1:1 teacher-student conferences is therefore of utmost importance. I also utilise our morning meeting roster as a conference roster for my struggling readers, letting them know when I plan to read with them (informally, or formally assessed).

2. Communicate with parents and establish expectations for a consistent home-reading program

Regular feedback at home, combined with a daily routine, is equally as important as feedback and engagement with reading in the classroom. Supporting parents with the home reading process is something that I focus on in my initial meetings with them, and continue to deliver feedback on during the year via parent-teacher interviews and report comments. Unfortunately, for some of my students, this has proved to be the most challenging aspect of our reading program.

3. Encourage good role-models for reading

One technique I have used to cater for different reading abilities is seating them with confident readers in the classroom. I often find that any research-driven, whole group learning activities, are best supported with these mixed ability pairs. By strategically placing students in the classroom, I support elements of my practice and encourage less willing readers to emulate their peers’ reading behaviours.

4. Expect organisation for independent reading activities

Setting high expectations and a firm routine is essential to preparing lower-level students for independent work. Uninterrupted guided reading time with other ability groups is essential to individual student progress; it should not be comprimised by students who find it more difficult to begin independent tasks. I often check-in with my lower-level group at the beginning of each reading group to check that they have the materials they require, and that they are aware of the expectations for the learning activity. This extra support teaches them the skills needed, over time, to become independent learners.

5. Make books accessible in your classroom

A variety of text types (linked to your integrated/project-based) theme for the unit you are teaching, gives students more opportunity to become involved in the books around them and increases the possibility of engaging students by sparking a personal interest. As well as sourcing books from the school library, try placing relevant hyperlinks online (for example, via a class wiki) where all students can access relevant information from anywhere, any time.

Having books available in the classroom encourages new reading options for students enjoying independent reading.

Lastly, one more technique I have recently implemented is the ‘Post-it Book Review’, whereby students who have read a topic-specific text in the classroom write a few short sentences on a large post it note about why they enjoyed the text. Other students can then choose books based on their peers’ reviews. I have really enjoyed reading their reviews too!

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below.

Cheers,

Teddy.

 

What challenges do you face when teaching reading in your classroom?

Which strategies have you found useful in supporting your struggling readers?

Are there any tools/resources not mentioned here that you have found success with?

 

 


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