Monthly Archives: January 2014

5 P’s to being a graduate mentor

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I was both delighted and honoured to be selected to be a mentor for my new Year 4 colleague this year. He is a graduate, but has more life experience than me, as this is his second career. For the purpose of the exercise, let’s call him Bradley.
I remember as a graduate feeling so unprepared. My four years worth of classes, assignments and placements were barely visible in my mind as I came towards actually putting it into practice. Even though the school year has only just started, I have been emailing Bradley with what I feel is useful and practical advice, plus a few resources that I have found helpful. Lying in bed last night, my brain was ticking over again as I mentally started scribing a list of more things to mention to him.

1.  Planners –

I’ve passed on a Yearly Overview to Bradley for him to gauge what type of content we will be covering. I felt it was important to give him a copy of my Term Planner as well, but I have stressed that he is more than welcome to try and implement new things that he has learnt at uni, or seen on placements, or is simply curious about! I haven’t graduated to doing my weekly planner on my iPad yet, so I just print out a blank template for each week, just to jot down quick notes about lessons. Bradley thought this might be useful as well, so I emailed him the digital copy.

2.  Parent Communication –

I must tell Bradley about methods of parent communication. At our school we have a fortnightly whole school newsletter, as well as a fortnightly classroom newsletter on the opposite fortnight. Bradley may feel more comfortable if we combined our classroom newsletters into just one Year 4 newsletter, or he may like to send out his own. At the beginning of the year, I send home a Parent Information Booklet (mentioned in this previous post) to share my routines and guidelines within the classroom. This always includes my email address at the top of the classroom newsletter as my preferred contact method, which I will be encouraging him to do as well, to avoid parents spontaneously dropping in and catching the teacher by surprise. Alternatively, our parents call make appointments with teachers via the Student Reception Office.

3.  Professional Development –

I mentioned casually the other day to Bradley that I got a certain idea from something I had seen on Twitter. He told me that he’s always been interested in Twitter, but doesn’t know much about it. Little does he know that I will be (not-so-forcefully) recommending that he join and try and use it. Hashtags like #ectchatOZ (Early Career Teacher Chat) and #pstchat (Pre-Service Teacher Chat) have both been invaluable to me regarding new experiences and ideas, although there are so many more chats and hashtags that have guided and supported me too. For a graduate teacher, I can think of no better instant PD. Definitely be talking to Bradley about this.

4.  Patience –

Bradley is already a few steps ahead of me in some ways, as he is both married and a father. But the patience you show towards family membership can be quite different to the patience you need to show towards your colleagues and students. We’ve already had a chat about different possible discipline strategies and one of the biggest pieces of advice I gave him was ‘Pick your battles’. I think this phrase is used often in education, but if never fully appreciated it until last year. Showing patience towards those battles that we choose not to pick helps the classroom to remain calm, and with those battles that we do choose to pick, patience is still the overarching key to the approach we take.

5.  Pride for positives –

Not every lesson goes well. I have had some absolute doozies. Despite this, it is important to be proud of your efforts and the time you give to the students. Being proud means celebrating each lesson that you have poured energy into. To track my successes, I began using a highlighter to circle the lessons in my planner which I felt went well. At first, it was just lessons that worked, but I built it up to lessons that I would do again, recommend, or include on our class blog. It’s great to flick through your planner and see lots of bright colours, reminding you that you should be proud of your teaching and learning. I’ll be telling Bradley to do the same. Focus on the positive lessons, not the ones that went a little awry. Be proud!

As my mentoring journey is only just beginning, I’m excited to see what it brings to me as a professional and what it brings to Bradley as a graduate.

From paper, to iPad

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I’ll be the first to admit that I love using paper in my classroom. Not necessarily worksheets, but the tactile opportunities that paper provides. Sticky-notes are just one of my favourites, and cutting out shapes for posters or wall displays is so much fun!

This year is my second year with an iPad, having bought my first iPad last January. I now own two, but that’s another story. One of the many advantages of an iPad is that it can reduce paperflow in the classroom. I’m not necessarily keen on having my planner on my iPad, as I like to scribble all over my planner and see what changes I had to make from week to week, but I’m aiming to reduce my paper usage this year. Here’s one way I plan on doing this:

In 2013, I found this fabulous idea from Mrs Robinson’s Classroom Blog that I used for my Year 4 students.

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It was amazing to see their goals and expectations for their entire year. I kept the posters up all year (once I glued the sticky-notes down when they lost their ‘stick’) and we reviewed them on the very last day of school, to see if we thought we’d achieved what we set out to do. It was very inspiring to hear their feedback.

This year I’ve turned the posters into a Socrative quiz for students to complete within the first week of school. If you have the Socrative Teacher app, you can import my quiz with the code SOC-3003573. When the student results are emailed to me as a grid or table, I’m thinking about turning them into a Tagxedo word cloud to display as a QR code in my classroom. I can fit 6 QR codes on one A4 piece of paper, which is a lot less paper than 6 big poster sheets, plus numerous sticky-notes on each one!

I love the simplicity of the iPad for it’s ability to take a screenshot of student work. The screenshot is so easily shared via Airdrop, Dropbox or email, making it so much easier to see what students achieved in each lesson. Easier to share their work on the class blog too – simple upload of the screenshot!

I would like to make every piece of paper that is displayed in my classroom have some sort of digital link or use, but I think that may be stretching the limits a little! However, my brain has drifted towards the possibilities of using our world map poster to create some sort of augmented reality feature with populations and locations…

Has anybody got some nifty ideas for shifting from paper to iPad?

Making QR codes unique.

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When I was first introduced to mobile devices in 2012, QR codes were becoming all the rage. We now see them on drink bottles, food packaging, newspapers and posters.  

Our staff received some PD opportunities to scan a QR code to find out information, watch videos, complete scavenger hunts and be directed to websites.But there were still reservations on how teachers could use them, why it was a big deal to actually create their own and if it could engage students. Being one of the first classes to have access to iPads, I set about making sure that my students knew what a QR code was, how to use it and eventually, how to create their own.

History:

One of the first ways I used QR codes was to develop a ‘flipped classroom’ type of approach.  Instead of sitting down as a class and watching short video clips about different aspects of Australian Explorers and the First Fleet (AusVELS, Level 4 History), I chose 6 Youtube clips that I felt were appropriate.  Using the QR stuff website I transformed these Youtube clips into QR codes, printed and laminated them and placed them around the classroom. Armed with a worksheet (yes, sorry, a worksheet!) to record some of their findings, and one iPad between two students, I asked my class to try and find the answers to some of the questions on their sheets by watching the videos. Students could watch the videos in any order, watch them as many times as they liked, fast forward, rewind and pause the video and work collaboratively to try and find the answers.  I gave the students about 35 minutes to watch the videos and work on their answers. This lesson provided such rich conversation at the end of the allotted time and posed many questions, many of which were ‘Can we make our own videos?’.

Click on the following for the worksheet and the QR codes I created.

Vocabulary work:

As part of our Daily 5 program, my students participate in a Word Work time. This focuses on spelling, parts of words and other other uses of words. When we were focusing on synonyms, I felt that there could be a more engaging way to teach my students new words rather than whipping out the thesaurus.

I decided to use the Web 2.0 tool Bingo Baker, introduced to our staff by @LyndaCutting. The creator fills in the bingo board squares with the ‘answers’ (in my case, synonyms) and then generates a Bingo Baker Board. By copying the Bingo Board link into QRstuff, it creates a QR code that produces a randomly ordered bingo board each time it is scanned!  So no two students will have the answers in the same order!  I then inserted the QR code into Microsoft Word, along with a list of words that matched the ‘synonyms’. To play, each group member scanned the QR code and the bingo board would be displayed on their screen. As one of the group members called out a word from the list, (e.g. ‘hot’), the rest of the group members would have to search their board for the matching synonym (eg. boiling). Once they’ve found it, they simply tap the word on their device screen to mark it.  My students loved playing this and I’ll definitely be making a few more versions with different synonymns!

For a copy of my Synonym Bingo, click here.

Writing:

When writing narratives this year, my class used the Storybird website. As their final products were so amazing, I wanted them to be able to include their narratives in their Portfolio to take home, as well as self and peer assess their story. I created a video using Explain Everything for them to watch and listen to, in order for them to turn their narrative into a QR code. Once they printed it twice, one copy went onto their assessment sheet for their Portfolio, while the other one was blu-tacked to our outside window for students from other classes to come along and scan to read. To see how we managed it all, click here. The (very simple) assessment sheet can be found here.

I have also used QR codes in Maths for self-checking answers, but haven’t created anything for those lessons myself. I’m aiming to get my students to do a lot of the QR code creating this year to highlight and demonstrate their own maths skills!

If you have any engaging QR code ideas, I’d love to hear about them 🙂

8 lessons from my holiday reading

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One of my #nurture1314 wishes for 2014 is to read more. I wrote earlier that I was going to aim for one book per term and one book per holidays.  So far these holidays, I have read two.  Both for pleasure, although they are both related to work. I am hoping that what I have taken from these two books is going to change my teaching and my learning. I must be honest – one book took me 2 days to read, as I was trying to do a few other things at the same time, whereas the other book took me a total of 65 minutes. They also have numerous highlightings and bookmarks thanks to my Kindle app!

This is what I have learned so far…

Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids (Chris Biffle) @ChrisBiffle

Lesson 1: Keeping the whole brain of a child busy reduces challenging behaviour. It stands to reason that if a student is too busy thinking and learning, they have less time to distract others, flick pencils across the room and draw on their arms. I had never thought of the classroom as a war-zone, but Biffle writes,

“Year after year, good teachers leave teaching because they are tired of warring with disruptive kids.”

I do not want to be one of those teachers. I want to stand strong.

Lesson 2: Manage your own behaviour as a teacher before trying to manage the behaviour of a student.  I have definitely lost my cool more than once in the classroom, but giving myself a weekly ‘teaching score’ as a reflection is probably fair if I expect students to reflect on their own behaviour.

Lesson 3: A classroom only needs 5 classroom rules, as long as they are referred to constantly and used consistently. I loved how Mrs Maestra’s rules activated five different areas of the brain – hence the term Whole Brain.

Lesson 4: Keep your instructions short, always. Follow the instruction with an opportunity for students to teach each other what you have just taught them. Repetitive, but effective.

Why School? (Will Richardson) @willrich45

Lesson 1: “Access doesn’t automatically come with an ability to use the Web well.” (Richardson). This is probably my favourite quote from this book. The majority of our students have access, yet parents and teachers still need to guide them and support them in their technology journey.

Lesson 2: Telling students to “do your own work” should become a phrase of the past. Collaboration is the key, the buzz word, the new line of teaching and learning. Richardson writes that it we should be telling students, “do work with others, and make it work that matters.”

Lesson 3: Newer doesn’t necessarily mean better. To quote my mother, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” applies to education as well. Hasty decisions get made in education all the time because some school strive to be the biggest and best…and beat everybody else. Just because the school down the road has X,Y & Z doesn’t mean that your school’s U, V & W are completely redundant. When new devices and programs first come out, they’ve still got glitches and wrinkles to be ironed out. Patience is a virtue.

Lesson 4: Talking to strangers these days is a completely different concept to what it used to be. I freaked out my boyfriend the other day by telling him that I met for coffee with one of my Twitter friends. He had trouble getting his head around the fact that this ‘stranger’ was in fact somebody that is part of my PLN and we were just being complete nerds and getting together in the holidays to talk about…school. Yes, as he reminded me, talking to strangers can still be dangerous, I know that!  The ‘strangers’ in my PLN on Twitter teach me so much and I am forever grateful to them.

Next on my reading list: Beyond the Hole in the Wall and Twirling Naked in the Streets and No One Noticed.  Has anybody read any of these books? I’m keen to find out your thoughts!

Brainstorming…

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Brainstorming. Concept maps. Word Webs.

Knowing the thoughts of our students is vital to ensuring that they are learning something, no matter how big or small, but technology now offers us more ways of doing that. There are many Web 2.0 tools and Apps available to present student knowledge in a way that is organised, eye-catching and reflective.
Here are some of my favourites that I use in the classroom, as well as some that I have tinkered with personally.

1. Popplet Lite

Popplet Lite is a simple, free iOS App designed to help users map their ideas and thoughts. It uses text boxes which can be colour coded for grouping, but also has the ability to insert photos from the camera roll or via the in-app camera. My students love using Popplet, as they can include photos of themselves, move the ‘popples’ all around the screen and choose a variety of colours. Popplet Lite enables the user to export the Popplet by email or saving to your camera roll.  I ask my students to email the jpeg file of their Popplet to me, so I can monitor their progress and upload it to our class blog. The full version of Popplet ($5.49) allows the user to create more than one Popplet and save it to the device you are using.

2. Mindomo

This free iOS & Android App is another mind-mapping tool. It allows you to enter text, link text boxes together, insert photos from your camera roll, the Mindomo library, Bing and Flickr, as well as a variety of icons to add to your map. Furthermore, hyperlinks can be added to the text, which enables more information to be included. Sharing the maps can be done via email, or exported as an image or a PDF. My students like using this App, as it provides them with a few more editing and formatting options. I haven’t signed up with an account for Mindomo, although for some extra options you may need to.

3.  Wordle

Wordle is a word cloud Web 2.0 tool which is free to use. It simply requires the user to input text, which may be copied from a website or blog, or inserted word by word. I love using Wordle, as it the size of the words depends on the frequency of that word within the slab of text. I use it for predicting the theme of texts, or for brainstorming the opinions of students to look for similarities in their thoughts. The Wordles are able to be printed to display or saved as a PDF, and the font colour and direction can be edited easily.

4. Tagxedo

Tagxedo is another Web 2.0 word cloud tool, with similar capabilities as Wordle. One option that Tagxedo offers is that the text can be arranged in a shape, chosen from the gallery.  The colours and fonts can also be changed, with some really funky fonts available. Tagxedos can be saved to be emailed, or printed for display. The only trick to entering your text is to do it via the ‘Load’ button!

5. Cloudart

This is an iOS app ($0.99) which creates beautiful simple word clouds, like Wordle and Tagxedo. I like this app because it is so simple to use, especially for students. The word cloud can be saved to the Camera Roll, as well as being emailed or printed, which is fantastic for keeping a record of students’ work samples.

There are probably many other apps and tools used for creating mind-maps and word clouds and I’d love to hear what your favourites are. Let me know!