Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A SPARK to Start Your Morning

It has been a while since I've blogged. It's not that I haven't had anything to say, I've just been missing one simple ingredient - time. So now that I've made some time, I'd like to write about one thing I've added to my classroom schedule. I guess you could say it's the SPARK that has always been missing.
SPARK stands for Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids. It's a new initiative that I've started this year and I don't think I'll ever go back.

How it Works: 
Every morning we begin out day with 20 minutes of physical activity. Why? Well, physical activity has many benefits - increased energy and focus being the two major ones that I've seen. Along with that, participating in fun physical activity with others is also a great community builder. By participating, I am building my rapport with students and having fun. If you want to read some of the science behind this, then check out John Ratey's book called SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

The goal in our class is to spend the first 20 minutes each morning engaged in aerobic exercise. We have SPARK three times a week because the other two days we have Physical Education first thing.
This is how it works:

Monday - PhysEd class (a.k.a. Gym Class)
We always start our PhysEd class with cardio games and fitness activities. 

Tuesday - Tune Tuesday
During this time we move and dance to music. We use a combination of different resources for this. Sometimes we dance to videos found on YouTube or on gonoodle.com. Other times we just play upbeat music and create our own dances. One of our favourites is to form a dance circle and have different students lead us in creative dance moves.

Wednesday - Wednesday Work-Out
I've created a work-out circuit in my classroom using work-out cards that I have place around the room. Students work with a partner to complete these exercises for 30 seconds and then rotate to the next one. As long as the music is playing, they are moving. When the music stops, they rotate to the next station. I've pretaught all the exercises and we are continually going over the moves so that students focus on proper form and technique.
Some of the exercises we do are planks, burpees, jumping jacks, step-ups, skipping (in the hall), lunges, squats, donkey kicks, triceps dips and planks.
Following this work out, we always end with stretching. I take this time to talk about all the muscles that we've used and we work on stretching out each one.

Thursday -  PhysEd class (a.k.a. Gym Class)

Friday - Friday Frolic
On this day we try to go outside for a light jog. Usually I walk and they jog to keep up. I love this because we have a wonderful path around our school that takes us through trees, by creeks and past a community garden. We talk, laugh and work up a sweat all at the same time.
If it is too cold outside, which happens these days, we do another active game in class or another day of dance. 

As I mentioned already, I've noticed an increased attention span in my students since taking the time to work out. They are more engaged in the morning and seem to be ready to learn. The first day we had SPARK, one of my students sat in the reading corner right after we finished and said, "Well now I feel ready to listen to a story." Most students enjoy this time. There is the odd child who complains, but the more we do it the more they start to look forward to this time.

As always there are limitations or challenges to anything new. At first I was sceptical of whether or not it was worth the time it took from our schedule. Three days a week we are taking an extra 20 minutes from curriculum time. That's a total of 1 hour a week. With so much to cover and so little time, this can be tough. The honest truth is that SPARK helps focus kids, so in the end they are more productive. The hour that we 'lose' is quickly made up.
Getting into a routine and teaching the routine is also a bit challenging. I had to spend time finding resources and then thinking about how to teach and implement them. There were some activities that seemed like they weren't going to work, but the more we practised and stuck with it, the better it got.
The last challenge I've faced is keeping some students moving and engaged. Most children are excited to be active, but there is the odd student that doesn't seem to be participating like the rest. Whatever the case, I just keep encouraging and hope they will come around.

Final Note:
Modelling is probably the BEST way to get students on board. I do all the activities with my students. Yes, I still wear my dress clothes, but change my shoes. Some teachers in my school will change or bring a change of clothes. I think if kids see you dancing, lunging, jogging and even sweating, they will be more inclined to participate. And let's be honest, physical activity helps teachers stay more energetic and focused as well. 

- https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/dpa/pdfs/k-9_physical_activities.pdf
- gonoodle.com
- YouTube - dance videos

Saturday, 13 July 2013

DIY: Costumes

Some of my students most memorable days are the ones when routine is broken, or better yet - dress code is altered. These favourite days would be the dress-up days. I know that students love it even more when their business-casual dressed teacher walks in wearing something awesome.
Here are some of the costumes I made myself - usually the night before our dress-up day:

Costume 1: Captian Primary
Description - This made-up superhero changes the colour of anything she touches to a brillant primary shade. With that said, she also protects the primary grades. 

- white t-shirt
- blue sports shorts
- red tights
- yellow soccer socks
- yellow Toms
- random pieces of primary coloured fabric from your scrap fabric basket
- safety pins

Costume 2: Snail
Our dress-up theme on Halloween was 'Favourite Animal'. I can't say that a snail is my favourite animal, but it was my favourite animal costume. I did borrow this idea from pinterest and it turned out spendidly.

- string
- thick gold-coloured headband
- wooden dowels
- pom-poms
- cardboard
- roll of brown paper 
- a lot of packing tape

- visit this blog to get all the visuals and a look at who deserves credit for this amazing costume: 

Costume 3: Birthday Outft
Description - this outfit was lovingly made for me by some of my student' parents. You can read about it in my previous blog post called The Year of The Moms .

- yards of colourful crinoline
- elastic
- birthday sash
- tiara
- a positive attitude

I'd love to see or hear about your school costumes. I know that these are also some of my favourite memories as a kid and I can't wait until next year to make a few new costumes.

The Year of The Moms

This past school year I dubbed 'The Year of the Moms.' It was one of those exceptional years where I had outstanding parent support. Rarely, if ever, did I have a negative experience with one of my student's parents. There was a small group of moms that stopped by every once in a while to see how they could help in the classroom. They consistently volunteered to take down my bulletin boards, organize new books in my library and even take home my laminating! One mother came in every week to organize my take-home reading program. When preparing for field trips, I always knew I could count on The Moms to help out.
These dedicated mothers came into the classroom to support their child when he/she was presenting a project. They cheered on their child during in-line skating and sat in the bleachers when we had swimming lessons.
Occasionally they would shower me with starbucks drinks or flowers. The biggest surprise happened in March, for my birthday.
Let me explain: On March 8, I took the day off. I had never had a personal day in my 5 years of teaching. I have also always been under the notion that people should not have to work on their birthday. I am also not a big fan of all the 'birthday attention'. You know, when someone mentions over the intercom that it is your birthday and you can't walk down the hall without hundreds of kids saying, "Happy birthday, Mrs. Ward!" "Happy birthday, Mrs. Ward!" "Happy birthday, Mrs. Ward!" "Mrs. Ward! (run hug) Happy birthday!" Most people love this. It just makes me uncomfortable. I know - I'm being ridiculous.
On March 8th, I booked a sub and enjoyed a quiet morning, brunch with friends, a massage in the afternoon, followed by dinner with my husband. It was fantastic day! My kind of day.
Monday morning I went into school a bit early. To my astonishment, my entire classroom was littered with birthday decorations. I did what any attention-phobic person would do...I panicked. I took down the decorations around my door and 'rearranged' the ones in my classroom. I had no idea who was responsible for this, but I assumed it was one of my teaching colleages since we had just had a conversation about how I didn't like the 'birthday attention'. I assumed it was a joke - I was wrong.
As the kids were arriving, so were The Moms. They came into the classroom carrying flowers, balloons and cupcakes. As they entered, they too looked around with astonishment and said, "Where are all the decorations we worked so hard to put up?"
Again, I panicked! I had no idea what to say. I felt so horrible. I found out later that The Moms had arranged with the principal to come into the school on Sunday afternoon to decorate my classroom. The principal had even e-mailed my husband to ask him to make sure I didn't go into school during the weekend.
Throughout the day, The Moms brought me more gifts and continued to spoil me. I was able to explain what happened and let them know that I thought it was my colleagues playing a joke on me. In the end, it all worked out.
I didn't mention the birthday suit - or should I say outfit, that was specially made for me. I wore it during lunch and modeled it during our after school staff meeting.

Besides the birthday surprise, one more special day really stands out. The last day of school my main route to school was shut down due to flooding. It took me an entire hour and 40 minutes to get to school. When I finally arrived, the students had already been in class for 10 minutes. I rushed into my classroom to find one mom standing in the front asking students to get a book to read. The rest of The Moms were standing at the side of the room. My students were just sitting there, reading quietly. What can I say - The Moms are amazing.

Needless to say, The Moms have taught me a lot about what it means to be a supportive parent. They knew when to approach me, continued to encourage me and seemed to know just the right time to bring a chai latte.

I am so thankful to have had them as teaching partners this year. I will miss them dearly.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Class Journals

As the school year comes to an end, I've been reflecting on some of the successful ideas that I implemented in my classroom this year. One of these ideas was class journals. A colleague of mie had mentioned she was going to try this out and I thought it sounds like a great idea. All I did was grab some extra journals and labeled them different topics:

Songs and Poems
Fictional Stories
Real Life Stories
Facts about Animals
When I grow up...
If I ruled the school...(most popular and most comical)

I included a short description of each topic below and then placed them in a book box for easy acceses. I am sure I could have spent more time and money on making the covers more attractive, but I found I didn't need to do that to make it appealing for students.

During Daily 5, students who were working on Work on Writing had a choice of writing in one of our class journals, their own journal or writing a blog post on our class blog. Even though my students were pretty excited about this when I first introduced these journal, it took some time before all of them felt comfortable writing in the journals. 

What I love about these journals is that the students get to read their peer's work before creating their own entry. What was interesting was that my strong and confident writers created some of the first entries in each journal. This helped set the expectation for the rest of the writers. 

I found that taking time to share some of the writing in the class journals also encouraged more students to write. Every once in a while I grab one of the journals and read an entry or ask a students to read their to the class, if they feel comfortable. 

This is an idea that I am going to be using next year. I hope to have a few extra and ask students to create topics for new class journals. I can't wait to see the ideas that will flow from a new class.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Work Life Balance - How Do You Stay Healthy?

Dear Journal,
I need a place to vent and I know this is a safe place to do so. I often think this career has made me a better teacher, but not a better person. I am really saddened by this statement because I do enjoy my job and find it so rewarding and valuable. But the time it takes to do well is seriously ridiculous. Recently, I have noticed the toll that is taking on my body, mind and spirit. This brings me to the question I have been pondering: Is there such thing as work life balance for a teacher? After 5 years of teaching I would like to think that I have more balance in my life, but I don't. In an ideal world my physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health would all be equally cared for. But, the sad reality is that I feel it is all hanging by a thread.

Physically I am often tired and feeling like I am on the verge of a cold. I have managed to get to the gym more often than I did in my first year of teaching, but it's not the consistency I would like or need. My eating habits are also variable and often meals are eaten on the run. Actually sleeping isn't a problem since I am always so exhausted at night that I fall a sleep before my head hits the pillow. The problem is getting to bed on time. I get to the point where I have to say, "Okay, enough is enough, I could work on this lesson all night or mark these papers or return these e-mails.... or I could sleep." I usually choose sleep. My skin is starting to also show the signs of stress and lack of vitamin D. Oh, how I miss the sun.

You could argue that my mental health is being fed, depending on how you look at it. As a teacher I am constantly processing, planning, problem-solving, critical thinking, reflecting and trying to remember all the daily tasks. This causes my brain to be active all the time. But, I haven't read a good book in a while, tried a new recipe or taken a course in a different discipline for a few years. I have thought about it, and even looked into it, but don't make the time.

Emotionally, I am all over the map. Part of this is because I am a female and the other reason is that  I am under a lot of stress. I have a wonderful supportive administrative team and group of colleagues that makes my life so much better. My husband too, being a teacher, has been supportive and very understanding. But, the truth is I don't have time or make enough time to spend with friends or family. I feel as though I cannot afford the time away from school planning and prepping to go out for coffee or cook a meal for a friend. I do see others, but it is usually only on Friday or Saturday night. Even then, I often choose one of those nights to just veg out a home. Taking time to regroup and be on my own is healthy, but I feel as though I am lacking in my relationships with others. It is truly sad when facebook becomes my main form of social interaction...

Spiritually I often feel distant from God. I work at a Christian school and have the privilege of being able to read the Bible and pray in my classroom. I love that. But, I lack the time I can spend one-on-one. I miss it. I often get so carried away with my daily tasks that I forget. I pray on the run, sing in the car, or just catch bits and pieces of encouraging words from here and there. What I want is to have time to just be still.

Well, journal. You've heard some of my deepest thoughts regarding a teachers work-life-balance. I don't believe the job allows it. At least not if you strive to meet the expectations of the your district, admin, parents or students. I mentioned often that I don't make time for things as a possed to having time. I really believe that I choose school over life. Its hard to say that but I feel pressured to for many reasons. All of which I'll save for another e-mail.

I can't leave this post in a negative tone. I want to be healthy and know that it's better for me and everyone around if I am. So, here are some of the healthy goals that I am striving to do. My hope is that making the time for these will outweigh the time taken away from school. I know it will.

Healthy Goals
- going to be before 10
- packing veggies in my lunch every day
- visiting my naturopath monthly for acupuncture
- taking my vitamines
- going to the gym at least twice a week and doing yoga at home twice a week
- breathing

- reading part of my book once a week
- cooking or baking something different a few times a month
- breathing

- having someone over for supper once a month
- making time for my husband once a day
- breathing

- breakfast and Bible
- journalling
- breathing

I am hoping that these small steps, when done consistently, will bring some relieve and stability to my life.

I'd love to know what others do to stay healthy during the school year. Feel free to comment and leave your ideas. I really feel that it can't be done on your own. Its a community effort. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Pomegranates, Date Cake and Couscous

They say that the best way to learn is through experience...and then reflection upon that experience. This is what made my afternoon one of my most successful teaching moments yet. All it took were pomegranates, date cakes and a bowl of couscous...

Before I get started, here is a little background info.
My goal this year was to create an all year inquiry-based unit that mainly included my science and social studies outcomes. Of course, many other subjects are touched in the processes, especially Language Arts and art.
So far we have been having so much fun our adventure. Since we study four countries throughout the year (Tunisia, Ukraine, India and Peru)  I decided to create a year-long trip. We started the year by focusing on basic mapping skills and familiarizing ourselves with the location of our community in the world.  In each country to learn about the culture, geography, economy and government. Our projects are all science based and focused on our science outcomes.

I created a fictional character named Mr. Smithwick using the awesome program xtranormal.com. The idea is that Mr. Smithwick is the CEO of a NGO called Global Community Helpers. He has hired our class to travel the globe helping out different communities. After finding out that our first trip would be to Peru, we quickly set to planning and researching. Finally the day came when we set out to Peru. Hopefully I will have a chance to blog about our in-class flight, but at this moment here are a few pictures that show our flight day.

The teachers as flight attendants.

Our in-class flight.

In-flight movie, snacks included.

After our adventure in Peru, we have traveled to Tunisia. We've only been there for less than two weeks, but our excitement is still high.

Today we visited a Tunisia Souk. I began by having the students watch Tunisian Street Walk video found on YouTube. After that we discussed what the markets look like, what was sold there and how the people were similar and different to us.
Next the students had a chance to divide into 8 groups. Four groups acted at vendors while the other four groups became the tourists. The vendors each had a cue card to read that explained the goods they were selling. The tourists used the money they had made in Peru (and exchanged at the airport in Tunis for Tunisian Dinars) to buy different items at the market.
As you can imagine there was so much learning going on like selling goods, making change, reading facts and tasting and new foods and flavours.

These were the four vendors I had as well as the write-up that the students read before selling:
  1. Pomegranates –  Pomegranates have been grown in Tunisia for hundreds of years. They are often eaten like many fruits or used for juice, wines, baking, or salads. Pomegranates are exported from Tunisia to many different parts of the world. Cost – 3 TD       
  2. Clothing – Right now in Tunis the climate is wet and mild. May people are wearing long pants, sweaters and rain jackets, especially in the evenings. Come and buy a rain jacket, umbrella, or some warmer clothes for your stay here. Cost: umbrella – 15 TD,  jacket 20 TD, pants 15 TD, sweater 20 TD
  3. Couscous – Couscous is the most popular dish in Tunisia. It has been eaten in Tunisia since the day of the Berbers, these are the first people to live in Tunisia. Couscous is made in a two-layered pot called a keskes. We just have plain couscous for you to try so it will not be as flavourful as you may think. Usually people eat couscous with meat and vegetables. The most popular way to eat couscous is with lamb. Cost: 5 TD
  4.  Date cake – Dates are grown in Tunisia. There is a city in the southwestern part of Tunisia called Tozeur, which is home to the country’s biggest oasis containing hundreds of thousands of palm trees. The people there make money by exporting of dates and also by giving tours of the Sahara Desert. Often dates are used in Tunisian sweets. This is a date cake made with dates that have been boiled.  Cost – 10 TD                       
After our afternoon at the market, we went back to our desks to count how much Dinar we had left. Since we all started with the same amount, but ended up with different amounts, each student was expected to figure out how much was spent. It was an awesome introduction to 3-digit subtraction. Finally the students had a chance to journal about their adventure in their travel journals. My one student was so excited about this afternoon, I invited him to blog on our classroom blog. This is what he said:

Today I went to the market. I worked there and bought things too. At the market there was food and clothes. I worked at the couscous vender. It was awesome! I hope I get paid tomorrow. When I got to buy things I bought 1 pair of pants, 1 cup of couscous, and pomegranate juice. The pomegranate juice was awesome and the couscous tasted like rice but it was a little better than rice. Some of my friends bought pomegranate fruit and date cakes. I liked selling and buying. I thought the souk was pretty cool.

For a kid who prefers to read and solve math problems this was his best journal entry yet! Another reason why today was so successful.

Eventually I would like to write a little more about our adventure. Until then, I'd love to hear how you are engaging students with hands on and authentic learning.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Monster Descriptions - Descriptive Writing

Getting kids to write descriptively can be challenging. Often time they write something down and in the middle of reading it to you, they stop and say, "so what I mean is that..." or "and he also has...". My immediate response is that they need more detail and description.

My grade team partner and I found a great idea on the Teaching Chanel called Monster Match. We had our classes work on writing descriptively by having them create a monster and then write a descriptive paragraph. Oh, the learning was abundant.

Prep: I drew my own monster and had wrote a descriptive paragraph about him.

Day One:
I displayed my paragraph on the SMARTboard and gave the students a piece of scrap paper to draw on. I read the paragraph and allowed the students time to draw what they were picturing in their mind.
I revealed my monster and they compared. It was great for them to see how close their drawing was to mine. Some, of course forgot to add a few pieces of detail. I also was reminded that I didn't add some detail that was important, and it was a perfect teaching moment.
The students were then asked to design their own monster. The room fell silent as they carefully worked away and hid their picture from wandering eyes.

Day Two: 
The following day we jotted down a few words that would describe our monsters. The students then wrote paragraphs using a lot of detail.

Day Three: 
After a time of revising and editing, they shared their paragraphs with a student in the other grade three class. The quickly learned how must detail they included or left out. It was a great and fun way to practice descriptive writing.