Thursday 23 February 2017

Whanau Conferences (Term 1, 2017)

This afternoon we had whanau conferences. This event is designed for parents and teachers to meet, and share the next learning steps for students. 

As this is the first year I am in my own class, it was my first time doing this event by myself... It went great! I had almost 80% of my students turn up with some kind of family member (parent, sibling, aunt, nana, etc). 

Over the past week or so, we have been preparing student goal sheets to share with the parents. 
For example, Viliami and Grace

My class also prepared bookmarks (e.g. Syraiah-Lee,  Amon) which included QR codes linked to their learning blogs. I showed the whanau member how to access their childs blog using these codes, and they seemed to be excited about an easier way to view their blog. 

I made a concious effort to keep the goals simple and achievement. Yes, there is some 'teachery talk' on the goal sheets, but after reading each sheet through with the student, I would summarise their goals in everyday words so whanau members could understand.

Most of my students had learning their times tables as a goal for maths, and using more specific vocabulary in writing, among other goals. The whanau members understood how the spelling homework I have set supports this writing goal, and could see evidence in the classroom of how we are working towards it together as well.

It was also lovely to receive a gift of flowers and home-grown tomatoes from one of my students parents. 

This event was a great way to make connections with parents of my new students, and build on the existing relationships I have with my year 5's (who I had last year as year 4's). 

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Softball Tournament (Term 1, 2017)

 Today was the Tamaki cluster softball tournament, and my first sports tournament ever. I never played sports as a child, and this hasn't changed as I went into adulthood.

However, I wanted to make a conscious effort to go out of my comfort zone (read my goals for 2017 here). So I volunteered to coach the year 5 and 6 softball teams.

This has meant that for three weeks, I have had a softball training almost every lunchtime. This has been hard on me personally as I haven't been eating lunch properly and taking that break, making me more tired for the afternoon block of learning and also messes with my eating schedule.

I am glad I did sign up for it, as I have learnt a lot about the game of softball and of course have gotten to know my kids better as well.

My focus for the year 5 team was for them to learn how to play. I purposely made them rotate often through the various 'roles' in the team, even during the competition. I wanted them to build confidence in themselves and their physical ability, and the focus was about getting better, not being the best. This rotation was a focus for the year 6's as well, rather than them having 'set' roles in the team. This definitely did happen - every single child got better, wether at batting or catching
or pitching.

The next sport is cricket (starting next week!) and I am looking forward to learning more about the sport (ala, I know nothing..) and continuing to build strong relationships with my students through this extra activity.

Friday 17 February 2017

Spiral of Inquiry update (week 3)

This week I began introducing decimals to my class using the resource decimats. 

Before we began, we recapped the most important point from last weeks place value - the magic number of 10. I tried to get across that in maths, especially in place value, everything always comes back to the magic number 10. Most of the kids did get this point and it was evident later who did and didn't.
I explained that in the same way, the magic number 10 still exists in decimals. What you exchange it for is just different.

I used these resources a couple times last year (click here), however this week I did it with my whole class instead of a select group, before moving onto groups.

Decimats are a resource which show visually how decimals are smaller than one whole, and visually show that ten tenths fit into one whole, 100 hundredths fit into one whole, and how hundredths are smaller than tenths. 

I did find the decimats was useful for the students to quickly understand tenths and hundredths, however progress slowed when I began asking them to add or subtract decimal numbers and they had to exchange hundredths for tenths, or tenths for one whole. 

I have also tried to get the kids to explain their mathematical thinking using maths words - like exchange - instead of 'I swapped this for this'. I remind them almost every 30 seconds to call each piece of paper they are talking about by its mathematical name - tenths, hundredths.

Reflection for next weeks learning - 
All my students, both those in the target group and those who aren't, need more practice exchanging in decimals. They are getting better at explaining what they have done and why, and using maths language like exchange, but even this still needs some work. 

They still need to use the materials to deepen this understanding, I don't feel they are ready for imaging (doing it in their head) just yet.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Wide & Deep - Critical Literacy

This week, the second week of school for the year, I began with full reading and maths programmes and groups. I wanted to hit the ground running, getting the kids into the habit of doing hard work and having to think hard everyday. 

It is a Manaiakalani recommendation that teachers include more critical literacy in their programmes. (Read University of Auckland research about Manaiakalani where these are further explained - here) as they found that is what contributed to the huge learning shift in classrooms they studied.

This recommendation includes;
Promoting engagement in reading, comprehension and higher order thinking.  
Promoting instruction for depth of understanding and independence. 
Providing in-task support for thinking about reading. 
Increasing the challenge and expectations in assigned texts and tasks. 
Making connections. 

These are the things I aimed to include in my programme this week, and on an on-going basic as well.

In class this week, we were studying one aspect of Hauora for our inquiry topic. I chose to focus on emotional well-being. 

We brainstormed different feelings we knew...

We made clines to show how some emotions are related to each other, but might be less or more severe than others. We used our prior knowledge (the brainstorm we made, above) and then added to them with help from here
(This became a huge vocabulary building task, which was awesome!)

We chose emotions (in groups) and acted our scenarios of what that looked like/caused it/felt like etc.

Each reading group had 1 story at their appropriate curriculum level to read and work on, an online article to support the ideas in the follow up work, and then they read a second story above their level. So each student read at least 3 stories, with the theme of emotions, at different levels of complexity, within one week.

Here are two students completed follow up for their first story - remember they are only 9 and 10 years old! I was blown away with their thinking about emotions. Year 5 student.  Year 6 student.

On Friday morning, after everything we had done about emotions this week. We had a discussion. I asked all the students to bring one of their stories with them. 

We went through each story, and one of the students volunteered to explain (to those who hadn't read it) what the story was about, who the characters were, what happened that made them emotional and what emotions they felt. It was way easier to get them talking in this way than I expected it to be - I thank myself for forcing them to speak in front of each other last week so they got over the fear! The students added onto what each other was saying quite a lot, which was amazing because it showed they had a good understanding of their 3 stories and could add more detail, or ask questions of each other, and that they felt comfortable enough as group members to respond to each other so casually and in a supportive way.

We compared the stories, the characters, the emotions they felt. We connected with what work we had done earlier in the week (which was already displayed in the class!). 

Then I asked them this question ..
Do you control your emotions, or do they control you? 

They pretty much all instantly said that they were in control of their emotions. I challenged them (after explaining that I wasn't disagreeing with them, I wanted them to defend their opinion or think from another point of view), by saying,
 what about when you get angry, and you lash out and punch someone or something, are you still in control of your emotions then? 
They sat for a bit.. I could tell they hadn't thought of it that way. Then one student (who gets angry often, ironically) said that when that happens, your emotions are in control of you. The rest of the class slowly started nodding and realising what I meant. 

We came to the agreement that sometimes we are in control of our emotions, and sometimes, they are in control of us. One student pointed out that when you get angry and do something, that's when your emotions are in control, and then afterwards you feel guilty, that's when you are in control again and you feel bad for what you did, but you also feel bad for loosing control. I was quite impressed with that!

I asked them who they thought was in control, when you wake up from a scary dream sweating and shaking and feeling nervous and paranoid. They all agreed that your emotions were in control of your body, even though you were sleeping. Being scared in the dream causes those physical reactions (we had also talked about physical reactions earlier in the week).

This led us on a tangent about emotions and dreams. I was in awe at how easily the students shared very personal stories, about dreams and/or experiences they had had and how it made them feel, including the death and funeral of family members, the still birth of cousins etc. Heavy stuff! 
What surprised me was it was mostly my new students, rather than the ones I taught last year and have again, that shared the most. I felt proud I had established such rapport with them so quickly so that they were comfortable to share these stories. I wanted to respect their vulnerability and reciprocate it, to let them know it was okay to share and we could trust each other, so I shared a personal story as well. My story was about how when my sister was in labour with my nephew, I woke up at a particular time after a dream that something went wrong with the birth and that my sister had to have an emergency C-section. The next morning when my sister rang to tell us the baby was born, it turned out she had her C-section at the exact minute I woke up. Freaky huh? This encouraged the kids to keep sharing and feel safe, and also led to another tangent of explaining what a C-section was (lol). 

The discussion was so powerful and I'm so delighted I decided to do it. 
The conversation was so rich, not only about the books we had read, the content of these stories (funerals, what a drought was, metaphorical drought when you ignore your emotions, how milk gets delivered, how petrol is stored at petrol stations, why weka birds walk funny, how kids can feel left out in adult conversations, where rain comes from, why you get big bags under your eyes when you are tired, etc etc etc.) but about emotions and our personal experiences. We connected our inquiry, reading and writing so seamlessly. 

I definitely want to keep trying to do these things - 
Promoting engagement in reading, comprehension and higher order thinking.  
Promoting instruction for depth of understanding and independence. 
Providing in-task support for thinking about reading. 
Increasing the challenge and expectations in assigned texts and tasks. 
Making connections.

However one thing I want to change is to make my follow up activities smaller, and have one for each story, rather than one big one for only one story. Also including more 'create' in the tasks now that the students know the Chromebook expectations. A third thing I want to do differently next week is getting the kids from group A to read aloud to group B, group B to read aloud to group C etc, rather than only to their own group. Some of my kids are very slow and hesitant readers and I think the mileage (and feedback from their peers) will help them improve.

Onwards and upwards!

Friday 10 February 2017

Term 1 Spiral of Inquiry 2017

Today I completed  my spiral of inquiry for Term 1.

"Teaching as inquiry, a process that encourages you to change your practice in order to enhance success for students" ... "is likely to be highly useful for teachers as they respond to the need to develop digital fluency across diverse learner groups and capabilities. " (source).

Spiral of inquiries are designed to push students, in a short period of time to the next level of learning, hence causing accelerating learning rather than learning at the rate of their peers. This is a way for them to 'catch up' to their peers in a short time, rather than being constantly behind.

My spiral focuses on my lower-achieving maths students, who sit just below the national standard for maths. In my spiral document, I discuss what these students can currently do, what they should be able to do to be 'at' the national standard, what I think has contributed to them being behind, and what I am going to do in an attempt to accelerate their learning.

My main question is 

How can the use of materials help to build deep understandings of mathematical concepts?

This week, although it being only the 2nd week of the year, I went full steam ahead with my maths and reading programmes. I chose to focus on place value, as this is a building block most students are missing which causes them problems later on in maths.

Every child in my spiral of inquiry this term, I also taught last year when they were year 4's. Because of this, I already had a good understanding of what they know and can do, and I didn't need to spend weeks getting to know this. (Hence the starting a full learning load in week 2!)
I knew that these students get stumped when they are dealing with numbers in the 100's, and had never dealt with anything in the 1000's before. This showed me that they had some gaps missing in their place value knowledge.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I used popsicle sticks with my whole class so I could judge their place value concepts. I would say 'show me 23', and the response I was hoping for, was 2 lots of 10 popsicle sticks, tied together with rubber bands, and 3 popsicle sticks by themselves. However, I got everything but that. Even my year 6 students didn't do this. They counted out 23 and showed me them scrunched up in one hand, or made the shape of the letter 23 with the popsicle sticks as their pen (if that makes sense?). Some remembered that they were supposed to tie something together, so they tied the 2 lots of 10, together, in one big pile, and left the 3 ones by themselves. I modelled what I wanted them to show me, and explained why. Some of them just couldn't understand why I said only bundles of 10 were allowed to have a rubber band around them. There was definitely a gap in the students knowledge of exchanging numbers (i.e. ten one's is the same as one ten). We started to process through this bundles and rubber bands business, when I tripped them up again. Instead of 'show me X number', I asked them to 'show me X number, then add/minus X number'. These questions were designed to force students to exchange - opening up 1 lot of 10 to take out some ones, adding ones then exchanging them for a 10, etc.

What I liked about how I ran this activity was that after a few of this new type of question, I then asked students to buddy up. The pair, together, would do the 'show me X number' part. Then, student A from each pair would come to me and I would whisper the 'add/minus X number' part, which they then had to go back and EXPLAIN to student B - not tell them. For example, if the question was 128+13, they were not allowed to say 'plus 13', they would say 'add 3 ones, then change 10 ones for 1 ten', explaining the process step by step. This showed me a deeper level of understanding then just 'show me X number', because I could judge student A's understanding of the process of exchanging, and student B's understanding of mathematical language, at the same time.
Of course we swapped, did a bunch of varying questions that all were showing the same thing although they kids didn't realise that lol.

It was a great way for me to judge the whole classes understanding of place value (and maths language) at the same time.

On Thursday and Friday, I introduced place value counters I made. I made these on Wednesday, because I knew there was no way I could use popsicle sticks to show place value into the 100's and 1000's, I literally just don't have enough - and can you imagine the mess??
The kids LOVED them straight away.

I did the same thing to begin with - 'show me X number'. Instantly I found misconceptions about their place value knowledge.

 The first misconception we addressed was this. Yes, they do have the right number of the right value. It does add up to 253. But look at the order they have put it in - they have put ones on the left and 100's on the right. To me, this meant they didn't know, or had forgotten the actual value of those numbers and where they sit when you write and read the number. Once we had addressed this misconception once or twice, going through a full explanation about why, I would only prompt with 'is that the order you would write this number in?', and they would click and fix their mistake.

The second misconception I found was kids doing this. Again, they have got the the right number of the right values, but they have not used a place holder zero. See how there is no space in between the 100 and the 1's? This showed me they didn't know why the zero was there, what purpose it served, and why having it made a difference to the number. None of them had ever heard the term 'place holder zero', and when I explained the yes, there are no tens, you are right, but we need to keep the space there otherwise the other numbers might fall into the wrong 'place value house', and that you had to put a zero there to keep the other numbers in the right place, they kind of got it.

 Before introducing the next 'big number', I did a few add/sub questions to see if they could exchange. What is happening in this photo sadly happened quite a bit.. Instead of realising 5+5=10, so I exchange the 10x1 and put in 1x10, they would leave the 10x1.  

  The same thing happened in other values - again, not exchanging for the next big number when there are 10 of the same value.

 For the students in my spiral of inquiry, they tripped up a little when we got to the 1000's. Their inexperience with larger numbers definitely showed. Using the place value counters played a huge role in helping them understand where thousands went, and understanding that it is a number the same as the 1's, 10's and 100's, just bigger. It's not scary. Every time I asked them to 'show me X number', I always wrote it out and showed them, so they could use the order of the written number to help them process what went where and how many of each. It was definitely helpful.

They got a bit more confident, then began doing this. Yes, they have the right number, it does add up to 10,213. But you don't actually put 10 into the thousands column, you put 0 there and 1 into the 10,000's column. Their inexperience with large numbers definitely caused this error, as I don't think they even knew or realised there was anything bigger than 1000's. 

I introduced the next 'big number', 10,000. There were a few gasps, literal gasps, that there were number bigger than 10,000. This was blowing their mind. I did this one for them, to show them that I exchanged 10x1,000 for 1x10,000. We had to stop and talk about exchanging again here, as the big numbers kind of scared them and they forgot that you ALWAYS exchange in 10's and 1's.
1x10 = 1x10

 The students getting more and more confident using the 10,000 numbers. We stayed around this point for a while, doing add/sub questions so they could practice their exchanges in large numbers. For example, with 32,052 I would say -10,831 so they had to exchange a 1,000 back to hundreds, at the same time taking away 1 lot of 1,000. This took some time to get right.

It was a great first week of maths - I learnt A LOT about my whole classes place value knowledge, and was able to introduce big numbers, and new concepts such as the place holder zero, and demonstrate old concepts, such as exchanging 10x1 (etc), thanks to the materials I was using.
For my spiral of inquiry group, I think they responded really well to using materials every single day, (rather than as a sometimes thing), a few even asking to do more because it was fun. Although I do not think they will remember everything from this week going into next week, using the materials will help them remember quicker, have a deeper understanding of it, and contribute towards a positive attitude and growth mindset in maths (oh yeah, I can do maths! I am smart!). I will keep using materials as part of my maths inquiry and documenting the outcomes on my blog.

Friday 3 February 2017

First week in my own class!

Today marks the finish of my first week in my own class!

And I tell you what, I am knackered. I have fallen asleep mid-afternoon every day this week (and for the previous two week as well lol).

Check out my lovelies!!

Also note that the link to our new class blog is here (and yes, it already has content!) and the class site I made here.

We have had such a great week together, done some learning and had lots of fun, and I love them a lot already. 
My class role is technically 23 (which is a small class by today's standards!), however I have only had 13-15 kids everyday, which is so weird! 

One person who has joined my class who was not originally on my roll is "Bob". 
(Referred to earlier in my blog here and here). Myself, Ottilie and our syndicate leader decided he would learn better in my class, as in the other class there were a few boys who would distract him VERY easily. I am stoked to have him back. I received a wonderful compliment from my mentor Archana, who told the the other year 5/6 teacher Ottilie that Bob would do great in my class again because 'I had the best relationship with him out of all the staff'. If you have read the previous posts on Bob, you will know I put a lot of effort and work into the relationship with this particular student and so I was delighted to have this effort acknowledged. Once he had moved into my class he settled in quickly and within the hour was part of the team. Having him in my class this year will present challenges as he is significantly lower than the bulk of my class academically, but we will make it work the best we can.

Another couple of things I have focused on doing in the first week of school is setting up my expectations for the kids, and their expectations of me. 
We have done a lot of activities where the kids had to work in various groupings which I purposely changed to force them to work with someone they don't know, getting them to share their ideas with a group, come up and write on the board, explain their mathematical thinking aloud to the class, speaking in front of the class while being videoed by me etc etc. These are all things I want them to get used to as these are things I expect the kids to do daily, so I wanted to include these expectations from day 1 so they are seen as normal and not scary. 
I wanted to be more transparent with my kids this year, not telling them absolutely everything of course, but just being more open with stuff they can know about and will  understand in terms of their learning. I have done this by explaining the term overview for our Inquiry units (what we will be doing week by week), my gaming unit (what we will be doing and why, and how this leads into coding next term). I have not seen teachers tell kids so far in advance what they will be doing and why. I'm not sure why we don't, it's not like its a secret, but in my experience it's not common practice. We seem to only tell them what they need to know for that particular day. I personally feel like if they knew where they were going, they would understand the importance of what they are doing now and be more motivated to do it well.
Another expectation I wanted the kids to have of me, is speaking Maori everyday. Yes, I am not fluent in Te Reo Maori nor do I profess to be confident in speaking the little that I know. However, it is something I didn't do at all last year and so I wanted to make sure I included Maori in some way, everyday, from day 1 of school. I start the day by greeting my kids 'ata pai toku aroha', which means good morning my loves, and farewelling them at the end of the day with 'ka kite ano apopo' which means see you again tomorrow. I have tried to include other words like korero (talk), but the kids didn't know what it meant so I just had to laugh.. 
Linked to my use of Maori, is my effort to try and call ALL my kids by names like my love, love, sweet, (etc) for example, 'love can you pass me the pencils?', 'thank you sweets'. I want my kids to feel like I instantly love them and feel like I do want them to be in my class, really building the whanau feeling. It hurts me to think that some of these kids come to school without being spoken to kindly by an adult all morning, or that there may be no adults in their life who tell them explicitly they are loved or wanted. It is part of my job as their teacher to be that person who tells them they are loved, wanted and supported. I think I have started this well.

It has been an exhausting week but a great one, and I am excited to get into some real learning next week now that I have gotten to know my new kids!