Yes, Genius Hour in Kindergarten!

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I have been reading a lot about Genius Hour and have been inspired by my own district’s Gallit Zvi and her journey with integrating it in her classroom. The teacher of our Grade Five buddy class went to a workshop that Gallit ironically spoke at and decided to integrate it into her class.  Wow, am I ever lucky that our classes are buddies!  Her Grade Fives have been doing amazing work during their genius hour time.

So, as January came to a close and we noticed that the kindies in my class were becoming more independent and fully capable of using iPads, we set them to work with their buddies in our first Kindergarten Genius Hour project. Because this was our first time, we had to put some parameters around it. I know, I know, less direction the better when it comes to Genius Hour… but you have to give us some credit for loosening most of the strings!

Our kindies thought of something that they would like to learn about and brainstormed some questions about the topic. The topics and questions that my kindies, yes FIVE year olds, were thinking of were beyond my imagination. They were vibrating with excitement at the possiblity of actually controlling what they were going to learn about. Some of the topics that were decided on were cowboys, cars, dresses, birds, and owls.

Then the magic happened.  The Grade Fives paired up with their Kindergarten buddies and off they went.  Engagement, conversation, collaboration, and critical thinking just happened… and we, the teachers, were minimally involved.  After meeting every Friday morning for a few weeks, the kids were ready to present their finding in a Keynote presentation.  I was so proud!  Our kindies confidently presented with their big buddies beside them helping them along the way.

IMG_0500I am excited to further explore Genius Hour more in our class, with the assistance of our big buddies. We will now be changing the name of “big buddies time” to “Genius Hour”! I also can’t wait to show the parents how much we are learning, once agian, from playing around in Kindergarten!

If you would like more information on Genius Hour, Gallit Zvi has some excellent posts on her blog here: Integrating Technology: My Journey

Below is a sample of some slides from a priceless presentation on Ninja Turtles.

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 7441b4d6692ffc6ddda8f03d8c6b90d5_zps32cc502f 805c9225abc735ed1674961107c80c9c_zps66e899f2 91b2b71f17ee1e711b67a88f378de311_zpsd2c30e56

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Your School’s Online Presence

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I recently read a blog post written titled Apparently My School Sucks where Greg Miller writes how his school fared on the Fraser Institute rankings based on their Provincial Achievement Tests that are given to their Grades 3 and 6 students. As the title hints, you can guess that they didn’t do so well!  At the end of his post, Miller links to a great video about his school and the wonderful initiatives they are taking part in, showing that his school is a much better place than what the Fraser Institute presented.

This got me thinking about the current online presence of our school. I hope it is not simply a Fraser Institute ranking. When people are Googling our school, what are they seeing?

Almost two years ago, when I was told  the name of the school where I was to be the new Vice Principal, the first thing I did was look at our district website. Here, I was able to see the school’s student enrolment, address, teachers, and presentation of self through a dull boring photo of mostly a parking lot (yawn).  Then, I went to Google.  Here I found a video of a girl (presumably a student at my school) running around our field screaming (woo hoo some excitement), some old pictures on Facebook that ex students had posted (future blackmailing possibilities), AND the Fraser Institute ranking…

A parent last year told me during Kindergarten interviews that she and her husband moved from another province with no ties to the community and decided on living in the north area of our district because it was close to her husband’s work.  Before they bought a house, they looked online and found that the Fraser Institute ranked our school as one of the highest scored school in the area (which isn’t that high, believe me!).  So, they proceeded to buy a house near our school and register their children here. That’s it!. (Boo hoo to all the other schools in the north who lost out on a great family just because the only info this family could find online was the Fraser Institute’s!). I was shocked that they made their decision as a result of one source. But, as she explained, they knew no one, they had never been here and had no idea of how to find more information.  They wanted their children to start school in September and were on a tight schedule, so there you go.

Where can people look for the other valuable information that we like to hold up high? Where can people find how dedicated our staff is; how happy, engaged, and safe our students feel; and how we celebrate successes and overcome difficulties?…

I believe that we are on our way to providing a more rich online presence now that we have blogs, a class website, photos of our celebrations, and our school plan easily found through our district’s website, but I can’t help feeling that we need to do more.

A new set of Kindergarten parents are trickling in to register their children at our school for September. This is such a great opportunity to put our best foot forward, not only in person but online. I don’t want parents to rely on the Fraser Institute results to help them decide what school to send their children to. I want them to see that we are more successful than that!

What is your school’s online presence?

Great Literacy and Numeracy Apps for Early Learners

As a part of our school’s tech team I am often asked questions that begin with, “Do you know any good apps that…?” So here are some early learning apps that I use in my class regularly for literacy and numeracy centres. Now, I don’t really like recommending apps because I know that apps can be learner and teacher specific.  What works for me and the learners in my class may not work for you and your learners.  Most of these do not cost that much (with the exception of the first one that I talk about, but it is so great that I can’t not talk about it!). So, play around and keep an open mind!

literacy appsSmarty Pants School allows you to assess students’ reading abilities then opens up fun activities for them to do related on areas that they need extra practice in. This app focusses on letter recognition, letter sounds, recognizing sight words, and spelling sight words.  You can enter many students in the app and it saves each of their progress.  Levels are not opened up until students master the level before it.

Endless ABC is a charming app that was created by the creative team at Callaway Digital Arts. It introduces children to the meaning and spelling of fun words like bellow and flop.  As you drag letters into their appropriate spaces, the letters come alive and repeatedly speak their sound.

Syllable Awareness Animals is a simple app that flashes animals and asks you to tap out how many syllables the animal name has.

Word Wall HD encourages word recognition and word building through simple games that highlight word families. This app allows you to set up the games for different reading levels.

numeracy appsBugs and Buttons is another app that covers many areas and can be suited to varying levels of abilities. Visually stunning images encourage users to practice skills involving sorting, patterning, number recognition, subitizing, problem solving, and basic ipad gestures.

Friends of Ten: There aren’t many apps out there that use ten frames at an early learner level.  I found this app does a good job of providing practice using ten frames for counting objects to ten, subitizing, counting on from a higher number, partitioning of objects to make 10 and recognizing more and less.

Adding Apples is a motivating app that provides practice solving addition questions from 1+1  to 9+9 and counting from 1 to 18 both visually and verbally. Students can earn trophies for the number of equations they answer correctly.

Animals Counting Writing Game is a very simple app that students can use to practice writing numbers, counting, and recognizing number words.  There are many apps that do this, but I liked that this one had the number word associated with the number.

Class Blogs: Why Push the Parent Comments?

wordle for blog

It seems like everyone has a blog now. In addition to CanTeach’s blog I have also been  writing a class blog since September. Almost every week I add a post related to the exciting things that are happening in our classroom and school.  I have wanted to create a class blog since the word blog started popping up. Blog, blog, blog, blog, blog, I kept hearing it everywhere… the pressure was on.

I hesitated, though, trying to make sense as to what its purpose would be. Would anyone read it, would it really be worth the effort, would it make any difference in my teaching, would it be as great as those already out there? Well, 5 months later, the results have been much deeper than I ever expected.

First off I knew that photos of my students and their work was a priority.  Personally, as a parent to a Kindergarten student this year, I truly understand how it is to feel disjointed from my child and the place that he spends so much time in.  I do not get to drop him off every morning, visit his teacher, observe how he behaves around his classmates… and how his classmates behave around him! I knew as a parent I would appreciate visuals, so I sent out a permission form (I based mine on an excellent one that Karen Lirenman drafted and posted on her blog) outlining all the work we would be doing with technology this year and had conversations with parents explaining that this blog will be my main way of communicating to them. I only had one parent refuse photos of their child being posted, but they did agree to her work being posted and her name being referred to.

I was so excited when my first post went up. I’m sure all you bloggers did the same thing… refresh, refresh, refresh!  As I saw my page views slowly creep up, and I mean SLOWLY,  I was saddened that no one was commenting (and was it only my refreshes that was raising the page views?!).  More people visited but no comments.  So, I went to Google and typed “how to get more parents to comment on blogs”.  There are so many ideas out there from requiring parents to post with their children for homework, having a post contest, asking specific questions and making parents answer through posting…. on and on and on.

Then it hit me as after the weekend – parents began one by one telling me how they loved the blog.  One mom emailed me and expressed how thankful she was because the blog allowed her to take a look into her son’s classroom that, because of her full time job, she was never regularly going to be able to see. After Thanksgiving I noticed another jump in my post’s page views… more people were looking at it than I had students.  I discovered that parents were sharing the blog with their family members and friends!

So, I picked up my heart from the ground and began writing my blog with purpose. This was an opportunity to bring parents in mainly through posting photos, videos, and sound recordings. I realized it was not so much the idea of them commenting on the blog that held importance to me than the face to face conversations and emails that I received. Those meant so much more.

As Christmas holidays approached, the usual gifts and cards appeared on my desk.  The difference this year, though, was the scale and significance of comments of gratitude and well wishes that were written in those cards. These cards were just as personal, if not more than the ones that I received from my own friends and family.  I owe this to the blog.

Just because my parents were not commenting on the blog did not mean they were not reading it and getting a lot out of it.  Parents are referring to the blog in our conversations about the day to day extreme cuteness of Kindergarten, the nitty gritty learning outcomes, the achievements of their children and the things they need to work on. As well, the students are talking about the blog and ask daily, “can we put this in the blog?” and are giving me permission, “you can put this in the blog if you want Mrs. Khan”.  Now how awesome is that?!

Using gimicky tactics to increase the number of comments to my posts may have resulted in a massive number of comments, but it may of also created a pile of insincere and unproductive comments. I was looking at it the wrong way, I thought that the blog would be successful if parents posted comments… and really, think about how much courage that would take for many parents to do that!… The blog has been successful because it has encouraged more meaningful conversations safely in person and through email.

Our class blog has ended up being an amazing way to frequently show how much I care about my students and show to parents that I care about them, too. It has been one of the most important things I have done this year!

If you would like to visit our class blog.  Here it is: Mrs. Khan’s Class News

Now, if you don’t post a comment, I won’t hold it against you!

Happy Teaching!

Iram

Bring on the Technology!

My school this year was lucky enough to receive a grant where we have been able to buy 40 iPads, and a projector for every wing in our school.  Wow, has this ever transformed my teaching. This is why CanTeach, once again was put on the back burner. I have immersed myself in creating and collaborating. I kept thinking, I should add my thoughts to CanTeach!

My district has been so supportive with offering workshops and bringing in wonderful guest speakers like George Couros (http://georgecouros.ca/blog/) and Bill Ferriter (http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/) who have inspired us to use technology as a tool to encourage 21st Century learning.

As a result of all this support, I have been able to do so much.  I haven’t immersed myself in technology since first starting CanTeach in 1998!  A lot has changed to say the least!  It has been a huge learning curve. I can even sync 40 ipads and give them all a iOS 6.1 update… and when it fails, I know how to fix it! If I have been able to do it, you can do it too!

I am so excited about what these new tools has done to my teaching and the connections I have been able to make with my students, parents and colleagues. This year has been the best year yet! My students are engaged, I am making more use of the time in the teaching day, and I have been able to make some deep connections with parents.

In future posts I will share apps that I have discovered for early learning and all the messy things we have been playing with, but for now I’d like to share a video I made with one second video clips.  I shared this on our class blogs to show how print rich our classroom is and how we are loving learning how to read and write.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Mother’s Day is just around the corner! Are the gifts that my students are making going to wow, the moms? Well, the marigolds we planted are mostly dead (I should have just done the tried and true hearty bean plant instead). We also painted hand print flowers (yawn)… but, here’s the clincher, I’ve got one thing that will make moms cry!

Every year, we write a letter to our moms, walk to the mailbox and mail them. What a surprise it is to get a letter from your own 6 yr. old child! One year we were on a field trip at the beach, minding our own business when all of a sudden there was a lady running towards us crying. I soon realized that she was a mom of one of my boys. She ran to us with tears streaming down her face, picked up her son and told him that she got his letter in the mail. She could not stop hugging and kissing him. She got his letter 30 minutes before, jumped in her car right away and drove all the way to the beach to let her son know that she got his letter in the mail and that it was the best thing ever. She then went off to buy him some well deserved ice cream.

This boy had FAS, and had struggled in his short school career. You can imagine how much guilt this mother had as a result of the roulette she played while she was pregnant. We even caught her helping her child cheat on a spelling test once by writing words on a hidden cheat sheet (note: spelling tests, I don’t give ’em anymore!). This letter showed his mom for the first time that he was actually learning how to write. Mom told me later that after reading his letter, she knew she could relax. With all the support he was getting and all the love he received from the staff at our school, he was going to be okay.

I don’t know how any other mother has reacted to receiving their Mother’s Day letter in the mail, but this one reaction has encouraged me to keep doing it year after year. These kids are learning how to write! What an amazing process! I also love doing it because you get so much insight into your students’ relationships with their mothers and what they love about them.

Here’s a printable of the letter that I sent out this year. Depending on the grade level, you can add more questions or take some off. I also get them to draw and colour a picture of them and their mom on the back and decorate the envelope we send them in.

mothers day pdf printable

One more thing, I know many of you are planning Mother’s Day teas. I myself have participated in many over the years. This year, though, I have a son in preschool… my son’s Mother’s Day tea was this morning, and because I work at school I could not go. My son was the only one whose mother was not there. My husband went in my place, but it was not the same. I’m hoping that my four year old just rolled with it, as most four year olds usually do, but I can’t help feeling guilty and sad that I wasn’t there with him. I missed a special event with my son. It’s hard enough being a working parent; missing this was heartbreaking. Now, I know I’m going to be missing a lot more throughout the years, but it upsets me that special school events more and more these days are not being held outside of school time. Parent teacher interviews, Christmas concerts, Mother’s Day teas… Many of us got into this job knowing that it was not a regular day job. We work before and after hours prepping, meeting with parents, meeting with colleagues, and planning and attending events. I’m afraid of the new “normal” that is sweeping across schools. What kind of a community are we creating when working parents have less and less opportunities to connect with schools through these events? Don’t we want parents to be “involved”? These events are a way to get parents in schools plain and simple.

So, I will not be having a Mother’s Day tea this year and I will never, ever have one during school time. Now, someone get me some tissues!

Happy teaching!
Iram

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Hello Spring!

photo of cherry blossoms

Hello springy sights, sounds, smells, and feelings! I am glad you are finally creeping into our classroom.

After the much needed rest during spring break and Easter, we have hit the ground running yet again. Literacy centres and guided reading are still generating shouts as though it was announced it was an inside recess day. I’ve now brought in the iPad to reach those kids need some extra TLC and for those who believe they are the next Mark Zuckerberg. In particular we have been playing with the “Smarty Pants School” app. It is so perfect for the classroom. You can upload different students and after an assessment, each of them can play at their own pace through letter recognition, phonemic awareness, and site word games. Fabulous app!

One of our learning outcomes is to be able to identify characteristics of the different seasons. When fall changes to winter and when winter changes to fall, I always sing the goodbye season song (in the Spring songs and poems section in CanTeach, see the link below). We sang goodbye to all things winter and then hello to all things spring. After singing it and reading enough books about the coming season to become experts, it was time to assess. I created this sheet for my firsties to record characteristics of winter and characteristics of spring. Yes I could have just asked them, but then I wouldn’t have a nice piece of work to show off! Here is a printable of the “Goodbye Winter Hello Spring” sheet.

goodbye winter printable

Many of you are studying eggs and chicks right now since the Easter season has just passed. This is a favourite activity of mine that I love doing every year. It is a spin off activity from an oldie but a goodie book, “The Golden Egg Book” by Margaret Wise Brown. There are a few different versions of illustrations of this book out there. I don’t know maybe Little Golden Books was trying to keep up with the times, but this version is THE BEST. My mom bought it for me at a garage sale when I was in the teacher education program and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw the cover. It’s so beautifully illustrated and this bunny compared to the other ones is the sweetest by far! So, if you come across this version, buy it!

the golden egg book cover

Okay, on to the activity. I read up to the part where the bunny falls asleep beside the egg after trying hard to break it and find out what’s inside. Then I ask the kids what they think is inside the egg. OMG, you will be surprised at the kind of answers you get. Yes, you’ll get every bird imaginable, but year after year I always get someone who thinks that there is a chocolate bunny inside. I guess that’s what they would hope is inside if they came across an egg. My favourite this year was “I think a burping chicken is in the egg.” Ummm, okay, but I’m surprised that he didn’t say that it was a farting chicken.

Here is a printable for everyone to record their prediction of what’s inside.

egg prediction printable

And… you can’t celebrate spring without looking at cherry blossoms and emphasizing that it is not a good idea to throw handfuls of rocks at them just so you can bathe in the petals (we had several injuries the other day). Let mother nature take its course and wait for a windy day.

I have to credit my grade one teaching buddy for this one. I’ve done the boring tissue paper cherry blossoms and this was a nice change. Make foamy paint by mixing equal parts shaving cream and white glue, then add food colouring, and voila. Gorgeous and fun to use!

cherry blossom craft 1 cherry blossom craft 2

Finally, here are some spring songs and poems related to the months of April and May as well.

Happy Teaching!
Iram

Why Can’t we all Just be Friends?

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It’s been ages since my last post. At this time our province and teachers are in the middle of emotionally charged contract negotiations. So, it has been a little melancholic around here lately, which has made it really hard to write. Time to share, though, I can’t let another week go by without gushing about my Firsties!

As I have gone on about in other posts, my class is a tough group. It’s the kind of class that makes you seriously rethink your teaching career and run for the hills so you can live in a small cabin with no chance of a child interrupting your solitude; however, as the past few weeks have proven, they are also extremely kind and caring. We have had two students leave our class family within one week and the reponse their classmates had was… well, let’s say very surprising to me. I honestly didn’t think they’d really notice and that they’d be able to move on.

We knew about one of the students ahead of time so we made her a little book about things that we would miss with her leaving. Now this little girl (by little, I really mean little, she’s a tiny thing) is spunky, funny, and very caring. My students, not missing on an opportunity to be silly wrote about the following things that they would miss with her leaving:

I will miss when _____ barks and whines like a dog.
I will miss _____ nibbling on my shirt at story time.
I will miss picking _____ up and carry her around on the playground.
I will miss _____ jumping and spinning around.
I will miss _____ playing with my hair.
I will miss _____ hanging off my arm.
I will miss how _____ makes cards for me.

Not your traditional good bye book, but these came straight from their hearts. It’s a given that they will miss their fellow classmate because she is kind, caring, and fun… but these reasons are what makes their friendship unique and irreplaceable

Right before spring break began we had another student move suddenly. We found out at recess and had to pack up all of his things for him to leave by the end of the day. Despite it being the last day of school before spring break, having two performance groups to watch in the gym and crazy fun time in between, they were all sad. I eavesdropped on a number of private conversations that kids who I thought hated him were having with him. They were filled with just as much care as they had put in the good bye book they made earlier in the week.

My students will move on, new friendships will be made, but I hope that they will remember for the rest of their lives how much people that they met in school do actually care about them.

Not surprisingly, this theme area was a great one for my students to do. I think our friendship unit has been one of the most engaging themes I have done all year. In a past post I shared a friendship interview sheet. LOOK at my students, they are actually working!!! I had NO behaviour issues through this and they were so proud to share what they learned about their friend.

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I have to do this again, so here is part two of the friendship interview.

friendship interview pdf

This is a great book by Nancy Carlson for your friendship unit. I use it every year.

How to Lose All Your Friends book thumbnail

After reading this book, we worked through qualities of friendship that are valued and behaviours that prevent friendships and the students recorded their thoughts on this sheet.

how to make friends pdf

… and here is a booklet students can make to go along with the friendship poem “I Have a Friend”.

friendship book pdf

Happy Teaching!
Iram

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

heart flowers picture

I’m so glad Valentine’s day is here, my class has been desperately waiting for a day to indulge themselves in candy, chocolates, and craftiness. Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the two holidays when glitter bombs the classroom. As soon as the Valentine themed calendar display went up, the kids have been counting down!

I read this headline in the newspaper today: “There’s No Gift Problem Chocolate Can’t Solve”. Yep, that about sums it all for me. Honestly, I’d take chocolate over jewellery any day! Last year, I made myself some chocolate covered strawberries for the first time. They were so much easier to make than I expected and oh so good! You just have to melt chocolate chips and dip the strawberries in it. Yes, that easy! “What is that? Oh yes I’ll have another, don’t mind if I do”.

Okay enough about chocolate, let’s go to the classroom. Like I said, glitter glitter all around. Here’s a decoration we made to hang in the room. It was very simple, we just cut out hearts and then finger painted with the brightest pinks, reds, and whites we could find. Finger painting is so good for those kids who can’t control themselves. They go nuts with the paint… which in the end makes their project look so beautiful!

hanging heart picture xo heart picture

I also printed out x’s and o’s on which they glittered any which way they wanted. Another great thing for the kids who can’t control themselves, but not good for you or your custodian as glitter gets into every corner of the room and every orifice on your body. Watch your kids when they glue the letters on, we got a few gluing “ox” instead of “xo”! Here’s an XO template you can print off. This was harder than I thought it would be to find on the internet, so I just made up one myself (which probably took less time than the time I spent Googling and Pinteresting!).

xo template in pdf

In our literacy centres I included the following activity. This was the first time my class did a words around the room job. I thought it would be chaos, but the groups worked well together and enjoyed the challenge of finding as many words as they could.

valentine words pdf valentine words 2 pdf

Enjoy Valentine’s Day and the love and friendship around you!

Happy Teaching,
Iram

Love Is In the Air!

crayon heart

Valentine’s Day is approaching and my firsties are getting flirtatious. I know, I know, Grade One, gasp… but it is so funny. One girl today received a beautiful portrait of her and a special paper crown made with hearts and written on it was “I love you.” (complete sentence upper case letter, period, perfect!). Anyway, the receiver was not too pleased at all. She was embarrassed and… can a six year old be offended?! She was offended.

Off I went to find out who the admirer was; the receiver would not let up. Clues included paper scraps, a glue with no lid on it, and crayons stashed in the corner between my desk and shelf. Soon enough some “friends” came to rat one of their own out. I was not convinced that it was the boy they were naming, though… this boy can barely write his own name legibly let alone write a full sentence! But, I did my due diligence, pulled him aside and asked him if he was the admirer. He fessed up right away. After praising him on writing so well, he admitted that he convinced another boy to write it out for him because, “Mrs, Khan, I can’t write.” (with the emphasis on the “I” meaning, “well duh, of course I had to get someone else to write it!”). He also asked one of our grade 7 lunch monitors to draw a picture of his love (it was also suspiciously a little too stylized). He then said with a sigh, “I love ____, she’s sooo beautiful.” Here’s a pic of the remnants of his present. Oh boy, he’s got it bad!

Valentine Words pdf

I returned it to the girl and she proceeded to rip it up. Thankfully her admirer was off smashing puzzle pieces. Of course then after school I dug through the recycling bin because I just had to share the story with you!

Now this event got me going on revisiting my cut and paste centre (I don’t know why I call it that, it’s a place where kids can do arts and crafts, draw, write stories, etc…), I’m going to put in some materials to make Valentine cards and write Valentine stories with including some words on card stock that they can use to help them write (no anonymity allowed!). Here’s a printable of some fancy Valentine words for you.

Valentine Words pdf

As many of you do, I use this time of year to talk about friendship and the qualities of a good friend. One of my favourite activities is this friend interview. I pair up students who usually do not play or sit together and get them to interview each other. It’s a great way to practice listening and patience (ahhh, great qualities in a friend!).

Friendship Interview pdf

And last but not least, here are some Valentine and friendship songs and poems that are on CanTeach:

Happy Teaching,
Iram