“Making” in the Grade 4 Classroom

One day, while perusing the world of twitter, I came across a post from @Makerspaces_com about kits for making these creatures called Bristolbots. The kits to purchase contained all the supplies necessary, but having the teacher lifestyle, were out of my price range. I decided to put the message out to world and asked if anyone in Calgary would be willing to donate to purchase the kits for my grade 4 class. I also tagged Nenshi, who promoted retweeted, and within a few hours I had a response!
After some back and forth messaging with an employee, an organization in Calgary, the ISA Calgary board, generously donated money to purchase the kits. I was beyond ecstatic and anticipating how my students would react.
On November 2, 2017, my students eagerly listened as I informed them that they would have an opportunity to create a small, robotic creature called a bristolbot. This would be our first ever, real “maker” time in class, with motors and batteries. As I passed out the supplies, the buzz of the excitement was impossible to ignore. Quickly, my students began exploring their materials and collaboratively they each constructed their own bristolbot.
Once their bristolbots were successfully working, they practiced modifying and altering them to see how changes would affect their movement. They raced one another, had them do “dance moves”, and enjoyed understanding why one change would make their bristolbot behave a certain way. They finished with their bristolbots creating a piece of art!

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This was a very rewarding experience for both my students and myself. This was their first opportunity to be involved in a maker space, and to really understand how classroom skills and knowledge could help them in the real world. From a teacher’s perspective, every student was engaged, problem solving, and working together to create. They persevered when things didn’t go according to their plan, and supported one another along the way. As I watched and interacted with my students, not only did I see their excitement, but their constant affirmation with comments like “this is the best day ever” brought a smile to my face. I never imagined that from a simple tweet my students would be able to partake in an unforgettable experience.

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Here are some of my students reflections.
Bristolbot Reflections

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Comics Show Who You Are!

Today was the second day of grade 4 this year, and my eagerness to learn even more about my students led me to turn to technology. I gave my students a quick low down on Comic Life, and then let them explore, play, and create a comic of themselves. Their only requirement needed was to take a picture of themselves, include their name, and tell me five things about themselves. If they had any questions about how to use the app, I encouraged them to ask their peers, as they are becoming wonderful teachers themselves!

Once their projects were completed, they were easily able to airdrop them to me, so I could share them as well. Besides the fact that my students were instantly engaged in their projects, their tidbits about themselves gave me insights into who they are. Leaving the project open-ended, instead of providing a simple fill in the blank all about me sheet, seemed to encourage the students to tell me a lot about them. Many of their thoughts made me smile, and taught me something new and interesting. I’m looking forward to using their comics to generate further discussion, make connections with each of them, and between them, to continue to build our classroom community.

Here are some examples of their finished pieces:

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A New First Day of School

Prior to my students arriving on the first day of school, I was trying to envision a new “first day.” I was tired of the same old ice breaker or get-to-know-you activities that really end up doing neither of their intended results. After a couple of hours spent reading blogs, exploring twitter, and searching on Pinterest, I knew that I needed to change the way I approached my first day of school. I wanted my kids to know that I value creativity, collaboration, and hands on projects, and what I had done in the past wasn’t representing the teacher that I am.

So I decided to scrap most of my plans, and start fresh. Although this can be a scary thing, especially for us teachers, it was something I felt that I had to do. In the afternoon, during our character time, I read the story Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. It’s a great book that talks about a rabbit who meets new neighbours, the Otters, and has to decide how he would like his new neighbours to be. It highlights important characteristics that we look for in others, like being polite and considerate, and ultimately leaves the reader with the rule to do unto otters as you would have otters do unto you. I’m a sucker for puns, so this book is right up my alley!

After we read the story, we shared our thoughts about it, and how the qualities the author discussed in the story are qualities that we look for in others. We also talked about when we work with others, that we must ensure we are treating them respectfully. My students came up with some great ideas about the ways that they want to be treated when in a group.

From here, I presented my students with a challenge: Each prearranged group of three would receive 20 pipecleaners and 3 large sheets of tin foil. They didn’t have to use all of the supplies if they chose not to, but these would be the only supplies that they could use. Together they would need to plan and create something. Much to my surprise, and with very few questions, the groups got right to work. They had over an hour to plan and design their projects, and the results were fantastic.

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Although the kids thoroughly enjoyed their creations, it provided me with insightful information about them. Instantly, I was able to see how my students interacted with one another; whether they were quiet and shy, or bold and took the lead, it gave me a quick read on their personalities and leadership qualities. Secondly, I could see how my students negotiated through their ideas. Some students were very adamant about their idea, but when others disagreed, it was great to see how they were mindful of the concepts we discussed to collaborate and come up with a new idea together. It was wonderful to see all students engaged not only in the process, but together as a team.

After completing this activity, it left me to wonder, what do I learn about my students in an ice-breaker or in a get-to-know-you game? Why have I chosen to do such activities in the past? Through a simple change, I am now able to answer these questions successfully and have a purpose behind my activity design. I challenge you to ask yourself the same question: Why?

Community Building Through Orientations

Each year, before the official day of classes, our school has set the day aside for student orientations. We meet the parents and students individually to get to know them, and for them to know their teacher prior to the first day of school. Not only does this help to relieve the stress and anxiety that our students could have with moving to a new grade, but it also allows me to start building a strong relationship with my students and parents.

In the past, our orientations have been more teacher directed: basically a relaying of information about grade 4, with only a small amount of time at the end to have a “real” conversation with our families. This year, we wanted to show our families how important their voices are, how we value our relationships with them, and how we want to build a strong classroom community. In turn, my grade level collaborated together to redesign the format of our orientations. Here’s how they looked instead:

Before our families entered the classroom for their meeting, they watched a video that we created, which highlighted features of grade 4.

Watching the video prior to our orientations eliminated the initial minutes of teacher talk, and instead allowed us to have an open discussion. From here, we created a 2017 Student Questionnaire  as a way to get to know our students better. I wasn’t entirely sure about how these questions could turn out, with students generally being shy on the first meeting day. Much to my surprise every single student had a story, thought, or specific fact that really showed me something special about them, outside of academics. I even received several laughs from parents about the things that their child shared!

After opening the floor for any questions or comments from either the student or the parents, each family had their photo taken together. I intend to print and send these home as a family keepsake. My students were then given a little treat (label courtesy of Teachers Pay Teachers), and the parents were given a parent questionnaire to complete at home. I’m excited to see the responses that I receive back.

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Through taking the time to redesign our orientations by putting community building first, we’re hoping to have long lasting benefits: That our parents will feel valued, our students will know that their voices count, and that our communication and relationships will continue to grow and develop.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Delights

For the last five years, I basically cut refined sugar from my diet.  We all know what the experts say about it, and for me, they were right.  Often, I had awful migraines, a couple forcing me to stay in bed for a week, and when my acupuncturist suggested cutting refined sugar, I felt desperate enough to do anything.  Little did I know the difference it would make in my life.

Even though I felt lively and healthy, there were so many moments when my cravings for something sweet were almost unbearable.  Fruit was okay, but it didn’t satisfy that chocolately need that I wanted.  These treats saved me, and so, many years later, I thought I should share in case they can “save” someone else’s sweet tooth.

I absolutely LOVE baking, but when I bake in general, I often eye ball my measurements.  Hopefully my eye-to-true measurements are accurate enough!

Ingredients:
2 cups of pecans
2 cups of dates
2 cups of dark chocolate (source carefully and check the label!)
1 cup of peanut butter (natural, only peanuts! Add more if you want it more of a peanut butter flavour)

Steps:
1) Dump your pecans and dates into your food processor and blend until it starts clumping on the sides (around 2 minutes).
2) Pour the blended mixture into a 9×13 pan – or really any size you have. The smaller your pan, the thicker the squares will be. You might want to line your pan with parchment paper or tin foil so your clean up is essentially none! Spread out evenly into the pan, and pat down with your hand.
3) Melt your dark chocolate and peanut butter on low heat, on the stove top, stirring constantly.
4) Pour on top and spread evenly over the crust.
5) Refrigerate for a couple of hours, until hard, and then cut and serve!

Enjoy!

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Paddling the Bow

Upon awaking early Canada Day morning, I grabbed my phone in bed and checked to see the latest news on Facebook. A free kayaking ride picture posted by The Paddle Station caught my eye. For those who don’t know me well, I love nothing more than a good deal, and free is the best deal of all! I commented on the post, and low and behold an hour later Daniel and I were heading to Shouldice Park for a kayaking adventure.

Now, the worst part about floating down the Bow is the car situation. Whose car do we leave where? Where will our ride end? The list of organizational questions is vast. Due to our limited time before our ride was beginning, we had to make a decision fast. The Paddle Station’s starting location is at Shouldice Park, and excitingly much to our surprise is in a Car2Go zone! Problem #1 solved!

When we arrived, we were greeted by the enthusiastically friendly owner, Ravi. Meeting business owners can be an interesting experience, to say the least, but Ravi is made for the job. He’s so humble and passionate about his business that it’s refreshing to be around. His team was setting up their station for the day, and went above and beyond our expectations. We were given an adorable waterproof blue tooth speaker, and a much needed (which we found out later!) dry bag. Because our ride was free, we were asked to wear Paddle Station flags as we floated, which we happily did. We signed the waiver, hopped into our double kayak, and began our mini adventure with our river tunes playing.

Around 1.5 hours later, we saw a friendly wave as we arrived at our destination stop in St. Patrick’s Island. We were paddling hard to make the inlet pit stop, and before I knew what happened, we were flipped into the Bow River. I guess that’s what we get for complaining about the heat! Thank goodness for that dry sac! We were offered a towel to dry off, thanked them for the awesome ride, and walked through St. Patrick’s Island on route home.

Often people feel like they need to escape from the city and reconnect with nature to refuel. I’m of course, guilty of this too. But on this day, not only did I do these without leaving the city, but my love and appreciation of Calgary grew even more. Paddling along, listening to the birds chirping and the waves rolling, I felt like I could have been anywhere but a city.

If you’re looking for a way to spend a morning or afternoon, or want to float down the river and don’t want to spend a fortune, I highly recommend checking out The Paddle Station. You’ll have an overwhelmingly amount of fun while supporting a wonderful local business!

Life Lessons Through Elephant and Piggie

If you know my family, we have this weirdness with pig nicknames. Upon the arrival of my new niece last year, I wanted to start on her a book series, and while browsing our school book fair came across a story called Happy Pig Day by Mo Willems. 


I was immediately drawn to the title, but in all honesty, the book itself didn’t look that appealing to me. It’s written in comic style, with colour-coordinated speech bubbles for the characters, Gerald and Piggie. However, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are so lovable, empathetic, and melted my heart. My cousin, of course, agreed!

It wasn’t until recently when I came across a different story from the series, and thought about reading it to my grade 4 class. I was hestitant because of the simplicity of the book, but was surprised with a loud applause after we read it. Like me, they too are now addicted! They seek the series out at the library, share them with each other, and are constantly recommending a new story from the series. “Why?” I wondered. 

Sometimes I think as teachers we’re caught up in the need to teach our kids to read. To teach them to challenge themselves. To encourage them to read chapters book. But have we forgotten to teach our kids to enjoy reading? Don’t we want them to connect and relate to the characters? Find humour in texts? Empathize? 

This series has opened the doors for me in my classroom to teach children about friendship, character, and life lessons, but more importantly to be able to find themselves in a book! I challenge you to do the same.