Light Sensitive Paper

Back in April, my two student teachers were planning and teaching our unit on Lights and Shadows. They introduced me to the fascinating world of light sensitive paper.

Waiting for what seemed like endlessly for a sunny day, the students selected three items and ventured outside with their light sensitive paper in hand. They placed their chosen objects on the paper, waited for two minutes, and then immediately placed the paper into a bin of water for one minute. The paper was left to dry, and over time became imprinted with their objects.

Not only were they excited to see their finished artwork, but as was I. In all of these years of teaching this unit, I had never even heard of this paper prior. It was such a fun and engaging activity, and something that I know my students will remember for years to come.

In the past few weeks, they each created a reflection on the experiment, describing how it worked, the steps they followed, and what they created on their paper.

In their reflections, their learning was evident and the concepts were clear. Plus, it was a great way for me to model that even as teachers, we can always learn something new!

First Nations Learning at Glenbow

Yesterday, my class ventured downtown to the Glenbow Museum for the day. During the afternoon, we participated in the program called Nitsitapiisinni: Our Way of Life, which was lead by a Blackfoot man, who we called Skip. He began the program by providing us with some background information about the Blackfoot People and some events that happened in the past. We then gathered around the giant teepee, as he share his own stories. The students were asking questions to learn more, making connections between their own culture and his, and were fascinated by the Blackfoot culture.

As the students learned about the importance of the bison to the Blackfoot people, they were given a variety of artefacts to examine. They needed to decide what part of the bison the artefact was created from, as well as what it was used for. They developed a rich understanding and appreciation for the fact that the Blackfoot people used every part of the bison, and did not let anything go to waste. It was quite the contrast from our society today.

As the new Alberta curriculum begins to unfolds, it is our responsibility to ensure that both teachers and students develop foundational knowledge about First Nations in Alberta. Glenbow supports one way in which we can educate our students, learn from the past, and develop better understandings to make for a better future!

Here are some of the students reflections, and the learning that stood out for them:

A Micro:bit Classroom

Prior to spring break, I registered my class for a free micro:bit workshop offered by Kids Code Jeunesse . Without really knowing what to expect, our facilitator Zoe, led my students through an interactive demonstration of coding and connecting the codes to microbits. Instantly excited, engaged, and eager to try out these new pieces of technology, my students partnered up and began their exploration.

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The more the students experimented, the more complex their microbits became.

 They created names, figures, step counters, and complex movements.

It was inspiring for me to watch my students go from knowing nothing about microbits to being able to program a variety of different codes. Yes, at times they did get frustrated, but they kept on persevering. We could all learn something from them!

As the program came to an end, Zoe left our class with 10 of our own microbits. We continue to play, explore, and learn about them and challenge our thinking in different and innovative ways.

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?

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. 

Adventures in a Classroom Library

During the last year, I had a class filled of readers. Any chance they got, they were delved into a novel, picture book, fact book, anything that they could get their hands on. As I watched them riffle through our class library, I became aware that it wasn’t as user-friendly as I had once anticipated. Shelves of books, shoved in tightly, with a basic organizational structure, did not appeal to their reading needs. As a class, we decided to find a new way to organize our books. It was a massive undertaking, days filled with chaos, but their organization process and reasoning of why a book should go in a specific category was fascinating to observe.

After the books were neatly organized into bins, where titles and cover pages could be observed, the access and ability to find such diverse books in our classroom made reading that much more enjoyable. However, after a few weeks, the books became organized again, bins filled with varieties of genres, and I became to feel like we were back at square one.

Upon returning to school this year, and spending much time online seeing how other teachers organized their libraries, labels and stickers seemed to be the best way. I created labels for every bin, with colour-coordinated stickers on each book according to genre. Green stickers for series, pink for fiction, and orange for non-fiction. On each label outside of the bin a sticker was placed with a code so students knew where each book was to be returned. This has eliminated books being placed in the wrong bins.

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I also ensured to have a “lost” bin so students had somewhere to put books if they couldn’t locate the correct place. Additionally, a “hospital” bin was also needed, so we could stay on top of keeping books in good condition.

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I think the biggest change that I made was giving up my personal “teacher” space. I had an L-shaped desk that took up the majority of a corner in my classroom. When I reflected on how much I was actually at my desk throughout a day, which is very limited, I realized I could make better use of the space. I want my classroom to encourage reading, and for students to have a place where they can feel at home and comfortable. I found bean bag chairs on kijiji, and had my handy boyfriend build me a wonderful reading bench.

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Although my classroom space isn’t perfect, seeing my students lounging and reading makes it pretty close!

*Making labels can be a tedious task, and I am more than willing to share mine with anyone. If you would like the file, please comment below or contact me on twitter*

Wild About Reading

As part of our school initiative on literacy this year, we dove into examining the book Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley, as it’s purpose is to instil lifelong reading habits in our students. The book is filled with tips, strategies, and stories about the ways in which the goal of lifelong reading can be established. As I read through the chapters, highlighting key points to refer back to, I thought that sharing these points may be valuable to others. They are the ones that stood out for me, and the strategies that I want to implement in my classroom. You may agree, or after reading, you may find ones that I missed. Regardless it’s a starting point, and hopefully a way to inspire you to encourage a love of reading with your students. Enjoy!

Chapter 1:
Kids need to build a stamina to read. When assigning 30 minutes of reading at home, ensure that they know it can be done in chunks, for example, 15 minutes before dinner, 10 minutes after dinner, 5 minutes before bed.
Mini-lesson – Bring a book everywhere for a “reading emergency.” Discuss with students time on the weekend when they were bored (i.e. waiting for a doctor’s appointment), and highlight how these few minutes of time could be used for reading.
Reading Itinerary – Throughout a week have students record where and when they read. “Focusing on reading habits for one week increases their awareness of their own reading behaviors and opens dialogue between readers using their observations as a launching point” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 18-19).
Fake Reading – keep an eye on students who you notice to be fake readers, keep observations of them, have a conference, and try to determine whether it is a habit or a book related problem.

Chapter 2:
Read-alouds are important classroom activities that help build community, expose students to a variety of genres, support developing readers, and demonstrate that reading is an enjoyable activity.
Mini-lesson – Have students bring in their favourite read-aloud to school. Place them in groups, as they reread their favourite book and share the story with others. This helps to build community, and encourage book talks. This could even be applied to a reading buddy activity.
Box Draw – Increases excitement around classroom books, as you place interested students’ names into a draw to “win” the book to read. Be sure to establish rules surrounding these draws (see pages 57-58 for examples).
Checking out classroom library books – use the online organizer Booksource’s Classroom Organizer as a way to keep track of your books and which student is reading what book.

Chapter 3:
See if your principal will allow students, staff, or visitors to share their book recommendations during morning announcements.
Participate in the twitter chat #titletalk to learn information about instructional practices, resources, and suggested books to read.
Mini-lesson – Book Commercials: Have a select student sit in the teacher’s chair, write out the title and author of the book they’ve read, give a brief summary without any spoilers, and describe the kind of reader who would like the book. The teachers asks if any other students have read it, and what they’re impressions were.

Chapter 4:
Students initially need to set reading goals, especially over holidays, in order to ensure that they have a reading plan. Upon return, they can reflect on their goal, whether it was attainable, and to help identify the types of books they enjoy reading.
If students are struggling to finish books, recommend short stories and setting small goals in order to help them achieve success, and build stamina.
Mini-lesson – Have students share their must-read book lists and share why they believe these books are “must-reads.” This information can be shared on a classroom blog, or displayed in the classroom.
An outline of summer reading tips are provided on pages 154-156, and offer suggestions for encouraging reading over the summer break.
There was one point in particular that really spoke to me in this chapter:
“While the Common Core text exemplars collect a list of worthy literature that all students should read, I question the premise that any reading list meets the needs of all readers. Creating a list, anchored in a time or viewpoint driven by one group’s opinion of what literature is meaningful, marginalizes the personal aspect that we bring to what we read” (Miller & Kelley, 2014, p. 160).
I think that this is an incredibly valuable point to bring up around the ideas of a set list for novel studies!

Chapter 5
Encourage students to read from a variety of genres. Although it’s okay that they read fantasy books all of the time, challenging them to read from a new genre can help develop new skills and a new love for books.
Looks for ways to bridge the gap between school and life reading. The authors suggest changing the term “name” on forms/sheets to “reader” or “writer.”
Documenting books students are reading and the general level of those books can be valuable when recommending new books of them to read.
Mini-lesson – Challenge students to read forty books from a variety of genres throughout the school year. “Encouraging students to read what they want while exposing them to high-interest, engaging, quality texts of all kinds fosters their engagement and provides the diverse experiences they need to find texts that will meet their reading interests and needs both today and tomorrow” (Miller & Kelly, 2014, p. 192).

The appendix of the book is filled with chart, graphs, and resources to use to jump start your class to develop habits of reading in the wild.