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.

Back to School

After summer break, comes the start of meetings and reconnecting with my school team. Besides the regular stuff, my favourite part of back to school is our family induction. It’s a chance for us to sit down individually with each family in our class and spend a short amount of time getting to know them. It’s a great way to establish rapport with your students and parents right from the start. I truly believe it takes away the angst of starting school and starts to build that classroom community that we all strive to have.

To begin this year, we made a short video to introduce our families to some changes to grade 4. Next, we complete a little questionnaire with each student to get to know them a bit better. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to see writing skills and family dynamics. After a bit of paperwork and questions/comments, and showing the students around the classroom, I always take a family photo. I conclude with giving each child a little snack to welcome them to my classroom.

To start this year, the grade 4 teachers have received new portables. They unfortunately aren’t finished yet and I’m the lucky one who gets to have my classroom in the gym! I can’t wait to explore what this will be like. Stay tuned for updates…

“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

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?