Archive of ‘Professional Practice’ category

Co-planning makes Teachers Great

I’m always trying to be a better teacher. Always reworking my plans, reading new teaching material, and questioning what students really need to learn about.

As a newish mom, I was in a teaching slump. I was still trying my best and teaching well but knew there was better out there.

I decided to reach out to other teachers to help me teach better and I’m so lucky to have connected with 3 amazing teachers in 3 different subjects.

Luckily this year, a teacher who I knew at teacher’s college came to work at my school and teach the same grade as mine. We decided immediately to team up and plan a spiral math curriculum together.

Also my school is in it’s year to get a lot of new technology for its students. Luckily for us, that comes with training from our board’s technology coaches. They presented at our staff meeting and that sparked an idea. Why not ask one of the coaches to help me plan the way I want to. I’ve met with Louise several times now to plan Science units and luckily for me she is helping me plan using Overarching Inquiry.

I’m also working with another teacher and we are joining our classes together to work on a ‘Dream Journal’ with our students. The ‘Dream Journal’ is working on creating the life we want through reflecting, goals and learning from experts.

Co-planning is great for so many reasons.

1) Keeps you accountable

Teaching is a demanding, busy and draining job. We all have days where we want to take it easy and relax. By co-planning with a colleague you have to keep on track to keep up with the other teacher and class. Of course, if you are meeting your students where they are you are going to differ slightly but you’ll for the most part keep up the same pace.

2) Helps you problem solve

Don’t worry alone. You aren’t solving any problems all by yourself.

When you are co-planning you, of course, try your best to plan for all your students but nevertheless something comes up to throw you for a loop. If you’re planning together, you are going to check in on each other and ask each other questions about how that lesson worked or didn’t work. As a team, you can easily problem solve together and even reflect on how the unit went and makes notes for the next time you teach it.

3) Makes you happier

When planning with a colleague, you feel a sense of teamwork. We, as teachers sometimes feel really alone in our classrooms because it is just us with dozens of kids. We need to plan with other teachers so that we can feel supported. When we feel supported, we feel better and we do better.

4) Less stress

If you are making time each week to plan together, you are planning in advance. You know exactly what to do next and you can easily plan for that day or week. This makes you stress less as you know where you are headed, you know you have help, you know the big picture idea of what you are trying to cover so you know what you’re trying to accomplish and can easily adapt.

5) More willing to try new things

If you have a strong support system you feel more comfortable to take risks and try new things. This year for science my class and I learned about and tried out microbits. It was a new idea that I’ve never considered before and my students loved using them! And I loved learning with them too.

Trust Your Gut

Every year, I struggle. I struggle with being the best teacher I can, doing the best for my students, and am always trying to provide a classroom with choice, student voice and authentic learning experiences. I usually spend most of my summer reading professional development books and planning for the upcoming year. When September hits and I meet my new class, I falter. I get overwhelmed by everything we need to get done, by what my students needs are and by what they have yet to learn. I question what I think is important and I get advice from people who do not believe in what I do.

When you are doing things in your classroom that you don’t believe in, it will not work. I found that the hard way this year. Doing something that you do not believe in makes you not follow through the way you should. And it just will not work. I need to learn to stick to my gut. To teach what I believe in.

Blogging is something I truly believe in. I know the power of sharing your views with the world. This blog has transformed me. Never would I have thought that I would be a blogger, or that people would want to hear about my learning. This blog has made me a reflective learner, collaborator, professional development planner and more. I’m so grateful.

I know how essential all my students voices are and by giving them choice about what they want to blog about, they are engaged and empowered. They are actively finding out more about blogging, checking out their blogging stats and being blown away when people are visiting their blog. And we are only in week two! They are learning that their voices matter. That they matter. Nothing is more important than that!

Focus on what you know is important. Trust yourself. Trust Your Gut! The learning will follow.

5 Tips for Surviving your First Year Back as a Mom

In September 2017, I went back to work as a homeroom teacher and a full-time mom. This year has been so different from any other. Before kids, I would work a lot, plan educational events and edchats but now, I have a family to take care of. Someone who needs me to be there and be present. I’ve found out this year that balancing it all is tough. It is definitely been all about learning what is important to me and asking myself what do I want to spend my time and energy on.

Here are some tips that helped me survive my first year back:

1. Plan ahead

Being a mom and teacher, I feel like there are 50 balls in the air that you are trying to juggle. In order to do it all well, you need to plan. Planning ahead your teaching plans, knowing where you are going in the unit and planning the night before keeps you anxiety free when drama occurs.

My partner and I have a shared Google calendar where we both enter our work events and who needs to pick up or drop off the kiddo on specific dates. This really helps when trying to organize your time.

Planning ahead what is for dinner every night or making your lunch for the week on the weekend seems like a small thing but it saves so much time and thought after a busy workday. I find as well, if you preplan meals, you eat healthier and feel better.

2. Ask for Help

Asking for help from colleagues really helps. Ask for coverage if you have a support teacher if you need to write report cards or IEP’s. Ask for unit plans or report card comments for other teachers you trust. Teachers love to help each other but if you don’t ask, you don’t get help.

Asking your spouse for help also is important. If you need time to stay late at work or some time to yourself, ASK. It will help you feel calmer.

3.Self Care

We cannot take care of others when you are exhausted. Do something small for yourself every day. Some ideas that I enjoy are a big cup of coffee with a good book, a bubble bath, a run, or listening to upbeat music. All of these things help me feel better.

4. DO NOT reinvent the wheel

All teachers want to do their best every day but sometimes it is better to save yourself time and buy the lesson/unit. There is no shame in it. Check out TeachersPayTeachers for millions of resources!

5. Choose your Priorities

Did you know that it takes 3 years for a new mom to feel completely back to herself? I had no idea that it took that long! Pre-kids, I was so active in the education field. I actively learned, read professional development books and then blogged about it all. But since having a child, my priorities have changed. I am slowly getting back to feeling like myself again and with that, I want to step back into the educational world again and begin blogging more often. I’m starting by really focusing on what my priorities are and being really intentional about what I am working on. So right now, my priorities are taking care of myself, family, school, and blogging when I have time and/or inspiration.

I would love to hear more about how you guys survived being a parent and balancing your teaching career. Please let me know in the comments below!

Critical Thinking in the Classroom

Something I really want to do better in my classroom is having respectful, thoughtful and passionate discussions about many varied topics. One way I want to do this is by having a Statement of the Week.

So each week you introduce a statement such as ‘Zoos are awesome’ or ‘Students should have to wear uniforms’ and based on the statement, your student have to go to one of the 4 corners. Each corner will be labeled with a piece of paper that says Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree. In their corners they will discuss with the other students in that corner why they feel that way about the topic. They will go back to their desks and circle their point of view and write why they feel that way.

Then for the week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday you read articles based on the statement with differing points of views. Each day your students will write down the name of the article and the key ideas in that article.

Friday, the students need to evaluate their initial viewpoint and then analyze their key learnings from each article. Then they need to choose a final viewpoint and defend why they are keeping the same point of view or why they changed it. Then they will have a discussion where they try to convince the other corners that their corners are right. Then they will have to fill in the sheet on their final verdict.

I have added a option of a pro and con list on the back so that if the students are stuck on their options, they can use that to decide which point of view is correct.

Click on either picture or here to get your own copy of the Statement of the week.

 

To find the best articles, use Newsela. Newsela is a site that has tons of articles on different subjects and can be sorted by age range and language. You can find an article about your statement and then choose Lexile levels to suit your students reading levels. This way you can differentiate easily but all your students will still be able to participate on the same statement.

 

21st Century Learning Skills

As I’m on Maternity Leave I’ve been reflecting about my teaching practice and how I can make it better. I really want to focus on and integrate in all my teaching is the 21st Century Learning Skills.

I’ve been reading about these essential skills but I wanted to figure out how we can, or already do use them in our classroom everyday. In order for me to really teach to these skills I wanted to really understand them.

I am going to introduce the topic of 21st Century Skills by having a discussion with my class about what they believe communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are. What do they already know about these skills and how do they already use them in their everyday lives? How can we use these skills in a better way?

Below, I have made the graphic brainstorming the ways I can teach these skills or how we use these skills already.

I would love your feedback about this graphic. What am I missing?

An Open Letter to my students

To my amazing Tech Titans,

Our time together this year has come to a close. I was hoping to spend the year as your teacher but Baby Bowker came. Becoming a grade 6 teacher has truly been my dream for so long and becoming your teacher has been even better that I could have ever imagined. 

You have taught me so much throughout this year and I need to thank you. 

Thank you for being brave to share your true feelings with me and showing me how truly vunerable you are.  

Thank you for speaking the truth even when you could have gotten into trouble for it. 

Thank you for being your goofy, fun loving selves that don’t care what others think. 

Thank you for being protective of our classroom and me as I got more and more pregnant. 

I know that this year will be a year that I always look back on fondly and note it as the year of change for me as a teacher. 

You have showed me that teaching is fun, interactive, and a partnership with students. 

You have also shown me that students can be trusted in controlling their learning, on the Internet and grading themselves. 

I will continue to take leaps into the unknown since you have proved to me that students can do anything. 

I am so proud that we go to spend these 7 months together and I will miss you.

Love Always, 

Mrs Bowker

Reflecting on my 1st year teaching Grade 6

This year has been a life changing year for me. It was my first year teaching Grade 6 for a whole year and I was beyond excited for the opportunity to do so. I knew I wanted to do things very differently. I know that March seems like a weird time to reflect on how the year went, but I am now on pregnancy leave until my Baby Boy comes in April.

Topics I wanted to focus on this year:

  • Student choice and voice
  • Student self assessment
  • Project based learning
  • Using technology to support and amplify learning

This year was an uncomfortable journey as I wrestled with the image of what school should look like to what I wanted my classroom to look like.

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I discussed my uncomfortability of these differing viewpoints here. It was a transition for me and my class. I went from thinking that a classroom should be quiet to a classroom should be a buzz of discussion and questions. It was a lot and some days I grew frustrated with the change and some days it was incredible.

Student Voice and Choice:

Students in my class had choice in most things we learned about this year. For example, they got to choose an important person to write a biography on and they decided which Canada History Event they wanted to learn about for social studies. Having choice in the classroom and their learning allowed them to remain very focused on their learning since they were extremely engaged.

Students also decided this year how our classroom was going to be set up and what jobs we needed to cover so our classroom would run smoothly. We had many classroom discussions about behaviour problems, problems we ran into, and classroom decision making. For example: I started to notice a trend of students getting off task and unfocused at around 10:20am each day. They would start talking about subjects not related to school and be quite loud and distracting about it. After a couple times of noticing this, I called a class meeting. I mentioned what I had started to see and asked them what the problem was. The class spoke up and told me that were finding it hard to focus for that long period of time and they would like a break. Some students wanted a break to chat with their friends about something that happened that night, or some needed to move or some just wanted a quiet minute to draw something. I started a break time. They had 20 minutes of a break to read, draw, chat or participate in a Go Noodle.

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I’ll be honest, to get into their routine it took me a while. I kept on forgetting and their behaviour would continue to be off task. I decided to put reminders in my FitBit so my wrist would vibrate when it was time for a break. Starting the breaks everyday made a huge difference in their behaviour and focus. It also gave them the chance to problem solve a solution.

I also asked my students what having voice and choice in their classroom meant to them. Check out this post for more details about that.

Student Self Assessment:

Students knowing how to self assess how they are doing was something I really wanted to focus on this year. I wanted them to know what mark they were going to get even before they handed in their work to me. This took a lot of planning and practice but creating rubrics and checklists as a class was the best way for students to know exactly what was expected of them. From the beginning of the year until now, I’ve seen a huge improvement of how my students self assess themselves. Before, I would get random A’s or D’s that didn’t fit into what I was seeing at all. Now when they self assess, it is usually exactly the same as what I marked them or within one grade difference. I truly believe that this will help them do better in higher grades going forward.

I remember the stress of bringing that report card home and knowing that you would be in trouble for whatever it said but always assuming the worst. I did not want my students to feel that way about school and marks so I decided to be as transparent as possible with report cards. I worked with my students to teach them about self assessing their own learning skills. This was a learning process for me, so please read the linked blog article to know more.

Grades in my classroom are not a taboo topic. We talk about them at length, students share stars and wishes and reflect on what they did well and what they need to do better next time. I stress to my students that school is a learning process so they should be asking for help and redoing work they made mistakes on, that is how we ALL learn. All grades are self assessed by students, discussed with me, or shared with students who reflect on their grade and learning and store their marks in their student led conference binder. Before report cards home, I print off my draft copies of the reports and share them with the students. I ask them to edit my work if I made any mistakes, to look at the grades and comments and see if they agree or disagree. If they disagree, they must circle the problem and come up with an explanation of why they deserve a better mark and then we can discuss it. For more about this process, check out this blog post. Most students feel that their report card is a fair representation, some challenged their grades and I have changed marks based on their arguments and for some it is a wake up call that their lack of responsibility in their learning has affected their mark and will be communicated to their parents.

Project Based Learning:

I wanted for my students to have real world experience of collaboration. Working as a group gets all students to share their expertise, strengths and to help each other with their weaknesses. Some of my students who struggle produced amazing projects with the help of their group. Of course, these students probably didn’t contribute as much as the other students but by working together I know that they understand the topic we are studying more deeply than they would if they were working on their own.

Also life isn’t separated into learning subjects by themselves, it is a mess of subjects integrated with each other.

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I wanted to give my students the chance to learn authentically using the internet and finding relevant information. I also wanted to mark them on many different subjects at once. For example, for the space unit we just completed (addressed in this post) I marked their knowledge of space and writing since they were also learning how to write a report. All the projects we worked on this year assessed more than the subject we were completing the work in. I felt it was more authentic that way.

Using Technology to support and amplify learning:

I’m going to be honest. I’m a terrible speller and I thank google for auto correct and siri everyday. I wanted to teach my students how to use these amazing tools we have at our fingertips properly and how to help them in their learning. I have used Siri in my classroom, in front of my students to show them how to spell different words. I use it on a daily basis and why shouldn’t they? I have also shown them that while using google docs, if you misspelled a word, it will underline it in red for you so you know that you need to correct it.

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I’ve also shown them Google Read and Write and how to get the program to read what you have written back to you. I use this when I am writing report cards to make sure it makes sense. So many students need to use this tool but don’t know about it. Getting them the tools they need to succeed is just a smart thing to do.

Before smart phones, teachers used to drill in times tables into our heads. even completing those mad minutes, I still don’t remember all my times tables.

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With smartphones being in our pockets, who of us haven’t reached into our pocket to help us calculate something while out shopping? Why not encourage our students to do the same. Understanding the concept of multiplication or division is so much more important than knowing all their times tables.

Continuing Next Year:

Some of the things we did in class worked so well and I am so proud of my students for how well they did them.

Students’ learning how to self assess themselves was one of the highlights of my year. I want to continue doing this but I want to make sure that they are deeply thinking about what they have done well and what they need to improve on.

Student Led Conferences was something I really focused on this year in class. We spent a lot of time saving our work and reflecting on what we could have done better for next time. Although I sent notes and emails home and had very open times where parents could come into our classroom whenever they were free, we had limited parents who came. I would love next year to have more parent involvement.

I let my students have a say in every part of our classroom and that was also problem solving. It was clearly needed that we needed to set up classroom jobs, but I waited until the students brought up the subject and what jobs they thought we needed for our classroom to run smoothly. Many of my supply teachers mentioned to me how much that they loved that the jobs just ran themselves. Some of the jobs we had were recyclers, date, calendar, Tweeter of the day, Technology organizer, and more.

My class met often to discuss problems we were having in class to try to create resolutions together. My students would even notice issues and call meetings so we could vote on certain topics. I would like to have classroom meetings more often so the shy students can get more comfortable sharing in these settings. I’m just wondering how often to have them and what to share and talk about.

Bring your own device (BYOD) was such a great aspect to our classroom. As discussed above I wanted my students to actually use the tools they had at their disposal so they could  see these devices as a learning tool rather than a music player and learn the responsibility that comes with it. I only really had to have 2 discussions with my students about how to use the devices appropriately and since we used them everyday, it really was not a big deal.

Connecting our classroom with the world through twitter was an awesome experience. We started just tweeting from my computer as a class and then I gave the tweeter of the day our iPad and they were allowed to take pictures and tweet what we were learning about. Next year I would lay out clearer guidelines for what they are supposed to be doing. I would get the tweeter of the day to introduce themselves in the morning on twitter, and get them to share their learning and questions they have, tweeting to people of interest that can help them and using hashtags correctly

What I need to do better next year:

Using twitter in the classroom was an amazing experience this year. As stated above I need to improve how we use it in the classroom. Next year I would project our twitter feed onto the screen every morning so students can look through our feed together and read blog articles or watch videos they are interested in. I think this would engage them more and they would want to tweet more often.

I want to meet with students more often and figure out a better way to take notes about how they are doing and what they are working on. This year I used a Google Form to document but I’m not sure if that is the best way. Sometimes I’m going to need to meet with certain students or students are going to need to meet with me. Next year, I’m going to have a ‘I NEED to meet with Mrs. B’ spot where students can sign up to meet with me and they will be the first priority that morning.

I felt that through blogging, emails, and notes home, I did communicate well with parents. Obviously some more than others. I would really like to set up a system about how to send more positive notes home about the students on a daily basis.

We blogged this year at http://techtitians.edublogs.org/. We didn’t get as much traffic and comments as I wish we had. Next year I want to think about what is the easiest way for parents and others to see what we are doing in class. Maybe a facebook group?

This has been my most exciting, thought provoking, inspiring year for me as a teacher. I’m so proud of my class and what we accomplished this year. I would be very grateful if you have any tips or feedback to share if you could comment below.

Including Student Voice in the Curriculum

This year I really wanted my students to have a say, a voice, in everything we did in class. I was stuck on how to get them to have a say on what we learn about when we have this huge curriculum to cover.

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In the beginning of the year, I let them brainstorm what they wanted to learn about a specific topic we were learning but I wrote the checklist and rubric about what they needed to cover. As I could see that they began to become adjusted to this, I wanted to give them more say.

I decided to print out the Grade 6 curriculum about Space, our next unit we needed to cover. In Google Classroom, I gave them a shared document where the whole class could write and I asked them 2 questions: ‘What do we need to know about?,’ and ‘What do I want to learn about.’

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In groups, the class read through the curriculum and decided what the big ideas they needed to learn were and what they wanted to learn about. Check out the document here. Through a discussion of those ideas and using other science texts as examples, we created a checklist and a rubric.

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Global Play Day

Global Play Day is a movement that is raising awareness about the importance of unstructured play for children. It is a whole school day where the students come to school to play-all day long!

The Rules:

  • No structure
  • No screens or toys with batteries
  • No interference from teacher unless necessary

When I first read about this day, I immediately thought that even though my Grade 6 students are amazing  and well behaved that they couldn’t handle it. My mind immediately went to chaos, fighting and mess.

The only instructions I gave my class was to bring in toys. No electronics and battery toys allowed.

Here are some pictures of how we spent our day.
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I asked my students at the end of the day what they thought about our day. Here is some non edited quotes from them.

 

I learned today that there are more ways to have fun than always playing at your gadgets.-H.B

That there is much more ways to let time pass by or learn by doing non electronic -A.A<3

I think that it’s good that we’re dedicating a day to playing with toys that don’t contain batteries or screens (Ipads, Iphones, Ipods, Androids, PS3 ect.). I think it’s better for kids that spend a lot of their day on electronics to see that board games and toys can also be fun. -L

I think that global fun day is really awesome and it’s important for students to have a break and do whatever they want in a good way . We had lots of fun playing with our friends , and our class always uses electronics and we had a break of electronics too . We had so much Fun – L.J

I really like the idea that we are having a global play day, because so much people in the world use way too much electronic and I am not going to lie I am one of those people,but I wanna stop using it it too much this day helped me. -H.M. 😀 <3  

I think that global school play day is important, because i learned that you CAN live and have fun without the internet or wifi! – H.A.

I think it’s great that we get to have a chance to be kids without using electronics and getting to embrace who we are -<L.A. +  +

I think that it’s a great way to get to know everybody and give people a break. L.M.

I think that it was great to not use any electronics all day and it was a great experience – A.D.

I think that it was fun and smart to have a fun day because we express ourselves and play with our friends and get the sillies out for the week -A.A- >.< 🙂 loved it.

today was awesome because we had fun – I.H.

we had a awesome day because we enjoyed so much-Y.

 

 

Welcome Colouring Book for Syrian Refugees

One of my amazing colleagues, Shauna Pollock, is going to meet with some Syrian Refugees in Toronto soon. She had the idea to team up with a class that could create a colouring book for young children to learn important things about Canada.

Since many of my students in my class are experienced with coming to Canada, I asked them if they wanted to create a colouring book. They were thrilled with the idea and immediately started coming up with ideas.

Some students drew the drawings and some students changed what we wanted to say in English to Arabic. Here is our result. To see the colouring book, click on the image.

Title Page of Coloring Book: Says “Welcome to Canada”

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 4.09.19 PMInside the Colouring book we have everything from freedom of religion, that Justin Trudeau is our Prime Minister, and how maple syrup is made!

Take a peek and please send all the credit to my amazing Tech Titans!

 

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