October 11, 2017

Ontario Grade 5/6 Science: Life Systems Culminating Projects

When planning any unit I love to use "backwards design", meaning that I go through the following process:
1.  Determine the big ideas I want students to understand by the end of the unit.
2.  Design a culminating task that allows students to demonstrate their understanding of those big ideas.
3.  Planning lessons that allow students to explore those big ideas, so that they will meet with success upon reaching the culminating task.

Step 1:  Determine the Big Ideas

When dealing with a split grade (which I almost always am!), those big ideas are even more important!  I don't want to be running two completely separate programs.  When I approached the Understanding Life Systems strand for my Grade 5/6 class, I considered the big ideas for both strands:
Grade 5:  Human Organ Systems
Grade 6:  Biodiversity

Basically, I wanted students to understand that parts of a life system work together to keep the whole system healthy, and that human actions can affect these systems, both positively and negatively.  

Step 2:  Create a Culminating Task

After determining that I wanted students to demonstrate their understanding of how life systems worked, I decided that they could show their learning by creating a complete system.  Grade 5s would create human body systems, and Grade 6s would create ecosystems.  With 25 students (9 Grade 5s and 16 Grade 6s), I assigned each student a system. (Due to the particular needs of my small Grade 5 group, I decided to assign only five types of human body stems, knowing that we would be visiting other systems in our health classes.)

Here are the systems I chose:  
Students would need to:

1.  Use a variety of materials to create a three-dimensional complete system.
2.  Identify the different parts of the system.  Grade 5s labeled each part and included a glossary, while Grade 6s identified features such as the different types of producers and consumers in their systems.
3.  Display their finished systems and explain them to the Grade 2/3 and Grade 4/5 classes in our school, and answer any questions that may arise.

Step 3:  Plan Enabling Lessons

Once I knew what I wanted my students to be able to demonstrate at the end of our unit, I set about planning a series of lessons that would help students meet with success.  We explored:

  • Parts of a System (we initially looked at items such as bicycles and pulley systems)
  • Classifications (looking at how parts of a system may be sorted by their function)
  • Food Chains
  • Trophic Pyramids
  • Interdependence
  • Human Actions - both positive and negative (We looked at the issue of microbeads, exploring how these beads could affect both human body systems and ecosytems.)
The science centres from Teaching is a Gift were crucial for my students in exploring the big ideas of this unit, and their `hands-on`nature meant my students were always engaged.

Step 4:  The Projects!!!

I allowed my students plenty of time to work on their final projects in class, but also let them work on them at home as well.  I made it clear that they would be assessed on their learning, not on the actual physical object itself.  As students knew their assignments from the very beginning of the unit, they had ample time to gather any materials they wanted to use, and they were very enthusiastic about putting together projects that would show what they had been exploring in class.  We invited students from other classes to come in to see the projects and to ask students "hard questions" (a task the younger students took very seriously).  I walked about the room during these periods, listening in to my students' explanations, and asking my own probing questions.  I waited for a peaceful period after school to examine both the projects and my anecdotal notes to arrive at a final assessment for this project, and shared my thoughts with students on a one-on-one basis over the next few days.  

Teaching in a split-grade classroom can be challenging, but I find that staying focused on the big ideas always helps keep me and my students on the right track with the curriculum!

September 19, 2017

Creating Reading Engagement in the Junior Classroom!

Scrolling through my Facebook page this September, I see many Junior Division educators looking for suggestions to get their students engaged in reading.  They face classes filled with children who seem unwilling to contemplate reading anything that doesn't appear on their phones and tablets, creating anxiety among those of us charged with teaching students to "read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, graphic, and informational texts, using a range of strategies to construct meaning" (Ontario Language Curriculum).  

Clearly, this is a daunting task, but two activities that I introduce early in the school year appear to help my students become invested in our classroom library AND able to see themselves on a journey as a reader.

The Student-Created Classroom Library

Over the years I've come to appreciate the importance of students taking on the responsibility of sorting, organizing, and labeling our classroom library.  In my early years as a Junior level teacher, the students would arrive on the first day of school to find a beautiful reading nook, with books already organized by genre, author, and series.  This was before the arrival of Pinterest, with its wealth of class library images to inspire me; I made my own colour-coded, laminated labels and neatly affixed them to the appropriate (also colour-coded) book bins.  It was pretty...but the kids took no ownership of this library, because they had no input into its creation.

So I decided to hand the creation of the class library over to them....and it was amazing.  It still is, every single year!  One day in September I tell my students that they will be sorting, organizing, and labeling all the books that are randomly on our shelves, and they immediately begin throwing out ideas as to how this should be done.  Generally, the process goes something like this:

1.  Students brainstorm book categories.  For example, they may start simply with "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction", and then move into sub-categories.  For example, fiction could be sorted by genre (mystery, historical, adventure....) while non-fiction could be organized by topic (sports, space, trivia...).  I record their ideas on chart paper, and the class finally votes on their final classification system.
2.  Students create labels for the many, many bins I gathered over the years.  Usually just index-card size labels are fine, but I do have some old pre-made labels floating around, and I let students use those if they wish.  Once a label is made, it is hole-punched twice (once in each corner) and attached to the bins with dollar-store zip-ties.
Labeled bins are placed on student desks.
3.  Students work in pairs, taking a handful of books from the shelves and deciding where each book should go.  (We have already discussed using the information at the back and inside front covers of books to help determine genres.)  Books are placed neatly in the appropriate bins.
4.  Bins are placed on the shelves, according to whatever criteria that year's class has decided upon.
This may not result in the prettiest classroom library I've ever seen, BUT all my students understand exactly where and why books are located in particular locations in the classroom.  They can easily find a particular book, and return it to its proper location.  Some years students also place numbers on the bins, and then use pencil to record the bin number on the inside of each book.

In this picture you will see that many books still remain on the shelves.  This was a "work in progress" over several days!!

My Life as a Reader

One thing that every student I have ever taught can tell you about me is that I LOVE books and reading.  My favourite part of each day is our read-aloud (you may see from the photo above that we were reading Holes early last year)!

I like to invite students to think about the reading experiences that have shaped their own lives, and ask them to create timelines of their lives as readers.  Of course, I model this first!

I use timelines for a variety of purposes throughout the school year, but this is one of my favourites!  I took time to "think aloud" about the reading experiences that resulted in change or growth over my life, and recorded these experiences sequentially on a line, noting:
  • my age
  • the book or experience
  • the significance of the experience
Then I ask students to do the same activity.  Most do it with pencil and paper, but many will use some type of technology to make things more organized and legible.  Sadly, I have lost the images of my students' work, so I have only included my own example.

I have found that this activity helps students to recognize that they have already experienced growth as a reader, and it also inspires them to discover new authors and genres in the year ahead.  

And...these timelines make a great display during Open Houses and Meet the Teacher nights!!


September 11, 2017

Ontario Teaching Resources - A Collaborative Effort!

During the years since I started my Teachers Pay Teachers Coach's Corner store, I have been fortunate to have made online friends with many other Canadian sellers, and also been able to meet many of them at TPT get-togethers and conferences.  I have learned much from these outstanding teachers, and some of us have begun collaborating in our TPT journey!

A Full Year of  Science and Social Studies

Sidney McKay of Teaching is a Gift and I have become particularly close friends over the past few years, encouraging each other as we face classroom, TPT, and personal challenges.  We recently collaborated on two "Super-Bundles" for Ontario Grade 5 and 6 teachers.  These bundles contain a full year's worth of my social studies and Sidney's science resources, at a fantastic discount from buying them separately.  You can check out the Grade 5 bundle in Sidney's store, and the Grade 6 bundle in my store.  We also hope to have a combined Grade 5/6 Super-Bundle available in our store at some point this term.

As Sidney and I have both worked as consultants for our school boards at some point in our careers (Sidney as Elementary Science Consultant for the TDSB and I as FDK - Grade 6 Program Consultant with the LKDSB), we bring a good understanding of the big ideas in science and social studies to our resources.  We have led workshops on our subjects, and worked one-one-one with teachers as they implemented the provincial curriculums.  Check out our Super-Bundles by clicking on the links below:

This Grade 5 Super Bundle includes the following:

Social Studies:

  • Canadian Government & Citizenship
  • First Nations & Europeans in New France and Early Canada
Science (Each unit also includes a Word Wall Resource)!:
  • Forces Acting on Structures and Mechanisms
  • Properties of and Changes in Matter
  • Human Organ Systems
  • Conservation of Energy

The Grade 6 Super Bundle includes these great units:

Social Studies:
  • Communities in Canada, Past & Present
  • Canada's Interactions in the Global Community
Science (again with Word Walls):
  • Biodiversity
  • Electricity
  • Space
  • Flight

Ontario Teaching Resources

If you're looking to find educational resources for your classroom that meet the Ontario curriculum expectations, check out this site with links for myself and 8 other top TPT sellers.  Most of our resources are aligned with provincial curriculums, and you can trust that we ensure that our products are both engaging for students and reliable for educators.  Click HERE to learn more about us!

You have a great bunch of teacher-authors here to support you as you make a difference in the lives of your students!

August 20, 2017

Back to School Giveaway!

It's that time of year again - time to sharpen those pencils and label...everything in sight!!  I've always found it easier to get my room put together when I have a friend to bounce ideas off of, and I bet you do too.

Sidney McKay from Teaching is a Gift and I are blogging and TPT buddies, and we've decided to join forces to help another pair of teaching besties get the year off to a great start with two $25 TPT gift cards!!

One winner will be drawn before the TPT Bonus Sale on Tuesday, August 22nd.  We will email the lucky winner one of the gift cards; once he or she has sent us the name of his/her teaching bestie's name and email address, we will send the second gift card.

Use the rafflecopter below to enter. It's as easy as that!

We hope you take a moment to check out the following great products!

From Coach's Corner:  Are you reading Wonder this year in anticipation of the movie coming out this fall?  Take a look at this unit, which integrates learning across various curriculum strands.
Then get ready to kick off your Canadian government unit with this freebie:  Canadian Government Chat Stations.  This gets your students up and moving as they discuss various posters related to issues of government and citizenship!

And from Teaching is a Gift:

Sidney has you covered with this bundle of practical, engaging back to school resources!

Teaching science this year?  Teaching is a Gift has both single grade & combined grade science unit for Grades 2-6. I've used these centres in my own classroom, and the students and I all loved them.  Easy planning and engaged kids!

We hope you are the lucky winner....so remember to enter the draw using the Rafflecopter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

August 10, 2017

Grade 4/5 Ontario Social Studies - Strand A: How Do Societies Survive and Grow?

It's that time of year again when split grade teachers face the challenge of organizing their social studies programs in a way that doesn't overwhelm either themselves or their students.  I've written about how Grade 5/6 social studies can be approached, and today I'm hoping to help Grade 4/5 teachers look at Strand A of the Ontario Social Studies with a positive outlook!  

A quick reminder:  the two units are:

  • Grade 4:  Early Societies, 3000 BCE - 1500 CE
  • Grade 5:  First Nations and Europeans in New France and Early Canada

Looking at the Big Ideas in Strand A

The Heritage and Identity strand of the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum asks students to explore a variety of communities, focusing upon:

a)  connections between the past and the present
b)  interactions within and between difference communities
Looking at the "big ideas" of the curriculum can help teachers keep their focus on the most important concepts that we want students to think about long after the actual unit is finished.  I've spent some time thinking about the big ideas for Strand A, and organized them in this chart:

Looking at the big ideas this way makes planning just a bit easier!  Basically, I want students to:
a)  understand that we learn from historical ideas and viewpoints that help us make better sense of things occurring in the world around them
b)  early societies were created through the conflict and cooperation between groups of people, and between people and their environments

These big ideas also invite students to contemplate and explore the overarching question in a Grade 4/5 class:  How Do Societies Survive and Grow?
I am not worried that my students will remember the exact date that Samuel de Champlain arrived in North American for the first time.  Instead, I want them to explore and think about WHY Champlain wanted to create a settlement there HOW he and other Europeans treated the First Nations groups already living there, and WHAT conflicts and instances of cooperation occurred as early Canada developed.  While that particular group is more the focus for Grade 5s, the Grade 4s can also explore the same concepts with the Early Aztecs in Mexico, or with the feudal society in Medieval England.

Looking carefully at the "Big Ideas" and "Concepts of Social Studies Thinking" at the front of the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum always helps me clarify what my students should really be thinking about, and saves me from panicking at dealing with two sets of expectations at the same time.

I recently created Part 1 of a two-part TPT unit for this Grade 4/5 strand, and decided to use a "flipbook" to help my students organized their ideas and learning.  It will also be a great way for students to share their work with their parents during teacher-led conference!

Check this resource out here!  

How do YOU approach dealing with social studies in your split grade classroom?  I'd love to hear from you!


September 18, 2016

The World's Easiest Classroom Management Tool!!

After two weeks in my Grade 5/6 classroom, it feels like everything is coming together, and I'm starting to feel confident and even more excited about the year ahead.  These two weeks have brought many changes to my class list, as I am sure is true of many of you, and tomorrow I will welcome yet another new student to our room, bringing our total to 24 (10 Grade 5s, and 14 Grade 6s).  Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the thought of another student to familiarize with our room, I'm feeling calm.  I've got this!

My Behavior Management Toolbox

As I have for many years, I have used an old "small parts" toolbox to house my most powerful classroom management tool:  my token system.  This system takes about 5 minutes to set up each year, is a snap to use, and is easily understood (and loved by my students).  What's not to love?  I have used it at a variety of grade levels from Grade 1 to Grade 5/6, and it works for all students, but particularly for my most challenging pupils.

How It Works

  • Each August I assign every student on my class list with a number, usually by alphabetical order (first names), and display a large copy of the list somewhere easily found in our classroom.  
  • Each drawer in my "toolbox" is labeled clearly from 1-29 in clear Sharpie marker.  The last drawer is labeled "A" (for "all").   
  • Inside each drawer are about 20 "tokens".  I've been using old Poker chips that my mom was about to donate to the Salvation Army.  I rescued them, using a Sharpie to clearly print numbers on them, and then to organize them in my toolbox.  In Drawer 1, there are 20 poker chips with "1" on them, Drawer 2 has 20 chips with "2" on them, and so on.  The "A" drawer contains 20 chips with "A" on them.  Once you've done this, you've got your behaviour toolbox ready for the rest of your careeer!!!
  • Each student now has a drawer in the toolbox with his/her number on it, and the tokens inside the drawers are just sitting there waiting to be taken out when a student earns them.
  • Beside the toolbox I have a small "Tokens" container (you can see the small green bin witting to the right of the toolbox in the photo above.
  • Every time I catch a student getting right to work, following directions, kindly helping a classmate, etc., I take a "token" out of his/her drawer and drop it into the Token container.  This usually results in almost every student becoming intensely interested in their work, as they've heard the token being dropped into the container.  I rarely have to verbally remind students to get to work, as the token does that for me!!
  • If the entire class is on task, I put an "A" token in the container.
  • On Friday afternoons, my "Leader of the Day" closes his/her eyes, reaches into the Token container, and one by one pulls out 5 tokens.  The students to whom those tokens belong have now earned a reward of their own choosing, such as "Switch seats with another student" or "Have your name put on the school marquee". 
  • If an "A" token is drawn, that entitles the entire class to a group reward, such as extra outdoor time or a "toy & tech day".  Students LOVE it when an "A" token is drawn; I've even made one of the options for a personal reward to be "Put 5 A tokens in the container for next week's draw".
  • After the draw is complete, the Leader of the Day returns all tokens to their proper drawers, ready to be put into action the following week.  DONE!!
I have the various rewards on business card-sized cardstock, and keep them in a small business card holder.  Students choose a card from the holder, write their name on the back, and I also sign it.  A student can hold on to these cards (or have me hold on to them) until he/she is ready to redeem it.
Close up of Behavior Toolbox

I love this system as it is so easy to set up each year; all I have to do is create a new class list so that each student has his/her own number, and I'm good to go!  This past summer I had one of my old students helping me get ready for the school year (she was getting volunteer hours for this to count towards the 40 hour requirement for high school), and she spray-painted the toolbox to match the bins I was using, so that involved one extra (but easy) step.

 A friend suggested that I upload my plan to my TPT  store, including the actual cards that I've created to put in the "Rewards" holder, so I've taken on that challenge, and the whole set is now available for you, should you be interested.  I'd love to hear from others who have their own easy-to-implement classroom management systems!
My toolbox & token bin can be seen on the top shelf at the very left of this set of shelves.
Check out the full product, with tons of behavior reward cards, here:  Behavior Management Toolbox

July 30, 2016

Bell Work Freebie...and a Chance for a $10 TPT Gift Card!

August is quickly approaching, and with it the slow realization that I actually need to start thinking about September! I'll be teaching a Grade 5/6 split for the first time in my career, and it dawned on me that I had no suitable bell work for this particular grade.   It was time to get to work!

September Grade 5/6 Bell Work
For many years I've had my students do "bell work", in the form of answering one prompt each morning while I take care of attendance, reading notes from parents, etc.  Most of the tasks are directly curriculum related, while others are on the creative side.  I mix things up daily:  one day they might be working on a probability task, the next day on analogies, and the third day responding to a persuasive writing prompt.  I've found that this approach prevents boredom, both for me and my students!  It was time to gather my resources and get some bell work ready for my new students. 

I had already created bell work for Grades 2, 3/4, 5, and 6, so I decided to take out the Grade 5 and 6 bell work and see which prompts I felt would work well for both grades, both in terms of curriculum expectations AND interest level.  I always make September's work fairly easy, so that everyone is able to handle the tasks independently, and then increase the challenges as the year goes by.  I took the same approach as I put together a year's work of Grade 5/6 bell work.

Each month's bell work fits on one double-sided sheet of paper; I usually print on coloured paper just to make it stand out more inside a student's desk, should it come loose from his/her notebook.  I copy ALL 10 months the month before school starts, and file them by month.  I keep the original sheets in page protectors within the file folders as well.

When students enter the classroom on the very first morning of the school year, I have them find their desk and put their backpacks, lunches, etc under it.  I have already put a lined bell work notebook on their desks, along with the September bell work sheet, two sharpened pencils and an eraser.  I ask them to write the date at the top of the first blank page of their notebooks, and put a "1" to the left of the margin at the left hand side of the page.  (Sometimes I'm even organized enough to have this displayed on the Smartboard as well!)  I then have them read the first prompt and answer in their notebooks.  I want them to know from the very first minute of the year that work will be the priority in our class.  Only once I've taken up the work will I start dealing with the nuts and bolts of how we will run our classroom!  From then on students know that this is how every day will start, and I don't need to remind them what to do (well, maybe sometimes:)!  

A Freebie & A Draw!!

If you'd like to try this bell work in your own classroom, click the image to the left and download this freebie from my store!  I'd love to hear how it works for you.

Free to a Good Home:  A $10 TPT Gift Card!

While you're on the TPT website, you may find other great things you'd love for your classroom. Respond below, telling me your favourite wishlisted item from Coach's Corner, and you'll be entered in the draw for a $10 TPT gift card. I'll announce the winner the morning of Tuesday, August 2nd.  Good luck! ****UPDATE**** Marianne, you are the lucky winner (I've responded to you below)!  Please contact me at:  coachsteachingcorner@gmail.com so I can send along your gift card!