Sunday, 12 April 2015

Welcome to my Teaching Portfolio

I hate re-inventing the wheel.

And I loathe wasting time.

Every since I had a children my "time-sensor-feelers" have been on high alert and anything taking time away from my them (be it work commitments, exercise, food preparation, older family care or even the odd pedicure) better darn well be worth it!  I have become incredibly intentional in the tasks I take on and this portfolio is no exception.

I constructed this digital portfolio for a number of reasons.

1) Most of my resources are digital so copying and pasting links and uploading digital docs and photos from my digital devices was fairly simple and not too time-consuming.

2) I wanted it to be fluid. Dynamic. Open to the possibility of change, modification, and comments from others.  Keeping digital documents current are far easier than editing hard copies. (For me anyway!)

3) Try as I might to copy a teaching portfolio from the internet that matched my level of experience and subject matter, I couldn't.
There weren't any.
I realize that this is a highly specific body of knowledge but if there wasn't one on there, well, I was going to be the first!
And hopefully offer some insight to someone else, possibly saving them a few hours of their day, with the hours I put in on this.

4) My superiors require that I hand in some sort of portfolio for a permanent contract, but hopefully it's not just them that benefits.  In fact, I dearly hope it is not just them viewing this since most of them are no longer in classrooms on a daily basis and most of this is really good stuff on what goes on in my classroom.  

5) Lastly, digital formatting allows me to show how my brain works.  That is, with hyperlinks.  Very few of these pages stand alone and for good reason I believe.  Deep, rich learning taps into multiple levels of understanding.  Therefore, meaningful teaching must be integrated, interconnected.  You may find that reading through this is a bit of a jaunt "down the rabbit's hole" but hopefully you find your way "home" and navigate with ease.  There are links to all kinds of sources and I hope that translates into a model of how I believe a classroom should work - using a variety of resources, tools, knowledge and skills to achieve meaningful learning.

Please view this portfolio as a journey and know there are things that I need to improve and have learned from both in the content of this blog and in the construction of blogs in general. 

Since I am also required to hand in a Faith Portfolio as well I will include a cross-reference to that site here.

Feel free to visit more Teacher/Mommy musings at

Enjoy the ride!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Special Guest - Getting Our Hands Dirty with a Soil Specialist

To end off our Rocks and Minerals unit in grade three science we had a soil specialist in to explain a little about different kinds of soil. There is nothing like community experts to solidify teaching and learning!

The students had made these fun flip books about different kinds of soil (loved this entire resource from Hope King called The Rock Buffet!)so they had a pretty good idea going in what she was going to talk about.
Example of student flip book and a few pages in in below

Thanks Catherine!  It was so fun getting dirty doing this hands-on learning!

PBL Experts - In Touch With India

Incorporating real life into our units is so very meaningful.

I was so pleased to have one of our local pastors, Julian Erb, in to talk about his recent travels to India.   He came with a Canadian perspective fully aware of the differences the students would likely notice between their Canadian quality of life and India's.  Little did he know he would hardly be presenting but facilitating a  barrage of questions!  He would mention a new topic and five hands would fly up eager to ask (or more likely contribute) to what he had to share.

After researching, writing, checking our sources, writing, creating, editing and questioning for what seemed like forever (check out my India PBL unit here! with photos of student work, scroll down until you find Unit's the second one listed) I wasn't sure they had really learned all that they should have.

This one hour visit confirmed it.  The connections the students were making were undeniable. The dialogue was rich and detailed and where one student left off another would pick it up.  It didn't matter if he flashed a photo of him in front of the Taj Mahal, on a train or at the leper colony, the students all related what they saw back to their research.  (Which by the way, none of the students researched landmarks, transportation or health issues) It was the first time in my life I understood how, with careful observation and anecdotal notes I could forego a pencil/paper test and be confident in giving my students a grade just by watching and listening!

I actually think our one hour class morphed into two so thank you Julian.  Your ability to relate and connect with my students was appreciated so much!

Another interesting connection we were able to make was by Skyping two ladies that have immigrated to Canada from India.  One moved over twenty years ago and the other more recently so their perspectives were very interesting and different.  In addition, they were from very different parts of the country but had found themselves in the same city working for the same company as one of my student's mothers.  They were so kind to donate their lunch hour talking with us.

Although the connection was not ideal - my whole class had to huddle around a laptop which is what we had to use for speakers and a microphone - each student had a chance to ask questions and as a group we eagerly listened to their replies. 

As you can imagine, the "real" India according to them, was very different than what our textbooks, other non-fiction resources and websites had told us.  While the stats told us that most of the country practiced predominantly Hinduism (and of course they are right), our guest was born and raised Catholic right in the middle of India, so her reality was very different than what we had learned.  Sure enough, she celebrated Christmas (albeit alongside Diwali) which after all, wasn't very different from us was it? 

Once again, the connections the students made in talking with these "experts" were deep and meaningful and they had a blast doing it.   A nice little touch was the excuse to write a thank you note to each of our "guests", which of course I could assess for language arts writing! 

Morning Meetings

I can't say enough about morning meetings!

A quick search on Google or Pinterest will give you all the technical info about what outcomes are likely being met by them and how they can foster a sense of relationship, trust and camaraderie in your classroom.  Stephanie, over at 3rd Grade Thoughts does a bang-up job explaining and exploring all the aspects of this wonderful together time and I borrowed heavily from her to implement my own.

I vowed to use the first day of school as a model for almost every other day of the year so we dutifully, albeit slowly, used this anchor chart as our guide.  It's not my most "pretty" chart, but it has survived since September 1, so it's a hard worker! If you can't quite make out the blue printing I'll go through most of these sections in detail or at least provide a picture to explain them!

The jist is this. We all meet on the mats in the corner. One student is designated "Morning Meeting Manager". This is a weekly job that is rotated through the class.  They facilitate. I sit on the mat or on a chair as part of the group.  We toss around a foam bouncy ball as "talking stick".  Whoever has the ball, does the talking.  

1. Greeting

Just one of our many greetings.  The spider web yarn greeting.

Some of our favorites include greeting each other in a British accent, learning the language of the Social Studies unit we are covering (ie. How to say hello in Spanish when we learned about Peru), and this Spider web greeting where we throw a ball of yard to the student we are greeting and as the greetings progress we create a massive spider web.  It's even more fun going backwards when it's time to wrap the ball of yarn up again!  We change the greeting up weekly so we have a lot of them.  I took quite a few from this fantastic FREE resource from Gina Peluso.

2. Class Creed

We created this over several days that first week of September.  There were sticky notes involved, much discussion and even some democratic voting, and we narrowed it down to these 19 tenants.  After taking turns printing out each statement, we all signed it as a class (colorful signatures blurred in the margin) and created gestures to go along with the points.  I laminated it and the Morning Meeting Manager leads the class in reciting it every day.  I often refer to it at various parts of the day when students need reminders.  For example, at lunchtime I often find myself pointing to this chart and reciting, "Johnny, remember, 'In this class, we do eat first, then talk'!"  Fortunately, most of these ideals have been easily attained by the students this year but the "We do inside voices" and "We do walking inside" are, for some reason, easily forgotten.  Since this was a classroom effort, I find that that even though I may sound like a nag reminding the students of these rules day in and day out, the fact that they signed this creed and participated in creating it, gives them some ownership and they conform to these standards quite readily on their own.

3. Birthdays/Schedule for the Day/Jobs for the Week

This is general housekeeping, but I find that it needs to be done daily for the students to remember.  At least at the Grade 3/4 level.  If there is a birthday that day, it is announced and celebrated by song.  The schedule for the day is updated to the appropriate day by the student designated as "Scheduler" for the week.  (By the way, reading a weekly timetable and applying it to one day for a split class who branches out in the afternoons into different classes, is a more difficult skill than you might imagine.  I definitely had to help out for a rotation or two, but by mid-year the students were able to decipher the timetable themselves and put up the appropriate day's schedule.)
Pocket chart schedule changes daily
The jobs for the week are posted on Monday and rotated on Fridays by me.  I also write in any special events coming up for the week.
Jobs in our class are as follows: line leader, caboose, morning meeting manager, techno-monitor, scheduler, zip manager, health inspector, reporter (x2), and one student is "on holidays".

4. Silly Questions/ Would you Rather...

The morning meeting manager chooses a question to pose to the class from a list that I've made available.  Download your own for free from Rachel Lynette at TpT .  Some fun seasonal ones can also be found, such as the Halloween one I took from Emily Richardson at TpT or the Valentine's version also from Rachel Lynette at Minds in Bloom.  I've even found some pages in Owl magazine

This is a great "get them talking" exercise and I always make them qualify their answer.  For example, "Would you rather ride to school in a limousine or a helicopter?" Needs to be answered with a "because".  ie. "I would rather ride to school in a limo because I'm afraid of flying."

I limit this to 3 students answering.

5.  How are you Feeling?

This is a great opportunity to build relationships and give the students a platform to voice all the exciting things they have to relate that they are bubbling over with and can't keep in another minute (especially useful when we come back from Christmas break or a long weekend and students have gifts to brag about, holidays to report on and family celebrations to share).  It's also a great way to integrate synonyms, similes and descriptive vocabulary.

I encourage the morning meeting manager to listen extra carefully to these statements as I like to have them incorporate any joys or sorrows into our class prayer before we start our day.

I limit this to 3 different students than the previous sharing exercise, unless we've just returned from an extended break and then everyone will get a chance to share if they want to.

6.  Class Quiet Moment

Not gonna lie here...some days these next 30 seconds are my favorite seconds of the day!  It's the one chunk of time that every student is absolutely quiet.  We return to desks for this portion so that each student has their own space.  The morning meeting manager leads it (ideally...for September I led it until we figured out the routine) and they simply tap our xylophone that I use for transitions to signal the beginning and end.  They watch the clock for 30 seconds (math integration people - learning about time!) and the rest of the students relax and rest their heads on their desks.  At the beginning I talked them through some head-clearing visuals, like "imagine the blue sky extending as far as you can see, imagine white clouds floating in and out" or "imagine a blank white piece of paper...pretend that your brain is completely blank, ready to learn and be written on..."  but mostly, now that it is entirely student-led, we just sit in silence. 

What I hadn't planned is how perfectly this transitions into our impromptu class prayer. It is a fantastic centering exercise and allows the morning meeting manager to compose a short but meaningful prayer in their head before having to say it aloud.

7. Class Prayer

Teaching in a Catholic school has allowed and encouraged me to do this portion of the Morning Meeting and I am so grateful for it.  I led this prayer time for the month of September and then the morning meeting manager was required to step up.  Although it could be organized as a chosen prayer that students read, I chose to challenge them to a spontaneous prayer that they can customize to the needs of the class or school at the moment.  They have all done such an amazing job at this part and it just seems to start the day off in a positive way giving our cares and concerns to God and recognizing that He is ultimately in control, not me the teacher, not the students, not even our principal. We answer to a good, just God and this little prayer time reminds us of that daily in its own little way.