6 ways teachers can fake it when they are having a bad day

slide10

Number 1

Teacher: “Now class, because you’ve been so well behaved (and I’m sick as a dog) you can have a whole hour of free time!”

Students: “Woah, she really appreciates us! Best teacher in the world!”

Number 2

Students: “Miss, you should join in with our game of cricket”.

Teacher: “I definitely would, it’s just that I hurt my back when I was playing tennis.” (more like, when I got out of bed…)

Number 3

Students: “Are you okay Miss? I think your top is on inside out.”

Teacher: “Haha I was waiting until someone realised. Tricked you!” (Oh dear)

Number 4

Bell rings…

5 minutes later the teacher arrives…

Students: “Where have you been, Miss? We’ve been waiting for you.”

Teacher: “Grr I’ve been in a meeting upstairs and it went overtime.” (I slept through my alarm!)

Number 5

Teacher: “I didn’t mark your assignments over the weekend because I’d rather mark them with each of you individually (I was moving house). This way I can give you better feedback.

Students: “How thoughtful, she wants to put the time in to really help us learn and improve.”

Number 6

Teacher: “Please don’t forget to bring your library bags tomorrow or forget to go to the doctor”.

Students: “The doctor! What do you mean?”

Teacher: “I said ‘drama’, you have a drama class on tomorrow, right? (gee, I really do need to go to the doctor!)”

Credit to Creative Clips for the graphic.

Gamification

blog-gamification

The first time I heard the term “gamification” used in an educational context my mind cast back to my Super Mario Bros days. I envisaged my own grade 4 primary school classroom kitted with beanbags, huge television screens (well, they were considered to be big back then), 8bit graphics, dim lights, Super Mario Bros game music (do, do, do, dodo, di…do), buttons clicking and chatter discussing how to save Princess Toadstool. I imagined my friends and I being so addicted to school (A.K.A. video gaming) that we’d be begging our teacher to let us stay in at play time or that when the bell would go to signal that the school day was over and we’d wonder where all the time had gone.

When I found out more about gamification in education, I was disappointed, if only for a second, as I realised that the notion is not actually about playing video games…

BUT before you click the back button please read on as gamification in an education setting can be just as great! The approach aims to replicate that addictive feeling you get when playing a video game. It suggests that by creating a game like environment students will be motivated to learn in the same way that they are motivated to play video games. They will be in a state where they are so focussed on achieving a task they forget that they’re learning.

The way in which gamification can influence educative practice is through drawing on or replicating the structure and/or elements in those video games. Elements include having an overall goal to reach or following a narrative structure, players (students) being reinforced and rewarded as they are learning and having a “fun”. Tasks are also broken down into smaller pieces in order to reach a particular outcome and have the appropriate amount of “challenge” for the participant so that they become engrossed in what they are doing. There may also be a social element.

I’ve experimented with making a gamified project called “Popcorn Maths Project”. I used some of the elements from my all-time favourite video game Super Mario Bros. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Super Mario Bros (I am sorry that you had a limited childhood) it is an adventure game where a character named Mario sets out to save a princess named Toadstool from a castle. He has to defeat many creatures, avoid lots of obstacles and gains different powers along the way.

In my “Popcorn Maths Project”, students prepare and make popcorn for their class to eat. There are several steps which they need to take. First, maths skills are used to work out classmates’ popcorn seasoning choices. This is then displayed on a popcorn menu. Secondly, students calculate relevant quantities of each ingredient and complete a recipe that they will use to make the popcorn. Next, students calculate the weight of each quantity before creating a shopping list for their teacher. Finally, students make the popcorn and compare the uncooked and cooked popcorns’ volume and mass. And at the end they get to eat the popcorn!

The following table highlights gaming elements in Super Mario Bros and how I integrated these into my Popcorn Maths Project:

Gamified Element Super Mario Bros Popcorn Maths Project
Narrative/goal To save Princess Toadstool. To make and eat popcorn as a class.
Fun Explore Mushroom Kingdom which is filled with interesting creatures and special things to collect. Create a menu, complete a recipe, write a shopping list and make and eat popcorn.
Tasks broken down Players move through four sublevels in each of the eight worlds to complete the game. Students move through four sections of the popcorn project before completing the project and eating the popcorn.
Reinforcement and rewards received throughout Players reach checkpoints, go through flags to complete levels and receive points and extra lives as they collect coins. Students answer maths questions in order to complete each fun part of the project before repeating the cycle.
Scaffolding Players learn about new tricks or powers in the game slowly and continue building on them as the game progresses. Series of questions scaffold students to find answers that they need to complete each part of the project.
Social connection There is a two player option.

 

Students work together to complete the popcorn menu, cook and eat the popcorn.
Challenges There are new obstacles introduced as the game progresses.

 

There are two versions of the project and some challenge questions that can be allocated to different levels of maths abilities.

So there you have it. My first resource that gamifies teaching and learning. I would love to receive any feedback on this!

Also, I would be interested to know what others think about this approach – do you think “gamification” is a valuable pedagogy?

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

Is a silent classroom a better classroom?

silent-classroom

Educators ask their students to complete tasks in silence for many reasons. Their reasons might include to allow for better concentration, to more easily monitor their students’ productivity, to save time and maybe even for some peace and quiet (I have been known to need some quiet time every now and then).

For an onlooker, a silent classroom can appear to be orderly and hard-working, however I believe (even though I’ve fallen into the trap many times) that silent classrooms can have an impact on the confidence of students and even limit educational outcomes.

I think that dialogue between students is extremely important in order for them to:

  1. a) Understand what is expected from a task.
  2. b) Feel comfortable enough to give a task a go.

The following scenario illustrates how a silent classroom can be detrimental to a student’s learning and confidence:

Miss Mack explains and models a particular task while her students sit on the floor in front of her.

At the end of her instruction Miss Mack asks: “Does everyone understand what to do? Please put your hand up if you are unsure.”

No one puts their hand up. Timmy is sitting up the back of the group of students.

Timmy: What was Miss Mack talking about? I don’t know what to do. Come on Timmy, don’t cry.

Miss Mack: “Please get out your English book and without speaking move straight to your tables.”

Timmy: “Pssst Sarah, What do w…”

Miss Mack: “Did you hear the instruction Timmy? I asked you to move silently.”

Timmy: “But I don’t…”

Miss Mack: “Silently please. You all had the opportunity to ask questions when we were on the floor.”

All of the students move to their tables and begin working silently. Timmy, however, sits at his table silently and stares at a blank page in his book.

Timmy: Maybe she meant that we need to practise writing the alphabet, or was it to write about the alphabet? Awww I don’t know. She’s coming and I haven’t done anything.

Timmy: “Ben, do we write…”

Miss Mack: “You’re too busy talking. Have you started Timmy?”

Timmy: “Waaaaaaaaaa!”

Okay so maybe the above scenario is a little exaggerated but my point is that if Timmy could have spoken to his classmates before commencing the task, or during the time allocated to complete the task, then he would have clarified what he was expected to do and felt more comfortable and confident about completing it.

When you think about it, are adults expected to complete tasks without discussing them with someone? I know that meetings commonly take place in workplaces and there a more than enough discussion boards that university students have access to.

I also know that I frequently ask my family and friends questions about even the most trivial of tasks before undertaking them. Questions like (… and please note that I do like to talk!):

  • Why is it called lipstick if you can still move your lips?
  • Should I buy the Finish Powerball Super Charged Quantum Max Lemon Sparkle Dishwasher tablets or the Finish Powerball Turbo Speed Millennium Fresh mint ones?
  • This says “do not microwave” but how else am I going to cook it?
  • Does green or purple better suit my baby’s complexion?

Anyway, I’m not suggesting that classrooms should become places where educators go mad because students are constantly talking about anything and everything. I am suggesting, though, that a little time is given to students to talk to their peers to discuss their interpretation of tasks and to clarify any issues they have as they arise. This is a normal practice that we all engage in on a daily basis after all. Some a little more so than others!

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

What educators REALLY want kids to know before they start school

blog-bag

Many friends and family members ask me what their kids should know, academically speaking, when starting school. They are under the illusion that their kids need to know the letters of the alphabet, how to count and how to write an essay (I may be exaggerating a little with this one). When I am asked this question I stress that kids don’t need to come to school with much knowledge. I believe that if a student is ready to start school, then they’ll learn.

And in fact, I think that there are actually a number of basic skills that are more important for kids to have a handle on before starting school – skills that are routinely expected by educators, but sometimes overlooked by parents.

Some of the skills educators would like to see children mastering before beginning school are:

  • Going to the toilet by themselves.

And no, I do not just mean sit on the toilet by themselves, I mean (apologies for the blunt detail) do the deed in the toilet, clean themselves, pull their pants up and wash their hands. This is because, educators have all the time in the world to teach concepts, social skills, values and the like, however they just don’t have the resources to individually take students to the toilet. In saying this, sure, accidents happen and that is totally fine. Educators expect them and have no issue cleaning up after one (well, I wouldn’t say that they enjoy it, but accept that it’s part of the job).

  • Packing and zipping up their school bags.

There’s nothing worse than belongings flying everywhere (in particular that spare pair of undies that’s been chucked in) all because it’s too tricky to zip up a bag. I’ve seen students become incredibly frustrated because they’re trying to shove a book into their bag sideways or zip up a bag that’s got a jumper arm caught in between the zipper’s edges. I know it may sound trivial but after a hard day’s work, this can be all too much for a little one. Also, it may sound rough, but helping students with this issue is low on an educator’s priority list at the end of the day. They are more focused on making sure that students have their jumpers on, that they all have any notes that’ve been handed out, and that no one is climbing up the walls or bashing their partner with their backpack (yes, this happens… all to often). Many tears can be saved if kids know how to pack and zip up their bags.

  • Opening a packet.

At recess time, when kids are hungry, educators don’t want a line of 22 students waiting to have their chip packet opened. They would be starving. If kids can open packets themselves then they get to spend more time playing and less time waiting.

  • Working and playing for periods without adult attention.

I know that we all want to give our children our undivided attention… “Oh, yes William, you are very clever. Keep chewing on that toy!”… Sorry, I was just talking to my son. Where was I… It is important for kids to be able to have a certain level of independence. Educators endeavour to give each student as much attention and assistance as possible, however cannot be there for every student in every moment.

  • Putting their belongings away.

“Hello, I’m just looking for (child’s name) hat. Have you seen it?” I’ve been asked this question so many times and cringe at the thought that it may have gone missing. Also, I get embarrassed when parents sort through random jumpers that are sprawled all over the classroom floor. Educators know that they are not responsible for lost items but feel as though they let parents down when something goes missing (Waaaa!) If students can be responsible and put their belongings away then they’ll save time (and worries).

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

8 ways to foster enjoyment in reading

reading

  1. Let students choose their own books (Does an adult ever give you a book and tell you that you have to read it? Personally, I can’t think of anything worse than being forced to read a Sci -Fi novel and I’m sure there are genres that make you screw up your face too).
  2. Get your students to spend less time doing activities about books (When I curl up on the couch and read a book I might make myself a cup of tea, but I certainly wouldn’t bring a pen and some paper with me in case I feel like ‘jumbling’ up the words in the book and reordering them).
  3. Encourage students to bring in their own books from home to read (If someone is keen to read something, LET THEM).
  4. Give students more time to actually read (Yes, it is important to teach students reading strategies BUT they need to practise using them too).
  5. Allow your students to ditch a book if they don’t like it (Reading should not feel like a jail sentence – “Read this or else!” Have you ever ditched a book or do you have any half read books tucked away on your bookshelf?)
  6. Let students browse the library (Put away your stopwatch. It can take time to find a book that you want to read).
  7. Talk about your favourite book as a kid and share the story. It’ll put a smile on your students’ faces and model your love of reading (I remember when my teacher read ‘The Witches’ to me… Ahhh yes… they were so ugly…that little boy was so brave…what was his name again? And how could I forget…the Grand High Witch…she gave me the heebie jeebies… Oh, sorry, I just got side tracked by my love of reading ‘The Witches’).
  8. Create a nice environment for reading (Think wine, chocolate… ‘cough’ I mean, bean bags, fresh water and minimal noise).

Credit to My Cute Graphics for the graphic.

10 Reasons to LOVE Teaching

love-teaching

I’ve come across a lot of posts that paint a depressing picture of what it’s like to be a teacher and makes it look like we never stop complaining about our profession (I’ve only been guilty of this once or twice… hehe!).

In an attempt to turn this around, I thought I’d focus on the many perks of teaching and spread some teaching love. Here it goes:

  1. Whenever you return to work, there is a count down to your next holiday. This means that you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. You are also forced to take a substantial amount of holidays each year. Before anyone gets cranky, I understand that you may not actually “holiday” for 12 weeks a year but even if you get 6 of those weeks to yourself, you’re doing pretty well.
  2. You get to release your inner child and go on excursions to places you secretly love. For example, you have the excuse to go to water parks, kids’ movies and those cool hands on kids’ museums. To top it off, you don’t even have to pay!
  3. No two days are the same in a classroom, so you never get bored. One day you might be dancing around to ‘Nutbush City Limits’ and the next you’re making sculptures out of play dough.
  4. You experience moments when you strike it big and feel like you’ve won the lottery. Yes, this is when you’re told that you are getting an extra session of time release or your yard duty has been cancelled!
  5. You get to sing like you’ve never sung before, tell jokes like a stand up comedian and draw like an artist. This is all while being appreciated by your little audience.
  6. You get to watch kids grow, learn, be proud of achievements and know that you’ve played a part in helping them reach their goals. Corny but true!
  7. Now I can’t forget the morning teas… There seems to be an excuse to celebrate “something” at least twice a week. Whether it’s a 37th birthday, someone’s becoming an aunty or it’s international morning tea day. And there are always left overs.
  8. Those curriculum days (AKA kid free days) that feel like a day off!
  9. The fact that your dress up, days never end as you get to ham it up for special days at school. Think Mrs Wishy Washy for Book Week and your stripy flannelette number for Pyjama Day.
  10. And last but not least, the mountains of end of year gifts you receive. Amongst the “Teacher of the Year” mugs there is bound to be a sneaky bottle of wine and your favourite box of chocolates… or three.

Have I missed anything? What’s your favourite perk of being a teacher?

Eat Organically, Teach Organically

apple

You would definitely have heard of organic food being a “thing” given it’s popularity these days, but have you heard of “organic teaching”? Apparently it’s a thing!

I know it sounds like it, but no, it does not mean that you encourage your students to eat organic produce or that you only use organic beeswax crayons when teaching lessons. It refers to teaching and learning naturally evolving.

The idea is that you capitalise on opportunities to to teach as students show interest in the world around them. For example, if a student finds a bird’s nest on his/her way to school, you base the student’s learning around the bird’s nest. The student may investigate the reason why birds have nests, which kind of bird owns the particular nest, the materials that were used to make the nest or another point of inquiry.

I have engaged in this sort of teaching and learning with my two and a half year old nephew and it worked really well. It happened as follows: One day we were walking along the road near his house and he excitedly pointed out a digger. His mother and I then decided to walk around the developing suburb where we saw the digger and took a closer look at the construction sites. We guided questions to deepen his understanding of what diggers do. He was very interested in what we were saying and started using language such as, “machine”, “dirt”, “building” and “lifting” which were words he had not previously used.

Although this approach worked extremely well one on one with my nephew, I have some concerns about implementing organic teaching and learning into classroom settings. To truly teach organically in the classroom you would need to cater for each student’s individual interests at any given time. This would mean that an educator of 21 students would be planning 21 different units of work at once!

Another challenge to teaching organically is the need to satisfy curriculum organisers who determine when certain concepts need to be taught. If students’ interests don’t easily integrate with what the curriculum requires then would you have to steer away from teaching organically?

I had been thinking about these issues for a while when I recently overheard some educators using the term ‘organic’ to describe their teaching practices. I took the opportunity to ask them how they manage the approach in their classrooms. One of the educators explained how she organised a particular organic task for her students. Basically, when it was Easter time, she had her students practice counting and adding actual Easter Eggs.

It was interesting that this educator used Easter as a point of interest for the whole class. I imagine that this was because many of her students celebrate Easter and showed excitement about the holiday.

It was fantastic to hear that this educator was making steps towards using organic teaching in her classroom, however, the task she chose could have allowed for more of an inquiry into the topic of Easter.

This conversation got me thinking. Could we implement organic teaching and learning in a way that is more manageable for educators?

Instead of following the interests of each student individually at any given time, you could focus on one or more students’ interests at a time. In revisiting the bird’s nest idea, maybe the student could share his/her story with the class and everyone could engage in bird nest investigations. This way it would be more manageable for the teacher. This would work as long as you ensured that a range of students’ interests were connected with over a given time period. Also to avoid thematic approaches to teaching and learning, specific concepts that are required by the curriculum (that don’t fit into organic topics) could be taught separately.

Maybe it is too optimistic to assume that you can make your classroom entirely organic. However, elements of organic practice could improve your teaching and learning.

Credit to Creative Clips for the graphic.