Saturday, June 30, 2012

Last Days of School

Our last official day of school was on Thursday.  We spent an organizational day at school yesterday, discussing calendar dates for the fall, classroom moves and clean ups, etc.  I still can't believe it's over, already.  Where did the year go?

I am so incredibly blessed to be an educator, fully immersed in a career that I love.  The last week of school was filled with fun, laughter, and creativity.  My kids, who will always be "my kids" in some way, spent Wednesday afternoon building and testing Rube Goldberg machines.  It was a spur of the moment thing, borne out from a science review that included Simple Machines (Wheels & Levers here in Alberta) and with a trip the Science Supply Room and a few other classrooms for supplies, we suddenly had an amazingly creative and educational activity.

We ended on a high note, with sundaes brought in a thoughtful parent, and gifts given on both sides.  It was a wonderful way to end an absolutely amazing first year of teaching.

I am completely exhausted but also exhilarated.  I know I need to take a break, but I just want to get to work on next year!

Happy Summer, everyone :)


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Innovation Day comes to Grade 4

I've been following Pernille Ripp on Twitter and reading her blog for about a year and half now.  Last year, as a newly graduated teacher, I took advantage of my early summer break to really learn about twitter and read a lot of teacher blogs for information.  I remember seeing Pernille's first blog post about Innovation Day and thinking what a great idea it was, and I mentally filed it away. This year, in the midst of my first year of teaching, I'd kept Innovation Day in the back of my mind but hadn't really planned anything out.  Along came Pernille's blog post about her second annual Innovation Day this Spring!  It was perfect timing for me to get it organized.

I should say here that I am incredibly lucky and so thankful to be at such a fantastic school with an amazing Head of School who supports my efforts to teach "outside the box" and try new things.  I am also lucky to have a fantastic group of supportive parents who are happy to help their children both in and outside of the classroom.

So, about two weeks ago, I got things ready.  I used Pernille's 4th Grade Innovation Day Planning Sheet from her first blog post, explained it to the class, and emailed the parents.  I showed my class some of the projects from Pernille's post.  A lot of kids asked, "Really?  We can learn ANYTHING?"  They were super excited and a little bit sad that Innovation Day wasn't the very next day.  I explained the rationale, shared the planning sheets and blog posts (both by Pernille and Josh Stumpenhorst) with the parents and everyone was on board!  Most kids knew what they wanted to research right away, but as two weeks went on, things started to gel and plans were put into place.

The kids counted down the days excitedly, and the supplies started rolling in.  Finally, the day was here!  When the kids started coming in on Friday morning, they were SO excited to start.  We had a quick class meeting to discuss any lingering questions, and they were off!  They positioned themselves in various areas around the room and started working immediately.

The first thing that struck me was the air of complete concentration around the room.  The students were busy, but were incredibly engaged.  Conversations were happening all around the room as they worked, shared, and discussed their projects.  There were a few times when the room went nearly silent as they worked.  It was amazing.  When snack time rolled around, I had to encourage quite a few of them to take a break because they just wanted to keep going!  The same thing happened at recess - one or two of my students asked the recess supervisors if they could come back in the school to keep working on their projects. The day flew by and the fantastic projects were shared with enthusiasm and interest to the class at the end. 

As I looked around the room during Innovation Day, I could see excitement, engagement, and creativity in each and every one of my students.  I will definitely be repeating this again next year!

Here's a list of what my students learned and created:
  •  A table sized recreation of The Battle of the Somme
  • A presentation and model of a manatee
  • A stop motion video of an aquatic food chain (fish, giant squid, sperm whale) with an accompanying informational Prezi)
  • A model of a butterfly and several of its food sources
  • A castle with working catapult and Jello moat
  • A presentation and stop motion video of a lemon shark eating a fish
  • An explanation of C4 and why the Mythbusters use it so often (with model)
  • An intricate experiment involving the types of taste buds and various taste tests
  • An experiment to determine the fizzing capacity of various soft drinks, and which one fizzed the most (Ginger Ale!)
  • An erupting volcano model 
Like Pernille, I learned that:
  • Staying out of the way is a good thing!
  • Aside from answering a few questions or helping with some technical issues like downloading pictures off of unfamiliar cameras or moving stop motion video from an iPad to a laptop, they didn't really need me.
  • They really did direct their own learning and figure out what they needed to know and what they should share with the class.
  • The planning part was essential - with the planning done both at school and at home, their projects were achievable in one day.
  • With trust and support comes amazing learning.

This was an absolutely amazing experience to have and I cannot wait to repeat it again next year!