Thursday, January 25, 2018

Start of the year: Getting to Know you activities




 Every class has a few students who want to belong to the class community and fit in, but find connecting with others to be a challenge and need a bit of help. They may be shy, or just unsure of how to communicate with others, especially after the long holiday break where some have not had a lot of interaction with others outside the family. They may be gifted or different in some way and uncertain of how they will be accepted by their classmates and the new teacher. Everyone needs a sense of belonging in order to be effective in their working environment and the teacher has a big part to play in the world of the student. The classroom is a community but I believe that it is important to provide reasons for wanting to be part of that community rather than telling students what not to do. The activities outlined here are a collection of ideas for teachers to use at the beginning of the year to help everyone in the class to get to know each other. Seeing how the students react to various situations can provide useful insights for later.

SWITCH AND SHARE.
The start of the year brings anticipation and a degree of nervousness for many students moving classes, while others who have already formed strong friendship bonds are eager to share their holiday stories. Switch and Share is a game that can help to meet the needs of both and can be played either indoors or outdoors. Since it is 2018 there are 18 caller statements but you can easily add your own or change them to suit your students.
How to play:
Define the playing area. All you need is a line down the middle.
Students stand on either side of the line, facing the caller. (teacher)
Caller starts the game. Each time you switch sides then your job is to talk to the person closest to you. 
Switch to the other side if…
·        You have a pet. If you switched sides then tell the person nearest to you what pet you have and its name.
·        You went to the beach in the holidays. If you switched then share three things that you did there.
·        You went to a barbecue in the holidays. Tell the person next to you what your favourite barbecue food is.
·        You are the oldest kid in your family. Share your sister’s /brother’s names with a partner.
·        You like to sing. Sing a song to the person next to you.
·        You have ever been in hospital. Tell why.
·        You have ever been to a zoo. Share the name of your favourite animal.
·        You did jobs at home this morning before school. Share what you did.
·        You like fruit more than vegetables. Share the name of your favourite fruit. If you didn’t switch then tell the person next to you why not.
·        Your first name starts with a letter that comes after M in the alphabet. Share.
·        Your first name has more than four letters in it. Share the number.
·        You play a musical instrument. Share what it is and how long you have been playing it.
·        You love to read. What is your favourite book? Share.
·        You have an Xbox or PlayStation. Share the name of your favourite game.
·        You like to dance. Share a dance step with your neighbour.
·        You like math time. Share why.
·        You like to play sport. Talk about your favourite sport.
·        You didn’t walk to school this morning. Share how you got here.

NAME SEARCH
This activity requires a little preparation from the teacher with the help of www.puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com
Go to the website and type in a list of all the student’s first names into the word search creator to create a classroom specific name search.
Challenge your year 3 /4 students to find their own name and to share that with others in the class to complete the search. The aim is to make sure that everyone completes the puzzle and gets a chance to talk to others rather than to be the first finished. Instead of names you could use holiday activities and ask students to find an activity that they participated in during the holidays. A google search will generate a list of verbs to choose from. The task then is to find others who did the same activity to share with. If the word has not been chosen by anyone else then the student shares with the teacher.

CLASSROOM ALPHABET
A walk around the school with cameras or iPads to take photos can help you and your young students to become familiar with the surroundings and you can use the photos to create a wonderful personalised alphabet for the classroom.
This activity is an ideal opportunity to identify students who are creative thinkers. Provide opportunities for students to talk to each other about phonetic sounds and to make decisions about which pictures to use. You might be surprised at what you can learn from the side line if you listen in.

Older able students might like the challenge of creating an alphabet with a difference following the ideas from one of these fun alphabet books…
Tomorrow’s Alphabet by
George Shannon. Illustrated by Donald Crews.
ISBN :978-0-688-13504-1
This book is for those who know the alphabet well enough to want to play with it a bit. You have to think ahead!
A is for seed. Tomorrow’s apple.
B is for eggs. Tomorrow’s birds.
C is for milk. Tomorrow’s cheese etc.


Alphabet Squabble by
Isaac Drought and Jenny Cooper.
ISBN : 978-1-77543-124-4
Everyone in Alphabet Land knows that As, Es, Cs and Ps are popular letters, but what about the Xs,Ys and Zs?  Do they matter? Read about the rowdy alphabet squabble to gain recognition.



FIND 10
Another activity involving the teacher in some preparation is to take 10 close up photos of things in the room then challenge the students to work with each other to identify them. Photos are numbered. Best done as a small group activity, it ensures that all the students know where things are kept and can put them back after use without teacher having to nag. An alternative to close up photos is to use the photocopy machine to enlarge just a small area of a photo and to use that as the search picture.


TOY MINGLE FOR JUNIORS
(Thanks to Shelly Terrell for this idea). Each student is given a toy. Pair the students up. Give them one minute to play with each other before ringing the timer. Each student then finds another peer to pay with for a minute.


 FLIP IT.
This game is over and done with very quickly but is popular and a great interactive before settling down to work or getting ready for a break. Students who find it a challenge to sit still after a learning session will love this activity.
How to play:
1.   Start with everyone standing. At the signal 3.2.1 FREEZE. Everyone chooses either hands on heads or hands on bottoms to represent the heads or tails of a coin toss.

2.   Caller tosses the coin. 
3.   All those who are doing the action that mimics the coin call remain standing. The rest sit down .No changing of position after the call of FREEZE is allowed. Infringers have to sit down.
4.   Repeat until there is a winner who becomes the next caller or some other appropriate action designated by the teacher.


And finally, an activity for Valentine’s day…

 VALENTINE’S DAY.
February 14 is a special day for me and my family. It is the day that my daughter was born. Feel free to visit my Thinking Challenges website and download the Valentine’s Day riddle and leave feedback or become a follower. Not into riddles? There are other Valentine’s Day activities available to suit different class levels.








Monday, January 22, 2018

Interesting article.


Talent hits a target that no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.
Arthur Schopenhauer.

What Makes a Genius? The World's Greatest Minds Have One Thing in Common -
http://time.com/5027069/what-makes-a-genius/



Monday, October 23, 2017

Lessons from Matilda Wormwood, the teacher.

My musings here were published by Good Teacher magazine.

The world belongs to those who read

Roald Dahl knew that keeping the questioning spirit alive is an important key to success in life, and his book characters reflect the magic that is all around us in the world if we take the time to look. Matilda shows us that it is never too late to learn about the world though the magic of stories.
Matilda notices that although there are people all around her and they are talking, she doesn’t hear their words when she is engrossed in a book.

It is quiet and I am warm. Like I’ve sailed into the eye of a storm
From Matilda, the musical

 Did you know that there are more than 300 public libraries in New Zealand? And that more than 100,000 people visit a public library every day?  Did you use your local library card during the school holidays? Are you aware which of the students in your class have library cards?  Have you encouraged those who haven’t yet, to join up? 

‘A library card is the start of a lifelong adventure.’
Lilian Jackson Braun

  

The need for access to knowledge is as essential for us today as it was for Roald Dahl’s Matilda, but access is not evenly distributed in society and our school libraries are in danger of being seen as a poor relation when it comes to funding when forced to compete with technology. Matilda reminds us that the physical space a library occupies is needed as learning transitions from analogue to digital, from institutions of collectors and keepers of the knowledge to institutions that share and preserve society through digital archiving.  We have a duty to support our local library spaces to ensure that the gap between the haves and the have- nots in our society does not become progressively wider and more divisive.

The Wormwood family is exclusively hooked on television. Matilda teaches us that reading can give us ways to understand and to be understood by those we are in contact with, thus expanding our knowledge of the world we live in. It all adds up. If you read for just 15 minutes every day then in a year you will have read more than a million words. To precis the words of Roald Dahl… All the words you have rhttps://www.goodreads.com/list/show/94837.Matilda_Wormwood_Reading_Listead will give you a view of the world that non-readers don’t have.
And there is the added advantage of no commercials to have to suffer first!
Matilda’s booklist can be found at
Check them out. They are great classics to share with a class.

1.     Questions are really important.
‘Did you know,’ said Matilda suddenly, ’that the heart of a mouse beats at the rate of six hundred and fifty times a second?’
‘I did not,’ said Miss Honey, smiling. ‘How absolutely fascinating. Where did you read that?’
‘In a book from the library,’ Matilda said. ‘And it means that it goes so fast you can’t even hear the separate beats. It must sound like a buzz.’
‘It must,’ Miss Honey said.
From the book ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl.
Children are constantly attempting to make sense of their place in the world and the world around them and good books are invaluable. 

‘The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’
Roald Dahl. 


One way that teachers can build on the issues raised in books is to ask questions that are open to enquiry and lead to further questioning and are not easily answered. Questions about meaning, truth, value, knowledge and reality. Thinking about and making distinctions between concepts helps students develop verbal reasoning. Good questions are ones that are difficult to answer.
Here’s a couple to be going on with…
Of all the things that you are learning, what do you think will be the most useful to you when you are an adult?  Why do you think that?
What’s the difference between pretending and lying?
Is there a difference between wanting and needing?
                                    
For a list of questions for juniors with a free printable
For older students there is a great online portal
The more opportunities that students have to discuss why things are as they are and to think about possible choices and consequences, the better prepared they are when they meet with difficulties and challenges.

To stimulate a philosophical discussion from a book that you are reading to the class…
Read part of the story then ask is there anything strange or interesting or puzzling to you?
(Have one or two big questions of your own ready to contribute just in case it takes a while to get going)
Collect the questions that the students ask and use them as a focus for in depth discussion.
Sophisticated picture books are great to use as a basis for this. Three to get you started…
The Red Tree by Sean Tan  ISBN 9780734411372
How to live forever by Colin Thompson   ISBN 9780099461814
Little Mouse’s big book of Fears by Emily Gravett   ISBN9780330503976



1.     Be confident and have faith in yourself. 

I always said to myself that if a little pocket calculator could do that, then why shoudn't I?
Matilda, Roald Dahl.

Don’t be afraid to highlight your strengths. None of the main characters in Dahl’s books fit in with the crowd, and have to take matters into their own hands in order to find happiness. Matilda reminds us that we need to be able to take responsibility for our own outcomes and we can use our brain power to triumph over stupidity. Mistakes are valuable as long as you learn from them. We all respect inspirational teachers. What are your strengths? If you are not sure what you are good at then ask the students! They will know!

1.     Age is irrelevant.

‘Just because you find that life’s not fair, it doesn’t mean that you have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it, nothing will change.
Even if you’re little you can do a lot.
You mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you.
Matilda, the musical.
Lyrics by Tim Minchkin

Have you read ‘The Ripple Effect’ by Tony Ryan? It is a powerful proponent of the idea that anyone can make a difference with their everyday actions. We all have the power within ourselves to create change or to inspire others to make a difference, but ideas only work if they are translated into action. Tony Ryan’s book is full of ideas just waiting for the reader to start a ripple.
Or as Matilda would put it… Even if you are little, you can do a lot.  
Believe in your personal power and be the change that you would like to see in the world around you. Who knows where they might end?



And a final thought from me about Matilda, motivated by an article by Dr Susan Rennie, chief editor of the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary who discusses Roald Dahl’s use of creative language. The names that Dahl uses hint at the nature of his characters. Matilda’s school, Crunchem Hall suggests what is in store for the students faced with Miss Trunchbull, who would like to ‘crunch them.’ I feel sure that he must have been aware that the name Matilda is of German origin and means ‘mighty in battle.’
How appropriate!
The full article can be found at






Saturday, October 7, 2017

My new Christmas resource

A Christmas mystery activity for teachers in my TPT store
No preparation. Just download, print and go!

Who stole Rudolph’s nose?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Books : The Mirrors and Windows of Diversity

Many of today’s picture books contain powerful messages that apply to today’s world and can be used to stimulate critical thinking, reflection and discussion. Books can make you feel valued by providing a mirror, or introduce you to alternatives by offering windows on diverse views.  My contention is that sophisticated picture books can provide us with curriculum etcetera for our gifted students.
E… Empathy
T… Tolerance
C… Connection

E Empathy and sensitivity in gifted go hand in hand with emotional intensity, and stories about characters dealing with anxiety and compassion help the student with exceptional ability in reading and working with text information to make sense of the world. With higher ability comes greater awareness and understanding of the bigger picture behind the text. It is not always easy to find stories that provide young gifted readers with lots of opportunity for further research, but   I can heartily recommend Emily Gravett’s book ‘Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears ‘ because it not only gives the reader a chance to reflect on his/her own fears but provides wonderful ‘big words’ to find out more about and relates to experiences that a child is likely to encounter.


  
Do you know what these phobias are? Read Little Mouse's book and find out!
Rupophobia. Entomophobia. Teratophobia. Clinophobia. Aichmophobia. Isolophobia
And no, I didnt know all of them either! :-)

T Tolerance  

Tolerance can be defined as an interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices and viewpoints that are different from our own and books can definitely help to increase awareness and serve as motivation for change. . In a world where it has become increasingly harder to find agreement on decisions about the future, it is necessary to generate as many alternatives as possible and to look at how these decisions will affect others. The ability to switch over and look at things in a different way is termed ‘insight.’ De Bono defines it as a shift of emphasis from proving the logical ‘rightness’ of your own point of view, and therefore the logical ‘wrongness’ of the other person’s, based on the questionable assumption that you are both looking at the same thing. Looking at things from other points of view may even cause us to refine our own ideas.

 


C. Connected yet disconnected
In her research into the friendships of profoundly gifted children, Miraca Gross notes that gifted children look for friends to develop close and trusting friendships at ages where their age mates are looking for play partners. Their advanced intellect may result in difficulties where there is little or no access to like-minded peers. Some react by having imaginary playmates, while others may need help to practice social skills. Books can offer insights to help young students to support the message that everyone is unique in their own way and no matter how different you are there are others in the world like you. It helps for parents and teachers of gifted children to have an understanding of age related issues to do with friendship because students who are operating at a level in advance of their chronological age will have progressed beyond their age mates but may not have the maturity to recognise what it is that is setting them apart and making it difficult to create connections. Adults need to be prepared to offer a sympathetic ear but not try to solve these problems in order to build resilience and a tolerance for frustration.
Before the age of 4 a child is egocentric.
Between 4 and 7 they become more co-operative in play and prepared to a greater or lesser degree to share belongings.
 

The book ‘Feelings’ by Aliki is useful for helping young children understand about the feelings they may have associated with interacting with others. It has lots of little vignettes in cartoon form.
Between the ages of 6 and 8 children begin to realise that being a friend is having similar interests and they share likes and dislikes.
Older primary age students (8-10) focus on helping each other to foster friendship.
Between the ages of 11 and 15, most students understand that there needs to be an element of give and take in any friendship and they start to build affection and support for each other.
At ages 16+ friends look for commitments to each other based on trust and acceptance.
The way in which many gifted students cope with these differences is to gravitate towards older students who are like minded peers, and to build on similar interests. One way to foster this at school level is to allow opportunities for students to get together on a voluntary basis to discuss philosophical questions. Tiffany Poirier’s book ‘Q is for Question’ provides a whole alphabet of idea starters and ideas for follow up.


There you have it.
Gifted readers have a unique ability to perceive relationships and solve problems.
As a pre-schooler I had a family of pegs and would tell stories about their difficulties with life in a peg box. I was thrilled when I found the story of the Borrowers when I got to school.

Gifted readers demonstrate keen observational skills and a unique child’s view of the world.
Conversation with a two year old…
Do trees look the same under the ground as they do on top of the ground? The tree in my book has roots that look like branches.

They are able to grasp abstract ideas quickly but their conclusions might be more in keeping with their experience of the world.
Conversation with a two year old…
Do babies have blood inside them?
Yes
Well, how come you can’t see their veins? You can see my veins. And you can see your veins. Do they get more blue when you get old? Yes. That must be it, because babies are new. And I’m not new because I’m not a baby any more. And you can see your veins easily because you are old!

You suspect a gifted reader when a student in your class complains that he has read everything in the school library, and he may be right! Our gifted students have a lot to be thankful for with the increase and ease of technological access.



Friday, May 26, 2017

Seasoned with love.

A Handful of Lessons from the Kitchen for teachers of gifted students.


 Lesson #1. : Familiarise yourself with your ingredients.
The way that education is delivered has undergone huge change over the last twenty years and will continue to do so as access to technology is refined and improved. Success hinges on mastering the ability to do things differently, and herein lies a challenge because educator awareness of the possibilities can be a green light or a road block. As an experienced professional I am well aware that there are a great number of issues that teachers face on a daily basis and we can be overcome by the sheer volume of ingredients that we are faced with but the way in which they are put together has an effect on what happens next. Doing things differently in this case refers to expanding the status quo. There is an increased ability to use learning data to discover problems but what of the gifted artist for whom maths is a challenge in the classroom, the child with music as the centre of its being who is not in the least bit interested in history, the scientist with the curiosity and ability to change our medical views in the future?  Will our emphasis on data make a difference for them? Informal and regular assessment gives starting points for gifted students, but needs to be subject specific.   Physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth is often uneven (Asynchronous development is an interesting read.)   http://www.rrcs.org/Downloads/Asynchronous3.pdf Will they leave school with the feeling that they are unsuccessful as a result or with the determination to succeed and prove us wrong? My contention is that it depends on the teacher’s understanding that strengths and potential problems are flip sides of the same coin. Students with the need for constant mental stimulation and who are capable of processing complex information rapidly or have to explore a subject in great depth are a challenge when that passion is directed into an area of talent that is not recognised or valued 
For our students to be successful we need to understand the ingredients that are in their makeup and what is needed to enable new learning to occur, to question the appropriateness of the instruction, and to make links to the real world.  Can you familiarise yourself  with the unique talents and academic needs of students such as I have described above, or will you be distracted by false stereotypes relating to the term ‘gifted?’  Do you know your ingredients?


Lesson #2 : Strive for a well-stocked pantry..

What strategies do you have available in your teaching arsenal? Bloom’s taxonomy is useful because
developmentally advanced students need exposure to
breadth and depth of knowledge and this can be developed through offering learning experiences at the upper end of the taxonomy. Gifted children see the world differently to the way that other children see the world. Not necessarily better. Just different. Their unique viewpoints sometimes result in different ways of doing things or in taking a road less travelled website. Are you now saying… yes I hear you, but where do I start?  Examine your own pantry. Is it time to discard some elements?  

Seeing possibilities that others don’t see can be helpful, because change occurs when those who can see how things might be are in a position to do something about it. The challenge for teachers is to provide the support for this to happen. Expanding your knowledge of the strategies available is a good place to start. If you need specific help or advice then you can ask for it by joining the mailing list on the TKI gifted site. http://gifted.tki.org.nz/



Lesson #3: Learn from the experts 

Recipes are useful starting places. Stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before you.  Student portfolios and learning journey journals can provide authentic assessment. What makes the difference is how you cope with them. Teachers  need to know where to go for answers, and I firmly believe that today’s students  need access to  both young and experienced teaching staff and professional development providers with specific expertise  in our schools to bridge the gap because they bring different skill sets.
http://gifted.tki.org.nz  is the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s website offering a range of assistance from school guidelines to access to providers and papers for teachers to take to improve their qualifications in this field. www.hoagiesgifted.com is an international   portal with collections of research based information. Stephanie Tolan’s ‘Is it a cheetah?’ is still as confronting to stereotypes of gifted as it was more than twenty years ago when it was written.  The article can be found at www.stephanietolan.com/is_it_a_cheetah.htm. Details for
Certificate of Effective Practice  in Gifted Education can be found on at http://gifted.tki.org.nz site
and  www.giftedreach.org.nz
Lifelong learning is a goal to ascribe to and we can all learn from each other.  There is truth in the saying that a teacher will never know the extent of his or her influence on the future, but you DO have an influence whether it be positive OR negative.  Gifted students are at the cutting edge of change. They may well be the change agents themselves.. Which side of the coin is your focus?  

Why not start with the premise that most parents do understand that teachers are not able to create a customised curriculum for an individual child and move on to developing flexibility and a willingness to explore options that can be adapted to the classroom by both parties and the student him/herself? Collaboration works. Work together to meet the child’s learning needs. Don’t be afraid to think beyond the recipe and let the student make it his/her own. Experiment with ways to help students to develop their abilities and look for experts to provide scaffolding where necessary.



Lesson #4 : Learn from each other

As teachers we all make mistakes.  What defines us is how well we rise after falling. We may use similar tools but in different ways and we can all learn from the things that research has since debunked about the learning needs of gifted students. Here are just a few to be going on with…
 Research has found that it is counter-productive to ask gifted students to tutor students who are struggling because gifted think and learn differently and it results in a frustrating experience for both parties. This is also true of grouping students together. There is a lot of truth in the saying that birds of a feather flock together. Like minds challenge like minds.  I can’t remember who said it but I remember reading that some student’s awareness of TV is limited to the basic TV1, TV2, and TV3 channels. Others have access to expanded channels like Sky, while gifted are connected to satellite dishes. The problem is that you don’t know what you are not aware of. Lots of teachers fall into the middle group and are not aware that they are placing ceilings on their expectations because they don’t see the world as their gifted students do.

Asking students to do more of the same doesn’t provide challenge if the work was not challenging enough to begin with. Depth is not the same as breadth. Encourage students to look for patterns and trends and to support big ideas.  Delve into the ethical issues surrounding a topic. Look for other perspectives. Challenge students to find ways to deal with ambiguity by introducing unexpected limits such as reduced time, using a particular electronic application, or changing the audience.


Lesson #5:  Strive for texture and balance within the constraints of equipment and time pressure.

In order to be an effective teacher you have to strive for a balance between the sweet, the sour, the salty and the crunchy.  What is happening at the coalface and student and community aspirations make it tempting to blame the system that we work with when this goes awry for gifted kids. Teachers say that they can’t change the system. They say they haven’t got enough hours in the day to deal with individual needs. Systems are in place for good reasons but that shouldn’t stop individuals from trying to make changes when it is not working for the students that they teach. If we can teach sighted teachers to teach the blind, and hearing teachers to teach the deaf, then surely we can at least try to make some difference for gifted students with the potential to do things differently and enhance our own horizons? Medical doctors use test data, but they don’t base their diagnoses solely on results of those tests. They analyse test results in conjunction with other information obtained, such as presenting symptoms, medical history, family history, and patient interview. Meeting the needs of a gifted student is not an onerous task if informal assessments are undertaken on a regular basis. Consider discussing ways to increase the challenge of a task with the student that would still meet the learning objectives. Clearly outline the ground rules. Gifted students are generally excited 
by the opportunity that this negotiation affords and it is easier for the teacher to monitor progress.   Research clearly shows that it is far more effective to focus on stages of development than it is to deliver curriculum based on age. 


For older gifted students in particular to be successful we may need to recognise that we do not have the answers and to look at ways to move beyond the regular classroom. Distance learning and internet options greatly increase the ability to find ways to provide challenge but be aware that outcomes will vary because there is no such thing as one size fits all in education. It is 
accepted that some meals will be better than others but that shouldn’t stop us from seeing mistakes as a challenge to learn from.

You CAN make a difference.
You can give in.
You can give up.
Or you can give it all you’ve got.
It is my hope that you will choose to give it all you’ve got and season your gifted students with love. Thank you on their behalf. You could have more influence on the future than you can possibly imagine.