Thursday, 17 August 2017

Should you use worksheets in your classroom?



I'm going to break ranks here. I'm going to stand my ground and say proudly that I love a good worksheet! Let me correct that, I love a GREAT worksheet.

Alright, before you crucify me, let me explain my logic.

I'm writing this blog post in response to numerous teacher conversations I've overheard that go along the lines of:

"death to worksheets!"

and

"ugh...then she pulled out a worksheet..."

and

"goodness she uses so many worksheets in her class, what's wrong with her!"

Now I'm not saying all worksheets are bad, nor am I saying all worksheets are good. However, let's take a moment to explore the good, the bad and the ugly of worksheets.

THE GOOD

A good worksheet is one that challenges students and the best worksheets are the ones that move students from lower to higher order thinking. Let me refer back to my tried and tested old friend Bloom's Taxonomy to demonstrate.



A well set out and informative worksheet is one that allows students to move towards understanding, applying and analysing (don't contact me, I'm Australian, this is how we spell it). The best kind of worksheets really push students to evaluate and give them the opportunity to create.

Good worksheets work for teachers as well. They provide teachers with inspiration and direction on how to teach a new subject and give experienced teachers a refreshing outlook on how to structure content to learners' needs. They also provide valuable feedback to teachers and parents as a moderation tool.

A great worksheet guides your students through your lesson and suggest ways of teaching the content in an age appropriate way. A set of great worksheets allows for differentiation, particularly with younger students, giving them options to cut and paste, draw or write a response to demonstrate what they know.

I've often scoured the internet for activities and sheets on particular topics and have stumbled upon a fantastic idea embedded within a worksheet! High quality worksheets are like gold dust and worth hanging on to for years. Visit any experienced teacher's office and you will find a handful of precious "I only have one copy!" worksheets they return to year after year because they are so effective in assisting students to break down a subject. 

THE BAD

Alright, we're here. Yes you're right. There are A LOT of bad worksheets floating around the internet (and in some older textsbooks in some cases!). 

The rules for bad worksheets are the reverse of good worksheets. 

Worksheets should be fairly self-explanatory. Obviously, young students will need guidance to complete a worksheet. However, a good worksheet acts like a graphic organise to extract thoughts, put them in order and create something new (Blooms higher order thinking). Bad worksheets make little or no sense to students when used independently. 



Worksheets should be used as a learning tool NOT a teaching tool. The moment a student is given a text book (often the same as a printed worksheet) or bunch of worksheets to complete independently, they will zone out and they have lost their purpose as a tool for building conceptual understanding. Some students will love independent quiet time with a worksheet, however, the goal should be to build on concepts already taught, not to teach them.


THE UGLY

Well I'm not one to judge but... 

My personal pet peeves for ugly worksheets are:
  • fancy borders: they often get chopped off in photocopying and take up too much room, they just aren't necessary
  • fancy lettering: those cute fonts often don't work for young students, keep them clean and clear for copying purposes
  • colour elements: anything colour is a bit of a no no for me as we don't have colour printers in our rooms
  • photographs: this comes back to only having a poor quality black and white printer available in my classroom and photographs don't print well
These are just my thoughts. I'd love to know what you think? Do you ever use worksheets? When do you use them and for what purposes? What do you consider an 'ugly' worksheet? Leave your comments below.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Year 1 Geography with QR Codes


I'm constantly reviewing my products and listening to your feedback. In particular, I've been exploring the use of ICTs with Geography (stay tuned for my blog post about using ICTs with HASS soon). I've been looking for ways to make my HASS packs more authentic and relevant for students so have started to refresh some of my older products. 

The first product I've updated is my Year 1 Geography Pack and here are some of the new additions I've added to the pack.

Firstly, the pack has now been split into three files which have been zipped together. 

File One - vocabulary cards, worksheets and activities.
File Two - colourful posters on the concepts covered.
File Three - photographic slides of real people and places.

In addition, the worksheets now have QR codes. Student can complete the worksheets and scan the QR code to get some clues as to the location being discussed. There are also QR codes on how places are used. 

Note: Most of the QR codes link to Google Drive. If you don't have access to Google Drive in your school then you will find the photographic slides file most useful for discussing these concepts with students as a whole class. I have set the QR code links so that your students do not need to log in to Google Drive, however, some schools do not allow access so please check before you begin any class activity.

Lastly, one significant addition to this pack is a very clear alignment with ACARA Year 1 Geography in the index. This way you can see which materials in the pack cover the relevant Knowledge and Understandings. 

If you have already purchased this pack, please go back and download the new and updated file for free here.

As always, if you have any feedback, requests or questions please email me





Sunday, 30 July 2017

3 Quick and Easy Ideas For National Science Week



National Science Week (12 - 20 August 2017) is the perfect opportunity to bring a whole school celebration into the early years classroom and undertake some fun hands-on activities. What makes Science so much fun to teach is you can actually see the cogs whirring and your students' eyes light up as they perform experiments on different materials.


To help you through Science Week I'm going to show you some of my favourite activities for early years science, point you in the direction of some great free and paid ideas and, as always, show you how to align these activities to the Australian curriculum (I don't know about you, but I don't have time to wander away from the curriculum too far during my teaching week). 


As always, make sure you review the Scientific Method with your students before beginning experiments (you can download a free set of posters on the Scientific Method by clicking here).

1. What is waterproof?

I love explaining the concept of 'waterproof' to young students. It's always fascinating to see what they think will or won't be waterproof. I usually start with a discussion about what materials are made from and work towards undertaking an experiment with paper hats. The challenge I set students is - can you make a hat out of paper that will keep your partner's head dry (i.e.will be waterproof?). This activity ends up being a LOT of fun with students making paper hats and spraying water on them or, if you can take the activity outside on a hot day, using a watering can over their heads to test them!



Instructions for making some great paper hats can be found here.

Connections to the Australian Curriculum: Foundation Year Science - Objects are made of materials that have observable properties.




2. Measure the weather.

For this activity you will build a weather vane and record your observations in a journal. This is a nice idea to build on a Monday and then record observations each day in a weather journal, leaving Friday to reflect on what you have learned.

Watch the step by step tutorial here or click below.


Connections to the Australian Curriculum: Foundation Year Science - Daily and seasonal changes in our environment affect everyday life.




3. What are the traditional ways of interpreting the changing of the seasons?

One elaboration within the Australian Foundation Year Science curriculum, seeks to get students to investigate and reflect on how Aboriginal peoples have traditionally identified the changing of the seasons. This also fits in nicely with the new HASS curriculum on exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders perspectives on community and place.

Exploring a story such as Tiddalick the Frog, is a fun and interactive way for students to understand weather and seasonal concepts such as drought and flood. I always enjoy creating some art pieces on Tiddalick to go with this activity as well.

There is a wonderful video of Tiddalick the Frog available here or click below.


Connections to the Australian Curriculum: Foundation Year Science - How Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of time and weather explain how things happen in the world around them.


video




Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Ten ways to survive, when your teaching team fails to work cooperatively



When a teaching team fails to work cooperatively, how do you survive the school year?

Teaching, as with any workplace, is filled with highs and lows, big personalities and uncooperative people that you must deal with on a daily basis. The following stories come from chats I've had with my fellow teaching friends. I felt this issue was rarely discussed among teachers and needed to be said.

When your team rocks!
When you work in a powerful team of teachers that are not only cooperative but are as excited about teaching as you are it can be an uplifting experience. Good teaching teams support and encourage each other. They share ideas openly and debrief, pick apart and dissect what worked and what didn't. It can be the most exciting time you can have as a teacher and one where you feel like you are growing and learning more than ever.

When your year level team sucks.
Have you been in a year level that is full of jaded teachers? Not only are they unwilling to share their ideas but they are reluctant to consider new ideas. In this team, new ideas are to be avoided at all costs. Information is not shared and fellow year level teachers rarely know what is going on - these golden nuggets of information are closely guarded by the Year Level Head who is often nowhere to be found. Everybody moans and hates their job. Everybody hates parents and the kids are frequently called 'dumb'. Moderation rarely happens and when it does you find out everybody approached the assessment differently and none of you have marked the same way. This is a poor functioning team but what can you do? Often you're not in a position to complain to the Principal and it is more than likely they already know what is going on (they see more than you realise). Does this scenario sound familiar?

What can YOU do?
Firstly, there is very little you can do within your team to change the dynamics. Sometimes it helps to find a co-worker you can share ideas with but sometimes the team environment is so toxic this only makes things worse. So you bunker down, close the door and stop trying to get involved. Regardless of how this impacts on your growth as a teacher, the main concern is how do you protect your mental health until your work situation changes?

Whilst pinning the other day (see my boards here), I stumbled upon this pin and as I read it I realised it could be used as a step by step guide to how to survive a toxic teaching environment. Let's take a look...


TEN WAYS TO SAVE YOUR SANITY IN A TOXIC TEACHING ENVIRONMENT

1. Don't give advice unless asked. This is brilliant advice but one I totally suck at so I'm still learning. I often fall into the trap of nodding and agreeing with a moaning co-worker then jumping in to give advice. Advice is seldom often asked for and when offered can appear preachy. Wait for your co-worker to ask for advice and then tell them you'll think it over and get back to them. This will stop your discussion appearing bitchy or gossipy in, what is already, a toxic work environment. 



2. Leave the room if you can't be quiet. Yep another one I'm really no good at but I'm learning to hold my tongue. When you come from a teaching team that is open to discussion and airing problems it can be confronting to move to a team where opinions are judged with high suspicion. One of my closest teaching pals is an expert at holding her tongue and I am trying to be more like her.


3. Focus on yourself and what you should be doing, not what they are doing wrong. They didn't teach the curriculum as agreed - let it go. They did a different assessment than the one discussed - let it go. Remember, you're in a toxic work environment and self-preservation is paramount. Concentrate on what you do and do it well. Leave karma (or admin) to catch up with lazy teachers. Which falls nicely to number four...



4. Let them experience their own choices. Chances are admin are fully aware of the lazy teacher, the poor Year Level Head or the bad group dynamics at your school. Principals see and hear everything, even if they don't tell you. Eventually admin will gather enough dirt on these teachers and either split the group by moving teachers to new year levels (or new schools!). Chances are you might move to a more productive team and get your teaching mojo on again. 



5. Stop focusing on their behaviour. When a team member appears reluctant to new ideas, won't share ideas or refuses to work as part of a team, remember the behaviour is often a consequence of other issues. Perhaps they used to share their work all the time before a fellow teacher took credit for their work? Perhaps they are having a terrible time at home and are feeling too low to be cooperative at work? Whatever their reasoning for their behaviour, recognise that there are factors beyond your control at play in their behaviour and don't take it personally. They probably have never seen a good teaching team in action before.


6. Remove the kids before it becomes unsafe. Okay this one didn't, at first, feel like it applied to team teaching but then I realised the way poor team teaching impacts on the students. Students, like all children caught between quarreling parents, see and hear EVERYTHING. They see the look you give another teacher (you know that eye-roll of 'they're at it again'). They hear the tone in your voice when you say "oh okay, nobody told me that was happening today!". It all impacts on their self-esteem like the child of a divorcing couple (Am I worthwhile?) and it all goes home to their parents (You'll never guess what teacher X said about teacher Y!). Whatever discussions develop, keep the students at the forefront of your mind and keep the fallout to a minimum for those in your class.


7. Don't nag them about their responsibilities. This one falls under the 'let it go' criteria again. They haven't run the assessment the same way - yep just let it go. See point 3, 4 and 5 above.


8. Only help when asked. Even in the bad team environment, where I keep my door closed to prevent the bad juju vibes entering my classroom, I will invariably hear a knock on the door at some point. Teachers, when desperate, will seek help and just use it as a chance to demonstrate to your fellow team member, the benefits of cooperative team teaching.


9. Compliment what they ARE doing well. This can feel like Mission Impossible but when the difficult team member actually does something well, don't hesitate to compliment them. They will be shocked at first, then suspicious (what is she really doing?) but they might, just might, repeat that good work again. You use positive reinforcement with your students, so why not try it on your teaching team? It might not improve their behaviour but it may just help you see some good in their work rather than just focusing on the bad.


10. Let yourself off the hook, it's not your problem! I really love this last one. At the end of the day, their behaviour, their teaching, their students are their problem. You can't control everything but you can control how you react to it so take a deep breath - gather your fabulous lesson plans and say "not my circus, not my monkeys" and focus on your own students.


If you enjoyed this blog post, please hit the follow button (top right), sign up to my newsletter or you can find me on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook.


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Celebrating teacher diversity


It's report card writing time. That dreaded time of the year when teachers summon enough strength to gather their thoughts and put them on paper in a meaningful and non-accusatory way. For Australian and New Zealand teachers, we are day-dreaming of our winter mid-term holidays and it doesn't help that we are bombarded with teacher memes about end of year and summer break (I'm talking to you American and Canadian teachers!). 

Okay, I've lived all over the world and have family in the US so totally understand the excitement and anticipation of summer holidays. In countries where the sun rarely makes an appearance, I clearly remember the longed-for long summer days. As a fellow teacher, I would never begrudge you your excitement about the end of year either.

However, spare a thought for your poor fellow teachers in the southern hemisphere who are mid-way through the school calendar, feeling exhausted and wondering if it's too early to start doing a countdown to the end of the school year in December. 

Which brings me to my blog post. How much do you know about your fellow teachers outside of the country you live/work in? I will confess my ignorance of some of the words or terms that are used in US English but I know that when I'm talking about bringing some thongs on a holiday excursion I have to make it clear they are the ones that go on my feet when I'm talking to an American! Bum-bags are commonly known as fanny-packs in the US (let's not go there...) and rooted means a solid foundation in the US, whereas in Australia it means.. er.. broken. As in "...your car is totally rooted mate!" - meaning not working (NB: this is the clean definition of the term in Aussie slang!).

Do your students frequently find British English or American English in their worksheets, websites or activities you've downloaded? If so, use it as a teaching point to explore the differences with this useful Spelling variations poster pack. I enlarge this and place it on the wall of my classroom as a reference poster and it's come in handy on many occasions for my students. 



Okay so what are the differences in term dates. Listed below is information I have gathered while researching this blog post. If YOUR school does something different, please comment below - I'd love to learn more about our differences.

STARTING AND ENDING MONTHS FOR THE SCHOOL CALENDAR YEAR 
AROUND THE WORLD

Australia & New Zealand
Late January/early February - December

Austria
October - June

Belgium
August - June

Brazil
February - November

Canada
September - June

China 
September - March

Denmark
August - June

Finland
September - May

Germany
September - July

United States of America
September - May/June

United Kingdom
June/July - June/July the following year

Other noticeable differences are the terms for school years (some states may differ slightly from one another slightly):

In Australia we have:
Kindy (not compulsory)
Preschool (not compulsory)
PRIMARY SCHOOL:
Foundation Year (sometimes known as Prep and newly compulsory in most states) Age 5
Year 1 -6 (through to age 12)
HIGH SCHOOL
Year 7- 12
UNIVERSITY to follow or COLLEGE for a trade

In the United States you have:
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Kindergarten through to fifth grade (aged 12)
MIDDLE SCHOOL/JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
Grades 6 - 9
SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL
Grades 10 - 12
COLLEGE to follow

For all our differences, what I do know is that teachers are born not raised. I know that teaching, no matter where you are in the world, makes a difference. I know that teachers around the world should celebrate our differences and embrace them. For as educators, don't we encourage our students to acknowledge and celebrate our differences? Our passion for teaching is what unites us. 


To my northern hemisphere teachers I raise a glass and say "congratulations on making it through another school year"! To my fellow southern hemisphere teachers I say, take a breath, push on and in the immortal words of Bon Jovi "we're halfway there!".







Thursday, 8 June 2017

Did somebody say "Free resources"?


Tired of all that report writing?

Looking for some fabulous free resources?

Grab a copy of the Best of Teachers Pay Teachers Marketplace Freebie Book today and you'll have quick and easy access to over 200 free teaching resources!


What I really love about this free download, apart for being featured in it, is the handy grouping  of resources by Freebies for infants. Primary and Elementary teachers to High school, Middle school and Special Education.

Take a sneak peak inside below. All the pages are linked so you just see the product you like and click the link. You will be taken directly to the freebie and can download it right away!

Don't forget to go back and give the seller a four star rating if you found that freebie useful.













Thursday, 25 May 2017

NAIDOC Week classroom ideas



NAIDOC Week is held in the first week of July and is a fantastic time to explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements. It's also the perfect opportunity to introduce young students to the key symbols and meanings in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. 

I'd like to take you through the NAIDOC Week Activity Pack by TechTeacherPto3 and explore its connection to the Australian Curriculum. 



Inside this pack there is something for all grades, with nearly 30 pages of activities for bringing NAIDOC Week into your classroom.

Finding meaning in acronyms such as NAIDOC Week.

Explore the meaning behind the acronym with this full colour classroom poster and fill in the NAIDOC Week Flip Book when undertaking research on who, what, when and why of this special celebration.




Examining symbolism in flags.

Explore the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, their symbols and their meaning with these activity sheets and then create your own classroom flags.




Recognising 'Welcome to Country' at ceremonies and events.

Often 'Welcome to Country' is said at important gatherings but do your students know what it means? Explore the vocabulary in 'Welcome to Country' and discuss how people might feel during NAIDOC Week with these easy to use activity sheets.


Recognising the significance of days and weeks that are celebrated in Australia such as NAIDOC Week.

Throughout the HASS curriculum there is an element of exploring and recognising community celebrations both within Australia and in other countries. In this pack you will find useful word wall vocabulary cards on key words, word search, posters and colouring pages so you can create a fantastic classroom display!





Want to explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture further?
Click the links below to see other products by TechTeacherPto3