4 Easy ideas for bringing Christmas into the classroom

It’s getting to the most wonderful stressful time of the year.
Yes, Christmas and all the excitement that goes with it in the classroom can be a special, yet stressful, time. However, one of the things I try to do with Christmas in the classroom is weave fun activities in with learning that is aligned to the curriculum. Listed below are some of my favourite products and how I use them in my Early Years classroom.

There are so many packs available to download for Christmas Around the World but most of them have no real cultural or historical knowledge listed in them.
This pack will take your students to 10 different countries and provides an information sheet on how each country celebrates Christmas. Also included in this pack is a very useful passport which can be used as a writing prompt by getting students to shade the country visited on the map, write the tradition and place a passport stamp in their booklet to say they have visited that country. This pack is versatile for K-6 because you can use the colouring sheets and full colour information slides with lower grades or extend students with the information sheets with higher grades. The Venn diagram also provides a useful comparison tool which can be used individually or as a whole class activity.

All of these products are also available individually (see links inside this listing) and are aligned to the Australian curriculum.
“Share our similarities, celebrate our differences” M. Scott Peck

If you’re studying Then and Now with your students this little pack is a MUST at Christmas time. In this pack you will find 6 pieces of text about the history of Christmas traditions in the past as compared to now. Each sheet also comes with two comprehension questions for students and are easy to complete independently in reading groups.

You will also find two differentiated activities with the cut and paste then and now images discussed in the reading comprehension sheets. These can be used with the Venn diagram or in the flip book which can be used to extend higher level students as a writing prompt.

A fun whole-class activity is Christmas cookie making. If you’re lucky enough to have access to an oven somewhere in your school you can make these with real ingredients or alternatively discuss and work through the method so students can make them at home.
The beauty of cooking activities is they involve so much real-world, hands-on, curriculum based learning experiences; English vocabulary (ingredient names and method terminology) and Maths (sequencing the method, measuring the ingredients) just to name a few.
The sequencing pictures are in colour and in black and white so they can be used to cut and paste/colour and on the whiteboard to model how to sequence for younger students. The flip book makes a handy writing prompt to lead students through the method process and make a nice take-home activity for students.

I’ve always found the part, part whole maths problem solving strategy the quickest for students in the early years to work through. Part, part whole is a simple way of exploring missing addends in word problems. Read through the maths word problem and highlight the key words, then complete the part, part, whole table and colour in the sheet. Putting a Christmas spin on maths problem solving is always a sure-fire winner for high student engagement!

Growth Mindset: what my students taught me. #ResourcesThatGive

"I'm hopeless at Maths!"

How many times have you heard that expression?

Growth mindset is the new buzz word amongst educators and was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

According to Dweck, everybody has a self-perception - that is an idea of how they view themselves; good at sport/bad at sport, good at maths/bad at maths, good employee/bad employee. Some people are aware of their mindsets but often young students do not have a positive self-perception or they have a "fixed" perception.

In a fixed mindset, people perceive their failures or inabilities as character flaws or as a lack of intelligence.What we try to teach students is that they must develop the growth mindset to break this habit and try new things. Work hard and you can achieve anything - is the message we need to teach children.

In my own classroom, my front row is (as are many front rows in any classroom) filled with the lowest achievers. The students that struggle to engage, can't focus on instruction and often miss the basic concepts taught at the start of each lesson. I noticed these students had the lowest self-esteem of all my students and the most rigid mindset. I frequently heard "I can't do it!" or "I dunno what to do!" from their row. I also noticed that these students were frequently the kids who struggled to make friends or accept rejection when friendships went wrong.

I wanted to work on their mindset without drawing more attention to them, so I designed these Growth Mindset posters and strategically placed them in areas at eye level with their desk (front of the room under the board, near windows etc..) anywhere I felt they often went for a long hard 'gaze' while feeling it was too hard for them.

I didn't tell them what they were for, nor did I give any explicit instruction (although next year I will set 10 minutes aside each week to discuss the message in one of these posters). The posters are bright and colourful enough to be eye catching, yet generic enough to apply to any child in the class.

Did I notice an immediate improvement in their growth mindset? No. Not at first. However, what surprised me was what happened to the rest of the class. Those students who had, what I believed, a developing growth mindset, began to take the messages on board. This positive attitude to work and friendship problems (success or failure) began to filter down to those students in the front row. They didn't suddenly become high achievers, but it did plant the seed that 'perhaps I can achieve if I try?'.

One student in particular, struggled all year with his writing until the last assessment piece, He suddenly knuckled down and achieved a B! In his journal he was asked to write something he was proud of and he wrote 'Being told I got a B for English'. Did you notice he wrote 'being told' rather than 'getting a'. Positive affirmation is what this boy was looking for not necessarily high achievement. He was starting to develop his growth mindset.

Another student refused to write frequently. Myself and specialists had worked all year to get him to get his thoughts onto paper but with no real success. Tests were undertaken but there was no learning impediment, just a 'fear of failure'. English was over and reluctantly I gave him an E. After assessments I began working on a new 'fun' ICT project and suddenly I found him typing away on the computer, creating his PowerPoint with all the research he had undertaken. After the project was finished I spent some time discussing how well he was doing and I used it as a teaching point for growth mindset. I felt I had, perhaps, broken through a chink in his 'fear of failure' and started to work on his growth mindset.

Do you have a growth mindset story from the classroom? If so, share in the comments below.


Social equity in the primary classroom

In my current classroom I have the following ICT arrangements:
  • 3 desk top computers (one of which has been broken all year)
  • no iPads
  • 1 Interactive SmartBoard (which only works as a project because it won't calibrate) 
  • A school laptop (teacher's version - about 3 years old)
  • 1 teachers' iPad
  • and 12 student laptops which I share with the class next door.
I have 30 students, most of whom have English as a Second Language (EAL/D) to varying degrees and my school is state run, situated in a lower-middle socio-economic area. Next year all of my students will have their own iPads that their parents have bought them (that is MOST will have an iPad - those whose parents can afford one will, those that cannot will share a school iPad).

My situation is by no means unique. In fact, I consider myself lucky to teach in such a good school with access to some of these resources. However, I'm reminded of a short thesis I wrote and presented for my Masters course work in 2011 on digital equity.

What is digital equity?

Digital equity is the social inclusion through universal access to ICTS within the classroom (Voogt & Knezek, 2008). 

Let's speak in real terms here though not academic/policy speak. 

Having access to ICTs in the classroom is a distinct advantage in the primary classroom.

Studies have shown that students in lower socio-economic urban schools have limited interaction with ICTs (that is less than once a week) compared to their counterparts in middle to higher socio-economic urban schools (for rural and remote communities ICT usage is variable but more often than not limited). 

This digital divide creates social injustice, which, according to Vrasidas, Zembylas & Glass (2009) creates impediments that prevent equal participation by all students in everyday life.

So what can you do?

So you think you're just a classroom teacher without any direct ability to close the gap? Think again. 

Let's take the scenario of limited access to ICTs  in the classroom. The research suggests you can do the following:

  • Design Inquiry style projects such as using ICTs to research (Google), manipulate (PowerPoint/3D Toad) and present information (vlog/blog) to cater for a diversity of learning styles.
  • Provide clear rules about how to use equipment and reference information/sources.
  • Move students from lower to higher order thinking activities with ICTs through typing/cutting and pasting to manipulating and creating new ways to present data.
  • Ensure students feel a sense of ownership about how ICTs are used in the classroom.
As I integrate iPads into my classroom next year I will post many more 'How to's...' with more specific instructions. However, to explore each of the strategies listed above in more detail click the link below to watch the video presentation on how to close the gab with the digital divide in your classroom.

"Digital pedagogy has the ability to improve educational outcomes for all students and break the poverty cycle by creating active and engaged citizens"

The following products provide a great starting point for students wanting to use PowerPoint to create interactive multi-modal presentations...

Perfect for early years - play this PowerPoint in the classroom to engage your students with their Smartboard and the concepts of addition.

This PowerPoint uses animation, sound and images to explore The Rain Came Down by David Shannon.

How to cope with end of school year stress!

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It's that time of the year again and teachers worldwide are starting to stress and I'm reduced to using my well worn saying 'Don't make me raise my voice again!' message to the students in my class.

  • Christmas is coming (this means Christmas classroom crafts, candy, present giving and all the craziness that goes with the festive season).
  • Report cards are due (you've been slaving away to get those assessments marked and editing and proofing comments till your eyes are sore).
  • There are a million school performances to rehearse for/let alone attend (and if you're a parent/teacher that usually means at home as well!)

and if that wasn't enough...for those teachers in the Southern Hemisphere...it's the end of the school year as well!

How will you cope with all that stress?

Here are my suggestions for coping with the silly season no matter where you teach in the world.

Rule One: Do school work AT school.

This one comes with the tag line 'as much as is humanly possible' because let's be realistic, if you bring school work home it's most likely just going to sit there nagging you from your school bag until you carry it back into school again. 

Rather than taking school work for a little vacation to your home and back again put in the extra effort to get that school work done at school.

  • Arrive 1 hour earlier to get that marking done.
  • Stay 1 hour later to finish that one difficult report card comment.
  • Work through lunch (yes, horrible I know but necessary if you want to get things done) and plan the next days maths lesson.
I have teacher friends who mark sneakily through staff meetings (I see you over there when you think nobody is looking!) - it doesn't matter how you do it but the key message is DO IT AT WORK. That way if you still need to bring marking home, at least you will feel you have accomplished some of your tasks. This brings me nicely along to rule two...

Rule Two: DON'T make lists.

Alright so this is a touchy subject - you're either a list maker or you're not. Personally, I could go either way; I make shopping lists but I don't make work lists. To me, there is a huge difference between a wish list and a to-do list; one is a 'maybe' the other is a 'must do'. If you make lists and stick to them 100% then skip to rule three (don't look so smug about it either!), however, most teachers make lists of tasks to be done in the classroom and often shove a few 'wishes' in there as well and frankly they never get done. I constantly read on Facebook groups 'I have so many things to do on my list!' and 'I'll never get it done, my list is never ending!'. Do yourself a favour and tear up that list now! Instead do things as they come up as often as possible (and at school - see rule one). 

  • Quickly send those emails off to people early in the morning (remember that 1 hour you arrived early to do stuff at school in - yep so do stuff then and stop gazing out the window!)
  • The minute somebody says '... so if you could just email so and so about it.. ' literally walk to your computer and say 'okay hold that thought - I just need to do this now so I don't forget' and send that email quickly while they are standing there. They will either a) wait and be impressed by your immediate responsiveness and organisational ability or b) get fed up waiting to load you with more tasks and walk away - either way win, win!
  • a student walks up to you in the morning as class starts with 5 requests from their parents (that form they didn't get, that homework was missing a page, that money they lost at break yesterday... ) deal with each issue immediately (here is the form, here is the homework page/get it from 'insert name of super organised student in the class', your money will turn up see the office later... ). 
Deal with those issues as they arise and quickly or you'll just end up starting to make the dreaded LIST which in turn = stress!

Rule Three: Busy work.

Give yourself some breathing time in the classroom to get those assignments marked, those report card comments done or just to get your head together and ready for the next lesson. We all know what busy work is.. it's the frowned upon naughty time-fillers we get students to do so we can do other more pressing tasks. 

However, busy work doesn't have to be colouring or crafts. Spend a bit of time planning out student centred activities to free yourself up a bit. Obviously, this all hinges on which grade you teach; Year 1 students aren't going to keep themselves busy on a task long without going off the rails compared to Year 6 students (although sometimes there is little difference!). However, that isn't really the point of busy work. What you're looking for is TIME to sort things out or catch up. This could be 20 minutes with Year 1's or 45 minutes with Year 6's it doesn't matter - grab whatever time you can! Some busy work suggestions might be:

  • Early years students: design a maths worksheet for another student (English/Maths) or create a colouring page for a friend and test it with them (Art/Maths spacial awareness).
  • Middle years students: design and create your own cereal box (Health/Maths/English/Science) and vote on the best one in the class.
  • Upper years students: design and create an information brochure on a topic of your choice using high modality and persuasive text and images (English/Art).
Notice how the suggestions above don't require much more than paper and pencils? There is no point giving students busy work that involves cutting, gluing and glitter as this will only make busy work FOR YOU!

That's it. Three simple rules to follow to start to lift some stress from your shoulders at the busiest time of the year. 

Now you've been told what to do... of with you now and don't make me tell you again!

Teaching Foundation History through picture books

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Having taught Foundation Year (Prep) History for several years I thought I would dip into my collection of picture books to share which books were successful for teaching the History concepts of family. Click on the pictures/links below to view these books in more detail or to order from Book Depository.

Today our family by Deana Dutcher is only a small book but the story links perfectly with Foundation History. Some tricky vocabulary is introduced but the story is what matters for young students. Mum is having a birthday (family celebrations) and the children prepare a present for her with help from their grandparents. Concepts covered include: birthdays, how families celebrate and family structures.

My grandma by Jeannette Rowe has attractive visuals to prompt discussion about grandma's role in the family structure. My grandma likes watermelon, what does your grandma like? Concepts covered include: grandparents, family structure and family roles.

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon might seem an odd choice but I've found this text very useful for a number of topics. When used in conjunction with the Foundation History unit, different family structure can be explored such as the bird's family versus the bat's family. Both bat and bird families have mothers and similar family roles but they live their lives differently, which makes for a great compare and contrast discussion. How is your family like Stellaluna's? Do you have brothers and sisters? Concepts covered include: different family structures, family roles, belonging to a family and the role of family in providing comfort and security. 

Tom Tom is a beautiful book by Rosemary Sullivan and Dee Huxley and fits effortlessly with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective of the Foundation History unit. Tom Tom is a small Aboriginal boy who lives in a remote community and relies heavily on his family, especially his two grannies, for comfort and life instruction. There are lots of connections and comparisons that can be made between your student's life and the life of Tom Tom. Concepts covered include: Aboriginal family structures and community, remote communities, the importance of family.

The Family Book by Todd Parr is a fun and very bright book with a fantastically positive message about family diversity. Single parents, same sex parents, grandparents as primary carers and more are explored in a fun visual way. This book is always a hit with my Foundation Year students. Concepts covered are: same sex families, single parent families, traditional family structures, grandparents are primary carers, different family appearance and contrasting family homes.

If you have any other useful books for teaching Foundation History please leave a comment below.

In addition, you may enjoy the Foundation Year History Unit download which is aligned to the Australian Curriculum (ACARA) for Foundation History.

Save money by purchasing the HASS Foundation Year bundle.