Posted by: devonteacherblog | February 4, 2014

Pin hole cameras

In Science Year 3 and 4 made pinhole cameras and they look AWESOME!
We made them with tinfoil, Pringles tubes, wax paper, masking tape and a pin. It was lots of fun. When you look through them it shows the image upside down.

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Posted by: devonteacherblog | September 23, 2012

Self directed learning?

“Miss, you really should have some seeds in the garden role play area” says the 5 year old to me on Monday.

Tuesday I bring in seeds. The child is pleased with this and I explain to her that later on in choosing time I might choose her and some friends to plant some.

Later, on Tuesday (during choosing time), she comes up to me and says “Miss, I’ve had an accident. I’ve spilt the seeds all over the carpet.” I have not yet given the seeds to the child (she has taken it upon herself to remove them from my desk!). She shows me the area where she has spilt the millions of tiny cress seeds which are now ingrained in the lines of the carpet. She apologises and I explain to her that next time she must ask to take something from my desk. Her and a friend then plant the seeds using the compost and plant pots in the role play area.

At home time whilst giving out letters for the children to put in to their book bags I notice that she has removed the plant pot (full with compost and cress seeds), placed it next to her book bag and labelled it with her name using a post-it note. “You’re not taking this home are you?” I ask. “Yes, it’s mine.” She states. Oh dear.

Wednesday (after explaining to her the day before that the plant pots, compost and seeds are to share and therefore need to stay in school) I catch her “watering” (drowning) the plant pot with a full watering can. Other children mimic this and begin “watering” the compost in the role play area until it is practically flooded.

Thursday I remove the watering cans.

Friday I come in to school and my teaching assistant points out to me that the child’s cress has grown very well in her plant pot – but that we also have shoots of cress growing across the whole of the role play garden. I am guessing the cress was also spilt in the compost and their excessive watering actually helped them to grow.

Saturday I slept.

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Posted by: devonteacherblog | August 30, 2012

Secret garden role play area

I spent the morning at school creating a role play area for my new class of Year One children. Our topic is ‘Our World’ which begins by looking at our local environment, concentrating on mini beasts and plants, so I decided to create our own Secret Garden – in the classroom! It seemed a good idea at the time but I can see it getting very messy!
Children are supposed to get their hands mucky though aren’t they?! They can search for mini beasts in the soil or climb in to the tent to read about plants. They can also learn the names of mini beasts by looking at the labelled images on the walls and try their hand at planting using the seeds, compost, plant pots and watering cans.

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Posted by: devonteacherblog | August 14, 2012

Coastal inspiration (part 2)

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Quite a few months have passed since my original blog post about using the coast as inspiration for art work.

Well, the Cornish art project with a seven year old in my class was a success. A slow starting success, but a success nonetheless.

As mentioned in my earlier blog post, I had undertaken some research about coastal art, both individually and with the child. She has a real passion for Cornwall in particular so while I roamed the streets of Padstow in search of art galleries and inspiration, she took to the beaches of Cornwall and collected drift wood, shells, stones and pieces of coloured glass with her family. She called these her treasures.

Together we read the advice from Cornish artist, Sue Read (artbythesea.wordpress.com) and considered the approach we would like to take. The child seemed to like the idea that Sue mentioned about being free and keeping going with a piece of art until you are happy with it.

We were lucky enough to receive some copies of sketches from another Cornish artist, Paul Mahoney (www.paulsworldofart.com) and the whole class really enjoyed looking at these. It inspired us to see how a piece of art is built up as Paul had sent us a collection of his sketches which showed the sequence of sketching and then adding water colours. His sketches showed Mousehole harbourside. I subsequently read the children the story of The Mousehole Cat which the whole class enjoyed.

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Art work by Paul Mahoney

I think the child enjoyed sharing her special Cornish art project with the whole class so it was brilliant to see everyone getting involved in the art work and the story to match it. A few children had actually been to Mousehole, as have I, so it was even more magical. I could see the child’s passion for Cornwall growing – as was mine! My family live in Cornwall so I have always felt its draw.

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Image from The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber

The child kept a Cornish art sketch book where she collected images of paintings and art work she liked, along with her own photographs and some I had taken for her in Padstow. She also started to mimic the styles of the artists and began adding her own colours by extending some of her photographs.

I then left the project to be as child-led as possible, allowing her to decide what she felt like doing that day. Some days she wanted to try out all sorts of new styles, other days she was happy just doing some simple colouring with a friend using felt tip pens (she is seven!).

The only real problem I found was lack of time. I allowed the child to decide when she wanted to do some art work as I felt it was too restrictive if I gave her an allocated slot each week in which she needed to be ‘free’ and feel ‘inspired’. However, the times when she asked to do some of her art work I was often too busy with the rest of the class to sit 1:1 with her. I did usually allow her time to do some more art work when she asked (without her missing out on too much literacy or numeracy!) but I felt guilty that I should be sat with her guiding her through it, I am after all her teacher. With hindsight I think it actually worked well giving her this time to express herself without me watching over her shoulder. She produced some wonderful sketches and her art work started to take some direction.

After chatting to her I could see that she was very inspired by the art work she had seen but that she wanted to produce a final piece which was more built up, with a 3D aspect. We discussed the idea of using a canvas and incorporating the drift wood and other pieces which she had collected. She was very excited by this and her enthusiasm and passion just took over. She produced her final piece in a matter of days and she was over the moon with what she had produced. With a little help from her friends (who were mighty eager to join in!) she had allowed her talent to flow and produced a piece of true Cornish art.

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Her final piece

She moves on to Year Three in school next month and I hope she continues to build on her passion and knowledge of art. We both learnt a lot during this project, about art, about freedom, about time, about Cornwall. I am sure she will continue to collect beautiful Cornish treasures and I wish her the best.

Sue Read has also written about our Cornish art project. www.artbythesea.wordpress.com

Posted by: devonteacherblog | May 13, 2012

Learning through play

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Play is often given as a reward to children. “Well done for finishing your task, you can go and play now”. As adults we realise that children need to play. It is their desire and passion. “Can I go and play now?”
But does it always have to be a reward? Can it be, instead, used as a learning tool? A way of expressing their feelings? Can play be structured? If it isn’t structured, does it matter?

Play is natural to children. They are highly skilled at playing. So surely play should be embraced in the school day? It should be celebrated and incorporated in to lessons. Play clearly influences children and impacts on their social and emotional learning but what about core subjects? Does play have a place here?

Imagine a literacy lesson where children are independently playing. They have the choice to move freely around the classroom, playing with different toys, books, objects. Should this be structured at all? Could this be structured at all? Perhaps the children are learning about instructional writing and have been reading and following instructions earlier in the week. If they are then given a ‘free play’ literacy lesson it may well be that some children choose to explore instructions here. I often see some of the children in my class rein-acting classroom activities at play time. So they may choose to act out their own instructions or create instructional games together.
But what about those children who just want to sit quietly with a dolly? Or those children who are obsessed with the lego? Should their learning be guided? Or is it okay to leave them to play?

I don’t have all the answers here. I know that I am a big believer in play. From my own experiences I have seen children gain so much from it and so I would find if difficult to interrupt their play and try to guide it. You can learn so much about a child from watching them play. And the children themselves learn to be great explorers, actors and independent learners. I don’t think a ‘free play’ session is ever a wasted lesson.

However, I myself have encountered that nervous feeling when a visitor to the school walks past my classroom and peers in to see children simply ‘playing’. To the untrained eye it may look as though these children are not learning, that they are simply playing. I am ready to fight my corner though. Play is vital. These children are learning. They are focused. Play will help them progress as young learners.

Play is a brilliant tool for allowing children to become independent learners. They can choose how and what to explore.
ICT fits in well here and gives children ownership of their learning. Children can use laptops, talking tin voice recorders, digital cameras, video cameras and even iPads to play and learn. Give a child a ‘play session’ on a laptop and their skills will amaze you. With the use of the internet (safely), their learning needs no barriers – but to the child they may think they are “just playing”.
Here is a link to a fantastic blog I have been following about very young children confidently using iPads to play and learn:
iteachwithipads.net

Play is also a fantastic healing tool for children. 7 or 8 years ago I discovered ‘play therapy’. The Association of Play Therapists (UK) describes this as “(a) dynamic process between child and play therapist in which the child explores, at his or her own pace and with his or her own agenda, those issues past and current, conscious and unconscious, that are affecting the child’s life in the present.”
Janet West explains that “sessions are the child’s time, the child deciding what to do and how to do it” (Child Centred Play Therapy, 1996)
Play Therapy is obviously intended for troubled children but there is so much that we, as teachers of children, can take away from this. We can never be 100% sure (or even 50% sure) of what is going on in a child’s home life, or even on the playground for that matter. All children need access to this healing tool; play. The positives here hugely outweigh the negatives.

Don’t be afraid to let your children play. Provide as many unstructured and structured play sessions as possible, both in the classroom and outside in the environment. Allow them time to explore and they will amaze you!

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Posted by: devonteacherblog | April 15, 2012

Coastal inspiration (part 1)

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On a recent trip to Cornwall I was looking for some inspiration for an art project. I have a seven year old child in my class who is gifted and talented in art. Her family regularly visit Cornwall and so this is a real passion for her.

At school I had already given her a special art book where she can do drawings and try out various techniques but she is always aiming higher. She wants to create something on a larger scale. So I needed inspiration…

So I took to the streets of Padstow (combining it with some much needed relaxation time over Easter) and visited art galleries and exhibitions. I found a lot of beautiful paintings which did inspire me but it was still hard to relate them to a Year 2 child.

I took down the names of my favourite artists and googled them, which also led me to find more cornish artists. I decided to email them explaining what I wanted to do and out of the few who did reply I found some true words of wisdom:

Painting is easy … have in your mind that there are NO mistakes. Be instinctive about where you put colour and what colours you use and the results can be great. Don’t judge your painting or let anyone else make a judgement… I/We should have done this or that. If it looks wrong, it just needs more work. Keep going with it. As adults we feel constrained by what we think it should be like or by convention, but there are no rules. Try spraying, dripping water into acrylic paint on canvas. Leave to dry, or rub some out before it dries to create waves. Scratch it out with a knife and then spatter paint over.

Sue Read (www.artbythesea.wordpress.com)

These words made me realise that it is freedom that is the vital component when painting or creating art. As this child is so young it is obviously important to inspire them and to expose them to different types of art but the main thing is just to let her have a go. I am a big believer in self directed learning so I am excited to see where she will take this project. I am not naturally talented when it comes to art (to say the least!) but I do enjoy being creative and exploring different mediums so I hope it will be a time of exploration for us both. Together we can explore the mediums and techniques. No real teaching required, just pure learning, together.

At school we have collected coastal books and images together and I have now printed the emails for her to see along with images of the artists work. I have also printed photographs of my time in Padstow, of the beautiful coastlines and landscape. She will no doubt want to bring in her own collection of photographs and keepsakes from Cornwall.

It will now be up to her to create her art.

“The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow. But the rainbow won’t wait while you do the work.”

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Posted by: devonteacherblog | March 19, 2012

Moor reflection

At school we are working on giving the children more ‘reflection’ time. We want them to reflect on their own learning, values and beliefs.

I think my class are pretty good at reflecting on their learning. They use traffic light smiley faces to let me know how easy or difficult they found the piece of work and they are used to peer assessing each others work. They have also learnt to begin to ‘edit’ their writing, checking it for capital letters and full stops and use of ‘wow words’. They also show me a thumbs up or a thumbs down to let me know how they think they did in their group or independent work.

At the beginning of the year we created a display about how to learn so they often refer back to this if they know they need to improve in a particular area.

I had a little reflection time of my own recently on a peaceful walk along the Devon moors. It is such a beautiful place. As you stroll along the picturesque landscape you can’t help but reflect so while I was there I was trying to think of a way in to this ‘reflection’ time with my own class of Key Stage One children. How do you get a six year old child to reflect on their values? We have already created our own RE board about our values and beliefs, using post it notes written by myself and the children, but I want to go further and see if they can truly reflect.

I took some photographs of the beautiful Moors in the hope that I could share my reflection time with the children and model that this is one of my personal values, having time to relax and explore. We could also discuss the importance of freedom and talk about how lucky we are to live in Devon and to be surrounded by these amazing places which we can explore. The children enjoy looking at natural photographs like these and I think it creates a calming atmosphere in order for the children to reflect.

Here are some wonderful quotes by Dr Seuss which I aim to share with the children over the next few weeks. They are perfect for teaching the children to be themselves and be proud of who they are and this should encourage their reflection. I am going to write them on the board in the morning so they can reflect with their friends as they come in to school.

“Be who you are and say what you feel,
because those who mind don’t matter,
and those who matter don’t mind.”

“Think and wonder, wonder and think.”

“Today is your day, your mountain is waiting. So get on your way.”

“You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?”

“When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad…
you should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more…
oh, ever so much more…
oh, muchly much-much more
unlucky than you!”

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant.”

“You are you and that is true, there’s no one in the world who’s you-er than you.”

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”

“It is better to know how to learn than to know.”

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr Seuss

Posted by: devonteacherblog | March 14, 2012

Not enough minutes in the school day?

Organising the school day to suit the needs of your children can be a daunting process in itself, let alone considering your own needs as a busy teacher.

Once you have sorted the class timetable, how do you ensure you best use the time before and after the children are in the classroom?

Firstly, it is important that you consider what you are like as a person both inside and outside of school. Are you an early bird? Or, like me, do you find it hard to get motivated in the morning? If you know you can get some jobs done before the school day begins then timetable in a morning slot to do some jobs (perhaps 8-8:30am every Thursday you mark homework?). Having it timetabled in also ensures that weekly jobs like this do not get forgotten when your workload is building up.

I find it useful to know that on certain days I do certain jobs but you do need to remember that you may get called to extra meetings or there may be more important jobs that you have to do instead. A simple tick list for weekly jobs can help you work out which jobs you still need to do.

If you plan your time carefully in school then it will obviously reduce your workload at home in the evenings and weekends. Enjoying your weekend and relaxing is so important, you don’t want to begin the weekend with hundreds of school jobs to do.

I try to get some jobs done during break and lunch times at school but it’s vital to give yourself time to relax too. Enjoying a cuppa in the staffroom with your colleagues can totally turn your day around and give you that enthusiasm and energy you needed! I generally don’t get too stressed or bogged down in my job but if I’m honest then there are days (or parts of days) when I suddenly feel that things are getting on top of me. Sometimes the jobs on my dreaded to-do list are building up and I need Bernard’s watch to freeze time. It’s moments like this that I force myself to stop and head to the staff room. Chatting to other teachers I soon realise that we are all in the same boat. We all have lots of jobs to get done and so often we will share the workload. If we all need to think of ideas for National Day then four heads are better than one. Or if I am stuck for ideas for my next writing assessment then there is usually someone who will listen to my ideas and advise me. I am blessed to work with some amazing people with fantastic senses of humour. It is usually just a smile and a laugh I am looking for when I go to the staff room….but a cuppa and some biscuits is also much appreciated!

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Posted by: devonteacherblog | March 7, 2012

Relax after a manic day

A lovely bike ride along the canal after a manic day. Teaching isn’t always paperwork, marking, planning and pulling your hair out. But today it was.

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After clearing my head I am ready to start fresh tomorrow.

Even when the workload is building up it is SO important to give yourself a break. Leave the books until tomorrow, they will get marked. The forever growing to-do list shall never go away. When you tick off a job, 5 more appear. When you learn this, you learn to prioritise and GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK.

Enjoy a bike ride, a walk or a drink at your local one night in the week (at least!). Get out of the house! The books can be marked tomorrow….maybe!

Posted by: devonteacherblog | March 7, 2012

Your classroom or theirs?

Your classroom or theirs?

So much is expected of primary aged children in terms of their attainment, progress, personal targets, social skills and extra curricular activities that it seems a daunting prospect to include ‘fun’ or ‘excitement’ in this busy schedule.

Children are just that though, children. They need an engaging learning environment where they can explore, question, challenge, play, learn and develop.

The classroom is one of these environments. The classroom is a place where children feel most comfortable to try new things. If children are given some ownership of their classroom, it’s layout, design and resources, then they are much more likely to feel at ease here and to blossom as young learners.

How can children take some ownership of the classroom?

  • When you have a new class of children, see it as a blank canvas (even if you have been in your classroom for years!) The children don’t want to come in to a classroom that has other children’s work on the walls.
  • Ask the children what they think should be included in their classroom (perhaps have some resources put away ready so you don’t need to make it all in the first week back). They may surprise you with some refreshing ideas.
  • If the children are unsure then you could suggest some ideas for certain areas (such as a small world area, an art corner, a writing table, a challenge area, an experiment corner, a role play corner etc) then they can decide on the theme of each area. They will love having different areas to go and explore. Make sure you add to them or change them regularly as children with particular interests will revisit the same area daily and may become bored if it isn’t updated.
  • Design a display together. Perhaps give the display a theme such as ‘how to be a good friend’ or ‘how to be a good learner’. Ask the children how we can show this in a fun and exciting way and give them as much freedom as possible in terms of the medium(s) they use to create it. Take some photographs of them role playing the theme of the display and add these to the display. If the children have chosen a theme such as ‘how to be a good learner’ then the display can stay there for a while as it useful for them and they will know that they created it themselves to help them learn.
  • Working walls for Literacy and Numeracy can be added to all the time. Give children post-it notes so they can jot down their ideas and add it to the working wall. Perhaps create an area for ‘Wow words’ so that their ideas can be celebrated. The children can refer to this when they do their work.
  • Ask the children to design a sign for the classroom door and stick photographs of them all around it.
  • Children love having ‘class jobs’. Each week choose some children to be special helpers or table monitors etc. They will feel important and it is a great way for them to take care of their own classroom. They should be proud of their learning space.
  • Create a ‘class contract’ together where the children design classroom rules. How do they expect others to act in their classroom? Get them to sign it in their favourite colour felt tip when it is completed and display it somewhere where they can see it so you can refer back to it during the year.
  • LABEL EVERYTHING! Okay, maybe you don’t need to label every single pencil but the more clear labels the better. I am a bit OCD about labels but it does seem to work. If children are constantly asking where to find resources then you need more labels! Even if a child isn’t sure where to find the glue sticks, if you have labelled the tray then they will be able to (eventually) locate them independently.
  • Include lots of bright, exciting resources on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Link them in to the children’s learning so you can constantly refer to them (“Remember to use capital letters and full stops in your writing, just like the VCOP superheroes on our working wall”).
  • If you want to keep an area of the classroom for yourself (i.e. the desk and wall by the desk) then make this clear from the beginning. Perhaps create a ‘special box’ where the children can leave you notes and drawings as these tend to build up over the year and children don’t like the thought of you throwing these away. (“Oh thank you for making me this lovely card, can you put it in my special box so I can keep it safe please?”)
  • Where possible, ask the children to help you make resources. Websites such as sparklebox are fab for finding new resources but it’s also nice to have the children create some too. For example, if the children are learning to use adjectives then they could each write an exciting describing word on a big piece of paper and then cut it out in a cloud shape. These can then be laminated and hung from the ceiling. The children will then have a wonderful collection of adjectives (‘word clouds’) to peer up at if they ever get stuck for an adjective.
Allow children chance to add to their classroom. They can refer to their working wall to help them learn.

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Giving children ownership of their classroom gives them ownership of their learning.

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