Friday, 12 May 2017

Is the Big Orange Splot the best book ever written?


I was lucky, my dad loved books and I was raised in a home rich with reading material. Dad selected books carefully because he thought content mattered, and that books should provoke deeper thinking; I think he was right.  My dad bought me The Big Orange Splot.  Yesterday as part of our exploration of Narrative writing, I introduced Room 2 to The Big Orange Splot.

So here's a basic synopsis:
Mr Plumbean lives in a house where all the houses are the same.  Mr Plumbean lives in a neat street. After a stroke of bad luck, Mr Plumbean seizes the opportunity to reinvent his home and ends up with a house that he explains 'looks like all my dreams'.   The house is painted brightly, there's a clock tower on the roof and a crocodile in the yard.  Naturally, the neighbours go into an uproar, and send one of the strongest opponents over to Plumbean's house with the expectation that he'll talk some sense into him.  The next day this neighbour's house is transformed into a ship styled home...
Get the picture?

The author, Daniel Manus Pinkwater never tells us what is said during the conversation.  As readers we are only told that they stay up all night talking and drinking lemonade.  


The mystery of this conversation is a gift to budding writers. What was said that night?  How did Mr Plumbean convince his neighbour to change his house to look like his dreams?  This was clearly a watershed moment for the neighbour; what caused his enlightenment?

I just love this kind of learning opportunity.   It presents a chance for children to participate in deeper philosophical discussions, and is also an opportunity to explore the importance of dialogue in character development.

In terms of teaching moments, it also provides a moment to explore symbolism.  We talked about how young children might read the book as being about changing houses, but the kids in Room 2 (an insightful bunch) recognised immediately that the house is a really a symbol (or metaphor) for the people who live in the houses.  In terms of mental well-being, we talked about the true message in the book - being true to yourself and celebrating uniqueness.

The kids have now paired up, and are writing scripts that we will act out next week.  What I like about this activity is how broad the appeal is.  It is fantastic for my creative kids but also fabulous for those kids who enjoy experimenting with the intellectual art of argument. .  You know you're on to a good thing when the kids moan when you ask them to put their devices away. ;-)

Follow the link directly below to watch a reading of The Big Orange Splot

Kids transfixed
Kids are working together on shared documents
Daring to be different

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Oh humble whiteboard... How do I love thee? Let me count the ways ...

If there's a piece of learning equipment that is the most useful and most utilised in Room 2 it has to be the humble whiteboard.  
       They are used daily in Mathematics and are a brilliant tool.  The kids can write down their strategies without fear of having their 'mistakes' forever captured in their books.  A lot of kids don't want to see their 'nearly theres', and so whiteboards are brilliant for application and practise of new skills and learning.  They allow a kind of risk-taking that comes with knowing that mistakes can be erased quickly and that there will be no record.   Likewise the poster-like qualities of the board (large lettering, bold colour)  allow the kids to flash (the act of flicking their hidden board around to show me their answers) their successes proudly when working on the mat.   
                 Another great thing about whiteboards is that they give children permission to be messy - with a whiteboard they can focus on the important thinking stuff without being bogged down by the neatness (a potential constraint) that is generally expected in book work.  They allow a kind of freedom that often results in bolder and more creative thinking.
                The photos attached were taken over the last two days, and show work from Reading and Mathematics.  Whiteboards are also used during Spelling and also for doodling while I read to the class.  (I wonder how many people know that research shows that doodling improves listening comprehension?!)  

All hail the mighty whiteboard!

Yay Nessa.  You go girl!
Yup, that'll be the scenario where the mad cat woman decides to build an enclosure for her hundred cats.
Cailan writes a definition for the term 'seed bank'.  Rock on, Cailan
Unpacking tricky vocab proves no problem for Jared
Carol discovers that if you want to swim Cook Strait you've got to be committed.

Friday, 28 April 2017

On Inquiry Learning

Why do Inquiry?

Because the skills of inquiry - questioning, investigating and analysing for a specific purpose - are empowering.  Inquiry motivates children by allowing them to own their learning.  It is when children are at the helm that they are engaged and more inclined to become  life-long learners.   The Inquiry philosophy recognises that children are wells to drawn from and not cups to be filled.

“Don’t be encumbered by history.  Go off and do something wonderful.”

This term we will start Genius Hour, an Inquiry that allows children the freedom to explore an area of interest that is not ‘googleable’.  It will require risk taking and an acceptance that ‘failing fast’ is critical in the road to success.

Robert Noyce first developed the microchip.  To do this he had to be prepared to be a pioneer, and to go out on a limb.  He had to be prepared to view his mistakes as critical steps that got him ever closer to his goal. His example, in part, has inspired the development of ‘Genius Hour’.

Be Brave!

During the holidays, I was fortunate to attend a seminar by Anthony Speranzagh who spoke about this type of enriched learning experience.  For those who are curious, feel free to copy this bitly :

Monday, 17 April 2017

Reflecting on the learning behind our ANZAC investigations

The availability of the internet has changed the style of research for 21st century learners. 
         Once upon a time, a long time ago, content was king.  As a child my mother would take my to the library and I would hunt out information in books. This was a drawn out process, and the collection of facts I wrote down, generally copied straight from the book (or close to), would secure me an A (especially if accompanied by photos cut from National Geographic). I was particularly strong at regurgitating information, but as I got older, I saw the short comings of this system - it wasn't bringing out my brain.  It never challenged me to think for myself. Thankfully, things have changed.
             We live in a society where the internet has become ubiquitous and 'Googling' is the preferred method for finding out about any number of things.  The availability of Google (and other search engines) has meant that skills designed to develop a strength in research have now assumed dominance.   Because of the sheer amount of information that is available at the click of a finger, students are challenged to spend time thinking about the value of the information they find. Whereas I might have been able to find two or three books on a topic, the children now need to sort the mountain of good information from the bad.   The children are developing skills that allow them to sort through huge amounts of information efficiently, make judgments on its value and to question how it can be used to enrich the learning experience. These skills take many years to develop, but an Inquiry Based Approach to learning at the primary school level fosters this practice.  The ultimate goal is that children will be able to use knowledge, and think critically, to devise novel solutions to problems they encounter.  (This was the intention in undertaking our Eco-friendly Islands learning experience where I challenged them to see themselves as problem solvers and island guardians.)
           The students' online connection (through personal and shared devices) means that they are able to work cooperatively on Google Slideshows even when they are not in the same room - in this instance, there were team members working effectively from our learning hub in the library and communicating findings, delegating responsibilities and expectations without face to face interaction.
           Learning environments have certainly changed, and kids are no longer always contained within the four walls of the classroom. Learning happens when the structure, and scaffolding, allows learning to happen.  Learning is no longer characterised by a teacher lecturing at the front of the room. At Sunnyhill School the children identify themselves as learners capable of leading their own learning journeys.
           The success the children had in unlocking the sad story of Fritz Honore reflects their ability to research effectively, to manage themselves and to work collaboratively.  Well done everyone.  So stoked.  You guys rock!  

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Welcome to our first eco-friendly island ....

Wow! Our first island is complete.  Samuel and Joseph have impressed me and produced something beyond my wildest expectations.   I'm so proud of you boys.  Your information is great, your island looks fantastic and I love the research you did on inventions designed to address pollution problems.
Awesome stuff!  I can't wait to see more of the islands up on the classroom walls as they are completed.   

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

More ANZAC Presentations

Making connections:  Sophie, Angie and Caitlin asked why I brought the taonga to school.  They reasoned that I must somehow be related to Fritz Honore.  Well done girls, you are right!

The girls found a death penny on ebay for the equivalent of NZD$356.66.  They also reported that there is a collectors' market
 for plaques that are inscribed with less common names.  Many of the death pennies were melted down (for the bronze) in the 60s and the 70s, but they are now more treasured.

Brayden, Skylar, Samuel and Travis called their presentation The Taonga.  Their presentation included a lot of interesting information, including the place of Fritz Honore's death.  He was killed in France and still lies there today.

Monday, 10 April 2017

ANZAC Day - unlocking the secrets of my family history

I learned a lot today, so a huge thank you to all the kids in Room 2.  
             The memorial plaque my great great grandmother received is colloquially known as the 'death penny', and was sent out after World War I. It was given to the next of kin of deceased servicemen and women.   Thanks for providing that interesting information, Fiona, Carol and Nadia.

 BaiLin, Jake, Jacob and Nicholas explained some of the symbolism. I thought the most interesting part was that there is a lion (the symbol of England), tearing apart an eagle (the symbol of Germany).  The anger the allies felt must've run deep after the war.  I also learned the design was chosen after a competition, and that the winning designer was named Carter Preston.  Thank you boys for your thorough research.

My great grandfather's hat caused great excitement.  Lots of my boys wanted to have their photo taken wearing it.  Naturally, I obliged.  The hat is known as a 'lemon squeezer'.  This was news to me.
Courtesy of Tandia, Jasmine and Ruby, I learned my great grandfather, David Honore was a rifleman and trained in Wellington
David's brother Fritz was killed in action on 26 October, 1918.  He was also a rifleman, was in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, and fought in the 4th Battalion.  Thank you to Ruby, Jasmine and Tandia for researching this.  It was sad to consider he was so young when he died, and also that the war ended only weeks after he had made the ultimate sacrifice.