Monday, 31 October 2016

Lest We Forget- Remembrance Day in the Elementary Classroom

As a little girl, I can remember attending Remembrance Day ceremonies at school. While listening to the trumpets sad song I wondered what we were remembering and why it was so important.

As an adult I have a better understanding of the importance of remembering fallen soldiers from the wars of the past as well as honouring the veterans who proudly serve our country today. After my husband joined the reserves, and did a tour in Afghanistan, I felt an enormous responsibility in my classroom to connect students with Remembrance Day. Because so many of the veterans of WWI and WWII no longer with us, I wondered how to honour their memory so their sacrifice would never be forgotten.
 Here are some ideas, activities and resources to honour the fallen and teach your students about the importance of Remembrance Day.

Art: I love to do art projects for Remembrance day. I think my favourite image to create is the poppy and I have used different mediums, ideas and text to go with it. Here are a few different ones I have done over the years.

If you would like to find the step by step instructions for these art activities and many others please visit Gail, THAT ARTIST WOMAN. Scroll down the fall projects until you find Remembrance Day. You can also find more Remembrance Day art ideas on my Pinterest page.

Writing: A great writing activity for Remembrance Day is to write letters or postcards to Veterans or Soldiers currently serving. To find more information on where to send these messages please visit the Veterans Affairs website.

Reading: I love a good read aloud to introduce a topic to students; however, finding a story that is both appropriate for young children as well as relevant is a bit difficult for Remembrance Day. Here are a few that I use in my classroom.

'A Poppy Is to Remember' by Heather Patterson is probably one of my favourites. The pictures are beautiful, the text is simple and it helps students to understand more about why we wear a poppy and the importance of Remembrance Day. It also includes the ever important poem 'In Flanders Fields'.

'Lest We Forget' by Kerry Brown is a remarkable story in that it helps young children relate to the generation that went to war through images, in a way that is appropriate for young children. I think this book is a great tool that allows students to better understand what it must have been like for the soldiers and their families.

'What does Peace feel like?' by  wonderful imagery and would be a great starting place for a writing activity where students could write about what peace looks like, smells like or tastes like. I love the pictures and ideas from children. This gives students great examples of things that they experience in their own life and how they can bring Peace to those around them.

I love how 'Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion' by Jane Barclay uses animals to tell the story in this unique book. The little boy's grandpa uses animals to describe what he was feeling during his wartime experiences. It definitely gets me misty eyed at the end.  

                                                REMEMBRANCE DAY CEREMONY
If you are in charge of preparing the Remembrance Day ceremony at school, it can be a daunting task! Here is a great resource from the Veterans Affairs website with information about the CEREMONY.

One of the most important things at a Remembrance Day ceremony, besides the 2 minutes of silence, is inviting a Veteran to your school to lay a wreath and if possible speak to the students. My husband always attends the ceremonies at my school. When he was in Afghanistan a few of the junior high students wrote letters to him while he was there, and when he came back he talked to the boys and girls about his experience in Kabul. They formed a connection with him and I believe this made the Remembrance Day ceremony much more meaningful. If you would like a veteran to speak at your school you can find more information HERE.

Another great tool to engage students during the ceremony, or in the classroom,  is showing a video. This one always gets me emotional, and encourages students before the 2 minutes of silence to really take time to honour the fallen.

My husband made this video using pictures he took of a memorial wall in Afghanistan with messages dedicated to the fallen.

Click on the links below to visit other Canadian teacher-bloggers showcasing their ideas for Remembrance Day lessons.



Monday, 3 October 2016

Halloween Center Activities

As the leaves change colours, the weather becomes cooler, and the pumpkin spice lattes and sweaters come out of hiding, it can only mean one thing; it's October! I know that this month all I will hear about is one thing, and one thing only. You guessed it; HALLOWEEN!!!

First graders will probably ask every day in October if it is Halloween yet, and so as the anticipation builds and the excitement grows, when the day finally comes, they are about ready to explode! When October 31st arrives it is so difficult to focus on curriculum that I had to come up with a way to keep the students engaged and busy and what better way than, you guessed it, centers!

If possible, I ask an older grade to join us in the classroom so they can assist the grade one students with each activity. The centers take all afternoon as the students spend about 10 minutes at each one. I make sure to include math and literacy skills plus a whole lot of fun!! I prepare eight stations for the students, with direction cards at each one and materials all prepped and ready to go. They stay with their buddy and a small group of students for the entire afternoon.

I think the favourite is the snack center, I mean who doesn't love a spooky Halloween snack! I make sure they are healthy snacks because they will be eating so much candy at night, with a spooky twist. Eyeballs, Jack-O-Lanterns and Ghosts OH MY!

Our math center focuses on estimation. I always carve a pumpkin with the kids earlier in the week and we do some five senses writing about what we see, feel, and smell. I save then seeds, wash them off and then put a plastic bag in the pumpkin. Students take a small handful of seeds, estimate how many there are and record it.

I find it helpful to have buddies at this one as students often forget about the estimation part and skip right to counting and recording their seedsx.

We do lots of Language Arts; I include some spooky stories at one center, halloween sentence making at another and a listening center. I use my SMARTboard to show the story and hook up ear phones so the whole group can hear.
Another one of my favourite centers is the Haunted house! Students use their senses to predict what is in the jar. Some of them are too afraid to touch, but once they figure out what is actually in the container they can't wait to try it out! THE HAUNTED HOUSE IS A FREE ACTIVITY you can try out in your classroom by clicking on the picture.

I also like to do a craft with the students, a Jack-O-Lantern Lantern!!! Again, it is super helpful to have a buddy at the this station. I provide visual instructions for each step so it is easy to follow along. After students complete each activity I have them put it on top of their desk, and then at the end of the day they get to take everything home with them.
How do you deal with the Halloween Crazies in your class? To try out all of these centers in your classroom, click on the picture! Happy Halloween friends.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Directed Drawing

Teaching art....those words put fear in the hearts of many an educator. When I first began teaching Art, I will admit I really didn't know what I was doing. We may have done a lot of *gasp* CRAFTS instead of Art. There are so many books, teaching resources, internet articles and professional development sessions for Math and Language Arts, and the Arts seem to be put at the bottom of the list. After working on Math and Language Arts for a few years, I decided there was a big gap in my Art instruction and chose to focus on this area.

One of the biggest influences I found for my instruction was Gail from That Artist Woman. After looking at her step by step pictures, I found I could not only make some beautiful art, but actually TEACH kids how to make art that they could be proud of, that was their own and not something I had  photocopied to colour or cut and paste. I learned how important teacher guidance is, and from this I discovered DIRECTED DRAWING!!

Of course, this is not my entire Art instruction, I do many different techniques, but once I started doing this my kids were HOOKED! After a directed drawing lesson, one of my students said, "I didn't think I could do art, but look at what I made!!!" He was just so proud, and I chalk it all up to directed drawing.

So, what does this look like in the classroom? Here is a rundown of the different ways that I use it with my first graders.

This is the obvious one, but it has helped so much. I usually take a couple of Art classes a month to focus on this. I pick a thematic image, give the students some drawing paper, and go through each step to draw the image carefully on my whiteboard, as the students follow along.

After drawing the image there is so much that can be done to branch out this project. We can use different mediums to colour the picture, make a creative background for our image or use it to decorate the classroom. I also find once we do this in art class, during free centers or drawing time my kids will try OVER and OVER to recreate the picture we worked on in Directed Drawing class. They feel successful and proud when they can create the image on their own.

"I don't have time to do this!"
I hear you. There is never enough time in the day for these things; however, I found that I can use directed drawing in other subject areas! In Language Arts, after we draw our picture together I have students write about the image, and they love it. I find they are so much more engaged when they have something to write about and they can visually look at the image and describe it.

Very pretty, but not quite what the seed looks like! 
 In Science we talk about drawing things from our imagination versus OBSERVATIONAL drawing. Let me tell you, this is difficult. You would not believe how many flowers I get in pictures (in our Needs of Plants and Animals unit) that are observations of their growing seeds, and there is not a flower to be found in real life!!! So I help the students by doing a directed draw together of what they SEE in front of them, and it works wonders.

Y'all know how I love centers and games in my classroom and directed drawing is a great little game to play when practicing other skills. In math, I write addition facts on the back of directed draw pictures and students find the cards that have the same sum, and then draw their picture. So much fun!

 Do you want to try directed drawing in your class and need some inspiration? I have Directed Drawing clip art of all different animals to help you to teach your students to draw!

Monday, 13 June 2016

Engaging students using Social Studies Centers

I have always struggled with teaching Social to my first grade students. I found it difficult to keep them motivated, a challenge getting them to express their ideas, and frustrating to teach about things they hadn’t experienced.

I needed a change, so I thought about what made teaching Math or LA more enjoyable. Then it came to me: CENTERS!!!! 
I came up with 4 different centers to meet my objectives each week. 

REAL LIFE CENTER -It is challenging to get students thinking about topics in relation to their life. I chose to use technology, projects and interactive notebooks. Students acted out being responsible/irresponsible(haha, they love this) and recorded each other on the iPad at the center. I put all the clips together in a movie. They also brought clothing items from home and video taped their discussion about how it shows they belong.
We made poster wanted ads for GOOD CITIZENS to put up around the classroom. Students completed drawings and writing reflections in their Social notebook.

READ ALOUD CENTER- Developing vocabulary related to outcomes was my goal for this center. Social books are often not at a grade one reading level, so I made readers theatre plays about the topics and included lots of pictures. 

Students work in groups to read their parts and then read it to the class. I also use books (we don’t have a textbook but I’m certain you could use one) and have students look through them together and discuss what they have read.

GAME CENTER- Social can be a little, how should I say this, dry at times, so I decided games were the way to go! Have you ever tried to find games related to your Social topics? I couldn’t find much, so I created my own. I brainstormed a list of common games, and then figured out a way to relate them to my outcomes.  We played Symbol BINGO, I have/Who has Community Helpers, ‘My Rights’ memory match, and the ‘Groups I Belong To’ board game to reinforce concepts. 

To make sure my students understand how to play and the rules (so I don’t get the ‘he said/she said’), we play as a class before they play at the center. 

TEACHER CENTER- Assessment is challenging in its own way, and trying to figure out if my students got the Social topic we were learning about by looking at their notes was almost impossible. I decided that oral assessment would be a better direction, but how can you assess 20-30 kids orally during class time? It’s very difficult. By sitting with students at a ‘Guided Social Studies’ center, I can teach a mini lesson about the topic and ask questions. I can quickly tell who easily understands and ask higher level thinking questions, who gets the basics, and who is struggling and needs extra support for differentiated learning. I take anecdotal notes at this center, and quickly realized that my standard mark book format wasn’t going to work so I made a space for notes in my mark book.

Turning my curriculum objectives into centers took a lot of thinking ahead and detailed planning. I looked at my outcomes and sorted them into units and then weekly objectives.  Then I planned out how I was going to turn those outcomes into the four center based activities.

Try these ideas out for FREE here.

Do you do centers with your students? How does it work in your classroom? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

My Noisy Classroom

What do we define a successful classroom to look like as teachers? When you look into someone's room, how do you define a good teacher?

 Most of the time we watch the students. Do they look engaged, are they listening, what kind of activities are they working on?
For the longest time, I felt pressure to have that 'quiet class'. Sitting in rows, I would run around shushing, using all the management techniques in the book to have that quiet hard working class. I felt uptight and nervous, was my class quiet enough, were they bothering others, what did people THINK OF ME?!?!?!?

Haha, I've come a long way since then. I don't worry so much about what others think, as I began to realize that defining a successful classroom does not mean the quietest, there are other ways we can define good teachers.

As I settled into my teaching career, I began to use centers in Language Arts. Students sat around the room in small groups chatting away, laughing and enjoying their activities. As I looked around the room, I felt content and not worried about running around shushing everyone. I enjoyed the centers so much that the next year I began Math centers and that same feeling came over me as worked with students in small groups and watched kids shriek with delight as they played a math game. The year after that I introduced Social Studies centers. This was it, I was hooked on centers! A quiet classroom just doesn't work for me. I like the noise, the chatting, and the laughter.

This also rolled over into my teaching style. I started Whole Brain Teaching and I LOVE IT. It get's your kids talking and interacting during your lesson, and keeps the direct teaching in short amounts. I like giving students chat time, and I find in turn they give me better listening because they have had that opportunity to talk.

Do I do centers all day long? No
Do I think everyone should do centers? No
Is whole brain teaching for every teacher? Absolutely not.

What I think I've learned is that you need to find what works for you and not define yourself by other people's definition of a good teacher. So if you walk by my room and my kiddos are noisy and chatting...well... that's just the way I like it ;)

Thursday, 12 May 2016

We are here for you Fort McMurray

My home province, Alberta, has experienced a devastating tragedy over the last few weeks; an enormous wildfire in Fort McMurray. Up to 90 000 people have been evacuated, homes destroyed and families uprooted.
Cities in Alberta are welcoming the people of Fort Mac with open arms and hearts into their communitieshomes, and schools. Amid this tragedy heroes have risen from the ashes, stories of firefighters saving lives, teachers taking care of their studentsnurses and doctors evacuating hospitals, and countless stories of donations and kids raising money to help out.
To donate to the Red Cross, go to this website or

The pets need our help too!!!

There is of course such an emotional toll on these families as well. I can't imagine what these families are going through, especially the young children struggling to make sense of it all. I would be at a loss if I had to explain this to my toddler. The Red Cross has some resources available on coping with the aftermath of natural disasters for both adults and children.
A group of Canadian Teachers Pay Teachers Authors would like to help out and are donating all sales on MONDAY, MAY 16 to the relief fund set up by the Red Cross. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

New Play Room!

We just had a baby in December, and with a toddler running around, my husband and I thought, WHAT BETTER THAN TO RENO THE BASEMENT!!! Yah. So we had an unfinished basement and with the new baby moving in upstairs, we were out of rooms and hoping to have space for guests to come stay. Hubby began construction in September, and I was little to no help being super pregnant and all, so he has completed it mostly on his own and finally finished up the bedrooms and play space. It is still a work in progress, but I wanted to share our play space as it makes my teacher heart SUPER happy. Organization, labelling, wall art, toys in one spot. SIGH. So many good things to keep me busy while on maternity leave and out of the classroom. Here it is!!
The little loves playing down here, and I am enjoying it too. Of course, each bin is labeled with a picture so the little, and the big people ;) haha, know where to put everything away. I bought a bunch of frames and glued clothes pins onto the top for easy change up of art work. The word masterpieces is at the top of this wall (not in the picture) which is what the little refers to when he shows everyone the wall. "These are my masterpieces" HAHA.  We also have pillows, a big play mat, a tent and a huge table for creating those masterpieces that are not in this picture. It is working so well and is our happy place. Stay tuned for more activities that we love to do in our playroom.