5 Fun Activities for Book Buddy/Learning Buddy Time!

Learning buddy blog picture

Have you ever watched a big buddy and little buddy work together? If you’ve ever had the opportunity to observe a conversation between book buddies or learning buddies, you’ve had the privilege of witnessing something pretty magical.

Most educators might place emphasis on the younger student coming away with the majority of learning in the relationship, but I would argue that the older student often benefits more from the pairing. Being a mentor can offer so many lessons to the older student, including how to be a good role model, developing necessary empathy and self-regulation skills and overall confidence in developing leadership skills. These self-development skills are crucial for young learners in the process of developing a strong sense of self and these skills have the opportunity to flourish, somewhat effortlessly, in a book buddy/learning buddy relationship.

Younger students also benefit immensely from the one on one support an older buddy provides and they have the opportunity to practice and reinforce a variety of reading, writing and math skills. I’ve had the chance to work as a primary teacher and now as a middle school teacher and have seen the great benefits the buddy relationship can offer students of all ages. Finding time in your schedule for learning buddies, whether it be one a week or once a month, is time well spent! Below are some activities I use in my classroom for learning buddy time!

 

  1. Reading: Reading some favorite books is always a wonderful activity for big buddy/little buddy time! If you’d like to take it a step further, provide older buddies with a list of comprehension questions to ask their little buddy once they are finished reading. (e.g., What was your favorite part in the book?, What would you rate the book from a scale of 1-5? What was the main problem in the story and how did the characters resolve it?)

 

  1. Get to Know You: Have Learning Buddies complete a get to know you activity. This is a great way to break the ice and get students talking to one another! I love this buddy book resource by Create Dream Explore. It has lots of opportunities to draw for emergent writers and older buddies can assist with any writing that is needed. It is a great keepsake for students to hold on to as a memory of their learning buddy too!

 

  1. Crafts: Have buddies work on seasonal crafts together. I love having my older students work on crafts with their younger buddies. Often older students feel they are too old for self-made Christmas ornaments, so getting them to assist their buddies to make one is a great way to still have them participate in a seasonal activity!

 

 

  1. Coding Projects: Why not have an older buddy pair with a younger buddy for some one on one technology time. Having older students teach coding to younger buddies is a great way to introduce younger students to computer science and older students get to reinforce their skills. CS-First is a great program to get you started. It takes students through step by step video tutorials that teaches them how to write code using Scratch programming. Older students can help younger students write stories, make games or logos through the program. Check out the Coding with my Buddy Book I use to take my buddies through a coding project.

 

  1. Outside Activities: Have students get outside together! My Kindergarten buddy partner likes to plan nature walks as part of her STEM science program. She has older buddies assist younger students with making scientific observations and answering science questions on a clipboard. Playing co-operative games outside is also a great way for older students to teach younger students the many playground games that they have learned throughout the years. Younger buddies can then play these newly learned games at recess throughout the day!

5 Tips to Encourage Oral Language Development in the Classroom

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If you were to visit my classroom, you would see that technology is a large part of how I deliver curriculum to my students. I think technology has changed the way we think about teaching and has improved our ability to keep students engaged in the learning process. The use of technology does have its drawbacks however, and I will be the first to admit to my colleagues that it’s presence in the classroom can sometimes have a negative impact as well. The greatest impact in my opinion, is on the development of oral language skills. Students are spending more and more time using technology at home and school and less time talking as a result. Yes, they can ‘talk’ over text messaging or through Snap Chat and Instagram, but they don’t have the opportunity to develop those necessary skills they gain when they talk and interact with others in person.

Being an advocate of technology in the classroom, I felt that it was my responsibility as a teacher, to acknowledge and address this oral language concern with my students. I began to implement a few things into my schedule every week to address the greater need for oral language development. Below are some things that I found to be effective in helping students develop good oral language skills.

 

1. Set aside time in your daily schedule for oral language development. It could be 10 minutes of students asking one another about their weekend or doing a think-pair-share activity for math (think about a math problem, pair with a partner to talk about it and share what your thinking with the class). Giving students opportunities to talk to each other every day will increase their ability to develop these necessary skills.

 

 2. Plan co-operative learning lessons for students. Group work allows students to  plan and problem solve together and encourages students to develop new relationships. You can also assign roles to students when working in groups so that they can develop certain skill sets (leader, encourager, recorder and reporter). Having a recorder for example, allows students to communicate with one another orally and agree on what should be recorded about their learning. This forces students to engage in conversations with other group members and synthesize their learning before putting it down on paper.

 

3. Model proper oral language skills in the classroom. As teachers, we are always modeling proper oral language, however we can take it a step further and re-enforce or correct oral language when we see students attempting to engage with others. Some students need to be explicitly taught that they are to make eye contact when speaking with others or wait their turn to speak during a conversation.

 

4. Make oral presentations a priority in the classroom. Have students present what they have learned to their classmates. For example, instead of having students do a book report, have them present what they have learned using a book talk instead. Check out some examples of the book talks and creative projects I use in my classroom. My students love completing the creative activities and presenting them to their classmates in the form of a book talk! Giving students time to practice their presentations is also important. When practicing in partners, students have the opportunity to refine their oral language skills through giving and receiving feedback about oral presentation skills.

 

5. Allow students to play games. Whether it be charades, monopoly or snakes and ladders, games give students an opportunity to learn valuable oral communication skills. Waiting for a turn, communicating the rules of a game or learning to read body language or social cues, are all invaluable skills that game playing allows students to develop!

 

Implementing these 5 things in my classroom has made a significant impact on my students oral language skill development. I’ve noticed students engaging in more conversations with one another and their presentation skills have also improved immensely! The biggest and most valuable improvement I’ve seen however, is the increase in student confidence. Students are now confident in their ability to be an effective communicator and feel that their ideas are being heard!

 

If you liked this post, follow my blog for more teacher tips and insights!

Girls Love Code!

Girls codeI recently attended an educators share session at the local Google office in my city where educators and Google employees get together to discuss new and innovative ideas in technology and education. It’s a great way to discover new and exciting ways to deliver curriculum to students and a great way to collaborate with other educators. I get excited every time I attend one of these because I get to hear about new ways Google is trying to improve how educators deliver content to learners!

It is here that I first took the leap into the world of code and the team at Google were there to support educators on their journey of discovery. At these sessions educators get to break off into groups for discussion on topics of interest and a topic that continually comes up is girls and coding. How do we get girls interested in learning to code?

I’ve taught coding in the classroom for a few years now and I also run a coding club at my school that is open to a number of different grade levels. If you were to see a picture of us in the yearbook, you may be surprised to see that three quarters of the club is female! I didn’t think much of this at first, until a parent of one of the club members approached me and pointed it out. She shared with me that she worked in the human resources department at Google and that it wasn’t typical to see as many girls interested in coding as there were in my club. She also talked about the ways Google is trying to change the female to male ratio in the profession and how happy she was that her daughter was excited to be a part of the coding club. As a human resources employee of a tech company, she could see how coding had become as a necessary skill for many professions and that students would need this skill in the future! Check out Google’s new initiative Made with Code, a program designed to show girls how computer science is relevant in their lives and to encourage more girls to learn code!

When an educator in my share session talked about the exciting successes he was having with his coding club at his school, he also shared that he was struggling with ways to get girls to show interest in joining his club. After he asked the group for some suggestions, I found myself thinking about my conversation with the parent of the female student and some of the factors that led to a higher female membership in my club.

 

Here are the suggestions I shared with my fellow educator as to how to encourage girls to pursue coding opportunities:  

1.    Use a program that offers lots of choice in terms of topic selection for projects. CS-First is great program run by Google that is very user friendly and has lots of choices that appeal to girls. It uses Scratch Programming to teach a wide variety of topics including fashion, music storytelling, gaming, animation and art. 

2.    Have a female as one of the club leaders if possible. Having a female that is in a leadership role sends a signal to younger girls that computer science is not a male dominated profession. 

3.    Allow girls to work together on projects. Girls are naturally social beings and love to collaborate! Working with others is also a safe way to explore something new and having a friend to work through potential hurdles with, provides a safety net for girls to take chances. Have a look at the Coding Buddy Book resource I designed as a way of introducing coding to students with a friend.  

4.    Have older female students in the school act as mentors in your club. The girls can be there to act as mentors to all students, however, they act as a symbol to new female students that these girls have become experts in coding in a short period of time. It also provides an opportunity for the older female students to take on leadership roles in the subject area, which in turn increases their confidence to pursue computer science as a profession.

5.    Discuss some of the interesting job opportunities related to the field and invite some female guest speakers to speak about how their profession relates to computer science.

6.    Allow lots of room for creativity and exploration. Encourage girls to see how they can express their creativity through coding programs. Allowing them time to explore, rather than simply complete a task or project, is important! 

I hope some of these tips inspire you to think more about how we, as educators, can encourage girls to get involved in coding classes and clubs! Happy Coding!

Below are some coding resources you may find useful when teaching your coding program in your class or club!

Coding Portfolio and Planner

Coding with a Partner Book

 

Top 5 Ted Talks to Teach Persuasive Writing

 

Persuasive Writing Ted Talk Blog Pic 1

Have you ever watched a Ted Talk and been so profoundly moved by a speaker, that you decide to immediately act on the topic of discussion? I watched my first Ted Talk 6 years ago, not knowing it’s purpose, and walked away feeling moved and inspired. As educators, we look for ways every day to inspire our students to have an impact on the world for the greater good. I felt that incorporating Ted Talks into my teaching would not only show my students how others have made a positive contribution to society, but also how important it was to share their message with the world. What better way to teach students how to use Persuasive Writing in the world, than through a Ted Talk!

When planning my Persuasive Writing unit last year, I decided that rather than simply giving my students topics to write about, I would show them a Ted Talk video about each topic instead. I was excited to find that there were many similarities between the structures of a Ted Talk and the Persuasive Writing form of writing and I could use these videos as an engaging tool to teach students! I had a graphic organizer for each aspect of Persuasive Writing: (including a good hook in the introduction, tailoring your argument to a specific audience, addressing possible counter-arguments, including statistics or research to support your view, appealing to the audience’s emotions and providing a strong conclusion) and these aspects were all included in a Ted Talk! Check out the graphic organizers I used for a closer look!

My students really appreciated seeing the connection that Persuasive Writing had to real life examples found in Ted Talks. It provided them with a ‘purpose’ for their writing and this motivated students to produce their very best pieces!

 

Here are the 5 best Ted Talks to teach Persuasive Writing to Kids! If you’d like to learn more about how to incorporate Ted Talks with Persuasive Writing, you can find it in my Persuasive Writing Unit.  Follow my blog for more useful teacher tips and my Inspire to Learn Store for some useful teaching resources!

 

1.   Kids Need Recess – Simon Link

https://youtu.be/Kh9GbYugA1Y

 

2.   Homework Overload – Mikel Garmendia

https://youtu.be/d_qMpV9V9To

 

3.   What Adults Can Learn from Kids – Adora Svitek

https://youtu.be/V-bjOJzB7LY

 

4.   Individualization, Failure and Fun – Cordell Steiner

https://youtu.be/P-djW4uj7rI

 

5.   Kindness – Orly Wahba

https://youtu.be/yn9VxUPlC5g

Teaching Students to Code: 6 Tips to Get Started

 

Coding for kids has been a growing trend in the field of education in the last few years. Many teachers are interested in teaching their students how to code but are often unsure where to start. Teachers are trained in education, not in software engineering after all! Three years ago, I decided to take a course at the local Google office in my city to see what this whole ‘coding for kids’ craze was about! I won’t lie, I was very nervous. My strengths are definitely in the arts related fields and I was worried that I would leave feeling confused and bewildered. For some reason, the intrigue of learning about computer programming was stronger than my fear, and I decided to take the plunge! I live in Waterloo, Canada, which some refer to as the Silicon Valley of the North, so software companies are a major source of employment in the area. As an educator, I realized quickly that many of the jobs that my current students would be offered in the future, may in fact be related to or require some knowledge of computer coding. Teaching my students how to code would be a valuable skill that they could use in their future.

I was so excited to share what I had learned with my 6th graders upon completion of the course, I threw all of my plans out the window for next day’s class and decided to let them discover what was possible with coding instead. Turns out they were even more excited than I was! A year later, my school district decided to conduct a pilot project to discover innovative ways teachers could incorporate computer coding with common core curriculum standards. I enthusiastically volunteered to be a part of the pilot and was able to contribute some useful tips about my coding journey and shared what I had learned along the way! Read on for some tips to help you get started with coding in your classroom!!

  

1. Find a programming platform that is user-friendly, with topics of high interest for students. I personally love using CS-First as a learning tool to teach Scratch to my students. It includes detailed video tutorials that take students and teachers through a wide variety of projects from beginner to intermediate level of ability. Students also love the topics on CS-First, such as video games, fashion, music and storytelling, so there is bound to be something that appeals to almost everyone’s interests!

2. Use paper pencil coding activities to introduce the concept of computer programming to students BEFORE getting on a computer to write any code. I know this might sound a little mundane to some, but it’s important for students to understand the concept of code before asking them to create their first coding project. You can find many paper pencil coding activities online or  check out some activities in the Coding Buddy Book I use with my students!

coding buddy book oin pic

3. Invite some guest speakers, who are experts in the field, into the classroom to talk about what they do. They could range from individuals who love to create coding projects for fun or people who work in the field. Students may get to see an older student’s finished project and get excited about creating their own, or they may hear from a software engineer from Microsoft, who creates video games for a living. This gives students some context as to how they will be able to take what they learn and create whatever their imagination desires!

4. Plan to have students complete the first coding project in pairs. Learning to code involves a great deal of problem solving, which can be both overwhelming and discouraging when you ask students to complete a project by themselves for the first time. For instance, the very first coding course I attended, I understood a half of what the instructor said! I quickly realized the teacher I was sitting next to (whom I didn’t know) had the same blank look on her face as me and we quickly befriended one another to navigate our way through our first project together! Students are way more likely to be successful (and have fun) when they work with someone else on their first project. For younger students, I think it’s a great idea to work with an older learning buddy or book buddy. In my experience, the amount of assistance younger students need when learning to code for the first time is sometimes too much for one teacher! We can only be in one place at a time! Check out the Coding Buddy Book to see how to go about having students complete a project in pairs! Psst…By working with a partner, the amount of questions and requests for teacher assistance will be cut in half!!

5. Have a spot for students to plan and organize their coding projects that isn’t on the computer! If you don’t try any of these tips, make sure you try this one! If your school is similar to mine, you only have access to a full set of computers a few times per week or once a day. A lot of time can be spent ‘thinking’ when students are meant to be writing code. This valuable computer time will be maximized if students have a location to write down their ideas and plans beforehand. They can use a notebook or portfolio and refer to it when they are creating their project on the computer. My students now brainstorm, plan, revise and reflect on their projects in a coding portfolio. They love having one place to keep everything and I can quickly check their progress without having to log onto a computer! Check out the Coding Portfolio I developed to solve this problem!

Plan, Code, Revise and Reflect

6. Have high school or college students come into your class to assist! This can be a huge help to teachers when first starting out! Not only can they help your students, they can answer any questions you might have as well. Our school district is lucky to have students from two Universities in the area, who volunteer to come into elementary schools to help teach coding to kids. The local Google in my city has also taken time to train high school students in Scratch, to visit elementary school classrooms to teach code.

I hope these tips help you get started with coding in your classroom. Follow me for more blog posts about coding in the classroom!

Stay tuned for my next post: Tips to Encourage Girls to Code! 

 

 

 

How to Use a Bump it Up Wall and Descriptive Feedback to Improve Student Performance

Have you ever thought about trying a Bump it Up Wall in your classroom? I had heard about Bump it Up Walls through colleagues, who said they were an effective tool in improving student performance on assessments, tests and exams. I had also experimented with using more descriptive feedback, rather than just handing out grades in my classroom, but wondered if the time it took to implement, would  affect the time I would have to fit in all of the other curriculum standards I still needed to teach! For years, I spent valuable time, writing descriptive feedback on student tests, projects and essays, only to feel frustrated that when the next assignment was handed in, I realized that my feedback hadn’t been implemented and I had to comment on the very same errors again! I decided I would try something new with students two years ago and I was surprised to find that the results were exactly what I was looking for! I can’t believe it took me 13 years of teaching to figure this out! Blog Picture Math Problem Solving

Two years ago, my school district began to focus on how educators could move students a grade forward on standardized tests. For instance, how could we move those students who scored a C on a standardized test to a B, or a student scoring a B to an A? My principal decided our school would try implementing Bump it Up walls in classrooms, as an initiative to support this overall district goal. When I researched what most Bump it Up Walls consisted of, I became very uncomfortable right away. I realized I would need to display individual student work and label it as excellent, average and poor, with the purpose of students seeing what they needed to add to their work, to improve their overall grade. A knot in my stomach began to form thinking about those students whose work would be labelled as poor or even average. How would they feel about having their work labelled as such, and displayed for the whole class to see? Would this really motivate them to improve their performance? My gut instinct told me no…at least not for my particular group of students. I know that many other educators are ok with using this strategy, which I carry no judgement, but it just didn’t fit with my own teaching philosophy.

I knew I had to think of another way to implement this initiative that would be both positive and motivating to all of my students. I decided I would form groups of students with mixed abilities and teach them to give descriptive feedback to each other, with the purpose of bumping up their work. With the focus on group work, students would collectively receive the feedback and would be more motivated to work together to improve their performance. Students, I found out, care about what their peers think of them ( ok we all knew that) but it turns out that students also care about what their peers think about their work! 

I began by having groups of students complete a math problem and explained the criteria I wanted them to follow when giving descriptive feedback to others. After completing the math problem, students rotated their work through each group to receive some descriptive feedback and saw how others approached solving the same problem. Students then recorded three things on a descriptive feedback organizer about the work: one thing the group did well (thumbs up), one thing they could improve upon (bump it up) and one question they had about the groups work. Students then read over all of the descriptive feedback given about their work and discussed it with their group. They were then asked to think about which piece of feedback would be most helpful to them in improving the quality of their work, and to share it with the class. This allowed us to begin a rich discussion about how to give valuable and constructive feedback to others. I also had students answer all of the lingering questions that others had about their work.

Bump it Up Student Descriptive FeedbackI must admit that the first time I tried this activity, the feedback students gave wasn’t very thoughtful or descriptive. It included things like “you used a good strategy” and “your writing could be neater”. I did have one group that had  something constructive to say and I used this as a jumping point into teaching students about how descriptive feedback was a valuable tool to help each other bump up the quality of their math responses. By the second math problem, students began to really think about the feedback they were going to give and became more accountable for the work they produced. Because they knew their peers would be giving them feedback and that it would be displayed for all of those entering our classroom to see, groups began to invest more time and effort into producing their best work! This had turned into a student led activity where I, the teacher, simply acted as a guide throughout the process!

I decided to still label our bulletin board as a Bump it Up Wall even though it was very different from most Bump it Up Walls. Instead of labeling work as excellent, average or poor, the student descriptive feedback, written by groups of students, was displayed next to each completed math problem. As a way of reinforcing  good feedback, I asked each group to choose only the organizer that had the most helpful feedback and displayed that organizer next to their work. Before completing another math problem, I began having groups visit the Bump it Up Wall to review the descriptive feedback they received from the last math problem and had them discuss how they could apply it to their next math problem.

I have to say that I’ve seen a huge improvement in students ability to determine how they can add details or revise their work to improve the overall quality. They are also much more comfortable giving, as well as receiving feedback from others. One area where I saw improvement, which I wasn’t anticipating, is my students willingness to apply MY teacher feedback that I write on assessments, when I hand back after grading! I’ve seen an overall improvement in the quality of student work and grades as a result. If you’d like to try this activity, you can find a free sample at my Inspire to Learn store on TPT. I also have the full unit, Math Collaborative Problem Solving in my store, which includes all of the resources that I used throughout this learning activity! 

My next goal is to see if I can apply this strategy across other areas of the curriculum and see similar results! I’m definitely glad I took the step to try a Bump it Up Wall in my classroom and the time it took to implement it, along with the descriptive feedback strategy, has actually freed up some time for curriculum teaching! I was surprised to see that because students were taking the time to think about the quality of their work and apply feedback in a more meaningful way, I spent less time having to re-teach various concepts throughout the year!

If you are looking to improve the quality of your students responses and are thinking of trying a Bump it Up Wall, find an approach that fits with your own teaching philosophy and watch your students grow as learners!

St. Patrick’s Day Activities in the Classroom

St. Patrick's Day Amazing Race Clue Book Pinterest Picture

St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Busy Teachers!

It’s that time of year again! St. Patrick’s Day! The one time of year where people across the world celebrate St. Patrick and the Irish culture. I have many great memories of St. Patrick’s Day as a child, however as a teacher, it’s a different story. You see it’s probably the busiest time of year as a teacher. If you’re like me, you are scrambling to get curriculum standards taught before the end of the year, as well as writing student report cards!

Although I personally love St. Patrick’s Day (I’m Irish after all), I started to dread it as a teacher because I am so busy juggling my many other teaching responsibilities this time of year! During my first few years of teaching, I started with the tissue paper shamrocks, hoping to cover some Art curriculum standards. Boy was that a mess and my classroom smelled like glue for a week! After a few years, I moved to my students researching and writing a newspaper article about the life of St. Patrick. Yes, I was still covering some curriculum standards! I realized quickly that my students were bored stiff by this activity. They’d learned about St. Patrick EVERY year since they probably began their education! I knew I needed to come up with something that was fun, covered curriculum standards, was low prep for us busy teachers and a quick ‘go to’ every year!

I finally decided it was time to come up with a fun and engaging way to teach about St. Patrick and the Irish culture for St. Patrick’s Day and my students LOVE IT!!!!

In teams, students race around Ireland figuring out clues about Irish landmarks, myths and interesting facts. In order to move on in the race, they need to write a paragraph about each location using specific success criteria. As you can imagine, they are super motivated to produce their best writing ever! Everyone wants to be the winners of the race! 

I’m sure there are other teachers out there like me, who are looking for something engaging for their students to work on for St. Patrick’s Day! I’ve included the link to the activity on my page if you’d like to give it a try!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Happy Teaching!