Monthly Archives: October 2011

An Approach to Social Studies & Science: Building Excitement – Engaging Students

Social Studies & Science: Building Excitement – Engaging Students

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see that I do my best to ensure that my students are excited about learning. I want their experiences in the classroom to be dynamic, challenging, active and organic.
This week I have been thinking a lot about Social Studies & Science and what I do to try to ensure that my students are actively engaged in the learning process. I hope that after posting this others will also their ideas and experiences we the rest of us.


An Approach to Social Studies & Science: Building Excitement – Engaging Students

1. Begin by showing (e.g. visual displays) and talking to students about what they will know “at the end of the unit of study”. Give students time to process the information.

2. Start with a few short readings on the subject matter: picture books (fiction & nonfiction), magazines, websites (on SmartBoard), video clips, etc.

3. “Speed Dating with Books” – Place one book on each desk. Students are given a few minutes with each book. On your signal they switch to the next desk & book. Be certain to provide some follow-up discussion time.

4. Complete KWHL chart. I never do this until after we have discussed the subject matter, read books, watched videos etc. I find that they respond better when they have “an anchor” – a base from which to operate. Discover the following: What are they interested in? What are they passionate about? What do they want to learn about? Strike a balance between the program that you are required to deliver and their interests.

5. Find live, local experts: Canvas your class, your school, your friends and neighbours. Invite local experts/speakers into the classroom to share their knowledge & experiences.

6. Find in house experts. What are other teachers in “your world” (e.g. school, PLN, find LiveBinders, etc.) doing to make Social Studies engaging? Ask!

7. Use all media to engage learners – be a detective, ask around. There’s a lot out there!

8. Engage in collaborative projects.

9. Incorporate drama: Have students role-play. Write & act out skits based on the subject matter. Come to school dressed as characters or a people: play and perform. Schedule “special days”: e.g. “Ancient Egypt Day”: Students come in costume, bring traditional foods & rotate through centres. e.g. Set up a legislative debate in the classroom (

10. Incorporate all subject areas: e.g. Math, Art, Drama, Gym, etc.

11. Take students on field trips – explore the world outside the four walls of the classroom.

12. Go on virtual field trips – e.g. –  Google Treks –

13. Conduct classroom experiments – students always love a hands-on approach (e.g.

14. Skype with other schools, countries, experts …

15. Create virtual timelines: e.g. Timetoast

16. Explore Museum Box

17. Play games & watch videos on the Smartboard (e.g. BrainPop & StudyJam)

18. Be enthusiastic! Allow your excitement to be infectious! Get into it! Inspire & ignite!


Active Listening and Initiating Tasks – The Engaged Learner:

Active Listening and Initiating Tasks  – The Engaged Learner:

If you had been a fly on my classroom wall last week you would have been aware of a meeting that I had with one of my students. “Sherry” a sweet Grade 5 student, experiences tremendous difficulty attending in class (she often seems detached) and initiating tasks. We talked about this and about the impact that this was having on her learning in the classroom. We talked openly and honestly about my classroom expectations, and about her role as a leaner and mine as her teacher. We discussed what she needed to take responsibility for and what I could do to help. Here’s what we came up with:

Attention & Initiation

(A) Teacher Role:

  • Prior to any transition or lesson give Sherry a “heads up”. Share privately what’s coming up next.
  • Cue Sherry before giving instructions.
  • Stand next to Sherry prior to asking questions and giving instructions so that she knows to pay attention.
  • Ensure for understanding – e.g. Ask her to paraphrase instructions &/or rephrase concepts.
  • Whenever possible ensure that she is actively engaged in the learning process.
  • Every once in a while be silly / playful in order to gain her attention.
  • Allow for frequent breaks and movement in the classroom when appropriate.

(B) Student Role:
After discussing what “Active Listening” looks like, we decided that in order to listen effectively Sherry must exhibits the following behaviours. Sherry must:

  1. Sit up straight – Especially as she tends to want to lie on her desk
  2. (Make) Eye contact – Look at the speaker
  3. Ask relevant questions – Once the speaker has finished ask relevant questions
  4. Share – Share any related stories, opinions, etc.
  5. Positivism – Be positive. Listen with an open  mind; be engaged.

In order to remember these behaviours she and I came up with the following acronym: S.E.A.S.P. & silly sentence:
“Sneaky elephants ate stolen peanuts”

S(it up straight) – Sneaky
E(ye contact) – Elephants
A(ask) – Ate
S(hare / relate to) – Stolen
P(ositivism) – Peanuts

& then … so as to further ingrain these expected behaviours Sherry drew a magnificently silly picture of “sneaky elephants eating stolen peanuts”. The picture was so fantastic that it is now a laminated poster on our wall. Using the poster Sherry then taught the entire class “The ABCs of Active Listening”. We all benefited from this/her learning experience …
& now we’ll just have to wait and see how is all plays out!
At any rate: It was loads of fun.


Our Children: Expose, Encourage, Give Permission, Have …

Our Children: Expose, Encourage, Give Permission, Have … 

The other day a parent asked me what more she could do to raise a “great kid”! Now that was an open ended question!

We talked about her child in particular and her family in general. We talked about all of the great things that she was doing already  (and there were many!) and we took it from there. Together we created the following list … so I just thought I’d share what we came up with.

… & of course we discussed that fact that all that follows would come to be in a perfect world … we agreed that she would check off those things that they already did as a family (which made her feel great!) and then start to introduce those areas that she was most comfortable with …

I hope that you find this list to be of some use as well.


(A) Expose your child to:
– Books – read a lot & be seen reading
– Art – visit a gallery; explore books, movies & play
– Music – all types of music
– Cooking/Baking – this is a great family activity & develops both math and organizational skills
– Math – encourage her to see math as practical; as useful & part of our every day world
– Science – it’s all around us
– Accomplished, interesting people
… in short – & in a perfect world – the world 😉

(B) Give your child permission to:
… discover his passions, his own interests
… ask, wonder & explore the world around her … to ask questions
… daydream
… consider cause and effect
… make a mess 😉
… make mistakes

(C) Have:
… high, realistic expectations
… a sensory rich environment – encourage him to see, hear, smell, taste, touch
… a special creative work space for her – a place with paper, pencils, colours, glitter, stickers, clay, puppets, instruments, games, etc.
… opened-ended activity time – who knows where this will lead you
… family time: a walk in the park, game night, etc.

The Benefits of Student Blogging – Alphabetically Speaking

The Benefits of Student Blogging – Alphabetically Speaking

I want my students to blog. I believe that the benefits and opportunities for learning are simply amazing.
If you had been a fly on my classroom wall last week you would have heard me talking about many of the benefits of student blogging with a colleague of mine.
Here are a few of them … alphabetically speaking.

The Benefits of Student Blogging

Authenticity – authentic writing for authentic audiences
Affordability – is for example is free
Builds confidence as students shine, share & respond
Carries across the curriculum
Collaborative discussions as students respond to & learn from one another
Communication skills – writing for an audience necessitates & builds effective communication skills
Connections between students & classes, between home & school
higher order thinking skills (as students write, read, reflect & respond)
Digital Age – learning about, creating and leaving positive digital footprints
Digital Citizenship – students learn about proper etiquette & cybersafety
Editing skills development – undertaken in manageable, bite sized chunks
Facilitates constructive criticism
Improves typing skills
Introduces, interjects & integrates technology into all subject areas
styles are put into play that might not always otherwise be
Provides a medium within which to apply learning
Motivates independent writers & readers
Organic (not static)
Peer mentoring
Reading skills development
Reflective thinking / practice
Responsibility & awareness – provides an authentic opportunity to teach & monitor both
Sharing ideas, understanding, etc.
Student driven (teacher facilitated)
Writing skills development – skills include writing for meaning, organization, sentence structure, spelling, grammar, etc.