Isabella’s Garden

Isabelllas Garden

Last year, my favourite CBCA Shortlisted book was Isabella’s Garden, by the extremely talented Glenda Millard, with gorgeous illustrations by Rebecca Cool.

Earlier this week I was reading the latest blog post from 2KM and 2KJ about their Book Week celebrations. Now, Book Week is probably my favourite calendar event at school – and has been since I was in primary school. I remember many years of trying to decide on which book character I was going to dress up as for the Book Parade and now as a primary school teacher, I get to do it all again!

(This year I dressed up as Sunday Chutney – apparently there’s a photo floating around, so I’ll need to find it and post it!)

But, going back to 2KM and 2KJ’s blog post, I left a comment for them about how my class would be celebrating Book Week – with lots of reading and lots of art activities and lots of celebrating learning. And I was talking about some of the books we’d be reading as well – not just the 2011 shortlisted books, but also some from last year – including the aforementioned Isabella’s Garden.

I received a lovely comment back from Molly, asking who the author for Isabella’s Garden was and I was happy to reply, and with a bit about why I really adore this particular book.

I’ll even go so far as to say that this book is probably up there with some of my all-time favourite picture-books. I just love the language that Glenda Millard uses to conjure up such wonderful mental images – the repetitiveness of  the phrases she uses and how it depicts the change in the seasons and the life cycle of the plants in Isabella’s garden.

Last year, my prep class loved the book, and I was even happier to be sharing it with my class this year, because I know how much pleasure students can get out of hearing the story – and joining in when they realise that they know the words to the story. It’s quite lyrical in that sense.

These are the flowers that waltz with the wind that ruffles the buds, all velvety-skinned that swelled the shoots that sought the sun that kissed the clouds that cried the rain that soaked the seeds that slept in the soil all dark and deep, in Isabella’s garden.

Recreating Isabella’s Garden:

And, to follow up the reading, my students and I talked about the change in the seasons – and what happens to a garden over the course of a year. Then we talked about how each season can be represented by different combinations of colour (which prompted us to go back to the story):

  • Summer: yellow, orange, green, bright blue
  • Autumn: orange, brown
  • Winter: pale blue, white
  • Spring: bight green, pink, orange, red

Following this we made a very simple paper collage – with 2 rules:

  1. No scissors allowed!
  2. No pencils allowed!

Students created a scene from the season of their choice – a landscape –  using paper ripping techniques and their imaginations.

They were quite apprehensive when I told them they weren’t allowed to pre-draw their images – but once they realised that they were capable of tearing the paper and creating a picture using small bits and pieces they spent quite a bit of time putting together the ‘perfect’ scene. Not a single student complained that they couldn’t do it, or that they didn’t know what to do – and that is the mark of a successful lesson, where everyone can achieve their best work.

Isabella's Garden

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Do you have a favourite picturebook that inspires you?

Do you have a favourite book activity that you would like to share? (I’d love to hear it!)

Face to Face Networking

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One of the most challenging things about teaching, at the moment, is the integration of technology into daily classroom use. Since starting to build my online PLN, barely a month ago, I’ve been inundated with great ideas from educators who do just that – and they do it well.

While I didn’t grow up with technology from a very young age, by the end of Primary School, I had access to a computer at home and I had a blog on LiveJournal just after I turned 13. (I shudder to think about the things I probably posted on that blog!) I’ve always loved using computers to connect and talk to other people, to write and share ideas. It’s a great way to meet and learn from people who live all over the world, which is the driving force behind online PLNs, Twitter chats and other sources of networking.

However, as a relatively new teacher to the profession, relatively young and – dare I say it – naive to the politics involved in teaching, I sometimes struggle with the idea that there are teachers out there who are reluctant to make use of all the amazing resources available to them – mostly free – online.

As a result, just in the last four weeks I’ve found myself presenting web2.0 tools to parents, colleagues from my workplace and colleagues from the local teaching network. For me, it’s a very strange position to be in, not least because I’m absolutely petrified of public speaking (please don’t ask me what I’ve actually said at any of these presentations, because I’m usually so nervous I can’t remember!). But the sad thing is, it feels like if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t be presented at all and I think that’s a detriment to teaching in such a digital age.

In a lot of ways, I consider myself a sponge – I want to learn and know as much as I possibly can (usually in the shortest time span), and I’m willing to put the time in to teach myself. In reality, I know that schools can only provide so much professional development on ICT development, tools and skills – there’s just so much that is crammed into each year, so much time spent before and after school at meetings and planning that it’s just not possible.* That said, I think teachers also need to be willing to put in an effort on their own – and spend 15-20mins researching and playing with the different tools they want to use with their students – and ultimately it’s that 20mins that will the most valuable in the long run.

*Unless of course you volunteer your own time (which I recommend, in moderation) to attend PD that you want to. Or attending something wonderful, like RSCON3 – or simply watching the recordings!

To that end, during our most recent Mini-Network Meeting – a gathering of teachers from local schools meeting together in Level teams to discuss areas of interest – which was held at my school for Level 1, it was decided that we would look at free, interactive resources for teachers. (Ultimately, this also included subscriptions that schools had, classroom resources and blogs.)

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I’ll admit to getting all exciting and pulling together all the links of great sites I’d come across over the last couple of years (and a few from the last few weeks!) and throwing them into a LiveBinder all ready to share. I organised a short link for ease of access and made sure we had access to an IWB for the session. During the meeting, I was able to easily show examples of sites, explain what they were, etc. Others we able to suggest extra resources (which were recording and added to the LiveBinder) and we had decent discussion going.

And, I think it went well. It was actually quite hard to judge; these were people I see once a term (if that) and I’m not sure if it was what they were expecting, or whether it was an overload or if they just thought it was a waste of time. Most of the suggestions for additional resources were subscription sites/accounts that schools had purchased, which was fine, and there were suggestions for blogs that one of the teachers followed (I internally leaped for joy at the thought of another local teacher following blogs!).

The feedback I got from my AP was very positive though – and it is nice to hear that from school leadership.

100 Days of School Celebrations


Last Wednesday (August 3rd, 2011), my prep class celebrated their first 100 Days of School.

Now, I know this is not a new concept, but for our school it was and it was extremely successful. Which was a huge relief for me, because I drove the whole idea, and the days leading up to it were quite nerve-racking for me. Being only in my second year of teaching I didn’t know how it would go over with the rest of the team, and with the school, so I didn’t make such a huge deal over it with the wider school community (although if my contract is renewed at the end of this year that will change for next year).

My rationale behind the 100 Days of School celebrations was purely to give my students something to celebrate – a tangible milestone that had lots of educational merit. We start the majority of our numeracy sessions with counting, and since the middle of last term we’ve counted from 1-100 – so it’s not something that’s out of reach for them. In fact, for some it’s downright easy – but ‘100’ is such an exciting number that just knowing they had reached 100 days filled each of them with such enthusiasm.

Plus, it’s nice to have a themed day where all the activities are geared towards the same concept – from sport, to literacy and numeracy!

We really did have a great day, doing all sorts of activities. I specifically didn’t have a concrete list of activities that HAD to be completed by the end of the day. I had lots of activities that we could move through at our own pace, which turned out to be one of the most successful elements, in my opinion.

So, what did we do?

The shortest answer is: lots!

  • We made posters displayed 100 objects in 10 groups of 10. Students brought in 100 small objects of their choice (including pasta, beads, rice, stickers, matchsticks, etc) to use for their posters and I provided lots of extra items for students who forgot. One of the nicest elements of this activity thought, besides the wonderful numeracy concepts, was that students shared their objects with each other, and had 10 groups of 10 different items on their posters. They approached each other and asked if they could use 10 of the other students’ beads, or use 10 of their stickers. Some students even recorded who they received items from on their charts, which was just lovely to see. This activity took most of the first 2 hours of the day, and I let it, because they just had a wonderful time, and I’m not going to stand in the way of enthusiasm!
  • We did 100 exercises! After recess we stayed outside in the sun (we couldn’t have asked for nicer weather on Wednesday) and made a big circle. We then did 10 groups of 10 different exercises and stretches before heading back inside.
  • We wrote about what we would buy if we had $100. Students brainstormed a list of the things they would buy with $100 and then completed a sentence-starter and illustrated their pages beautifully. All of their writing is to be collated into a classroom book for a class library!
  • We explored the different ways that we could make 100. On a poster we stuck on pictures of 100s charts, $100 notes, 100 smiley faces, a hundreds MAB block and 10 groups of 10 icy-pole sticks and thought about all the ways we could make 100.
  • We made a tower of 100 unifix blocks. Students then took turns lying down next to our tower to see if anyone was as long as the tower (disappointingly, no), and then demanded that I lie down next to it. Unfortunately I am not as tall as 100 unifix blocks! However, when our principal, Mrs. Ringrose visited, the students quickly decided that she was definitely taller than 100 unifix blocks!
  • We rolled 6-sided and 10-sided dice and coloured in a 100s chart. Students rolled a die and had to colour in the number of squares on their 100s chart… until they reached 100. Some students made rainbow coloured charts, others decided to use 2 or 3 different colours to form patterns.
  • We looked at a 1m ruler and talked about how long 100cm was. Students then used streamers to estimate how long 100cm was (with the ruler hidden!) – some results were very close and some of the methods used to work out the results were inspired. One student noted how high the ruler was in comparison to our IWB and then used her foot to hold the streamer on the ground and unrolled the streamer until she found the ‘right’ spot on the board. In the end we had 2 students, one who was approximately an inch too short, and one who was an inch too long, so they were both declared the winners!
  • We made a chain of 100 paper links. A collaborative effort that was placed up in our classroom!
  • We made special masks. This was apparently one of the highlights of the day – something they could make and take/wear home after school. Most just decorated them with textas and sequins, but a few were quite inventive, covering them in the number 100!

At the end of the day, I was able to give each student a laminated certificate congratulating them on reaching 100 days of school.

I suppose the most gratifying part of the day was the happiness of my students at the end of the day – they were just so bubbly. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many hugs as they ran out the door to show their parents what they’d made!

I also had some lovely feedback from parents, and also from my principal who had been running school tours during the morning with prospective parents coming through the classrooms. I know that next year, whether or not I’m there, 100 Days with continue – hopefully bigger and better!

What I took away from the experience is the confidence that I am actually able to introduce ideas – successfully – and that I just have to be brave enough to say “this is what I’m doing (and would you like to join in with me!).”

Does your school run a 100 Days of School celebration?

What kinds of activities do they include?

What is (on of) your proudest achievements/experiences as a teacher?