Have you heard?It’s all about the WORD…

A new year and a slightly different focus…and yes it’s all about the ‘word’, in particular the spoken word!

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This year we want to help our students go beyond any limits and build a vibrant capacity for exploring new vocabulary which will enable them to build strong foundations to become“creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world.” 

We began by delving in deeply to think about when throughout the day we could focus on practising the skills required for active listening and speaking, as well as introducing new vocabulary and not simply during the literacy block! In actual fact when you stop to consider it we are constantly using our language skills everyday across all subjects, when we interact with each other and socialise outside in the playground. At our school we begin each day focusing on a particular social skill based on three of our six pillars  (Witness, Manage and Relate) and in my learning space we have the students working in ‘Tribe groups’. Each tribe has between 4-5 students and every week the students take turns in being the tribe leader, supply manager, communicator and cheer squad. This week we were able to integrate Religion into our tribes as each tribe had to work together to create a poster teaching others everything they knew about Ash Wednesday. As the groups worked on their poster they were reminded of the social skills for this particular week:

learning to share equipment, furniture and learning spaces.

make people feel welcome

• Look after my own, others and school property 

It was fascinating watching the students who were able to communicate effectively as well as apply the social skill learning. Then there were other students who although they are good communicators during other learning opportunities guided by the teacher in this particular situation they struggled to share the equipment and communicate their intentions or feelings with each other. At the end of the task all the students who had the communicators job this week stood up and presented their poster to the larger group. This can be challenging for many students especially when they are EALD (English as an Additional Language or Dialect). One of the student’s who couldn’t recall all the information added by another student actually asked them for clarification. The more opportunities these students have to practice their speaking skills then they can incorporate any new vocabulary learnt and have peer modelling as well.

To assist in this journey of discovery our professional learning meetings are incorporating a balance of reading articles, accessing resource books, participating in open discussions amongst colleagues and then sharing of ideas.

Each week we are trialling a new idea in our learning spaces to enhance the development of new vocabulary and being very aware of supporting student voice within the learning spaces. One of the activities I have been using with the students has been a ‘word wheel’ where we identify new words from a text or key concept and then students get to talk with a partner about how they can use them in a sentence. Each student shares their sentence with each other and then I extended on this to have them write it in their literacy books, adding an illustration to match. This matches the saying “If I can think it I can say it, if I can say it I can write and if I can write it then I can read it!” The students have enjoyed choosing which 4 words they would like included in the word wheel daily and eagerly share their new sentence with their partner. Some of the students are working on using 2 words while others are ready for the challenge of using all 4 words in a sentence.

This week we have been using a ‘talking stick’ in a maths warm up where the students have been creating patterns using 2 D shapes. Then within their small group one student holds the talking stick and describes their pattern while the others listen. An anchor chart that the students helped co-create is used as a resource for the students to refer to when using the language of 2D shapes. Every day the students are growing a bank of new words to add to their vocabulary so their limits will be endless!

Next step is transferring this knowledge into the student’s writing…but that’s another Blog! So we’ll keep on exploring and using the power of the WORD!!

Empowering Our Students!

It’s week 5 of Term 4, time to stop and reflect on all the ways that my Stage One students have grown and changed. A word that keeps playing over and over again in my head is “empower” which I then connect to “student voice and choice”. There are many different ways that this is evident within our learning space but one of them is how we begin our mornings, through our social skills program.

This week our social skill has been on showing “Respect for the environment” with a particular focus on our Witness and Relate pillars 
-Share equipment, learning spaces and furniture
-Make people feel welcome when they visit our school
-Look after my own, others and school property

The students are in ‘Tribe Groups’ of up to 5 students and this week I gave them the challenge of thinking about the best way they could show how to ‘share equipment, learning spaces and furniture’ as well being able to ‘look after own, others and school property’. As a whole group we acknowledged that we felt very confident with welcoming others to our school so the decision was made that we would focus on the other two indicators. So instead of myself as the teacher creating activities I thought the students would benefit from, they were given the responsibility to co-create ideas with their tribe members. The students were totally engaged in discussing and problem solving within their tribes to work out the best possible methods to show the Pillars in action. Each tribes communicator then shared their ideas which were recorded on an action plan in preparation for the implementation of these activities by each tribe. The ideas included playing a broad range of board games, dominoes, fishing game and drawing. The next step was for the supply manager to gather all the resources that each tribe needed for their activity. All the students had to agree within their tribes in regards to the activity selected and the space within the room for the learning and play to occur. At no point did I need to intervene as the students took total control of their own learning. What I did do was take some photos so that the students could reflect on what they saw taking place around them. This process takes place across the whole week.

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The next step was for the students to choose which tribe they felt had displayed the best practice around the indicators for the Witness and Relate Pillars and the photos representing these will be added to our Pillar displays. The posters are used by the students to help them make direct connections with their daily learning. What was fantastic was the reasoning that students provided for their choices around the most successful tribe.

You know when something works well because the students take total ownership over their own learning, they are fully engaged and a visiting teacher makes comments on the students capacity to independently manage themselves! All of this shouts “EMPOWERMENT = STUDENT VOICE and CHOICE”…this empowerment hasn’t happened over one week or even one term because we have been working on the student capacity for independent thinking and learning all year! What has become most apparent is that the students obviously enjoy being able to choose that activity they feel connects with the social skill indicators they are currently working on. ‘Play’ for these students is important learning and it enables them to action not only responsibility for sharing equipment, learning spaces and furniture but valuing each other as important contributors to an ever changing world. Every day they are asked to solve problems, some of them small while others can be more challenging. Therefore the more opportunities we provide them with for practising these skills will definitely continue to empower them.

Learning…who, what and why?

As a teacher I know and recognise the importance of learning both for my students and for myself. Knowing this and trying to maintain this can often be two completely different things. WHY you ask? Great question…imagine yourself at the end of a very busy week and you are looking forward to that well earned rest called the “weekend” together with the typical sleep in that is connected to a Saturday morning!

Ah no WAKE UP…you have been given an opportunity to attend an amazing conference that will inspire you and enhance your professional learning. Sounds incredible, right…however at 6:00 am on a Saturday morning I was struggling to keep these thoughts in my mind as all I really wanted to do was sleep. My morning went like this;

Snooze the alarm, at least 2 times, then jump out of bed in a rush knowing that I’ll be late and this will impact on my colleagues with whom I am travelling with. Dash to the meeting place, worry that we won’t get to the venue on time, while CRAVING coffee so I can wake up properly. Eventually arrive at our destination in good time (oh and with some coffee too), a little early in fact, sign in and meet up with the rest of my colleagues who also have opted to improve their learning opportunities. Next we locate our seats, the lights dim….the excitement builds and BAM the realisation of why I’m choosing to be here on a Saturday morning!

I AM A LIFELONG LEARNER…and that simply means we are learning every day whether it be from the students we teach or from other inspiring educators and professional speakers. That day of learning reminded me that we all need to follow up any opportunity granted to us to build on our knowledge base and push beyond the limits of what is comfortable and seek greater clarification for an ever changing world. We expect the students we work with to embrace change and seek new knowledge then we too must follow that same path. There were moments of incredible clarity that stood out for me. The first was the fact that when our students enter the big wide world no-one is going to ask them about their report cards or how well they did in any assessment. What will matter is “the quality of their character and their work”. At my school we have our 6 Pillars of learning that bring to prominence the capabilities to support our students in an ever changing world so that they can seek to solve world problems and therefore make a difference.

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The other message that continued throughout the day was the fact that we live in an ever changing world and the need to include our students in this journey of discovery that is authentic and connected for them as learners. We can enhance their learning through inquiry and project based learning. Listen to their questions and allow them time to think and then reflect on what they know and then need to know to solve these problems. When planning an inquiry process we want learning that has purpose, the WHY? The more real it is the clearer it is for our students.

Another important perspective is the need to reflect throughout any project….along the way. Critique the work and ask questions and don’t be afraid to have multiple drafts.

  • Make another version based on the feedback and reflections.
  • Students need to learn how to give feedback.
  • The project is presented to a public audience PUBLIC PRODUCT.

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So although I began the day ‘wondering’ why I needed to wake up early on a Saturday, I finished the day ‘knowing’ just how much I had been inspired to continue to learn and share that enthusiasm with other teachers and most importantly with my amazing students. None of us ever stop learning…

 

Teaching…why?

This term has been busy, enlightening and extremely challenging! So much so that I have found myself reflecting on WHY do I TEACH?the simple answer is that I love learning and working with children. In a time when I was searching for help it was my students who came to the rescue!

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This quote reflects what happened to me during a hectic term of coaching, co-planning, teaching, writing reports and participating in student led conferences…the business of the day to day teaching and the general workload played havoc with my well being.

So how did the children help to heal me?

  • Through their eagerness to learn
  • Acceptance of each others strengths and weaknesses
  • Positive attitudes and always doing their best
  • Their gift of laughter and a joy of loving
  • Respect for self, others and their environment

During student led conferences, one of my students arrived with a special gift for me…a plant aptly named “Rabbit Ears” (long leaves that felt just like velvet) and with an enormous smile she explained to me all about the plant. Attached was a card with the words “Thank you” and this meant the world to me. It was during many of the student led conferences that I began to realise just why I do teach…watching how confidently the children shared their learning with their parents and with great pride they explained the tasks and how they knew that these indeed were their strengths and areas they would like to continue to work on. Being able to support these students by providing them with opportunities to develop life skills, that they can apply to a variety of situations and assist them in becoming creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world is WHY I TEACH.

Young children are intuitive and without being asked they seek to help, from a simple hug to an amazing response in a maths task about chance!

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At the heart of what I do is the “child” and knowing this builds a better picture of why I continue to strive to improve my skills as a teacher. Teaching is a profession where we never stop learning and part of that learning this term for me has been around my recognition of what caring for my well being entails. Seeking help is a positive solution and being able to identify symptoms is integral to caring for your well being too.

Being part of a collaborative team has been another great factor in my reasoning about why I teach and the fact that they have supported me through a challenging term has helped the healing process. I know that I have high expectations of myself both as an individual and as a professional but that’s who I am….I AM A TEACHER!

 

Inquiry learning in Religious Education from Stage 1 students perspective…

The Bible is missing, where could it have possibly gone!!!!!

ENTRY EVENT-the Bible is missing

And so the investigation began with the students searching the entire school as part of our IGNITE entry event…there were clues for the students to locate and then solve together! I have never seen the students so engaged and excited to solve a problem that related directly to them…

Why do we have a Bible?

This is our driving question that we will unpack over the term, however, back to the unfolding events in Stage 1 White. Following the discovery of the missing Bible we…

  • Went on a discovery journey investigating clues that took us around the school both inside and out.
  • Discussed what might have happened to our Bible and why we couldn’t find it? Yes that’s right we never found it although we searched high and low and there may have even been a suggestion that other teachers may have taken it – insert shocked expressions here!
  • Together we brainstormed why we thought we have a Bible and then with a partner we worked out “what we already know” and “what we need to know” in order to fully investigate our driving question.
  • All of this happened in the last week of Term 1 and the reason for this was so I could develop an inquiry program that was based on what students already knew and what they felt they needed to know  in order to answer our question. The diversity in answers and information was incredible with some students having lots of prior knowledge while others wanted to know the number of pages, chapters and what stories there were in the Bible about Jesus and God.
  • Our school community only has a 47% population that are from the Catholic Faith while the rest are of other or no religious backgrounds at all. All our Stage 1 students are very interested in our Bible and how it holds messages from God.

My role involved not only gathering information from the students but looking at our existing “Sharing Our Story” syllabus from Parramatta CEDP and combining units to then create an Inquiry based unit. Challenge accepted and with great excitement I am sharing this journey with my colleagues on Stage One as well as the students.

 

Running on EMPTY…

At the beginning of the school year students and educators alike all begin with lots of energy and excitement. Then by the end of term we are all tired, in need of rest and recuperation…running on empty. So how does this change occur and WHY?

To attempt to answer this question fully we really need to reflect on what has taken place during the last 11 weeks –

  • Fostering Independence

All students now independently enter our school autonomously so as to foster the capabilities of each individual child and allow them to relate and communicate with others in the school community. This occurred after much preparation, which included sharing articles with families, having open discussions with both students and their parents. This preparation took place over the first couple of weeks and then with support from both staff and parents, the students took a leap of faith and began entering the school by themselves taking on the responsibility of carrying their own bag and organising themselves in readiness for a full day of learning.

-Another change has been the introduction of student diaries from stage 1 upwards. This is to enable students to take on the responsibilities of remembering all the items they require to organise  their own learning and share information between school and home.

  • Social Skills

– Every day begins and ends with a reflection on the social skills that we are focusing on for that week and that is connected to our school pillars. Dependent on the social skill and the unique needs of the students the activities could include making posters (paper or digital), viewing stories, having open discussions within small groupings, dramatisations or even unpacking what a particular skill may look like, sound like or even feel like. Students then decide on their own personal goal for that week which is recorded in their diary. Every Friday these goals are reviewed by the students and then cosigned by a teacher to acknowledge the efforts the students have applied during the week.

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  • Opportunities for Learning

-This term has also seen the introduction of ‘Tribes’ where the students gather in small groups to say prayer, reflect on and discuss the weekly social skills. Staff are then able to mark the class rolls while encouraging independence of each individual child who is learning to work cooperatively within a small group with a focus on the pillar of Witness, Managing themselves and Relating to others. The students then changed groupings, often moving to a different learning space in readiness for the literacy or numeracy blocks.

-Since the beginning of the year students and staff have worked hard to get to know each other and build new friendships. There were many new students to St Luke’s Catholic College, as well as those students who moved up to stage 1 at the beginning of the year from ES1.

-Technology; this term students have used iPads, Ozobots (coding), Chrome books to support their learning and share their thinking. Students have taken on the role of ‘teacher’ sharing their skills of expertise in utilising apps on the iPad to enhance learning. ‘Busy’ is a word that comes to mind but doesn’t do actual justice to the valuable learning opportunities that have occurred this term in stage 1.

-In weeks 10 – 11 all the resources had to be reviewed, then packed up and moved to our brand new learning spaces in the newly completed “School of Foundations”.

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The excitement may have become less apparent but the joy of seeing the students grow and become increasingly more independent and capable is a continual element of my teaching day and brings a smile to my face. Energy levels are currently depleted but easily fixed by ensuring that part of the school holidays is spent focused on well being. These holidays are extra special as they include Easter and the gift that God gave to us all, His only Son, Jesus.

I may be running on empty but it was totally worth it…

Changing gears…in learning, teaching and life!

When we begin driving we display an ‘L’ plate and then after some experience behind the wheel we work our way to a ‘P’ plate. Then finally the day arrives when you are a fully qualified and recognised driver with a full licence…you feel excited, exhilarated with this newly acquired freedom. Well for me this equates to my  journey in learning, teaching and life except that the cycle is never ending but in fact a continuous circle. At points along the continuum I may be wearing an ‘L’ plate or in fact have moved so far along that I have my full licence.

Right now I’m still  very much on my L’s with moving into a NEW Stage for teaching, NEW grade partners, a NEW building, a NEW leadership role and a change in family dynamics….yes a lot of changes in a very small amount of time. Suddenly I understand more fully the impact of change that our students experience at the beginning of every NEW year where they meet NEW teachers and peers.

So now I’m a Stage One teacher and there are quite a few students in my group that I taught either last year in ES1 or the previous year when they were in my ES1 class. Those students that are now in their second year (Yr 2) of Stage One are displaying their ‘P’ plates as they confidently take on the challenges of learning and growing in Stage One. However, as I watch the newest members of Stage One (Yr 1) they, like me, are very much wearing their ‘L’ plates. We all need some time to readjust and find some new friends and trust in our own abilities as learners that what we see as challenges right now will become less frightening and with some creative thinking and innovative problem solving will eventually become our strengths. Having an awareness has made me realise that these students will require extra support at times when they are feeling overwhelmed and just like adults, they need to be acknowledged when they are doing their best. I feel so proud of all my students as I watch them grow and at times struggle to move from L plate to P plate and then continue to strive to attain a full licence….the possibilities are endless.

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My colleagues and students give me inspiration and it’s through them that I knew it was time for me to try a new pathway….this year sees me also taking on a brand new leadership role of ‘Religious Education Inquiry leader K-4’. As a life long learner I see this as an amazing opportunity for personal and professional growth. The best part of being within a team is that we all share our gifts and talents with each other…..knowledge and skills are plentiful, so on those days that my L plate is way too heavy all I have to do is reach out my hand and I know that someone will help me!

The last change was probably the hardest…especially as family is so precious…but recognising when the time is right for others (in this case my daughter) to encounter their own worldly adventures is priceless! Do I miss her? Very much, but I know that she is exploring the world and I’m so lucky to still have the rest of my family at home who also help me with changing gears and moving forward!!

Oh, did I happen to mention my learning in Barcelona…..wait that means more change and another blog post. So until next time have fun changing gears and wearing whichever plate best describes your journey…LP….or even full licence….

Freedom of choice in ES1

When our ES1 students began in term 1 of this year they encountered a learning space that has been designed to facilitate creative learning opportunities and provide flexible seating arrangements. This choice was nothing new to these beginning students who had come from early learning centres where the program is based on individual needs and interests of each child. There are no designated seats for the children throughout the day which has meant a smooth progression into ES1 for our students. The furniture from NorvaNivel is inviting and easily adjusted to meet the changing needs of the students as well as the tasks we are exploring.

 

 

Our students are engaged in a variety of speaking and listening activities which flow into the choices provided in purposeful play. In this way the children get to work on a particular skill before attempting the task independently. One example of this was the lego bridge challenge where students had to communicate and collaborate with a partner to build a bridge that could go over the water that sat between them without touching it. To add an extra element of challenge the children were given a handful of lego as well as a 5 minute time limit….the conversations that developed from this task enabled the children to identify this as an ‘engineering’ task and they wanted to know if it could be possible make the water wider. Another highlight that the children shared from their self reflections was the importance to be able to choose the right pieces of lego and then talk to a partner about how they could both make it together. The children are extremely proud of their bridges and at the end of purposeful play they display them for others to view and appreciate.

 

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So this brings me to the element of choice….where else in the curriculum can we provide the children with choice, based on something they want to do? This was the question posed at a professional learning meeting and in ES1 we reflected on how we could incorporate this into our literacy block. After much consideration it was decided that we would focus on a particular success criteria from shared reading:

  • I can retell the story

The children were then asked to think about and discuss what activities or resources they could use to enable them to retell a known story. The children decided that they wanted to use-

  1. Whiteboard textas to write and draw on the tables
  2. Finger puppets
  3. Coloured textas and their English books using a story map concept of beginning, middle and end focus
  4. iPads and the children chose the apps of Book Creator, Chatterpix and Seesaw
  5. Playdough
  6. Lego

Over the last two weeks the students have retold the story of “Mr Huff” by Anna Walker and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

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The children have been extremely engaged and it is obvious that they are enjoying using a variety of materials to retell the story. The only part that requires some management is the level of noise created by the verbal retelling and element of excitement that vibrates throughout the entire room.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 8.47.54 pm The challenge for myself as an educator will be to continually rethink how I can best support the children I work with in giving them a voice and choice in the daily program and curriculum. Next we are exploring the success criteria of-

  • I can read like a storyteller

Tomorrow I will be asking the children to think of the best activities to enable them to be successful…I wonder what they will choose?

Adventure Learning…from ES1 and beyond!

Giving students voice and choice is very important and at my school that has meant asking students from Kindergarten all the way through to year 7 what they were interested in learning more about.

Step 1: allowing students the opportunity to share ideas they were passionate and excited about.

  • For the older students in stages 2, 3 and 4 they recorded their thinking via Google forms.
  • The younger students in ES1 and Stage 1 verbally shared their thinking during a brainstorming session where ideas were recorded on a glass window with textas. Once the ideas were visible the students then voted to indicate their favourite topic.

Step 2: collating all the information and sharing it with all the staff at our school.

  • For the younger students the ideas ranged from learning more about slime and other science activities to playing Pokemon or Minecraft.
  • For the older students they expressed interest in more active, physical activities and art based activities.
  • The challenge for staff was to choose an interest expressed by students and set up a display in preparation for an ‘open day’ where all the students would have an opportunity to view and then vote on which workshop they wanted to participate in!

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Step 3: waiting and then discovering that students have decided to choose my project as their passion. Then developing and implementing a program that will meet all the needs of students who chose my project.

As daunting as that initial process felt at the time I now realise that we as adults need to challenge ourselves and accept that the students we work with have many hidden skills and abilities that we may not be aware of. Having  colleagues who work collaboratively with you and who support you is another wonderful component of “Adventure Learning”. The first few weeks have been all about allowing the students time to explore aspects of photography as well as art mediums. To say I was blown away by their talent and ability to view the world from many perspectives is an understatement…these students have taken on every new challenge with a true joy of learning!

 

We have explored photographing miniature people using iPads and iPhones…

Responding to challenges based on elements of light/dark, shadows, colours, shapes and textures…

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Then the students worked on using various art mediums such as water paints, aquarelle pencils, charcoal (including a range of charcoal pencils), a range of lead pencils from 2B – 6B, acrylic paints, oil pastels and Aquash brush pens. Students have also been invited to share ideas that they themselves would like to have opportunities to explore.

From there the students were able to decide on which perspective they wanted to follow to create a portfolio in preparation for week 10 of this term when they will participate in an exhibition of their learning. Within this group of amazing artists there are 17 students altogether with one from ES1 and 2 from stage 1. These 3 students have worked independently as well as with partners throughout the exploration stages and have had a little more guidance with ideas to begin their first artwork and then they will verbally share what they would like follow up in their next series of artwork.

To assist the students in understanding the where to next I provided them with a timeline so they could visually see the framework required to be successful.

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“Adventure learning” is new, not just for the students but for the staff at St Luke’s Catholic College . There has been so much excitement because the students were able to choose something they were interested in and you know its working when the students share with you how much fun they are having and that they can’t wait until its Wednesday because they get to do adventure learning!!!!

Voice and choice through Adventure Learning…where to next?

Exploring ‘weather’ across Key Learning Areas in ES1…

This term in ES1 we have been exploring how weather can affect our lives and the way we live. It became apparent how easily it would be to incorporate more than one subject area in exploring this concept.

  • English
  • Science and Technology
  • Coding
  • Developmental Play

We decided to introduce a technology component during English where the students were provided with the opportunity to learn how to use the app ‘Book Creator’ using an iPad.

Book-Creator2This app enabled the students to build their capabilities with being Digitally Literate which connected directly with our 6 Pillars of learning at St Luke’s Catholic College. The students were engaged with recognising and using all the icons to generate information about the weather they wanted to share through a “Weather Book”. There was plenty of modelling, exploring and editing that has taken place across the term and has provided a forum for students to excel. Some of the elements we explored were-

  • taking and adding photos (resizing and positioning on the page)
  • using the drawing tools
  • recording our voices and sharing a message
  • experimenting with fonts (colour, size and style), emojis and typing letters/words
  • changing the colour of our page

Those students who are still learning to read and write have been successful in sharing their thinking through photos, drawings and voice recordings…so many possibilities!

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The exploration also included incorporating coding with BlueBots where the students have been working in small groups to create outfits that are suitable for the BlueBots to wear in particular seasons when travelling across a grid map.

However, the journey has also meant that the students needed to be reflective learners and they presented their first attempts at creating a map to their peers. After sharing all their information, their audience then gave them feedback which was recorded by one member of the team using an iPad (camera app and using the video component). At the completion of the sharing time each group spent time listening to the feedback, discussing possible outcomes and changes before being given some blank grid squares to try and improve their information and maps.

The students will be explaining the seasons, weather and how it makes us feel to an audience. For example, cold/hot and explain how it influences the clothing choice for the BlueBot. Students will eventually present their final products as a small group to an audience of their peers and other students within the school environment.

The last part of the exploration has been setting up a weather station within the classroom setting where students have been busy exploring and creating their own weather forecasts during developmental play. They have also been able to access this space during literacy groups to build on social skills as well providing speaking and listening experiences.

To assist the students with connecting the writing component with their learning during Science and Technology we added a variety of environmental print together with a map of the world. Other tools have included mini whiteboards, textas, chalk and chalk boards all of which led the children to a variety of writing and representations of their understanding of weather and its impacts on us daily.

Integration allows teachers and students alike to explore, create and wonder about the world…ourselves…and what is yet to come!

What have you explored and challenged yourself about?