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!

 

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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?

Writing in ES1 with mentor texts!

Writing in ES1 takes on many forms…from drawing to experimenting with print…to writing an actual message using letters and words. This journey for children varies immensely and to assist them on becoming the best authors and illustrators they can be we have recently been exploring some mentor texts.

Some of the texts we have used include:

“SUPER MUM” was used to support the students in understanding that some sentences can be brief and repetitive. The students then could add to the sentence a word or group of words to describe their mum –

My mum has X-RAY VISION!

My mum is STRONG!

While the book “Pearl Barley and Charley Parsley” helped the students to unpack what really great friends look like, sound like and make you feel. This also served a dual purpose in that it connected to the school pillars of ‘witness’, ‘manage’ and ‘relate’ to assist the students in becoming more skilled in their social interactions and building friendships.

 

The students used the text as a basis for creating messages informing others about “really great friends”. To begin the writing process the modelled writing task was based on the students response to what “really great friends” might do eg invite others to play, share their toys, help each other. This became a reference point for the students to refer back to during their own independent writing time. The students were also able to use words from around the room, the word wall, word cards and alphabet cards to support their writing.

The other texts were used to explore the use of “onomatopoeia” words and these generated some very interesting messages. The students especially enjoyed “BARNYARD BOOGIE” where many different onomatopoeia words were incorporated within the text including speech bubbles. Over the space of a week the students added to a growing story about a cow during modelled and shared writing. Each day we would reread the story to ensure that the next part of the message made sense. From this interest we created a list of onomatopoeia words which we continue to add to as we read more texts and this is displayed near the word wall for students to use. The exciting part of using these mentor texts was watching the students all trying to add their own message through drawings and writing. Many incorporated speech bubbles of their own and onomatopoeia words eg MOO!

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When I reflect on how the students have progressed with their writing since Term 1, I know they have come such a long way and yet there is still so much more to discover…each child’s journey is totally unique and with support from teachers, their peers and the wonderful mentor texts they will continue to explore and grow as writers and illustrators!!

One child’s journey thus far…

The progression from drawing, to labelling, to forming a simple sentence and then to becoming a confident writer can take a relatively short amount of time or it can take a much longer time span…what is important is the idea of seeing yourself as a writer and someone who can share a message. We need to encourage our students to take a risk and expose them to a large variety of mentor texts.

What is your favourite mentor text to share with your students? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing the term well in ES1…

Its hard to believe that 11 weeks of learning and discovery have now come to an end. On Monday morning after ES1 Navy led the whole school in prayer, our principal encouraged the students to “Finish the term well!” I paused to ponder on how it actually began and the journey that has unfolded thus far. When we began this term there were so many new components for ES1:

  1. New staff
  2. New students and families
  3. New buildings

The increase in  numbers required a new approach to everything we did from playing and learning within the classroom to outside in the playground. Last year we finished the year with 29 ES1 students and 2 staff, while this year we began with 86 ES1 students and 4 staff…so what happened?

We have become a very comprehensive team of 4 dedicated Early Childhood teachers who seek to meet the needs of the individual students through observations, play based learning and programs that are constantly changing to reflect the ever changing skills and abilities of the students we work with. We begin our day with purposeful playing that enables the students to take control and drive their own learning. So far in ES1 we have a Police Station, a Post Office and a Doctor’s Surgery across the 2 learning spaces that students explore and interact with. On any given morning all 86 students are free to move around the 3 ES1 spaces (2 classrooms and outside COLA) to follow their interests and build new friendships across the entire stage. This has been a gradual change over the term and the students are really enjoying the freedom of choice. Many of the students like to begin the morning being very active outside playing with balls, building with the large blocks or even painting on the concrete with water. Other students have a favourite space inside whether that be the writing table, role play area or even the play dough table.

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So life at school has continued to evolve and change….as a staff of 4 we meet for “professional learning” once a week with our stage leaders who support us every step of the way in our own professional journey of discovery. We have also connected with the staff from our early learning centre, CELC, to look at how to have a natural progression of tracking students growth and learning through play from the early years through to ES1 and beyond (Pre-post school where students will have 15 years of learning and growing). Other resources that we have been provided with have included articles to read and then  unpack and discuss as a team. From here we then meet to share our own observations of students, evaluate the program and then work on where to next for learning and programming. Did I happen to mention that we also meet once a week on a Monday for whole school staff meetings and professional learning……yes we are busy but oh so lucky to have colleagues who are nurturing, supportive and collaborative! Oh, I also forgot to add we had Peer Review for ES1 at the end of this term where we presented 2 KLA’s (Creative Arts and Religious Education programs) within a group of 4 schools to show how we meet NESA outcomes.

Now for the new buildings

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Last year we had 3 learning spaces, now at the end of term 1 we still have these learning spaces plus 3 levels in the NEW HUB…on level 1 is Stage 1 and soon to be Year 7 (space opens in the beginning of Term 2); level 2 you will find Stage 2 and the staff room; level 3 is Stage 3…..we remain very happy in the existing ES1 spaces as we eagerly await the new School of Foundations building (the footings and foundations have begun this term). In saying this we have been working on managing our time and routines to assist the ES1 students move from our buildings through to the HUB where they are picked up in the afternoon. We are slowly improving and the students are learning to manage themselves and take responsibility for their own belongings.

So whats the next step in our ever growing plan…….streamlining routines and implementing effective transition times……but I will elaborate more in my next Blog!!

So did we “Finish well”?……I believe we did and each student has shown growth and change over the last 11 weeks…reflect, evaluate and move forward…..

A new year….focus on learning in ES1!

A new beginning for ES1 has meant an increase in staff and student numbers…..more than doubled in fact!

What this simply means is there are now 4 Early Childhood teachers working together to program and implement a focused, play based program for 86 students (this figure will change as families move into their new homes and students begin at our school in Term 2- we belong to a new growth area in Sydney, Australia called Marsden Park). The students are placed into 2 class groups and have 2 teachers that observe and plan for them on a daily basis. The structures within these spaces vary dependent on the learning taking place: small focus groups, shared and modelled reading/writing groups, needs based grouping, mixed ability groups (so that students can be the peer teachers and leaders of their learning).

PLAY is still a driving force behind the teaching and learning of students in Early Stage One. This year we are incorporating our speaking and listening together with our focus on writing (drawing and story telling as a beginning step) based on meaningful experiences. Our 6 Pillars have also had an impact on our planning and implementing of play experiences. We are ensuring that we encourage and support our students to work on communicating/collaborating. Next term we will increase this to focus on relating to others and managing themselves.

 

One of the outcomes for the students this term is-

Identify positive ways to initiate, join and interrupt conversations with adults and peers;

Indicators include –

Students can

  1. Engage in conversations using their own experiences
  2. Communicate easily with familiar people and initiate conversations in group settings
  3. Interact and engage with teachers in conversation
  4. Use appropriate voice levels, eye contact and body language
  5. Listen attentively for long periods of time – have consistent use of eye contact when listening

Communicating is something we do on a daily basis and children need opportunities to develop and practise these skills while working and playing in games and situations that also require them to be collaborative.  Children will become more confident when given positive models to work from and feedback as to what was working and how they can improve.

We begin our day together playing for 20 minutes where the students are the leaders and drive their own learning. They work on their skills to communicate, collaborate, problem solve and build friendships. This term the children have been extremely interested in dressing up as police officers so we have built a Police station within our classroom to enhance conversations and provide more role playing opportunities. The children have been busy writing messages to each other and recording if anyone needs any help with finding missing items or animals!Role playing police

Our Police Station evolved from my observations of group of boys running around the classroom shooting at each other to us sitting down and having a conversation about what their game was all about. From this conversation I realised that the boys thought police only shot at “baddies” all day long. So we all contributed to the discussion of what police officers may do during the day and then the boys made suggestions about what a police station would need…….play is a powerful tool for learning.

How have you changed your classroom to meet the needs of your students?

New year…..new focus for learning!