Category Archives: Classroom Activities

Harnessing the Power of Remembrance: Creating Space for Understanding

Last year, I was aware of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which occurs annually on November 20th, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be in my classroom on that day, because I was in my district role instead.  I was a bit resigned to the missed opportunity to acknowledge it until a few days afterward.  As I was walking down the hallway to my classroom, it occurred to me that bulletin boards still featured Remembrance Day poppies, poetry on Remembrance, reflections on peace, and commentary on “Why We Remember.”  Those conditions actually provided the ideal context to have a conversation about the Trans Day of Remembrance in my Grade 6/7 classroom.

In my classroom, I adjusted the schedule and created space to have a conversation. The conversation was initiated by prompts on the board:

What is the purpose of Remembrance?

What are examples of things (occasions or events) we choose to remember or acknowledge?

Why are these things worthy of Remembrance?

Students had a pretty good understanding of the importance of Remembrance Day and the conversation started off with replies like:

The purpose of Remembrance is:

  • To show respect for people who suffered
  • To give thanks for people who made sacrifices
  • To acknowledge the progress we’ve made
  • To celebrate achievement we’ve accomplished
  • To avoid making the same mistakes we’ve made throughout history
  • To learn about the things we benefitted from but that we didn’t experience ourselves

We then began to generate a list of things we remember or acknowledge.

The first suggestion someone made was their birthday, so we had a brief conversation about the importance of birthdays, and how we recognize and celebrate them on an annual basis.  That conversation expanded to anniversaries.  Initially, students spoke about things like their parents’ wedding anniversaries and then we moved towards annual events or remembrances that were acknowledged more universally.  We talked more about Remembrance Day and the significance of it.  We talked about the historical significance of “on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.’  We reiterated the importance of the observance of a “Moment of Silence” and reflecting on the loss of lives. We talked about Orange Shirt Day / Every Child Matters and the importance of Truth and Reconciliation, which included some conversation about Residential Schools and recognizing the impact colonization had on Indigenous populations.  Students made a connection to Japanese Internment, and we had some conversation about how Japanese-Canadians were treated during that time, how important it was to acknowledge how unfair some of the practices were, and how we avoid doing the same thing to an arbitrary group of people in the future.  This included a conversation about Human Rights and laws that are intended to protect people from injustice.  We talked about the Terry Fox Run and how we acknowledge Terry’s achievements, and the contribution he’s made to Cancer Awareness and Treatment.  We elaborated on how cancer treatment has evolved and improved because of the funds raised annually.  We also acknowledged that we’ve learned things from people who passed away, who weren’t able to benefit from the lessons we’ve learned about cancer and how to combat it. We talked about Pink Shirt Day and the International Day of Pink, and how we attempt to address bullying by drawing attention to homophobia and the role it often plays in bullying.  I saw this as an ideal opportunity to ask students if they had been aware of another “Day of Remembrance” that had just passed.  No one indicated any knowledge of “The Trans Day of Remembrance” acknowledged on November 20, or that a ceremony might have been held in their community.  Consequently, someone mentioned that they thought they might have heard something about that on the news.

We had a brief conversation about the definition of transgender.  Most students were already familiar with the term and had a pretty solid understanding of it.   I asked if anyone might know why there was a Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Someone suggested it might be to acknowledge their “coming out” and another student articulated that a day of remembrance usually meant someone died.  This lead to a conversation about:

  • prejudice or discrimination towards transgender people
  • confusion and fear over what it means for people to be trans
  • clarification of the definitions of “transgender” and “cisgender” (cisgender was a relatively new, and fascinating term for students, which enhanced their understanding of the term transgender)
  • violence directed at trans people
  • suicides of trans people who lacked support or acceptance
  • responses to crimes directed at trans people (or the lack of response) – including assaults / murders

We talked about how a typical ceremony or observance might involve the reading of the names of trans people who lost their lives over the course of the year. (One student pointed out that it was similar to the “In Memorium” portion of the Oscars – I was surprised that a 6thgrader watched the Oscars).  Someone else commented that it was like when they showed series of pictures of unarmed, black men that were killed in incidents involving police and made a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement.

We wrapped up the conversation with some suggestions about creating safe spaces for others and, specifically, for people who identify as transgender or non-binary. This included concepts of being an ally, the availability of universal washrooms, providing education, empathy, and the concept of acceptance.

Overall, a powerful and productive conversation that allowed them to make connections to many important learning opportunities they’d been exposed to in classrooms, at home, and in the media, over the course of their young lives.

Some resources to provide some context for the conversation:

CBC News Article: Day of Remembrance a time to Reflect on Anti-Transgender Violence (Nov 20)

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/transgender-violence-remembrance-day-1.4409770

Information about Transgender Awareness Week (Nov 12 -19) GLAAD

https://www.glaad.org/transweek

 

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Captain’s Log: Supplemental

Apparently, I’m in a Star Trek kind of mood today…

Following up on a request from the Artist Inquiry: From Study to Studio workshop delivered at the PITA Fall conference, here are slides of student portfolios (prepared after some “interesting” self-directed technology lessons).

Completed portfolios needed to include 9 – 12 pieces.  In the slide show, individual portfolios are separated by a title page with student initials.  Portfolio pieces from each student’s collection are generally presented in the sequence they were done.

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Stack the Deck for Student Success: A Culture of Speed Stacking in the Classroom

The Origin Story

One day, a number of years ago, i discovered an individual set of Speed Stacks in my staffroom.  They had been delivered for promotional purposes, but, at the time, no one really knew what they were for or the potential they held.  They were a set of twelve cups and an instructional DVD that I began to play around with.  Speed Stacks are specialized cups that are stacked in particular sequences.  Participants learn the various formations and patterns and then strive to complete them as quickly as possible.

Quite fascinated by the cups, and how quickly I could master the steps, I took the set into my Grade 6/7 classroom and demonstrated Speed Stacking.  Students, particularly the boys, were eager to get their hands on the cups and to see who could stack the fastest.  I was able to introduce the sport with that single set, and generate a lot of interest.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered that class sets were available through our District Learning Resource Centre.   I quickly signed out the Sport Stacking set, used the instructional video to help students learn the various routines, and a whole new culture of daily physical activity was born.

Maximizing Daily Physical Activity

I was fortunate to have a principal that recognized the merits of Speed Stacking and was quick to approve the purchase of our own school set of Sport Stacks. The Sport Stacking Kit, containing 30 sets of cups, as well as some additional specialized cups, timer, and stacking mat, cost approximately $500.  You can even arrange to borrow a set to determine student interest and try out a Sport Stacking program before investing  in a kit.

Being in a large school with limited access to scheduled gym periods, Speed Stacking was an option to help integrate daily physical activity into my routine in a way that was engaging to students and offered enough challenge to maintain their attention.  You’d be surprised how much physical exertion can be expended with a simple set of 12 cups and a highly motivated mindset to achieve a personal best.   Once students were familiar with the stacking patterns, it was easy to insert a 15 minute stacking opportunity into virtually every day.  If I didn’t have stacking on the agenda, I’d often have students requesting the opportunity.  Some of my most difficult students, and many of the students with behaviour issues were the ones most adamant that we stack.  Stacking activities are very versatile, and can range from individual challenges, pair activities, and team relays.  The Instructors link on the website speedstacks.com will allow you to find resources with a variety of program options, activities and instructional videos.  You can even access a complimentary set for your classroom if you aren’t able to commit to a larger purchase.

Competition vs. Personal Best

Being in an elementary school environment, the word “competition” tends to have a negative connotation and I’ve certainly engaged in lengthy conversations about the value of competition (or lack thereof).  There are certainly situations where competition is unhealthy and destructive, but I would contend that the kind of competition that gets emphasized during Speed Stacking is more in the vein of achieving one’s Personal Best than it is about beating others.  Certainly, there is the thrill of being the individual who can stack the fastest, but you’d be surprised how often the “champion” has been one of the quieter, modest students who surprised everyone, and ended up earning the admiration of some of the more typical “cocky champions.”  It can be a very humbling experience for students, because it’s the focussed, determined student who practices regularly that is often triumphant.  Speed Stacking does require a level of commitment and focus to really successfully master it and end up with impressive times.

Guinness Book of World Records – Stack Up Day / Fostering Student Leadership

In the past several years we have participated in the Guinness Book of World Records – WSSA Stack Up Day.  It is a day, coordinated by the World Sport Stacking Association (WSSA) whereby participants around the world attempt to break the existing World Record for the “Most People Sport Stacking at Multiple Locations in One Day.”  It is an exciting and fun opportunity to practice and share Speed Stacking skills.  Typically, I have had my students become “experts” in a variety of skills, we close off the gym for a day, and they supervise 7 or 8 stations that other participating classes rotate through.  Participants simply have to commit to stacking for a 30 minute period.  

My students regularly buddy up with other classes within the school before the event and do some pre-teaching of the stacking skills.  Even classes who’ve never touched cups are able to participate in the event.  We deconstruct the process and talk about methods that make for good teaching or coaching.  It’s incredibly endearing to watch these Grade 6/7 students take pride in their skills and then to patiently teach younger students to stack.  I’ve watch some of the most challenging boys I’ve ever taught nurture their young buddies, even on occasion sitting behind them, and guiding their hands into the proper positions.  If you are reading this and are in a position to participate in the Stack Up day, I would encourage you to register.  If you are looking to host a similar format of a stations approach, feel free to get in touch and I can forward you with some additional suggestions about setting up and preparing for the day.

Stacks as a Management Strategy

On occasion, I’ve used the cups as a management strategy for students with challenging behaviours.  Ultimately, for students to have the ideal opportunity to participate in stacking and to have the most flexibility for stacking formations, they need to have 12 cups.  With fewer cups, there are still stacking options and they are still able to practice, but they are unable to complete what is referred to as “The Cycle,” a key sequence in Sport Stacking.

During class, students keep a stack of 12 cups on their desks.  When problems occur, they are asked to return a cup.  The key aspect of the management strategy though is that when students are meeting expectations and demonstrating cooperation, they can earn the cups back.  I even allow them to earn extra cups to create a buffer for their impulsive behaviour.  It becomes a very visual strategy to monitor behaviour with logical consequences if they “lose” all of their cups.  Under ideal circumstances, they earn back all the cups and can fully participate in an activity they tend to be motivated to engage in.  Fortunately, to date, I’ve never had a student have to surrender all of their cups, and be entirely unable to participate.

The rewards of bringing Speed Stacking into my classroom over the years have been numerous.  Hopefully, this post has been of some use to you, and has sparked an interest in exploring Speed Stacks with your students.

Have a productive year and happy stacking!

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Seeking Ideal Students for Year Long Positions: Start Immediately – Student Classified Ads / Job Postings

And so it begins…

Another year is under way.  It’ll be another week before classes are settled in our school, and so we engage in planning and activities to reconnect with former students and to learn a bit about new students.  Having students create a classified ad / job posting for the sort of teacher they would like to “hire” is a quick activity that can be done with little preparation and results in some rather humourous responses (and sometimes less than subtle student requests for their preferred teacher).

I typically engage students in a brainstorm, asking them to list 1) words that describe them, 2) things they like, and 3) things which are important to them.  Words that describe them can range from physical descriptions (height, hair colour, eye colour…) to words that describe aspects of their personality (responsible, athletic, opinionated…).  Things they like can include hobbies, activities, favourite foods, genres of books, and essentially anything they deem worthy of mentioning.  Things which are important to them can include traits they appreciate in others, preferences for how things are arranged, and strong opinions about topics that matter to them.

Once they have generated several examples in each dimension, I share with them the example of my posting for the type of students I would like to fill my class with – Seeking Ideal Students for Year Long Positions: Start Immediately.  We isolate some  examples of the aforementioned brainstorm categories, and students are provided with the instructions and the example to use as a model to create their own examples.  Completed examples make for a great beginning of year bulletin board and outstanding examples are fun to include in newsletters to the school community or on school websites.

The text is provided here for your reading pleasure as well as a word document at the end of this post, so you can edit and adjust for your scenario.  I’ve done this activity with positive results in classes with students from Grade 4 – 7.

Best wishes for a rewarding and productive school year.

Student Classified Ad / Job Posting

Draft a classified ad, advertising the kind of teacher you are seeking for this school year. You need to identify a number of things about yourself in order to make potential candidates willing to apply. Use the list of words that describe you, things you like, and things which are important to you to make your sentences.

  • Give lots of interesting details about yourself
  • What types of things do you do well?
  • Are there things you have difficulty with that applicants should be aware of?
  • Talk about the things you are willing to do to make this a successful year
  • Talk about the things you hope to accomplish or participate in this year
  • Describe precisely what kind of teacher will make this a rewarding year for you
  • What kinds of things could this teacher do to make your year memorable

Seeking Ideal Students for Year Long Positions: Start Immediately

Energetic, adventurous teacher with great sense of humour seeks ambitious, enthusiastic students with positive attitudes. I am entering the twenty-first year of my teaching career. I’m 5’10, have dark hair, and blue eyes. I have a variety of interests and try to keep physically active. I enjoy escaping to a local mountain for a day of snowboarding fun. I enjoy soccer, kayaking, cycling, swimming, and camping. One of my favourite things about camping is telling stories around the campfire. I like to laugh often and try to make other people laugh by sharing funny stories.

My favourite subjects are writing and P.E. I like to do jigsaw puzzles and love to colour, design, and create. I prefer action or suspense movies. I enjoy working with kids, traveling, and the company of my cats. I’m a vegetarian who is very selective about the foods I eat (and I don’t like different foods to touch each other on the plate).

I’m looking for a number of students who will treat each other (and me) with respect, who will strive to achieve great things, and who like to laugh. I’m willing to work hard and to make learning enjoyable for open-minded, playful students interested in learning new things, and in working cooperatively to solve problems. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect the best effort you are capable of. I’m willing to coordinate memorable field trips and to plan exciting lessons about interesting topics.

I have plenty of energy and patience for students who ask for help. I hope to set a good example and I expect to learn as much from you as you learn from me in this coming year. I hope to inspire students to achieve and find success in the classroom and beyond. If you are the kind of student looking for a challenging, fun-filled year, who likes surprises, and can take a joke, please forward your application to Mr. Gidinski at Chaffey-Burke Elementary School. Deadline to apply: Thursday, Sept 10.

Student Classified Ad

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The Synonym Continuum – A Vocabulary Building Activity

Looking for an activity to fill those last few hours of classroom time?  Perhaps you’re looking for something for the beginning of the year.  I like to use this as a vocabulary building strategy.  It’s an activity that I refer to as The Synonym Continuum.  It’s a list of synonyms for “big” and “small.”  Students are asked to sequence them in order from the “smallest of the small” to the “biggest of the big.”  It is intended to be an activity where they are actively looking up and confirming definitions for the words in order to compare their size, rather than just guessing at the order.

One of my biggest frustrations with students using a thesaurus is that they tend to substitute a word they find without necessarily being aware of the connotation of the word they select.  When I teach students to use a thesaurus, I typically teach them to use it simultaneously with a dictionary, so that they can be sure that they understand the word they are substituting and that it properly fits the context into which they are inserting it.

The answer key that is provided in intended to be a reasonable but not definitive answer key.  Definitions are included, but many of the words will have a range within which they fit, based on how their definitions are interpreted.  Some definitions help to clearly position some as smaller or larger than others, while some remain a bit vague.  Hopefully, your students will find this a relevant and meaningful activity and it will help them add some variety and sophistication to their descriptive writing.

The Synonym Continuum

The Synonym Continuum Answer Key

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