Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…


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Project Pokémon! Year 1 #PBL inquiry into Australian insects and Japanese pocket monsters.

This week I’m launching my first whole class project with my year 1 class, the @Lionfish1L for 2015. The idea came from a recent trip to the Daintree Rainforest over the summer holidays. Whilst there, I was lucky enough to see my first ever Rhinoceros Beetle, cruising around the rainforest retreat where we were staying. Being a lover of insects and social media, I naturally picked the fine specimen up to take photos for my friends on Instagram.

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The photos sparked a Twitter conversation between myself, @pipcleaves and @debimoa, both of whom are experienced Japanese teachers. They informed me that Rhino Beetles, known as kabutomushi or helmet-bugs, are popular childhood pets in Japan. Pip said that at one point she and her children had three of them living in their house! We got to talking about how cool it would be to have one as a class pet and pretty soon we had formed the basis of a class project all around Rhino beetles, Australian insects and Pokémon.

I started looking into where you could buy rhinoceros beetles in Australia and found that they can be quite tricky to source. During my research I found a company in North Queensland that sells Rainbow Stag Beetles, a tropical rainforest beetle that’s similar to rhino beetles, only much more spectacular in colour. I’ve set up a terrarium and currently have a lovely specimen living in my home. They really are marvellous creatures, albeit nocturnal and somewhat shy. It’s been a bit of a learning curve trying to keep the terrarium at the right temperature and humidity and figuring out how to get it to eat.

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The project outline is below. The basic premise is that students learn as much as they can about Australian insects and Pokémon, as well as how to draw cool cartoons. They will then create their own Pokémon based on an Australian insect of their choice, draw some awesome cartoons and put them on a blog to share with a class from Tokyo – I’ve managed to connect with year 4 class, @TISGrade4 on Twitter and they have already studied the project outline with interest!

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I’m going to launch the project tomorrow by showing my class their new beetle, letting those who are keen to check it out, and getting them to play a flash game on ABC Splash in which you explore an Australian garden searching for insects. Needless to say I’m excited about this project and can’t wait to see what fabulous creations my class come up with over the following weeks!

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Getting amped for a visit from Community Greening.

Tomorrow Brenden from Community Greening is coming to visit the class to (hopefully) set us straight on getting a decent little @2CMEPS market garden happening. This is exciting for several reasons, perhaps most importantly because it means we all get to see Mrs. Cantanzariti hang out in the garden with all manner of creepy crawlies. Some may even be venomous!

It’s also exciting because it means that the students in 2C finally get to do what many have been asking me about doing since my first morning in the classroom – get their hands dirty.

Brenden is going to bring along some seedlings of various description, some seeds so that he can do a lesson on how things grow. The kids will get to clear weeds from a small section of the garden, prepare it for planting, as well as plant some of their own herbs and vegetables so we can watch them grow.

I’m sure it’s going to be an excellent morning of learning, and the weather forecast is for a mostly sunny day with a decent winter maximum of 21 degrees. Win.

The other, slightly more nerdy but equally important reason for me finding this visit so interesting is due to the timely manner in which it is all taking place. In a way, I see it as serving as an important secondary ‘entry event’ for the class project.

The students have generally been interested in the work they’ve been doing, and the previous session (hook lesson) where we walked through the garden to do a health-check on some of the plants seemed to work well. However it has been a bit of a struggle to get the project chugging along as well as I thought it might have been. I’ll get to some of the trickier stuff later, but for now I’d like to focus on this idea of a second entry event.

I’ve been reading PBL in the Elementary Grades over the last couple of weeks as I try to better understand the whole process of working through PBL with primary students, particularly those in the younger years, as I’m currently working with a year 2 class. It’s been pretty helpful, and also quite reassuring as I seem to be working through PBL in a very similar manner to that set out in the book.

What I found interesting, and something that Ashleigh pointed out to me via text message as we discussed the project the other night, was the suggestion that sometimes a single entry event may not be enough to get K-2 students completely ‘hooked’ on the project. Sometimes students in this age group might need more hands on experience in order to fully understand and become interested in what it is they will be doing.

One of the major reasons offered for this is that the long time-frame for some projects might make it harder for younger students to think about creating and presenting a product for (what may seem to them) a largely intangible, distant event in the far future.

When I think about myself discussing the prospect of running a farmers’ market with year 2 at the end of term, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that for some of the students I may as well be talking about going to the movies in the summer holidays. It’s just such a long way away.

To be fair, the project is broken into 3 smaller/shorter contributing projects, but I think that the duration of even these smaller projects may be difficult for some of the students to adequately comprehend.

The above mentioned book suggests to let the students explore the topic through some hands on work before getting to the challenging work of creating and presenting a product, and I think that’s largely where I may have gone wrong. Sure, I’ve been spending time out in the garden with the students, but mainly for less hands on activities focused on looking at plants for the purpose of producing some video interviews.

Don’t get me wrong, I think they’ve been learning from what they’ve been doing, particularly about structuring their compostions for a particular audience, but I guess we’re just all itching to get our hands dirty.

I’m really looking forward to the visit from Community Greening tomorrow and I think (and hope) it will be the perfect way to get us all back into the garden and reignite the students’ interests in it all.

NB: I have more to say about what the class has been doing around their interview work, but that really deserves a post of its own.


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Farmers Tonight: what makes a good interview?

Today marked the beginning of the second week of my internship at Merrylands East Public School. We’re continuing the farming project, and as I’ve previously mentioned, we’ve been hoping to get some expert gardeners involved to share some of their knowledge and expertise as students begin to work in the garden.

Over the weekend I was able to contact one of the people from Youth Community Greening and it just so happened that he will be free this Friday to come to the school and run a workshop on urban gardening with the students. This is a great opportunity for the class to learn about caring for a garden, with links directly to the focus science and HSIE outcomes for the project and term 3.

The class has been spending quite a bit of time in the garden, using a health checklist to assess the health and condition of various garden items, learning about adjectives that can be used to describe them, and taking photos of their items to support their conclusions. In the lead-up to the arrival of the gardening expert we thought it might be a good idea for students to share what they’ve been doing through a series of short video interviews to be shown to the expert. That way, when the expert arrives, he can watch the interviews to get an idea of where the students are in terms of horticultural expertise.

In the interest of making these interviews as structured and effective as possible, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss some of the features of an interview with the students. To make this process a little more interesting and entertaining for the students, I decided to have my son interview me so that I could share this with the class for the purpose of critique. The video is below:

As we watched the video with the class, Ashleigh and I would periodically pause it to discuss some of the good and bad aspects of the interviewer’s (my 8 year old son) and the interviewee’s technique. The main things we focused on were clarity of expression, eye contact with the camera, the use of descriptive language, adequate rehearsal/practise, and turn-taking when talking. I annotated the video on the IWB as we went along. A screenshot of my annotations is below (please forgive my handwriting):

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The plan was to then have students break into pairs and begin to plan their own scripts, and I modelled this process using the script that we had used for the Farmers Tonight video. I also had students focus on asking and answering the following four questions in their interview:

What is the item?
What condition is the item in?
Why is it in this condition?
How can we sustain or improve its condition?

The class had already answered these questions and contributed them to a poster for the (rather large) project wall in their room, (I didn’t manage to blog about this, perhaps I will later) so I thought that they’d be able to plan their scripts without too much trouble. That’s where I had a bit of a fail and the process began to come a little unravelled. This is where I think it went wrong:

1) Firstly, and (I think) most importantly, although I went through my previous script with the class, and revised the questions they had answered last week with their poster, I failed to give them any proforma to structure and organise their interviews. This resulted in many of them becoming quite confused by the whole process, with only a few of the pairs able to work independently to put pen to paper. My failure to produce a proforma was mainly due to a lack of time, with pressure from the university and family commitments, however I was also wary of the interviews becoming too formulaic and contrived. In light of the fact that the students are very young and only in year 2, and given today’s experience, I think that the students are going to need a proforma to provide scaffolding for them as they develop their scripts and conduct their interviews.

2) Secondly, I think that the students might have been better able to complete their scripts if I’d organised the grouping more appropriately. I had the whole class out in the garden, in pairs, all working on the same thing and I think this lead to a bit of a free-for-all. I’m not sure how best to group them, but when I get the class to again attempt to complete this activity on Wednesday, I think I’ll have half the class in the garden working on their section of the interview (with a proforma) whilst the other half works on their section of the interview (with a proforma) on the class balcony. I think that the best way to do this would be to have the interviewees in the garden where they can see and describe their item, whilst their partner works on their introduction, questions and conclusion. The pairs could then reunite in the garden to record their interview.

3) Lastly, I misplaced the garden checklists from the previous activity! Many students couldn’t remember which garden item they were assessing, LOL! I’m going to fix this up by giving each group a project ‘packet’ to organise all of their things. I’ll also try to be more vigilant in allowing enough time at the end of each session for the students to gather their things and put them in some designated space.

So, today was fun, there are things I’d do differently if I were to live it again, but as Ashleigh said: “You live and learn”!