Ermines? Huh? What are they?

Our reading group has continued to work on interacting with non-fiction text, making meaning together and determining importance. What this means? Talking, listening, sharing ideas, extending a thought, making and defending a position, and did we mention talking and listening? Because those things turn out to be the most important and most challenging skills we are working on!

Reading about Ermines

Today our task looked like this:

Step 1: List what we can predict about an ermine (Huh? A what? We had no idea what an ermine was!!) based on the limited information Ms. Gelson gave us: 1. Their fur is different colours depending on the time of year 2. They have very sharp claws 3. They live in the northern parts of the world.

One groups' predictions

The interesting thing about the discussion from the group that produced this chart above was their debate on whether or not questions could be predictions. In the end, it was decided that yes they could because they were linked to what information we were going to find out and made us want to read more. We were going to verify both predictions and answers to questions. Great thinking!

Predictions about ermines from another group

Step 2: Read the article in Chickadee Magazine about Ermines together

A chart we made together to help us determine what might be important when learning about a living thing

A chart we made together to help us determine what might be important when learning about a living thing

Step 3: Keeping in mind the chart we created (see above) decide on what are the 5 most important facts about ermines your group wants to include on your chart.

Important facts about Ermines

Important facts about Ermines

Not all groups included the same facts but all groups used the chart we made to help them make decisions.

Another list of 5 important facts

Another list of 5 important facts

Final Group list

At this point, this task does require some guidance from adults (Thanks to my patient and encouraging volunteers Miles and Nicole!) but our role is always listening, reflecting back what we hear and refocussing the group. Students are making excellent progress on developing these skills! We just started on activities like this in late December. We are well on our way!

As a teacher, what I love about these sessions, is that it is students interacting with text and each other to determine what is important.

Slowly learning about sloths (And how to work together!)

Group work. It’s an important skill. One that we need a lot of practice with – it is much harder than it first appears. There is listening to others, negotiating, turn taking, asserting an opinion, making a point, explaining your thinking, staying on task, having patience, agreeing, disagreeing, remaining polite . . . Wow! Not easy to do!

But on the last day before winter break, our Reading Group got brave and tried a new task that involved working together in a small group. Yes, there was a lot of encouragement needed to work productively and politely within our group (“No, you can’t be in a group by yourself,” “No you can’t change groups part way through the activity,” “Yes, you all have to talk together and agree.”) But, in the end, we made it and there was lots of  learning along the way – learning about the topic and about working together. 🙂

The task:

Step 1. The topic is sloths. In your small group, write down everything you know or think you know about sloths.

Compiling a list of what we know

Step 2: Read the article in Chickadee Magazine about sloths.

Step 3: In your small group, decide what are the 5 most important things you learned and list them.

One group's list

Another group added detailed pictures when they completed their list

Working together

Step 4: Post your lists and look for common (on at least 2 out of 3 lists) facts deemed important

Another list

Step 5: Discuss what we learned.

Students noticed that some things were on many of the lists: where the sloths lived, how long they slept each day and that they hung upside down. Other facts were different. We decided that we needed to come up with criteria about what is important to know about an animal so that we could figure out what are the most important facts. This will be for next time! We are off along the road to learn how to determine importance!

I was pleased that students got into the rhythm of sharing and listening and that after an initial bumpy start, all groups met with success. The really wonderful thing – so much emphasis on students talking and leading. Each group naturally took turns reading sections out loud. Everyone did a little writing. Everyone talked and listened. Other than setting the task and helping the transition into a small group activity, my role was in the background. I asked a few questions, encouraged successful collaboration and watched students take charge of their learning. Well done reading group!

Our week in pictures

Life has been busy at Seymour School! But lots of great learning and working together has been going on. Some highlights of the past week!

Buddy reading with our little buddies in Division 7 (K/1) is always a highlight of our week. This week we broke out the rhyme and repetition bin and enjoyed the repeating parts of stories we could share together.

Sometimes books call to you, "Come into the story!"

Sometimes books call to you, “Come into the story!”

In math we have been working on skip counting. We find that physically moving numbers into sequence helps us practice the patterns really well. With 25s, we chanted “25, 50, 75, double zero!”

Follow the pattern!

Our reading group shared a fantastic book called Clever Beatrice written by Margaret Willey and illustrated by Heather Solomon.

Clever Beatrice

As we read, we charted the character traits we noticed in Beatrice and at the end of the story, took turns sharing examples from the text that illustrated each point. Soon, we will be doing this with a partner and then eventually, on our own,  as we read a picture book.

Character Web

In Science, we have been studying structures. Today we learned some new vocabulary to help us talk about bridges: approaches, foundation, supports and span. The task was then to build a bridge using just blocks and rulers.

This group attempted to make the longest bridge possible and even test drove matchbox cars up the approaches and along the bridge.

Straight and long!

Another group wasn’t interested in the longest bridge, they were all about interesting! This bridge had multiple approaches and reinforced supports. (And options for multilane traffic)


All over the classroom, bridge construction and team work could be observed. The adults loved listening to small group presentations about bridge design and how the groups worked together. One self assessment: “Next time, I will work harder at team work.” We really do depend on each other!

Bridges everywhere you look!

It was spatial awareness day! How did we do?

Part 1

First, it was all about fractions. These activity sheets are from Math to the Max 3.

P1020905We have continued using pattern blocks to cover figures on the page and then trace what we’ve done. Students are being asked to think of covering a figure with blocks that represent a specific fraction but this doesn’t mean you can tell from the fraction how many of each block you will need. It is necessary to visualize the figure in thirds to complete this task. Look closely.

P1020910On this page (pictured right) students were asked to visualize the shape split in half. If a figure is half blue and half green, it might be one blue block and two green blocks, because two green blocks cover one blue block. When adding a red block, you then must add three green. So a figure can be covered in two red blocks and six green blocks and be 1/2 red and 1/2 green. Some of these took multiple attempts before they were figured out.

Part 2

Then, in the afternoon, we moved on to making a maps. The task? Create a map of the school yard from a “bird’s eye view” perspective. The criteria?

  • work cooperatively within a small group
  • use any flat objects you can find in the classroom to represent buildings, places, objects (Students used paper, base ten materials, rulers, pattern blocks, lego, etc)
  • no pencils or crayons allowed
  • be prepared to explain any parts of your “map” at any time
  • anything you take out, must be put away at clean up time
  • have fun!

The results were fascinating!

P1020938These students were able to “visualize” certain areas of the school grounds very easily. In the foreground of this photo you can see their earthquake shed, the garden, the garden bench.

The only problem? They couldn’t orient themselves clearly. Their garden area is actually where the brick building should be and on the other side.

There was lots of talking, lots of discussion, lots of flexibility around new ideas within this group but nobody could get a vision happening that everyone could understand. This task was harder than it first seemed!

P1020929This group worked very well together. If you listened to them, they kept cheering each other on. “We have to really work together here!” “Good idea!” “Why don’t we try . . ?” In this picture you can see that the pieces of paper represent both school buildings and the large grey paper represents the gravel field complete with goal posts.

P1020936Here is the same group again from a different perspective. These students had thought out breaks in the fence (for entrances, parking lot, etc.) They had included the playground, the basketball court, the concrete soccer area, the stairs to sit on and watch, the spinners, etc. etc.

Anytime somebody said, “What about. . .?” everyone stopped and figured out a way to adjust the map. This was the beauty of building this rather than trying to draw and continually erase.

This group even cut out green circles of paper to represent trees as they would look circular from above. Clever

P1020940I love this version of a parking lot spaced out using lego pieces. The problem for this group is that it was too big compared to the scale of their buildings, etc. How could they take this idea and modify it? Unfortunately we ran out of time before they could think this through. The little green triangles represent the grass on the sidewalk surrounding the school.

Why did we do this? Well, for many reasons. We are beginning a mapping unit to look at Canada in North America. I wanted students to understand that the drawing on a paper of a map is a representation of the world we actually live in. This is very hard for some students to grasp because of course we don’t inhabit a flat two dimensional world. I thought if we tried to represent our “little world” of Seymour School on a map (built, not drawn and from a bird’s eye view perspective) it might open up our thinking when we try to visualize how a map represents places we live. If nothing else, it was an awesome hands on, creative, student centred activity. Lots of thinking. Lots of discussion. A little bit of arguing (of course 🙂 ) Some new perspectives. Well done Division 5!