30 June 2012

It's the last post of the year!

Dear Students and Parents,

Where did the time go?! It's time to spend a moment looking back on the year. Some of my favourite moments have been when everything came together. For example our Force-o-rama, the Voice of the Poet performance and Zoo Exhibition. Seeing the students' confidence and skill at explaining their learning always made me immensely proud.

I enjoyed shaking hands in the morning, hearing about our weekends in our traditional Monday headline circle, just laughing, being wowed by David Attenborough's Life film, sharing the story of my Gran's ring, watching the concentration on students' faces as they created art works and finally having my class around me at the Strandbad to say goodbye.

Blogging has become a very important part of my teaching. It's where I've tried to explain many of the wonderful things that happen in the classroom and the reasoning behind it. I wanted to share the comments, insights and connections the students have made. For me professionally the blog has been a powerful reflection tool. I sit down and think about... so what did the students really learn today, what do their comments tell me, where should we go next, do I need to revisit something, what are the students really interested in? Teaching is complex and that's what keeps me passionate about what I do. So I have tried to share that complexity with you over the year (and for some the past two or three years) and to give you an insight into our day to day learning journey in the Middle Primary Class.

This summer will see me heading to work with an amazing lady called Lynn Erickson in Montana. I'll be learning more about Concept Driven Curriculum. Concepts are something you have probably noticed I've written about a lot as it's at the heart of PYP curriculum! Then relaxation with family and friends.

I would like to thank Kathy who has always been there in the background supporting me with her amazing ideas and technical support. Also a big thank you must go to Vasiliy who I have enjoyed working with through the year.

Thank you for the thoughtful gifts and card. You can be guaranteed the money will be well spent during my US adventures and the students' book treasured.

I wish you all a fabulous summer and safe travels to those going far. 

Judy Firkins-Jacobs

30th June 2012

26 June 2012

Sharing Our Family Stories

Today we shared our family stories. What a fabulous selection of world war stories, mysteriously appearing rabbits, 22 hour treks to the ferry, reunited families, adoptions, family Christmas traditions, family historians collecting 300 years of history, dog loving families......................We learned so much about each other today. We also reflected on what these stories actually told us about our family culture and about our personal identities.

This was followed by a reflection on the year which you will find in each student's portfolio. We reflected on the IB learner profile, the IB attitudes, our favourite units, achievements and memories of the Middle Primary class. What interesting reading and an opportunity for me to see what had really made an impact during the year. It's also delightful to see the growth and appreciation as to how far every student has progressed during the year.

Don't forget the opening of our model zoo tomorrow at 10.30 am. We've been getting ready!

25 June 2012

Save the Last Word: Artefacts Telling a Story

We started the day revisiting at our central idea and using the concepts and vocabulary we had defined last week to help us develop a better understanding of our unit.

Next we shared the artefacts students had  brought in from home. The class were spilt into groups of four. One at a time, students put their artefact in the centre of the group and in turn everyone suggested what the story could be behind the artefact. The 'last word' went to the artefact owner who then told the story behind the object. We realised how important it was to then ask further questions as this often prompted the story teller to reveal more and connect with some really great memories. Every object really was unique as you can tell from today's list of artefacts:

A pair of special wedding shoes worn by the usher, a Russian family book retelling the story of a family from 1917 onwards with family trees, a piece of Lebanese cedar made into a plaque inscribed in French (the language came as a genuine surprise to the student), a special bedtime story book enjoyed by the whole family, a china dog passed down from generation to generation, a car with special first school day and party memoires, a re-discovered remote controlled car followed by a toddler, a dog collar from five years ago recalling the 'puppy training days', an old photograph of a castle revealing a successful condensed milk industry, a soft toy from a mother's childhood passed through a family, the story of a lost and found sister and a great grandparent's watch.

Each student also made an observational drawing of the object with a recount of the accompanying story. I am really looking forward to hearing tomorrow's family stories too.

20 June 2012

Our New Central Idea

Yesterday we started off our new unit by looking at our new central idea to uncover what we are going to learn about:

Family histories provide an insight into cultural and personal identity.

Students brainstormed around the statement recording what they thought the words meant or any comments on what they thought the unit was about. Some interesting words began to emerge: relate, heritage, generation, as well as some questions: What is culture? Is personal private? What is an insight? 

Then I wrote the word history on the board and asked the students to tell me what came into their heads when they saw the word. Here are some of the responses:

I think of the Romans, as that's something I really like.
I remember history lessons in my last school and I enjoyed them a lot.
It can be about how people lived or the clothes they wore.
Things change over time. You have a smart board now, but in the past it was chalk board.
There's the word 'story' in there.
It's about stories or things that happened.
It can be 'small' like things that happen to you, or big things that happen to a country.
Generations pass down stories.
The French word 'histoire' means story.
A mother can tell her child a story who then tells their child and so on. That way the story carries on.
Things that happened in the past like the Titanic.
I can see 'his story' in the word. ( I asked can it be 'her' story too!)
I could be God's story above.
Stories can be things that happened to you and others.
We had an interesting question: Is history what has just happened or only a long time ago?

So to help the students get started I told a family story connected to the ring my Gran gave me to wear on my wedding day. This had been a gift from her husband originally to celebrate their ruby wedding anniversary. I wore this on my wedding day as she wasn't able to be there. We looked at how it was made, its value, its function and ideas for its purpose before I shared the story. I explained how this ring represented the celebrations that are important in my culture as well as saying something about my personal history. Our next task is to unpack the key words and concepts connected to our unit.

We are also reading a selection of family themed stories to accompany this unit. Here are the some pictures of the student 'caught' reading.

If you have any suggestions for great family themed books please let me know. As the students read I am asking them to think about:
  • What's the main story line?
  • What family connections are being written about in the story?
  • What connections do you make to the text? Are there any parts of the story which remind you of something that’s happened to you or your family?
Yesterday was a big organisation day with students selecting samples for their portfolios. Each student  chose two pieces and described what it showed they had learned and enjoyed in 'Sharing the Planet'. Mr. V and I have also selected pieces that show the process of learning. Next week the completed portfolios will come home for the summer for you to reflect on your child's progress together.

19 June 2012

Family Histories: Personal Connections 19.6.12

Today we're launching our final unit for the year. Where has the time gone!

Transdisciplinary theme: Where we are in time and place
Central idea: Family histories provide an insight into cultural and personal identity.

1. This week as a family share some family stories that you've heard or experienced. You can even speak to a grandparent, uncle etc. to hear some stories too. Then write a recount of one of these stories. Remember to use the writing framework for this particular writing purpose. Use the rubric we made to make sure you have included the important elements for a good recount as you write. I will email this to you all. Finally self assess the recount at the end of writing and fill in the rubric. This can be hand written or word processed.

2. Today I brought in a special object which tells the history of a family event that reflected my culture and personal identity. Bring in an object that reflects an event that is significant in your family life.

Be ready to share your stories next Monday.

Plus: Reading

12 June 2012

Connections Across the Curriculum

Our units of inquiry really drive our school's curriculum and that could be seen so clearly over the past couple of days. In this unit Sharing the Planet we have used our language curriculum to support our unit by learning how to research information, take notes and then use those notes to write descriptions in our own words. That's a lot of steps. Today students completed the final stages of their animal descriptions. As editor-in-chief I went through these descriptions to identify opportunities for sentence improvement and errors in grammar and spelling. The students then corrected their descriptions after reading my feedback. These will become the placards that accompany the zoo enclosure models we are building, just like you find in Zürich Zoo.

Yesterday the class spent time looking back on their learning. They showed their knowledge and understanding of the main concepts we have been exploring in this unit:
The students wrote about what these concepts meant in the context of our unit with supporting examples. It's a demanding task but the PYP is all about concept driven curriculum, so the concepts need to be taught explicitly and in an age appropriate way to students. I must say I was delighted with the clarity of writing and level of understanding! This piece will be in each student's portfolio. 

In addition to all this writing we've been constructing our model enclosures in art. Each model is a 3D representation of what each student has learned about creating an environment to match their researched animal's needs, strategies and behaviours. Our classroom looked like a tornado passed thorough with paper grass, clay, paper maché, glue, paint seemingly everywhere! However, the tidy up crew did a good job at the end of the day. Students demonstrated great creativity with some very clever ideas for making scenery. To be continued on Thursday.............

11 June 2012

Personal Connections

Summative Assessment Part 2

At the end of a unit we gather our thoughts together and reflect on what we have learned. Use the paper you came home with to respond to the following questions which require a lot of careful consideration:

1.       Define ‘living’.
2.       What is classification? Define and give examples.
3.       Choose an animal. Explain how it survives in its natural environment in detail. (Please do not use your first learning log example.)
4.       Why do zoos need to understand an animal’s needs, strategies and behaviours? Explain with examples.
5.       Do people have responsibilities towards animals? Explain your thoughts.
6.       What has been your ‘biggest learning moment/s’ in this unit? Explain.
7.       How do you think you might use this knowledge and understanding you have gained in the future?
Use words (and pictures if you wish).

This is due on Wednesday.  

Tracks (next week will be the last week before the holiday)
Reading 10 mins per day 

29 May 2012

Exploring Language Features

This morning was very intensive with time spent getting to know about the language features connected to 'Writing to Describe' in greater depth. Our first session was spent exploring signal words that are used to classify, compare and contrast. We then analysed a piece of descriptive text checking the style of writing was impersonal and factual, as well as identifying the following features:

Nouns (general)
e.g. lions, computers
Timeless present tense
e.g. are, have, exists, grows
Action verbs (behaviours), e.g. runs, hunts, erupts
Adjectives that are factual and precise e.g. 5.6 megabytes, sandy coloured
Technical vocabulary, e.g. marsupials, monotremes
Signal words for classifying, defining, comparing and contrasting, e.g. are called, belong to, are similar to, are more powerful than

Then it was time to start writing our own descriptive texts using all the notes we have collected about our selected zoo animals. We started off writing a factual and precise classification paragraph, then we moved onto our first description paragraph about the animal's appearance. Each paragraph needs to begin with a 'topic sentence' so we know what the paragraph is about. We will write the next description paragraphs tomorrow and end with a summarising statement by the end of the week. This really is a focussed and challenging way of writing that demands that the students put together everything they have learned about this purpose for writing.

For a little more relaxing pace we painted our clay models! This was incredibly delicate work. Students had to hold their models carefully and apply the acrylic paint with care. Just a little bit of glue for some models and the varnish coating and we're finished!

We will be having our pre-authorisation visit from the International Baccalaureate on Thursday and Friday. I will be asking some students to guide our visitor and be part of a student meeting to share their enthusiasm for learning. There will also be informal visits to classrooms around the school, as well as teacher meetings to share our school curriculum documentation and our school action plan. 

28 May 2012

Preparing to Plan: Personal Connections 29.5.12

This week we are going to start planning out our designs for the ideal zoo enclosures. For your personal connections tasks go to our wiki and read about artificial environments, look at the Zürich zoo website and visit the animal webcams to see zoo enclosures. Look down the wiki contents page on the left.  Search around the site, as there are so many great links to explore that just might inspire you. For example on this page I found the artist's impression of the beautiful new elephant enclosure at Zürich zoo. Be ready with your ideas for Thursday.

Note: We have some materials in school, but feel free to begin dropping off any materials you would like to bring in from home. Just make sure they are labelled with your name and in a bag.

22 May 2012

Writing to Describe

The new models the students created today are looking fantastic. Miss Kathy took some very interesting shots which you can see below. You can see the control the students have gained over this new material. Some pieces have benefited from a little wire being inserted to strengthen delicate limbs and beaks.The joins have become much more secure through practice too.

Today we began looking at Writing to Describe in detail. Throughout this unit we have been reading descriptions of animals and habitats both in books and on websites, so it was time to analyse this purpose for writing. I first asked students to read a piece of text about a lady bird and decide individually what the purpose behind the writing could be. Lots of suggestions emerged but there was a thread about the piece explaining various things like names for, food, habitat and appearance of the ladybird. I then asked students to highlight parts of the text that stood out as significant langauge features or an organisation of the text. Now this was very interesting to watch. Lots of 'key' words started being highlighted. Some students noted that there were paragraphs, a couple of students started marking out a three part framework. After doing a Think Pair Share, I recorded students comments dividing their comments into two sections.

  •     Lots of vocabulary and 'important' words e.g. prey, methods
  •     Lots of the words are nouns (place, something or person) e.g. ladybeetle
  •     Lots of interesting words e.g. prey, abundant, species
  •     Lots of interesting words about the body of the lady bird, head thorax, wings
  •     Words like, prey, natural defense, methods, protect
  •     Starts with classification of the ladybird
  •     Different names of the animal
  •     Says clearly where they live
  •     Lots of good words e.g. words that explain or are real names
  •     Very specific words to describe the ladybird, what it eats, where it lives
  •     Scientific language
(I asked: Do you remember which words are adjectives, verbs, nouns or adverbs? So we looked at e.g. long legs, small dome, red spots and revisited adjectives and nouns briefly. )

  • Split into paragraph
  • Each paragraph is about a different topic
  • Title: tells us what it’s about
  • Three parts 
Analysing Text
All texts have specific language features and a framework we use to organise. This is the BIG IDEA we keep coming back to when we write. I then asked students to identify and label the following paragraphs which make the three part framework:
Classification or Generalisation
      Concluding or summarising statement
Finally we looked at the definition of writing to describe. It's a piece of writing that systematically organises information about a topic. The students will be looking at further descriptive texts and analyse the features and framework in greater depth.

21 May 2012

Observational Drawings

Today we continued researching information about our zoo animal using the websites students got to know using our wiki. Our notes are really starting to take shape. In the afternoon we found photographs of our animals and made sketches of the animal's side view and 'head on'. We will then use these sketches to create clay models having observed the animals' body shape and structure carefully.

20 May 2012

Personal Connections 21.5.12

This week we are going to explore the vocabulary connected to our unit. Visit our wiki glossary and its discussion page by clicking in the right hand corner. Read the instructions carefully and complete your post for at least four definitions. We will use these definitions to create a class glossary.

15 May 2012

Personal Connections 15.5.12

Today we discussed the big messages from our trip to Zürich Zoo and the tour with Chris our zoo guide. The students shared their ideas and came up with a headline to highlight the main message they took away:
  • Some animals can go around free in the zoo
  • All animals should have challenges
  • Animals can get crazy in too small places
  • Animals need the right enclosure that matches its environment in the world
  • Give animals enough space to move
  • Animals need challenges to do exercise
  • Give the animals space to live
  • There has to be at least 2,3,4,5 guinea pigs
  • Animals need to have enough food, water and room
  • I learned that some animals need bigger space
  • I learned that some animals need company because they are social
  • They need to know the right size of the habitat so they don’t always go back and forth
  • Animals need a big enclosure to feel free
  • Some species need to be separated
  • The zoo keepers need to know what an animal needs in order for them to feel that they are in their natural habitat
  • All animals need a challenge to keep itself active.
This was a really effective way to summarise our ideas. We also compared our own behaviour to animals by realising we have so many similarities. The students smiled when I reminded them how restless they get if I keep them in an enclosed space for too long i.e. the classroom! We also pointed out how young children don't need much encouragement to play, just like the baby animals at the zoo, but older ones are just like teenagers (apparently lots of time spent in bedrooms with MP3 players!), and need encouragement to get outside and move around. Drawing such comparisons helps us to understand the concept of animal behaviour.

Personal Connections

In our new roles as zoologists, zoo keepers, zoo directors, vets and zoo architects we are going to be designing the ideal enclosure for our chosen animal. We received a clear message that before you can build an enclosure you need to know lots about an animal's natural habitat, needs, behaviours and strategies. So that's what we have started today, researching and gathering information. Over the long weekend have a look at the links on our wiki and get to know your way around the sites before we start using them next week in class.

Please start start gathering together materials to build a model of an animal's environment.

Thank you for sending in such great mind maps about survival. These are on display in class.

Here are photos of the students beginning their animal research:

14 May 2012

Zürich Zoo

We had a fantastic visit to Zürich Zoo today. A big thank you to all who accompanied us and enabled us to have small groups so we could gain the most from the trip. Students had selected three animals to focus on during their trip. By observation and reading the information on offer, they researched a number of pieces of information including the biological name of each animal, its behaviours, strategies, appearance and a description and the suitability of the enclosure it was housed in.

Chris, our zoo guide for part of the morning, gave us an insight into how the zoo team, including the zoologist, vet, zoo keeper, zoo architect and director, plan and build enclosures resembling the animal's natural needs as close as is possible. We found out how important it was to build structures to encourage the animal to move as well as new ways to encourage the animal to find food. The animal needs things to do during its day but it had to be given a reason to move. Some of the structures were ingenious like tree dribbling honey for the Spectacle Bears. Chris told us this was called 'behavioural enrichment'. He was the first to admit where some animals didn't have enough space and activity and how the zoo was trying to address this over time. We found out how feeding times are unpredictable and food is scattered for animals to search out in order to keep things unpredictable as in the wild. It was also great fun to watch the gorillas watching us, while we were finding out about their behaviours and seeing these behaviours happen before our eyes!

Here's our Flickr collection of photos so far:

Please remember to bring your photos on a memory stick so we can work with these in school.

10 May 2012

Zürich Zoo, here we come!

Our planned trip to Zürich Zoo is just a few days away. To prepare for the trip have a look on our wiki at the survey that lists the animals students have chosen to research. Next visit the Zürich Zoo website and check the map see where this animal is located in the zoo. Also read about the different habitats represented at the zoo and see which habitat is home to the animals.

It has been a week full of inquiry so far, discovering and understanding more about classification. We have found out there is debate amongst biologists about the groupings you can use..........is it five kingdoms or six kingdoms...........but we have the main message that animals can be grouped into alike groups by understanding and observing their characteristics. It was fascinating to hear how tuna and whales were once grouped together, but now because scientists know more they are in separate groups as one is a mammal and the other a fish. Science is always evolving, just like living things!

We used film and book texts this week to learn how to take notes. Students watched or read the source twice and only then began highlighting key points. This is a challenging skill and I encouraged students to use bullet points to make each note clear from the next. I provided lots of modelling before releasing the students to work independently. The next step was to then summarise and and put their notes into their own words. Mr. V. is also working on this skill with the students while finding out about habitats at the same time.

Throughout this unit a main concept that keeps jumping out is survival. Together the students made a list below of how zoos can best help animals live successfully in captivity as this is a reality of our world. The debate is no longer should we have zoos, but rather how best can we support the survival of many endangered animals through programmes in zoos.

To replicate an animal's natural environment a zoo has the responsibility to understand: 
  • ·         The needs of an animal
  • ·         Its rights
  • ·         The behaviours of the animal
  • ·         The responsibilities the animal has e.g. care towards its young
  • ·         An animal’s emotions
  • ·         The space required
  • ·         An animal's freedom
  • ·         Factors that make it happy
  • ·         How interaction with humans can be minimized
  • ·         Which animals can live together
  • ·         Have a mix male and female
  • ·         How to provide the animal's natural environment: habitat, climate, location
  • ·         Be able to monitor released animals
  • ·         Balance/ control numbers as the environment is artificial

We also investigated key vocabulary related to our unit. Using dictionaries, both books and on line, students worked together to find out the meaning of the concept words survival, behaviour, strategy, adaptation and need. (Shown in the photographs below.) Using the words in context students then wrote sentences connected to our unit. Building vocabulary is always a very important part of whatever we learn about.

On Tuesday afternoon we returned to our clay models from last week to see if they had survived the drying! We revisited the technique for joining two pieces together. After watching some films we further experimented by creating models of animals focussing on smoothing the joints once pieces were joined. Careful use of the clay tools or a finger were very useful. Our next task will be to choose an animal, examine it's body structure and sketch it before modelling.

07 May 2012

The Challenge to Survive: Personal Connections 7.5.12

Key concepts: function, connection, causation
Related concepts: survival, needs, behaviour, strategy

In the 'Challenges of Life' episode we saw the needs, behaviours and strategies

of the following animals from around the world. We saw them feeding, hunting,
courting and parenting. All of the animals were involved in the day to day fight
for survival:
bottlenose dolphins
tufted capuchins
crabeater seal
killer whales
flying fish
Venus flytraps 
strawberry poison-dart frog
Pacific giant octopus
chinstrap penguins

For your Personal Connections choose one animal and create a mind map

to show WHY and HOW this animal survives from the evidence shown in 
the video and from your own research. Remember you can view the videos 
on our wiki. Look at our specialist unit vocabulary glossary on the wiki and 
use these words in the correct context. 

Please bring in the green folder on Tuesday 15th May.

Mr. V will set a mathematics task on Wednesday too.


You can revisit our viewing in class:
Watch today's Brainpop video again on classification
Watch the Brainpop video again on the six kingdoms
Go to Usborne Quick Links for information on the five kingdoms
Go to Usborne Quick Links for two classification games


01 May 2012


Today we watched the second short instalment of Challenges of Life. It was fascinating to watch how crabeater seals can successfully escape from predatory killer whales, as well as see how tufted capuchins have devised a strategy to open nuts to eat. We added the following words to our unit collection: submit or fight, adaption, breeding, transformation, ability, defend, pack, herd, hierarchy, life or death, hunt, specialise, safety in numbers, evolved, change, legacy, intelligence, protect, tool and behaviour. Our collection will eventually become a class glossary. Identifying and using information text features is one of our language targets too.

We also finished our life criteria list. Using the students ideas, as well as discounting some for accuracy we agreed upon:
  • They grow and die.
  • They need energy, nutrients, air and water.
  • They produce young (reproduce).
  • They are made up of cells.
  • They react to what's around them (the social or physical environment).

We talked particularly about 'react to what's around them' and we thought of some examples to explain this. For example a daisy opens it's petals in sunlight and follows the direction of the sun. 

Our next task was to look at the concept of classification. I asked the students to hunt for the definition connected to the base word 'classify':
  • To arrange things in classes or groups
  • A systematic way of organising things. 
  • To put things into groups according to their characteristics.
  • When you classify things, you arrange them into different groups depending on what they are like.
  • Sort things into alike groups.
That word system just keeps popping up! This also led us to defining 'characteristic' (typical of a person or a thing.)

From here we sorted out all our 'living things' pictures into groups using a variety of groupings. Out of this we could see that some of us already knew about omnivores, herbivores, carnivores, invertebrates and vertebrates. We wondered why crocodiles are not amphibians but reptiles. A Brain Pop film helped us with classification too.  Tonight's Personal Connections tasks follow up this concept too.

This afternoon we took apart our new central idea.....
Humans have the responsibility to understand an animal’s needs, strategies and behaviours in order to support its survival. 
..... to work out the key vocabulary and concepts we need to understand and learn about in this unit. The students really wanted to know more so they turned to dictionaries to help give precise definitions. For me it was great to see their independence and explanations in this task.

And finally a maths connection......I need to find out which animals the students' are interested in finding out about at Zürich Zoo, so we are going through the steps to make a survey to collect this information. We had a browse through some information leaflets to give us some ideas. We'll continue the survey process next week.

As you can see we are really getting to understand animals and gain a more detailed vocabulary to help us describe their strategies, behaviours and needs.