Gr 4 Science Unit ~ Habitats and Communities

We have done it again!

We have now compiled a complete unit for Habitats and Communities to help you in your Gr. 4 Understanding Life Science Strand.   This unit, just like our Combined Gr. 4/5 Science Unit for (Habitats and Organ Systems), integrates curriculum in order to create cross-curricular lessons. Once again you will not only be covering curriculum expectations, but cross-curricular activities which tend to be more engaging and creative.

Here is what is included:
* Learning centres: students work in small groups or individually to rotate   between three centres over the course of the activity (five types of centre activities: iPad integration, technology, reading/writing activity, creative response, and a fun or hands-on activity);
* Whole class lesson/discussions followed by either small group activities or whole class activity
* Cross-curricular integration with other subject areas, including Language Arts (Reading, Writing, Oral Communication, Media Literacy), Drama, Physical Education, Art, and Health
* A focus on Assessment For and As Learning through student self-assessments and group assessments, KWL charts, exit slips, anticipation guides, and project planning sheets
* Reading strategies addressed include making connections, inferring, determining important ideas, drawing conclusions, and cause-and-effect
* Differentiated Instruction is achieved through Learning Centres, choice board for the end of unit project, RAFTS assignment, and a variety of hands-on activities and labs

The entire unit, including lessons, assignments, assessments, printables, and centre activities comes to over 160 pages!

Need more?  Preview the unit!

To be taken to the complete unit just click on the picture below!



Stay tuned as we are working on our Gr. 5 Science Unit for Organ Systems!

Substitute Teachers ~ What you should leave for your substitute

What do you leave as plans when you are away? How about in your folder as information to the substitute teacher?

First, let me start by saying that substitute teachers are educated, knowledgeable and also teachers.  This post is not meant to say that substitute teachers are not capable teachers, rather they are part of our profession and deserve to be part of the collaborative process as well.

Let’s face it though, they are not the regular classroom teacher, they do not know the processes, procedures to our classroom or our school and they may not even know the structure/floor plan of the school we work at.    This is a time of transition and the more information we can give our substitute the better it is for us (when we return), for the substitute teacher and for our students.

At the beginning of the year, I prepare a package for general information that does not need to be prepared again unless changes have occurred.  I call it my “Go to Folder”.  This folder should help anyone understand how the school functions, how your classroom functions and how you want things accomplished while away.

The general items I include in my folder are the following:

  • A master schedule
  • A list of supervision duties (including exits and entrances)
  • A classroom seating chart
  • A floor plan of the school showing where the emergency exits are and the alternate exits
  • A fire drill list for roll call (I also include lists for times when I have other students (rotary) ; you may teach different periods therefore for each period you should have a list)
  • A list of students that take the school bus
  • A list of procedures for washroom breaks, drink breaks, lunch breaks
  • Procedures for lock down situations and location of spare key to lock the door
  • Procedures for fire situations and where to gather after exiting
  • A teacher name and room number located close by that my substitute can ask for help or clarification
  • A breakdown of classroom discipline procedures and the paperwork (reporting forms) connected with this
  • Important students information, for example Peanut Allergies, or a kidney infection requiring multiple washroom visits
  • A form for the substitute to report back to you the events of the day

I always prepare detailed lesson plans with all photocopies that are required. These are specific to that day and are not emergency plans or general plans.

There are some instances where there is an emergency and you do not have the time to leave detailed plans.  In this instance, the substitute can have access to my emergency plans.  At my school, these are held in the main office and 3 full days of emergency plans are prepared.   I tend to never use these plans but they are always good to have on hand.

What do you leave for your substitute?

Let us know what you include to ensure the safety and consistency we all strive to have in our classrooms.


Three Part Lessons ~ What is a Math Congress?

Here it is, the last installment on my three part lesson plan series.  After discussing the concept of Bansho and Gallery Walk, we move onto another instructional strategy that supports the development of mathematical thought.  This last part is called Math Congress.

While every child’s solutions are valuable, we as teachers are always in need to be effective communicators and efficient in the ever-stringent timetables we face on a daily basis.  This strategy allows for us to have whole class discussions on two or three, carefully chosen student solutions where connections can be made to every student’s mathematical learning.

Utilizing this strategy to consolidate a three part lesson for problem solving will allow a teacher to direct thoughts to big ideas, which can be extrapolated from the thinking of other students and their solutions.

This strategy is built upon the belief that learning and developing connections within a concept can arise from a group of learners who discover, discuss and reflect upon their solutions.  To do this, students need to be encouraged to test, try, and discover efficient strategies and come to a consensus on mathematical problem solving.  The Math Congress provides an environment to communicate their thoughts, hurdles, solutions, problems, justifications and assumptions.

To prepare for this type of instructional strategy student groups or pairs post their solution on chart paper and decide what to share in their presentation to the rest of the class.

While students are writing out their solutions, we as teachers need to be aware of students’ use of different ideas.  The teacher acts like the mediatory in a congress to mitigate discussion and conversation.  Questions a teacher should ask him/herself are:

1)   What ideas/strategies in the solution should be discussed?

2)   How do the above connect to the lesson learning goals and previous knowledge?

3)   Which ideas can be generalized and how do I develop a strategy for students to come to these generalizations?

4)   Between the solutions I want presented, how will I have students present, so it is in a manner that scaffolds learning for students?

During presentations probing questions are necessary in order to facilitate discussion.  Some sample questions could be:

1)   What are the similarities and differences among solutions presented?

2)   Will this strategy always work?  Why or why not?

Again this type of discussion is of great value.  Typically students are not asked to defend their thoughts, and will stumble initially but with practice they will become more comfortable in communicating their thoughts about their understanding of concepts being taught.

Have you tried any of the 3 strategies?   Will you try any of the three?

Your thoughts and ideas are always welcome!  Drop us a comment or leave us some samples, we would love to share what you have learned and continue to learn.


Resources consulted for this post:

Three Part Lessons ~ What is Gallery Walk?

Our previous posts have been on understanding what three part lessons are, how to design and implement them and how to utilize the Japanese technique Bansho in your classroom.  Today we are writing about how Gallery Walk is a technique to actively engage students in math problem solving.

In 2005, the Ministry of Education of Ontario stated,  “Mathematical communication is an essential process for learning mathematics because through communication, students reflect upon, clarify and expand their ideas and understanding of mathematical relationships and mathematical arguments”.

Utilizing a Gallery Walk technique helps students use higher order thinking skills such as evaluating, analyzing and synthesizing in a collaborative environment.

The idea here is to solve questions collaboratively and to build upon the skills of others to a solution that has been posted.  Now instead of having just one problem-solving question for whole class discussion, create different ones for small group discussions.  You will set up your class into heterogeneous groups of 3 to 5, where they will circulate between the posted problems as a group.  Each group will have the opportunity to add new content to the solution of each question. (Some teachers use sticky notes where notes can be easily stuck on the chart or some have students write directly on chart paper).  Ensure students understand that they are to review what previous groups have written to not repeat what has already been done.

As a teacher, you should have groups rotate through the problem centers every 4-6 minutes (always depending on the type of questions posed).  This process continues until each group returns to the first question they started a solution for.

At this point, each group will have solutions that have been analyzed, evaluated and built upon.  They will now need to synthesize the information they have provided along with what other groups have provided and create a report of their findings.

This is typically the last stage of Gallery Walk.  I personally find it beneficial to go through each question, as a whole class discussion to dispel misconceptions and address further needs.  Usually, I have the groups present orally to the rest of the class.  Some teachers, for assessment purposes, would rather have written solutions submitted.  I think this is all up to you.

Should you not want to have written solutions submitted, during the actual time that students rotate, as teachers we can circulate to gauge students learning or address misconceptions.  I tend to take note of the misconceptions to ensure we discuss them during the presentations.

The following websites were utilized to prepare this post:


Three Part Lessons ~ Teaching Math through Problem Solving

Being teachers means that we are always learning new and exciting ways to build our students knowledge.  New methods and research are always available and great new developments are pushed forward.  The Three-Part Lesson is one of the new methods that we as teachers are being taught to utilize in our Mathematics classrooms.  The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat of Ontario Canada, published a break down of what happens within each part of the lesson.  These types of supports are essential to help us develop our craft to be the best in our classrooms.  This link will bring you to a detailed breakdown of the structure of a three-part lesson:

But what does this actually mean for teachers?

Obviously to be able to implement this type of strategy means teachers need to determine where to start instruction.  Where are students on their learning continuum?  What skills are they lacking to be able to solve the problem presented? Teachers need to do this through pre assessments that aid in determining if the students have the necessary skills and knowledge.  This is vitally important, as teachers need to be able to determine what must be accomplished with students prior to attempting the problem.  When doing so, teachers ensure that all students have a strong foundation to be able to attempt the problem and can experience success.

While students are working on their solutions teachers should expect to direct and guide them.  This means that, as always, teachers need to be prepared.  How?  Solve the problem on your own!  This will illustrate the challenges students may face in solving the question.  But do note that this method of problem solving stipulates that there is not just one way of solving it.  Attempt to come up with a different solution than the first one and be open to other methods.

When it is time to display the results teachers should be able to support this step through meaningful discussions regarding the diverse ways that the problem has been attempted and solved.  Note that this method cannot be done in one class period!  Usually, it is done over at least 3 class periods.

Therefore, when choosing questions, they must encompass a variety of strands from your curriculum.  These questions must be open ended to allow for diverse use of strategies.  This will aid in ensuring your curriculum expectations are addressed.

Furthermore, you must have the appropriate supplies (chart paper, sticky notes, markers, & manipulative as minimum requirements) and a classroom management style that supports heterogeneous groupings, collaboration, support, focused discussion and certainly student accountability.

This last piece is exceptionally important, as this is where students have a voice, take ownership of their learning, and can convey their understanding to others.

If you are a teacher that uses this method, then please let us know about your experiences.  Collaborating together allows for deeper understanding for all of us!

Let us know what you think or add in your comments about teaching through problem solving.

Parent Communication: Sharing Good News!

Do you sometimes feel that you only communicate with parents when you need to inform them about a problem with their child?  Teachers communicate with parents on a regular basis regarding areas where students are struggling, incomplete homework, behaviour issues, or simply suggestions for students to improve their study skills. Speaking to students and informing parents about these issues is extremely important in order to ensure that students are successful both academically, behaviourally, and socially.

It’s so important, however, to communicate good news to both students and their parents.  Wouldn’t it be great for students to receive a letter home that lets their parents know that they did a great job working with their group that day, welcoming a new student to the class, or assisting a peer with their studies?  I know my students love to receive praise for actions that they did not think that I had noticed.  Although my sons are still young, I know that I would appreciate their teachers letting me know all the great things they are doing, instead of focusing only on areas for improvement.

Here’s a FREE printable to help you communicate good news home to parents! Just click on the image below:

Don’t forget to keep track of your parent communication by using our handy “Parent Communication Log”!