Monthly Archives: January 2014

In RETNS- We Are Writers!

This week we have been busy uploading the children’s stories for the ‘We Are Writers’ project. Children were asked to keep their stories to a maximum of 300 words.  For some children this was a challenge, and it turned out to be quite a skill in itself. As with any anthology, children were left with the choices, ‘What will I write?’ and ‘What form/genre will I use?’ Some chose to go for poetry and there are some excellent poems included in the book. Others opted to write a first instalment, ‘to be continued’, which gave them the required word count while still allowing them to write in a more narrative way. Some children used their recent learning about procedural writing to give their own procedures on something of interest to them, while for others the choice was to write some facts about their own particular hobby or interest. There are some very unusual articles with facts of interest to adults as well as children.

Some of the most interesting stories are from those who tried out the short story genre. Short story writing requires a particular skill, one which is challenging for many adults. Some of the students, particularly in the older classes, have mastered the genre very well, being succinct in their writing while still producing a piece that is ‘whole’ in itself.

For the junior classes, the project gave an opportunity for discussion and collaborative writing. Each child had an opportunity to contribute to the whole piece while not being under pressure to write on their own. All in all, with a collection of fiction and non-fiction stories, poetry, fact files and diary entries, there is something for everyone, every child is represented in the book and we are all looking forward to seeing our very own school book in print. A big thank you to all the children who got their stories in on time and to all, parents and teachers, who helped with the editing. I hope it has been an enjoyable experience for all involved.

A demo copy of the book will be available during the school book fair, March 3rd-7th, where it can be ordered. World Book Day 2014, March 6th, falls during our book fair so we have lots of book related activities planned for the week.

ICT Tips

 

Technology has presented a wealth of new opportunities for children and there is no doubt that technology is playing an increasingly important role in children’s lives today. An ever-growing number of children now have, or have access to, mobile devices of one sort or another, and even the youngest children know their way around these devices without much effort. In addition, many homes have high-speed broadband which surpasses the broadband experience offered by schools. The question then arises as to what schools can do to influence the use of technology outside of school so that it can be a positive learning experience for young people.

While schools are hampered by a lack of funding for technology, there have been a number of initiatives which are internet based and which allow children to continue their learning at home in a fun way. Many pupils love logging on at home to continue with work which they have been doing in school and with these types of applications parents have the opportunity to monitor pupils’ work, support their learning and ensure that they make good use of some of their time online.

Three applications which are well researched and recommended are Mathletics, Reading Eggs (3-8 years)/Reading Express (7-13 years) and Spelling City. Mathletics and Spelling City have both and iPad and an Android app available for mobile devices.

 Mathletics offers a wide range of games, activities and real time maths contests which allow pupils to practise their skills, increase their speed on drill activities and deepen their understanding of maths concepts. Children have a subscription for the year and this gives them access on a 24/7, 365 days a year basis.

Pupils up to 4th class also have a subscription for Reading Eggs/ReadingExpress. This programme allows children to work at their own pace and provides a range of motivational activities in the area of literacy. I have seen pupils in 1st class work on Reading Eggs at their morning computer time and they are always very involved and engaged with the activities. In both these applications pupils create their own avatar and they collect virtual rewards as they progress through the programme. Spelling City allows pupils to input their own spelling list and play a variety of games and activities using these spellings. This gives them an opportunity to practise and reinforce their spellings in a fun way. This programme is useful for those with difficulties in spelling as they get an opportunity to use the spellings in many different ways, thereby increasing exposure to the words and increasing vocabulary. It is also good for able spellers, who can input words of their own choosing and teach themselves.

A recent addition to the range of Maths websites is Class Maths, an Irish maths website that has been developed by David Brennan, an Irish primary teacher, over the past year. It is a free resource for teachers, pupils and parents to use and contains links to various Maths games which are suitable for primary school aged pupils.

Many of the websites in use in schools are either developed in the UK or Australia so it is particularly interesting to see the development of a site that is specifically geared towards the Irish Primary Maths curriculum and which has links to maths websites arranged according to the strands of the Irish primary maths curriculum. The site was initially set up for David Brennan’s own class and it was due to positive feedback that he decided to expand it for all levels in primary school. His intention is to continue to expand it and update it on an ongoing basis, adding new relevant interactive maths content, with his overall aim being to build a comprehensive primary school maths interactive resource that is educationally sound, trustworthy and reliable for students/teachers/ parents to use. Many parents have expressed a desire for a good maths website for children to use when they are off school for a time, so a website like this might fit the bill.

Visit the Class Maths website at http://www.classmaths.com/

The Daily Life section of the RETNS website contains a page on ICT in the school, with a more comprehensive list of websites for use at home as well as school.

Mindfulness

One day a few weeks ago I slipped into the Senior Infant classroom where SI and 5th class were just finished their buddy reading. Not one child heard or saw me come in. How is that possible, you may ask? It is possible because every child in the room had their eyes closed and was practising mindfulness, as a calming end to their reading activity. To see the concentration on their faces and their total involvement in the process was amazing, and a certain example of the power of Mindfulness for children.

Mindfulness is becoming a very highly recommended practice for children. There are courses for teachers throughout the year on how to develop the practice with children and it has been recommended on more than one occasion by our school psychologist for use with children with anxiety problems. There are children’s CDs available, which encourage mindfulness, relaxation and confidence through introducing children to awareness of the breath, the body, thoughts and emotions through visualisation, affirmation and breathing techniques. Mindfulness for schools is associated with the SPHE programme, specifically the strands of Myself and Self-Identity. It is claimed that mindfulness practice has been shown to enhance physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and improve concentration. Many teachers claim that boys, in particular, really enjoy the mindfulness techniques.

Mindfulness is often described as ‘being present’. Being present in the moment means that we are more focused and aware. Being present to another person is often the best gift we can give. Once we become aware of what mindfulness is, it can be a simple technique that only takes a second. Some classroom activities promoted at the teacher training on mindfulness include asking children to take out their copies mindfully, write mindfully or sit mindfully. In this way they are more fully present to the activity and therefore more focused and able to learn. A mindfulness posture can set the scene for listening; being ‘alert yet relaxed’. Children in Senior Infants and Fifth Class were focusing on their breathing. Focus on breathing and body awareness is an integral part of mindfulness, again helping us become more aware, more present.

Mindfulness can be used for all kinds of situations and with different intentions. Children can be asked to take a silent moment to listen to the sounds around them, they can be asked to become aware of the pictures and personal stories in their mind, focusing on times when they were resourceful, confident or pleased with themselves. They can then re-create this in the present. When a child is anxious, stressed or ‘in a bad place’ they can be asked to become aware of it and then think of a favourite piece of music, let it play in the mind, and see how they feel afterwards. Visualisations can help children to let go of stressful thoughts or experiences, or they can write their stressors out, crumple them up and dump them. Children can go on mindfulness walks, being aware of what they experience through their senses as they walk.

In this world of fast moving images, technology based activities and a super quick pace of living, children need, more than ever, to stop and just be. They need someone to teach them the techniques of mindfulness so that they can learn to relax, take time for themselves and others and develop strategies to cope with stress. Mindfulness creates a space in the mind, a space where children learn to build inner resources for dealing with modern day life.

A good resource for parents to use with children is the curriculum friendly CD Still Space from Mindfulness Matters. It is a CD of five minute mindfulness and visualisation tracks for children to build resilience and compassion. Check out www.mindfulnessmatters.ie for more information and a range of Irish resources, podcasts, etc on the topic of Mindfulness.