The Power of Groups

It has been a full two years without student desk groupings and I had completely forgotten about all the benefits it brings to the classroom. Not only does it brighten student morale, but it provides so many rich learning opportunities. I wanted to dedicate this post to the celebration of being back in groups!

Last year as we all know, (even though we did group work) students had to sit on their own due to COVID regulations. Since I taught online last year, I did not get to witness many group work settings as my students who worked in breakout rooms chose to keep their microphones and cameras off. I was able to witness group chats but nothing is better than in-person group work.

As restrictions are lifting, students are able to get back to some of the simple things they could enjoy pre-COVID, one of them physically sitting beside their peers. ** I created groups in my classroom last week and I cannot express how much of a change it has brought into the classroom. Just having a peer nearby has brought so many students to life, some who have been putting their head down and not participating this year. Now that they are sitting directly beside a group of people, they have no other choice but to become involved in the conversations and the learning around them. They do not seem frustrated at this, rather they are thankful for this new opportunity. This peer support has really helped a lot of my students. I was starting to think that some of my students would never regain the ability to socialize with others but the proximity of their peers has really helped them grow out of that discomfort. About six students decided they wanted to continue sitting on their own, but after a few days of seeing how exciting the prospect of sitting in a group was, they merged groups with nearby friends. These group settings have created new friendships that couldn’t have started without the new group settings.

Having students working nearby each other has also allowed for many group work activities. Some of the ones we have enjoyed in the past two weeks have been:

  • Solving complex math problems, drawing off the ideas of their peers to contribute to their answer
  • Brainstorming about topics such as the forms of bullying, landforms and types of mixtures
  • Solving hands on tasks that involve building structures or mechanisms
  • Students getting help from a friend with spelling (before they had to travel out of their seat to ask for this assistance which wasn’t allowed)
  • Confidence when solving independent problems by comparing end solutions
  • Sharing devices to research as we only have two iPads in our classroom
  • Being involved in conversations which otherwise would have had to take place across the room
  • Continuing to improve collaboration skills which have been on pause
  • Allowing for differentiated instruction opportunities that have been on pause since 2020

I know that groups can pose a classroom management issue such as breaking up group conversations. I am actually thankful for these conversations as before, it was challenging to get anyone to speak to each other. Attempting to chat with someone across the room was actually more disruptive than it is with the group settings. I continue to work on classroom management techniques as I have not had the practice with managing physical groupings since 2020.

I look forward to continuing to look at new and exciting group work activities as we are able to provide these for our students again. We are currently learning about hydraulics in our grade eight science unit so I am looking forward to students creating their own hydraulic machines together. I am also extremely thankful for the new friendships that have formed, especially with it being so close to the end of the year.

I know these successes are small and it may seem silly, but the power of physically grouping students has really changed things in my classroom and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

If you have any exciting new group work activities you have tried, I would love to hear them as it has been a while since I have done some fun team building activities. 

**Note: All of my students that sit in groups wear masks (their personal and preferred choice).**

ETFO’s recent media release related to masking can be found here.

PLEASE NOTE: ETFO’S POSITION ON IN-PERSON LEARNING REMAINS UNCHANGED. THE UNION FIRMLY BELIEVES THAT THE DAILY, IN-PERSON MODEL OF INSTRUCTION AND SUPPORT BEST MEETS THE EDUCATIONAL, DEVELOPMENTAL AND SOCIAL NEEDS OF STUDENTS, PROVIDES THE BEST EXPERIENCE FOR SUPPORT, AND IS THE MOST EQUITABLE LEARNING MODEL FOR ALL STUDENTS.
ETFO’S EXPECTATION IS THAT ELEMENTARY VIRTUAL LEARNING IN ANY CAPACITY, INCLUDING THROUGH HYBRID MODELS OF INSTRUCTION, WILL END ONCE THE PANDEMIC ENDS.

 

Curtis Carmichael- an inspiring teacher and activist

On March 4th, my school staff was lucky enough to listen to one of the most passionate guest speakers I have ever heard. His name is Curtis Carmichael and a talented author, teacher, speaker and activist. He is best known for his bike ride across Canada, striving for change in his Toronto community. He is also known for writing Butterflies in the Trenches, the first augmented reality book of its kind. I will include his website here in case you wish to learn more about his story and specifics.

Carmichael discussed many powerful topics with us, the first one being our job as educators. Here are the things he highlighted:

  • Unwrap each child’s gift
    • Carmichael is a firm believer that every single child has a gift and its our job to “unwrap it” and see for ourselves what makes them so special.
  • Prepare them for the real world
    • Carmichael mentions the importance of not running away from the community where they grew up but looking for ways to make it better. The real world will introduce new challenges for them after their educational journey and we need to prepare them for those

As for his book Butterflies in the Trenches, Carmichael encourages educators to read it with their class and to use the teacher guide it comes with. As he puts it,

    Butterflies in the Trenches is the candid story of Curtis’ life in the public housing projects in Scarborough, Ontario, where he grew up surrounded by trap houses, attending underfunded schools, and avoiding drive-by shootings. He shares raw and intimate stories from his childhood as a drug dealer and hustler and explores the effects of poverty, systemic racism, and police brutality on Black and low-income communities.

His story is so important for other children to hear as they grow up in similar surroundings. Hearing what he did was a meaningful story that all in the room were beyond inspired by. The opportunities he is presenting for young Black Canadians is outstanding and I shared his story with my class the Monday following this presentation. They had many questions about his journey across Canada and all that he has gone through.

Other ideas he speaks about are co-creating classroom activities with your class. Asking them what works and what doesn’t and going from there. I know the year is quickly wrapping up but there is still time to get everyone on the same page. He also mentions “Gamification” which is turning educational premises into games. This will encourage participation from the students in your class and will get them more engaged in their learning.

After Carmichael’s Zoom call ended, I thought about how to continue inspiring community in my classroom. I did an activity with them on the Monday where I asked them about their definition of community. These were their answers:

  • big group of people
  • BLM
  • a large amount of people in a group that agree on a specific topic
  • civilization
  • a place where people work, live and get along

I was saddened to see that “our class” or “a school” didn’t quite make it on the list. I will work harder to create community in my classroom and continue to look at activities that will engage all. The more initiatives that we take on as a class, I find it brings us closer together. We look forward to perhaps celebrating another spirit day as a class or creating a “Pink Day” for the entire school with the other 7/8 students. I was grateful for Carmichael as he reminded me of the importance of community and how co-creation is such a great way to start.

I look forward to sharing about how my students react to his book after we receive our copy next week.

Carmichael on Twitter: @CurtisCarmicc
Instagram: curtiscarmicc

 

Questions that Matter

My 7/8 students have been learning about data and how it connects to the world around them. Data is more important than ever as it relates to the way our province will go forward during these challenging times. Students were able to comment on how important data is when making decisions that impact our world. As always, I am grateful when math concepts are so easy to relate to the world around them.

I usually end the data unit each year with a survey project that would directly impact their learning. Students come up with some questions that they can ask their classmates and then we use the collected data to start something in the school. Times are challenging right now and it seemed like there was no question to pose to the student body. So, I let my students come up with some questions that matter. Here is what they came up with:

  1. What low contact sports would you like to play? (Options: dodgeball, soccer skills, badminton and volleyball)
  2. What time of day would you prefer to play? (Options: first break, second break or after school)
  3. What days of the week would you like to play? (Options: Monday to Friday)
  4. Who would you like to play with? (Options: mixed classes or class vs. class)
  5. What would you like to eat at graduation?
  6. What trips would you like to go on this year?

Of the six questions, students determined that four of them related to something we could start immediately while the other two were not necessarily good questions for this point in the school year. We started this planning period before the government announced that there could be a return to high contact sports should they be offered in schools. Provision of extra curricular activities is voluntary and a number are offered in my school.

Students got to work with this survey project. They were excited to ask their classmates sport related questions and predicted that volleyball, which has always been the favourite, would still be the favourite. A grade eight made a comment that even though they assume it will be volleyball, it would still make sense to complete the survey to see if their classmates were interested in more than one sport. Although the students in my class know that not everyone enjoys playing sports, they could not think of any survey questions relating to other topics. They noted that since these activities would be played “for fun”, that many students may come out.

Here is how the rest of the project played out:

  • Three students created an online survey differentiating between check boxes and multiple choice questions. They came to the conclusion that students should be allowed to select more than one sport and more than one day of the week but should have to chose between the time of day they preferred the most and the style of play they would most prefer.
  • My class helped me write an email to the six classes we would survey as they acknowledged you cannot just walk into a class without first planning a good time to survey.
  • Students came up with a contact-free way to survey where they had a sanitizer bottle near both devices and had students get called up row by row by their teacher to come complete the survey. They made sure that students who did not intend on participating in these activities should not complete the survey as it would skew the results.
  • We read the results and drew some conclusions.Here were our results:
    87 students completed the survey

Sports:

  • 58 students want to play volleyball
  • 24 students want to play badminton
  • 33 students want to try some soccer skills
  • 32 students want to play dodgeball.

Time of Day:

  • 38 students prefer to play after school
  • 33 students prefer to play at first break
  • 16 prefer to play at second break.

Style of Play:

  • 60 students want to play with mixed classes
  • 25 students want to play class vs. class.

Day of the Week:

  • 32 students would play Monday
  • 24 students would play Tuesday
  • 32 students would play Wednesday
  • 26 students would play Thursday
  • 30 students would play Friday
  • 37 students said it wouldn’t matter to them

Conclusions we drew about the data:

My students were not surprised that volleyball came out on top. They did however share that they did not know that many students would be interested in dodgeball and badminton as they had never been offered before. My students knew that after school would be popular but were shocked it was so close to the first break results. They knew second break would not be popular as most students go home for lunch during that time. They thought class vs. class would be the most popular as we had done a trial survey in our class and it was the most popular vote by far. The last question shocked them the most as they thought nobody would pick Monday. They were confused about the low numbers for Tuesday as it was a random day to have the lowest number of votes.

We then discussed next steps regarding our results. My students thought we would need to:

  1. Meet in their groups to discuss the results of each questions
  2. Write a small paragraph explaining the results of their question
  3. Have a meeting with the principal and vice principal to share the results
  4. Ask permission to run mixed intramurals as previously cohorts could not mix

After completing steps 1-4, the five students who shared the results with admin mentioned that at this time, we cannot mix cohorts. So we will have to run with the less popular result and explain that it could change in the future (class vs. class). Since basketball is running right now as the announcement of changing COVID guidelines allowed high contact sports, we will only have a few time slots to run these sports. As long as students see that their voice matters and their selections inspired programs in our school, then that is what counts!

Something that I did not expect to happen occurred during this survey project. One of my students made a realization that 87 students are interested in these intramurals but only 30- 40 students tried out of the team sports offered at our school. We discussed why this could be and my students came up with many great reasons. To summarize, the pressure of being on a school team may be too much for some and they prefer the smaller commitment of a fun intramural. My students assume that the time commitment of being on a team could have been too large or the pressure of a whole team depending on you being too much. I love competitive sports and I think they are great for students as it teaches them so much when being part of a team. However, I see how beneficial it is to have options for students that may not enjoy that competitive setting.

Our project has come to an end and we are excited to see how students enjoy these new activities at our school. My students will hopefully see that their questions mattered and that they will enrich the lives of students in the school. I think we will even be able to find ways to run most of these programs during DPA time (during the regular day’s schedule).

Provision of extra curricular activities is a voluntary part the work we do. It is important that they remain voluntary. Additionally, it is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic that if they are offered, they are only provided if all health and safety protocols can be observed to protect students and staff.  

“I have been forced to celebrate Valentine’s Day all my life!”

As we enter a new month, we look forward to celebrating new things with our classes. I was so excited to do a group research activity with my class this week, not only to see how well they collaborated, but to see what they knew about as far as days we celebrate in February.

This is the list they came up with:

  • Black History Month
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Lunar New Year
  • Groundhog Day
  • Family Day

Students worked with their classmates to come up with some facts about the celebrated dates. Then, they shared these facts with the rest of the class. During this activity, I saw new students stepping up as leaders and a lot of interesting conversations occurred.

Black History Month

Out of my 24 students, ten can remember celebrating this each year. They had mentioned hearing about it on the announcements or at the beginning of the month from their teacher but not much more. Last year was an interrupted year so perhaps they cannot remember much. Without researching, one student could recall the importance of learning about Black History and how she was looking forward to learning more. Many students wondered why Black History month is just one month? The discussions that came out of this were great as one grade seven offered that we should celebrate Black History as part of our history curriculum. I let her know that I agreed with this and the curriculum is starting to become much more inclusive. Ensuring these important parts of history are captured during each unit rather than once a year is something we all need to try to do. My class voted that they would all like to learn and celebrate during Black History Month this year since they hadn’t been able to remember much from last year.

Lunar New Year

One student in my room mentioned that they celebrate Lunar New Year and that they would be having a nice dinner that evening. They also wore a nice dress shirt to class and will be eating as a family that evening. Other students were unsure about this celebration and I made sure to fill them. When we are back from our Snow Day, I hope to show them an article on how families celebrated this year. No students had ever heard about this or could remember celebrating as a class in the past. One student offered that they had made a lantern in grade one.

Groundhog Day

Many students knew about this day without hearing the research and knew that it occurred each year. They did not want to celebrate or learn about this day as a class this year as they did not find it that important.

Family Day 

The research group found out when Family Day started and that we all have the day off for this holiday. Although we have the day off to celebrate, only four students put up their hand when asked if they would like to do something fun with their family that day. A grade 7/8 audience is hard to ask that question to because finding joy in spending time with family may be challenging to admit to their peers. We learned about how this day was created so that people can spend time to honour the importance of family and to cherish them by spending time with them. Lots of questions were asked about why we needed to have the day off. Great conversations around this as well!

Valentine’s Day 

This was the first celebration that was mentioned when groups selected their celebration. They knew the date of this holiday and many facts about it, not even thinking they needed to do any research. When I asked students how many had celebrated in the past, all hands went up. Students had mentioned doing crafts, going to dances, sending Valentine’s, etc. When I rephrased the question to who would like to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, only 9 of the 24 hands went up. Whether it be their age of their disinterest in this holiday, students who had celebrated in previous years would not like to anymore. One student made a comment that inspired me to write this blog post. Her comment was, “I have been forced to celebrate Valentine’s Day all my life!” This comment really shocked me as I know that in the past, I had brought in cakes, cupcakes, treats, organized dances, organized candy grams, played music, dressed up, etc. all to celebrate a holiday that may not have meant anything to my students. They may not want to celebrate a day that appears on the calendar each year. That is why when administrators mention to be careful how much emphasis you place on certain holidays, it is meant for the students who may not want to celebrate that holiday. This year, I will allow my nine students to find a way to enjoy this holiday with their peers. The other students will not have to give up any of their time on February 14th to participate in something they do not want to participate in.

Lots of food for thought with this discussion, try it with your class if you think they can respond appropriately!

Here we go again…

Remote learning is here again and after three days of synchronous teaching this week, it feels like a deja vu of last year. I spent September to June teaching remotely from my office last year after being surplussed from my school. To be back in the same office teaching remotely is quite a challenging feeling, especially since we all know the toll it takes on kids to be out of the classroom.

For students at my school, being in the classroom is essential. That word has been used a lot in the past three years and it seems to hold a lot of weight. Being in the classroom is essential for so many reasons. Our food program provides the first meal of the day for many and is not available now that we are online. The connections in the classroom help students who have felt isolated for so long and they were so happy this September to finally start making these connections again. The ability to play on a sports team that is free and is developmental is so important for those in our community. Having a caring adult who is always there to listen and to help is a must during these times. Being online takes away most of those essential opportunities.

I have been reading many articles this week that spoke to me. My favourite read was this article:

https://www.macleans.ca/society/the-cruel-ridiculous-reality-of-virtual-learning/?fbclid=IwAR2iS0pFaMpavoWSZLi0MmGvNHaUHccAgc7s7IbbH4-cs8ymegSFjB4Bq_A

This article speaks about many of the problems with children learning at home, disengaged from their peers. It is really interesting to hear things from a parent point of view who try to juggle their children’s schedules while also doing their own job. Worth a read for anyone wanting to hear another perspective.

Last year, we made it work as the vaccine roll out started and many parents were uncomfortable sending their unvaccinated child into the classroom. This time, we have access to these resources and we have done all we can. It is time to stay in the classroom and never be taken out again.

However, I can celebrate some small successes this week as I always try to look for a few positives in a dark situation:

  • 18 of my 24 students were able to get access to technology and they signed in and came online
  • 3 out of my 24 students turned their cameras on which was great as I could see their reactions while I was teaching
  • Two of my students who rarely complete tasks in the classroom completed many tasks this week
  • One of my students who does not speak throughout the day connected online in the chat
  • One of my students with attendance issues signed in all three days this week

So even though remote learning is in no way the best option for children, some students thrive in this setting.

I am also taking advantage of this online time to begin coding with my class as this is the only time we will have 1:1 technology. We have started the Express Course 2021 on http://code.org The website tracks the progress of each student and lets me know who is online and learning. It covers both the grade seven and eight curriculum content for coding. The students can learn to code sprites to move, work with loops, functions and even design their own app. I am thankful for the devices that we are currently able to have since it would not be possible to start coding without them. Last year my students used Scratch and it was not that user friendly, especially since I could not walk into their homes and help them with their tasks. This program is much more reliable and easy to understand.

So all in all, it has been a long week with many ups and downs. At the end of 2021, I told my students there was really no way we could end up online and now here we are again. I hope that we can go back into the classroom soon as we all know the benefits that it provides to each and every student. I commend my fellow educators who are teaching at home and some with their own children home too. I cannot imagine juggling both. Keep at it everyone and we will get through this, once again.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has brought unique and unprecedented challenges to teaching. ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that in-person instruction and learning in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery and is the most equitable model for all students. In order to support educators during remote learning, several resources have been created to support members.

Saying you care is not enough…

This month, students in our board completed a survey where they answered 60 questions related to their feelings in school. They answered questions about many topics which I assume will give a detailed account of how students view our board. Some of the questions were:

  1. How often are you taught about women, people of colour, Indigenous People and the LGBTQ community? (Often, sometimes, not at all)
  2. How often do you see posters around your school that you feel reflects an image of someone that looks like you?
  3. Do you feel safe when you come to school?
  4. Do you feel you had at least one caring adult in the building?
  5. Do you feel people would miss you if you were not at school?
  6. Do you have a friend/friend group at school?
  7. Do you feel that you have a purpose in your school?

As a grade 7/8 teacher, I know from experience what the answer to most of the above questions would be. Intermediate students often feel that they are never represented, that they are unsafe at school, that they can’t relate to any adults, that they are not relevant and that they do not belong. That is often the case in the intermediate grades because students start to reflect on the “perceived unfairness” of the world around them. But how do we as educators address these issues and the lack of sense of belonging that these teens feel?

These surveys were anonymous. So, unfortunately, I will not be able to see how my students answered the survey. Our board will share the results eventually which I am sure will create a need for new learning. However, our student success teacher created a similar survey last month and I was able to view the results to that survey. The answers shocked me. The students who I speak to the most during the day (since they often approach me for help with their relationships) shared that they felt they did not have a caring adult to speak to in the building. The students who appear to have the most friends shared that they feel that they have no friend group and that no one would miss them if they were absent from school.

I knew I had to have some private conversations to address these concerns, especially about the fact that they cannot connect with any adult in the building. The conversations that followed were very interesting. They knew that the staff would listen to what they had to say but they felt that they just pretended to care. They felt that they would only listen because it was their job, but that they didn’t actually care. It was very hard to convince my twelve and thirteen year old students that I would truly care about something that they were going through. Whatever had happened to these students in the past had led them to believe that adults would say one thing and mean another. I have a long road ahead to show these students that the teachers in their life will always be a positive support system.

I think it all comes back to instilling a positive class community. Taking time to have those conversations with your class about holidays that they celebrate, starting every Monday off with conversations about their weekend, taking time for fun activities are just a few things that can be done to show your students that you care. Also, remembering that at all times, the curriculum comes second to your students well-being and self-worth. I recognize once again the importance of creating that classroom community in September and remembering to take the time to listen to a student’s needs, even if it is when you are about to run out of the classroom at break. Actions speak louder than words and especially after that long period of online learning, students need to be reminded that we are there for them and that we care. Not because we have to but because we want to. I will continue to remind my students of that throughout the rest of this year, because saying that you care is not enough, you have to prove it.

Reflections of an eighth year teacher

As I mentioned earlier in November, I have started my first official journey as a teacher mentor, having my first student teacher experience. It has been an incredible experience so far. It is so fortunate that my students have a second adult to connect with and knowing that I can help a future teacher with their career. I have enjoyed learning from her and learning with her. This Friday marked the end of her third week with my students and we discussed all of the things to come, one being her unit plan. Planning a unit when you have been teaching for a few years is a whole different task compared to someone in school. When I was in school, I do not remember learning how to plan a unit. It is extremely hard to know what resources to use when you are in school or in your first year. Over the years, I have acquired so many great resources and those are hard to know about when you are just starting out. So something I have made sure to do so far is to pass on the locations of these resources, describing how to differentiate with them and how to lesson plan using them.

Having a student teacher is a great way to reflect on your practice. Reading over the mid-term evaluation made me reflect on many things about my teaching. I think it would be very beneficial for all teachers, no matter what year they are in, to reflect on these questions. Take time to pause and reflect on the following:

  • Do you demonstrate knowledge about how your student’s learn?
  • Do you organize purposeful student learning experiences?
  • Do you foster decision-making, problem-solving and inquiry?
  • Do you show insight into individual student’s progress?
  • Do you differentiate assessment techniques?
  • Do you provide written and verbal constructive feedback?
  • Do you have a consistent approach to student behaviour expectations?
  • Do you maintain a safe learning environment?
  • Do you motivate and sustain class involvement?
  • Do you adapt to the needs of all learners?
  • Do you generate enthusiasm and respect for subjects?

I started to reflect honestly about how all of these are evident in my daily practice. There are so many things to think about and a few of these have not been given enough time and effort as the years have gone on. I would like to reflect on one of the questions that stood out to me the most.

Do you organize purposeful student learning experiences?

Sometimes I find it hard to “reinvent the wheel” when teaching certain subjects such as History or Science. I look to use already created units made by colleagues that are kind enough to share. These units are great, they cover all expectations and provide the students with great readings, opportunity for responding and some inquiry projects. When I think about it, are they purposeful learning experiences? I am not too sure about that.

Recently, my students participated in a media literacy unit where their culminating task was to plan an advertising campaign to advertise “Sportswear Day” for the school. Leading up to this task, they evaluated the effectiveness of professional advertisements, responding to what worked for certain audiences. This had a purpose as it would lead to the eventual creating of their own advertisements. My students created posters, videos and announcements that incorporated students, teachers and celebrities, paying attention to the effectiveness of celebrity endorsements. These ads. were sent to all classes and the posters were hung on the walls. The school spirit was immediately uplifted by this ad. campaign; students and staff were looking forward to this spirit day.

The experience of creating advertisements for a purpose and hearing day after day about the success of each ad. was a purposeful experience that I am glad my students had. They are more likely to remember it when they have graduated and were involved in the learning experience. I look forward to creating more of these experiences in the future, especially as I continue to mentor my student teacher. As we head into the winter season, I hope to have a locker decorating contest, incorporating art expectations and having classes come view these lockers. We would ask these classes to vote and look at the data, commenting on students responded and why they responded the way they did.

I really appreciate this opportunity to mentor, not only to help a future teacher but to continue reflecting on my own practice.

 

My first experience as an official mentor

Yesterday began my first official day as a student-teacher mentor. So for the next six weeks, I will be blogging about the experiences of having a student-teacher in the classroom.

Since I have been teaching for longer than five years now, I am eligible to have a student teacher in the classroom. Since I was remote last year, I did not jump at the opportunity as I thought it would be more beneficial for that student teacher to learn in a physical classroom. This year, I could tell I have an incredible class who would give that teacher candidate a lot of experience and I was excited at the opportunity! Not only is having a student teacher an amazing opportunity to inspire the next generation of teachers with new ideas and methods but it also allows for all students to get an extra adult in the room. That is an incredible opportunity for all for those six incredible weeks.

My student teacher started yesterday and was visibly excited to start her practicum. She had been waiting for her placement to begin as her experience in the physical classroom got cut short last year as we switched to virtual. I could tell right away that her positive attitude and attentiveness would do so well in my 7/8 classroom.

The day started well with introductions, routines and the basics. As the day unfolded, I could see her getting to know the students and having chats with them. This was great to see as this is the best way to get involved right at the beginning. Almost immediately, a student shared about how they hadn’t slept the night before and how they were feeling upset. Right away, my student teacher got to see how if a student isn’t feeling mentally healthy or ready for the day, they cannot succeed in the classroom. I let my student know that they were heard and that we would support them at school and look to help them at home. Mental health and student well-being will be and should always be the main focus in the classroom so it was important for my student teacher to hear that discussion on her first morning.

During our planning time, we had great discussions around why she had decided to go to school for teaching, her teachable areas, any aspects of her placement that she was feeling anxious about, any extra-curriculars she would like to be involved in and a few more questions to get our journey together started. These answers are important to set the foundation for her placement. I also asked her to complete a small task for homework, to write out the seating plan and to write down any small comments or observations that she had made about the students on her first day.

This morning, when she shared all the observations she had gathered, I was shocked with how much she had learned about my students after she had only met them for five periods. I mentioned how knowing the learners, their needs and learning habits will ultimately determine the way that she teaches for the next six weeks. I cannot stress enough how thrilled I was to hear all she had observed in that short amount of time.

After school today she came to assist with volleyball, which was great to see. Funny enough, we have the same coaching interests so it will be great to see her get involved in these activities as well. I am so excited for this journey as I can tell she is an eager university student who was meant to be a teacher. I am happy to pass on all that I know and of course, guide and help her through this journey. I was so fortunate enough eight years ago to have two associate teachers who did so much for me. They made me the teacher I am today and allowed me to explore so many aspects of this profession. I can only hope I will do the same for her.

“I like this math better than real math!”

Fake Math vs. Real Life

“I like this math better than real math” was exclaimed by my grade eight student on Friday while we were playing Trust No One on Gimkit. Gimkit is a live, gameshow style learning that requires students to solve basic math problems in order to reach a common goal. Gimkit is an excellent way to see what students need more help with the math concepts taught that week and who understands what was taught. So why does my student consider learning in such a way “fake math”? I asked her and her response was interesting. To summarize, my student mentions how real math has to be with pencil and paper, must be boring and has to be done quietly. This is the exact opposite of the way that I like to teach math. It is interesting to hear the different perceptions of math from each student. After my student said this, I asked the class to explain the math concepts we were exploring in that Gimkit live show. My students then answered: solving for the greatest common factor, finding square roots, etc. I then explained to my student that all of that math is “real”.

My math program changes each year as I learn from different teachers such as the ones that presented last year at the OAME conference (more information can be found about that conference here: OAME) I like to integrate different ways of learning whether it be with whiteboards (non-permanent surfaces), manipulative based problems, problem of the week, asking the students which one doesn’t belong (WODB), solving patterns, estimating with a daily prompt (Estimation180) or my favourite, playing a math game that makes students think they aren’t even doing math. This was evident last Friday as my student thought we weren’t even doing real math.

I love hearing about all the different approaches to a math program. With the updated math curriculum in its second year, it is especially interesting to take a look at the different approaches to the financial literacy and coding programs. I am still getting used to the new curriculum but I love the easy online format that is available online: Math Curriculum I have printed this out and I look at what expectations work well together. I work with my grade team partners to take about what strands we report on each term. Ideally, I would love to try a fully spiralled math program but I am not 100% comfortable with this approach yet and am interested in learning more.

Challenges in Math Today

Today I struggled with a student who did not want to try the zeros principle when adding integers because she already knows how to add integers. I asked her a few times to try it out on her whiteboard and eventually, she did it. She asked me why she had to try this strategy if she already knew how to add integers. I told her that I teach many strategies so that students can pick their favourite. However, this student had already developed her own strategy, so did I just confuse her by adding another one to her toolkit? Should I have let her answer the question using the way she already knows? So many things to think about and at the time, I did not know the answer. How would you handle that situation? I love hearing many different ways that teachers approach math strategies and how to work with students who do not want to learn new ones.

With a split class this year, I am fortunate enough to tackle each lesson as a review for the eights and at the same time it being new content for the sevens. This allows for student teachers and a great review for the eights as last year was often interrupted by closures of classes and ultimately, the board. I am excited to teach the eights their new curriculum while inviting the sevens to try it out. At first, I viewed math in a split class as a challenge but now I just see it as an exciting opportunity to challenge students to be teachers and leaders. I look forward to continue blogging at my math program as the year continues. Next time you have the opportunity, ask your students if they consider any math task at any given time “fake or real”… a perception that I loved hearing last Friday!

Truth and Reconciliation Day Reflections

In my grade 7/8 class, we spent the month of September discussing residential schools, learning about how these schools horribly affected many people and their families to this very day. We spent the past two week doing an activity from a Canva slideshow that my principal shared with our staff. We listened to many residential school survivors tell their story and we commented on how these stories made us feel. During the time when these videos were on, my students were actively listening and not distracted by anything around them. I could tell that what they were listening to was important to them. We discussed and participated in activities from this link Canva Link

Then, during the week of September 27th to October 1st, we participated and listened to various live speakers from the Truth and Reconciliation Week activities. During these live videos and activities, my students once again were engaged and being respectful to the speakers. The events we participated in can be found by clicking on this link

After listening to all of the speakers and pre-recorded videos, my students made their own orange shirt out of felt that they could safety pin to their shirt if they did not have an orange shirt for our first Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30th. This idea was shared with me by a fellow teacher in my school (who has done this every year with her class). My students wore them with pride on September 30th as they knew the significance and importance of wearing orange.

Some questions my students had about Truth and Reconciliation Week/Day were:

  1. Why do the government officials get a holiday?
  2. Why would anyone choose to put children in a residential school?
  3. How can we learn from this?
  4. What can we do to help?
  5. Why…just why?

One of my grade eights said it best when he was commenting on the total devastation a parent would feel if their child never returned home. This comment was met with silence from my students.

We also read an article about perhaps in the future moving to make Truth and Reconciliation Day a provincial holiday as well. This brought up a great discussion about why this year it was only for federal employees. One student made a comment along the lines of, “I wonder if those employees are taking the day to reflect.” A good question from a grade eight student.

I commented on the fact that even though we may not feel as if we can do a lot to change what happened, we can respect the time we take each year to remember those children in the unmarked graves and to learn and listen from all of those who were impacted by that. I can continue to teach my class during this month about this each year and my students can continue to remember the children who were found. I enjoyed looking at Instagram and Twitter to see how schools reflected and shared their learning on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

As we move into October and learn about Islamic Heritage Month, we need to do our best to remember how to honour and respect all that we heard during September for the entire school year.