Virtual Goodbyes

Last June, Will Gourley posted Before you click “End the call” after his experience with virtual learning in the 2020-2021 school year. I thought about this post often during the 2021-2022 school year as I wore the hat of Virtual Kindergarten teacher.

The thought of clicking “end the call for everyone” for the very last time leaves me with an unsettling feeling. Though we are ending on a high note in our class and filling the day with games, stories, songs and sharing, I can’t help but feel like something is missing.

I hope my students know how proud I am of them for how hard they’ve worked despite the many challenges that come with learning online. I told them daily how much they meant to me, but I hope they felt it in their hearts. I am not really great at goodbyes, I much prefer a “see you later” – as many of us do. I recently saw a post on social media (of which the author I cannot find), reminiscing on how educators work tirelessly to create a classroom family, only to say goodbye to their family each June.

Is this something that gets easier with experience? Or does it sting just the same 20 years later? As a new teacher, I cannot answer that question. Reflecting on my latest experience teaching virtually, I hope I have given my students closure and helped to co-create a happy ending to the virtual world we lived in each day together.

Virtual goodbyes feel different.

As I say goodbye to my students virtually this June, I am also sending out a virtual goodbye to the ETFO Heart and Art Blog readers as I type my last post. Thank you to the wonderful community of educators who come together to critically reflect on their practice, share their experiences and build connections with others. As I continue on throughout my journey in education, I am forever grateful to be surrounded by such passionate and inspirational people.

And to those people I say,

“Goodbye”

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.

Outdoor Education

I love learning outdoors! To me, the outdoors is an extension of the learning that happens in the four corners of the classroom, except there are no walls and no  barriers to one’s imagination in the outdoors. I believe learning occurs everywhere and at all times; what better way to show students the art of experiential learning than through outdoor education. 

 

What are the benefits of outdoor education?

From all of my experiences as an educator, a physical education specialist, and from all that I have learned and read about the art of teaching and learning, there is no doubt in my mind about the positive benefits of outdoor education. From the development of physical skills, mental health, spatial awareness, self-esteem, problem solving and communication skills (just to name a few) to the love, appreciation and respect for nature and all living things, outdoor education transforms lives and student learning to a whole new level beyond the classroom. I find that, though important in student’s overall growth and development, traditional curriculum tends to focus on test-based learning, leaving less emphasis on experiential, play-based outdoor learning. When students are engaged in outdoor education, their academic performance increases, their focus and attention increase, their mental and social health increase and they develop a deeper connection with, and respect for, the environment. 

 

How can schools/teachers incorporate outdoor education into their teaching practices? 

  • You can always take the lesson and/or activity outside (snow, rain or shine). As long as you prepare for the weather conditions and student safety, many activities, with some minor adjustments, can be accomplished in an outdoor setting. 
  • Consider taking part in the OPAL outdoor play education program. Schools are supplied with equipment and resources that students use in various innovative and explorative ways through free play. For example, students can build forts, balance on large wood spools, swing from tire swings and engage in pool-noodle sword play (just to name a few).  For more information, check out Outdoor Play Canada
  • I have also come across many articles that talk about the benefits of outdoor education and outdoor play in many subject areas: the arts, health and physical education, but also including literacy and numeracy. There are also many resources and organizations that are able to support teachers in building strategies to incorporate outdoor education into their teaching practices. I have used resources from Right to Play and OPHEA teaching tools and found them to be very practical and engaging for students.

If you are new to the idea of outdoor education, my suggestion would be to do a little research of your own, talk with other colleagues and/or your administrators and engage your students in a discussion about outdoor education. Another suggestion would be to start small by focusing on one subject/concept at a time and maybe just doing one activity with students. From there, you can set specific goals and measure success through feedback from participants, looking at improvements in academic performance as well as students’ emotional and social well-being. Overall, the benefits of outdoor education speak volume, in terms of student success, student development, and student mental health and well-being. Outdoor education is beneficial to every child in every school community, and it’s a strategy that I hope will one day be commonplace in all school communities across the province.

E is for Equity (part 2)

I am back again for part 2.

I hope you enjoyed (or planned to enjoy) some of the books from part 1 of E is for Equity.

After reading And Tango Makes Three (by: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) to my Kindergarten class very recently, I need everyone to stop what they’re doing and read about the immediate reactions my young learners had to the story.

The story is about 2 penguins in the Central Park Zoo that fall in love and hatch an egg together. This story is so fun and exciting for the listeners as they watch Silo and Roy become the proud penguin parents that they always wanted to be. The penguins Silo and Roy are both boy penguins.

My students burning questions at the end of the story:

  • “What do penguins eat?”
  • “Do penguins eat polar bears?”
  • “I went to the zoo once!”
  • “Can I go to the bathroom?”

N – The Name Jar 

Written & Illustrated by: Yangsook Choi

O – One Love

Adapted by: Cedella Marley

Illustrated by: Brantley Newton

P – The Proudest Blue 

Written by: Ibtihaj Muhammad, &S.K. Ali

Illustrated by: Hatem Aly

Q – Lubaya’s Quiet Roar

Written by: Marilyn Nelson

Paintings by: Philemona Williamson

R – R.J Palacio (Author & Illustrator)

We’re all Wonders

S – Sulwe

Written by: Lupita Nyong’o 

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison 

T – And Tango Makes Three

Written by: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell 

Illustrated by: Henry Cole

U – Under My Hijab 

Written by: Hena Khan

Illustrated by: Aaliya Jaleel

V – Susan Verde (Author)

I am Human

Illustrated by: Peter H. Reynolds

W – When We are Kind

Written by: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Nicole Neidhardt

X – Except When They Don’t

Written by: Laura Gehl

Illustrated by: Joshua Heinsz

Y – Be You!

Written & Illustrated by: Peter H Reynolds 

Z – Zahra’s Blessing: A Ramadan Story

Written by: Shirin Shamsi

Illustrated by: Manal Mirza

“I got the job!”

Lately I have been incorporating all of the real life learning experiences into my practice and it has been a game changer. Sleepy heads are lifting, my colleagues are commenting and the entire grade 7 & 8 population are chatting about all that has been going on.

It all started when I started to think about food sales prices for a soccer tournament. I would need to look at the cost of each item and think of how best to increase the price as a fundraising opportunity. With financial literacy a new part of our math curriculum, I knew it would be a great opportunity for my class to do some real life learning. I divided them into groups and have them find the cost of each item and have them come up with some ideas of potential sale prices. My students had a great time coming up with their prices and compare them to the prices in the neighbourhood. They then designed posters and competed for the best food sales poster. We talked about how this compares to marketing in business plans within the real world.

When I pick students to sell food at my soccer tournaments, I usually just pick students that I know would do a good job. I usually pick students within my own class and never really branch out to the other classes. However, the student success teacher at my school was beginning to introduce a program called Xello which allows students to take a career quiz as well as has a feature that allows you to create your own résumé. I explained to the students in my class that they would be creating their own resumes as it would be useful in the future. I also mentioned that there were a few volunteer opportunities coming up in our school year such as helping at grad or selling food at the soccer tournament and mentioned that students could interview for the position if they wanted. I came up with five interview questions that would be useful for both job opportunities. 

I set up interview times and instructed students to find at least two references within our school community. Most found three. Roughly 10 of my students interviewed to sell food at the tournament. The interviews were about five minutes long each. Before the interviews we watched helpful interview techniques, and also read some suggestions online. They practised answers to the questions with her peers and I noticed some students even wrote out their responses and practiced saying them. What once used to be a selection process done only by myself has now turned into a literacy assignment as well as something that students would really use in the near future. As most of my students are going into grade 9 in a few months, this skill will be more helpful for them than many other things taught this year. 

What started out with a project just for my class ended up involving at least 15 other students in grade 7 and 8. I explained that students could interview for the position but they would have to make a résumé first and have at least two references. They ended up joining our class for a résumé making clinic and then I set up their interview times. After checking in with all references, I selected 13 students for the job, as there are two soccer tournaments, I could take two groups. Their interest, dedication and professionalism proved to be very inspiring. It was so great to see so many students come out of their shell, shake hands and introduce themselves in a professional setting. It actually reminded me of a drama activity as well as we both took on different versions of ourself. I would definitely do this again for all future tournaments. My favourite part of the entire experience is when students would show up to support a friend after their interview, ask how it went and then celebrate with them. Seeing their smiles when they got the job was truly magical. I will never forget as one student yelled across the hall to a friend, “I got the job!”

Seeing as this went so well, I decided to branch this out and have students interview for the careers that they selected from the same Xello program. From there, I created a financial literacy budgeting assignment. Students would use their future favourite career and find out the starting salary. They would then use that number to figure out their monthly income and select somewhere to live. We have been talking about the benefits of renting versus buying and some students are opting to share housing with a classmate. They will then look at transportation options, Wi-Fi and telephone options, costs that go with housing, food costs, and other expenses they may have. Some students may find that they need a second job and some may find that that career is very rewarding and can cover all their needs. So far, we have only looked at salaries and housing and most of my students that I am interested in math have perked up for this. Financial literacy is by far my most exciting part of the math curriculum and I decided to test it to the limit this year as I have a very creative group. I have heard students wandering around the halls talking to other teachers about the property they are looking at on the east mountain. It is a hilarious prospect and I love that they are putting their real world skills to the test. I look forward to making this a yearly part of my curriculum. 

Learning in real life contexts isn’t always possible but when I can use it, the student interest is astronomical. I look forward to sharing some of my students’ final projects once they are finished. 

**Colleagues: Xello is a program offered by my board which can be found in our HUB courses. ** Every board has different guidelines and privacy policies. related to the use of third party software with students. 

E is for Equity (part 1)

I’m a new teacher.

I’m always looking for books to add to my library that support the inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive environment I strive to achieve in my classroom. This school year, I have been investing in books that celebrate diversity to ensure that all students see themselves reflected within the Kindergarten program. I have been in search of stories by BIPOC authors, stories that celebrate differences, and stories that share messages of inclusion to add to my collection. I decided to create an A-Z list of stories that I love. This list is far from exhaustive and there are MANY amazing books I could have added. The stories below from A-M are stories that were appropriate for my Kindergarten class, but could definitely be read to students beyond Kindergarten as well.

If you are a new teacher looking to begin your picture book collection, this one’s for you!

A – Alma and How She Got Her Name

By: Juana Martinez-Neal 

B – Black is a Rainbow Colour

By: Angela Joy

Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes

C -Bilal Cooks Daal

By: Aisha Saeed

Illustrated by: Anoosha Syed

D – Don’t Touch My Hair

By: Sharee Miller

E – Eyes That Kiss in the Corners

By: Joanna Ho

Illustrated by: Dung Ho

F – Forty-Seven Strings: Tessa’s Special Code

By: Becky Carey

Illustrated by: Bonnie Leick

G – The Gift of Ramadan

By: Rabiah York Lumbard

Illustrated by: Laura K. Horton

H – Hair Love

By: Matthew A. Cherry

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison

I – I am Enough

By: Grace Byers

Illustrated by: Keturah A. Bobo

J – Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

By: Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by: Rafael Lopez

K -Suki’s Kimono

By: Chieri Uegaki

Illustrated by: Stéphane Jorisch

L – Love Makes a Family

By: Sophie Beer

M – My Heart Fills with Happiness

By: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Julie Flett

Students as Teachers: a Culture of Inquiry and Learning

“I am just going to check in on everyone and see how they’re doing” – one of my Kindergarten students said as she led her peers through a step-by-step challenge where they created a DIY ‘marble run’ out of paper tubes and tape. 

My DECE partner and I were blown away by her kindness, patience and commitment to the success of her classmates during this process. 

We have been trying to keep an open invite for all students in our class to have the opportunity to be the “teacher” or the expert on a topic of their choice. Through online learning, fewer natural moments of teaching happen from student to student like they would in a physical classroom. Hands on collaboration between students virtually can be tricky, as they lack the opportunity to share space and materials. We decided it would be more equitable to schedule these student-led activities ahead of time, in order to allow all students time to prepare the proper materials. As I move to in person learning in the fall, it is my goal to continue this practice as a means of supporting students belonging and contributing in respect to the Kindergarten program. It is my hope to further explore the benefits of fostering students confidence as teachers in the classroom as I continue to learn from my competent and capable young learners. Here are my initial thoughts:

The classroom community

  • Inviting students as teachers creates a culture of learning, respect and curiosity
  • Students teaching their peers builds community and invites students to be vulnerable and make mistakes

Through the lens of a child

  • When our students stepped into the role of educators, it provided my DECE partner and I a unique opportunity: to see the world through their eyes. Through their ideas, descriptions and step-by-step processes we were able to develop a deep understanding of the way they view the world, the way they solve problems and the way they persevere through challenges. 
  • Many children enrolled in Kindergarten programs are immersed in their first experiences of formal schooling. For some of my students, my DECE partner and I are their very first examples of educators. The way that children go about giving instructions, gaining the attention of others and providing words of encouragement can be reflective of what they see. It can be very powerful to listen to a student recite an encouraging phrase verbatim, such as “You are a problem solver!”.

Benefits for students

  • Teaching their peers provides students with the space to take risks while gaining confidence in their own ideas and abilities 
  • For the students involved in this practice as the learner, it allows them to explore new ideas or approach learned concepts from a different perspective than my own or that of my DECE partner. 

Inviting students to perform a new role as a teacher is inclusionary, culturally responsive, relevant and meaningful – which is the basis of everything I hope to cultivate in Kindergarten. 

The Kindergarten/Grade 1 Dichotomy

“Control + F” on my keyboard allows me to search the word “play” with The Kindergarten Program (2016) document. This magic word comes up 566 times. 

Five HUNDRED and sixty-six times. 

Play is referenced over and over again throughout the document as a vehicle for learning. Examples of play and the power it holds are woven through the Kindergarten document with references to past and present research from literature around the world that supports play. Play is highlighted as being the highest form of learning for young children and the best way for students to take ownership and responsibility over their own ideas. 

The Grade 1 curriculum gives no such importance to play. These two programs lie at completely polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to the varying discourse used surrounding the view of the child.

If you have followed my posts, you know I have a passion for Kindergarten (Celebrating Kindergarten;  Everything I need to know, I learn in Kindergarten) and that I am an advocate for keeping the current model of Kindergarten in Ontario intact (Protect Full-Day Kindergarten). So, what’s the problem?

Bridging the gap

Naturally, those who teach Grade 1 work tirelessly to ensure students continue to have a positive and hands on experience that results in growth and learning. However, the transition between Kindergarten to Grade 1 shouldn’t have to be such a gigantic leap for students, families and educators alike.

The value of wonder

Though we are beginning to see the introduction of social and emotional learning (e.g. the new math curriculum), the Grade 1 curriculum can feel rigid in the sense that students wonder, interests and inquiries are not prioritized within the documents. Educators create this space of wonder for students within their classrooms, but wonder itself is not reflected within the curriculum documents, assessments, or the evaluation of students overall learning (e.g. the report card).

I dream of a world where the Kindergarten and Grade 1 curricula compliment each other rather than repel each other.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if….

  • Play and the benefits of play-based learning were prioritized beyond Kindergarten?
  • Report cards beyond Kindergarten were designed to allow educators space to reflect on the whole child and their development as learners within a classroom community?

S.T.E.L.M.

STELM: Science, Technology, Engineering (Literacy?!) and Math 

STEM activities are unmatched in our virtual Kindergarten class this year. STEM challenges are the perfect storm for beginning conversations, exploring inquiries, answering questions and challenging new ideas. In addition to the academic learning happening through these challenges, students also have opportunities to practice patience, persistence, problem-solving strategies and critical thinking skills while engaging meaningfully within their classroom community. 

Recently, I have been on my own exploration. I have been investigating how to purposefully incorporate literacy connections into STEM activities. Here are some of our literacy inspired “STELM” challenges students have worked through: 

10 on the Sled – by: Kim Norman, illustrated by: Liza Woodruff

STELM Challenge: Create a sled that can hold ten animals.

Our students were so excited for this challenge. They used materials that they could find around their homes to build a sled and found objects of their choice to represent the ten animals. Students engaged in conversations about the number 10 and how they could group the seats for all the passengers to fit on the sled. In the picture above, the student wrote themselves into the story and shared they would also like to ride on the sled. They shared that now there would be 11 seats because “10+1=11”.

Not a Box – by: Antoinette Portis

STELM Challenge: What can you make your box into?

This one feels like a classic. So simple, but so open-ended and thought provoking. The experience of creating something from “nothing” seems to come so naturally to Kindergarten students. No matter how many groups of students I do this activity with, I am always learning from them. I feel like this challenge gives me a window into student’s imaginations and undoubtedly strengthen’s my view of them as competent and capable learners full of wonder.

The Most Magnificent Thing – by: Ashley Spires

STELM Challenge: What is the most magnificent thing you can make?

Similarly to the challenge of creating something from a box, students thoughts and ideas were not limited to using a box. We did however, challenge them to use recycled materials found at home. Before beginning the process, we listened to the story ‘The Most Magnificent Thing’ by Ashley Spires and asked students to draw a plan before beginning construction. Students entered this activity at their own level. Their plans consisted of pictures, words and symbols to represent their ideas. Not all of their plans matched their finished products – but this was part of the process. The changes and challenges students faced while building their magnificent ‘things’ were a springboard for conversations about different ways to solve problems. One of my favourite moments of learning that happened during this task occurred after I shared my own frustration with my tape that “just would not come off the roll in one piece”. “That’s ok Ms. Turnbull” one of our students shared, “That happened to me once too”, “me too!” other students exclaimed, as we talked about different ways to solve this problem effectively.

The Very Cranky Bear – by: Nick Bland

STELM Challenge: Design a bed for the cranky bear to get some rest in.

We have all experienced the feeling of being tired, cranky, upset or frustrated. So many wonderful conversations of empathy and understanding came from this challenge. Students amazed us with their kind words towards this cranky bear as they constructed cozy beds. They were excited to test out their beds made from LEGO, Play-Doh, blocks and more by using their stuffed animals or dolls. They began acting out the story, snoring and roaring like the bear.

The Mitten – by: Jan Brett

STELM Challenge: How many ‘animals’ can you fit inside a mitten or sock?

The story ‘The Mitten’ by Jan Brett has endless possibilities in regard to follow up activities. For our group of Kindergarten students, we challenged them to think about capacity after listening to this story. We asked them to find something to use as ‘animals’ (with some of the top choices being LEGO or toy animals), and a sock or mitten to put them in. Students explored concepts of counting, spatial sense, and sequencing while they created their own versions of the story.

I am excited to continue thinking about ways to provide my students with meaningful and literacy rich learning opportunities while they engage in hands on experiences that challenge their thinking.

In what ways are literacy experiences imbedded into your STEM activities?

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.

Skills that the Dramatic Arts Teach Us

Whether I am teaching Music as a rotary teacher, Drama as a homeroom teacher, or integrated Arts, I strive to make the curriculum content meaningful to students’ learning. It is no secret that Language and Math are seen as the most important subjects by parents and boards of education.  However, I feel that if we focus on skills children learn from the arts, we can show the value of these programs in addition to providing a safe space to students with divergent needs and intelligences.

When I look back at my elementary school years, I regret not being involved in the drama department.  Due to coming ‘out of my shell’ I feel proud that I had the courage to get involved in amateur acting later in life. There were a lot of things I learned that I took back to my teaching in the classroom.  The acting teachers who also taught school age classes reiterated that focusing on these skills was how they got more reluctant students to open up.

Acting teaches students teamwork, listening skills, and focusing while multi-tasking. At one of the first classes I took as an adult, we spent the first hour just observing each other and commenting on what we noticed about the verbal and non-verbal communication of the group. Whether following a script or improv, students need to be able to think on their feet to move a dramatic situation forward or to get out of the common forgotten line lead-in or prop mishap. Working together for a common goal is something that occupations require in most fields.

Acting encourages risk-taking and patience. Sometimes it feels that everyday students and adults play roles in their lives, and it is important to recognize feelings in ourselves and others. I remember how transformative it was to finally see the audience reaction after two months of working on a play. I also acted with children in these plays and was excited at their confidence growth over the weeks of rehearsal.

A lot of education based early years programs focus on play-based learning, something that acting has at its core.  When acting, we awaken the imagination and learn how to recognize emotions in others, sometimes from just a look or body language.  Whether we encourage students to take drama to complete an elective requirement or pursue it as a career, we are giving them many tools that will help them to succeed across a wide variety of careers and social interactions for the remainder of their lives.

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.