My Math Program, Ten Years in the Making

After ten years of teaching, numerous PD courses, books and online documents, I have finally hammered down my math program. When introducing a new math concept, students can feel overwhelmed or confused. I like to break down each math expectation with a weekly focus on each one (giving extra time if needed). Ten years later, this is the structure that I have enjoyed the most and find my students enjoy the most:


Monday- introduce concept with key terms, videos and 1-2 examples on the board 

Tuesday- practice questions on whiteboards where students ask for help if needed

Wednesday- “Thinking Classroom” collaborative task where students work on 1-2 problems with a group of 3-4 students 

Thursday- math task with 3-4 questions, one bonus with an extension into further concepts 

Friday- math games to further the concept on gimkit, kahoot or knowledgehook


Their math mark is based on a combination of observations, conversations and a weekly product. My favourite day by far is Wednesdays where I randomly assign groups with numbered popsicle sticks. Students meet their group mates at their wipebook and get started on their question. I will post the most recent questions we solved and some of their solutions. Before each lesson, I ask students “What makes a great collaborator?” Student answers vary but often include:

  • A great listener 
  • Someone who includes students who are not involved 
  • Someone who listens without judgement 
  • Someone who does the work


Then, I walk around and look for evidence of the student-generated collaboration criteria. I also ask them questions about their math responses, never telling them they are on the wrong track but asking them about their process. After they have found some solutions, I pause the groups and ask them to walk around the room to view the other solutions. Sometimes I ask them to point to the wipebook that had their favourite process or the most organized process. We never take up the answers or I never correct their boards. Students often correct their own once the view the other boards. At the end of the class, I call students out into the hall and have them comment on the student who they thought collaborated the best in their group. 


That is my version of the “Thinking Classroom” in math with a focus on collaboration. 

Question and Student Responses:




This question was created using ideas from 

Building Thinking Classrooms – The Ice Cream Problem

This year, my colleague and I have had the chance to participate in professional development from our Math Department around Building Thinking Classrooms. We’re learning about the 14 teaching practices for enhancing learning and working with teachers at our school on implementing the practices in junior classrooms. My colleague and I shared our learning around the first three practices and as a junior team, we agreed to work on the Ice Cream Problem – found on page 96 of the book – with students. In this post, I’m sharing a little about the first three practices and what I noticed when students worked through this problem. 

Types of Tasks

When it comes to building thinking classrooms, the goal is to give students thinking tasks. Thinking tasks require students to problem-solve. When we consider the Mathematical Processes in the Ontario Math Curriculum, to solve problems, students must: draw on their prior knowledge; try out different strategies; make connections; and reach conclusions. Building Thinking Classrooms suggests that we begin with engaging in non-curricular tasks and move into curricular tasks, as the culture of thinking begins to develop. I struggle a little with the categorization of some tasks being non-curricular because I often see mathematical thinking – particularly in the area of numeracy – in tasks that have been labelled non-curricular.

In the classes that I partner with, I’m absolutely amazed by the way that students are demonstrating their thinking as they have been working on solving the Ice Cream Problem. While the problem asks students to consider the combinations with 10 flavours, we started off with 5 and our first extension was to move into 6 flavours. I’ve seen different strategies used and I have also seen students reflecting on what they have done in the past when given an extension to the problem. I have one class that is particularly excited to come down to the library to solve problems that they see as different. It’s neat to see how excited they are to talk through and work through the problems in their groups. 

Looking for non-curricular tasks? Diana Hong has curated a number. There’s also a spreadsheet of curricular tasks and a site curated by Kyle Webb that you might find of use. 

Randomized Groups

On pages 44 and 45 of Building Thinking Classrooms, we learn about the benefits of randomized groupings based on what was noticed over time:

  • Willingness to collaborate – open to working with anyone they were placed with.
  • Elimination of social barriers – learning from and with other people allowed for the crossing of social boundaries and a greater awareness of others.
  • Increased knowledge mobility – sharing of ideas with others.
  • Increased enthusiasm for Math learning – as social barriers decreased, there was an increase in enthusiasm around Math in this type of way.
  • Reduced social stress – in the selecting of groups both for students who do and who do not have strong social bonds. 

Students know when they are being grouped by readiness or for any other reason. In order for students to believe in the randomness of groups, the groups have to be visibly random.  Using cards, popsicle sticks or Flippity, randomized groups are easy to create. Also, when students know what group they are in and where to meet their group, transitions are more easily facilitated. 

Groups of 3 are ideal in the junior classroom. I created simple emoji cards that I shuffle and hand out to students. Once they have their cards, they find the matching emoji at their workstations and get going on their task. I have been so impressed by how students just find their groups and get to work. Rarely have I had students comment on not wanting to be in a particular group or not wanting to work with someone. This could in part be because they know that groups are always changing and that they will most likely be working with someone else the next time they are given a task. 

Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces

Off and on, over the years I’ve used Wipebooks and the windows in our classroom as vertical non-permanent surfaces for students to work on. Whether or not I understood the “science” behind it, I noticed that students enjoyed seeing their work or solutions up on the wall and I also noticed that it helped students share their ideas or strategies with others more easily. It was up and visible to all. Also, as a teacher, I could literally see how students were working just by glancing around the classroom.

On pages 58 to 61 of the book we learn a little more about the findings based on using vertical non-permanent surfaces:

  • When students work on whiteboards, they can quickly erase any errors, which, for them, reduces the risk of trying something. 
  • Standing necessitates a better posture, which has been linked to improvements in mood and increases in energy. 
  • Having students work vertically makes their work visible to everyone in the room, thereby increasing the porosity between groups and heightening the possibility that ideas will move between groups.

For our Ice Cream Problem, I saw all three points in action. Students wrote, erased, re-wrote and organized their ideas with confidence. Groups that were stuck glanced around the room and got ideas from others to get them started or help them consider a different way of organizing their solutions. Students have really loved working on the Wipebooks and are often shocked by how quickly time flies when solving problems in their groups. 

This year we are on a journey to support students in their enjoyment of Math. Stay tuned as I’ll continue to share more about what I’m noticing in the coming months.

P.A. day

Psst. The ‘s’ in P.A. is silent. Well that would be how many outside of education might see these days when staff are at schools while students frolic and faff about with their families. Nothing could be further from that misconception. I wonder if there are any educators left who can recall a time in their careers when these days didn’t exist. A quick search on the interwebs revealed very little information beyond some government pages. After this week’s learning, my full brain was not willing to click on for more.

It was a P.A. day in my school board and, in the spirit of “P.A.” days past, come with their share of work for educators at all phases of their careers. On the day’s menu: attention to countless operational matters, safety videos, wellness/mental health videos, and new curriculum/instructional insights. As anyone who has participated in this day in prior years this year’s “P.A..” day learning lineup seemed much more robust.

At my school, we met in the morning to discuss students at risk, sign off on safety plans, watch important video reminders related to our professional duty and safety. There we were 50+ together, synchronizing our minds on all aspects on so many important pieces to the puzzle picture we call education.

Hours of learning/refreshing our minds plus some prep time later, we were then given a chance to work through some fresh thinking on literacy and math by division. This included some instructional approaches to the new language curriculum, as well as some time to browse board curated math resources. With all the boxes ticked, there was just enough time for some planning during an afternoon prep time which included giving some feedback on an assignment.

It was a full day. As I worked through the day a couple of questions came to mind;
1a. Was this enough time to really allow the flood of content to permeate my cerebral space?
1b. If not, when do I find time to let that happen?
2. What was it like at other schools? How much time was spent in self-directed/exploratory activities around the new approaches in language and math? Was it enough? If there are others like me, when do we find that time to continue with this learning? Is there a life/work imbalance expected then?
3. With so much of the content prescribed from the system level, are there other approaches to consider in order to deliver the mandated compliance pieces while maximizing new learning opportunities?

For many of us, it is impossible to forget the stark differentiation between losing a finger or a toe and loss of limb in the Workplace Injury module, and those dearly departed ladder safety videos. I still wipe the rungs of my ladder because of them, even at home. Even as much of this familiar and important content has evolved, I felt overstimulated and overwhelmed with all of the learning that was prescribed for this “P.A.” day. Was I the only one? Was it the pace?

In the weeks and months to come, there will be more learning added, and I will have to proceed with it at my own pace as a learner. In some cases, it might already mesh with my learning style as I discovered that the suggested strategies for math learning have finally caught up with my teaching style.

I am happy to try out and learn new things, but even when I go to the grocery store and load up for a week or two, I have never cooked everything that was brought home for just one meal. That shared, it will be a couple of weeks before what I started will truly be processed and completed even though we were given a day. I guess this “elephant will be eaten one bite at time” (adapted from Desmond Tutu).

Ideas for Learning in June

June is finally upon us. It might just be me but I sometimes find it hard to compete with the warm weather and the idea that summer is fast approaching. With cut-off dates for report cards set for early June in many boards across Ontario, keeping the learning going all month long can be challenging. In this post, I’m sharing some ideas that might make things a little easier as we work towards keeping learners engaged over the last few weeks of the school year.

Literacy – Podcasts

I’m a huge fan of listening to podcasts and over the years, I’ve seen first-hand how much students also enjoy listening to them. Here’s a list of some podcasts that I have listened to with students that have been a hit:

Six Minutes

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian

Podcast listening is great but you might be wondering what else you might do beyond listening. 

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Have students draw what they hear as they listen to an episode of a podcast. In some series, the podcast is describing the setting. Have students draw what they imagine the setting would look like. For example, Mars’ room or The Marlowe 280 Interplanetary Exploratory Space Station where Finn and his friends live. 
  2. Have students make predictions and explain why they made their predictions. When finished, ask them to compare what they thought would happen to what really happened.
  3. Have students consider one thing that they might change in an episode and share how that might affect future episodes or change the entire podcast.
  4. Have students compare themselves to a character. How are they similar? How are they different? 
  5. In most of the above podcasts, there’s some form of tech involved. Give students materials and have them build a prototype of the tech. What improvements would they add to solve a particular problem for one of the characters in the podcast?

The ideas are endless! Take a listen and see what you and your students might come up with!

Literacy – What’s Going On in This Picture?

I’ve been a long-time fan of The New York Times’ What’s Going on in This Picture? Simply put, this site is a compilation of interesting New York Times images that have been stripped of their captions, and an invitation to students to discuss them by answering 3 questions:

  1. What is going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What more can you find?

When I have done these with students in the past, I’ve found that in the beginning, students are quick to provide an answer without sharing much of the reasoning behind their answer but as time goes on, I have found that many students take the time to really analyze the picture so as to justify their responses. I found this simple activity a great way to get the day started and get students thinking about inferences. 

Numeracy – Which One Doesn’t Belong?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fan of math and love a great math talk. When students are able to share what they know or are able to justify their thinking, I get excited. Which One Doesn’t Belong offers a great opportunity for students to share their thinking around a variety of Math concepts, often leading to some rich conversations as they battle it out to ultimately prove, which one doesn’t belong. In the past, I have printed out images from the site and added them to chart paper or to the whiteboard for students to come up and add their thoughts and ideas. Because the only way to get a wrong answer is to not justify your thinking, I’ve found that some of my most reluctant mathematicians are eager to participate and are often the first to write out their stickie notes and add them to the image that doesn’t belong.   

Numeracy – Coding

There are so many resources out there for coding. From guided activities on to lessons in Minecraft, there are so many possibilities for helping students to solve problems and create computational representations of mathematical situations by writing and executing code.  Recently, I was working with a group of grade 5 students who were working through the Artemis: Rocket Build. While the Educator Guide was super helpful, it was really my students who were running the show and helping guide me through some of the builds. I currently have a group of grade 4/5 students who are working in Minecraft to build their own town based on the work that they are doing with their classroom teacher for Social Studies. Don’t have access to tech? No worries, has some great unplugged coding videos and activities that you can try with students. Check them out here

Science – Scavenger Hunts

Create a simple scavenger hunt for your students with items found in the schoolyard or a local park and get students outside, checking out nature. I’ve done this with students from kindergarten to grade 5 and no matter the age, finding something out in nature and taking the time to explore it, is pretty cool. 

Science – Planting

The kindergarten students this year had a blast planting their Grass Heads. In classes around our school, students have been planting seeds and beans and have been recording observations and taking measurements. Some classes have been growing lettuce from existing lettuce heads while others have been doing experiments where plants are put in a variety of conditions to see what happens. Our kindergarten students have also been out planting in our garden with parent volunteers. Consider planting with students. Spring is a great time for planting as things are sprouting all around us. 

Physical Education – Student-Led Workout Circuits

Early in the pandemic, while teaching online, my students and I got really creative in designing our Physical Education classes. We were already used to student facilitators for our activities so when we went online, students were eager to create great lessons to keep the movement going from home. Students were asked to create short 15-minute workouts that they could challenge their peers with. The results were amazing. I haven’t taught Physical Education since we’ve been back in school but this is definitely one thing that I would incorporate if ever I teach Physical Education again.

French – Créez votre monstre

I recently facilitated a workshop for ETFO’s FSL Conference and shared this idea with teachers. Participants were asked to create their own monster using found materials and they had the opportunity to write 4 short sentences about their monster. From there, they used Adobe Express to create short videos about their monster. Half the fun was in building the monster and getting the opportunity to create. We used Adobe Express to create short videos but if you have access to tech, there are so many possibilities of what you might do. Some teachers mentioned using Flip while others considered recording short videos and including them in a Google Slides presentation. Why not create and have fun in the last month of your FSL program? 

I hope that there’s something here that might be of help as you navigate these last few weeks. Wishing you all the best for a wonderful end of the year!

What’s the Probability?

This month we’ve been learning about probability. We started off by watching videos and learning about probability language. From there, older students connected probability language, representing the likelihood of events on a probability line. We’re running a series of probability experiments and spiralling back to some of the work that students already did in Data Management with graphing and analyzing the data. All-in-all, it’s been a busy and exciting month learning about probability from kindergarten to grade 5!


In kindergarten, it’s been all about probability language and explaining our answers. The students are learning that there isn’t always just one right answer but that we can have different answers that can still be correct. One example was the probability of having dessert after dinner. When asked, some students said certain because they always have dessert. Others said that it was unlikely because they rarely have dessert, while still, others said it was impossible because they can’t have sugar in the evening. We learned that our justification was just as important as our answer. One activity that we did was in Jamboard where students sorted items based on their probability of either seeing them or eating them. 

Primary Classes

Give primary students a quarter and the excitement in the room is palpable. After trying their hand at the Jamboard to learn more about probability language, students started to get into doing some experiments and talking about events that are equally likely. Tasked with tossing a coin 20 times, students had to colour in a chart that served as the graph of their data. We also spoke about sample size and I collected the data from multiple classes to show the difference between the results from one group, one class, and then the entire sample who tossed the coin. We’re going to be designing spinners next and using our probability language to make predictions and then analyze our results. 

Junior Classes

Who knew that rolling a number cube could be so exciting? I did run out of number cubes so we’ve also been using Mathigon Polypad and the excitement is similar. We’ve done 2 experiments so far with our number cubes. The first was to see the results of 30 tosses with one number cube. The second was to investigate what happens when we roll 2 number cubes, 35 times. We were interested in finding the probability of the sum of each roll. We started out by making predictions and after about 10 rolls, some students were already wanting to change their predictions. This led to conversations about which sums would be more likely than others. After graphing their results, we collected the data from different groups and have been analyzing it. 

Up next

Now that students have an understanding of probability, they will be tasked with creating their own games that involve probability. There are a number of online templates available that I can share with students or they can choose to design their own games using found materials in the classroom. For some of our activities, we have been using Alice Keeler’s blank dice roll template. May will be a month of creating and hopefully we’ll have some new and exciting games to try.


The Thinking Classroom

The Thinking Classroom

I was recently at an in-service about “The Thinking Classroom” where we were learning about how to pose questions to students in an open-ended, group work setting. We were taught how to set up vertical, non-permanent surfaces around our class and to make random groups of our students. The randomization of the groups is because all questions will be the same and all students will have an entry point. Students are also encouraged to walk around and look at others answers rather than to cover the answers to their question. We were also provided with a copy of the book behind this math that allowed us to learn more. The book also has some great question ideas in it. Here is the link to the book, well worth the read: Building Thinking Classrooms

After gaining all this knowledge, I decided to try it out with a question in my classroom with my friend who is a Math Facilitator in our school board. My students did well answering the open ended question and worked well in their groups (for the most part).

Benefits I noticed:

  • new students stepping up as leaders as they weren’t with their same group of usual friends
  • students feeling confident with their work
  • less students feeling anxious in the math classroom and asking to leave to take a break
  • almost 100% participation
  • students trying to solve as many possible answers as they could rather than stopping at one
  • competitive mindsets
  • students looking around at others answers to get ideas


  • anxious students who do not work well without that specific friend did not participate (only 2/24)
  • a few students giving up because it was too hard

We used a few different surfaces for this thinking classroom math:

  1. Window/window markers
  2. Wipebooks
  3. Chalkboard

I also am trying out a variety of open-ended questions during these math lessons to get my students thinking:


It takes a while to get used to it, especially because the question you are asking your students do not necessarily need to relate to which part of the math curriculum you are at. They are also not meant to be evaluated as part of your students math mark. Instead, we were told to use it as part of our observations to inform how we assess collaboration within learning skills. If you are using it as a math mark, suggestions include asking your students to write in different colour whiteboard markers so you can see who did what.

I look forward to sharing more of our progress with this new way of thinking as our journey continues.

Spring Has Sprung!

After what has felt like a long, cold winter, I think it’s safe to say that spring has sprung. Well, at least in our classroom! The kindergarten students have been hard at work learning about plants and what they need to grow. We’ve even started growing our own grass heads. We’re pretty excited about it!

During the first week back after the break, we were talking all about spring and we were also building. Students used Lego to build something that reminded them of the season. Many students built gardens that were full of interesting flowers and animals. They were quite beautiful and this sparked some of our conversations about all the changes that we expect to see over the next few weeks.

After seeing all of the beautiful Lego gardens and I must admit that I have quite a love for plants, we thought it might be great to try our hand at a little gardening. Using some eye, nose and mouth stickers, students were tasked with creating a face for their grass head. Once they added the faces, cups were filled with soil and they began drawing and writing in their journals about what their grass heads would need to grow. Now, I think that I mentioned before that I’m relatively new to kindergarten so it was definitely interesting to see students trying to copy off the whiteboard. EEK! I can’t say enough how grateful I am to work with and learn from two amazing ECEs! Of course, they were there to the rescue and showed me that some students required more support and that tracing might be a way to get them to practice forming their letters. I tucked this one away for our next class together.

Time truly flies when you are having fun. During our first class, we were able to prepare our cups but the fun came during our second class when we had the chance to mix our soil and grass seeds and add water. Let me tell you how excited the students were. Little fingers got mixing seeds in soil as students were reminded that we needed soil, water, sun and seeds to make their grass heads grow. During this class, we also wrote the first entry in our observation journal and this time, we were able to do some tracing. Students also had the opportunity to draw a picture of what they observed. I asked students to make predictions on how long it would take to see the grass grow and we got answers anywhere from the next day to two weeks. This was on a Friday and imagine my surprise on a Monday morning when I started to see some little green bits popping out of some of the soil.


We haven’t yet had a class together this week but I’ve had a few visitors come up to water and I’ve taken down some of our grass heads for students to see their growth. They are amazed that they started growing so soon and that some already have a lot of “hair”. Yesterday, one student noticed that in some cups, the grass is growing really long roots. On Friday when we meet again, we’ll start to measure our grass and we’ll continue to record our observations. I wonder at what point our grass heads will need a trim!


The Shape of Things

We’re having fun with shapes! In kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2, we have been exploring, sorting, and comparing 2-D shapes using a variety of tools.  Here’s what we’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks.

In some classes, we started off on a shape scavenger hunt to see which shapes we could identify in our learning space. Students were excited to identify different shapes in the room and magazines. Many were impressed by how many items they could find that were shapes that they knew the names of. The face of our clock is a circle. The lego bins in our class have faces made out of rectangles. The books on our shelves and our SmartBoard also have rectangular faces. We identified a lot of rectangles in our space. 

After identifying shapes that we could easily name or identify, we started talking about composite shapes. The tangram is a Chinese puzzle made from a square cut into seven pieces: two large triangles, one medium-sized triangle, two small triangles, one square, and one parallelogram. After discussing the properties of these shapes and congruence, the students were really amazed by how these 7 shapes could be put together to make a square. Many tried to flip and turn the shapes to return them to the original square and realized that it was a little tricky. After having some time to play with the tangram, students had the chance to try and see what they could create other than a square. They were then introduced to tangram puzzles and their minds were blown. After having the chance to physically manipulate the shapes, we took our skills online. Exploring Mathigon’s Tangram Builder, students had the chance to see how they could piece together the shapes to compose pictures and designs using these 2-D shapes. 

We have also been exploring what we can make using geoboards. Using the Math Learning Center’s Geoboards, students were given a few challenges and rose to the occasion. Here are just a few of the challenges we explored:

  •  Using your geoboard, make a shape that satisfies a rule (i.e., four sides; all equal sides; greater than 4 sides). What’s the name of your shape?
  • Using the geoboard make the letters in your name. What shapes did you use?
  • Create a picture using 3 different shapes. Describe your picture and the shapes you used. 
  • Make triangles of different sizes. Describe the differences between your triangles. 

We’re having a blast exploring shapes. This has also been a great reminder for me as to the importance of having manipulatives that students can move around and use as well as incorporating technology. We’ve explored with both and while some have really enjoyed using the online tools, there have been some who automatically gravitate to the physical tools in our space. Either way, we’re learning and having fun in the process.

Mental Health Activities

January 25th was an important day to talk about mental health as each year, “Bell Let’s Talk Day” reminds us all that conversations are such an important part of our day as educators. As educators, it is our duty to ensure the mental well-being of each of our students is thought about daily. Some students keep their feelings inside and some claim to be happy 24/7. How do we dive deep into these important conversations and make sure that we are providing opportunities for our students to speak out? Here are some ways to get talking about mental health without making it the central focus. Starting small to get kids talking.

Math Activity

My students were looking at topics to create an infographic about and as a class, decided the most important infographic that should be on display in every intermediate class was one about mental health. So students looked for statistics related to youth mental health in Canada. They found fractions, percentages and various facts that told a story about the mental health of youth in Canada. They shared these infographics with their peers and discussed many important facts. Then, yesterday I pulled up the website about “Bell Let’s Talk Day” and students found many statistics on this page that they had used in their own infographics. We looked at the resources available and then talked about resources to help within our own school (Positive space groups, social worker, clubs, talking to teachers, etc.)

Drama Activity

I wanted to try an activity with my grade two and three students yesterday that connected to their mental health and it went very well. I encourage you to try it out with any grade in a future drama class or just as a class activity. Here is how the activity worked:

A student would be selected to be the actor and that actor would have some sort of problem that they were needing help with. Some examples are:

  • Getting a bad mark on a test
  • Getting into a fight with their best friend
  • Their best friend was moving
  • They felt sad but did not know why
  • Their goldfish passed away

It was actually challenging to think of situations that would not be triggering for students. I made sure that the actor was okay with the situation and then they proceeded to act out their feelings towards the situation. Then, they would pick three friends from the audience who would one at a time come up and try to make them feel better. It was incredible to hear all of the solutions that their friends had. Students who had not participated in drama class in the past put up their hand for the first time. They were excited to come up and comfort their friend. After the lesson, I asked the students if they could use these strategies in real life and they all agreed that they could. I know this activity comes with a risk of students having to be vulnerable but I think it was useful. I even heard a student say, “I wish I had gotten that advice a month ago!” I loved this activity and hope to try it with my intermediate students in the future.

Language Activity

As report card season is in the midst, I decided to try a different reflection activity this term. I asked students to write one word or sentence  on a cue card that best described their feelings towards report cards. This was an anonymous activity as when I collected the cards, I did not ask them to write their names on them. I then handed out a random card to each student. I asked them to think about why the student had written down that word/sentence. What could have been going through their head? Can you relate to what they wrote? Why or why not? I often hear grumblings about report cards around this time of year so I thought this would be a good chance for students to get it all out. An optional part of this activity could be having students share their word at the end if they felt comfortable doing so.

Art Activity

Last month, we were lucky enough to have someone from the Art Gallery of Hamilton come in to our classrooms. We were involved in a four week program working with watercolours with a focus on mental health. Students completed watercolour techniques in a very relaxing environment, using tape, string and tissues to create different looks. This was my favourite part of the day as every student felt connected to their work and rarely left to access a different space. Students were proud of their work and loved the simplicity of this. The arts have a way of making everyone at peace and I look forward to incorporating more periods to just create without a given set of rules.

These activities are just a few I have tried over the last month or so and I am always looking for new ways to get my students feeling comfortable around their peers and with themselves. I would love to hear about more if you have some that have worked in your own classrooms. I hope to include some photos once I am back in the classroom next week so stay tuned.

Computer Science Education Week

The beginning of December marked Computer Science Education Week. It was our chance to continue deepening our Computational Thinking skills with unplugged and online activities. The kindergarten students were learning to communicate an understanding of basic spatial relationships while students in grades 1 to 5 were learning to solve problems and create computational representations of mathematical situations using coding concepts and skills. 

Throughout the year, kindergarten students have been learning to communicate basic spatial relationships – on top, beside, to the left of, to the right of, ahead, etc.  They’re picking it up quickly and that helped us when we started working on our Lego Mazes. Students started by building their mazes on Lego Baseplates and then used the arrows to help move their minifigures from the start to the end of the maze. Some groups realized that there were different ways to make their way through. Having this practice proved helpful when they had the opportunity to try a couple of online activities – Code Monkey Junior and Beaver Achiever

The grade 1s and 2s were pretty curious about the Lego Mazes and tried their hand at using the arrows to move their way through the mazes that the kindergarten students created. It took some practice but in groups, they were able to get the job done. Next, using images on a grid, students were tasked with coding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They had to consider the steps that are involved in creating the sandwich and then determine the sequence of events as they moved from one place to the next, gathering the materials and making their sandwich. This practice was also helpful for them for their online activities – Code Monkey Junior and Beaver Achiever

The grades 3, 4, and 5 students were all about solving problems in Minecraft using and Minecraft for Education. Starting out in gave students the opportunity to have some guided practice and when it came time to work in the Minecraft for Education space, those skills came in handy as students coded their way to escape the mysterious mansion. It was great to see students collaborating with each other and finding different ways of coding their way out of challenges. I found it particularly interesting that there were some students that were able to catch mistakes in the code of their peers even before running it. The opportunity to debug the code in Minecraft for Education was really great for some to see how changing small things could result in big changes overall. 

I’m still working on ways of helping students to explicitly understand computational skills – algorithmic thinking, abstraction, decomposition, generalizing and patterns, evaluation, and logic. While Computer Science Education Week only lasts one week in the year, we’re excited that the learning is ongoing and that the skills we are learning are transferable to other subject areas as we consider ways of solving problems.