Creating a Classroom Action Plan Through Data Management

In a year unlike any other, I found myself so unsure as to what to expect as we worked to build our classroom community. Early on in the year we read the book, The Day You Begin and had several conversations about the things that make us each unique. This also started our conversations around the type of space we want to create – one in which everyone is honoured for who they are. Of course the word “bullying” came up in our conversations. The TDSB defines bullying as “aggressive behaviour that is typically repeated over time. It is meant to cause harm, fear or distress or create a negative environment at school for another person. Bullying can take on a number of different forms: physical, verbal, social or electronic, often called cyber-bullying.”1 With this understanding we realized that there are also many reasons why someone might be bullied. This was a great segue into our Data Management unit. 

Students were tasked with finding data on different forms of bullying. With so much data on the internet, students found graphs and statistics that were all quite shocking. Many resolved to think about ways in which we could prevent forms of bullying from happening. To me, this analysis spoke directly to a specific expectation in the Data strand of the Math curriculum: D1.6 analyse different sets of data presented in various ways, including in stacked-bar graphs and in misleading graphs, by asking and answering questions about the data, challenging preconceived notions, and drawing conclusions, then make convincing arguments and informed decisions. Based on data, we were going to see how best we could make better decisions about our interactions with one-another. 

One of the pieces of Data that we looked at was from a Brief Examination of Bullying Statistics in Canada from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada from 2013. Now I don’t know much about the organization but it was definitely exciting to find statistics related to Canada when so often, the statistics  are American. Contained within the report, we found a variety of graphs that we could use to interpret. One of the graphs that we looked at was the one below.

Students were surprised at first but when they actually sat for a moment and thought about the information presented, they agreed that the data makes sense and wondered what has changed in the last 14 years. For us, we started having conversations around times when we may have been made to feel uncomfortable about any of these factors or were indeed bullied, and the impact. Many students agreed that being treated unfairly or bullied based on these factors was something that shouldn’t happen in classrooms or schools. Now was the time for us to act!

Like every year, I try to create a space where everyone feels valued for who they are; one in which the statistics we had been discussing didn’t occur. I think all students also want this type of environment in which to learn. With this in mind, we created our Classroom Action Plan. With steps on how we would interact with one another, we created “the rules” around how everyone could expect to be treated in our learning space. Everyone contributed after a brainstorming session. Next, we all signed it and it’s up on our classroom wall. Some of the expectations include:

  • Everyone is different. If there is something about someone that makes you curious, respectfully ask about it so that you are able to understand things from their perspective. Let’s learn about each other from each other, instead of making assumptions.
  • Appreciate that everyone may have different ideas. Actively listen to what people are saying.
  • When someone is hurt either physically or emotionally, take the time to stop and check-in to see if there is anything that you can do to support or help.
  • When conflicts occur, seek help from the teacher or another trusting adult so that you are able to get the help needed to resolve the problem.

It’s quite the list and we have had moments where we have needed to go back to it as a reminder of the agreements we made with one another. With the changes after reorganization, we’re growing as a classroom community and I’m so looking forward to continuing to learn and grow together as a class this year.

  1. https://www.tdsb.on.ca/Elementary-School/Supporting-You/Bullying

What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Meeting the Social and Emotional Needs of All Students - MDR

When I started reading Ontario’s 2020 Mathematic Curriculum, I came across “Overall Expectations A. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Skills in Mathematics and the Mathematical Processes.”

According to the ministry document

“This (Math) strand focuses on students’ development and application of social-emotional learning skills to support their learning of math concepts and skills, foster their overall well-being and ability to learn, and help them build resilience and thrive as math learners. As they develop SEL skills, students demonstrate a greater ability to understand and apply the mathematical processes, which are critical to supporting learning in mathematics. In all grades of the mathematics program, the learning related to this strand takes place in the context of learning related to all other strands, and it should be assessed and evaluated within these contexts.”

Social-Emotional Learning will go beyond teaching just Math

“As of the 2019-20 school year, learning about mental health in Ontario schools will take place:

  • through the newly enhanced elementary Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum
  • across the curriculum, as well as in Kindergarten, and
  • as a part of students’ everyday experience at school

Source: https://www.dcp.edu.gov.on.ca/en/curriculum/elementary-mathematics/context/the-strands-in-the-mathematics-curriculum

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills

  • “Throughout the curriculum, students also learn to apply SEL skills.
  • Because these skills are so important to students’ mental health and healthy development, SEL is now also a distinct section of the updated curriculum. This new section builds on Living Skills learning from the previous curriculum to help students foster their own overall health and well-being, positive mental health, resilience and ability to learn and thrive. The table below shows what students learn about and why.
Students learn about: So they can:
identifying and managing emotions express their feelings and understand the feelings of others
coping with stress develop resilience
positive motivation build a sense of hope and the will to keep trying for their goals
building relationships support healthy relationships and respect diversity
deepening their sense of self build an understanding of their own identity and feel that they belong
thinking critically and creatively support decision-making and problem solving

Students apply these everyday skills as part of their learning across the other three parts of the curriculum, and in their experiences at school, at home and in the community.

A few examples of how these skills could be integrated with the other three parts of the curriculum (Active Living, Movement Competence and Healthy Living) are outlined below.

  • Grade 1: To learn about positive motivation, students practise showing willingness to try out new skills and keep practising. (Movement Competence)
  • Grade 2: To practise identifying and managing emotions, students try taking a moment to breathe deeply and refocus if they are feeling anxious or upset before starting a physical activity. (Active Living)
  • Grade 3: To build relationships, students working in small groups practise welcoming everyone and being willing to be a partner with anyone in the group. (Active Living)
  • Grade 4: As they learn about coping with stress, students explain how knowing about physical and emotional changes that come with puberty can help them handle those changes when they occur. (Healthy Living)
  • Grade 5: To practise thinking critically and creatively, students make connections between being active, working towards personal fitness goals and mental health. (Active Living)
  • Grade 6: To deepen their sense of self, students think about how stereotypes affect how they feel about themselves and identify other factors, including acceptance by others, that influence their sense of themselves. (Healthy Living)
  • Grade 7: As they learn about coping with stress, students explain how to access various sources of support (for example, school staff, family, counselling and medical professionals) when dealing with mental health challenges or issues related to substance use. (Healthy Living)
  • Grade 8: To practise identifying and managing emotions, students explain how social media can create feelings of stress and describe strategies, such as connecting thoughts, feelings, and actions, that can help maintain balance and perspective. (Healthy Living)”

Supporting students

  • “There is strong evidence that developing social-emotional learning skills at school contributes to student well-being and successful academic performance. Learning about mental health can also help to reduce the stigma around problems in this area. When students understand that many people experience mental health difficulties from time to time, and that there is support available when needed, they are more likely to seek help early when problems arise.
  • As they develop SEL skills, students will also gain “transferable skills” (for example, self-directed learning, collaboration, critical thinking, communication and innovation) and develop “learning skills and work habits” as they learn to set goals, follow through and overcome challenges. These interconnected skills taken together, help foster overall health and well-being, and the ability to learn, build resilience and thrive. Helping students make connections among these skills is key to enhancing their learning experience in school and throughout their lives.”

Source: https://www.ontario.ca/document/health-and-physical-education-grades-1-8/social-emotional-learning-sel-skills#section-1

My first question was where did this initiative originate from?

Collaborative for the Advancement of Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

The concept was first published in 1997 Promoting social and emotional learning: Guidelines for educators (Elias, Zins, Weissberg et. al., 1997) by the Association for Supervision of Curriculum Development (ASCD). It was coauthored by members of the Research and Guidelines Committee of the Collaborative for the Advancement of Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). According to CASEL it is a “trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL). CASEL supports educators and policy leaders and enhances the experiences and outcomes for all PreK-12 students.”

CASEL’s “mission is to help make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through high school. Our work is critical at a time when educators, parents, students, and employers increasingly recognize the value of SEL. Together, we are united in our call for schools to educate the whole child, equipping students for success in school and in life.”

CASEL provides training and resources for programs that support social-emotional learning such as:

Second Step “provides instruction in social and emotional learning with units on skills for learning, empathy, emotion management, friendship skills, and problem solving. The program contains separate sets of lessons for use in prekindergarten through eighth grade implemented in 22 to 28 weeks each year.”

Steps to Respect is a school-wide program designed for use in third through sixth grade. Implementation occurs in three phases:  school administrators take stock of their school environment and bullying issues; then all adults in the building are trained; and finally classroom-based lessons are taught.”

In a meta study The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions endorsed by CASEL and written by Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger (2011) universal social and emotional skills (SEL) participants demonstrated improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behaviour, and academic performance where school teaching staff successfully conducted SEL programs.

The use of four recommended practices for developing skills and the presence of implementation problems moderated program outcomes (Durlak et. al, 2011.) The practices used the SAFE acronym (Sequenced, Active, Focus, Explicit).

“New behaviors and more complicated skills usually need to be broken down into smaller steps and sequentially mastered, suggesting the benefit of a coordinated sequence of activities that links the learning steps and provides youth with opportunities to connect these steps (Sequenced).”

“Gresham (1995) has noted that it is ‘‘important to help children learn how to combine, chain and sequence behaviors that make up various social skills’’ (p. 1023). Lesson plans and program manuals are often used for this purpose. An effective teaching strategy for many youth emphasizes the importance of active forms of learning that require youth to act on the material (Active).”

“’ ‘It is well documented that practice is a necessary condition for skill acquisition’ (Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2001, p. 480). Sufficient time and attention must also be devoted to any task for learning to occur (Focus). Therefore, some time should be set aside primarily for skill development.”

“Clear and specific learning objectives over general ones are preferred because it is important that youth know what they are expected to learn (Explicit). “

In other words, SEL programs must follow the SAFE practices and be well-executed in order to be effective. The meta study noted that only a small percentage of the meta research investigated did follow-up assessments to determine long term efficacy of SEL practices.

The meta study also noted that classroom teachers were the most effective in implementing SEL practices which usually included a specific curriculum and set of instructions such as behavioural rehearsals and cooperative learning. It noted that SEL programs were successful at all education levels.

The meta study included books/articles/reports that ranged in dates between 1955 to 2007 (e.g. 1955 to 1989 work = 25% of research included) and published/unpublished articles/books (e.g. unpublished reports = 19% of research included). The meta study excluded studies targeting students with behavioural, emotional, or academic issues. In addition, the meta study did not note effects on students with special education needs or the impact on students from lowers socioeconomic backgrounds.

Economic Value to Social and Emotional Learning

In The Economic Value to Social and Emotional Learning, the paper noted most SEL interventions had multiple goals and benefits and this contrasted with interventions to improve cognitive test results in a particular subject. The SEL interventions reduced aggression which “may also improve impulse control and later juvenile crime and/or may raise academic achievement”. The “measures of benefits are based upon a limited set of dimensions … actual benefits may be considerably higher if we were able to identify all effects” (Belfield et. al., 2015.) The paper examined the costs of Second Step at $440 per student including instructional time.

What does this mean to teachers?

In my opinion, I am sure that SEL programs do have an impact on students’ academic and emotional success. I also agree that learning should be social, in the context of a classroom, in collaborative groups and through discussions. What concerns me is that in order to be effectively implemented, SEL programs require a great deal of classroom teacher training and program costs.

Ontario’s Mathematics Curriculum includes SEL as a strand within the Mathematics curriculum. The ministry of education states that SEL “should be assessed and evaluated within these contexts.” Does this mean that for each subject like Mathematics, teachers will be assessing SEL skills as a strand of the subject?

I do not agree with Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Skills being included as a strand in the Ontario’s Mathematics curriculum for 2020. I see SEL skills as being incorporated into the learning skills elementary teachers already report upon three times an academic year in the Elementary Report Cards.

I wonder when the SEL resources and teacher training will be provided to Ontario’s elementary teachers. As the The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions paper reports, in order to be effective, teachers must be trained in SEL SAFE instructional strategies. In a time when education budgets are being cut, this sounds like an expensive initiative.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

References

Belfield, C., Bowden, A. B., Klapp, A., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2015). The economic value of social and emotional learning. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis6(3), 508-544.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based universal interventions. Child development82(1), 405-432.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based universal interventions. Child development82(1), 405-432.

Elias, M. J., Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Frey, K. S., Greenberg, M. T., Haynes, N. M., … & Shriver, T. P. (1997). Promoting social and emotional learning: Guidelines for educators. Ascd.

Zins, J. E. (Ed.) (2004) Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say?. Teachers College Press.

Zins, J. E., Bloodworth, M. R., Weissberg, R. P., & Walberg, H. J. (2007). The scientific base linking social and emotional learning to school success. Journal of educational and psychological consultation17(2-3), 191-210.

Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Wang, M. C., & Walberg, H. J. (2004). Building school success through social and emotional learning.

Distance Learning Ideas

During these different times, I’ve been planning for a new type of learning – distance learning – with little to no idea of how it might actually be implemented. As I plan, I thought there may be some who would find what I have done of value. I’m using this post to share some of the resources that I might use with students.

Language

Writing and Oral Communication

Persuasion is an art! To be able to develop a persuasive argument, you have to make sure that you have enough information to support your position on a matter. When you find topics that are of personal interest, people tend to have an opinion right away and can start to justify their thoughts. For this type of activity, I’m thinking of giving students one of the following prompts and asking them to come up with a persuasive argument including at least 3 supporting details for their opinion. Students can upload their arguments either in video or writing in a platform like Google Classroom and then they can possibly respond to each other’s arguments with counter-arguments. To extend this idea further, students can be grouped into teams based on their opinions and participate in a debate for or against the specific topic presented. 

Possible prompts:

  • When we start school again, we should have a 4-day school week. Do you agree or disagree?
  • During the pandemic, people have been using masks and gloves to move around the city. There is a shortage in hospitals. Should people donate their masks and gloves to hospitals?
  • When the pandemic is over, life will go back to being the way it was before. Do you agree or disagree?

Reading and Media Literacy

In our class, we’ve been reading and investigating non-fiction texts. Students were also in the process of writing their own themed magazines based on their own research on a topic. To continue with non-fiction reading, I thought it would be great to take some time to continue to read online magazines or texts. While reading, students can take notes of what they are learning using a graphic organizer like this one from Scholastic. This is just an elementary example but depending on what you are focused on, you can create your own for your students. From there, I thought that students could use what they have learned to create an infographic on a specific topic of interest. Keeping in mind that infographics have a visual component, students can use a tool like Google Drawings to create their own layout for their infographics. One online magazine that is now making all of its content free is Brainspace. There are a variety of topics that might be of interest to students. 

Math

I’ve found that hands-on activities have been the most well-received by my students and their families during this time. While there are a variety of Math games online – mPower, Math Playground, Prodigy, IXL – sometimes it’s nice to sit down and try an activity that allows you the opportunity to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills. There are so many different activities online but one that I quite like is from The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing. Their printable activities for students in Grades 4 to 12 are fun and educational ways to do mathematics and computer science while at home practicing social distancing. The resources include games, new problems to solve, applications, videos, pointers to existing materials on their website. Once they have finished solving the problems with their families, students can share their solutions and strategies with each other online in writing or in a video, using a platform like Google Classroom.

Design Thinking

Students can use our current pandemic – Covid-19 – to design something totally new! This is a project that can be done over time and students can share what they have been working on in an online platform such as Google Classroom. At each stage of the process, they can share their work with the teacher or each other. 

Have students start by identifying problems that they are hearing about on the news or from online sources. They could write these on sticky notes, paper or using a tech tool. Teachers could use Padlet to create an online problem board for all students to include their ideas.  From there, students could potentially design an app or a solution that could connect community members as they are socially distancing themselves or something else that they have identified as a problem. The sky’s the limit! 

After researching and understanding the problem, students can pick one specific problem, and focus on how it is affecting a specific person (user). Here are 2 recent articles (International Covid-19 and Coronavirus Affecting the Way We Do Things) that they can use along with other online sources. 

Students can use this template – created in partnership with Smarter Science and the TDSB – to document their learning throughout the process. Once finished, students can create their own pitch for their idea, creating a short video or slide presentation for their peers.

These are just some of the ideas that I’m thinking about as we venture into this new type of learning next week. I’m not sure how it will go or what might work but I’m open to learning and trying something new. 

Keeping it fresh.

As of the end of February, it is apparent to no one in Ontario that Spring is just around the corner. Judging by the blankets of snow and recent school bus cancellations, winter continues to disrupt and annoy us with the same creative sadism as a government hell-bent on destroying public education. Despite the stark reality of a manufactured education crisis and a real climate crisis, I know that Spring is coming soon. I saw a spider. Photograph by Will Gourley

Isn’t it wonderful? Putting ONGov’s systemic affronteries aside, my heart lept at the sight of a spider. On a normal day seeing one is something exciting to behold, but this opportunity came after nearly 3 days of snow, several white-knuckled commutes, and bone chilling winds. It was a sign of hope that most of winter’s worst weather would be over, well at least statistically.

It signified that Spring was on almost here because, in my own amateur scientific way, I have observed, over several years, that spiders usually emerge around my house again when winter is almost over. Usually. My returning guest got me energized and thinking about how to channel that into the classroom?

2020 has blessed me with a number of ups and downs in my professional life as an educator. It has brought me immense joy on a daily basis in the classroom, but also sadness and grief in light of tragic events that have happened to our learning community. You see, not all lessons and outcomes are going to be good. The opportunity to share the struggles and successes with students helps create a deeper appreciation of the learning process. By admitting when things got tough meant more to them and my colleagues than any veneer of perfection I could ever hope to put on.

My January post was meant to share my personal struggles in hopes of encouraging dialog among educators and to show the benefits of releasing some of the emotional weight that many of us carry inside. I wondered whether I could use my catharsis as a catalyst for our learning spaces? How could I make it fresh and keep it fresh for my students and self?

Never one to shy away from doing something differently, I quickly began working through new ways for students to interact with their learning, for demonstrating their understandings, to collaborate with each other, and to dig deeper into opportunities rarely afforded by traditional transmission and texts teaching.

Here’s what we worked on;

In Math, I remain committed to “no text book math lessons” as much as possible. Using YouCubedPeterLiljedahlMath RecessWaterloo POTWCEMC, and Khan Academy. My students love working on problems together, they argue, iterate, communicate, and solve problems. We make Math a social activity instead of a game of one upping each another.

Another change this year is having Wipebooks for students to use. They have added another dimension to our learning by enabling vertical approaches to Math problems. This has students out of their seats, standing, thinking, and  solving. They can also wander from group to group to see the different approaches being used to answer questions. This has led to some excellent discussions and growth.

Recently, I also started adding Quizizz tasks to our Google Classroom. These fun quizzes allow you to make memes for correct and incorrect responses. I find this format a great way to have students continue to work on concepts taught in prior months.

Becoming a strong group facilitator using Character Lab Playbooks and a co-constructed success criteria. Genius Hour – personal inquiry projects where every student becomes the class expert in their subject. I have shared this one before, but it was for a different class at the time. Besides, it’s a perrenial favourite and my students have asked to do it again already.

In Language, we remain very fond of TED Talks. I now find myself creating reading response tasks with posts from the TED Blog. Another tool that it is being brought back discussion and digital citizenship is Padlet. Our recent work focused around an assignment inspirted by my friend and colleague Tim Bradford  that read;

“In the past and present, people have always treated each other fairly.” Agree or disagree

Students had to create a 30 + word response to the statement and then respond to each other. The depth of understanding from them was very encouraging. It was also nice to see how they kept each other in check when it came to appropriate responses and use of technology. Here are 2 of their responses of the entire class who thoughtfully disagreed;

To add a lot of fun to my instructional week, is my grade 3 FI Music class where my students recently wrapped up creating their own identity raps in French, complete with backbeats from Groove Pizza. Once their shyness subsided, they were excited to present their hard work. It was also fun to see how they incorporated the lessons we had about how to beatbox from Nicole Paris and about the notes and rhythms we covered in Term 1.

In all of this, the focus was on hands on and collaborative experiences intended to engage and deliver the learning. Although much can go wrong, there is so much that can go right when you commit to keeping it fresh. I know that the next 4 months will bring more of the same and I am excited to try new things with my students. Looking forward to introducing Flipgrid, podcasting, and sketchnoting already to keep it fresh. Bring on Spring!

Have you tried something new that you would like to share? Mention it in the comment section and include a link if you can. Thanks for reading.

6/194 and cross-curricular life learning

6/194 and cross-curricular life learning.

This blog title could also read, “Why a small fraction means so much to the future?”

I am trying to make sense out of some pretty important numbers that are affecting us. By us, I mean students, their families, and educators. “Us” also means the entire fabric of society that we share and by which we are covered. Since the currently elected government is seeking to tear this fabric apart without regard to the long term social and financial consequences, I thought it would be good to consider this post as a cross-curricular exercise and include social studies along with the math.

Whoa!(Math)

6, the number of days ETFO members have walked on the picket line fighting for public education.
194, the number of days in a given school year that we spend in the classroom making public education incredible.

Now a few more relatable figures.

3/97 or 0.030927835, just a shade over 3%. I had to simplify the fraction. Ironically, it’s the same amount that the government has legislated an offer to 83 000 ETFO, 117 000 educators (OSSTFOECTAAEFO), and 55 000 CUPE education workers in Ontario. Yup! 1% per year over 3 years.

Back to 6/194

That hole in our paychecks from this fight to protect and preserve public education hurts and the offer of 1% per year is unconscionable. Not surprisingly, the government padded their own pockets with 14% and took 7 of the last 12 months off(insert lesson about irony here). Since we’re talking about irony, why not share a real life teachable moment? I’m thinking a critical thinking exercise about the veracity of facts, content, and the credibility of media outlets especially where they originate or how news gets fabricated.

Want another amazing lesson? Check out this thread by @ms_keats This thread offers a wonderfully considerate lesson via Twitter after the MOE suddenly made Reg 274 an issue  during negotiations with ETFO. Sadly, talks broke off, but since education is always their priority, the public can trust that the government was back to work at the bargaining table the next day because they are committed to a deal(Is sarcasm in the curriculum?). Isn’t that what unions and their employers do in good faith in a democratic society?

Wait! What?(Social Studies)

What do you mean the government wasn’t at the bargaining table?! This is a realistic expectation because we are teaching our students(grade 5) that Canada, therefore Ontario is a civilized society governed by lawmakers who are always respectful of the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? I contend that the current government is engaging in a systemic violation of our Charter Rights as citizens as their thoughtless actions threaten the rights to opportunity in the future of 2 000 000 students and  the collective bargaining rights of 200 000 educators “not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”. This line from the Charter is not limited to the criminal justice system, and any intentional underfunding of education through ruthless cuts is tantamount to punitive legislation and is contrary to our Charter rights.

If that wasn’t enough to light a legal inferno, then consider that a  6 – 1 Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirmed that collective bargaining rights are human rights, and the role of collective bargaining has “in promoting the core values of “human dignity, equality, liberty, respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy.”” 

I’m sharing the quote below with bolded and underlined main points, if my MPP, the MOE, or the Premier read this;

“the Supreme Court proclaimed labour rights to be human rights, and boldly declared for the first time that collective bargaining is a “constitutional right” supported by the Charter.

So our elected officials who have violated the Charter should now have to face the consequences for their malevolent disregard for the rights of its citizens. Right? I won’t hold my breath as legal cases against governments spend years in the courts. However, we cannot allow our elected officials to rule by decree without accountability to the whole public whom they have sworn to serve.

Civics does not equal civility

When will they pay for selling out the future and for the harm they will inflict to the well-being of the students in our province?  We will not lose count of the lies, the streams of misinformed statements, the factless rhetoric, the accusations, the doubling down, the vilification of our noble profession, and of the requests we have made for them to come to the table and negotiate.

I also contend that the current government is angling its way towards a secondary agenda authored by pernicious profit seekers including publishers and private education providers looking for a piece of the public education pie. These steps do not appear to benefit our students. Our steps on the picket line have shown more to the public of our commitment to excellence than any sound bite, attack, or child care bribe put forth by the government. There is strength in our numbers. 

Come to think of it, I have kept count of the steps I have stepped – 90 000 plus, the waves I have waved to drivers honking in support – 1 000s, the dozens of encouraging conversations conversed on the picket line, and the 3 people who waved with their middle fingers while yelling single syllable words.

It’s my first strike as an educator. Yet, it feels like our current fight against this government’s assault on public education is nothing new. Everyone remembers what Mike Harris and his ilk did in the 90s. The Ford Regime is Harris 2.0 complete with vitriol and misinformation spewing from a cadre of party whipped sychophant proxies acting as media drones du jour. In response, teachers are standing in solidarity together fighting for respect, transparency, and fairness on behalf of all Ontarians who will be directly affected by cuts to education now and in the future.

Teachers believe this so much, that have given up 3% of our wages already. We know that we are part of a world class education system because we work in it everyday. The results speak for themselves which is why it is so frustrating to see people trying to dismantle what is working well.

6/194 is a small fraction especially knowing how teachers, especially in 1997, fought for us. This will mean even more to the students of Ontario who will bear the burden or benefits because of our actions in the future.

Thank you for reading and for sharing on social-media.

Further reading:

This Collective Bargaining Rights Day, Unions Celebrate Wins for All Workers

Math In Real Life – The Yard Problem

As a child, I loved Math.  Inherently, there was always something exciting about using what I knew to solve a problem. Whether through the use of a formula or by being able to apply a mathematical concept, for me the world of Mathematics was about finding answers. Now, sometimes it was a means to an end – OAC calculus for getting into my program in university, (aging myself there) – but often times I remember the feeling of accomplishment after solving a problem with one of my parents at the dinner table in the evenings. When I didn’t understand something, my parents always tried to make sense of it in a real-world way. Talking me through the problem or explaining it in a diagram. The more I think of it, I believe that those times have been a foundational part of who I have become as a teacher, as it relates to Mathematics. While there are so many different concepts to teach within the curriculum, I find myself more drawn to and excited about concepts that allow students to see their use in real life and I’m always on the hunt to try and find a real example for everything.

Last month, I wrote about our Chocolongo Challenge. This month, we were hard at work trying to solve the challenge of fencing at our school. As we continued our unit on Measurement, a real problem was identified and students began to use what they know and the tools we have at our disposal to design real solutions. 

Sloane Public School opens onto a large field with baseball diamonds and leads further to a trail and public park. On any given day, you can find people walking their dogs through the yard or just going for a stroll. Occasionally, kindergarten students get so excited about the wide-open space that they make a run for it, only to find a teacher running after them to bring them back. With this in mind, students were asked to consider which would be more cost-effective: fencing off the back of the school property or fencing a safer kindergarten area? 

To start this problem, we worked together to create a KWC Chart. Together, we determined what we knew; what we wanted to know; and the conditions in order to solve the problem. 

From there, using Google’s My Maps, students quickly got to work trying to figure out the length of fencing that they would need. Once they got an idea of the length, they were on a mission to find the pricing of different fencing options. It was pretty amazing to see the different solutions that started coming to life. Some thought of creating a whole new area for the kindergarten students while others thought we could use some of the equipment in our shed and build an enclosed space that would allow them the freedom to explore. Some students were really creative with the fencing and thought of using wood fencing with one side coated in chalkboard paint so that kindergarten students could colour and design.

Ultimately, many students thought it was more economical to fence off the back of the school property and allowed for less disruption of the other activities for older students – like soccer and football which take up a significant amount of space on the field. This week, we wrapped up our unit with presentations and it was fantastic to see that students had created their own slide presentations to use as proposals to support their solutions. Using some of the feedback from their presentations, students are eager to present their findings to the principal to see if their ideas can be brought to life for a safer school environment for all. 

Whenever I’ve introduced these real-world problems to students, they get really excited to solve the problem and consider ways in which they can have an impact on the whole school community. While this one question, that ultimately became a project took several weeks, I’m amazed at all of the learning that was involved. Students learned to:

  • use an online tool to accurately measure large distances;
  • compare numbers;
  • convert measurements;
  • multiply;
  • think empathetically as they worked to solve a problem for someone else;
  • explain their mathematical thinking;
  • prepare a proposal to present to their audience;
  • and so much more!

I’m always excited about real-world math ideas. Please feel free to share some of yours in the comments!

The Chocolongo Challenge

Every year, I somehow manage to incorporate my love of chocolate into an activity that I work on with students. This year was no different. As I skimmed through the Guide to Effective Instruction for Mathematics for some ideas for our unit on measurement, I noticed the Chocolongo Challenge and immediately knew that this sweet challenge would be exciting for all. Although it’s an activity for Grade 6 students, I made modifications and we got to exploring. 

After a bit of review about perimeter, area and volume, I asked students to consider the following question: A rectangle has an area of 24 square units, what is its perimeter? Students quickly got to work trying to figure out what the connection was between area and perimeter and came up with a few potential ideas. 

After a bit more practice with area and perimeter, we took things to the third dimension, volume! With linking cubes, students were given the chance to explore perimeter, surface area, total surface area and volume. When I knew that they were ready, the Chocolongo Challenge was presented and they were excited designers who were interested in solving a specific problem.

 

It was amazing to see how engaged students were when they felt as though they were solving a real problem. They started reflecting on packaging at home and thinking about the waste involved and ways in which we can bring about change for the environment. Some students also thought back to their design projects that they have been working on and wondered if there was a way to really bring about change in relation to the amount of packaging on products in stores.

 

We connected this activity to Media Literacy as students considered a target audience for their bars and came up with unique commercials to connect with their audience. From being more eco-friendly to having delicious ingredients, these students showed what they knew about measurement and media in an amazing way. These past 3 weeks have been my reminder of the importance of making sure that the learning in the classroom is hands-on, relevant and honours the creativity of students.

Coding in Kindergarten

I have taught every grade from K-8 in some way, shape or form.  I can say that without a doubt or apology I have more respect for Kindergarten teachers than any other grade level.  Hands down.  I have loved every grade I taught while I was teaching it.  I was young and without children when I taught Kindergarten and can say that there is no tired like Kindergarten teacher tired.  That being said, I absolutely love going into Kindergarten classes with robotics.  Unabashedly Kinder friends approach you to ask your name and promptly tell you about the “owie” on the bottom of their foot as soon as they walk in the door.

I work with Bee Bots in Kindergarten classes to teach sequencing, estimation, problem solving, geo-spatial reasoning through coding.  Bee Bots are a rechargeable, floor robots designed for early learning.  It is easy to operate and does not require any other equipment.

We start as a whole group using the hundred’s carpet and decide how to move Bee Bot from our start to another point on the carpet.  Students decide upon the directions and we program them in to find out what will happen.  Wonderful mistakes happen here and we need to clear the code and start again.  When we achieve our goal as a group there is much rejoicing!

It isn’t really about teaching Kindergarten kids how to “code”.  Coding is used as a vehicle to teach many other transferable skills.  Planning, organizing and communication are just some of the learning skills that come from using the Bee Bots.   If you have access to the mats as featured in the photos, you can automatically see the ties to language and math concepts as well.  There is a romance period that needs to take place when the students first get their hands on Bee Bot.  However, even if they don’t know the words for “right” and “left” at first, they get to know them quickly through the use of Bee Bot.  Bee Bots in many of our Kindergarten classes now have homes and some have villages made from found materials so that Bee Bot can be coded to go to different places.  The possibilities for creativity really are endless.

For more information about using Bee Bot in the classroom, check out these resources:

https://krgarden.ca/media/hold/the-beebot-robot

https://blog.teaching.com.au/5-mathematics-bee-bot-lesson-ideas-for-the-classroom/

 

 

Optimism at 9.2 %

I was working with my students on some proportional reasoning exercises in Math. It didn’t take long before I began thinking about numbers and the relationships that exist so beautifully and naturally within them – as one does. After considering the fractions, decimals, and percentages of our tasks that day, I realized that 18 days have sped past – as of this past Friday (Sept 27th, 2019).  Here is some numerical context.

18 days 
= 2.57 earth weeks (Monday to Sunday)
= 4 school weeks (Monday to Friday)
= 1/20th of a year(non-leap)+/-
= 432 life hours
= 5400 minutes of class time
= 3480 minutes of my teaching time (preps deducted)
= 1620 minutes of recess/lunch time (school days M to F)
= 9.2% of the instructional year

Reflecting on the numbers always makes it clear for me to see that we (grade 7s+ me) have already spent a lot of time working at the speed of education. With 18 days in the books, I am feeling optimistic and here are the P.R.I.M.E reasons why.

Patience pays off, not packets of paper

So often students are hurried back to full speed once September rolls around. I have always found it better to ease learners back into the year with broad cross-curricular learning, to activate as many areas of ability from past grades. This approach may make some teachers uncomfortable because it runs counter to archaic ideas of photo-copied workbooks. However, the buy-in from students has always been positive when they are given the time, space, and appropriate tasks to challenge them.

I choose collaborative work that offers low floor and high ceilings, whether it’s Math problems that cover more than one strand at the same time, or whole class discussions/inquiries into current events. Think about tasks and activities that allow each student to show what they can do, and are differentiated enough to honour each learner’s abilities.

My students are responding well to every chance they are given to work with each other instead of another “busy worksheet” packet. I encourage teachers to possess the patience to allow students a different start to the year instead of photocopied packets, to promote engagement instead of ennui.

Relationships = good

We have worked hard to establish our relationships and expectations. In my classroom this has always meant open and ongoing dialogue. Student voice is key in this educational democracy. By always allowing a place for students to be heard, I have found that classroom management and community building become a collective responsibility and benefit.

Since the first bell in September, we have established irreducible norms about responsibility, respect, collaboration, determination, and otherliness. When students have time to grow within their community in these areas, the dynamics of our class relationships are made more positive and enduring.

Invest with interest

The past 18 days in the classroom have also been about learning what makes each student come alive or avoid at school. Having students share their highs, lows, strengths, and weaknesses has provided invaluable insight into what makes them tick in and out of the classroom.

In 11 years, I have always been surprised by the amazing and diverse interests and talents of my students. Making sure they know I am interested in getting to know them is an investment I am happy to make over and over.

Manage it all

The first 9.2% of this instructional year felt like it happened in a blender. Regardless of years of experience, this can be hard when so many daily variables (ie. schedules, personalities, tasks, etc.) are swirling around for teachers to sort out – myself included. Despite 10 years of practice, I still find that I’m overprogrammed and behind schedule. Thankfully, most of my turmoil occurs outside of the classroom from instructional planning, SERT work, and meetings.

Teachers are known for their tireless work ethics, but there has to be limits too. It’s important not to burn out at the start of the year. Setting some boundaries and giving yourself permission to leave some work for the next day is good advice to manage it all.

Encourage everyone, everytime

Take time to celebrate accomplishments on a daily basis – no matter how small. I used our recent Fire and Lockdown Drills to comment on how my students responded so well in those situations. I have also filled our corkboards with fresh work to celebrate each week. When students know they are being noticed, they will feel and have validation. This is something we can honour 100% of the year in the classroom.

Even though 9.2 % of instruction is in the books, you can see how optimism is reaching its prime already. Wishing you all an excellent next 90.8% of your school year.

Additional reading:

http://www.wismath.org/Resources/Documents/Annual%20Conference/210JMetke-Low%20Floor%20High%20Ceiling%20Handouts.pdf

The Gender Gap in Technology

Quote for blog

According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of $7,000-$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

Girls Who Code Canada

National Girls Learn Code Day

Canada Learning Code

Scratch

Hour of Code

Code.org

 

*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.