Inquiry Project

As part of a board focus group I am involved with, I am exploring along with a group of six other teachers, the inquiry model in the classroom. Each group that has gathered together to focus on inquiry looks at how it works in their classroom in a different way. My group has selected questioning. We are looking at how and if students select better questions, they will become more successful.

I just recently came back from Disney this Christmas break and I was overwhelmed with the many posts on instagram telling me what cool food I could find at literally every inch of the parks. There were so many options and I had to try them all and take pictures of them all. This has been an interest of mine for some time now, finding a really cool looking item of food and taking a picture with it. I came home from the trip feeling inspired and thinking, I can explore this phenomenon with my class of motivated grade eight students.

At first I posed it to them as a question, what are the most trending items right now on instagram. They came up with a huge list and then I made them create the questions. They came up with a few deep questions: Why do things trend? What makes an item trend-worthy? How can we explore a trending item in our classroom? What item could we produce as a class? It took us a while to get there but we figured out that it would be cool to market a food item as a class and then create it and sell it.

Since we were just finishing up our data management unit, we talked about how can we gather results from our student body about what item would be a hit in our school? First, we asked our office staff for advice about this exciting project. We were given the okay to market and sell an item as long as proper food handling techniques were followed. We then talked about what are the top six trending food items right now? We came up with six as a class: donuts, cookies, cupcakes, bubble tea, smoothies and the Harry Potter beverage. My students paired up, created a google survey and added all these options to the survey. They emailed every teacher in the school setting up meeting times to survey their class.

Before we analyzed our results, on our inquiry wall we came up with ways our project hits every subject we study. We talked about the literacy connections to marketing, advertisements, etc. We talked about art connections when designing logos, posters, maybe even creating a wall that would be a backdrop for a cool photo with our finished product. We talked about math connections when coming up with the cost of the item, the cost of ingredients, the profit calculations, etc. We made large lists for each subject so we can see how wide this one small question covers.

We have now gathered all our results and the top choice for our school was smoothies. We have now created a list of what to do next. It is on our inquiry wall along and our team leaders will check off our ideas as we complete them.

I would love to say we work on this six periods a day, which we very well could since it covers many expectations in each subject, however, grade eight is such a huge year that there is always so many other things that we have to be working on. Currently, we work on this project one period a day. We have 25 entries for logo ideas, 10 entries for company name and probably over 100 smoothie ideas. We will be narrowing down our choices on Monday.

I will keep you all posted on our progress! It is turning out to be a great project and the engagement level is incredibly high. We all sit around the back inquiry board and the hands that go up for ideas during this project are not up for any other time of day. My students are excited about the possibilities that this project presents. It is fun turning over everything to the kids and seeing how it all ends up!

Taking the time to collaborate and learn how to bridge the gap

Once a month, my colleagues and I go to a highschool to look at a math sample from each of our “marker students”. There are a group of about ten of us which is made up of highschool teachers, elementary teachers and math facilitators. We take time to identify what the student knows, what they are struggling with and how we know this. The main point of these meetings that occur each month is to bridge the gap between elementary and high school. We are trying to review the necessary skills that kids in grade eight will need for next year and then we will spend large amounts of time focusing on these skills in addition to the topics we currently are expected to cover. It is very helpful to know which topics to spend the most amount of time on so I will look forward to the times in the future when we will be discussing those items.

 

At these sessions, we talk about what the student’s work shows us, if they are struggling with something, what does that tell us about how they are learning. We call this section of debriefing the interpretations.

The next part involves looking at next steps for students and teachers. It is a great use of time and helps us as teachers look at students we need to help further and then, we directly review how to help them reach these next steps.

All teachers get to share their marker students and then we spend time talking about how these students can get some help to further understand the questions and the overall math concepts.

The challenges we face when planning and attending these sessions include selecting a rich task that we can really dive into once we gather as a group. We tried using past EQAO assessments but couldn’t find any open ended questions. We then turned to some other test questions. I also find it hard to find the time to pull these students aside to help them once we find out ways to do so after the fact. The skill is so specific once we find out what they need help with that it seems hard to just discuss it as an isolated math skill.

The benefits to meeting like this is the amount of minds on tackling the questions and looking at helpful next steps. I really look forward to all of these educators coming into a classroom with me to help the students who are struggling in a real life setting. That will be great for all of the students, especially since they would then have at least ten educators in the room to help them grasp the challenging topics.

 

David Suzuki’s message to us all

Today the grade seven and eights at our school were invited to attend the Eco Summit at Mohawk College. It was an exciting opportunity where we got to listen to motivated students from around Hamilton speak about the change they were making in their school community and beyond. Local poets, musicians and activists spoke as well about the changes we could be making and how the earth desperately needs our help.

I knew I had to prepare my students for in their mind what could have been a boring day listening to speakers. I needed to create an interest in them before they sat down in Mohawk’s auditorium. I shared with them a BBC article I had recently read about the key things we can do to keep the earth’s temperature from rising beyond what it can handle. I shared with them how we need to cut down and eliminate certain things or places such as Portugal (as I felt this summer) will be uninhabitable very soon.

I soon saw that this trip was a bit mature for some of our younger grade sevens and even for some of our eights. They did not quite have in them the interest in climate change. Only a few of our eights were brave enough to ask the student guest speakers some questions such as: how did you get your teachers or people in general to pay attention to your causes? How can we make a change? What is the most important issue facing us at the moment? Etc.

I did however find a few key takeaways in the main keynote address of the day. We were VERY fortunate to hear from David Suzuki via video conference. I wrote some notes regarding his message to our group today. Here are the main points:

  • we need to radically reduce our use of fossil fuels
  • we should research and read more about the blue dot agenda and we can do so by going onto bluedot.ca
    • once there, you can click take action
  • we can learn more by reading about the David Suzuki foundation
  • we can email the MP in our area and ask them to sign the MP pledge for environmental rights
  • anyone 18 or older needs to vote in the upcoming federal election for the most environmentally conscious leader
  • fight for the IPCC recommendation
  • it is important that we as educators offer solutions to our children without scaring them about the future
  • shift to what is called a biocentric view rather than what our world currently has, the human centric view
    • we need to see us a part of a web of living things
  • our students are the heroes of the future

 

That last point really stuck with me. Sure they may have been zoning off during David Suzuki’s talk or not listening to the inspirational music videos, but we cannot give up hope on our heroes of the future. Even if just a few of them take a stand, we can hope that they will be the change we need to see in this world. I encourage everyone to try to do some of the points as listed above. Also, a great read is this BBC article that challenges us to start making changes as well:

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-45775309
Also, here is an amazing message to get a conversation started with your class about doing their part to make the world a more liveable place
https://youtu.be/B-nEYsyRlYo

Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s NOT. -Dr Seuss

Innovation Collaborative Inquiry

I am currently starting a really exciting journey which involves myself and a group of 10 teachers. We are choosing a topic that interests us and going on a year long journey to discover the answers to this question. We are currently thinking about our question having to do with student led learning and how can we get students to take the lead with their learning and how to make meaningful tasks that will inspire action.

We are meeting 3.5 days this year and we are able to work alongside these other teachers to discuss our findings and see how we can put this plan into action in the classroom.

The first meeting involved getting to know all the teachers. We did this by mingling with the crowd based on which card in the deck we had (all sixes went together, the tens went together..) and then we met up with the same suit cards and then we had a few different challenges after that. When we met with our random groups, we answered the question how have we seen or used innovation in our classroom. It was amazing the chats that we had when this question was posed to us. I felt happy explaining my students current inquiry projects where they research a question of their choice which they will then present to the group it relates to. I also shared about selecting meaningful projects that will somehow create change or an action in our school. We discussed all of our innovation ideas and then we were asked to go back to our seats.

A teacher across the room shared about something that someone had said to her that will change and solve all problems involving math: going gradeless. She mentioned there would be various levels in math like when children go to swimming lessons and they wouldn’t be able to move onto math level two until they finish level one. In a way it sounds like an IEP but it would be in place for all students.

The rest of the morning we had to find a group of people that had a common area of focus as us and that is how I ended up in the student led learning group where students guide themselves to tasks that they find to be meaningful and essentially are 21st century learning tasks. This group will meet next week to discuss our plans.

After going to this exciting learning opportunity, I went back to my class and made a self reflection for our drama haunted house that the students had just finished planning, creating, presenting and then cleaning up. I had them assess themselves using four words: not engaged, somewhat engaged, engaged and very engaged. I told them to circle which word best described their involvement before, during and after the haunted house. It was incredible to see that the word they had circled lined up with the way I would assess them. If they had done this same self assessment and I had put marks or levels on the page, I am not so sure they would have been as successful with their assessment.

I am excited to continue learning with my inquiry group and keep trying out things that we learn as a group. The gradeless self assessment was just one small thing that I know will come of this exciting learning opportunity. It is very fun being apart of a group of like minded people that are really hoping to see a positive change in our classrooms.

More to come!

School year start up

Well we are already four weeks in and hopefully it has been a great start of the school year for everyone. I am now teaching a grade eight class, teaching math, science, history/geography, language, art and drama. I was overwhelmed at first thinking about all of the subjects I would be responsible for but I have such an amazing grade team so I am truly thankful for all of their support and activities that have been shared.

September is an important month to get to know your students for not only their likes and dislikes but just honestly, do they enjoy school? Every student has their ideas of teachers, rules, subjects, reading, the list goes on and on. Just listening to them talk to other students during class teaches you so much about their interests and about how they have been affected by various things in their past school years. By grade eight students either LOVE or HATE being in a school. I am now faced with the task of continuing to develop that love or trying hard to turn around the hate.

I have been looking at new apps, reading exciting activities for my class to try, looking at fun trips, trying to think of new clubs/teams and I am hoping that I will engage some students who have been disinterested in the past. It is definitely a year long task to try to engage and involve all students so I hope to continue on that journey each day.

On a personal note, as teachers we often feel many emotions at the end of each day. There are questions we ask ourselves and things we always wonder. The one I have been asking myself a lot lately is, “Did I get to everyone?” I feel that is the hardest thing to go home with at the end of each day. That is why I am trying this year to make a few notes on who to go to first the next day and then actually following up on those plans. I am fortunate to finish early at the end of my school day so I can finish all my school work around 3:30/4:00 pm. That gives me roughly six hours of “me” time! That time is so important for our mental health and it is something I am also hoping to focus on this year. Shopping. stair climbing, doing the laundry, making a fun dinner, watching an episode of my favourite show…just a few examples of things I can do each night to stay positive and enjoy each day to the fullest.

I am hoping to talk to my students tomorrow about how to use our after school time wisely to better ourselves and to really add to our day. Our day isn’t over after school and we should really do our best to enjoy the time we have to keep ourselves positive and to make the most of our day.

These are just a few things I have thought about as summer ended and our school year begins. These four works have not been the easiest as being permanent now full time in a very different setting has made me think differently but I am staying positive and really reflecting on the good at the end of each day and looking forward to working on new things the next day.

I am looking forward to posting every few weeks about exciting ideas that occur in my class as well as all the ways I am staying positive and making the most of each day!

 

Why Coding is Important Part One

I consider myself a fairly techie teacher.  However, until recently I hadn’t really tried my hand at coding or robotics.  Well, I had, but I had lost interest as I quickly felt as though I was out of my depth.  So, I did what I always do when I really want to learn something about teaching, I go to a colleague that has the knowledge and I try it WITH the students.  Collaborative inquiry.

Until recently, I didn’t see what the big deal was or why it was important to teach coding to students.  Yeah, playing with robots is fun but what does that have to do with curriculum?  When I started working with and learning coding along side students I had a change in mindset.  There is a lot of math, strategic planning and visualization in coding. Coding may not always directly relate to curriculum content-that is true.  However, in terms of teaching students about the deep learning competencies, coding is key.  If you aren’t sure what I mean by the deep learning competencies; they are referred to as the 6 C’s.  Here is a link to the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning paper but I have extracted a summary of the 6 C’s for a quick reference:

Character: Character refers to qualities of the individual essential for being personally effective in a complex world including: grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability, and honesty.

Citizenship: Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values with genuine interest in engaging with others to solve complex problems that impact human and environmental sustainability.

Collaboration: Collaboration refers to the capacity to work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team-related skills including effective management of team dynamics, making substantive decision together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others.

Communication: Communication entails mastery of three fluencies:digital, writing and speaking tailored for a range of audiences.

Creativity: Having an ‘entrepreneurial eye’ for economic and social opportunities, asking the right questions to generate novel ideas, and demonstrating leadership to pursue those ideas into practice.

Critical Thinking: Critically evaluating information and arguments, seeing patterns and connections, constructing meaningful knowledge and applying it in the real world.

I reflected on these 6 C’s as I wrote the learning skills for my grade 4/5 students this year.  I spend the most time on my reports creating the Learning Skills for each student.  They are personal and they reflect each individual student.  As a parent, it is what I am most interested in reading about my own child.  The 6 C’s are competencies not only for school, but for life.  While students were exploring coding I had them working in pairs or small groups to give them the opportunity to communicate, collaborate and show leadership.  When the code didn’t work, they were able to go back and find the error and correct it and try it again with results right away. Sometimes they found it painstaking and I had to let them work through that and they were glad in the end when I didn’t give them the easy way out and they solved things on their own.  When they learned something in coding, they quickly wanted to share their learning with other students.  I gave basic instruction about the program to start using a youtube tutorial and then let the students go.  Students who often don’t do well in groups with “typical” academic tasks often excelled as leaders in coding because it is a divergent way of thinking and they had a self-check strategy built into the task.  It was incredible to witness the amount of learning that was taking place.

You don’t have to have robots to code.  There are online coding websites that teach kids to code such as code.org and Scratch.  The students even as young as grade 3 are easily able to use these sites to code.  Scratch Jr. is available for younger students.  The sites have great tutorial videos and somehow the students seem to just start discovering and creating things intuitively.  They begin helping each other when they see that someone has created something cool and ask the creator to show them how to do it too.

I am proud to say that I can now code a square, star and a small obstacle course using blocks and a Sphero robot.  My students discover new things every day and share them with me.  It is definitely a new age in teaching.

 

 

Deep Learning in Inquiry (Part 2)

In reading part one of my inquiry blog, one might think, “That’s all lots of fun, but building a bee house isn’t exactly something that I can write on the report card.”  You would be absolutely right.  The learning is imbedded in the exciting things.  It is intentional and it is authentic.  Connecting with a local expert, using technology for research and having hands on activities with students engaged scratches the surface of inquiry.  Our deep learning with this unit began with the types of questions that we were asking.  I noticed that when the students began asking questions on Padlet that Siri could have easily answered many of their questions with one or two word answers.  This lead to a series of lessons on “THICK” vs. “Thin” questions.  We added better questioning to our goals.

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The students also noticed that I had included a lot of infographics on the Padlet.  Infographics are seen everywhere in social media to communicate information efficiently and visually.  However, students need to know how to use this information, how to synthesize it, how to put it into their own words and how to source it.  We spent a significant amount of our language periods on reading and interpreting infographics.

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Source:Visual.ly

Our learning goals and success criteria went way beyond making houses for bees and honey tasting.  Students wanted to DO something to help bees.  We created our learning goals and criteria together:

 D9EDA370-1138-49B8-965E-051FCD44D0A4     8AB3D3E8-C7F1-4B2B-8E49-BD8E4FE8068F     CD26AF15-F831-470F-9522-D17D415D0A33

Early on in the inquiry we watched an informative YouTube video called, We Can Save the Bees Together.  Sarah Red-Laird, bee enthusiast and scientist, gave us a number of ideas of actions that we could take.  The students decided that one of the things that they wanted to do was to call for stronger legislation about mono cropping and pesticide use in farming.  They wanted to write letters to politicians and change makers.  In addition, when Susan Chan, local bee researcher visited, she “planted the seed” about creating a non-stinging bee friendly garden in our school yard.  This prompted students to write letters to local school officials to solicit assistance and guidance.  One of our students from Curve Lake First Nation decided to write the Chief and Band Council to ask them to consider building a bee friendly garden in their community. The desire for letter writing lead to a series of lessons on how to write a professional letter, how to proofread and how to edit in a meaningful and authentic learning context for students.  The students also felt that educating others about conservation of  bees was important so they are now working on developing presentations that they can take to other classes as well as media advertising to share their learning and call others to action.

In math, we had been focusing on data management.  It fit in perfectly to what we were doing with our inquiry!  There is an incredible amount of data about bees on the Statistics Canada website.  We read real graphs with information that the students cared about, we labelled the important parts of the graphs and we will be creating our own surveys and graphing the information from different areas of our inquiry.

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Statistics Canada

Honestly, the best part of inquiry is when the students start to direct their own learning.  I guide them.  I provide thought provoking questions and “what if” scenarios.  They make choices and feel good about doing something that is affecting real change.  Inquiry is empowerment for students.  This students aren’t done with this inquiry yet-they have many more plans ahead!  Stay tuned.

The Virtues of Non Fiction Reading and Writing – Part 2

Our Journey

We began by identifying the books in our book bags as fiction or nonfiction.  The students justified how they knew if a book was fiction or nonfiction.  In small groups the students compiled lists of nonfiction text features that they noticed in their stack of chosen books.  As a class we went through the Scholastic Book order and they decided which books were fiction or nonfiction and explained their choice.  The students discussed whether there was a realistic photo, the title and if there was a synopsis about the book.  We explored the “Explain Everything” app and played with it for a short period before getting into the project.  I find that a “romance period” with a new tool helps to keep them on task when they begin their work. The app was fairly new to me but the students found it to be mostly intuitive.  They were really stoked to use the feature that points to the words using a “light sabre”.  There were a few glitches with accessing text edits but eventually they got the hang of it.  We have the free trial version.  The actual app is quite expensive.

Establishing a Purpose

I explained to the students that our younger “buddies” were going to be learning about nonfiction and their teacher was looking for an engaging presentation about nonfiction text features for her students.  By setting up an authentic purpose and audience for writing, the students were engaged immediately.

These are the learning goals, success criteria, project checklist and anchor charts that we developed over a period or two.  We added and changed some things as time went on as well.

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The students really had to think about the information that a nonfiction text feature gave them as a reader.  The learning was much deeper by creating a teaching video than if they had just identified the features in texts.  Students referred to the success criteria and checklists throughout the project.  Before they came to me they had to have some peer feedback.  They put their first draft on Seesaw and I provided some feedback online.  The students edited and adjusted from peer and teacher feedback and then posted for parents to see on Seesaw.  Below the blog, I have included three different examples of projects from both grade four and five.

Assessment and Evaluation

The integration of technology with a presentation provides an opportunity to assess many different curriculum expectations in language:

-ability to critically analyze the purposes for nonfiction text features

-ability to create a piece of media for a specific purpose and audience

-ability to oral communicate coherently and expressively

-ability to write clearly using appropriate conventions and their ability to edit their work

-ability to use success criteria, anchor charts and feedback in the creative process

In the area of learning skills:

Independent Work

-adhere to timelines and guidelines

-use class time appropriately to complete a task

-monitor, assess and revise plans to meet goals

Responsibility

-provide appropriate feedback to peers; being considerate of the feelings of others

-have their materials ready

Initiative

-find answers to questions and materials they need on their own

-find ways to make their work better

Organization

-set up their work so that the ideas are communicated and the audience understands their thinking

-prioritize what needs to be done

Collaboration

-uses politeness and kindness when providing feedback

-shares resources, information and expertise

Self Regulation

-asks for clarification about feedback

-uses mistakes as a learning opportunity

-provides evidence that they think about their thinking

Book group

A colleague of mine started a book club for educators in our school. We read the book “The boy who was raised as a dog” which takes you on the journey of various stories from the child psychiatrist, Bruce D. Perry. The book group involved seven to eight educators discussing the assigned chapters we had read for the week. I highly recommend this read for any teachers who have ever struggled with a “challenging” student. The book details the accounts of many children Perry encountered whose traumatic past altered their future. The book teaches all teachers to have a compassion that is so necessary for these traumatized children.

We discussed many things during our meetings each week. We started discussing the chapters but the conversations always had a way of covering anything and everything. The meetings helped me go into each day with an open mind and a compassion for a child’s situation that I did not have before. You rarely think of the reason someone behaves “badly” or defiantly. We may just assume that that is the way that child is. Many of us may have not stopped to think of the reason for that action. Realistically, we all have a lot on our plates that day and we may be thinking of a quick way to discipline the child. The book helped our book group members to think of ways to help these children in class so that they may have a successful future outside of it.

Today was our last meeting and we took the last twenty minutes to reflect on our love for teaching. How amazing of a feeling it is when you have that moment in the classroom (or outside) when you just get that feeling of “this is the most incredible job on earth!” We all discussed moments we have felt like that and how incredibly lucky we are to be teachers. The book group was a great way to celebrate and to continue our love for learning. If anyone would like more information about this book, please let me know. The book could change your entire outlook on those “tough” situations, reminding us never to give up on a child or to jump to negative conclusions especially when we do not know their entire situation.

Meet the teacher night

Tonight was open house at my school and as usual parents wanted to know how their son or daughter were performing. This is always an interesting question to answer because parents want to know about math and language and I want to tell about how they are getting along with others and how polite and helpful they are.

It’s interesting to see that what a teacher values teaching the most is not always what would come up at a meet the teacher night. I hope that in my program I can help children with their math and language as well as help them treat others with respect as well as help them make our class a friendly place.

As a young teacher, I am always hoping that parents will be on board with the new shift in education, away from tests and onto rich learning experiences. Sometimes I wonder if after my students leave me, that I have failed them if they start to take tests and have no idea what they are doing. I do see the value in showing how much they know on a piece of paper as many high schools still work with this model, but I am always wondering how that will help them in their future. I understand that test writing is an important skill, so I need to think of ways to include this in my program in the future.

I am working on making our class a very open and comfortable space for learning right now and I am hoping in my next post to share about how the alternative seating is making the student space an amazing place to work. I hope to see the benefits of the seating and I am excited to take pictures of student learning experiences and share the stories.