My Drive Home: How Inquiry’s Changed Things For Me!

I don’t have a very long drive home every day, but even in my 10-15 minute ride, I’m always thinking about something. This change is weather is causing quite the migraine for me tonight, and while some of my thinking this evening was along the lines of, “Please don’t throw up!,” :) I was also thinking about math. Why?

Today, my student teacher, Ashley, introduced the students to our Teapot Box Challenge (evaluation here). When she asked the students about calculating the perimeter of the net – one of the expectations — she noticed that some students had questions. She said that she’d do a mini-lesson tomorrow on this as the class was off to music.

During our prep time today, we spoke about this perimeter expectation. We thought that students need to realize that the perimeter is found by adding up the lengths of the sides along the unfolded net. Easy, right? This option definitely makes sense if we think of the net in the “unfolded” sense, with the prism or pyramid being the “folded” option.

Could the “net” also be referring to the prism or pyramid? If so, I have more questions:

  • Would the perimeter refer to just the perimeter of the base as the “area around the outside” is really just impacted by the size of the base?
  • Would the perimeter change depending on how the prism or pyramid is placed (e.g., in a rectangular prism, would the perimeter change if the prism is laid flat versus standing tall)?

I really don’t know the answers to these questions, and I’m hoping that one of my blog readers might be able to help me out. What do you think? How would you get students to uncover this learning? Is there just one right answer here or could there be many? Inquiry doesn’t just get my students thinking more, but it has me thinking more as well! Thanks, in advance, for sharing any thoughts (and maybe helping lessen at least some of my migraine). :)


Is The Teacher At The Helm? Further Reflections On CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING

Over the years, I’ve read many educational resources, but few have made me stop and think as regularly as Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. This weekend, I finished reading Chapter 3 in Shanker’s book in preparation for our upcoming Book Club Meeting on May 5th. Chapter 3 focused on The Cognitive Domain, and while this chapter resulted in numerous notes and many a-ha moments for me, I think that I was left at the end with the biggest question of all: Does the “teacher” play the most powerful, pivotal role in a student’s success or failure?

I put the word, “teacher,” in quotation marks because I think that students can have many teachers at school – from classroom or prep coverage teachers to educational assistants to DECEs in the Full Day Kindergarten Classrooms - but I’m starting to wonder if all of them really are the keys to student success. Please don’t get me wrong: I always believed that teachers played a value role in student achievement, but now I’m thinking about the extent of this role.

Just like in the other chapters in Shanker’s book, this one is full of examples to highlight his main points. Here’s what I see from these examples:

  • When students are playing in the classroom, it’s up to the teacher to know when to intervene, when to stay back and watch, and how to interact with the students to help scaffold their learning, while also allowing them to self-regulate their behaviour. (pages 49-50)
  • We want students to persevere during difficult tasks, and we want to give them time to do so, but if they’re given too much time or if the challenge is too much, the students will go from engagement to disengagement. Teachers really need to know their learners to create an engaging environment that allows all of them to succeed. (pages 52-53)
  • Students with learning needs may need different strategies and/or different supports in place to meet with success. Teachers need to know about these student needs and strategies that can allow for increased self-regulation. (pages 54-55)
  • Teachers can play games in the classroom, such as Simon Says, to help increase attention. While these games can help students follow auditory directions, for further classroom learning, teachers also need to put into place options for students that cannot remember long lists of oral instructions (such as visuals or written cues). Small changes can lead to big success. (pages 58-59)
  • There’s definite value to DPA (Daily Physical Activity) in the classroom. Whether this is done through classroom obstacle courses, digital dance and movement activities, or even fun games, students can develop both self-regulation and listening skills. Again, teachers knowing their students and their needs (e.g., students that may become upset with “out” options and ways to work around these) will help make these activities successful ones. (pages 60-61)
  • Rules are important, but they can’t just be given to the students. Children need to take ownership over these rules, and that comes with co-creating them. The teacher acts as the facilitator in this important activity. (pages 63-64)
  • Teachers need to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students have always struggled, and teachers believe that they won’t succeed, then this will happen. Instead, teachers need to provide scaffolding and meaningful choices that will result in success. They need to get the parents involved, and teachers need the parents to also see this success. Working together is essential. (pages 65-68)

Looking back on these examples, I can’t help but focus on the role of the teacher. What we do and how we do it seems to be crucial for student success. Teaching is a HUGE responsibility – and a wonderful one – but how do we ensure that we meet the needs of all students? What do you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


What Would You Say To Googling?

This post is largely an opportunity for me to think aloud as I try to decide how I feel about what happened during math class today. Right now, the students are learning about geometry, and they’re creating various nets. My student teacher introduced this concept earlier this week, and before we work on constructing nets for our Teapot Project next week, she had a challenge for the students today.

2014-04-17_17-57-21While groups of students quickly started using various tools as they began this challenge, I found it interesting that a couple of groups got devices and started Googling different types of nets. They were looking at the images of them, and using these images to construct their own.

2014-04-17_18-00-23I’ll admit that I was initially tempted to tell them to put the devices away, but I resisted the urge. Why?

  • I thought about the tweet that I’ve seen numerous times questioning that if an answer is “Googleable,” is the question the best one to ask? (I’m paraphrasing here.)
  • Even if the students copied the net, would they actually meet the challenge? (It was with this question in mind that I went over to talk to the different groups.)

These conversations were incredibly interesting. These students,

  • explained how they knew their chosen net could be assembled to create their chosen prism or pyramid.
  • explained how they measured the sides and the angles to ensure that the measurements were correct.
  • explained how they knew the correct measurements in the first place.
  • explained why their prism or pyramid was the best one to use for this task.

Here is just one of many videos that I took today (my iPad ran out of storage space, so I’m sorry that the video ended so abruptly) that shows that the this activity was about way more than just creating a net, so does it matter if the students consulted Google?

I’m starting to really believe that it doesn’t matter, but then I keep on thinking about Grade 6 and EQAO. If this was an EQAO question, students would have had to draw the net without using the Internet.

  • They could have looked at the three-dimensional figures on the math cart though.
  • They could have used trial and error.
  • They could have started with the shapes that they knew and thought their way through the process.

I wonder if future net building activities, like next week’s Teapot Project, will help students use these other options instead of the Internet. I wonder what would happen if I asked these students that looked online what strategy they would use if I said that they couldn’t use the Internet. I wonder if they could talk through for me how to create the net without using a resource. So much to think about! What would you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


We All Need A Mrs. Bishop!

This post actually comes out of a conversation that I had with some visiting teachers from London today. Caroline Woodburn, an Instructional Coach that I met through Twitter, came to visit with a colleague of hers, Bera. They wanted to see the use of inquiry in the classroom.

During their visit, my students were working on the initial task in this natural phenomenon activity. As the students worked in their groups on developing their questions and beginning their research, I conferenced with them. My goal was to have the students develop better questions: ones in which they had to think. 

When reflecting on the lesson afterwards with Caroline and Bera, they were speaking to me about the questions that I asked my students to have them redevelop their own questions. They thought of the initial research questions that some of the students asked (e.g., Where are places that have tsunamis?) and how I knew to press more and dig deeper to get to the final questions of, Is it possible for a tsunami to occur in Canada? Where might it occur? Why? It was through this lunchtime conversation that I realized what I do: I channel my inner Mrs. Bishop. 

Kristi Bishop is our vice principal, and her ability to ask hard questions and engage student thinking is truly incredible. I love watching her in action, and I try to listen very closely as she talks. She even offered to come in earlier in the year to model a Challenge Game with my class to show the value in asking good, deep thinking questions. Since that time, I always think of Kristi when I ask students questions. As silly as it sounds, I imagine a little Mrs. Bishop sitting on my shoulder right next to my ear. When I sat today to listen to student questions, I thought to myself, What would Kristi whisper in my ear? How could the students make these questions richer, and what questions could I ask to help them see where to go next? And then I said and did what I thought that she would say and do.

I’m definitely not perfect at this, but I am getting better. I needed someone to help me get there though. That Challenge Game Modelling Activity was not just for my students, but it was for me too. Until this year, I’m not sure that I really knew how to get students to truly think, but watching people like Kristi in action, helped. We all need a “Mrs. Bishop”: a person that can show us what to do and can support us during the process, whether they’re there in reality or as the little voice in our earWho is your “Mrs. Bishop?” How does this person help you during the teaching/learning process? During this month of #gratitude, let’s share and celebrate those people that make us better at what we do! Thank you, Kristi, for being one of those people for me!


My Little Game

Every day, I play a little game with myself. This is a game just for me. At regular intervals throughout the day, I look up at the door. If I see a teacher, EA, parent, or administrator walking by, I take note of what we’re doing at the time:

  • Am I teaching at the front of the room?
  • Are the students leading a lesson?
  • Are the students working in groups?
  • Am I working with guided groups?
  • Am I conferencing/working with an individual student?

Then at the nutrition breaks and again at the end of the day, I think about what these people walking by might have seen. I begin to reflect:

  • Do I spend too much time doing full class instruction?
  • Am I circulating enough during small group time?
  • Am I taking the time to really engage with the students during guided groups and conferences?
  • Am I giving the students enough time to really engage with each other during class time?

Based on the answers to these questions, I start to re-look at my teaching practices and make changes for the next day. I certainly haven’t achieved perfection, but this low-stress game helps me make positive changes for my students, and for this, I’m grateful!

Please don’t get me wrong: I think that there’s value to full class and small group instruction, but I wonder about the amount that we need of each. As I’ve looked more closely at inquiry this year, I’ve realized that not everyone needs to hear the same information at the same time. Mini-lessons are wonderful, and scaffolding is important, but does this always need to happen with the full class? I’m not convinced that it does.

My goal with this game is to see that I’m spending less of my day talking to the full class and more of my day working with small groups. I also want students spending more of their day working with and learning from each other. I’ve found that this is the best way to meet individual student needs and see the most student growth in academic success, independence, and thinking skills.  Have you ever played a game like this one? What would you hope for people to see as they walk by? I’d love to hear your thoughts of this!

Aviva – Trying To Look From The Outside, In :)

Does “Experiencing Difficulties” Help With “Experiencing Success?”

I’m thinking right now of a discussion that I had about a month ago with an educator that I really admire. (I didn’t ask for his permission to use his name in this post, so I won’t, but I do want to share the conversation.) We were talking about how to best meet various student needs in the classroom, and during our discussion, he made a very important point. He said, “I think that this can be hard for many teachers because they’ve only had success in school. They’ve always learned things easily. They don’t know what it’s like to struggle.” This comment was not meant in a negative way at all, but instead, as a very important point about why it can sometimes be hard to differentiate. We haven’t always felt for ourselves what some of our students feel: what it’s like not to be able to do something.

I’m reflecting on this conversation now because today, my student teacher is introducing a new topic in math: nets. I’ll admit that when we first sat down to plan these lessons together, I had to breathe deeply (numerous times) not to hyperventilate. I love math, and I love teaching math, but this part of geometry terrifies me! As I’ve blogged about before, I have a non-verbal learning disability in visual spatial skills, and geometry (particularly the topics of nets and transformations) is a struggle for me. But when it comes to teaching, struggling can be a good thing! When we were discussing this unit, my own difficulties helped both my student teacher and me identify the areas that may be problematic for students:

  • seeing how the nets form into prisms and pyramids.
  • knowing how to take a three-dimensional figure and make a two-dimensional net.

This allowed us to plan differently.

  • We looked at bringing in some boxes that can be unfolded and folded back up again to see the connection between the two-dimensional nets and the three-dimensional figures.
  • We looked at starting with cut-out nets that had some problems with them (e.g., incorrect measurements, flaps not included), and using these as a starting point for students creating their own.
  • We differentiated the lesson by providing additional opportunities for students to work in various ways with the two-dimensional nets (if they need the extra time) or for students to move onto creating their own nets from three-dimensional figures (if they don’t need this extra step).

As we were finalizing our plans yesterday, my student teacher said to me, “Aviva, I find it so helpful to hear from someone that does struggle with this, as it’s something that comes easily to me. I didn’t realize how others might find it hard. Now, I can plan for all of the students.” And it was my student teacher’s comment that took me back to the conversation I had about a month ago: it’s hard to remember about those that do struggle if you’ve never experienced this feeling before.

These struggling students can be incredibly successful though with the right accommodations in place. We just need to figure out these accommodations. How do we do so though when we can’t always relate to what the students are experiencing? What methods/approaches have you used? I’d love to hear, for while I might be able to understand the students that struggle in these visual spatial areas, I know that I don’t have this same connection to all areas of the curriculum. I wonder if this connection is really the important link to differentiated instruction and success for all!


When And How To Pay Attention!

This morning, I read a recent blog post by Sue Dunlop, one of our Board’s superintendents. The post spoke about multi-tasking, screen time, and the importance of truly “paying attention.” I’ve actually been thinking about this topic a lot lately.

The funny thing is that I often feel the need to multi-task, but I struggle with doing more than one thing at a time. So what do I do? Here’s my approach:

  • I have the Board email app on my iPad, so I’ll check it regularly, but mark as unread everything that I need to reply to. Then I can think about my response when I have a few minutes, but not reply to the emails until nutrition break or after school, when I can really focus on what I want to say.
  • When conferencing with students, I’ll usually take a photograph of the student work, but then put the iPad down and listen to the conversation. After that, I’ll annotate the photograph with information that the students shared and/or I’ll hand over the iPad, and let the students add the information.
  • I’ll use a podcasting app when conferencing with students. Then I can put my iPad on the table, sit back, and truly engage in the conversation, but still have documentation of what was shared.

These tricks allow me to multi-task without multi-tasking. But what about at inservices? This is where I struggle. I read Sue’s example of her time at the Math Inservice. I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of replying to emails during inservices before, and when I do that, I really have no idea what’s being shared. I lose out, and I know that!

But if I put away all of my devices and just listen to the conversation (especially during any full group talking time), I don’t remember anything either. I learn by listening and watching, but also, doing! This is where tweeting is beneficial for me. I listen to what the speaker says, I see what’s on the slides, and then I tweet out my thinking. This keeps me focused on the content, but also, engaged with what’s being shared. Then when it comes to small group sharing time, I put my device off to the side, engage in the conversation, and write down some ideas later that I want to remember.

What does all of this mean when it comes to teaching and learning?

  • People “pay attention” in different ways. I think we need to model these different ways for students, and let students choose the way that works best for them. Maybe some students need to “chalk talk” during full class lessons, others may need a digital backchannel, and still others may need to just listen and watch. How can we provide all of these choices?
  • We need to practice what we preach. If we want students to avoid personal interactions during class time, then I think we need to as well. Modelling for students how to use technology well to capture learning is important, but also modelling for them how to avoid texts and emails during instructional time is equally as important. How do you do this?
  • We need to admit when we make mistakes. I know that there have been times when I’ve tried to multi-task, and I shouldn’t. Maybe I replied to an email that I should have waited on answering until there was a better time. If I’m not 100% “there” for the students, then I try to own my mistake, and show them how I can make a better choice. How do you model “making mistakes?”

What does “paying attention” look like to you? What are your expectations for students in a classroom context? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!