Thinking Aloud As I Reflect On Changes

On both Friday and Sunday, I blogged about some changes that I had planned for this week. Friday’s blog post discussed my plan for using Explain Everything with the students. At our recent PA Day staff meeting, we were encouraged to give this app a try, as our Grade 4-8 students will be using it as part of the Transforming Learning Everywhere initiative. Sunday’s blog post discussed another change. After a phone conversation with a parent, and my own reflections on math in the classroom, I decided to make some changes to my math program with the hope of giving students a deeper understanding of the concepts and skills.

Now that Monday’s come and gone, I’ve put both plans into place, and reflected some more. Here are my first thoughts:

Explain Everything Plan

  • While I thought that the screenshots would help the students navigate through Explain Everything, I wish that I introduced them in a different way. When observing the students in action and listening back to some recordings, I noticed that the students wanted to investigate the tools on their own. They pressed the different buttons: they wanted to see what everything did. They problem solved along the way (e.g., “The writing isn’t erasing this way. Let’s try this instead.”) They accidentally found things out (e.g., by holding down on a button, they saw the different options that appeared), and then they wanted to teach each other how to use these features. While this learning may not be academic learning per se, it is still learning, and this exploration, problem solving, and sharing should be encouraged. I wish that I just had the students open the app and investigate it. They’re not going to break it, so why not let them see what they can do with it? Students need this “play time.” It’s how they learn. Then I could give them a specific activity, and show them the screenshots to help out when needed. Some students may not even need them. I think that this was a time that I went for “direct instruction” and “play-based learning” may have been the way to go.
  • I had recording problems. When I tested out the app, I could pause the recording and record again to add to it. For some reason, when the students tried to do this, one recording kept on replacing the other one. Due to time, our last rotation was a short one, so very few groups had a detailed recording to share. All of the other work was also replaced, so students couldn’t go back and see what others shared. Does anyone know why this happens? How might I change this setting?
  • I’m so glad that I showed students the drawing and writing options. I was thrilled with the number of Grade 1’s that added ideas in writing in addition to sharing orally. To help develop our writing skills, I’m really encouraging students to write more, and this was one time that I didn’t need to encourage them, but still had my most reluctant writers sharing lots.
  • All students were very successful with the app. Since they had options for sharing orally, in writing, through drawings, or any combination of the above, everyone could find a way to participate. Having so many opportunities to share definitely helped the students out when we moved onto our Shared Writing activity about the seasons. I saw many more hands up than usual, and had many more ideas shared. Success!
  • As such, I will be using Explain Everything again, but maybe I’ll start from the beginning, and give students some investigation time. I’ll let them see what they can do. Maybe I’ll give them a list of requirements (e.g., you must have a picture, you must include writing, you need to record your thinking), and let them problem solve to meet them. This way, when I give them a more specific task to do, they’ll have learned more about the tools in the app, had a chance to discuss how they work, and can then focus on the talk related to the task. What do you think? Any other suggestions?

Math Plan

  • I liked how a Learning Goal helped focus our math discussion yesterday. Students also seemed to be talking more about math as they were investigating/exploring the different problems. I wonder if the Learning Goal helped with this as well.
  • I found that the Learning Goal was more teacher-directed at this point, but the responses from the students seemed to indicate that this was their first time creating a Learning Goal. Hopefully as we use Learning Goals more, and students become more comfortable with the language, they can take more ownership in the creation process.
  • I found that I needed to ask a lot of questions to get the students to focus on the math and explain more of their thinking. I wonder if this is because it’s the first time that they’ve done an activity like this. Maybe the need for these questions are normal, and as time goes on and students develop a better understanding of math, they’ll need less guidance. It’s almost like a gradual release of responsibility model.
  • Based on my observations, I’m going to continue emphasizing the Learning Goal, having rich discussions about math, and using Success Criteria to further narrow the math focus. I’m also going to use more books and songs to get students to see “math” in the everyday. I found a great book about real world math on BookFlix (through our Virtual Library). A wonderful friend also sent me some math song books on “math in our world.” The visuals and the singing should definitely help students as they continue to develop their understanding of math. What are your thoughts on this plan? What else would you suggest?

I’m sure that the coming weeks will bring many more reflections and changes, and I’m excited to see where we go next. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts and ideas, and certainly welcome any suggestions as I continue to work with my students now and plan ahead for the future.


My New Math Plan

I had an interesting conversation with a parent today that has left me wondering. This mom mentioned to me that after reading my blog post on math, she asked her children, “What is math?” While her older son said that, “Math is everywhere,” her younger daughter just mentioned, “patterns,” as math. Why is this so?

That’s when I started to think about the Early Learning Kindergarten Program and even my approach to math at the beginning of the year. Math is so embedded in all that we do that maybe we don’t explicitly label it as such. Even when students count, sort, pattern, work with shapes, recognize numbers, and the list goes on, when this learning is a part of other learning, how do we get students to explicitly reflect on math?

On Thursday, when our Playdough Store was closed, I had the students reflect on what they learned as part of this project. While some ideas came quickly to mind (e.g., patterning and sorting), others needed prompts (e.g., number recognition and counting). Maybe we didn’t spend enough time reflecting throughout the process. Maybe even in a play-based learning environment, there needs to be a clear “learning goal” to guide the students’ learning and their reflection on this learning. I know that I’ve reconsidered my math plan for this week.

  • I am going to start with a learning goal. We are going to look at what this goal means, and how we know that we’ve addressed this goal. This will also connect with our school’s focus on helping students take more control over their learning.
  • If things go according to plan (and please note that this doesn’t always happen :) ), we’re also going to co-create some math success criteria this week. I know that students will likely need more scaffolding during this first success criteria attempt, but by looking at some of the Process Expectations together and getting students to think more about what they will achieve, this should help them be more aware of their math learning.
  • I’m going to make sure that there’s always sufficient time left each day to have students self-reflect on their learning as connected to this math learning goal and/or success criteria.
  • I’m going to get students to explicitly label the math learning throughout the week, and we’re going to add to our, “What Is Math?” Chart as we uncover more “math skills and concepts.”
  • I‘m planning some real world provocations related to our big ideas in math (especially around understanding numbers), but also linking to other math skills or concepts (such as patterns, spatial sense, and sorting). I want students to see connections between math topics.
  • I’m going to provide lots of oral language opportunities around different math topics to give students a chance to discuss math, share questions, and answer questions as well. I want them to get used to using math vocabulary and engaging in purposeful math talk. Then even the “play time” will become “learning time.”

I don’t know how this will work, but I’ll never know unless I try. Based on my conferences with students throughout the week, I can always modify this plan. I hope though that this planned and purposeful focus on math will help my students see math differently and engage in richer conversations about their math learning. What do you think? How do you help students see “math” in what they do, and reflect on their learning throughout the process? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


How Do You Plan With An App In Mind?

On Friday, we had a PA Day. For the morning, we got a chance to address our school focus as identified by our Directions Team. I must say that I was thrilled when I saw this focus!


With this focus in mind and thinking about our Board’s Transforming Learning Everywhere initiative, all grade teams got a chance to learn about the Explain Everything app, and how we could possibly use it in the classroom. The Triple E’s (Explain Everything Experts) — I loved our vice principal‘s creative name — introduced the app to different grade teams, and together, we looked at how we might use this app in the classroom with our students. While we were exploring a specific app, the focus of the discussion was on good pedagogy, which I love.

It was actually because of this focus on pedagogy that I struggled at the time. I was trying to figure out a way to use Explain Everything in the classroom, but for every idea I had, I questioned why Explain Everything was the best choice. It always seemed easier and/or better to just take a photograph of the work or to record a video of the thinking. Why do this activity using Explain Everything? Why was this activity worth the time needed to teach the Grade 1’s how to use the app, when there always seemed to be a better option?

As the day continued, I continued thinking about my Explain Everything dilemma. That’s when I decided to think about our school focus instead of just thinking about the app. How could Explain Everything help me address this focus? Why would it be the best choice? It wasn’t long before I began thinking about our Science unit on Daily and Seasonal Changes. To help students see the impact of the seasons on living things (including humans), I need them to look closely at the seasons. I found four great, detailed posters: one on each season. I thought that the students could talk about what they see, what they think, and what they wonder, and begin generating some inquiry questions that connect to our big idea of how seasons impact on living things. Explain Everything could be the perfect app to get the students thinking and sharing more about this Science focus.

Here’s my thinking:

  • The visuals in the poster will help those students with limited English see and understand more about the seasons. 
  • The ability to orally record their thinking will help those students that struggle with writing.
  • The ability to draw and write on top of the image will help those students that may not want to share as much orally, still indicate what they see and what they think.
  • The use of a visual for this activity will help those students that struggle with reading.
  • The ability for each group to go to each of the four posters and add their ideas on top of the ones already shared will help all of the students see the range of ideas shared throughout the class and the similarities and differences between the ideas. (Just to clarify, what I’ve done is add one poster image to the Explain Everything app on four different iPads. Students will circulate around to all four, so that they can continue to build on the ideas shared by their peers.)
  • The ability to easily upload and share these screencasts will allow me to post them on our class blog so that the discussions can be continued at home and maybe even expanded on more.
  • The ideas that come out of these discussions will hopefully help us further develop our inquiry questions and lead to some meaningful sharing of student learning.

While I could probably do a similar activity with the use of sticky notes and/or an iPad (with a camera and/or video camera), Explain Everything will allow for more ways for students to share their thinking (built-in differentiated instruction) and make it easier for students to go back and see and hear the similarities and differences between all responses. I’m also hoping that these screenshots will help my Grade 1’s easily navigate through the app so that they can spend the majority of their time recording ideas and not problem solving glitches. What do you think of my Explain Everything plan? How do you keep focused on pedagogy when planning for the use of a specific app? I’d love to hear your thinking!


Starting With The Real World

At the end of the day today, I asked my students a question that Matthew Oldridge, a wonderful teacher in Peel, was asking his students not that long ago: “What is math?” I did this because I wanted students to see the connections between our Playdough Store that “closed” today and math learning. I think it’s important for students to reflect on what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and I thought that this brainstorming would help with that.

While this brainstorming session did help with that, it was also very eye-opening to me for another reason. I quickly realized that even in Grade 1, students seem to have an almost “textbook” understanding of math. Not one student made a real world connection to math, and even when giving me examples of skills (e.g., patterning), they only used ones that would either involve manipulatives or previous worksheet experiences. Students see math as a subject at school, but they don’t have a good understanding of why math matters so much. I hope to change this!

After reading through the many tweets in this conversation and doing some thinking on my way home from school, I wonder if the way to change this is to start with the real world. Right now, I find myself beginning with introducing a skill (e.g., patterning) and allowing for exploration that tends to involve the use of manipulatives and loose parts. Then I try to make the link to the real world with our problem. I wonder though if the students are still focused on the familiar tools and not on the application of math. Maybe we need to give them a chance to really see and experience the math that happens in the every day.

Next week, we’re focusing on counting (forwards and backwards) and number recognition. I think that I need some real world provocations to begin. I’m already thinking about cookbooks, beats in a song, appointment slots for a business, deliveries of materials for construction, distribution of flyers in teachers’ mailboxes at school, and money for a store (particularly nickels and dimes to help with counting by 5’s and 10’s). Even as I’m writing this post, more ideas are coming to mind. I wonder if by exploring these provocations and giving a real purpose for the math learning if students would start to see math as more than just something we learn each day at school. If we could couple this real world math with Patricia Newman‘s bulletin board idea, I see the potential for a change in the appreciation and meaningfulness of math.

2014-09-18_19-59-56Don’t get me wrong: I think that it’s important that students learn skills, but when there is not a meaningful context, I question the potential for deeper understanding. What do you think? How do you help students see math as more than just a school subject? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


Aviva: The Slug Sitter

I play many roles in my life. I’m a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a dog owner, a colleague, and a friend. Today though, was the first time that I’ve ever been a “slug sitter.” :)


This morning, one of my Grade 1 students brought a slug to school — along with some worms, a pile of dirt, and some leaves. I have to admit, I was beyond excited! :)

We’ve been exploring nature a lot since school began, and even looking at the overlap between nature and the seasons. This slug was sure to inspire lots of great thinking, questioning, and wondering, and I couldn’t wait! Before the bell even rang, this student was telling the class all about his slug. I even learned about some similarities and differences between a slug and a snail. I also got to hear some great thinking and some excited talk, which soon inspired some wonderful writing.


This slug though wasn’t just a little something to look at and discuss first thing in the morning. He even joined us for all of our carpet times, stood still for O’ Canada, watched all of our work in action, and ate lunch with us. When the students went off to library, I was hired to slug sit. Mr. Slug was certainly an important part of our classroom today!

And while this kind of makes me chuckle now (I never thought that I would be thanked for slug sitting :) ), I can’t help but think about the bigger learning that comes from an experience like this. The slug was exciting. The slug was inspiring. The slug was interesting. The slug was an important part of our classroom and our learning today. How, as teachers, can we always make learning as enjoyable and meaningful as it was today with the help of a little slug? What do you do? I’d love to hear about some of your experiences!


P.S. I found some great online images and some easy-to-read information about slugs that I’m going to use as a provocation tomorrow morning. Let the learning continue!

What’s Wrong With Having Both?

Today, I had some big shopping to do. Tomorrow’s the day that my class is going to make the playdough for our Playdough Store. During the first week of school, I had some playdough out as a possible option for patterning, and I noticed that the students loved it. Many of them spoke about how they used it in Kindergarten, and even started mentioning how much they’d love to see their Kindergarten teachers again. This got me thinking! Why not make math meaningful with a little problem that aligns with student interest? The problem: The Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes want playdough to use for some different patterning activities. They’re asking for our help in making and selling them the playdough to use. When presented with the problem, the students figured out that we needed to first determine the colours that they would want to buy. They learned how to create their own surveys and collect their own data. Then students worked on adding up the totals (both individually, and then grouping them with the totals from the other students in the class). We then analyzed the data and determined the best five colours to make and why.



It’s now time to make the playdough, create some patterns with it to inspire the classes that purchase it, determine prices for the different sized balls, create an order form and collect orders, sort the play money (for change), and collect and count the money that we make (looking at number patterns and skip counting as we count by different amounts). Students are even creating posters to advertise our Playdough Store and a sign for our classroom, both of which involve writing the numerals and the number words in meaningful contextsThis play-based math project has allowed the students to explore different math tools in the classroom: from manipulatives to ten frames to the hundreds chart, as they count totals. They’re also gaining an understanding of addition, as they put groups together to determine a total amount. And they’re so excited about the project that the learning becomes equally exciting.


There is not a lot of technology involved in the project itself, but technology has played a crucial role in documenting the learningfrom podcasts to record the class discussions to tweets to share pictures of the students at work. One student even wrote her first tweet, showcasing a sign that she made for the store. While not the initial intent, students have started taking this project and letting it spill into our Language block, as they’ve taken to writing about our Playdough Store, creating media texts advertising our product, and using resources in the classroom to spell familiar words that connect to our store topic (e.g., colour words). Again, technology has allowed us to document this learning: showcasing what the students have shared and linking this work to curriculum expectations.


I say all of this because when I was at the grocery store this morning buying the flour for our playdough, the cashier asked me what I was doing. I explained that we were making playdough for our Playdough Store. He commented on how much he loved this, and said that it was so nice to see that teachers still do this with the focus being on technology nowadays. That made me stop and think. I’m a big believer in the value of using technology in the classroom. Even in just a couple of weeks, my students have used our iPads and ChromeBooks to find out more about topics that interest them, share their learning with others, record their discussions, and even start creating their own digital storybooks and screencasts. That being said, the students also use paper, pencils, markers, crayons, chalk, paint, and manipulatives every day in class, and there is equally as much value to doing so. I don’t want a classroom that doesn’t include paper, but I also don’t want one that doesn’t include an iPad. Can’t these tools co-exist, and how do we help people see the value in this coexistence? Should we really be striving for paperless classroom, or instead, for maximizing our tools for learning? What do you think? I’d welcome your thoughts! I never thought that a trip to the grocery store would give me so much to think about.



The Suggestions That Caused The Sparks …

In the last couple of days, general suggestions have inspired me to make changes. It all started yesterday during our first Staff Meeting for the year. For those that don’t know me, I love to take minutes during Staff Meetings. I do so for a couple of reasons:

  • I remember more when I write it down.
  • I stay focused on what’s being shared. (These minutes are kind of like differentiated instruction/a good management strategy for the teacher — that being me. :) )

There were lots of informational items shared during this first meeting, but one point that really stuck with me was when the principal, Gerry, was talking about “time on task.” I’m a really big believer in making the most out of the time in the classroom, and continuing to modify my program in order to do so. While overall, I’m happy with how things are going, there is one time that I wanted to change: the end-of-nutrition-break time.

Until yesterday, when the bell went (at each nutrition break), my students tidied up, lined up, put their lunch bags away in their lockers, and then went to the bathroom as a class. There are many things that I dislike about this routine.

  • Line-ups almost always cause problems (in my experience). Students that find it difficult to focus or may have behavioural needs, struggle with standing in line for too long. Before you know it, there’s a problem, and I believe that I created this problem because I had the students stand still and quietly for an extended period of time.
  • When we’re trying to put our lunch bags away, other students are coming upstairs from recess. We need to delay our exit into the hallway, or we end up causing problems for the group that’s trying to pass us.
  • There is always a delay in cleaning up. A student has spilled something. A student has additional garbage to throw out. A student needs to have just one more bite of food. With this lunch bag locker system, the whole class is delayed by one or two students. And since we need to go out into the hallway to put things away, the students aren’t actually doing anything during this delay — they are just standing there waiting to start moving. See Problem #1 for what happens when students are in line for too long. :)
  • Everyone walks down to the bathroom, but not everybody has to actually go to the bathroom. I really dislike full class bathroom breaks. Most of the time, the majority of students are just standing around in the hallway. Because we’re in the hallway and so close to other classrooms, we can’t talk either, so this time is wasted time. While I dislike a revolving door of bathroom breaks — as then students are always missing important instructions – I think that I dislike this full class option more.

And so, with Gerry’s mention of “time on task,” and my reflection on this system, I knew that I needed to make a change. Today I decided to try something different. I had my students put their lunch bags on the empty shelf in the classroom. During each nutrition break, I got a couple of students at a time to go to the bathroom. (The students quickly adjusted to this new routine and monitored the “bathroom parade.”) By the time the bell rang, everyone had gone to the bathroom, and the clean-up process only took a couple of minutes. Usually, we don’t start our lesson or activity until at least 15 minutes after the bell has gone. Today, it only took 3 minutes to tidy-up, and then we were right into learning. What a huge difference! This one change just gained us at least 24 minutes of additional instructional time a day!

I thought that the students would find it difficult to change routine, but they loved it. In fact, when I told them about the new routine, many of them mentioned that this was similar to what they did in Kindergarten. This helped them adjust right away. I know that this is a change that I’ll be continuing for sure. Thanks Gerry for the spark that inspired the switch!

Now my second change was inspired by my previous superintendent, Sue Dunlop. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to interact and learn with Sue both online and in person. While I love her tweets, I also love her blog posts. Last night, I noticed that she published a new oneI had to read it. Her post had me responding immediately.

While I know that she didn’t intend this, I actually felt very guilty after reading her post. I realized that while I’ve gone out of my way to connect with students, I haven’t connected quite as well with the new staff. As I’ve blogged about on a couple of occasions, I really struggle with unstructured social situations. I’m definitely an introvert, and while I can present to groups of adults and attend many workshops and conferences, small talk terrifies me. I also have a non-verbal learning disability, and as such, reading non-verbal cues and knowing how and when to begin discussions is incredibly hard.

I’ve learned strategies that work though — largely, pre-planning and talking myself into “taking a risk” — and Sue’s post inspired me to do just that. So today, even though I was tempted to stay up in the classroom and work during the second nutrition break, I switched my plans. I had a prep right before the break, so I decided to go down a little early and do some work in the staffroom. I thought that I might do better if there was a smaller group of people to begin with, and I’m so glad that I made this decision. Even as I was working, it wasn’t long before I started chatting with an educational assistant, a couple of DECEs, and a teacher. I even learned about some friends and colleagues that we share. The discussions were really nice, and I must admit, I was sad when I had to leave. School is all about the kids, but connecting with the staff is important, as we do support the kids together! Thanks to Sue’s spark, I started making more of these connections today.

What “suggestions” have sparked changes in your practices? What impact have these changes had? I’d love to hear about them! This week has definitely been another great week of learning, and I’m excited to see what next week brings.