Contemplating Math

I love that our Board has a Math Delivery Plan. There are numerous math strands and expectations, and with the use of this plan, all teachers can ensure that they are teaching what needs to be taught each term. While this plan highlights what needs to be taught, it does not highlight how this content needs to be taught. And it’s the “how” piece that I’m thinking about now.

A couple of days ago, I had a wonderful discussion with our Math Facilitator, AJ Ingrassia, and one point that came up was about how we teach math to students. Yes, there’s a bigger push right now for teaching math through problem solving, but do we teach students how to problem solve? Imagine if every teacher from Kindergarten to Grade 8 focused on the problem solving model, and on teaching students specific strategies they can use to solve math problems. If students had access to these strategies on a bookmark that they could carry between home and school — or if this bookmark was even placed on the school website where students could access this bookmark at home — imagine the change that could happen in math. Now teachers, parents, and students would all be on the same page. They would all be speaking the same math language.

I love that our school and Board continue to focus on meeting the needs of all students. This is part of the “academic optimism” that John Malloy, our Director of Education, references in the Annual Operating Plan. Yes, without explicitly teaching and referencing this problem solving model and list of strategies, MOST students are still following the steps, but what about the other students? Would all students meet with success if we changed our math teaching practices? 

I’m not sure, but I think that this is something worth trying. It would mean a school-wide focus, and ideally a Board-wide focus, on problem solving strategies, but the benefits could be huge. What do you think? Have others tried this before? What did you notice? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


The Good And The Bad

There has been lots of talk on Twitter lately about EQAO. Students across Ontario started writing the test this week, and educators had lots to say about it. I have been reading many of the tweets, and I even replied to a few, but overall, I’ve stayed quiet about this test. You see, one thing that initially excited me about moving from Grades 1 and 2 to Grade 6 was that I would finally get to administer EQAO. For years, I’ve been dissecting the data at staff meetings and making changes to my program based on the results, and now, I was going to be directly involved in the process. I was thrilled!

I think that for many students, EQAO provides the opportunity for them to show what they’ve learned throughout the year. The results can allow teachers to reflect on their teaching practices and look at changes to make to meet with more student success. I don’t think this is a bad thing. In fact, even as a Grade 1 and 2 teacher, I used our staff reflections to modify my program delivery model, and I think that the changes were good ones.

But my problem with the process comes from watching students with special needs writing the test. It was with this thought in mind today that I commented on Andrew Campbell’s blog post about EQAO. Here’s a snapshot of what I said:



The thing is that all year, I’ve helped students on IEPs (Individual Education Plans) realize why this plan is in place for them and how it helps them learn. All students now know that with the right accommodations and modifications, they can be successful. The are seeing this success. And then EQAO comes along, and these students cannot receive the same accommodations and modifications that they’ve had all year long. Instead of realizing what they can do, they realize what they can’t.

Now I don’t mark the test, and I have no idea how any of the students will score, but regardless of the mark, it’s the feeling from writing the test that’s bothering me right now. If the purpose of EQAO is to gather data to help bring about change, then do we need to re-examine how some of this data is being gathered? What if students could receive a list of formulas? They would still need to use them correctly, but at least those students with memory difficulties would not be penalized because of their needs. What if teachers and/or scribes could reword the question if students don’t understand it? Those students with language needs do not only struggle with the reading and writing component of the test, but also the math problem solving activities, where understanding language matters. Even just these couple of changes could help.

It was actually in the midst of discussing these very issues with our Math Facilitator, AJ Ingrassia, that I saw the good this year in EQAO. He was talking to me about the importance of posting and explicitly teaching a problem solving model to all students — from Kindergarten to Grade 8. While many of the strategies on the problem solving model that I found on Edugains are ones that I used this year, I didn’t post this model. I had the students discuss the strategies that they used, but I didn’t spend enough time going through options of what students should do independently if they didn’t know how to solve a problem. How could the strategies help them then? The funny thing is that I spent a lot of time on this very topic when I taught Grades 1 and 2, but then I made the assumption that all of my Grade 6’s already knew all of these strategies. I think that this was a wrongful assumption on my part. Even if the students did know all of them, how did I do throughout the year at directing them to use these strategies or selecting the best one when they didn’t know what to do? I made a mistake. Will this affect EQAO scores? Maybe or maybe not, as looking over the tests as they were handed in, I noticed that many students used these strategies regardless. Explicitly teaching this problem solving model though, could change this “many” to “all.” Our discussion today about EQAO resulted in me re-looking at how I teach and looking at something I will be doing differently. I think that’s a good thing.

It’s after a day of much reflection that I’m curious to hear your thoughts on EQAO. What are the benefits and drawbacks of this test? If we have a say, what changes could we make to turn these negatives into positives?



One Year Later …

My Aunt And Uncle

My Aunt And Uncle

A year ago tomorrow will be the one year anniversary since my uncle passed away. Last May was one of the hardest months of my life. For weeks, my uncle suffered as he fought relentlessly against illness and infection. Every day was full of tears and uncertainty, and the only gift that came with his passing was the fact that he was no longer suffering.

Since I’m at home today, I lit the yahrzeit candle this morning in memory of my Uncle Benny. I can’t walk into the kitchen without looking at the candle and thinking about him. He taught overseas for years, so I hardly ever saw him, but when he came to visit, I always enjoyed spending time with him. 

  • I remember sharing a soup and sandwich with him at a local diner as he told me stories about my mom as a child.
  • I remember going on a walk with him at Niagara on the Lake and talking about life. 
  • I remember driving around in a car with him and my other aunt and uncle, and Benny teasing my aunt about her driving skills. Benny always made me laugh.
  • I remember going out for dinner with him and the rest of my family. He talked all the way through dinner. He told us about teaching, about being a grandpa, about his daughter, and about his childhood memories. Benny told the best stories.
  • I remember talking to him for hours at my sister’s wedding. This was the last time that I saw him.

Oh, I wish that I could talk to Benny again! I’m sure that he would have lots to say about me switching grades from Grades 1 and 2 to Grade 6. I’m sure he would give me advice from his teaching experiences. I’m sure he would want to hear all about what I was doing, and if I was happy. I’m sure he would tell me that my students were lucky. Benny was always so supportive.

Benny, the candle burns brightly today for you. It reminds me of the life you had, and how much I miss having you in my life. You are, and will always be, in my heart. I love you, Uncle Benny!


My Hopes and Wishes

My Classroom Is Ready For EQAO

My Classroom Is Ready For EQAO

Next week, my Grade 6 students start writing EQAO. This is my first year teaching Grade 6, and I’ve definitely been thinking a lot about the test this year. Teachers, administrators, and parents feel many different ways about this test, and over the course of the year, I’ve felt many different ways about it too. This blog post though is not going to be a discussion on standardized testing. Instead, it’s going to be my hopes and wishes for next week.

I hope that all of my students will take a deep breath, remain calm, and not let a test change them.

I hope that all of my students will do their best (and then some) because this is what they’ve done all year long.

I hope to see the impact of what I’ve taught the students this year in the taking of this one test.

I hope to see the impact of inquiry, self-directed learning, project based learning, and collaboration in the completion of one test that does not allow for any of this, but hopefully benefits from all of it.

I hope to see “success” because I know that it’s possible.

I hope to see “growth” because I know how much the students have learned and I’m proud of all of them.

I wish that I wasn’t so focused on a test, but it’s hard not to be. This test though has had me reflect on my teaching practices all year long. It’s driven me to find ways for all students to understand all content, and to expand on their thinking in all that they write and all that they say. It’s had me delve deeper into expectations, see the links between these expectations, and have students see these links as well. This test has made me realize how I would teach other grades differently if I were to teach them again. I think that it’s made me a better teacher, and I wish, that what I learn after administering this test will make me an even better teacher for years to come!

How have standardized tests changed you? What are your “EQAO hopes and wishes?” For all of you writing next week, I hope and wish for the best!


It’s About Character

Yesterday was Track and Field Day at our school, and since only students from Grades 3-8 compete, yesterday was the first time that I was involved in this special day. My memories of Track and Field go back to when I was a child, and based on my experiences, I figured that yesterday was mostly about demonstrating athletic skills. The strongest and the fastest students would move into the finals, and the weakest and the slowest students would hopefully just enjoy the outdoors. From what I saw from my “timing post” though, yesterday’s Track and Field Day was about so much more than demonstrating skill: it was about building character.

My view changed all within the first couple of races. In one of the heats, there were six students, and two of them have autism. Their EAs spoke to them about how the race works, and then all six students got ready to compete. Even though the two students with autism were not winning the race, they had a huge cheering section of teachers and students encouraging them to keep on running. When one of these two students chose to walk half of the way, instead of leading her off of the track and starting the next race, she had people walking alongside her so that she could finish the race too. Awesome!

Then I noticed one of junior students that I know standing off to the side with his mom. He was incredibly upset. Knowing that he’s very athletic and incredibly competitive, I figured that he did not do as well in his first race as he had hoped. A few minutes after I saw him, I noticed that his brother was competing in a race. Despite how upset this older student felt about his own scores, he stood on the sidelines, cheered his little brother on, and watched him move up all the way to second place. The moment his little brother crossed the finish line, he ran up, gave him a hug, and congratulated him. Now that’s character.

In the afternoon, I watched many students in my class race. I have a huge number of very athletic and very competitive students, and in most of the races, they were competing against each other. Even though they all wanted to win, and some even pushed themselves to cross the finish line just in front of their friends, the moment that they finished, they ran up, gave each other a hug, and congratulated each other on a job well done. They were genuine and kind, and win or lose, they showed character.

And then I watched an older student with autism running his first races today. For all of his races, he had one of his friends running beside him. In the last race, his friend was also competing. Even though this other student wanted his best personal time, as he ran around the track, he continually slowed down, turned around, looked back, and ensured that this other boy was running too. These actions may have prevented this student from getting in the finals, but they showed his incredible character.

All day long, the track sidelines were full of students cheering each other on, encouraging some more reluctant students to compete, and celebrating in all successes (be it even finishing a race that they didn’t think they could run) instead of just being the best. A special thank you to the phys-ed teachers for coordinating all of the events yesterday and to the parents for coming out and supporting all of their children yesterday. Track and Field Day was like a community event, and I loved being a part of that community!

What examples of “good character” do you notice in your school? How do we get all students to demonstrate this “good character” even when it’s difficult to do? I love all of the examples of “good character” that I saw yesterday, but I’m now thinking about how what I saw came to be, and how we can bring about this change in everyone. Thoughts?