Feeling Thankful

I’ve blogged many times in the past about the benefits of connecting on Twitter, but the events of the past couple of days makes me need to blog again. It always kind of amazes me that over 5400 educators, administrators, support staff, students, and parents follow what I have to say everyday. The majority of the people who I follow and the majority of people who follow me don’t even live in Ontario, and I’ve only met a handful of them, but every day I learn from them online.

These amazing people are also there when I have a question or need help. Over the years, I’ve asked many questions: from ones about how to use a specific tool to ones about teaching strategies and intervention options. I always end up receiving great new ideas and differing perspectives.

Not every question is meant for the public realm of Twitter. One good thing about this social media tool is that not all discussions need to happen publicly. There’s also a “direct message” component, which is almost a little like email (but in 140 characters or less). I don’t direct message people a lot, but sometimes I have questions or comments that are not meant for all.

This week, I needed to use this direct message feature. I’ve been trying to look for some solutions to a small issue loosely connected to “education of students.” When I first figured out the problem, I thought back to solutions to similar problems that worked in the past. I also shared my solution ideas with the principal, vice principal, and resource teacher, and asked for other input. I even consulted a team at the Board level to hear their suggestions. And then I tried things out, but my best option is not working exactly as I hoped. That’s when I remembered that I follow an educator on Twitter, Toby Price, that might be able to help. I sent him tweet, and followed that up with some direct messages. I kept my questions general, but asked for some advice.

Here’s the amazing thing: he offered to help. Toby talked to another expert, gathered some ideas, and now he’s going to share them with me. The thing is that I’ve never met Toby. We’ve only ever interacted online, and we just sporadically communicate with only each other. This is not an issue that I would discuss with many others (even in person), but when I thought about it and thought of Toby, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he would help. This is what a PLN (Professional Learning Network) does for each other! I hope that Toby knows that I would always do the same for him.

So a special “thank you” to one of the many incredible people in my PLN for always taking the time to help! Twitter may only consist of 140 character discussions with others, but the power of these discussions far surpass the character count! Why do you tweet? How has your PLN impacted you?


Because It’s About The Kids …

On Monday, I’ll no longer be a Grade 6 teacher. Due to the large numbers at our school, we’re fortunate to be getting additional staff members and smaller class sizes. I will now have a straight Grade 5 class. As a teacher that loves teaching splits, I’m definitely sad to be losing my Grade 6’s and my 5/6 class, but I’m excited for another adventure. I’ve made many changes in my teaching career — from grade changes to school changes — and each one has been wonderful. I’m optimistic that this one will be too!

It’s actually due to this change that I’m contemplating another change. I have a very consistent homework routine (and I know that many people reading this post feel different ways about homework, but this post is not really about that), and one of my regular homework activities is Multiple Choice Mondays. Honestly, my teaching partner, Gina Bucciacchio, and I started Multiple Choice Mondays last year as preparation for EQAO. And yes, I know that many people reading this post feel different ways about preparing students for standardized tests, but this post isn’t really about that either.

Now though, I’m not teaching Grade 6 anymore, and I need to decide if I’m going to keep Multiple Choice Mondays or change it. I vacillated on this decision until one of the meetings that I attended today. We had our first Directions Team Meeting, and while we’re still deciding on our school focus, one of the discussions that we had was on “student choice, student voice, and differentiated instruction.” I’m very passionate about these three things. Just the other day, I met with a colleague after school, and we were talking about some Language activities. I explained that the reason that I’m so against blackline masters and textbooks for everyone is that all students end up doing the same things, and do they really need to all develop the same skill in the same way? I explained to this teacher that I try to always provide choice — and I do — but then I started thinking about Multiple Choice Mondays.

For this homework activity, all students are answering the same multiple choice questions in class. All students are completing the same assignment at home. There is only one right answer, and all students are getting marked in exactly the same way for this one right answer. I say that I’m against all of these things, and yet here I am, perpetuating a system that bothers me so much.

So today I’m going to make a change. Come Monday, we will not have Multiple Choice Mondays, but instead, Marvellous Media Mondays. Each week, students will examine various media texts. They might compare different types of texts. They might look at point of view in these texts. They might ask questions and “inquire” based on these texts. All students will be encouraged to explore their passions by exploring media texts that align with these passions. This activity will link to our TLCP. It will link to Learning Goals and Success Criteria, and it will include lots of reading, writing, listening, and thinking. It may even include The Arts, as I’m teaching Visual Arts now, and what a great opportunity for integration. This activity will also include student choice, student voice, and differentiation.

And yes, I can still work on multiple choice questions (in class, in small groups, and when opportunities arise), but if I’m looking at students first, I think that this is a change I need to make. What do you think?


My “Positive” Goal

As I’ve blogged about before, I really admire my principal, Paul Clemens, and his ability to always stay positive. Our new vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, is another very positive role model in the school, and I’ve decided that I really want to work on always having a positive attitude.

I go to school every morning with a smile on my face. I love my job! Truthfully, I’m happiest in the classroom. My students are fantastic, and I always continue to be amazed at what they share, how they interact with each other, and how much they’ve learned. When these “a-ha moments” happen in class, I break out into a big grin, and I remember again about how much I love to teach.

I don’t just feel this way with my own group of Grade 5’s and 6’s. As a Junior teacher at the school, I’m fortunate to provide six periods of prep coverage a week: from JK-Grade 4. I teach Health and Media Literacy, and I love doing both. I’ve really worked hard at using inquiry with all of the students, and it’s amazing to see the students excited to learn and eager to ask questions. Every day I have fun, every day I learn something new, and every day I have a lot to smile about!

But teaching, just like other professions I’m sure, has a lot that happens behind the scenes. It’s the politics of teaching that can sometimes make me feel less than positive. I don’t like feeling this way. So for the next nine months of this school year, and for hopefully numerous months past that, I’m determined to stay smiling. Here’s my plan:

  • I’m going to take a few minutes at the end of every day (and maybe some time over the nutrition breaks) to look over my daily tweets of student learning. Seeing what students are doing and sharing makes me happy, and this is a good reminder about why I should keep smiling.
  • I’m going to take regular opportunities to peruse the nice notes, emails, and blog post comments that I’ve received from parents, teachers, and administrators over the years. Reading happy things makes me happier too!
  • I’m going to surround myself (whenever possible) with positive people. This may mean making choices about where to eat and when to leave group discussions.
  • I’m going to enjoy every minute that I have in the classroom every day with every one of my students. I’m going to have fun, learn lots, and remember that I teach because of every one of the students in that room.
  • I’m going to continue to have fun during bus duty. We have lots of buses at our school, and each has a different animal name. As the Primary Bus Duty Teacher, I get to dismiss the students from the gym. I love having the “bear bus” growl at me each day and the “parrot bus” fly their way home. Letting the “little monkeys” onto the Monkey Bus first, also makes me chuckle. 🙂 It’s good when duty time can be fun time!
  • I’m going to continue sharing ideas both online and in-person (at the school level) to help people see that there’s more to what I do that just “teach technology.” I’m going to remember that change takes time but it can happen.
  • I’m going to remind myself that I’m a good teacher that cares about students and wants to see student success. This doesn’t make me perfect, and I’ll continue to learn new ways to help support students. With this reminder though, I’m not going to let comments from others make me feel like less of a teacher.

I don’t know if this is the perfect plan, but it’s my plan for now, and I’m dedicated to making this work. How do you stay positive? How are you going to “keep smiling” throughout this school year? I’d love to hear your ideas!


More On Math

Yesterday, I started a new unit in math on addition and subtraction. Before beginning the teaching part of this unit, I gave the students a diagnostic assessment from Leaps and Bounds. This morning, I marked the assessment, and I was surprised to find out that nobody got perfect and that almost every student struggled with subtraction with regrouping.

Looking at the answers, it appears that most students know what they need to do to regroup and when they need to regroup, but with a focus on place value, many students are not just moving over the one, but moving over a 10 or 100. Then they’re struggling with then completing the question correctly. This is actually an error that I haven’t seen before, but one that I saw with much of the class this year. Now I’m figuring out the best way to address this.

I started with posting this Khan Academy video on my blog, so that parents can watch it at home with their children. This may be a good way to show students various ways to regroup, and allow for some additional practice at home, as well as the practice that they get at school.

Subtraction 3: Introduction to Borrowing or Regrouping: Introduction to borrowing and regrouping

I also think that I need to model how to solve subtraction with regrouping questions, and then give students a chance to practice this skill with solving various questions: regrouping once and regrouping twice. Many students may just need a quick reminder of what to do, and a short lesson followed by some practice time could assist them. Others may need more support, and this is where I’m going to need some guided math groups, where we can do more questions together and talk through the steps in the process.

For the few students that can subtract with regrouping correctly, they can work on showing and explaining their work in different ways: using both the traditional algorithm as well as some mental math strategies. I noticed that most students only solve the problem in one way and do not check to see if they’re correct. Focusing on the benefits of various solutions may help students see beyond just the “one right answer.”

Marking these diagnostic assessments this weekend reminded me that we cannot forget about the value of computations in math. Students need to know how to solve problems correctly and they need to understand that their answer is reasonable. I always pay attention to the four levels of the Achievement Chart when planning activities for any unit, and I will continue to be cognizant of this, but I’m going to ensure that students have a strong knowledge and understanding of math facts, so that they can think, communicate, and apply their ideas well.

How do you develop computation skills in students without making it just about rote learning? How do you balance knowing the math facts with thinking, communicating, and applying math skills? I’d love to know your thoughts on this!


After A Week

The summer gets me thinking and excited about trying new things based on my goals at the end of last year. This summer, I actually blogged more than I ever have before about my plans for the new school year. While the blogging got me eager to begin, I started to wonder if what I wrote online would work in actuality. After finishing my first week back at school, here’s what I learned.

Inquiry is awesome! Students benefit so much from posing questions, uncovering the information using various online and offline sources, and making sense of this information. They are so much more engaged in the classroom activities! Since inquiry also allows the students to pose their own questions and wonderings, they all have an entry point for learning. I love hearing about what they’ve already discovered.

Explicitly teaching problem solving strategies in math really helps all students succeed! At the end of last year, the math facilitator for our school spoke to me about the benefits of this approach to math, and so this year, I decided to start right away with introducing problem solving strategies. This week, I’ve taught students how to Draw Pictures and Diagrams, Make an Organized List, and Look for Patterns as they solve problems. Each of these strategies linked with our place value problems, and every day, we reviewed the different approaches and looked at ways to use all of them. Already, I see students approaching problems knowing that they have strategies they can use to help them solve the problems. I’m excited to see the impact of this on student achievement!

Consolidating knowledge is important. Each year, I have big plans to have regular math and language congresses, but somehow, that never seems to happen. Then on the night before the first day of school, I saw this tweet from Angie Harrison: a fantastic Kindergarten teacher with the York Region District School Board.

I have been thinking about Angie’s words a lot, and I’ve been trying to slow down and ensure that I take the time to consolidate the learning. Every day, we have math and language congresses, where we share ideas with the class. Students are more eager now to contribute to these discussions. Sometimes it takes time away from something else to ensure that we have these conversations, but this is time well spent.

Nothing is perfect the first time around! Even as teachers, I think that we need to be willing to change. In this last blog post of mine, I discussed my rationale behind some of the decisions I made in the classroom. Over the week, I’ve made a few changes though. On the first day of school, a student asked me, why can’t we leave some of our notebooks in our desks, as long as we can share the space? Good question! Her point made sense, so I had her suggest the idea to the rest of the class. The students sitting at the guided reading table asked for a bucket for their things, and now they keep their books in there. A few students liked the empty desk idea, and they put all of their belongings in their lockers. I guess this is the “differentiation” piece. I also had a couple of students suggest desk changes: one because it was easier for him to see in another area of the room and one because she could work better in another place. Both changes made sense, and both students switched spots without issue. I guess that if we’re trying to create the classroom together with our students, we also need to be willing to change with our students.

We can learn from anyone. Even though, I teach Grades 5 and 6, I’m thrilled to have people in my PLN that teach different grades (from JK-university). It’s amazing how much we can learn from each other! Just yesterday, I met with my Grade 5 and Grade 6 teams to plan for next week, and we started talking about Science. One of the Grade 5 teachers mentioned experiments that she’s doing with her students. Since I’ve seen such benefits with the inquiry approach, I really wanted to continue with this approach in Science. I didn’t know how to do so and ensure that the students got the Science experiment time as well.

Then, this morning, the answer came to me in a tweet. Jocelyn Schmidt, a terrific Kindergarten teacher from York Region, shared photographs of her classroom Snail Inquiry.

Of course! There was the answer to my question! Jocelyn brought in snails, and had the students examine them up close and record their wonderings based on their experiences. Why couldn’t I put Science experiments into containers, explanation pages into sheet protectors, and experiment materials into other containers? Students can then examine the final experiments and record their observations, but also experiment on their own. It’s combining inquiry and the scientific method. Michelle Fawcett, a fantastic Grade 5 teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, shared some great Grade 5 Matter experiments with me. All I need to do is pick up the materials tomorrow! Yeah!!

But what about my Grade 6’s? That’s when I decided to re-read the curriculum expectations, and I saw the link between biodiversity and the environment. I had Jocelyn’s snail picture in my mind, and that’s when I thought of collecting grass, flowers, maybe some seeds, and small bugs. I can now help visually represent biodiversity to the students, and then they can learn from what they see, as well as what they read and hear. A special “thank you” to a Full Day Kindergarten teacher that helped me plan my Science explorations for the week. 🙂

This has been an outstanding week at school, and I can’t wait to see what next week will bring. How was your first week at school? What did you learn?