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.
This year I'm going to work hard on valuing and using every minute but not rushing. #kinderyr A fine line…every moment counts.
— Angie Harrison (@TechieAng) September 2, 2013
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.
A special surprise = found today in our Discovery Area! We have lots of questions&wonderments about our new friends! pic.twitter.com/4W8n7nKMDX
— Jocelyn Schmidt (@MsSchmidt_YR) September 4, 2013
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?
Good post Aviva. I was especially taken with this point: Nothing is perfect the first time around! I think we’re reminded of this time and time again in our field. Our students are also struggling with the idea of space and that the desk is no longer theirs, per se, but simply an area to learn. Just like teachers and ideas, some of the students are very open and receptive to the idea. Others are having struggles. As a class, we’re communicating frequently, and hearing one another, so that we can come to that middle ground.
Thanks for your comment! I can see why some students would struggle with this desk/space issue, and these conversations are great ones to have regularly. I’m curious to hear if your students have any suggestions to deal with this. I think that our current solution seems to be working, but it might need to be tweaked throughout the year.
We had a great week! One of the things we focus on to begin the inquiry approach to teaching in our classroom is how to do group work. Our grade 4/5 students created great video clips about working in groups using iMovie. It was fun! I even heard one student say that he didn’t want to see Saturday, he wanted to come to school, instead. Love it! Looking forward to following you and your students as you work with the inquiry approach. Thanks for sharing
What a great idea, Louise! We made some anchor charts about group work, but we didn’t do anything as interesting as video clips. I bet the students loved doing this! Now you have me thinking. Thanks for sharing what you did! I hope that we can talk more about inquiry this year.
I’m actually glad that nothing is perfect the first time around. In my opinion, as we learn and understand more about our students and about our learning alongside of them, we need to adjust our practise to better meet those needs. It’s not about perfection. It’s about balance of the known and unknown. For me as an Ed Tech teacher, this changing environment reminds me of the ” sweet spot” in the TPACK model where my knowledge, my pedagogy, and my tech integration converge. Inquiry is the catalyst and conversation among learners is key.
Thank you for your continued blogging. You help all of us learn together! I am looking forward to sharing in your journey virtually this year.
Thanks Norma for chiming in on this conversation! What you say makes a lot of sense. It’s fun to change with the students as all of us learn more. I’m excited to share my learning adventures this year, and I hope that others will share theirs as well!