The Learning That You Don’t Anticipate

When I do my planning, I’m always trying to anticipate what students will learn, what questions they’ll have, and where we’ll go next. I’m a big believer in starting with the curriculum expectations, and I’m really reluctant to do anything in the classroom that doesn’t align. As such, the learning tends to be tied to the curriculum expectations, but this week, I was surprised when it became more than that …

About 1 1/2 weeks ago, I wrote this post on the collaborative Look Closely Blog about an upcoming math activity. Feedback from Jonathan So and Jason Wigmore on Twitter helped me revise the post, and even add an additional option to the activity: finding out about local food bank needs, and creating an advertisement to try and increase donations to the food bank. This was my first attempt at a Social Justice Math Activity, and I was really eager to see how it went.

This week, I was thrilled to see that a couple of groups chose option #3, and wanted to contact a food bank to find out more about their needs. One group researched and found an email contact at the food bank, and the partner group wrote this email message:


They haven’t received an email back yet, so they started making phone calls yesterday as well.

Another group initially used the phone directory on the Internet, and they found a phone number of a local food bank. They wrote a script of exactly what they wanted to say and the questions each group member would ask, and they phoned. Then came the big surprise: when they said that they were Grade 5 students from Ancaster Meadow School, and they asked if they could ask a couple of questions, they were told, “no,” and the person hung up on them. I couldn’t believe it! They couldn’t believe it either!


At this point, I figured that the group members would ask to switch topics or would search for their answers online, but I was thrilled with what they chose to do instead: they asked to call another food bank. And they ended up calling a lot of them (as did my students that first tried emailing a food bank). Both groups of students made their way through just about every food bank listed on Canada411, and then some. They met with success at a couple, answering machines at a couple more, and failure at a few more than that. The students never gave up though!


Thanks to Tina Zita, an educator from the Peel Board, I have some contact information for another food bank, and students will try calling this place today. We’ll see how it goes! Once again, my Twitter PLN came through to support me and my students, and I really appreciate that! More than that though, I’m thrilled with the learning that I didn’t expect from this activity: that perseverance matters. Students learned that people do not always do as we expect, but that there are great people in the world that want to help us out as well. We just need to put in the effort to find them. Students learned important lessons about character education and all in the midst of a math lesson. This is why we need to have these meaningful learning opportunities for our class!

What unexpected lessons have your students learned lately? How have these lessons helped you rethink what you do and why you do it? I’d love to know more!



12 thoughts on “The Learning That You Don’t Anticipate

  1. Yet another great post, isn’t it amazing what inquiry and good contexts show you about your students. It also gives you a great personal comment on a report card when you talk about I iniative and persistence. I am deeply sadden that the food banks did not answer questions or at the very least say we are busy right now can you call back later. These are the present and future donors and activists of our country, if we turn them off this then donations will continue to keep going down.

    As for being surprised, I am always when I teach through problem solving. The most recent example is the Grinch story that I did with Angela Moses @motechchef and Carol McLaughlin @missmac100. When we started this project I though it’s a great lesson but the language development, creative thinking, and amazing inferences was great. The students really took off. Also with social justice, I find that the students really get involved too because they feel involved. Another story, last year three of my students wanted to get involved in free the children. They didn’t have too much money, so they decided to create art work and then sell them. They raised over $200 for free the children. I was so impressed. Keel up the amazing work and your students will always continue to surprise you.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jonathan! I’m surprised with how the food banks responded as well, but this has been a great learning opportunity for the students, and they did learn that persistence pays off. They were also so appreciative of the people that did help them out.

      It’s great hearing about your successes too! What a wonderful story about the student that raised the money for Free the Children. To think that she chose to do this … Thanks for inspiring me to look at this Social Justice context in math. It made our learning so much more meaningful!


  2. Aviva,
    Thanks for another great blog post. I follow all of them closely, as well as on twitter as you know. The collaboration on twitter and through blogging is very important. I’m glad that you are sharing with your students where you are getting your resources/contacts from. It is important for students to understand that not everyone is willing to help you out, but if you keep trying, their are lots of great people willing to lend a hand!
    In following your posts, I have been learning a lot about the inquiry process and the value in learning this way. I don’t have any specific examples in my class yet. This is my goal for over the break and into the New Year. The unplanned learning that comes from an inquiry are the things that will stick with students that they simply wouldn’t get without the experience.
    Continue doing what your doing, I enjoy coming along for the ride, and helping where I can.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jason! I think it’s great for students to know that making connections is important and we don’t have to do everything alone. I tell my students all the time what I learn from others, and how other people have helped me out. They saw this with this Graphing Media Math Project for sure (and they were excited that these connections helped them get the information that they needed).

      I’m very excited to hear more about the inquiry that you’re doing in your classroom. I’d love to know what you’re trying and how it’s going. What grade do you teach? Maybe we can collaborate at some point as well. I’m glad that I get to learn with/from you thanks to Twitter!


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  4. I believe you are probably very proud of your class, because whatever got in their way, they were determined to get their way. I have been deeply disappointed by that HANGING UP issue. Food banks are supposed to look in for offers, so what food banks did they call??
    Let me say that if I was to re-think about something after I learned it, I would do it plain and broad.
    Just a few days ago, I noticed that a majority of students have been walking out of school on recess. Before, I argued about making the recess areas bigger. But now, for the safety of everyone, I have begun to understand the importance of these corrections. But it’s a shame that we learn from the big things, such as kidnapping in this manner. We leave things off , until something tragic happens, and then we understand.

    • Thanks for your comment! The students called a number of food banks in the Hamilton and Toronto areas. I think that the problem is that this is a very busy time for food banks, and people didn’t have the time to talk to the students. Their way of communicating this to my students really bothered me though. I’m so proud of them for persevering though and finding out information they could use to help people that really need it.

      You make a very important point in your last paragraph. It’s crucial that people think through problems before anything serious occurs.

      Thanks again for chiming in on so many of these blog discussions!
      Miss Dunsiger

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