Find Someone To Talk To

As I continue to explore the possibilities of inquiry in the classroom, I often feel as though my mistakes outnumber my successes. Please don’t get me wrong here: I really, really believe that we learn from these mistakes, but gosh are the successes nice as well. 🙂 So today, when I had a success, I wanted to celebrate!

Today was the start of our Social Studies Mega Murder Mystery. Aligning with overall expectation A2, this mystery forces students to partake in the inquiry process as they ask questions, draw conclusions, and create new learning. Being that it’s the last week before the Winter Break, some students have already left for vacation, and others are counting down the days, so I needed to work overtime to make this activity engaging and meaningful. Here’s today’s part of the activity in action:

I knew that this was a successful introduction when students actually groaned knowing that we had to tidy-up. Yippee!

When I was on prep today, I went to talk to our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, who came in to see part of the activity in action. While I learn lots from reflecting in writing (through Twitter and through this blog), I learn even more from speaking aloud, and I needed someone to listen to me as I worked my way through my thinking. A special “thank you” to Kristi for being this person. Talking to her today (and I really did all of the talking, so for that, I apologize), I realized that the students were very engrossed in the mystery part of this activity, and they were already making predictions about the possible “killer.” They needed proof though … and they really needed to formulate questions around the clues to do so. Time for some teaching.

After the break, before I gave the students a chance to work in their groups, we debriefed as a class. Students shared with me the clues that they found, and then they brainstormed some possible questions to ask. We looked at the questions that pertained to the mystery itself, and then we looked at how to use questions about the clues to help answer these mystery questions. After students shared some good clue questions, I had the groups meet up to develop their own questions. Yes! The plan was working. Groups were finalizing questions related to the clues.

So then the end of the day came, and I was just getting ready to head home. I happened to head into the office to get something from my mailbox, and I saw our principal, Paul Clemens. Paul asked me how the mystery went, and I excitedly told him about today’s successes. I mentioned that Kristi dropped by briefly this morning to see the students in action, and since Kristi was in her office, she joined us for our discussion. This is when she mentioned to me about an accountable talk strategy called, “Challenge.” I never used it before, so she told me about it. With this strategy, one student would share a theory, and another student would challenge him/her with a question. These “challenges” would help highlight problems with the theories and could be good before students share their theories on the air at our Talking Tuesdays Press Conference.

Doing some more thinking in the car on my drive home, I decided that I’m going to do a two-on-two challenge — an option that was discussed after some good questions raised by Paul. Students will then have somebody else from their group there to support them in answering the questions. They’ll also have a partner to help remember the questions asked and any areas of need that they can then discuss with their full group before the press conference. Hopefully students can strengthen their arguments based on the challenge questions. What do you think?

I share all of this because it was only a couple of weeks ago that I blogged about how walkthroughs terrify me, and yet, it was Kristi’s appearance today and our discussions afterwards that helped me “bump up” today’s activity. We all need those people to hear what we did, to celebrate successes with us, but to also to push us as we look for ways to improve. I’m thankful to have administrators (along with colleagues both at my school and online) that do this for me, and today reminded me of that. It’s not that we can’t celebrate the good things that happen. It’s just that there’s value to making the good, better!

Who are your “people to talk to?” How do they help you improve? I’d love to hear your stories!


How A Mistake Can Actually Lead To An #EduWin

Today, I’m going to let a video basically speak for itself. I was recently invited by James Gubbins to be a part of the #EduWin Podcast. James happened to catch some of my tweets about our Mean, Median, and Mode Board Game Activity, and he wanted to showcase this as a weekly #EduWin. As you’ll hear in this video, I can definitely see the engagement factor of this activity, but thanks to my principal and vice principal, I’m considering how to make this activity better (and what we — my student teacher and I — actually did in the midst of this activity to improve it). Sometimes a mistake can lead to an #EduWin.

What are some of your #EduWins? How have your reflections helped improve these activities? A special “thank you” to James and Carlos for including me on this morning’s show!


To Test Or Not To Test: That Is The Question

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now. This is a difficult one for me to write, as my thinking is still evolving on this topic, but I think that I need to share where I’m at. As teachers start to discuss the new Social Studies Curriculum Document more, the one question that I hear over and over again is, does inquiry mean that I can’t give a test? 

Here are my questions that come to mind (and they’re questions that have been in my head for a while now, but I’ve never actually said aloud or written down):

  • Why do we need to give a test?
  • What do we hope to find out from this test?
  • How will the test help the students?
  • How are we going to accommodate to ensure that all students are successful? How are we going to make changes to the test, but still set high expectations for all?
  • How will the test address all levels of the achievement chart?
  • How does the test address our school focus of voice, choice, and achievement for all?
  • If students are not successful on the test, what does this mean?

The truth is, I don’t know the answers to all of these questions. They’re the questions that I ask myself when I consider giving a test or a quiz though — in any subject — and they’re often the reasons that I decide on giving an in-class activity instead. Personally, I find that a  rich-task in class gives me more data about where students are at and where we need to go next than any test ever does. As Jonathan So, a teacher for the Peel District School Board, has said to me before, “A test gives a snapshot in time.” I want more than that!

As a Grade 5 teacher in Ontario, and with the knowledge that next year is an EQAO year, I’m aware that my lack of testing may be seen as a bad thing. My focus on inquiry this year though has helped me develop thinking skills in all of my students. I want my students to be thinkers. I want them to attempt new things. I want them to explore problems from different angles and suggest multiple solutions. I want them to be willing to take a risk, and I want to know that they will. All of these things will help students as they take any test, regardless of “practice situations.” The research on inquiry supports this, and I believe it!

What are your thoughts on tests? When do you give them, when do you not give them, and what do you use as alternatives? What do you do when students are not successful? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


Here’s To One More Change

I think that the one word that best encapsulates everything I’ve done this year is “change.” As I explore inquiry more, I seem to try something, reflect on it, change it, and try it again. Today wasn’t much different.

I’m starting to think that in life, everything happens for a reason. I was supposed to be out at an Inquiry PD Session all day today, but we had a supply teacher shortage, so it turned out that I would only be out for the afternoon. This meant that I got to do the introductory math activity today. Yesterday, we started looking at different types of graphs, charts, and tables, and the best scale to use for different graphs. Today, the students began by brainstorming different types of data that they could graph, and then they created two types of graphs: one that would be best represented using a larger scale and one that would be best represented using a smaller scale. We used Chalk Talk in the hopes that every student would have a voice to share his/her ideas!

After the Chalk Talk, we shared ideas as a class. It quickly became apparent that students had topics that were best suited for small scale graphs, but not large scale ones. They didn’t even know topics that would be best suited for these other graphs. With some prompting, I got them to think about precipitation amounts and total dollar sales for different employees, but this was a struggle. Students were going back to graphs of favourite colours, favourite subjects, and favourite video games. 

Now I see why we have to make math meaningful. How often have we had students graph the same things? Why does it matter that we create graphs on these topics? How do they help us? So what was I going to do now? In 10 minutes, I was on my way to a PD session, and my plans needed to change. I’ll admit that my solution may not have been perfect, but it was the best I could do at the time (I think). I told my supply teacher what I noticed, and suggested that she get encourage the students to make the small scale graphs first. I knew that they would probably only get one graph made anyway (which they did), and I figured that I would re-explore the large scale ones tomorrow (which I will).

The plan worked, but what do I do now? Here are my thoughts: I’m going to collect data (larger figures) that people may actually graph. I’m going to try to get a combination of discrete and continuous data, so that we can review these terms as well. Then tomorrow, I’m going to have students work in groups to graph these figures, and we’ll discuss the reasons why they chose the scales that they did. I also want to discuss what would happen if they chose different scales, and why people (or companies) might make these choices. This could be a nice segue into our Media Math Project (Media Literacy and Graphing).  What do you think? Could this plan work?

As I sit here pondering this option, I can’t help but think back to our Inquiry PD Sessions from today. Yes, I’m the type of teacher that likes to be well-prepared. I always plan a week in advance. I even record my planning minutes here. But all of this being said, my jump into inquiry this year has made me realize that I might plan ahead, but I need to be willing to change based on my observations of students’ needs. So for now, here’s to one more change! 🙂


Just Laugh …

Let me tell you a story:

When I woke up this morning, I decided to check my phone messages (I’m the worst at checking phone messages), and I was excited to hear that my new iPad Mini was in stock. (On the weekend, I purchased three iPad Minis for the classroom from some of the award money that I received, but when I brought the iPads home, I realized that one wouldn’t turn on. I returned it, and with none left in stock, the store had to order one for me. Yippee!! I could pick it up this morning. What a perfect start to the day! Okay Aviva: don’t speak too fast! :))

When I made it to school, I went to class to get things organized. As I do every morning, I unplugged the iPods and iPads and got them set-up. But wait, one of my new iPad Minis wouldn’t turn on. The screen was completely black! Time for a hard reset, but still nothing. Are you kidding me? I sent out a tweet asking if other people have run into problems with the Minis, and Jonathan So, a teacher from the Peel Board, replied. It was his reply to this tweet of mine that changed things for me today.

2013-12-11_19-18-18That’s it Aviva: just laugh! This advice couldn’t have come at a better time. When I went to return the iPad and pick up my new one, the employee said to me, “Well isn’t this strange. This NEVER happens! Have you used iPads before?” 🙂 I had to chuckle.

After some unexpected issues, I got back from the store before school started, and I sent out this tweet to Jonathan. Here’s our follow-up conversation — of which Jonathan’s advice, I took to heart all day today!


Well, let’s fast forward to first nutrition break … I go to check my mailbox, and I notice that our identification name cards have arrived. Have a look at mine! (I couldn’t resist sending my principal and vice principal a tweet for a couple of more laughs — and they joined in with some humour of their own.)

2013-12-11_19-27-57 2013-12-11_19-28-33It’s now the end of the day. I thought that seeing as though it’s December 11th, I should possibly start thinking about Christmas presents. 🙂 I knew what my best friend wanted, so I figured it was easy enough to order online. I was so pleased that I could even manage to find his mailing address and get things ordered so quickly, but then I got the confirmation email: pick up in store. But the store’s in the middle of no where in Toronto, and I have zero directional sense. Why would a company ask for a shipping address, and then ship the product to the store? No problem! I’ll just cancel the order and start again. I go to do so, but wait, in 10 seconds or less, the product’s already been “shipped to the store,” and is ready for pick-up. 🙂 Time to send out an email and see if I can get things shipped, and as I wait to find out more, all I can do is laugh! I guess there’s value in not starting Christmas shopping until December 24th! 🙂

There’s also value in taking the time to laugh. Chuckle hard, chuckle often, and smile lots! Today could have been a terrible day. I could have been frustrated by my iPad issues, annoyed about my school photograph (of which, I usually manage to avoid getting one, and this is what happens when I do — go figure! :)), and angry about the present problems, but instead I chose to smile. I actually had a great day today! Attitude is everything … and it’s at this time that I’m reminded of the way that my principal, Paul Clemens, signs off on the announcements each day: “Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours!”

How did you make today great? How do you use laughter to change your outlook? As Sue Dunlop says, “Happy smiling!” 🙂