Friday, September 20, 2013

A week at Museum School

We are back at school tomorrow after spending a week at the Glenbow Museum School, which is part of the Chevron Open Minds Program.  It was amazing!

The class learned an amazing amount about noticing details, making connections, and thinking critically.   They wrote poems inspired by art, then turned those poems into paintings, they wrote creative fiction inspired by artifacts in the Warrior exhibit, they used their knowledge and abilities to guess the purpose and usage of "mystery objects," they went behind the scenes to look at a variety of interesting objects in the museum storerooms (baby shoes, kitana blades, Patty the Dog, iceboxes, carpet beaters - so cool!), and chance to curate their own "mini-museum" as a completion activity on Friday, using artifacts from Alberta's past.  It was an amazing week and we are so thankful that we were able to attend. 

They enjoyed learning about the history of Stephen Avenue, sketching historic buildings from different angles including from the +15 walkway, visiting City Hall (they thought the old City Hall was much prettier than the new one), and visiting the Famous Five Monument in Olympic Plaza

This is an event that will inspire us at school for the entire year, and beyond.  Thanks to Michele and Marnie at the Glenbow and the entire Open Minds/Campus Calgary Team!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

First Week of School = Complete!

I've recently begun reading an excellent teacher blog written by my friend Shivonne, and I'm going to take a cue from her.  I'm going to start blogging more often, and if those are shorter posts, at least I'm posting! 

My new class of grade 4 students and I had a great first week of school and I'm excited to dig in to some great inquiry learning as we get to know each other better.  We spent some time working on community building and making good choices.  We've read some great books, including my absolute favourite The Three Questions by Jon J Muth, inspired by Leo Tolstoy.  We also talked about how "Fair isn't always equal" and we watched the classic video Animal School by Raising Small Souls. 

Looking forward to next week!

Monday, September 2, 2013

School starts tomorrow!

I am so excited to be back at school tomorrow!  I've been back for a few weeks, moving things, getting things ready, setting up my temporary classroom, but tomorrow...tomorrow, the kids arrive and things actually get started. 

I like to prepare for school by doing all of my housework, prepping meals and lunches, and making sure that I can completely focus on school and my new kids for the first entire week.  I'm excited to get going - good luck to everyone starting school tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

And, a flood comes to school.

June 20, 2013 was the last school day of the year for me.  It wasn't meant to be.  We were meant to finish a week later, on June 27, 2013, but that was the day that the Elbow and Bow Rivers burst their banks and flooded much of my city and the outlying towns of Bragg Creek, Springbank, Morley, nearby reserves Siksika, Morley (Stoney Nakoda) and Tsuu T'ina , after already doing damage to High River, Banff, Canmore and later, Medicine Hat.

It had been an amazing day in Grade 4, as it was my second annual Innovation Day, something that will be continue to be an annual event for me, as long as I teach, regardless of the grade or age level.  It, along with Genius Hour, FedEx Day, 20% time, SOLE, etc, are a day in which we as teachers step back and let children take control of their own learning.  Question/wonder/topic/scope, materials, presentation style, outcome, all left up to the kids.  Of course we may ask questions, wonder on our own, provide assistance with technology, answer questions, but really, the entire project is under the auspices of the student.  What do they want to know/do?  How do they want to find out/do it?  How will they show their learning?  This year, I added a second layer to the project and asked kids to document the process of their learning as well, not just the product.  

There were kids baking various kinds of cakes, just to learn how (scratch, box mix, gluten/egg/milk free).  Kids making ice cream in various ways, to discover which method tasted the best (they conducted blind taste tests of their classmates.  A group of girls who wanted to know why Bob, our class betta fish, goes to the top of his bowl to breathe when he has gills?  Another pair reconstructed the classic baking soda-vinegar volcano, because they'd never done it before and wanted to know why and how it worked.  On top of all of that, we also had a 20 metre long marble roller coaster running through half of the classroom.  It's creator wanted to know how to build a course in which the marble would have enough velocity to successfully complete the entire course.  He played with angles, moved things around carefully, tested and retested, until it was perfect.  I've written another blog post on this topic with more detail on an Innovation Week blog.

After finishing the day in a rush, with a few groups needing some time to finish their presentations and conclusions the next day, we headed out for some games at our Parent Committee's annual Spring Fair.  It was held indoors, as it had been raining off and on for a few days and the weather forecast wasn't promising.  The kids had a great time, played a bunch of games in and around the school, finishing up in the gymnasium for a game of tug-of-war. 

It was during this that we began to realize that the lower level of the school was leaking.  Many families went home, other parents and teachers went down to help.  After a few hours of moving things up four feet, moving things upstairs, sandbagging, and the arrival of the fire department, we had to leave.  As we were leaving the school, we began to realize how widespread the flooding was in our neighbourhood.  There were police everywhere, helicopters circling, broadcasting evacuation notices.  It was a little bit frightening, and quite shocking, to realize the extent of the flooding in Calgary.

School was cancelled in the entire city the next day, and by Monday,  it was cancelled for the rest of the year.  Some of the schools in the public boards were able to go back on the original last day of school, June 27th, for clean up, pick up, a small class party.  We weren't, but we are so incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing school community that a farewell party was booked on Monday, June 24th for us.  I was able to say goodbye to most of my students, and see many of the students in other classes as well.  My son was able to have a great day long play date with most of his preschool class and his teacher, which was helpful because he still doesn't quite understand the concept of summer vacation and keeps asking if it's a school day or a home day.  Last week was full of staff and student wrap ups and that measure of closure was so wonderful to have.  It was a really strange way to end the school year, but it's certainly one that the kids will never forget!

Our city is still affected, and our local State of Emergency is still ongoing.  Most of the areas affected have bus service, train service, power and sewer back on.  Our families affected have had the school community wrap around them and offer help. Our Mayor has been amazing during the crisis and it almost seems like things are back to normal.  We as staff and families can't go into our school yet, but the reclamation crew and insurance company have been busy and things are going very well.

So, school is over, we've had our parties and our closure.  People are rebuilding, with lots of community and volunteer help, and things are going to be amazing when they're finished.  I'm taking this time to focus on making this September amazing for all of my new students coming in to Grade 4 in the fall.  It's going to be fantastic.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

ConnectEd Canada 2013

This conference was, again, absolutely amazing.  My reflections will have to wait for another time, but as I prepared a reflective slideshow with my colleagues for our PD day tomorrow, I realized that there were a LOT of google docs that were shared at the conference and I'm sure that I missed some of them.

Here are the ones that I can find:

Michelle Baldwin, Infusing Inquiry with the Arts Slideshare

Jesse McLean, Innovation Week

Erin Couillard and Deirdre Baily:  Fostering Engineering Thinking 

Dean Shareski and Michelle Baldwin:  Yeah And, Not Yeah, But

Dave Scott: Grade 8 Magazine Project 

Jared McKenzie: Gaming

Gallit Zvi, Hugh MacDonald, etc: Authentic Learning and Student Engagement

Sheena Aboud:  Innovative Language Learning (Keynote)

Dan McWilliam: Augmented Reality 

Dean Shareski:  Who Should You Be Reading? 

Deirdre Bailey:  Creating Community in Middle Schools 

Mardelle Sauerbon, Michelle Hiebert, Amy: Kindergarten as a Model for Other Grades

Neil Stephenson: Digital Portfolios

Jesse McLean,  Jenna Wilky, Gallit Zvi, Brad Arndt: Alternative Classroom Design

Karen Lirenman: The Power of Providing Choice

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Professional Development Keeps Things Going

I am a self-confessed super duper fan of Professional Development (PD).  It keeps me fresh, focused, reflective and continually engaged in improving my teaching practice.

Yesterday, as I reflected upon PD that I have undertaken since January, I realized that this has been a wonderfully full year for me in terms of PD.  I am delighted with the conferences and courses that I have chosen and am looking forward to two more.

I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on my year's PD in preparation for my year-end Teacher Professional Growth Plan (TPGP) review and wrap up.

This year, I have attended:

The Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium (SAPDC) Digital Citizenship Symposium   with guest speakers Dr. Alec Couros and Dr. Maurice Hollingsworth, October 2012

  • This was a wonderful day of introspection, discussion and debate about the idea and meaning of digital citizenship.  It gave me a great understanding of the central meaning of the digital world for my students as they continue to grow and engage in this world.  It also helped me to understand the responsibility that I have as a teacher to ensure that my students engage in the world with good character and conscience, whether digital or "real."
Staff Development for Educators Differentiated Instruction Conference, January 2013

Foothills Academy Learning Disabilities E-Course, January to March 2013

Math Connects Conference, University of Calgary, February 2013

I am looking forward to attending:

#EdcampYYC, April 2013

ConnectEd Canada, May 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Math Connect Conference - University of Calgary

I never thought I'd willingly attend a mathematics conference and actually really enjoy it.

Today, I attended the Math Connect Conference at the University of Calgary, and listened to Brent Davis, Carol Dweck, Rafael Nunez, Daniel Ansari, John Mighton, Diana Chang (OISE) and Elisha Bonnis discuss mathematics education.  Thought-provoking, interesting, relevant, and timely, it was fantastic.

"How might we engage with one another to improve mathematics teaching and learning?" was the guiding question of the conference.

Carol Dweck discussed the fixed and growth mindset ideas of intelligence, which was very interesting.  I've already ordered her book!

She stated that there were three main guidelines in the different approaches to learning:

1.  Look smart at all costs (Fixed mindset) vs. Learn at all costs (Growth mindset)
2.  Learning should come naturally (Fixed mindset) vs. Work hard, effort is key (Growth mindset)
3.  Hide mistakes, conceal difficulties (Fixed) vs. Capitalize on mistakes, confront deficiencies (Growth)

She also discussed the need for a change in the way that we praise students.  Intelligence praise such as "wow, you must be really smart!" instantly made kids "non-learnersm" they wanted a task they could do perfectly, so as not to look dumb.  Meanwhile, process praise such as "wow, you must have tried really hard" encouraged students to continue to try and learn, and they actually enjoyed the difficult questions that they were given.

Carol Dweck stated that struggle should not be a bad word, that students should be taught to persist regardless of setbacks. Kids should identify their weaknesses and work to overcome them.  We should transform the meaning of difficulty, embrace learning and growth and understand the role of effort and change.

Elisha Bonnis also made several interesting points about math learning and teaching during her talk.  She emphasized the importance of practice; our brains need practice to make connections and new neural pathways.  Elisha also emphasized the need to explicitly teach math concepts in order to give kids the tools that they need to discover and create.  She stated that it was not that students had a range of ability in math, but rather that they had a range of math experiences.

During her talk, Elisha quoted John Mighton, who said that "there comes a point when you decide that either you are stupid or the subject is."  Most students choose to believe that they are stupid, not realizing that their mindset is inhibiting their ability to learn and grow.

I have many more notes that I'd love to share, but instead of making this a regurgitation of my notes, I'd like to suggest that you check out #MathConnect on Twitter for the general gist of the conference.  There were quite a few of us tweeting today and it was great to connect with my colleagues about this important issue in education.

Thank you to the organizers for a wonderful conference!  I can't wait to see what happens next in this conversation.

"I can't do math" - or can I?

I am one of those people who used to proclaim that I "wasn't any good at math," I've even engaged in conversations with my mother-in-law in which we expressed our hope that my son inherited the "math gene" from his grandfather and aunt.   I dreaded the classes in which I had to teach or learn math, and thought myself fortunate to have successfully taught grade 3 and 4 math during my practicums.

As Carol Dweck would say, I've had a change in my mindset.  I no longer believe that I cannot or will not learn math, and I no longer look at a failure in math as an indication that I am unable to understand or "do" math.  This is a new development for me.  During my elementary school years, I was part of a gifted pull-out program, which for some unknown reason, took part during math.  I didn't catch up on what I missed, for whatever reason, and by grade 5, I felt hopelessly behind and confused.  My mother asked my grade 5 teacher to help me at lunch time, which consisted of a stack of worksheets, a pencil and an eraser, and the directive to finish them (alone) while my teacher ate lunch in the staff room.  Needless to say, this was not a successful strategy for me.  If I could have completed those worksheets, I would have done so the first time.  I stopped going at lunch and my teacher gave up on me.

Fast forward (quite) a few years, a few more bad experiences, a few more coping mechanisms and the further development of my own belief in my sub-par mathematics skills.  As I began to teach math, I began to see students who were nervous, anxious, worried, and stressed whenever the subject of math came up.  I saw students complain, moan, and even cry during math class.  It broke my heart. I tried every strategy I knew, rephrased textbook questions constantly and spent a lot of time encouraging students to just do their best. I knew it wasn't enough, but I didn't know what else to do and was resigned to the idea that math was a necessary evil that had to be endured.

I was very nervous to teach math during my first year of teaching.  I was using the textbook and cobbling together my own supporting materials, as does nearly every other elementary math teacher I know.   It was fine, but not great.  Everyone was learning and making gains, but most of my students continued to complain loudly that they hated math, weren't good at it, were bored with it, etc.  Enter the JUMP math program.  You can check out the website for more details (and you should), but suffice to say that my kids began to enjoy math, made huge gains, and started working together in a way that I could not have predicted.  Some of my kids began to loudly proclaim that math was their favourite subject, that they could not have snack yet, they weren't done their practice questions, that this was easy AND fun!

As I learned more about the philosophy of JUMP Math and saw supporting evidence in my own classroom, my mindset changed dramatically.  I no longer think that math is a necessary evil, but an exciting opportunity to try out new concepts, practice, explore, and learn.  I am now a firm believer that any child can learn math and have fun, if they have the right supports, encouragement, and practice.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dyscalculia and Dyslexia

This week's topic in my LD course is dyscalculia and dyslexia, which has been very interesting and informative.  I learned a lot watching a TVO clip featuring John Mighton of JUMP Math called "Discovering Dyscalculia." I use JUMP Math in my classroom, in a super simple explanation, it's a fantastic program that uses scaffolded steps to help students learn math effectively and successfully.  I should probably write a blog post about JUMP Math soon....

Anyway, one of the other specialists, Mahesh Sharma, spoke about how you can teach most math concepts with a variation of War.  I LOVE THIS!

First traditional variation - Take playing cards, compare numbers, the bigger number wins. That is number conceptualization.  Second variation - Addition war.  Each person takes two cards and adds them together, the person with bigger sum wins.  Subtraction war, multiplication war, division war, fraction war.  You can use playing card to teach any aspect of math, the same time, the visual cluster on those cards help students conceptualize the numbers!

I have been teaching my students to play addition and multiplication war for the past three years, learning it when I was a student teacher at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School.  It's a great game and kids LOVE it.  We started multiplication this month and I have one student who has been asking to play multiplication war constantly because she loves it so much.

According to Mahesh Sharma, the Mathematical Milestones, which aid in later learning of math are:

-Number conceptualizations
Grapheme - Shape of the number or letter (3)
Phoneme - Sound of the number or letter (three)
Visual Cluster - what the number represents (* * *)
-Mastery of facts
-place value

This makes a lot of sense to me and is very helpful as I work with the students in my class to attain mastery over math facts.  I'd already planned to play multiplication war with my kids tomorrow, and know I know that they will be reinforcing their number conceptualization while they do so!

Encouraging, Not Enabling

I have had this blog post percolating in my head for the past two weeks, about the importance of encouragement rather than enablement.

It started when my son Ben, who is four years old, received a pair of hockey skates for Christmas.  "Sure," we said to his Uncle Matt, "We'll teach how to skate!  It'll be fun!"  Fast forward a few weeks and Ben is now the veteran of three "skating" sessions on the local outdoor rink.  The first lesson, an 8 year old by-stander, clearly a veteran of skating lessons herself, corrected my husband, saying "No, you don't teach him like THAT.  He needs to learn how to move his feet first.  Watch me, I'll show you."  Helpful?  Yes!  Embarrassing to my husband?  A little.  Husband comes home and sheepishly does an internet search for "teach your child how to skate" videos.  Second and third times out, Husband takes along a folding chair, so that Ben can push it around the rink.  This has only fair to moderate success, but enough to be encouraging to all concerned. After all, Ben's just learning, right?

A week later, we had a dinner party with a crew of teacher friends, my "Case" group, from the former MT Program at the University of Calgary.  Before dinner, we went skating at the neighbourhood rink.  After watching Ben cry a bit and insist that he "couldn't do it" and cling desperately to my hand as I walked beside him in boots (so I could help more easily), asking for the folding chair that we'd dutifully brought along, my friend Will skated around the rink a few times, zooming in front of Ben once or twice.  Suddenly, Ben desperately wanted to skate really fast, so Will picked him up and skated around the rink with him.  Ben wanted to go again, and Will said, "Then, go.  You know how to skate."  Ben insisted he couldn't and needed Will's help, to which Will replied, "Catch me and I'll take you around again."

By the end of the night, Ben was skating around the rink by himself, no support (or chair) needed.  He'd caught Will (and every other adult on skates) a multitude of times, and was "zoomed" around the rink as a reward.  During this experience, I realized how often we as adults, whether teachers or parents or other caring people, enable children to achieve success rather than encourage them to do so.

I thought Ben couldn't learn to skate without a lot of direct teaching, modelling, and yes, encouragement.  It turned out that all he needed was a bit of a challenge, a bit of success, and the inner desire and knowledge that he could achieve his goal.   I didn't need to do it for him, he needed to do it for himself.  Ben is on his way to being a competent and confident skater, and if he falls down, he can pick himself up.

When teaching children skills, independence and competence are always the goal, but sometimes we accidentally sabotage that by helping kids so much that they don't know how to help themselves.

I am currently taking a Learning Disabilities and Associated Disorders e-course through Foothills Academy, and have also recently attended a Differentiated Instruction conference through Staff Development for Educators (SDE), which have given me a lot to think about.   Through a talk by Dr. Ellen Arnold at the SDE conference, I can see how often our in-class accommodations and modifications can lead to student success but not independence.  Dr. Arnold supports student self-awareness and self-advocacy.  It makes sense for ALL students to understand how they learn and what they need to be successful.  It makes me think of those popular self-diagnosing personality and career quizzes, which are popular because people want to know who they are.

Dr. Arnold uses Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences to help differentiate and find things that students are good at, however, she does not like to give the kids quizzes or tell them which category they are best at.  Rather, she suggests explaining the categories and giving kids the chance to choose the ones that work best for them and give proof to support their choice because it doesn't matter what we see, it matters what they believe about themselves.  I really like this and I think that this is something I need to come back to, after I let it sit for a bit.

It's been an interesting to think through the ways that I unconsciously enable and do things for my students (and my own child) rather than encourage them to figure things out on their own.