Tag: Inquiry-based learning

What I Have Learned To Be True

 

If someone were to ask me what I thought my greatest strength as an educator was, they may be surprised when I say it’s not technology as that is what I am most vocal about. While I love technology and use it purposefully in every way I can, it’s not what I would identify as my greatest strength or contribution.

In my five years as an educator and my varied experiences ranging from teaching Grade 2- Grade 6, I have discovered that my strength lies in my strong connections with students. When reflecting on this, it occurred to me that my passion for working with children has always been innate and it took removing myself from the comfort zone of corporate life and embracing what I truly love to understand that education is my calling and purpose.

It’s summer break and those connections have become evident to me from the amount of emails and messages I have already received from parents and students. I also recently read this article “13 Reasons Students Hate Teachers” which made me wonder what it is that I know to be true about kids and what I have learned from teaching that I hope makes a positive difference on the life of a child.

I’m five years in with so much more to learn, experience and grow. These five years however have taught me the following about kids:

1. They are free-spirits.

They say what they feel and notice, do what they want and enjoy the small things in life that most of us adults gloss over. They can mix and match outfits without care or worry about judgement because they love the colour. They dance, play, laugh and can talk up a storm when comfortable because it’s fun. They will pick flowers (weeds) for you because they were pretty and draw you pictures because they look up to you without concern. They live life to the fullest which is something that can cause unease with adults who are unable to go with the flow or appreciate their whimsy.

2. They are funny.

When was the last time you sat down with a group of kids and really and truly listened to them? When did you spend quality time at recess or lunch and just chit-chatted? I will guarantee you that some of the jokes and life experiences they have will have you in stitches. We often overlook that “free” time during school to catch up on emails, photocopy papers, run errands, but if we slowed down and took that time to hear and be a part of their stories, our own lives would be made so much brighter.

3. They are human.

This point is the one that I hold closest to my heart. They are not robots or machines churning out worksheets, booklets and dioramas. We do not get them fully charged every morning nor do we get to plug them in upon arrival to school in order to do “work”. They have full and complete lives that do not centre around school and we must honour this. There will be days where they are tired, hungry, upset, anxious, worried, scared and those are the moments we must stop what we are doing or have planned and talk to them, work it through and support.

4. They are honest.

Yes, you read that correctly, they are honest. If a child trusts you and knows you have the best of intentions for them, they will tell you the truth whether they are in the wrong or not. Without a solid relationship built on trust, honesty cannot be forged. The reason most people lie is because of fear and if they knew that the person they are being honest with cares about them and is not out for punishment but is there looking out for them and wanting to help them be better, they will tell the truth.

5. They are not looking for a boss.

I am a leader, confidante, guide and a trusted adult who is there to support them in learning about the world around them. I am not their boss nor do I ever want to be. This is not to be confused with being their friend either because that too is not my role. A student once told me ” Everyone always nags, nags, nags. Thank you for getting us and giving me a chance to do things on my own.” As an educator, I guide them in the right direction and in making the better choices. I teach them the tools they will need to succeed in life and I will be there for support in the areas they are struggling in both academically and socially.

6. They all have special needs.

Every single one of us is unique and all of us have areas of strength and areas of growth. There hasn’t been a single individual I have ever encountered in my life that didn’t require assistance in some way and this is the same for all students. We provide varying accommodations for all students depending on their needs at certain times which takes a strong educator to identify and apply. Every child deserves an education that allows them to be pushed to the barriers of their understandings. This requires dedication and hard work on our part as educators to ensure we are providing varied activities, assessments and content which target every child with what they require to learn.

7. They possess emotional strength greater than most adults.

When I hear the life stories of some students, my first thought is usually “how are you still able to bring yourself to our classroom everyday and engage in the learning because I know I couldn’t do it.” School is the safety zone away from whatever else is going on in life for a large majority of students that enter our schools. Some stories we know about while there are many others we may never know about however despite the turmoil, they show up everyday. I applaud and honour their strength and every day in our classroom is a celebration of life and learning because school is the one place in the world we have the power to make that possible.

8. They are curious.

They want to know what, how, why, where and who over and over and over. If they don’t, then their natural curiosity has been stopped at some point or they have learned that the schooling system doesn’t give much time for curiosity so why bother. It is our responsibility to ensure they retain that curiosity because it is the foundation for deep learning. They are curious because they care, are interested and looking for a way to understand. If we honour and harness this by not only allowing but encouraging it, they will engage in meaningful and relevant learning.

9. They want to love school.

Note that I didn’t say they all love school but that they all want to love school. Every year they walk into the unknown with a new class and a new teacher which could make or break their entire year. They start the year hopeful and excited because they truly want to learn, want to have friends and want to be a part of the community. We, as educators, have the ability to ensure this excitement remains all year-long for all students. Some start the year with self-imposed labels from previous years: “I’m always in trouble”, “I can’t do math and I am not smart” or “I have no friends, so I don’t want to be here”. We need to see these as cries for help and work with students to ensure they get past them. We need to find out the reasons and causes and together come up with the solutions to help them because deep down, they want to love school.

10. They are longing for connection and meaning.

They want to know that this place they have to go to every day where they spend the majority of their time is for a purpose. School has to connect to their life which means it must integrate the same tools and ideals they use outside of the building, build on their understandings and curiosities as well as be relevant for their future. No longer do we live in isolation and there is no reason why our classroom doors should be closed. Kids are connecting via social media, Minecraft and YouTube videos,to name a few, and yet school remains this isolated entity. They want to know how others around the world live, work and learn. They want to know that what they are learning has a deep purpose and is not just repetitive busy work. If there is a disconnect, they will disengage. The best way I found to do this is by explaining the “why” and having those full classroom discussions about the relevancy and purpose of the learning happening but most importantly by being flexible enough to change everything if need be to ensure it truly is meaningful to them.

The education of our youth goes far beyond just delivering curriculum and providing assessment after assessment. They are children and we are so lucky to have them in our lives each and every day. I cherish the learning I receive from each of them and I am so honoured to work with every child that enters my life. The above is my own personal roadmap and while I know not everyone will agree, it is what I follow in my heart and what I have learned to be true.

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Finding Strength Through Change

changeThe word “easy” has never been in my vocabulary as I continually seek those opportunities which lead me to be challenged and pushed to reach my highest potential. If those opportunities are not to be found, I often create them for myself.

This school year has given me those types of experiences, the ones which are challenging enough to grow me not only as an educator but also as an individual. I am not only learning about who I am as a teacher, but who I am as myself and how this influences everyone that I have the honour of working with and for.

I began this school year in a new city, in a new district, in a new school with colleagues I had never met and in a new grade with new students coming in from various other schools. To say that I embraced change would be an understatement, however I didn’t realize that when you leave yourself vulnerable and open to so much change, that it becomes about overcoming and learning from the challenges that come your way in order to truly grow.

The following excerpt was from my blog post entitled 2014 – My Year Of Change & Growth, I decided to include it here because it was the catalyst for me to finish off this school year strong.

“September 2014 – December 2014

When I first started this reflection I didn’t fully grasp or realize the amount of learning accomplished during the final half of 2014 until I started looking at the photos I had taken. I have grown immensely both personally and professionally in these past few months by being active in my new community and surroundings, by embracing the uncomfortable, by being honest and open about my strengths, strong passions and areas of growth but most of all in my own self-confidence as an educator.

I found myself surrounded by communities of support, expertise and varied experiences in an environment prime for growth. This is what I had hoped for and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, but I have never been one for easy. I have come from close to 5 years of independent teaching in small rural schools. I have always planned, coordinated and constructed all of my own materials, units, and assessments based on my own student needs and most recently, students with whom I had looped with for three years and knew like family. I now was in a team of six grade five educators collaborating together on the learning for our students, in a school almost seven times the size of my previous.

Reflecting on the start of the school year, I see now that underestimated the transition into this. It has been years since I needed to share who I was, my true self, with other educators, as when working within a small district everyone knows everyone. My other collaborations have been with educators who follow me on Twitter or read my blog and have a strong sense of who I am. The individuals within my comfort zone, who are my rocks, all know my deep passion for learning, know how excited I get at the thought of planning a unit with my students and finding those connections for them, know that I am honest, genuine and will ask a lot of questions because I have a need to know the why behind everything I bring into my classroom, but that mostly I care…about everything and everyone all the time.

I learned that when working within a large group, fostering a relationship beyond work is essential for the dynamics because once everyone truly knows one another a foundation of trust and an environment where vulnerability is welcomed can be built, however that this also takes time. Effective collaboration doesn’t happen overnight, it needs to be built step by step by each individual party. My sheer optimism and strong will to ensuring meaningful things happen despite obstacles, is who I am however this is something that is shown over time through sincerity and action. I am learning how to communicate my passions, thoughts and ideas outside of my comfort zone and am pushing myself to hear (not just listen) and understand more and more.

These few months also taught me about the power of student connection and relationships. I had worried whether I would be able to connect with a brand new group, but as the weeks went on I started receiving hugs, drawings, jokes, stories from home, open discussions about their lives and genuine interest in mine, shared laughter and that feeling of knowing these are the amazing kids I am so lucky to know and work with every day. I love the community we have built and will continue to grow.”

The first half of this school year was a blur of learning and adjusting to everything that was around me. I felt lost and at times overwhelmed by the needs and expectations I had placed on myself to ensure that students were receiving the best learning, that my administration was proud of the learning happening in my community, that I was building strong relationships and that I was doing everything to the best of my abilities at all times. This type of pressure can be healthy if its pushing you to grow, but it can also become unhealthy if it becomes so much that you feel like you are barely keeping your head above water. My previous teaching experiences truly helped as I was able to find my balance and learned to create boundaries for myself. I began to make time for myself, to be ever mindful of my presence, to prioritize tasks based on student need, to delve deeply into one or two areas and alleviate the pressure  from others. Taking on a positive learning attitude without fear, worry or doubt (which can creep in when faced with a significant amount of change); to one with self-confidence and a focus on student learning will shift your perspective around.

The amount of learning the students and I had this year has been indescribable. Together we faced the challenges of being surrounded by “new” and grew wholeheartedly as a mini family. Any concern, issue, problem that came up whether in the world, at home or in class we discussed together as a group to solve. A level of mutual trust and respect was established between us and I am so proud of the work they accomplished this year. Their growth, happiness and well-being is what fuels me to keep pushing myself because in facing my own challenges I was helping them to face theirs.

As I had stated in my last post Forging The Path, I have grown a considerable amount this year and my focus has been on learning for students and for myself. I needed to take the time to be hands-on getting messy and experiencing everything that life was bringing my way in order to be authentic in my sharing and in my teaching.

So what new learning did we accomplish together you ask? Here is a brief list of everything we dived into this year all of which were new to my students and many new to me as well:

1. Chromebook use & integration as main resource and access to modes of learning for all students

2. Utilizing the Edublog system for blogging and creating individual student portfolios

3. Accessing Google Drive and creating individual student subject folders

4. Students learning how to blog, connect, use google apps for education, embed items into blogs, create links, group chats and copyright usage

5. Google Classroom facilitation for both students and myself

6. Book Clubs with audio recorded reflections which were then embedded into blogs

7. iMovie Book Trailers and summary videos

8. Multiple feedback loops across all subjects and projects

9. Use of in-depth authentic mathematics projects

10. Inquiry-based Problem of the Week projects for mathematics with detailed reflections and criteria

11. Socratic Circles in Social Studies on which region of Canada is best to live in

12. Full inquiry in classroom chemistry with the use of outside experts

13. Story writing in google docs and publishing to iBooks using Book Creator

14. Global Citizenship through Drama where we teamed up with Trickster Theatre on student research of child soldiers

15. Conducting deep research using media literacy skills and citing digital and print sources accurately

16. Paper Slideshows detailing impacts of Immigration

17. Experiencing the power of innovation and freedom to dream through Innovation Weeks and our trip to the Innovation Lab at our local library

18. Students utilizing metacognitive skills to purposefully reflect on learning

19. GoodReads for reading goals, reviews and connecting reading communities

I’m certain I’m missing more and when I look back at it now, I am in awe of what we accomplished this year. We took risks, we had many technical difficulties, we persevered when projects were taking long to finish, we asked for help when we couldn’t find the answers, we took breaks when our brains and bodies needed them, we cried from frustration at times but looked to the support from others around us but most importantly we faced these challenges and grew with and from them. They changed us for the better and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

 

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The Chemistry Of Baking Bread

Groups made cinnamon buns, chocolate chip bread sticks, white bread, gluten-free cinnamon bread, garlic cheese bread and tic-tac bread!
Groups made cinnamon buns, chocolate chip bread sticks, white bread, gluten-free cinnamon bread, garlic cheese bread and tic-tac bread!

One of the best parts of teaching for me is finding ways to make learning relevant to student’s everyday lives and future.

We have been learning all about classroom chemistry this term and the topic itself is one of the most engaging and exciting units we have delved into so far. The students are learning about chemical and physical reactions, solutions, mixtures and the three states of matter through various hands-on experiments. One of the main outcomes for this unit was:

  • Produce carbon dioxide gas through the interaction of solids and liquids, and demonstrate that it is different from air.

So, the most relevant way for students to understand this concept was for us to get messy and bake our own bread! And just for additional learning, we also incorporated measurement and math understandings while in our Foods Lab by converting oz to ml, g to cups and differentiating between teaspoons and tablespoons.

My students were so eager to learn about cooking and baking because they see it everyday but have not been able to be a part of it yet and most importantly understand the chemical processes that occur when creating a meal.

Their main focus going into this lesson was observing and creating different chemical and physical reactions, solutions and mixtures while working on everyday life activities such as baking a loaf of bread. We learned and brainstormed together prior to engaging in the Foods Lab and students wrote down their hypothesis and their understandings of the criteria. Each group was provided with the same basic bread recipe and they asked if they could add variations. They worked in groups to determine what variations they wanted to include and how that would affect the reactions they were looking for.

Adding and observing the chemical reactions between yeast, warm water and sugar.
Adding and observing the chemical reactions between yeast, warm water and sugar.
Measuring, observing and kneading. Students were fascinated how dry ingredients came together to form dough.
Measuring, observing and kneading. Students were fascinated how dry ingredients came together to form dough.
Rolling, mixing and kneading.
Rolling, mixing and kneading.
Amazed by the carbon dioxide bubbles which allowed their dough to rise.
Amazed by the carbon dioxide bubbles which allowed their dough to rise.

The were absolutely amazed watching the tiny yeast granules activate with the warm water and the sugar. The shock was even more so when their loaves began to rise and through the glass pans they could see the carbon dioxide pockets.

Here two videos of a few of my students sharing their bread with fellow teachers in our school and explaining their learning:

Sharing with Mr. Letendre:

Sharing with Mrs. Krefting:

When we went to cut their loaves, I heard comments like ” It looks exactly like store-bought bread!” and “This is the best bread I’ve ever had!” I told them it sure is…because you made it yourself!

They also all blogged their reflections and observations on our classroom blog: www.psdblogs.ca/dariss

Next up for us is a Bake-Off Challenge this week with three executive chefs where students are going to be provided with $25.00 and will have to make their own food creations that feature 2 chemical and physical changes and 1-2 mixtures and solution.

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Classroom Learning – Feb. 2 – 13, 2015

February is a short month to begin with and we’ve added a lot of events which have also made for some short weeks. However my students know, a short week means even harder work and effort to ensure we continue learning.

Here is a brief overview of the past week’s learning and what we can anticipate coming up!

Language Arts

Student reading groups have been created and they have collaboratively chosen a book they will all read and reflect upon together. Reading time will be provided in class in addition to our daily Drop Everything And Read Time as I truly believe we need to provide our students with not only time for directed reading but also time for reading books of choice to build their love of books. We will be co-creating assessment criteria this week for their reading groups and get started! They have been so excited to begin and seeing this makes me realize that they love to read!

They have also been doing an incredible job updating their GoodReads and also sharing, reviewing and recommending books they have read. Keep it up guys!

We have started reading Wendell The World’s Worst Wizard together, which is a very detailed, descriptive Fantasy/Science Fiction/ Adventure book. This is a harder transition for students who are used to the more general Fiction reads and so we have  reviewed the characters and their roles as well as the settings of each section together to gather understandings. It is essential for students to connect to concepts in books in order to comprehend so its been quite interesting to hear their take on this story so far.

Our narrative writing pieces will start this week based off of Wendell. The students will brainstorm their characters and create brain cloud maps with descriptive details of their character. They will then create a draft outline of their story. This will all be in their Language Arts folder in Google Docs.

Mathematics

We hope to finish our Resort Report this week or early next week. This includes all of the student’s multiplication equation work in their duotangs as well as their reflections. Their entire completed project will be in their Google Docs accounts and also posted to their blogs along with their reflection on their learning and understandings of multiplication. I am so very proud of their work so far and some have even begun multiplying 4 digits by 4 digits using the strategy they feel comfortable with. However, any additional review of those facts at home would be immensely helpful! We will tie in this learning with Division which starts following the completion of this project.

Science

We’ve had a blast mixing and creating liquids and solids. The students engaged in multiple hands-on experiments last week and documented their findings in their Science folders.

Here are a few photos from last week:

Mixing liquids to observe what happens.
Mixing liquids to observe what happens.
They were excited to document the changes.
They were excited to document the changes.
Working together and discussing hypothesis of whether liquid and solid combinations will dissolve.
Working together and discussing hypothesis of whether liquid and solid combinations will dissolve.
We'll reevaluate our findings of the solutions this week.
We’ll reevaluate our findings of the solutions this week.

This week we will be working on an a project experiment called Fill’er Up where students will have to create a device, mechanism or find a way to move liquids across a solid.

Social Studies

We completed our See, Think, Wonders about both the Arctic and the Great Lakes Lowlands regions and these can be located in their Google Docs Social Studies folder. They were fascinated by Niagara Falls as well as the sizes of the Great Lakes. Each student then created two separate Google Presentation documents with each slide titled with a focus question, which they will have to answer with their research:

Examples:

  • How does the land shape life in the Arctic?
  • What are the challenges of developing natural resources in the Arctic?
  • How are Inuit ways of life traditional and modern?
  • How does climate influence quality of life?
  • Why does this region have the largest population in Canada?
  • What makes this region unique?

This week students will be shown how to effectively conduct research using the internet, how to cite their sources and we will review copyright practices and plagiarism. They will also be provided with written texts from which they will be required to pull information and re-word in their own words to ensure they are able to find the information they are looking for but also to create their own understandings of it. Their individual and completed presentations will then be posted on to their blogs.

Art

Art is one of our favourite subjects. We get to be creative, wacky and representative of ourselves. We have been working on a drawn piece called ‘Falling Backwards’. Students had to trace their hands and feet, in which ever perspective they chose,draw themselves, and then decide what would scare them the most if they were to fall backwards into something. They then outlined their drawing with a Sharpie and learned how to use watercolour paint to create texture. Their results are awesome and I can’t wait to showcase them with you once they are completed. Here are a few pictures of their work in progress:

IMG_0933

IMG_0934

IMG_0941Stay tuned for more from LC5B!

 

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Our Multiplication Strategies

We have started to apply our understandings of place value and multiplication and extending our knowledge to multiplying two by two digit and three by two digit numbers.

In our classroom, there is no “right” or “wrong” strategy, it is about what works for you. Whichever strategy a child feels most comfortable with and understands not just the application of but the why of, is the best.

We have shared and learned three different multiplication strategies and the amazing Jessie Krefting has created mini-videos demonstrating some of them. Students do not have to demonstrate mastery in all strategies, but must find one they understand and can apply when required.

1. Standard Algorithm

2. Caroll Diagram

3.  Partial Product and Why Is Math Different Now by Dr. Raj Shah

Students have now started an inquiry math project called Resort Report.

All mathematical applications will be completed on paper so students can demonstrate their understandings, then uploaded to their document for a complete view of their learning.

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