Slowing Down …

I’ve blogged before about my time conundruminquiry takes time, and where do we find this additional time? Integration helps, and since returning from the Winter Break, I’ve really re-looked at our daily schedule and moved beyond teaching to the bells. Even so, sometimes our plans just don’t work.

This week, I introduced the students to this Social Studies Election Inquiry Activity, and they’re very excited about it. They’ve been reading newspaper articles, watching news broadcasts, talking to their parents at home and peers at school about various issues, and exploring the many links on our Government Pinterest Page. Exploring these issues takes time.

  • I’ve had to ask many questions to get students to see beyond the example to the underlying issue. Often this takes multiple conversations.
  • Students have had to look at the overlap between different levels of government. On paper, there is a list of specific responsibilities, but in reality, these responsibilities are often interconnected.
  • Not every issue in the newspaper is a government issue. Small group discussions have helped students critically look at “issues” versus “government issues” … and sometimes it’s hard to tell
  • Students often need to research to find out more background knowledge. For some students, this is the first time that they’ve read the newspaper or watched news broadcasts. They may be missing the prior knowledge needed to understand the content. They need more reading and thinking time.
  • This inquiry activity is not just about listing problems. Students are using the Disciplines of Thinking, specifically significance and perspective, to formulate questions about the issues and guide future investigations.

And so at the end of our reading, thinking, talking, and writing time today, we created a list of problems and issues. Then I asked, who feels as though they’re ready to start selecting the issues on Monday, and who feels as though they need another day to find out more about the issues on the list? 

2014-02-28_19-30-55I was pleasantly surprised when every hand went up for my second option. Not that long ago, students wouldn’t have cared if they knew enough information yet. They would have wanted to select the issues right away, so that we could move closer to the election. As the students are inquiring more though, they realize that understanding the content matters, and they can assess for themselves that they need to read, think, and question more. So this may mean another day, but it’s a day that I’m willing to take. We can’t rush good thinking!

How do you “slow down” to help students understand more? How do you balance the need for understanding with the constant issue of “time?” I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



Sometimes A Unit Is Worth Revisiting …

Just last week, I shared with you the wonderful story of my students tweeting with surgeons during heart surgery. We just finished our Science inquiry unit on the human body, and this seemed like the perfect conclusion. But then a wonderful thing happened. I heard from Alexis from Sunnybrook Hospital, and she said that Dr. Cohen (the surgeon that live tweeted heart surgery last week) would be willing to Skype with us and answer any additional questions. Was I interested? Absolutely!

We’ve been emailing back and forth since I received Alexis’ blog post comment, and then yesterday, she mentioned that Dr. Cohen could Skype with us at noon today. Right now, we’re just getting started on our new Social Studies unit on Government and Responsible Citizenship, and as always, time is precious, but how could I say no? I asked the students, and they were thrilled with the idea, so we moved our schedule around and happily accepted this amazing invitation.

It was interesting, as we haven’t been discussing the human body in over a week now, but the students remembered what they learned and they remembered the tweeting experience from last week. Many of the students spoke to their parents last night about this Skyping opportunity, and some students even came into class today with some questions. Then they wrote and edited additional questions this morning, and we were ready. We also found out the incredible news that CTV News was going to come and record a story on thisThe students were thrilled!

And as they asked the questions, they learned a lot of new information, and even reflected on this in their writing, through their discussions, and in their tweets. In the past, the pressure of “not having enough time,” would have probably prevented me from even having the students tweet last week let alone Skype this week. But sometimes it’s worth revisiting a unit of study, especially if we can make this learning experience richer. In this case, I think that Skyping with Dr. Cohen increased student knowledge about the human body and disease prevention. This is an experience that the class will remember well past today, and it was one that was well worth some additional Science time. (Just look at our student learning in our Storify Story from today.)

When have you chosen to revisit some previous learning? How did you feel about your decision to do so? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


P.S. As an aside, I found it hard to stifle a giggle during my part of the interview segment when I was asked if any students found the heart surgery gross. 🙂  Ewww … that’s gross was how our human body unit started. Thank goodness we moved past this in the end!

Have A Plan

I was thrilled that I got to meet and spend the day today with Jonathan So: an amazing Grade 2 teacher from Peel, whom I’ve gotten to know through Twitter way before I got to meet him in person today. This was a phenomenal NTIP (New Teacher Induction Program) learning experience. When I got back to my school at the end of the day today, I was talking to my vice principal, Kristi, about my time in Jonathan’s classroom, and I mentioned that, “I love seeing teachers in action! I learn so much this way.” And it’s true … but with one important addition: You need to know your focus.

Jonathan was great because he asked me initially about this. I said that I really wanted to see different ways to get students to share their thinking in math (a Board and a school focus) and I really wanted to see examples of the use of technology to support critical thinking (one of my own goals). Keeping these goals in mind helped me as I watched Jonathan and interacted with his students. Here are some of my observations, reflections, and new learning from today:

– During Math String Activities (which I’ve started doing more regularly now), have students put their thumb by their chest when they have the correct answer. Then other students do not get intimidated by hands up, and all students have the chance to continue thinking.

– Try hard to never dismiss an answer. Even when a student gave the wrong answer to one of the math problems today, Jonathan asked the student, “how did you get that answer?” He went through the whole thinking process with the student, and used a real world example to help the student come to the correct answer independently. What great learning! (I wish that I remembered to take a photograph of the sign above Jonathan’s desk that highlights the importance of not taking the thinking away from the student.)

– Model the kinds of discussions you want students to have and model (and reinforce) the vocabulary you want them to use. It was great to hear his Grade 2 students discussing decomposition, and really understanding what it was and why it was a beneficial strategy. While students had these rich discussions in both Language and Math today (and seemed to do so naturally), I have no doubt that Jonathan has modelled these conversations all year long. What I saw today, proves that there is tremendous value in good, clear modelling!

– Always push for critical thinking! Even when doing a Daily 5 type of literacy centre rotation today, Jonathan pushed student thinking further by having students writing about, reading about, and discussing important issues. During reading time, he even had students create a vlog of their reading, listen back to what they recorded, and set goals for future reading based on their reflections.  

– Do not forget the importance of a congress (be it in Language or in Math). I loved Jonathan’s strategy today of having students walk around and sign their name on another group’s math problem that they could explain. This made them accountable for their learning, but also allowed him to choose a different group to expand on ideas and teach the class something new.

– Consider the importance of “thinking” in everything. Even as students played math games today, they were expanding on their thinking and discussing strategies. Many of them also did so without teacher direction. If students are immersed in this climate of thinking, it will become natural for them to ask questions, make comments, and continue to push themselves and others more. I saw this in action today!

– Remember to avoid pre-conceived notions. When we were there today, Jonathan suggested that we go next door to see his teaching partner’s literacy centres. She was having her iPad Time. Okay, I’ll admit it: I was reluctant to go! I am a firm believer in the fact that technology should not be an add-on, and that we should always use technology as a learning tool. When Jonathan spoke of an “iPad Time,” I was expecting to just see “game time,” and this is not what I wanted. But I went anyway, and I’m so glad that I did. What Keri Ewart is doing with iPads is absolutely incredible! She is using the apps as a starting point for meaningful reading and writing opportunities, embedded with lots of critical thinking. I even downloaded four new apps on my personal iPad during the visit today: all linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy, Graphic Organizers, and developing reading comprehension skills. I will definitely be using these apps in class!

– Try to always go on these classroom visits with another teacher. I was lucky to go with two others: my mentee (for lack of a better word) from the NTIP Program, and my colleague and friend, Jo-AnnHaving someone else there provided a great opportunity for dialogue on the car ride home. We could figure out ways to use our new learning in the classroom and adapt Jonathan’s and Keri’s ideas for older grades. We’ll also be there to support each other as we start using these new ideas in our classrooms. Support is good!

Thanks Jonathan and Keri for such great learning today! How do you get the most out of classroom visits? How do you go from “collecting new ideas” to “using” them in the classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts!



My Evolving Perspective

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post on the Olympics that I knew was going to cause some controversy. I was okay with that. I felt very strongly about what I had to say, and I thought that these beliefs were worth sharing. The great thing about blogging though is that it gives us this wonderful opportunity to reflect, and with this reflection, and this sharing, comes an evolving perspective. This is what happened to me.

You see, I think that I made a mistake. Sports still don’t interest me, and I am still not engaged by the sports themselves, but I think that I was very narrow-minded in my definition of the Olympics, and for that, I apologize. As people started commenting on my post last night, I realized that if the Olympics are presented as a true inquiry, then there will be multiple entry points, and all students will be engaged and interested in learning more.

I couldn’t help but use the learning in class today as an example. We just started our new inquiry unit on The Role of Government and Responsible Citizenship. I’ll admit that on paper, the unit doesn’t sound very exciting, but by providing choice on topics (from even just the different levels of government to explore) and immersing the students in the inquiry topic (by turning our classroom into the three levels of government), students are so eager to learn that they even begged me to make a change to my plans for tomorrow so that there could be more Language/Social Studies time. The structure of the inquiry helped students want to learn more. If I had structured an Olympic inquiry in the same way, would this have also been true? I’m now thinking, yes.

Do I regret not watching the hockey game yesterday? NoDo I feel like I missed out on a shared sense of national pride? No, because in my own way, I still experienced it. I kept up with all of the tweets yesterday morning. I saw the photographs. I read the encouraging words and the celebratory remarks. I experienced this Olympic event in a way that worked for me: through the Twitter stream and through the eyes of the many people in my PLN. And with inquiry, these varied ways of “watching” and “responding” to the events would work because even someone like me could have an entry point.

So I’m going to change my questions from yesterday: how do you use inquiry to engage all of your learners? How could you (or did you) use inquiry during the Olympics to make learning meaningful and fun? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! (And when are the next Olympics so that I can have a chance to act on my changing perspective? 🙂 )


But What If … ??

Today was the final day of the Winter Olympics, and it was the morning of the big hockey game: Canada vs. Sweden – who would win? While I was up early writing supply plans for Tuesday (I’m off on a visit to Jonathan So‘s class), I think that the rest of the world was watching hockey. 🙂 I was constantly checking out my Twitter feed and seeing the score updates and the numerous tweets from excited fans. It was a great day to be a Canadian! Boy am I proud of our amazing athletes!

This is where I think that my post might become a little less popular: the truth is that I’m not a sports fan and have limited interest in the Olympics. I actually haven’t watched a single event (including today’s hockey game). I still brought in the newspapers for my students to read. We still did some Olympic activities, and looked at some interesting connections to Social Studies, Language, and Math. Students still discussed the sports with their friends, and I still listened and asked questions.

Do I think that the Olympics have benefits for education? Yes! Watching the Olympics gave students the chance to see the benefits of hard work, goal setting, and determination. There were many opportunities for social interaction, camaraderie, team work, and patriotism. There were lots of very meaningful links to Language, Math, Social Studies, The Arts, and Science. The Olympics were full of learning opportunities. (And I thank our principal, vice principal, and instructional coach for helping me see these varied opportunities …)

But what about those people that aren’t interested? Not everyone is passionate about sports or motivated by the Olympics, and as always, I think it’s important to consider this other side as well. As I listened to family members, friends, and colleagues that were thrilled with watching the Olympic Games, I was often reluctant to share my views. How many of our students felt this way as well? How can we give all students the opportunity to pursue their passions — whether they be fuelled by the Olympics or not? Maybe we need to start with the big ideas that came out of our Olympic learning activities, and let students explore and share their learning about these areas in the ways that interest them. What do you think? How do we meet the varied needs of our learners (even when it comes to the Olympic Games)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!