Two Awesome Jonathans – Lots Of Great Learning!

Yesterday, I really saw the value in sharing through Twitter. In the morning, my Grade 5’s were working through a fraction problem shared by Jonathan So: an amazing Grade 2 teacher with a passion for math. Jonathan’s helped me a lot with our fractions unit thanks to all of the sharing that he’s done online. He’s also eager to chat math at any time of the day, which assists me when I’m planning as well as problem solving.

In class yesterday, as the students were working through the sub problem (shared here), I was tweeting out the learning. It didn’t take long for Jonathan So and Jonathan Rajalingam (another wonderful educator on Twitter) to jump in with questions and comments. I started posing these questions to my students, and they started replying on Twitter and/or discussing their answers aloud. With more educators contributing to the discussion, the student thinking improved too, as I wasn’t the only one thinking of and asking the questions.

Sometimes it can be difficult to open our classrooms in such a public way. I think that the students though benefit the most from the expertise of many, and Twitter easily allows for connections between classrooms, educators, and administrators. How do you provide this “window” into your classroom? What benefits have you seen for your students? Thanks to my incredible Twitter PLN for always helping me and my class! We’re better because of you!


About MORE Than The Teachable Moments!

Yes, I’m a planner. I have detailed daybook plans for the week and long-range plans for the year. I like to be organized, and planning helps me with this. But inquiry has made me re-think the way that I plan. Even though, I like my detailed plans, I know that the week rarely looks like what I’ve indicated in my daybook. I know that every night, I re-look at what the next day will bring, and then in the midst of teaching and learning, I reconsider things again.

Inquiry provides lots of opportunities for formative assessment, and observations throughout the process as well as student interests help determine next steps. Much inquiry happens “in the moment,” but my vice principal‘s blog post from the other night, made me think more about this. Here’s the truth:

  • I know that I miss things in the moment. I think that I’m asking all of the important questions, but I’m not. As a teacher, I try to give my students “wait time,” but I also need it. Sometimes I need to think about a topic overnight and explore more on my own, so that I can develop the very best questions.
  • I know that I need to re-read curriculum expectations. I always feel as though I know the overall ones well (I spend a lot of time looking at them), but in the heat of questioning, I sometimes forget. Sometimes student interests and curriculum expectations don’t align, and I need to consider ways to help connect them. I have the curriculum documents on my iPad, and I’ve consulted them even in the midst of a discussion, but good thinking about expectations takes time. 
  • I know that I don’t work in isolation. Often I need to discuss our inquiry topics with others. Kristi, my vice principal, regularly provides me with these “thinking provocations,” and even reminded me of this in her tweet last night.

2014-05-29_18-19-12Yesterday was the perfect example of my dilemma when it comes to inquiry. Yesterday, my students shared their Passion Projects that they’ve been working on at home for the past month. One group of students baked and then made numerous connections to Science and Math. This yummy Passion Project had the class very interested yesterday in the topics of baking and chemical reactions. Just after Bus Duty, I happened to mention to Kristi how the students enjoyed sharing their baked goods with her. That’s when she told me that she gave my students some homework. She asked, “Why must every recipe that includes baking soda also include salt?” Interesting question. I didn’t know, so I told her this, and she explained. That’s when I connected to the volcano experiment that another group did and said, “I wonder if salt would help minimize the baking soda and vinegar reaction in a volcano.” Kristi liked that question, and came back at me with, “I wonder what would happen if you used all of these ingredients [i.e., baking soda, salt, and vinegar] together.” I told her I knew what we were doing tomorrow.

That’s when I emailed myself a list of ingredients to bring into class, and I started to do some Google searching. Wow! Little did I know that there is actually a link between this experiment and our current focus on the environment. Baking soda, vinegar, and salt actually create an eco-friendly cleaner. I didn’t realize that a short conversation with my vice principal would lead to so much new learning for me. And that’s when I knew that it was okay to re-explore an inquiry that was actually over now. In the midst of all of the excitement (and noise) from yesterday, I never got to ask these important questions. We didn’t get to extend the learning, and we didn’t get to make the connection to our new Science learning.

Today, I’d see if an inquiry really could be left and then re-explored. And you know what … it can! The students started talking about the baking soda, vinegar, and salt as soon as they walked into the room and saw the provocation. I heard students make connections to what happened yesterday with the volcano, and then they got excited to think that we might be making another volcano. As you can see in our Storify Story from today, the learning extended way beyond volcanoes, and helped students realize the connections between acids, bases, and neutralizers. Then at lunch, Kristi asked me another question about other times salt could be used as a neutralizer, and the in-class conversation continued before the students headed off to French.

I may have created today’s “moment,” but the learning was just as rich — if not richer — than the teachable one from yesterday. Maybe what we all need is a colleague (online or in-person) — be it a fellow teacher, an EA, a DECE, or an administrator — that can push us to see things in new ways, reconsider our questions, and make a prior learning experience, a new and exciting one. Will this always work? Probably not. Do all inquiries need to be re-explored? I think no. But today proved to me that inquiry can be about more than just teachable moments, and I thank Kristi for this. What are your thoughts on this topic? What role does — and should — “planning” play in inquiry? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



Dear Students: I Understand!

Dear Students,

Today, I get it! Today I understand why sometimes it’s hard to focus. It’s not your fault. You are trying to listen. You are trying to pay attention. You are trying to take it all in … but maybe that’s more difficult than I once thought.

Today you shared your Passion Projects with four classes of students. The Grade 6’s were writing EQAO at the time, and you wanted to stay quiet for them. None of you shared your work in the pod. We kept the doors closed to keep the noise in … but boy was there a lot of noise!

Between those of you speaking as you shared your work, the visiting students that asked questions, and the numerous students wandering around, the noise never stopped. Two groups were playing music: one student was playing a recorder song and one student was playing the guitar. Then there were the three videos people showed, the chairs that were constantly moving around, and the sound of lots of little feet as students walked from display to display. I didn’t realize that feet could be so loud.

Let’s not forget about all of the visuals in the room too. There were the display boards, the art pieces, the PowerPoints, and the movies. There were the baked goods, the hamster (in the maze), the volcano, and even the tsunami in a fish tank. Walls were covered in posters, and desks were full of objects. There were lots of bright colours and large visuals.


Students Sharing Their Passion Projects

There were also the lights on, the windows (and blinds/bulletin boards) open, the computer screens a-glow, and many iPods and iPads bright with colour as you showed your various media texts. I can actually feel my pulse racing as I write this letter … let alone remember what it was like to experience everything.

I couldn’t take the noise. I couldn’t focus enough to ask questions. I couldn’t pay attention when you were talking to me. I actually found myself standing at the door, watching the clock, and waiting until the visits were over. For the first time ever, I raced downstairs at the bell, sat alone on the sofas in the staffroom, took a deep breath (or many deep breaths), and gave myself the self-regulation lunch that I needed.

I understand Stuart Shanker‘s book even more now. I see the value in some empty walls and some quiet areas in the classroom. I think about the many anchor charts that I hang around the room — and yes you use them — but do I hang too many? How can I balance the needs for visuals and calmness? How do I become even more aware of those of you that would become just as overwhelmed as I felt today?

Yes, I know that you had fun today. I know that you enjoyed sharing your work with others, and I know that you had a lot to say. From our conversations this afternoon, I know that many of you learned new things. But for those of you that found it hard to focus, for those of you that found it hard to listen, and for those of you that found it hard to learn, I apologize. Next time, we’ll spread out the displays. Next time, we’ll try to control the noise. Next time, we’ll take into account all learning needs and all learning styles. Next time, we’ll make things better!

Yours Sincerely,

Miss Dunsiger


Because It Is #AboutTheKids

Sharing my job news yesterday was an exciting, but also difficult, thing to do! I found myself getting choked up as I spoke to many staff members. I had to hold back tears as I shared the news in person with my principal, Paul. I had many mixed emotions as I talked to my good friends, and even more, as I read comments, received emails, and spoke in person to incredible parents that I’ve worked with over the years. Change is good, but it does often come with the extremes of “happy” and “sad.”

I knew that this was coming. When I found out that I got interviews for positions, I prepared myself for what it might be like if I was offered, and accepted, a job. I prepared myself for the emotional roller coaster in the hope to make myself a little less emotional. Over my nine years at Ancaster Meadow, I’ve taught JK/SK, Grade 1, Grade 2 (in a 1/2 split), Grade 5, and Grade 6. I’ve also done prep coverage for JK-Grade 4. I’ve taught hundreds of students, and many multiple times. For some of the students in my class, this is my fourth time as their teacher. I’ve made connections with their families, and I knew that I would be prone to tears when sharing my news.

What I didn’t prepare myself for was the student reactions. Just before home time today, one student mentioned to the class that I was moving schools. The questions started:

  • When will you be coming back?
  • Can you come and visit?
  • Why would you leave?
  • Can you change your mind?

Students started getting teary-eyed. They made comments like, “You can’t go, Miss Dunsiger!” or “Don’t worry, Miss Dunsiger! I’ll just move to Dr. Davey too. You need your teaching partner.” 🙂 (This second comment made me smile.) With older students that often speak about how eager they are for weekends and holidays, I honestly didn’t expect this reaction from them, and as I went out on bus duty today, I had to swallow past the lump in my throat. Saying goodbye to the kids is going to be one of the hardest things that I do!

A special “thank you” to all of my wonderful students that make me think, question, smile, and laugh every single day! It’s a true pleasure to work with all of you, and I’m going to miss you next year. For the next month, I’m going to take every advantage of learning with all of you … and loving every minute of it! Teaching is #AboutTheKids, and all of you make my job the best one in the world!

How do you work through emotional times? I’d welcome any words of advice as I go through the process of saying, “goodbye.”


Ode To Toby

Toby Is Lying On The Blanket

Toby (On The Blanket) And Zoe (Up Above)

Toby had numerous quirks:

  • He’d always check behind the shed for a squirrel as soon as he went outside.
  • He’d always give one extra bark to see if a squirrel might appear. You just never know! 🙂
  • He always slept at the top of the bed on the pillows or the bottom of the bed at your feet. He never liked when you moved … ever! You might get a little warning growl.
  • He always barked — a lot! I think that he was just trying to say, “hi.”
  • Halloween was his least favourite holiday. It was like the Ultimate Barkfest: people walking on the street, people knocking on the door, and people coming near the house — so many problems for one little dog!
  • While the house is shaped in a big circle, he always went up the same set of stairs and down the same set of stairs. He didn’t like change!
  • He never went down in the basement — EVER! Big stairs scared him. He’d go up the stairs, but never down them.
  • He loved barbecued hot dogs. He always knew that barbecue for dinner meant a hot dog for him.
  • He always kept a close eye on the barbecue. The minute that hot dog came off, he flew to the back door, barking and crying, and loudly announcing that dinner was ready.
  • He made a combined barking, whining, crying sound every time you came home. No one was as loyal as Toby!
  • He loved his morning “toast.” The morning routine was get up, feed him bread, let him out, and then on a good day, go back to bed. The perfect life for a dog! 🙂
  • His best friend was Zoe: our other cocker spaniel. He’d curl up with Zoe to sleep, share his food with Zoe, and even let her out the door first.
  • He’d always wait at the door to see if you might offer him a “treat” to come inside. He loved treats! Soft bones were his favourite.
  • He always went to bed at 9:00. He would be in a deep sleep on the sofa, but when 9:00 came, he woke up, walked down the hall to the bedroom, barked, and went to bed.
  • He’d hold onto his medication each day until all of the toast was gone, and then he’d spit his pill back out. He knew this would lead to some peanut butter, and he loved peanut butter!
  • He always sensed when you were sick or upset, and he always stayed a little bit closer on the days when he knew you needed him most.

Toby was a wonderful dog, a loyal friend, and an important part of the family! Today, in the midst of such happy news, we had to make a hard choice to put him down. Before I left for my interview this morning, I hand fed him food, held out a little container of water from which he could drink, and even gave him a few extra bones. At the time, I didn’t know that we’d have to make this decision today, but I had a feeling that things were bad.

Tonight, the house is quieter. Tonight, nobody greeted me at the door with that barking, whining, crying sound. Tonight is a sad night, but tonight, I know that Toby is no longer suffering. Tonight, I said goodbye to one of my beloved pets! I’ll miss you, Toby, and every time I see a squirrel, I’ll think of you!