I’m Sorry!

As an elementary school teacher, I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that I hear, “I’m sorry,” many times during the school day. Whenever problems arise, students apologize. Children have become so accustomed to apologizing — learning that it’s the correct thing to do when they make a mistake — that they default to this “sorry” response regardless of the size of the problem. Many educators, myself included, have spoken about the need to teach students that sometimes sorry isn’t enough. Sorry can’t always fix things. On Friday though, I wished that these words had more power.

I make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I try hard to learn from these mistakes, and usually, I end up making new mistakes, but not the same ones again. On Friday, I made a mistake that is still bothering me today. It’s probably not the biggest mistake that I’ve ever made, but it’s one that I’m finding hard to move past. I’m a big believer in being up front with people, even if we don’t necessarily agree. I try hard to not talk behind people’s backs, engage in gossip, or get caught up in complaining. But on Friday, I made a comment that I shouldn’t have made to someone else, and the person that I was referring to, overheard. Or at least I think that this person overheard. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. I felt terribly!

I probably should have gone to talk to this person, but I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I was so upset because I made the kind of mistake that might have hurt the feelings of somebody that I truly respect. After this incident happened, I sat down and I thought. I wrote an apology. I re-read it. I made changes. In my note, I tried to apologize in the only way that I knew how … I said sorry

I still don’t know if this apology worked. The truth is, even if it did, a “sorry” can’t take away that feeling in my stomach and that knowledge that I might have hurt someone that didn’t deserve to be hurt. Sometimes I wish that I could be a kid again. I wish that all problems could be fixed with a single word, and that this terrible feeling in my head and heart would go away. It won’t though. I know that I won’t be making this same mistake again. While a “sorry” may not fix the problem, I hope that it will eventually bring forgiveness and a fresh start. How do we apologize if “sorry” doesn’t work? If the goal is to learn from our mistakes, then how do we take back words that cannot be forgotten? What do you do? I wish there was a way to begin Friday again. I know what I wouldn’t be doing.


What We See; What Do You See?

During Friday’s PA Day, I had the opportunity to work with my wonderful partner, Mandie Ristic, as we started setting up our Senior Kindergarten classroom for September. When I walked into the room on Friday morning, I was overwhelmed by the stacks of supplies, the amount of furniture, and the size of the room.


The “Before” Picture

I’ll admit that I didn’t really know where to begin. This is one of many reasons that I love having a partner (and such a terrific one at that). Mandie had a much clearer vision, and together, we could talk out what mattered to us and why. We spent the whole day …

  • arranging
  • discussing
  • rearranging
  • discussing again
  • getting feedback
  • making changes
  • and ultimately developing a plan.

As Mandie was drawing the plan on the whiteboard for our caretakers, I said, “I wish we were recording our conversations today. They would have made a wonderful blog post!” I can’t go back and do this — no matter how much I might like to — but I’m thrilled that Mandie was open to me blogging about our design and asking for feedback. Usually I publish this kind of blog post just before school starts in September, but I definitely see value in receiving input now, so that we can continue to modify our plans before the school year begins. And so, with this in mind, here’s our thinking.

We wanted “zones”: which included quieter areas and noisier areas. We decided to put our quieter area near the door. As you walk into the classroom, there is a large bench area that has cubbies underneath and hooks on top. We don’t need to use these hooks though, as we have lockers out in the hallway. Currently, these benches are full of supplies, but come September, the supplies will be organized elsewhere, and this will become a quiet reading area. We’ll have some bins of books on the benches, along with a few pillows, and Mandie is going to get some see-through fabric to drape above the hooks: creating a calming ambience that very much aligns with Stuart Shanker‘s thinking on self-regulation


Right next to this area, we have a carpet area surrounded by a couple of bookshelves. Initially, we thought about putting books in the cubbies, but as we added more and more of them, we decided that we didn’t like the look. Now we’re going to put an assortment of books on the bookshelves. We’re also going to put some smaller books (e.g., board books, Clifford books, etc.) in the rows of cubbies that are at eye level for the students. Below these books, we’re going to add some puzzles and a few small toys. We thought about putting our CD player here as well. Calming music can always be played at a low level in the background to again support self-regulation and the need for some quiet time.

There is a small sensory bin area near the sink and not too far from this carpet area. Mandie mentioned that the sensory bins were not too noisy in her other Kindergarten class, and it’s ideal to have them near the sink. We also have our guided reading table over in the corner. It’s pulled back far enough to create more of a nook for reading. While some of our students can be supported in an “over the shoulder” approach, others will need more support. We definitely see using our guided reading table for this support, but we know that when it’s not being used by us, students can also use it to read, write, and/or explore together.

We put a large table on the other side of the reading carpet area. This table will be used for largely visual arts and projects. Mandie is going to fill the cubbies right behind this table with different colour-coded materials, much in the spirit of that which has been shared by Joanne Babalis before.

The other areas in the classroom are likely to be louder ones, and include block areas, a dramatic play area, and a Science area. The SMART Board carpet area can also be for full class gatherings. We don’t anticipate to do this much and/or to do this for long. We actually questioned if we needed an area where all of the students could sit, as we both find that working with small groups of students is often far more effective than large groups. Neither one of us intend on long, full-class gatherings, but the carpet is there if we want to dance together, read together, and/or share together.

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We decided on two block areas. When visiting the Kindergarten class at Earl Kitchener, we noticed that these teachers had two block areas. Not only does this spread out the noise a little bit, but it also allows us to target different skills. The block area near the SMART Board is more of a “structure block area.” We have lots of foam blocks and wooden blocks, and we’ve added in cars and small animal toys to help get students thinking about creating structures. They can even look at real structures on the SMART Board, and use these images to inspire their own. We’re also going to add books, paper, and clipboards to this area to get students looking at other structures, reading about them, and drawing and writing about their own. Adding signs to the structures, such as, “Please keep,” also provide opportunities for meaningful writing. 

The other block area is more about fine motor development and math skills. We initially wanted to put the hundreds carpet here, but due to space, we had to reconsider. The carpet that’s currently here though has some patterns on it, and may even inspire some other pattern creations. We also have a few small tables around this area, so that students can save their creations. Just like with the other block area, we intend on adding in books, paper, and clipboards to inspire reading and writing, while also building.

We wanted a Science area. Science learning can connect so well with Language and Math learning, and can often help students develop their oral language skills. Mandie has a great aquarium that can be used in many different ways. We thought that the use of provocations in addition to some reading and writing materials (on the little table) will help get students thinking, talking, reading, and writing about science. 

Our dramatic play area will continue to evolve throughout the year. Student interests and the introduction of different provocations will help regularly change our dramatic play area. When we were looking at it on Friday, Mandie didn’t like seeing the brown backing of the furniture. That’s when we talked about creating a message area. Mandie has some chalkboard paint at home, and we’re looking at using this to even add some more literacy into this current kitchen area. What a nice way for us to leave messages for students, and them to leave messages for each other. We see the potential for some authentic writing here. 

Technology is everywhere. We don’t want technology to be an add-on, but instead, an invisible, but useful, component of our learning environment. Students can use technology to help learn more, share with others, create, document learning, and review learning. Technology is infused throughout our learning environment, in the midst of low-tech tools such as paint, paper, pens, blocks, toys, books, and manipulatives. We have one desktop computer, but our other devices are portable, and include laptops, ChromeBooks, and iPads.

We wanted space. Students need little areas to sit, talk, and work together. We need to all be able to move around comfortably. In a classroom with many students, having space helps reduce the noise and any anxiety (maybe for both children and adults). Coupled with this need for space though, we wanted to ensure that there was a table area and a chair for each student if/when it’s needed. Initially, we had another small table in the classroom, but it was really reducing the movement area around the big art table. We decided that if we look at all tables — big and small — as possible ones for students to use (which they are), then we have enough room for everyone without the extra table. Sometimes less is more … and it definitely seems to be in this case.

I know that it’s hard to look beyond the mess and see what we see. Hopefully though this post provides a clearer picture of what we want and the reasons behind our choices. Our room will surely change throughout the year and probably even when we go back in August to finish setting up, but this post highlights our current plans. What do you think? What might you add or change, and why? We welcome feedback as you imagine with us the possibilities for this Senior Kindergarten environment!


Learning From A Leader

Goodbye Mr. Carey!

Goodbye Mr. Carey!

During Monday’s assembly, my students found out that our amazing vice principal, Gord Carey, is leaving for another school. Minutes later, we were standing up to leave, and Gord passed us in line. One of my students turned to him and with huge tears in his eyes said, “Why do you have to leave us?” At that moment, I could feel the lump in my own throat. What made me have to choke back my own sobs even more was when Gord went up, let this child give him a hug, and calling him by name, reassured him that everything was going to be okay. Why did Gord’s words and actions have such an emotional impact on me? Because this student of mine is one of over 500 students in the school. He doesn’t visit the office. Gord just sees him on his walk throughs and when outside on the playground. But he knows him. He knows his name, and for the few times he sees him, he makes him feel special. 

I’ve only had the pleasure of working with Gord for a year, but during this time he’s taught me many things. My biggest take away from him though is people matter most. I know this makes sense, but it’s his words and actions that really drive this point home. 

  • After a very emotional staff goodbye this morning, Gord came around to classrooms. Why? “Because Aviva, I’m afraid that I might not be able to see everyone at the end of the day, and I want to spend my time seeing and saying goodbye to as many staff and students as I can.” That’s exactly what he did! He talked to kids. He received hugs, high fives, and lovely words of encouragement. He showed the value in connecting with people.
  • Gord’s one of the busiest people that I know, but when it comes to talking about kids or solving problems, he’s always there. He always listens. He always helps. I don’t know where he finds the time, but he does. Last year, the staff at my old school used to laugh at me for my late night email replies to them; well, I’m proud to say that Gord has me beat. Even on the weekend, on a holiday, or on a week night, he’ll write you back … and that says something to me!
  • He takes the time to laugh … like really laugh with you! It’s the kind of laugh that makes your stomach ache and your eyes water. I think that laughter connects people. It shows people that you care enough about them to take the time to connect with them on a personal as well as a professional level. Gord does that!
  • He always puts kids first! Here’s a little secret about Gord (that I don’t think he’ll mind me sharing with everyone): he hates worms. We had a vermicomposter, and I’ll remember the first time that he came in on a Wiggly Wednesday and a child ran up to him holding a worm. The look on his face was priceless! From then on, Gord would always squirm when he knew that the worms were out. That was until the day that I mentioned I was going to be away on a Wiggly Wednesday. I had a supply teacher coming in on this day, and she’d never been in my class before, nor had I ever been away on this kind of special day. Gord’s comment to me was, “Okay Aviva. I’ll make sure that I go up and see everyone … even with the worms!” I love his dedication to students: worms or no worms. 🙂
  • Gord notices things, and connects over the details. This morning, as we were having our before school Staff Celebration, Gord saw me and said, “I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve seen you. I’ve missed my daily dose of Aviva.” 🙂 This week has been full of field trips, special days, and moving classrooms, and I haven’t gotten down to the office or the staffroom as much as usual. Not only did he notice this, but he showed me that he cares. That matters!

I’ve worked with, and continue to work with, many wonderful administrators. I’ve learned something from all of them. I’ve only been at Dr. Davey for a year, but I’m so glad that I got a chance to work with Gord as part of this first year experience. Today, I watched staff members, students, and parents say goodbye to an incredible vice principal. I saw the looks. I saw the tears. I saw, and heard, the love. As I said to a colleague tonight, I strongly believe in the fact that change is good. It’s never easy, but it’s valuable. I watched the start of this change today, and I know that Gord will be remembered so fondly at Dr. Davey because he took the time to care and connect: he took the time for people! His departure made me wonder, how would you want to be remembered? How do you think you might be remembered? How can we all learn a little something from Mr. Carey?


“Making” My Reflections

Today was Dr. Davey’s first Maker Day, and between the planning process and the actual day today, my head has been full of thoughts. I make sense of so much of my thinking through blogging, so I’m hoping that as I write down these thoughts tonight, I get a clearer picture of what worked, what didn’t, and where we might want to go next.

After conversing with others and having some quiet contemplation time, here are my thoughts:

Differentiation matters. This was one of my biggest take-aways from today. I’m a huge advocate of differentiation in the classroom, but I don’t think that I totally realized the need for this today, until actually working with the students. All of our activity stations were very open-ended, which I thought would lead to multiple entry points (and in some ways, I think did), but some students were really looking for more direction. When talking to other teachers about the feedback that they received today, some mentioned that students liked and wanted structure, and some said that students preferred less structure. Maybe we need to offer both, regardless of the station. If students have ideas connected to the general topic (e.g., “beautiful junk”), they can explore them, and if students want or need suggestions, there can be options available. A “Maker Day Learning Environment” may be more familiar to some students than others, and maybe scaffolding matters.

We can’t forget about the importance of self-regulation. For some students, a day like today can be overwhelming. There are lots of students in one area, tons of supplies and choices available at each session, and lots of additional noise. Many students almost seem to expect this and are not bothered by it, but what about some of our neediest students? How do we accommodate for them? With so many adults at each session, maybe we need some quieter room options for those that need it. These rooms could also have fewer materials, or even just materials organized in a different way (e.g., maybe in neutral coloured baskets instead of laying on tables or on the floor). Giving students that struggle with sitting still, opportunities to help clean-up supplies or organize them for the next block, might also help. I even wonder about the use of earphones in the computer lab to reduce some of the excess noise. What would you do?

Challenges work well. From both my own students and others, I heard a ton of positive feedback about the Egg Drop Challenge. Students loved being able to think of a contraption idea, build it, test it out, and reflect at the end. The specific challenge helped provide a goal and keep all students engaged throughout the session. Incorporating time for feedback also allowed students to work on metacognition: an essential skill for all students. I wonder now about other challenge possibilities (e.g., a  Battle of the Bands or structure challenges with blocks or Lego). 

Building Their Contraptions

Building Their Contraptions


Testing Their Contraptions

Students will surprise us. Many teachers mentioned to me how much they loved seeing older students supporting younger ones at the different activities. This was something that I really liked as well. One student in particular amazed me. On a previous occasion, I actually spoke to this student about a problem, but today, I can only share the highest of praise. He went out of his way to help reluctant students take risks, to answer questions, to share tools, to showcase learning, and to encourage others to do the same. The more positive feedback he received, the more outgoing and compassionate, he became. This whole experience taught me about the importance of making connections with students, and the impact (positive or negative) that our words and actions can have on others. 

There is power in student leadership. My station for today was a little different than some of the other ones. Most teachers teamed up with other staff members to run their stations, but my co-facilitator (and really the lead facilitator) was an amazing Grade 4 student. He’s incredibly passionate and skilled when it comes to coding and Minecraft, so it seemed only right for him to take on this role. He loved that he was on the teacher list of facilitators, and he happily took on the jobs of explaining the coding and Minecraft options, circulating around the room to support and encourage participants, and working with others to code just about everything … including an Arduino. Students make incredible teachers, and I would love to see even more student leadership in future Maker Days.

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I have mixed feelings on Minecraft. I know that students love Minecraft, and I know that many of the students that chose to use it today, created some amazing items together. Here’s just one example:

My only problem is that I wonder if students can get just so interested in doing what they know (and are comfortable with), that they can avoid the challenge of something new. As I circulated today, I managed to convince some Minecraft players to try out Scratch, to help program the Arduino, and/or to begin creating a video game in Gamestar Mechanic. Most were reluctant to explore these options, but when they did, many of them loved them. In fact, a few students tracked me down at the nutrition breaks to give them the website addresses and/or details about these other options. Just like with adults, change can be hard, but often amazing learning comes from these new experiences. If Minecraft is an option another year, maybe it needs to be separate from coding, so that students can then focus on the “new” in addition to the “familiar.”

The role of the teacher may be different than usual. Since the students were directing so much of their own learning, at times, it was hard to know what our role should be. Do we just sit back and watch? Do we talk to kids? How could we work with them? With this Maker Day being so close to the end of school, I think that the learning environment may be a bit different than usual. I’m thinking about future Maker Days though, and maybe even ones that happen earlier in the year. I see lots of opportunities here for pedagogical documentation and developing critical thinking and questioning skills through our interactions with students. This is more of a challenge though since not all of the children that we see, are our own. Maybe this is where photographs, videos, and podcasts shared with others through GoogleDrive (which is what we did today) are so helpful, as then we can really support each other in documentation and assessment. What would you do? Why? 

Today is a perfect day for all kinds of problem solving. An interesting thing happened as I was getting my students ready for their first session this morning. I mentioned to two students that their session was in Room 307. “But Miss Dunsiger, where’s that?” Oh no! I hadn’t anticipated this problem. This is when another student said, “It’s across the hall from the Grade 5 pod — where we go for Health.” The student that asked me the question then said, “Can I write down the room number?” What a great idea! She took this number upstairs with her, and together, these two students found out exactly where they were going. You know what? I wasn’t worried. Why? Because the students weren’t leaving the school, there were adults and students everywhere, and I knew that they would find their way or ask for help. There’s value in learning how to solve these small types of problems on their own, and this is exactly what these two students did today. 

I also thought about problem solving when a teacher and a student mentioned that some students thought that one of the activities was, “boring.” This afternoon, I asked my student, “What would make it better?” Her reply: “Get paper. We could build with that by ‘making’ our own structures.” Another student mentioned that they could draw their plans or even draw and label a diagram of what they created. Great ideas! I don’t want students to be bored, but maybe being so, provides opportunities for problem solving what would make things better … and then doing that! As educators, we could provide challenges or extensions, but we could also give students the power to create them. Maybe the best option is to pass the problem back to them and hear their solution(s). What do you think?

Without a doubt, overall today was a success, but I think that there’s always room for improvement. Reflecting tonight has helped me see some of these areas for growth. Are there other things that we should be considering? What might they be? Through Twitter today, I noticed that many other educators have tried Maker Day types of activities before. I’d love to hear about your experiences and your feedback. We can definitely learn a lot from each other!


About More Than “Making” …

Tomorrow is our very first Dr. Davey Maker Day. I’m beyond thrilled about this special day. As another teacher and I have worked together to finalize the details and coordinate the day, I came to an important realization. Tomorrow is about so much more than “making.”

  • It’s about giving students meaningful opportunities to problem solve.
  • It’s about allowing for both independent work and collaboration.
  • It’s about developing and applying critical thinking skills.
  • It’s about less “teacher talk” time and more “student talk” time. (As you can see from my contribution to this blog post of David Fife‘s, I’m passionate about this.)
  • It’s about student voice and student choice.
  • It’s about showing that learning doesn’t always have to happen at a desk, or on the carpet, or with a pencil, or with the teacher at the front of the room. Tomorrow is about showing that tinkering, playing, and creating, can also lead to learning.
  • It’s about student leadership. I’m proud to be co-facilitating my session with an amazing Grade 4 student that is eager to help others learn to code.

2015-06-23_19-12-50At the end of the day tomorrow, we have the opportunity for a reflection. I’m very eager to see and hear what students have to say.

  • Will they all enjoy this type of learning environment?
  • Will they all benefit from it?
  • If not, what’s stopping the students from being successful? How can we change this?
  • Will all students be able to make the link between “making” and “learning?” 
  • If not, how do we help develop these metacognitive skills in students?

As my students reflect tomorrow, I know that I’ll be doing some reflecting as well … not just on the day, but on my teaching practices and how I can continue to refine them. I’m curious to find out the impact that tomorrow has on students and on teachers. What will people think of the day? How will they respond to the highs and lows? It’s time to start “making” and find out! Watch the #daveymaker hashtag to see for yourself.