Whatever Happened To Slugs?

Whatever happened to slugs?Β The “slugs” that I’m referring to here are the slimy variety that Doug Peterson was not focusing on in his Sunday morning blog post. As I mentioned in my comment back to him and Andy Forgrave today, I needed to write my own blog post on the slugs that I love, for schema really does have us connecting to words in different ways.

As many people already know, I love creepy, crawly, slimy creatures. Last year, worms were a huge part of our classroom environment, and this year, snails got added to the mix. My teaching partner, Paula, and I moved schools this year, and Dundas seems to be the ideal environment for snail habitats. I told Paula last year that I always wanted a snail as a class pet. The truth is that I had a couple of snails as ones, along with cockroaches and centipedes, a number of years ago when I last worked with Gerry Smith.

The snails even made it on a trip to the Board Office, where we spoke with administrators, consultants, superintendents, and fellow teachers about the HWDSB TLE (Transforming Learning Everywhere) initiative.

While slugs/snails were an important part of our learning environment five years ago, what we were missing then is something that I think is so important now:Β the experience, and learning, that comes from finding them.Β Back in 2014, I didn’t realize the importance of outdoor learning. We went outside sometimes to go on nature walks, to sketch items in nature, and maybe even to do a little planting, but the experiences were limited. Weather was always a consideration. I never would have even suggested that we go outside in the rain. And the part that makes me sad about this now is that I think that those students would have truly benefitted from the experience that comes from this all weather, outdoor learning, play-rich environment.

As much as I wish that I could, I can’t go back now and change my approach, but now that I know more about the value of outdoor play, I’m glad that we embrace it as we do. Weather no longer stops us! In fact, some of our best outdoor play happens on the rainiest days. I think that these tweets say it all.

Check out the learning, the problem solving, and the conversations that come from the rain, the mud, the worms, and the snails. And these posts are just some of the many that we’ve shared through our Instagram account.

Kids show such empathy as they take care of these snails and try to provide the perfect environment for so many living things.

Holding the snail …Β even with its slimy movementΒ … still made me feel kind of joyful! I’m glad that one of our students trusted me to babysit his snails as he ran some laps.

These rainy day experiences take me back to my childhood. I still remember collecting worms on our driveway, and enjoying the feel as they slithered across my hand. Making mud pies, digging in the sand, and experiencing the messy wonderfulness that came with all of this, is what I think childhood is all about.

While I love that our children know about Siri, and one child may have even figured out some snail information with his quick and independent use of an iPad, an electronic alternative does not replace the real thing.

I wonder if the messy experiences from my youth are still a reality for our kids today.Β If not, how might we help children embrace these experiences at school? Have all kids felt slugs crawl across their hands, observed the many incredible trails that they make, and connected around these slimy creatures? Β 

Even with my love of technology, I hope that when it comes to worms, slugs, and all things slimy, that an app does NOT exist for that. As a kindergarten teacher, I get to relive the joy of my youth every single wet weather day, and watch children experience this same joy. On this “whatever happened to” Sunday, I have to ask, does life get better than this?


Tape Fixes Everything … Or At Least Most Things!

Yesterday was an amazing day.Β Why?Β I think that tape had something to do with it. Let me explain.

On Thursday night, I was having a late dinner with my parents, when I heard a clunk on the floor. I looked down, and I realized that my ID badge holder broke. This is not a new occurrence for me. I think that I’m nearing badge holder number eight (or maybe even more than that). Fidgeting with my ID card is something that I do constantly. I was a nail biter growing up, and I seem to have replaced nail biting with sucking on my lanyard. It’s a bad habit, I know, but it’s something that I just can’t seem to stop. At times, I think that it’s self-regulating for me. When I’m stressed, the lanyard goes in my mouth. It makes me stop, look around, and think. And I must do this quite a bit, as the tug on the lanyard (from inserting it in my mouth) always seems to break the plastic ID badge holder.

Now my lanyard is still in tact —Β thank goodnessΒ — but not having my ID badge on it is especially stressful. I have another funny habit of not taking off my lanyard (or my badge) until I go to bed. I put it on before I leave in the morning, and it seems to stay there. I’ve gone out for many dinners with it still hanging around my neck. Everything that I need for school is on this lanyard: my ID badge, my keys, and my whistle. Without it, I’m lost. While my initial plan for the broken badge holder was just to put the badge in my jacket pocket and continue wearing my lanyard without it, this just didn’t seem right.

  • What if I changed jackets?
  • What if it fell out when I went to put something else in my pocket?Β Our kids are constantly filling my pockets with snack wrappers, bandaids, tape, markers, and scissors. If they don’t need it anymore, it seem to go into one of my pockets. The other day, I pulled out a pair of scissors when I wondered what was poking me on the drive home.Β 

I might not even have room for my broken badge holder in one of my pockets, and even if I did, it didn’t feel safe having it in there.Β What else could I do?

It’s funny the kinds of problems that consume me. Right now, the representation of 1divided by 2/3 seems to be one of these problems …

… but the other one was how to fix my plastic badge holder. This became a more urgent problem when I put in an eBase request to send me a new holder, and I was told that the average time for completing this work order is 10 days.Β Ten days!Β There’s no way that I’ll manage to hold onto a broken piece of plastic for that long. πŸ™‚

Then on my drive into school on Friday morning, I had an idea.Β What about tape?Β Could I tape up the top part of the badge holder, poke a hole through it, and hang the holder back on my lanyard?Β It was worth a try. With minutes to go before the bell rang, I found myself grabbing some green tape (I love, love, love the plastic-y tape from Dollarama) as my teaching partner, Paula, watched on. It worked! The badge stayed secure.

This taping success had me reflecting and saying to Paula, “I will be blogging about tape this weekend.” This is that blog post. Here are some of my reflections.

  • How valuable is it to show children that we also engage in the problem solving process?Β Since the beginning of the year, Paula and I have been working with students at becoming more independent problem solvers. We want children to ask questions, share thinking, and support each other, but we also want them to figure out possible solutions, test them out, and revise them as needed. This is also about risk-taking, which is an essential skill for academic and non-academic areas. I realize that my badge holder problem may seem like a small one, but it was causing me some big stress, especially with the fear that I might lose the ID card that I need to get into the school each day. A solution was important to me. While my tape idea worked, at first I thought that I could hole punch the tape, but the hole punch wasn’t strong enough to go through the layers of tape. I needed to revise my plan with some simple scissor work. I wonder if letting kids know that even adults have problem solving to do, could help build confidence as more of our youngest learners tackle their own problems.Β 

The Garbage Problem Was One Of Our Class Problems To Solve On Friday

  • Is it these kinds of problems that also lead to more wonders?Β I’ve learned over the years that for children to ask questions and share wonders, they need schema. The more experiences that they have related to a topic, the more that they’ll ask. Almost every four-year-old has broken something. Our kids also look for tape to solve just about every single problem in the classroom, so they could relate to my solution. The other day, we started to brainstorm some wonders about a picture that I showed them. I notice right away that many children shared more statements than questions. Paula and I spoke about the need to work on questioning skills. But kids were asking questions about my ID badge holder and the tape that I added to it.Β Why? Could they connect more with this experience than with my brunch picture?Β I wonder if we need to develop questioning skills based on topics that children know more about. I’m glad that my broken plastic holder could be one of these things. πŸ™‚

  • Could tape be an underutilized by highly beneficial Self-Reg strategy?Β What calms one person might dysregulate another one, so taping certainly wouldn’t work for everyone, but I noticed that it can be strangely calming for kids and adults alike. Now I think that it has to be the right kind of tape. Tape that tangles or is hard to cut would definitely dysregulate me and many kids that I know, but tape that winds again and again, that stretches and pulls, that is available in numerous colours, and that is easy to cut, makes me feel strangely at peace. Even knowing that the bell was going to go any minute and that this tape solution might not work, I still found myself winding the tape up again and again, while I took a few additional deep cleansing breaths. It’s not just me that loves tape either. I still remember the taped log that we worked on earlier this year. Some kids still go to wrap tape around boxes or foam blocks when they need something calming to do. It was certainly the taping process which changed things for me … and made me feel so much better!

  • Is it our attitude that matters the most?Β It’s funny, but sometimes the smallest things can make us feel incredibly happy. When I parked perfectly the other day, I knew that it was going to be a great day. A couple of weeks ago, perfect parking even trumped a spilled coffee, a black cat crossing my path, and a paint explosion. Perfect taping made me equally as happy! Attitude matters … and when I managed to fix my ID badge holder, Β I just knew that it was going to be a perfect day! And it was. I wonder if this perfect day began with my belief that all was going to be wonderful.Β Should I always tell myself this? Do you?

A Look At Our Great Day!

At the end of the day, I got an email from eBase that my new badge holder is in the Board courier. It will be coming this week. I guess that I don’t need the tape to last for much longer, which almost makes me kind of sad. Maybe I’ll keep this fixed-up badge holder for if/when the next one breaks. If nothing else, it will be a reminder for me of just how much tape can fix.Β Have you played with tape lately? What could we all learn from doing so?Β Consider getting yourself some tape this week, and seeing what happens. I hope that it brings you as much joy as it brought me!


What Would Your Math Word Be?

Yesterday, I published a blog post about a fantastic math session that we had at our last staff meeting. I indicated that Moojean Seo’s session might lead to multiple blog posts. This is the second one.

At the start of Moojean’s session, she had all of us write down one word that signifies what math means to us. I chose thinking. I will admit now that I chose this word for a couple of different reasons.

Here’s My First Word — Thank Goodness For A Colleague Who Had A Pencil For Me To Write It Down! πŸ™‚

1.Having looked through the presentation already, I knew that the math session was focused on moving beyond just computations. Thinking seemed to sum this up best. It was almost as though I was trying to pick the β€œright word,” even when I knew that there wasn’t a right or a wrong answer.

2.I know that my teaching partner, Paula, and I spend a lot of time developing thinking skills in math. We do facilitate and teach specific skill development, but always with thinking in mind. Knowing the importance that we place on β€œthinking,” made thinking seem like the perfect word.

Some Footprint Thinking And Measuring From A Few Years Ago

Or at least it seemed perfect until the session was complete, and Moojean had us privately reflect on our word. Would we keep it, or would we change it? It was then that I picked a new word: communicating. As Paula and I went back down to the classroom after the staff meeting, we started to chat about this word. I picked β€œcommunicating” for various reasons.

  • At many different points during the session, I was struck by the math talk happening around the room. This started in partners, as people worked through the math problems together, but it ended, as more than that, as partner groups started to support each other with more challenging problems.


  • When I got stuck on representing the last two problems β€” 1 divided by 2/3 and 3 divided by 2/3 β€” I started to look and listen around the room for help. Sometimes it was the words I overheard that helped give me some ideas, but sometimes it was the pictures on the page or the actions of my fellow educators (the big point, the hand signals, etc.) that drew me in. In the end, I’m not sure that this communication totally helped me understand the answers, but it did make me think more about them. I was definitely looking for some insight from others when I was unsure.


  • Communication is also what stopped me from not giving up. Okay, I was close to throwing in the towel after the 1 divided by 2/3 explanation. The crossing off on the whiteboard of my answer, or lack thereof, was not my finest moment in life, but it was the communication that got me back for the last problem. It was the extreme kindness of the teacher on my left, who patiently talked me through what to do, that changed things for me. I know that I still don’t completely understand the answer. Am I okay with this lack of understanding? Not really. But did talking and listening at least help me move towards a visual representation of the fraction? Yes. With my visual spatial needs, but strong oral skills, I wonder if it’s the communication that will hold the key to my understanding in the long run. Do I need to hear and see the thinking a lot, in different ways, over time, and will this make a difference? Maybe. The communication drew me in, and I think it’s the communication that kept me there. Could the same be true for kids?

At the end of the day on Friday, another educator told me that her word was understanding. I wonder if it’s communicating that leads to this understanding. Is math actually far more social than I once thought? Dig deep: what would your word be? Why? As my math learning continues to evolve this year, I wonder if my word will change. I wonder if yours will too.


Back To The Map Of Canada: What Do You Do With That 2%?

On Thursday after school, we had a Staff Meeting. Our vice principal, Moojean Seo, facilitated a math professional development session, which later inspired me to send this tweet.

This post is one of these promised blog posts, and depending on how it evolves, it may actually encapsulate all three posts.

To start here, I need to give a little background information. Our principal and vice principal always share the Staff Meeting PowerPoint presentations in our Staff Team Drive, so while I was waiting for the meeting to start, I checked out the Drive. I quickly perused the presentation, and realized that we would need to answer three math questions during this PD session. I’ll admit it:Β I read the questions.Β The first question didn’t bother me too much: six divided by three equals??Β I could do this one. I could even show it. But what about the next two questions?Β These next two linked division with fractions: 1 divided by 2/3 and 3 divided by 2/3. Two thoughts immediately came to mind.

1) Could I “phone a friend?”Β πŸ™‚Β Jonathan So, and his love of fractions,Β immediately came to mind.

2) Why did I feel as though visual spatial skills would come into play here?Β As I’ve blogged about before, in Grade 2 I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability. I struggle with spatial reasoning, and while I’ve learned strategies to compensate over the years, drawing diagrams, manipulating shapes, and all things mapping, are my biggest struggles. While I’m the first one to joke about my parking skills —Β or lack there ofΒ — the spatial reasoning required for parking makes getting in between the lines one of the hardest things that I do each day. I will admit that just knowing that a diagram was likely going to be involved in at least a couple of these problems, had my palms feeling sweaty and me taking a few extra deep breaths.Β 

Cue the start of the Staff Meeting.Β It turns out that Moojean was going to randomly pair us up with other staff members based on our birthday months. Fantastic! I could work these problems through with a partner. Except, wouldn’t you know it that my partner had to leave early for a dentist appointment, and so the last two questions would be for me alone.

I kept trying to think back to conversations that I had with Jonathan in the past about what division of fractions actually means. I was sure that I needed to draw one rectangle and divide it into thirds. Then I coloured 2 of the 3 pieces. But 1/3 couldn’t be the answer, could it?Β While I struggle with visual spatial skills, I have an excellent memory, and remembered the standard algorithm: invert and multiply.Β The answer then should be 1 1/2.Β Was I wrong about how to draw the diagram? What was I missing here?Β Since we were all working around the room on vertical whiteboards, I started looking at what others were doing. I even began chatting with the educators beside me.

One of the teachers on my left was the first one that I asked for help. I noticed that she drew a picture similar to mine.Β Were we both wrong?Β We started to go back and forth on how we would represent the answer in another way when Moojean called all of us back together. At this point, I was completely lost. I was sure that my diagram was wrong, and I couldn’t even explain it even it was right. So I did the only thing I could think of doing:Β I drew a big X over my work.Β Okay! I was frustrated. Maybe hearing someone else’s explanation would help though.

Moojean took us through the answer, and while I looked around the room, I saw some head nodding and a few ahas. But all I had were these wonders:

  • How does 1/3 become 1/2?
  • Why do others not seem confused?

Now to begin our next problem. Thank goodness for the kindness of colleagues. The teacher on my left patiently walked me through 3 divided by 2/3. She showed it to me in different ways. She helped me see the connection to repeated subtraction as well as the visual model. While I have no doubt that my questions slowed her down, this teacher still remained kind. Not once did she say, “We’ve already done this.” A teacher on my right, watched and listened to our discussion, and even tried drawing a diagram to help me understand this more:Β the extended rectangle.Β I know that I’ve seen this before, but I still don’t completely understand it.

  • Why do we extend the rectangle?
  • Isn’t the original rectangle the one that we’re working with?

And so, when Moojean brought us back together again, I had a correct answer and a diagram on my whiteboard, but no real understanding of exactly what I just did.Β 

I’d love to say that this is my first time feeling this way, but the lack of understanding actually brought me back to just about all of my high school and university math classes,Β of which 93% was my lowest mark.Β I remember years of students asking, “Why?” Many of my classmates were frustrated by their lack of understanding the algorithm or how to approach a problem.Β What was going through my head? Almost always?Β Just use the formula! I was all about algorithms, and I still have most memorized. My mental math skills are strong. In theory, I have what could be a teachable in math (for up to Grade 10), but I’ve never taken the Basic Additional Qualifications Course because I know something else about myself:Β I may be able to work with the numbers, but I don’t have a strong enough understanding of the concepts to develop the thinking skills and answer the multitude of student questions that will be coming in these higher grades.Β 

I still think about my junior level teaching experiences. The geometry units usually required me to spend hours sitting at a table with my step-dad patiently teaching me strategies to work through the content so that I could move beyond my learning disability and help students as needed. I know from my years in Grades 5 and 6, that many children are stronger in these geometry units than in some other strands. Different experts emerged here, and a new love for math also seemed to emerge. For me, I was back in Grade 12 Physical Geography and that map of Canada.Β 

  • Where do the countries belong again?
  • What if I needed to do more than just memorize the content?

While I was desperately trying not to, I was feeling the same way as I tried to represent division of fractions in a diagram. A visual model worked so well for even the vast majority of adult learners, but here I was as one of the 2%. I kept wondering, if there was a reliance on understanding back when I went to school, would I have continued with math all the way through university? Would I have been able to meet with as much success?Β Maybe though, my bigger wonders should be,Β if I could meet with success and not understand what I’m doing, am I really that successful after all? Is a 90+% meaningless when thinking, application, and communication were really never at play?Β I think maybe it was, but I also wonder, if there’s a way to make someone like me —Β that student where maybe that visual doesn’t workΒ — still get more than just the algorithm. I want to believe that we can truly support every child in learning more. I’m now one of the biggest proponents of authentic math, learning through problem solving, and moving beyond just computations, but on Thursday I struggled. On Thursday, I was that child that needed more intervention, but I still don’t know what would have worked for me.Β What would you do?Β Thanks Moojean for inadvertantly making me struggle enough to actively seek out a better solution!


When A “Communication Of Learning” Writing Weekend Becomes A Reflection On Goal Setting …

I just finished myΒ Communications of Learning.Β As much as I actually liked writing them, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders when I finally sent the PDF copy to my principal. Like I usually do, I shared much of my writing progress through Twitter.

It was my second last tweet here that really made me pause.Β Goals.Β When it comes to writingΒ Communications of Learning,Β I set many. I’m always figuring out how many weekends I’ll need to write them —Β I can’t seem to be as articulate during the week as I am on the weekendΒ — and how many comments I can write in a day.Β What about proofreading?Β I try to be really accurate in my proofreading, so it usually takes me about 5-6 hours to finish this step. Sometimes more.

This whole process has me thinking about students. Even in young primary grades, I’ve had students set goals before. Maybe the goal is to print using smaller letters, to add more details to their work, or to persevere with a more challenging task. These goals can vary depending on the child and the time of the year. But moving from co-creating goals to having children set their own is often a goal of mine. As I persevered to stay focused this weekend, to really see the child in the comment, and to complete the writing task, I wonder about the value in sharing our goals with kids.

  • What if we shared our successes …,
  • Our struggles …,
  • Our need to modify the goals …,
  • And maybe even what we had to change to make things work …,

would this make us more human, and help students as they work through their own goals?Β 

Adults have their own goals to meet, and just as kids may find goals challenging, so can adults. But hopefully in the end, they can cue the “happy dance” just as I did. There’s something joyful about meeting with success. On this report card/Communication of Learning writing weekend, I hope that fellow educators meet their goals. May our students share the same happiness in success as we do. And maybe, if not all of us meet with success, will this help us empathize with those kids that also struggle. Sometimes a little joy comes in knowing that you’re not alone.