## An All Day Math Inquiry. Is it Possible?

Four days ago my grade 5/6 class and I  began a Snowflake Inquiry. Today we let some (more) snowflake  math drive our learning…

It snowed today! So I began the morning with the following tweet as “food for thought”:

As the kids read the provocation on the SMART Board, they naturally began to discuss, do some rough calculations in the math notebooks and ask questions. The bait was set and the kids took it, hook, line and sinker. What followed was a day long math inquiry.

I had the students start by making a reasonable prediction based on their schema about snowflakes and the world around them…

I was impressed by their reasoning and ability to use their common sense to arrive at estimates ranging from a couple of minutes to 3-4 hours. They considered such variables as wind speed, the mass of the snowflake, the stages of a snowflake and the relative position of clouds from the ground.

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Next, I discussed with my students the information they would require to help solve the question more accurately.

They worked in pairs to brainstorm the information they required and I challenged my students to arrive at only two questions that we could Google the answer for.We gathered on the carpet and the kids pitched their questions, while I recorded (many of the students had the same questions). Upon compiling a list of potential questions, I had my students each vote on the two questions they believed they needed the answers to the most.

With “How fast does snow fall?”  being the most popular, we Googled the first question.

The first search result proved helpful, but we continued to read a few more webpages to confirm the information presented to us. Many great incidental math learning opportunities evolved. We reviewed range, what 95% looked like, what mass meant and what surface area was. We also converted feet to meters and someone asked if a foot was one third of a meter, which led to a discussion on fractions

The students proceeded to record their new learning (information) on their sheet of paper. Most had a solid understand that a snowflake travels at an average rate of 1 meter per second to 2 seconds.

At this point, I thought, to help move our learning forward, I’d pose a simpler question, and so on the back of their paper, the kids added this question: If it was possible, how long would it take for a snowflake to fall from the ceiling to he floor in our classroom? Prove it. The students were able to quickly estimate the height of our ceiling to be 9-10 feet or 3 meters and solved the question. This would create content as we moved toward solving the “bigger” question.

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Now that the kids were ready for the answer to their second question: “How far is a snow cloud from the ground?” This answer wasn’t as easily found. Together we did a lot of Googling, researching and discussing. Our math investigation turned to an mini lesson on different types of clouds and latitudes. After understanding that snow clouds are typically “Nimbostratus” clouds. The following graphics proved helpful:

I had the students arrive at their own conclusions and record their new learning (information). Most came to the conclusion that most snow clouds are 1500-2000m above the earth’s surface.

After almost two full blocks dedicated to solving our problem (with the exception of a French class, gym and short body break), it was time for lunch. I debated whether I’d continue with our math challenge into the last block. Part of me really wanted to as the class was on a roll, but I was worried about the kids hitting a “math wall”. I decided I’d play it by ear and get a sense of my students after lunch.

They came back in seemingly ready, willing and WANTING to solve their problem. The snow outside was falling, the time seemed right. I let the kids have at it…

I really thought they’d have no problem with the question. Boy was I wrong! As I circulated to listen to their math talk and overlook their calculations some kids were arriving at the conclusion that snow would take 30- 50 seconds to fall 2000 meter to the ground while others thought it might take 4-5 hours! Yikes! I let them struggle… but not a lot of progress. They were hitting a wall. Their math brains were shutting down.

It was time for a little brain break.. and perhaps time to move on. We did 10 minutes of “Calm” mindfulness and during that time I debated my next move. I had the kids gather at the front of the SMART Board and reviewed what we already knew; how fast snow travels very second (1-2 meters) and how high in the sky clouds were found (1000-2000m). We also reviewed that it would take 3-6 seconds for snow to travel from our 3 meter ceiling to the floor.  I asked how long it would take for snow to fall 100 m. The kids thought out loud “100 seconds”… “200 seconds” “That’s 1 minute 40 seconds”, someone said. Light bulbs! Wait time…. “Ya and… 200 seconds equals….” “Hold it Grace”, I said. “Give your classmates time.” Wait time…. more light bulbs. More hands went up. Then I said “If snow falls at a rate of 1 meter a second, it will take 100 seconds or 1 minute 40 seconds. If it falls at a rate of 1 meter per 2 seconds it will take 200 minutes or…..” “3 minutes 20 seconds”, (many) of the kids yelled.

They were ready to go back to their calculations. “Ok, I think the clouds are 1800 meters in the air, snow travels at 1 meter a second, that’ll take 1800 seconds. I need to divide that by 60 to find out how many minutes that is”. BOOM!  I circulated…”Mr.C, we say it’s 45 minutes” ” We’re going with 55 minutes because 1100 m times 3 seconds equals 3300seconds divide 60 equals 55 minutes!”  SWEET! It was now 3:00, many light bulbs were shining and the kids were DONE!

Is was time to regroup and read them …… “The Snowflake”.

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## The Snowflake

A simple snowflake will drive our learning journey through the next eight days until Christmas holidays. Doug Peterson’s blog post “Coding Snowflakes” gave me the inspiration! Feel free to follow along with us. I’ll update this document  with all of the Ontario Curriculum expectations we’ll cover as our journey unfolds.

Today, as the students entered the classroom at 9:05, snowflakes were falling (on the SMARTBoard). It’s been too cold to snow outside! The conversation led to snowflakes and many questions came to light (many of which I did not have the answer to). I posed the question: “What is a snowflake” and the journey began! Some students conversed, some went immediately to the laptop cart, and some asked for paper to record their thinking. After five minutes the kids were fully immersed in their learning. At this point, our principal, Don Grant popped in for his morning visit and I had the kids share their learning. Conversations arose about the water cycle, global warming, ice crystals, the atmosphere, and a scientist. The kids were “digging deep”, inquiring, questioning, sharing and learning… and so were Don and I.

It was time to consolidate some of their learning. I encouraged the students to open up a new Google Slide deck and summarize their new learning into one paragraph titled “What is a Snowflake”. At 9:45, Madame Erdman arrived, it was time for French! After arriving back from French, my students helped to edit this blog post and read Mr. Peterson’s blog post as well. They can’t wait to code their own snowflakes!

After indoor recess (it’s -30 in Thunder Bay) we headed down to the gym for some (snowless) floor hockey. Upon returning to the classroom, we watched this video on “The Science of Snowflakes”.  The students continued to take jot notes to help them understand how snow flakes are formed. They also started to recognize all of the math (symmetry, angles, shapes, patterns) that can be found in snowflakes. We discussed the term “randomness” versus order and patterns.

During second indoor recess the kids had their first attempts at creating their own paper snowflakes:

and after recess they began to compile their jot notes and research into a short report title “What is a Snowflake”:

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Finally, to end the day the kids tried their hand at coding their own snowflakes:

After finding just the right background for their “favourite” snowflake creation, the students were able to select an appropriate setting and watch their snowflakes magically fall. They sent me their creations via Google Classroom and tomorrow they’ll surprise their parents with a holiday “flakey” email!

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Day 2

Today we started the day with the kids self selecting Snowflake poems. We talked about the importance if narrowing our Google searches and using text features to help us filter the number of poems we have available to us. The kids read a number of poems for enjoyment and took screen shots of the ones that most “resonated” with them. They did a pair-share and many great discussions came to light.  As we discussed their poems as large groups and within smaller groups, it was incredibly rewarding to hear how rich the conversations were and how deeply the students were digging for meaning.An incidental Christian Living lesson transpired as may of the students had picked this poem:

The kids were now ready to respond to their reading. They returned to their assignment in Google Classroom and quickly got down to work.

The kids are just finishing up their edits. Watch for updates coming soon!

In math, we continued our investigations of snowflakes and their geometric properities:

Day 3

This morning before school I received this tweet

which would become a key resource for my procedural reading snowflake idea for the afternoon. We finished our final edits of our Snowflake poem responses

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and the kids pair-shared their work. As they finished and handed their work into Google classroom, they tried their hand again at coding snow flakes. They have quickly become more skilled!

In math, we shared our geometric and mathematical findings when investigating our shared snowflake..

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Finally, to end Day 3 of our “Snowflake Inquiry”, I challenged my kids with the following assignment:

I kept my mouth closed, circulated, observed and didn’t say a word. It was great to watch the kids select which tools they would use to help them create their snowflake. I watched problem solving, collaboration, team work, reading for understanding, trial and error, risk taking, innovation, use of multiple tools and multiple platforms. When kids struggled, others helped. A big “ahah” was when I heard many times “You need to read the instructions carefully”! Below are their final products!

Day 4

It snowed today! So I began the morning with the following tweet as “food for thought”:

As the kids read the provocation on the SMART Board, they naturally began to discuss, do some rough calculations in the math notebooks and ask questions. The bait was set and the kids took it, hook, line and sinker. What followed was a day long math inquiry.

I had the students start by making a reasonable prediction based on their schema about snowflakes and the world around them…

I was impressed by their reasoning and ability to use their common sense to arrive at estimates ranging from a couple of minutes to 3-4 hours. They considered such variables as wind speed, the mass of the snowflake, the stages of a snowflake and the relative position of clouds from the ground.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next, I discussed with my students the information they would require to help solve the question more accurately.

They worked in pairs to brainstorm the information they required and I challenged my students to arrive at only two questions that we could Google the answer for.We gathered on the carpet and the kids pitched their questions, while I recorded (many of the students had the same questions). Upon compiling a list of potential questions, I had my students each vote on the two questions they believed they needed the answers to the most.

With “How fast does snow fall?”  being the most popular, we Googled the first question.

The first search result proved helpful, but we continued to read a few more webpages to confirm the information presented to us. Many great incidental math learning opportunities evolved. We reviewed range, what 95% looked like, what mass meant and what surface area was. We also converted feet to meters and someone asked if a foot was one third of a meter, which led to a discussion on fractions

The students proceeded to record their new learning (information) on their sheet of paper. Most had a solid understand that a snowflake travels at an average rate of 1 meter per second to 2 seconds.

At this point, I thought, to help move our learning forward, I’d pose a simpler question, and so on the back of their paper, the kids added this question: If it was possible, how long would it take for a snowflake to fall from the ceiling to he floor in our classroom? Prove it. The students were able to quickly estimate the height of our ceiling to be 9-10 feet or 3 meters and solved the question. This would create content as we moved toward solving the “bigger” question.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now that the kids were ready for the answer to their second question: “How far is a snow cloud from the ground?” This answer wasn’t as easily found. Together we did a lot of Googling, researching and discussing. Our math investigation turned to an mini lesson on different types of clouds and latitudes. After understanding that snow clouds are typically “Nimbostratus” clouds. The following graphics proved helpful:

I had the students arrive at their own conclusions and record their new learning (information). Most came to the conclusion that most snow clouds are 1500-2000m above the earth’s surface.

After almost two full blocks dedicated to solving our problem (with the exception of a French class, gym and short body break), it was time for lunch. I debated whether I’d continue with our math challenge into the last block. Part of me really wanted to as the class was on a roll, but I was worried about the kids hitting a “math wall”. I decided I’d play it by ear and get a sense of my students after lunch.

They came back in seemingly ready, willing and WANTING to solve their problem. The snow outside was falling, the time seemed right. I let the kids have at it…

I really thought they’d have no problem with the question. Boy was I wrong! As I circulated to listen to their math talk and overlook their calculations some kids were arriving at the conclusion that snow would take 30- 50 seconds to fall 2000 meter to the ground while others thought it might take 4-5 hours! Yikes! I let them struggle… but not a lot of progress. They were hitting a wall. Their math brains were shutting down.

It was time for a little brain break.. and perhaps time to move on. We did 10 minutes of “Calm” mindfulness and during that time I debated my next move. I had the kids gather at the front of the SMART Board and reviewed what we already knew; how fast snow travels very second (1-2 meters) and how high in the sky clouds were found (1000-2000m). We also reviewed that it would take 3-6 seconds for snow to travel from our 3 meter ceiling to the floor.  I asked how long it would take for snow to fall 100 m. The kids thought out loud “100 seconds”… “200 seconds” “That’s 1 minute 40 seconds”, someone said. Light bulbs! Wait time…. “Ya and… 200 seconds equals….” “Hold it Grace”, I said. “Give your classmates time.” Wait time…. more light bulbs. More hands went up. Then I said “If snow falls at a rate of 1 meter a second, it will take 100 seconds or 1 minute 40 seconds. If it falls at a rate of 1 meter per 2 seconds it will take 200 minutes or…..” “3 minutes 20 seconds”, (many) of the kids yelled.

They were ready to go back to their calculations. “Ok, I think the clouds are 1800 meters in the air, snow travels at 1 meter a second, that’ll take 1800 seconds. I need to divide that by 60 to find out how many minutes that is”. BOOM!  I circulated…”Mr.C, we say it’s 45 minutes” ” We’re going with 55 minutes because 1100 m times 3 seconds equals 3300seconds divide 60 equals 55 minutes!”  SWEET! It was now 3:00, many light bulbs were shining and the kids were DONE!

Is was time to regroup and read them …… “The Snowflake”.

Days 5 and 6

After a great day of math (and reading, writing and Science) I figured I’d switch gears and challenge the kids to take the perspective of a falling snowflake and write about their journey as they travelled towards Bethlehem to witness Jesus’ birth. I told the kids that I wanted them to be creative, use their new understanding of snowflakes, their understanding of the nativity story, technology and the many other tools they had available to them. My “vision” was to have my students create a story that they could share with their family  this Christmas morning and perhaps for years to come!

The kids were excited, eager and enthusiastic! Some went immediately to the laptop cart to research and read about the nativity story, others opened a Google Doc and began their introduction, a few took a piece of large paper and began brainstorming, others started to sketch and some sat and discussed. Some elected to work in pairs and many wanted to tackle this project on their own.The kids were productive and engaged. The first block quickly flew by and as my students returned after first Nutrition Break, they all got back down to work and so I let them go….

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I circulated to listen, observe, give feedback and question to push my students thinking. What stuck me was that many students decided to start with their illustrations first, many electing to use pastels. Many students were using Google images to gain inspiration for their own illustrations while others were using YouTube to get step by step art tutorials. Kids were taking pictures of their illustrations in Photo Booth and then photo editing their work in “Photos”.  I was impressed to hear the kids talking about the importance of their introduction to “hook” the reader. I had to reel some of my students in as many were getting so caught up in their journey through the Solar system (yes they recognized that this would not be possible if they were a snowflake, but we decided that their stories could have some fictional elements). The kids were all over the map when it came to completing their task but whatever they were doing was working for them and I was there to support and guide them.

The second block blurred into the third and the kids were eager to continue working. At this point I had to remind each all of the students of the main purpose of the task: to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. I had a few students share where they were “at” (some shared their written introductions, others talked out their story lines while a number of students shared their illustrations to help tell their story) and collectively, the class gave feedback. At some point we did some mindfulness (using Calm) and body breaks (using Go Noodle). The kids were excited for me to circulate with both my camera and phone to document and share their learning.

The kids continued to write and illustrate their stories the following day. I noticed  how seamlessly Reading, Writing, Art, Media Literacy, Science  and Christian Living were all being covered during this time. The process continued throughout most of day 6. I judged the kids energy, focus and engagement and gave them “breaks” by working in  physical education, their independent reading, mindfulness and body breaks and mPower (a math game that is self paced and self directed, based on the Ontario Curriculum math expectations). The day flew by and the kids progress was steady. I was confident they would finish this large project in time for Christmas so they could share their wonderful stories with their parents!

Day 7

Today was crunch time! It was time for the elves to get busy and finish up their virtual books by the end of the day so I could give them my final feedback and they could make their final edits on Friday (the day before holidays). I received this tweet when I arrived at school:

So we started the day with a great non fiction read aloud which led to more discussions about innovations, science and biographies.

As the day progressed and the students started to finish their stories, the kids did some pair sharing and shared feedback. i provided feedback on sticky notes and directly within student’s Google slides. Some were getting very close to finishing, so we gathered around the SMART Board to have students share their stories with the intent of providing a few good models. The kids worked for the better part of the day (with some well needed “breaks” worked in) to complete their Snowflake Adventure stories. One individual completed his final edit after receiving feedback and asked if he might be able to colour print his story at home to gift his parents with a paper copy of the book as well. I was confident that my students would meet the Friday deadline as the day ended.

Day 8

My kids returned for the last day and one student handed me his paper copy, colour  printed book:

He was so proud to share it with his classmates. They were all now more motivated than ever to complete their own books so they could share them with their parents on Christmas morning! By the end of the day, all of my students had completed their stories in Google Slides. Many of the kids shared their stories with one another and they were excited to share the with their parents, family and friends! I love the fact that my students will be able to share their stories for years to come!

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Merry Christmas!

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## 12 Gifts 4 Teachers 2016

Last year I shared a favourite lesson, resource or idea every day for the twelve days leadingup to Christmas. The 12 Gifts 4 Teachers 2015 were well received and I enjoyed sharing! So to make it a “tradition”, I present to you the 12 Gifts 4 Teachers 2016!

As with last year, take whatever you find interesting or useful and change, modify and add to suit your class. If you know of others who might benefit, share with them as well!

I will also be tweeting my “12 Gifts” each day to #12gifts4ts Please feel free to share YOUR 12 gifts as well… or even one or two! I believe our ideas are only as good as the people we share them with and in the long run, it will be our students who will be on the receiving end our sharing!

Merry Christmas!

Day 1 Many educators are starting to rethink traditional “homework”. The term is no longer used in my classroom. Learning certainly should not be confined to the walls of a classroom and the hours of a school day. The opportunities for learning are endless and kids (and parents) should not perceive learning as “work”. There needs to be a shift in mindset. Learning should be fun, rewarding, challenging and exciting. We should want to share our learning with others, and in doing so, more learning should occur. “HomeSHARE” has replaced “Homework” in my classroom. Read the original blog post: “WHAT IF Homework Looked Like This?” for a complete explanation, resources and more ideas.

Day 2 There has been a lot of talk lately about transforming learning spaces. I think the

key here is to create a space that makes most sense to both your students and yourself. It has to be comfortable, while at the same time, both efficient and effective for all learners. I love my transformed learning space and so do my students. Read my blog post “My Transformed Classroom” and watch the 360 degree video to get a peek into my learning space.  I’d love to hear about yours!

Day 3  This is by far the most popular resource that I share… and so back by popular demand… The Genius Hour Journal! When I first started Genius Hour in my classroom, I felt that I needed to provide my students with somewhat of a framework to guide them through the process. I came up with six guiding steps: QUESTION, PLAN, RESEARCH, CREATE, SHARE, REFLECT. Although these steps became somewhat fluid, I found that having a journal where my students could record their thinking led to success at my first attempt with Genius Hour. These steps have now become the basis for all inquiry learning in my classroom. Recently, I used the same steps and journal to complete Genius Hour with my five year old. The process and product can be viewed in his video: Kai’s Genius Hour: Dinosaurs. Find student exemplars and resources at Mr. C’s SharesEase:Genius Hour

Day 4 Are you familiar with TVO’s “Teach Ontario”? It’s an online community for Ontario’s educators, by Ontario’s educators. Explore professional learning opportunities and curated resources. Share your knowledge with your colleagues. Create projects to support teaching and learning.There’s something here for everyone! My latest “score” came from being connected to the Teach Ontario Community. mPower is an great online math game for students, based on the Ontario Curriculum expectations. Check it out!

Day 5 The world of “edublogs” is enormous. There’s so many great educators openlysharing their learning, ideas and resources. Sometimes it hard to know where tobegin.Why not check out Doug Peterson’s Friday morning blog: “This Week in Ontario Edublogs”. Doug does a great job highlighting and summarizing a few blogs by Ontario educators that he finds interesting and worthy of a read. Personally, it’s the second thing I read every Friday 😉 Thanks Doug!

Day 6 Sometimes I stumble across great resources and other times people point me in the right direction. It’s one of the many benefits of being a “ConnectED” teacher. I thank Joe Grabowski, the world’s best “Ed Travel Agent” for introducing me to the wonderful world of National Geographic Education. I encourage you to explore the site. The resources are truly incredible!

Day 7
This gift  is more of an idea and a mindset than a resource. It has probably been the biggest game changer in my teaching career. I used to be a slave to the text, following units, lessons plans and teacher’s guides to the T. I always felt confined by the structure of the text,but took comfort thinking that I was covering the curriculum, regardless of how stale the content seemed. As I evolved as an educator and became more comfortable with the curriculum, thinking outside of the text became my new norm. The resources and opportunities for learning are endless. By not being “handcuffed” to the text, I have the freedom to innovate within my classroom and cover the grade 5 and 6 Ontario Curriculum more efficiently and effectively. Kids love coming to school and so do I! Want to learn more? Start by checking out #Ditchbook and Matt Miller.

Day 8  This gift is for all of my Ontario teacher friends. The Ontario Curriculum Tracking Templates are a must have for all teachers. I use the templates to track completion of expectations throughout the year and assess individual student performance. I’ve also created a doc where I have all of the overall expectations compiled for quick reference.  The  tracking sheets are fillable and printable.  You can also make a copy for your own Google account and you will be able to record your curriculum progress using your smartphone APP on the go. Talk about simplifying your life! ENJOY!

Day 9 Does homework drive you crazy? Looking for ways to make it better? Check out Connie Hamilton and Starr Sackstein’s book “Hacking Homework”! Their book offers ten strategies for #HackingHomework  which inspire learning outside of the classroom. I appreciate the the “Hack in Action” section at the end of each chapter, that explains how classroom teachers are reinventing homework in their own classrooms.

Day 10
For some fun and interactive math, check out Spy Guys Math by Learn Alberta. I like this site for introducing a key concept or leaving it for an Occasional teacher in my absence as a review. It also provides a glossary mathematical terms and strategies for solving problems. The Problem Solving Bank is worth a look as well.

Day 11

Have your students code their very own snowflakes! Thanks to Doug Peterson for sharing  ‘Coding Snowflakes’. What a great idea. This simple activity became a springboard for an incredible inquiry in our classroom. In fact, most of our learning for the next few day will be the direct result of Doug’s share and a simple snowflake. Check out our learning journey: ‘The Snowflake’ .

Day 12
I thought I’d start off with a website that has become my “go to” for establishing mindfulness in my classroom. Calm.com is free for teacher use and guides students
through short 10 minute mindfulness activities. To get “Calm” free for your classroom, click on the link and fill in the form! I love the very front end of the site which provides 30 relaxing scenes with accompanying sounds (e.g. Mountain Lake, Summer Meadow, Falling Snow and Fireplace). If for nothing else, check out Calm.com to bring a little sun and warmth to your class during those cold winter months! Check out how I used “Calm” in my classroom today with some “falling snowflakes”!

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## M.A.D 4 Christmas

Our school has a tradition of Christmas giving that has spanned over 20 years. Every single student is involved in the process; the kindergarten to grade 4 students attend a Christmas yard and bake sale hosted by our grade 5 and 6 students. The older students use the proceeds (usually in excess of \$1000) they make to go shopping to a local grocery store and then hand deliver the food items to our local Shelter House.

This year, due to circumstances beyond our students’ control our school giving tradition has been put on hold. Being in grade 5/6, my students were obviously disappointed. They were saddened because, in their eyes, they wouldn’t be able to make a difference this Christmas. OR could they? I asked my students why they couldn’t make a difference during the Christmas season: “WHAT IF you saw this as an opportunity instead of a closed door?” “WHAT IF each of you started your own Christmas kindness snowball?”  And so the ‘M.A.D 4 Christmas Project’ was born.

I traditionally challenge my students to complete a M.A.D Project to begin the new year, but this year would be different. Their guiding inquiry question now became “How Can I Make A Difference This Christmas?”

The kids were excited and empowered! They were ready to take Christmas giving into their own hands! Students started discussing with one another and brainstorming with their parents what they could do to “give 4 Christmas”. They followed our M.A.D Inquiry model and added notes to their M.A.D Journals. Most have an idea in place, but as they’ve heard me say many times before, an idea is nothing without action. A solid plan (answering the 5 Ws-Who, What, Where, When, Why and H-How) must be in place to insure an idea comes to fruition.

I have reminded my students that sometimes the simplist acts for friends, family or our community can make the biggest difference. The important point here is to have an idea that is “doable” and achieveable!

The kids are now on the planning stage of their M.A.D 4 Christmas Projects. I look forward to seeing how they work to put their M.A.D 4 Christmas ideas into action and the differences they will make!

To help model the process, my son Kai and I started a M.A.D 4 Christmas Project “Soccer Balls for Africa” of our own!

Below is a sneak peak at some of the students’ work.

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ACTION!!!

The students have been tasked with putting their M.A.D 4 Christmas plans into action by Sunday, December 18th! This is when the making a difference begins! Once the action has taken place students and parents are encouraged to share the good they have done to inspire and encourage Christmas giving! Watch for updates below as my students share their M.A.D 4 Christmas moments!

Want to start or share a Christmas tradition of your own? Visit: The Give 4Christmas Challenge

## #ourlearningspace

Last week, in preparation for an #ONedchat I was leading on “Rethinking Classroom Design”, I posted a 360 degree video of my classroom and a blog post: “My Transformed Classroom”I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile and the Twitter chat proved to be the impetus for me to complete this task. The video and blog helped me to be reflective about the setup of my classroom and the various tools for learning within it. It gave me much pause for thought as I reflected on the past 20 years in my classroom (each of my classes and every single one the students I taught are posted on the bulletin board directly in front of my desk).  Pretty much everything about my classroom has changed, except that bulletin board of all students. It is a constant reminder of why I teach and who I serve and it is for them that I continually strive to be better and evolve.

This week I was humbled to read that Doug Peterson had shared ‘My Transformed Classroom’ video  in “This Week in Ontario Edublogs”Doug’s feedback and input was appreciated, but it was his idea that really stuck me…

Today I created the hashtag #ourlearningspace , shared my classroom video and challenged 10 other educators to do the same. Within a few hours many had taken up the challenge (one from Germany)! I am awe stricken by the incredible learning environments educators are providing for their students and themselves.

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Follow the hashtag, share your learning space and encourage others to do the same! We all have so much to share and learn from one another. Thanks Doug for a great suggestion.

## Developing Global Citizens Through Social Studies Inquiries

I am very fortunate to be working on an initiative with my childhood friend and colleague, John Prezio. Our project: “Developing Global Citizens Through Social Studies Inquiries” aims to use puzzles and board games as “springboards” for inquiries.

Today I launched our project in my classroom by having my students complete a puzzle of the world (the pieces are shaped like the countries) and then do mini “inquiries” on three countries from three different countries. The students leveraged technology such as Google Geo Tools (Google Earth and Maps) as well as websites and YouTube to build their knowledge of their countries of study.They recorded their learning in their digital “Passports to the World”.

The launch of the project was a resounding success! It was amazing to watch the world unfold at my students’ fingertips as they created their puzzles and then deepen their knowledge through the mini inquiries of their choice!

Watch this blog post for updates as we continue with our project!

## My Transformed Classroom

Above is a 360 degree tour of my learning environment. After 20 years in the same classroom I have changed and transformed it into the space it is today. I am finally satisfied with it because it is an efficient and effective environment where my students seem content, relaxed, happy and eager to explore, create, question and learn.

Let me break it down for you:

Mantra Our Class mantra “Wildcats are Making a Difference” is the focus of learning. We
work to make a difference for ourselves, our peers, our family, our community, our environment and our world.

Clotheslines I have hung “clotheslines” to hang anchor charts, learning goals and success criteria, student work and exemplars. This allows for efficiency and flow within my classroom.

Laptop I know a teacher laptop is common place in classrooms today but for my first 13 years of teaching a laptop was unheard of. My resources were limited to textbooks and unit plans in binders. Today, a textbook is rarely found in my classroom. Learning materials are authentic,”real” and relevant to my students.

Doc Cam I honestly don’t know how I taught without the ability to project. A doc cam (Photo Booth gives teachers almost the same functionality) allows me to share student exemplars immediately. This makes modelling and giving feedback incredibly easy and efficient. Students are able to get immediate feedback and see exemplars in a very timely manner. In math students can effectively share strategies with their peers. Gone are the days of photocopying student exemplars onto transparencies after the fact and after the real opportunity for learning is lost.

iPad and Laptops Portable technology has been a classroom game changer. The world is literally at our students finger tips. I am passionate about teaching my students how to use these powerful tools for good. We must model the positive use of technology and teach them how to begin to build their own digital tattoo.

Whiteboards Thanks to a product called “Idea Paint” I have transformed some of my old chalk boards (I hate chalk) and classroom walls into whiteboards. This allow my students to brainstorm and share their thinking through yet another medium.

Wall of Fame This wall, found directly at the front of our classroom, is filled with letters from dignitaries that past and present classes have received. It also includes quotes and words of wisdom from past and present students. This wall serves as a reminder that kids have a powerful voice and when used positively, anything is possible.

SMART Board My interactive SMART Board does just what it suggests, it gives my students the ability to interact with the content they are learning about. This has proved to be another game changer in my classroom. Student engagement has gone through the room. SMART Notebook, in my opinion, is the most powerful teacher software available. Learn how to use it and your teaching methodology will be forever changed.

Stand Up Desk The stand up desk by Ergotron has been a fantastic addition to my classroom, both for my students and myself. Sometimes we just need to get out of our seats and stand and/or move! No child should be forced to sit for 5-6 hours a day. Get kids moving, standing, sitting and even laying while learning and behaviour issues will diminish and productivity will increase.

Stationary Bike This has been a great addition to my classroom and provides another opportunity for my students to get moving while working and learning. Students self monitor the use of the bike. They have come up with a “sign up system” that works for everyone. I enjoy a few spins or two every day as well!

Flexible Seating Flexible seating has proven to be an absolute game changer in my classroom. This happened through much trial and error with my class. We have gotten to the point where students enter the classroom and go to their “home base” desks (determined by me). This is where they keep their bucket full of supplies, books,etc. This is also where they keep their indoor shoes. After opening exercises, I give my students full freedom of choice, allowing them to find a learning space that works for them based on what they’ll be working on and how they are feeling. The kids have learned to self regulate and make positive choices. I find they are more focused and collaborate well together. Using all of the space within our learning environment  has proved invaluable!

Buckets I call the “buckets” student “lockers”. By having my students keep all their supplies and books in their lockers, students are able to carry everything with them as they find their learning space within our classroom. Gone are the days of messy desks and lost supplies. My students’ ” lockers” are always neat and orderly which allows for increased efficiency.

Stand Up Work Area My back counter has become a place where students go to stand up while working. We know that many students love to stand (and move) while working. Stand up desks are not a feasible option in most classes, but countertops are found in almost all classrooms!

Long White Boards The long, skinny walls between my bulletin boards and windows have been transformed to whiteboards, allowing students to share their thinking and ideas or for us to create math, language, science, etc. word walls.

Board Games Board games are quickly becoming integral parts of my classroom. The opportunities for learning, problem solving and collaborating are incredible. I am currently working on a project with a colleague that leverages the playing of board games in the classroom to act as spring boards to social studies inquiries. We are excited to soon share our project, based on the grade4-6 revised Social Studies curriculum.

KCups K Cups 4 Classrooms have become an absolute game changer in my classroom. For more information, visit the webpage!

Stand up Desk I was fortunate to acquire a desk that I changed into a multi-tiered stand up desk. Mats, bean bag chairs, a variety of different chairs and desk arrangements have allowed for a wide variety of learning spaces.

Other Game Changes

Mindfulness My students and I practise mindfulness every day in our classroom. Students love this opportunity to give themselves the gift of relaxation and quiet. Check out Calm.com to bring calm to your class.

Body Breaks Everyone needs a body break. Throughout the course of each day, my students do crunches, push ups, squats, planks and jumping jacks. We also get our body moving using Go Noodle and Just Dance.

Google Apps for Education The whole suite of apps have provided a great platform for learning. Google Classroom allows for a great way for a teacher to create assignments and provide feedback.

Blog My class blog has proven to be invaluable in many ways. Together my students and I write blogs about the learning that happens in our classroom and we share student work, ideas, lessons and resources. This gives my students a powerful voice that reaches far beyond our classroom walls. As well, through the creation of a “Parent’s Page”, the most important stakeholders in my students’ education get a glimpse into their children’s classroom and feel connected to it.

Remind The “Remind App” has become a quick and effective way for me to connect with my students’ parents.

Twitter Twitter is one of my most powerful teacher tools. Visit Mr.C’s SharesEase  for a variety of examples of how I use Twitter in my classroom.

Google Hangouts Google Hangouts have allowed me to tear down my classroom walls and take my students to incredible places from all over the world to meet amazing scientists, conservationists, explorers and adventurers. This video will give you a glimpse of some of the places I’ve taken my students. Here’s a link to find more about the World’s Best Ed Travel Agent!

That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the tour through my classroom. I’d love your input and suggestions. Feel free to share a comment about your own classroom. How has it evolved? What do you like best about your learning environment? What would you change? Would love to hear from you!

*** On Wednesday, November 23 at 8:30 pm EST I’ll be leading an #ONedchat on “Rethinking Classroom Design”. What type of questions would YOU like to see addressed? Please take a minute to fill in this Google Form if you have a question idea, then join us for the chat on Wednesday. Hope to see yo there!

## Pumpkin Math with my 7 Year Old

I’ve been busy this past week working on “Pumpkin math” with my grade 5 and 6 students.

Every Halloween our four classes of junior students look forward to working together in groups of four to carve their jack-o-lanterns. My students worked to estimate and then calculate the total number of pumpkins our staff would need to purchase. They figured out the number pumpkins each staff member would be responsible for purchasing. They also calculated the total cost of the pumpkins and the amount of money each teacher would spend purchasing their share of the pumpkins. The kids worked enthusiastically and collaboratively to solve their questions and their were many EUREKA moments!

Tomorrow, before carving our pumpkins, I will challenge my students to reasonably estimate the number of seeds in each pumpkin and the total number of seeds all the pumpkins will produce.

On Friday evening while carving our pumpkin with my 7 year old I wondered aloud how many seeds would be in our pumpkin. Kai thought for a second and said “500” and so my “teachable math moment” was born. I told Kai that I knew, on average, that each “section” of pumpkin contained approximately 16 seeds. Kai thought we should count the sections. After counting and double checked we confirmed that there were 22 sections.

I discussed with him if he thought that his estimate was “reasonable”. He said, “Well it’s big pumpkin with a lot of sections, so ya 500 sounds about right.” I pushed a bit and shared aloud my calculations using our known information (# of sections and average # of seeds per section) to come up with my “calculated” estimate.

“So”, he said, “I think there’s about 100 more seeds in the pumpkin than you”. We were both eager to dig into our pumpkin.

After collecting all the seeds Kai needed to devise a plan for counting and calculating them.

At first, he simply started to count them, however, he found himself losing track.

Then he devised this plan:

By grouping in tens, he was able to count and recount more efficiently. He counted by tens and I took the opportunity to show his how 16×10=160.

He encountered another problem; he was running out of room. He counted out 20 piles and decided to make a group of 2oo.

We were getting there! Kai persisted to count out more groups of 10 and when he had 10 more groups, decided to make a group of 100.

With a group of 200 and a group of 100, there weren’t many seeds left to count. Kai went back to his original strategy of counting out groups of 10. He made 8 more and had 5 left over. Mom got involved for the final count (after we did all the hard work!).

We confirmed there was a total of 385 seeds in our jack-o-lantern which was pretty close to my calculated estimate of 352 and Kai’s estimate of 500.

After a lot of thinking we were hungry! Those pumpkin seeds sure tasted great! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

If you haven’t yet carved your pumpkin and are up to a little “pumpkin math”, our math question is below.

Update: Mrs. MacLean’s Grade 3/4 Class from Ottawa did a little pumpkin seed math of their own!

Did the “rule” of 16 seeds per section apply?

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## Math EUREKA!

I’ve been teaching grade 6 math for 20 years and it often felt like pulling teeth. I now understand why. I had a very toxic relationship with the textbook. I allowed it to dictate me. I allowed it to control my every move. I allowed it to tell me what to teach and how to teach it. I allowed the text to stifle my creativity, passion and talents and I allowed it to do  the same thing to my students. Slowly, over time, I came to this realization. Today, simply put, I’ve ditched the text. EUREKA!

I’m still talking and thinking about this math lesson from Thursday. As my class and I were discussing the previous night’s HomeSHARE,

Grace was excited to share the the problem that her mom had posed to her. She said, however, that her mom had taught her a new strategy that I may not like. I was loving the direction our math was going already!  I was intrigued and so was my class! EUREKA!

To add context, on the way to school, I had been wondering if today was the day I should introduce the  long and short division algorithms to my class. They had gained an incredible understanding of what it means to divide by working on several RWM questions and coming up with innovative strategies of their own. I thought that today may be the day that I teach them the algorithms to add another (more efficient) tool to their division tool kits. EUREKA!

We debated whether my students thought I’d like the new strategy Grace’s mom had taught her, and more importantly, would my students like it. “What’s the question?” one of the kids asked? EUREKA! Grace shared:

(Note: I added the word “Exactly” to the question.)

At first we debated whether or not this was even a REAL World Math question (Was it possible that some jeans are priced at \$359.00? Do kids make \$12.00 an hour).EUREKA! As we were discussing, side conversations about the answer evolved and many kids started working towards finding the answer. I said, “Ok Grace let me see if I can figure out this new strategy your mom has showed you”. I proceeded to do the long division algorithm on chart paper and talk though the solution as I worked.

“That’s it!” yelled Grace. “Hey, my mom showed me that strategy with a different HomeSHARE problem too” said Tom. EUREKA! Some others had confirmed they had seen this new strategy as well and they started sharing with one another their understanding of it. “I don’t get it!” yelled another student.”Neither do I” chimed in someone else.

“Ok, everyone. Based on the information you see in my calculations, how long does Grace need to work to earn her pair of jeans?” The consensus was 29 hours. However, a few students who had proceed to work on the problem with their own strategy and were thinking that somehow it may be 30 hours that Grace would have to work. Some were adamant it was 30 hours! EUREKA!

“What’s the 11?” inquired one of my grade 5s. “That’s just ‘left over’ and it doesn’t really matter” thought someone out loud. EUREKA!

“Ok, kids” I said. Do we all agree that Grace needs to work around 30 hours to earn the \$359.00 pair of jeans? Each one of them were in agreement on that and stated that they could prove it. EUREKA!

“Alright”, I said. “Now what if Grace wanted to know exactly at what point she would each her pair of jeans. Could you tell me that?”

At this point our French teacher had entered the room and the conversation still continued. “So, boys and girls” do we like Grace’s new strategy? Some did. Others didn’t. Many were on the fence but wanted to learn more. “Do you like the strategy, Mr.C?” asked one of my students? “Sometimes” I replied. EUREKA!

Eventually, the kids left for French. We’d have to continue later. I proceeded to the office with chart paper in hand and posed the question to our secretary and principal. I then entered the staff room and wrote the question on our white board.From there, I proceeded to use SMART Notebook to “make” the question. I figured the kids would like if I added the real price to the price tag. I printed the question so the students could add their work to their math portfolios when completed. I placed the question on each student’s desk and then tweeted our new math investigation and tagged some of my closest friends. EUREKA!

When my students returned they were eager EUREKA! to get back to their new math challenge and were even more excited to see that other classes throughout the world may join us in our investigation.EUREKA! At this point I wanted to understand where each student was “at” in their math thinking, so I asked them to work independently on their solution as they shared their solution on paper.

First Nutrition Break came quickly after 20 minutes. It was difficult to get most of the kids to leave the problem EUREKA! and many of some of them brought their math with them. EUREKA!  It was time for a break!

I popped by the office to drop the question off to Mr. Grant, our principal and invited him to join us at 12:05 as we were going to continue to work on the problem. I entered the staff room to find that many staff members had contributed to finding a solution to our problem. EUREKA! It was interesting to note that I did not see the traditional algorithm used. EUREKA!

I was happy that the first 40 minutes of our second block was DPA (the kids needed it and so did I). We stretched, ran, did sit ups, push ups and jumping jacks, played out favourite game of dodge ball and chilled on our play equipment. After a good brain break, the kids were ready to continue with the problem. EUREKA!

As they had all now gotten most of their math thinking onto paper, I now invited them to share their work with a partner if they wished or they could also elect to continue to work independently. As I circulated to listen to math talk, question and push, I confirmed that all students had a strong sense of the problem EUREKA! and knew that Grace would need to work between 29 and 30 hours to earn her jeans.EUREKA! Since Mr. Grant couldn’t join us, he email us his solution. EUREKA!

What they were all struggling with was at exactly what time would she earn them? Regardless of the many strategies they had used each of my students had arrived at a “remainder”, which was 11 if they decided Grace needed to work 29 hours or 1 if they decided Grace needed to work 30 hours. This is where they were “fuzzy”.EUREKA! I wasn’t surprised, even though  parts of a whole, fractions, decimals, and percents had been explored in some of our previous math investigations and during some DPA activities. I let them continue to struggle, discuss and question. As I gave them time, many students did come to the understanding that the “11” or “1” represented a part of a whole. Some started to realize that the 11 could be represented as a fraction 11/12. Others began arriving at a decimal .91. A discussion evolve about what 1/12 of an hour represented. Others were wondering what 10% of an hour was.EUREKA!

As much as I wanted to push further, the kids were starting to fade. Their “math brains were hurting”! EUREKA! We had a body break and practised our Thriller dance routine for our Halloween parade and ended the block by doing a read aloud (Paddle to the Sea).

Nutrition Break #2 came and went and the students returned to class wanting to continue the math investigation.EUREKA! Instead we did some mindfulness using of favourite guided meditation: “Calm” Before the kids returned to their “home base” desks.  I congratulated them on growing their math brains and told them we were going to move on. But before we did I wanted them to turn to the back of their solution sheets and write  “I KNOW” and ” I’M STILL FUZZY”.EUREKA! On one side of their page they wrote all of the things they absolutely knew was correct and could prove. On the other side of the page they list what they were still fuzzy about. As much as I wanted to continue to push, it was time to move on. The kids were excited to continue to prepare for their trip to the Galapagos Islands with Joe Grabowski on Monday.

While I was absent from school on Friday, working with my good friend, John Prezio on our Teacher Learning Co-op Project I exchanged these tweets with Jonathon So:

EUREKA!

## The Power of Connections

I’ve spent the last year really reflecting on what it means to be connected and the implications being connected has had on both my own personal and professional life.

I rarely used the term “connected” prior to 2013. Before this time I worked with, learned from and shared mostly with the people confined by the walls of our school. On occasion, I attended professional development workshops with colleagues from other schools within our city. The person who I spent the most time talking education with was my wife, and colleague (our ELKP teacher), Cheryl.

All this changed in 2013, when I sought to connect with other educators, beyond my home, school and city. Becoming an Apple Distinguished Educator and travelling to Austin, Texas for the ADE Institute was my first step in becoming “connected”. Fast forward three years and one might say I’m very “connected”. But am I?

When my son wakes up in the morning is my phone the first thing he sees or is it my face? When out for supper, am I more concerned about what my tweeps are saying or my friends at the table? When visiting my parents am I truly focused on what they have to say or am I distracted by an email I’m waiting to receive? When enjoying the outdoors while biking, walking, running or skiing am I missing the beauty directly in front of me while endlessly checking my text messages? When sitting across from my wife, enjoying a quite moment am I listening to what she is saying or lost in thought about what I’ll say in my next blog? While sharing on a global level with teachers throughout the world am I missing the opportunities to share with my colleagues and closest friends? As my class connects with others in distant countries are we missing opportunities to build relationships with classes within our own school, board, province and country? When taking on “global ed” projects are we losing sight of the needs within our own backyard? Of all the people I connect with on a daily basis, have I left enough time for the most important stakeholders in my students’ education; their parents?  In becoming “connected” have I become disconnected?

I have come to the realization that the more “connected” I am, the greater risk I have in becoming disconnected with those people and places closest to me.  Being mindful of the
5Ws (I know I sound like a teacher) and prioritizing and nurturing my closest connections has allowed me establish a balance and philosophy for how I connect.

Who

My family and friends are the people in my life that matter the most to me. They come first. They are my most important connections. I make every effort to connect with them face to face but doing so virtually is using technology as a powerful means to keep in touch.

I am connected to many incredible educators throughout the world. They are my most important “virtual” connections. I have established many close friendships with many. They are my priority when I’m connected “online”.

What

What do I use to connect with my family and friends? Fortunately, all of my immediate family is in Thunder Bay. I can connect in person. We have family dinners and visits. We meet our friends once a month for supper. We go for walks, hikes, skis, camp and cycle. Failing “in person” visits, I connect with family and friends and the phone and through email. I don’t use Facebook.

I connect with my teaching PLN (personal learning network) mostly through Twitter. I also use Google+. I enjoy visiting the TVO’s “Teach Ontario” education community and the Apple Distinguished Educator community. I also blog and manage a website to share resources and ideas with my PLN. I won’t use Facebook because I don’t need anymore platforms. Voxer? Crazy cool tool to connect… but a time sucker. I had to drop it.

Where

My family and I connect best away from any sort of technology. Family dinners are tech free. We don’t watch a lot of tv or play video games. We enjoy connecting with our natural surroundings by doing many different outdoor pursuits.

Connecting with my PLN is done virtually, online… on my computer or phone. That said, I have had the opportunity to meet many of the people in my PLN at conferences. Funny thing is since a relationship has already established, many of the people I meet “in person” I already feel like I’ve known for years. The next best thing to F2F meeting is a Google Hangout.

When

The “when” can be the toughest one when trying to balance our connections as there truly never seems to be enough time in the day. Connecting with my immediate family members (my son, wife and dog) happens first thing in the morning. When I hear my son get out of bed the technology goes immediately away. Mornings are spent tech free. Mealtimes are also tech free as connecting with the people with whom we are eating is priority. When I’m exercising and/or spending time in the great outdoors by myself or with friends or family, tech is left at home.

So when is there time left for me to connect and learn with my PLN First off, as stated above, I limit my platforms. Twitter, my blog and website, a little of Google+ and online communities. I connect before my son and wife wake up (usually an hour each morning), when my son is on screens (usually an hour each weekday and 2 hours on weekends) and for an hour or so in the evening when both my wife and I connect online.  I am connected during the day at school, in the classroom. I share what we are doing on Twitter 4-5 times a day and sometimes blog with the help of my students. I also squeeze in tweets during “downtime” at soccer practises, at lunch hour, etc.

Why

I believe I need to be connected first and foremost to myself. I need to know myself and my values. I need to make time for myself. I have to make a difference for myself before I can make a difference for others. Being connected to my natural surroundings helps me gain a better sense of myself. If I know myself I am able better able to help and appreciate those closest to me, including my students. In doing so I can teach them to make a difference for themselves, and, in turn, one another. Being connected to both my local and global community is also important as I believe the we are all called upon and have the ability to help make the world a better place.

The reason why I am connected to my “virtual” PLN is actually quite simple. They each make me a better teacher….and person.  A single tweet, blog, project or image can challenge my thinking, change my mindset, give me hope, fuel a fire or spark an idea. Because each of my “connections” help me in my learning journey… they help me to grow.

Technology is a very powerful tool. With it, our children can make their world a better place. BUT we must constantly question how we are using tech and understand that our children will follow our lead.  I believe our generation has used technology somewhat indiscriminately…somewhat recklessly.  Perhaps it’s time we start to teach and model a more thoughtful use of technology; to understand there’s a time for tech and a time to put the tech away, that there’s a difference between engagement and disengagement, from being connected and disconnected and that the real power is in connections.

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