Blue Gold

This is the story of Blue Gold.

Version 2

It is also the story of Nibi.

It is my story. It is my father’s story. It’s my son’s story. It’s my students’ story. It’s my friends’ story. It’s Nokomis Josephine Mandamin’s story.

It is our story.

I have always had a strong connection to water. In fact, it is what connected my father and I. We spent many wonderful days exploring and fishing the creeks and rivers that flow into Lake Superior. The Black Sturgeon, the McIntyre and Cedar Creek were some of our favourites. It was on these waters that I learned about my dad and I learned about myself. Water also connects my own son and I; we continue to visit the same waters my dad and and did some 40 years ago.

IMG_3742.JPG

As a young student, I fondly remember watching the National Film Board’s Paddle to the Sea. It’s a story about a young Indigenous boy who carves a wooden replica of himself paddling a canoe. The story follows the journey of the little canoe through the Great Lakes to its eventual destination; the Atlantic Ocean. The video connected me to the Great Lakes and opened my eyes to a world beyond Thunder Bay and Lake Superior.

Water also helps me to connect my class, to help them understand their place in the world and realize just how great the Great Lakes are. I now bring the story  “Paddle to the Sea”  to my own class. I also harness the power of technology to help my students track Paddle’s journey in  “real time” via Google Earth. In March, my students represented Lake Superior, from the perspective of living in Thunder Bay, during A Kids’ Guide to Canada’s Kids Meet the Great Lakes  virtual tour of the Great Lakes.

Although there was never a doubt that my students had a firm understanding of just how great the Great Lakes were, something was still missing. I always struggled to find a way to help my students understand that they were also at risk. It’s a hard concept to grasp when you live on the largest freshwater lake in the world. It seems so vast, so endless, so untouched.

Two chance opportunities allowed me to bring to my students the knowledge and understanding that I believed they were missing. Google Earth and a fabulous team of educators allowed me to bring Blue Gold to my classroom and Nokomis Josephine Mandamin brought Nibi.

My connection to Google Earth and National Geographic Education allowed me to visit Google Headquarters in Chicago and Seattle to participate in two “Hackathons”  and  eventually work with an incredible team of educators (Joel Charlebois, Afzal Shaikh, Jessica Walsh and Brooke Whitlow) to pitch an idea for a Teacher Authored Voyageur story which we called “Blue Gold”. Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 7.14.32 PMThe idea was to have students use Google Earth to take a modern day journey down the Great Lakes; to help them understand just how great the Great Lakes are, but also to realize they are at risk. The story ends with a call to action.  Our idea was voted the story “Most Likely to Change the World” and we learned it would become the first TAV to be launched on Google Earth. The launch would take place at ISTE during the last week of June! The team was excited to say the least! The rest of the team would be at ISTE for the launch, I however, would still be in my classroom. But I couldn’t wait to put the Voyageur story in the hands of my students and watch them navigate “Blue Gold”. What they would find within it would be sure to amaze, challenge and inspire them!

Amazingly, water also connected me to Josephine Mandamin.

It was a cool, overcast day in late April when my son Kai and I decided to take our exchange student Renaud (from France) on a short bike ride around a small lake that connects to Lake Superior via the Current River.  We wanted him to witness our Great Lake Superior and the giant that sleeps within it.

As we were riding, we passed a woman dressed in traditional Anishinaabe clothing, carrying a staff in one hand and a copper bucket in the other. I’m not sure either of the boysIMG_3366 (1) noticed her but she caught my attention for just a moment. We continued our ride, stopped atop the dam which connects Boulevard Lake to the Current River and eventually empties into Lake Superior. We showed Renaud the Sleeping Giant and tried to help him understand just how vast Lake Superior was. As we mounted our bikes and began to ride, the mysterious woman with the copper bucket appeared again. This time, as we passed, my son inquired about who she may be and what she might be doing. As we rode, I suggested that we could stop, turn around and  he could ask her the very questions that were on my mind as well. The moment passed. Opportunity lost.

And then it happened! On a Saturday afternoon in mid May I opened the Ontario College of Teacher’s Professionally Speaking magazine and this is what I found….

IMG_3177 (1)

Could this possibly be the mysterious woman Kai, Renaud and I had seen on that day in April? I had to find out. I needed to hear her story. I needed my child to hear her story. I needed my students to hear her story. We had to connect! So we reached out. Within 24 hours we had found The Water Walker.

Nokomis Josephine Mandamin’s story is simply incredible and inspiring. One day a wise ogimaa told her: “In your lifetime, the day will come when an ounce of water costs more than an ounce of gold. What are you going to do about it?” Josephine acted. Along with other women, men and young people, Nokomis has walked around all of the Great Lakes to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi (water). Nokomis is a difference maker. Personally, I compare her to a modern day Terry Fox.IMG_3367 (1)

Ironically, Josephine is from Thunder Bay. I simply cannot explain why I have not heard her story until now. But now I know, my child knows and my students know Nokomis’ story. I read “The Water Walker”, written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson. Nokomis loves Nibi and she wants to bring awareness of the importance of protecting it. My students and I were so inspired by her story that they made a video to share their thoughts and feelings with her. We have also podcasted about Josephine in our M.A.D (Make A Difference) Podcast series.

The “Water Walker” ends with a question, similar to one that I often ask my students….

IMG_3369 (1)

Nokomis asks…. “What are YOU going to do about it?”

To honour Nokomis and to help her protect Nibi my students and I had idea to become “Junior Water Walkers”. We would pick a body of water that we would “adopt” and work to help protect it. We reached out to Joanne to see if this would be an initiative that she thought Josephine would appreciate and this was her response:

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 2.04.53 PM

We were excited to share our idea with other classes and even more excited to learn that they would join us in adopting a body of water of their own!

My students and I just had to meet Nokomis in person! We invited both she and Joanne to our classroom. The school year was coming to an end and we were running out of time, but amazingly we found a day that worked for everyone. On Monday June 11 we would connect! While I was making arrangements to have Nokomis visit our classroom, Emily Henderson, Program Manager of Earth Education Outreach contacted me to ask if Google Earth could come to our classroom. Although I couldn’t be at ISTE for the launch of our Blue Gold Teacher Authored Voyageur Story a team from Google Earth wanted to visit  our classroom! The only day that could work? June 11.

On June 11 Nibi…. water…. Blue Gold brought us all together.

We are hoping that other classes around the Great Lakes, across Canada and throughout the world will be as inspired by Nokomis’ story as we are and join us in becoming Junior Water Walkers to honour Josephine Madamin, continue her walk and protect Nibi.

So we ask: “What are you going to do about it?

To add you class to the Junior Water Walkers map simply fill in this Junior Water Walkers form!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My “New” Learning Space!

June 16

I’ve spent the last 22 years of my teaching career in the same classroom; I count the years by the number of class pictures on my wall. I have transformed it into a learning space that I am completely happy with.  It is an efficient and effective environment where my students are content, relaxed, happy and eager to explore, create, question and learn. I’ve recently been informed that I’ll be moving….to a portable classroom.

I’m not going to lie, at first I was disappointed. But as I’ve always said to my students: “When one door closes, at least two others open”.  I’d be a hypocrite not to heed my own advise. In fact, I’m  quite sure my new portable will have two doors!!! I’m looking at this  unexpected change as a new opportunity to grow, learn, collaborate, share and create an even better learning space for my students than the one that took me 22 years to establish.

I’ll be moving the furniture, desks, mats and equipment you see in the video above to my portable and hopefully, a SMART Board will be installed. A set of 10 Chromebooks have replaced the cart of Macbooks. I’m excited about some new ideas that I have for my new space. As we’ll only be one step away from the outdoors and space will be limited in the classroom, I plan on spending much more time having my students work, learn, play and collaborate outside. Thus, I’m hoping to acquire a class set of lawn chairs, a portable whiteboard and mini white boards for each student.

I’m reaching out to my PLN for your advise and experience with teaching in a portable classroom. What works? What are the advantages? What suggestions and tips do you have? How have you set up your “portable” learning space? Do you take advantage of the close proximity to the outdoors? Can you provide me with a picture or two of your classroom? Please take a moment to fill in this form to help me build my new learning space. I plan on sharing my learning journey and any input provided. If you don’t teach in a portable and never have, please pass this blog post onto someone you know who has! I’m looking forward to learning from all of you and thanks in advance for your help!

-P

June 17

Well, it’s been 18 hours since I posted and the response from my PLN has been incredible! Thank you!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here’s some of my new learning, questions and thoughts…

I am now officially referring to my new learning space as “The Cottage” until my new class in September decides on a name.  I will be inviting my students to help co-create The Cottage and determine how they would like to structure their school day. More outside learning will definitely happen. I think I’ll keep the mats but also ask for a carpet. Wondering what teachers experience is with bringing personal furniture into the classroom (for example, a coffee table or a chair)? Lawn chairs and small student whiteboards are high on my priority list. I’ll want to bring in a portable blue tooth speaker. As many of you know, technology is an important component of my learning space. We normally share our 10 Chromebooks with another class to make a class set of 20 (minus 6 or 7 as we have classes of 27) for half the school day. Sharing was relatively  easy as the class we shared with was directly across the hall. Sharing of the Chromebooks will prove more problematic.

Suggestions? Ideas? Thoughts?

-P

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Nibi

Version 2

It was a cool, overcast day in late April when my son Kai and I decided to take our exchange student Renaud (from France) on a short bike ride around a small lake that connects to Lake Superior via the Current River.  We wanted him to witness our Great Lake Superior and the giant that sleeps within it.

As we were riding, we passed a woman dressed in traditional Anishinaabe clothing, carry a staff in one hand and a copper bucket in the other. I’m not sure either of the boysIMG_3366 (1) noticed her but she caught my attention for just a moment. We continued our ride, stopped atop the dam which connects Boulevard Lake to the Current River and eventually empties into Lake Superior. We showed Renaud the Sleeping Giant and tried to help him understand just how vast Lake Superior was. As we mounted our bikes and began to ride, the mysterious woman with the copper bucket appeared again. This time, as we passed, my son inquired about who she may be and what she might be doing. As we rode, I suggested that we could stop, turn around and  he could ask her the very questions that were on my mind as well. The moment passed. Opportunity lost.

As we loaded the truck and began the drive home I thought about how fitting it was that we took Renaud to Lake Superior. A walk along a body of water, whether it be to fish or simply to explore was what I often did with my own father and how my father spent time with his. It’s also what I love doing with my own son. Water has a way of connecting us.

IMG_3368 (1)Water also connects my class . We began the school year reading “Paddle to the Sea”, a book written in 1941 by Holling Clancy Holling . It’s about a young Indigenous boy who carves a wooden replica of himself paddling a canoe. The story follows the journey of the little canoe through the Great Lakes to its eventual destination; the Atlantic Ocean.   The story  was one that I had forgotten about for many years. I remember watching the National Film Board of Canada’s adaptation of the book many years ago in the 1970’s! This year, while reading the book, we tracked Paddle’s journey in “real time” via Google Earth.

In March, my students represented Lake Superior, from the perspective of living in Thunder Bay, during A Kids’ Guide to Canada’s Kids Meet the Great Lakes  virtual tour of the Great Lakes.

My, how learning has changed! Technology has made our world smaller and more connected. I believe it has  given my students a greater sense of their place in the world and an understanding of how they can make a difference.

Through our learning journey, my students had gained a far better understanding of how GREAT their Great Lakes were than I ever had at their age, but what still alluded me was whether they understood that this great resource was also at risk. And then it happened! On a Saturday afternoon in mid May I opened the Ontario College of Teacher’s Professionally Speaking magazine and this is what I found….

IMG_3177 (1)

Could this possibly be the mysterious woman Kai, Renaud and I had seen on that day in April? I had to find out. I needed to hear her story. I needed my child to hear her story. I needed my students to hear her story. We had to connect! So I reached out…

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 2.33.40 PM

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 2.12.24 PM

Within 24 hours Josephine, Joanne and I had connected and another learning journey was beginning to flow.

Nokomis Josephine Mandamin’s story is simply incredible and inspiring. Along with other women, men and young people, Nokomis has walked around all of the Great Lakes to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi (water). Nokomis is a difference maker. Personally, I compare her to a modern day Terry Fox.

IMG_3367 (1)Ironically, Josephine is from Thunder Bay. I simply cannot explain why I have not heard her story until now. But now I know, my child knows and my students know Nokomis’ story. We have all read “The Water Walker”, written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson. Nokomis loves Nibi and she wants to bring awareness of the importance of protecting it. My students and I were so inspired by her story that me made a video to share their thoughts and feelings with her. We have also podcasted about Josephine in our M.A.D (Make A Difference) Podcast series.

The “Water Walker” ends with a question, similar to one that I often ask my students, which is…. “How are YOU going to make a difference?”

IMG_3369 (1)

Nokomis asks…. “What are YOU going to do about it?”

On Monday, June 11 Nokomis and Joanne will be visiting our classroom. To honour Nokomis and to help her protect Nibi my students and I an idea to become “Junior Water Walkers”. We will pick a body of water that we will “adopt” and work to help protect it.  We will figure out the details “as we go” We reached out to Joanne to see if this would be an initiative that she thought Josephine would appreciate and this was her response:

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 2.04.53 PM

We are truly hoping that other classes around the Great Lakes, across Canada and throughout the world will be as inspired by Nokomis’ story as we are and join us in becoming Junior Water Walkers to honour Josephine Madamin, continue her walk and protect Nibi.

To add you class to the map below simply fill in this Junior Water Walkers form!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What was in Jeremy’s Egg?

I enjoy using the story “What Was In Jeremy’s Egg” upon returning to school after the Easter weekend. There’s so much to be learned from it! I typically share the story as a read aloud and have kids discuss and respond to the prompts. After each response, I have students share their ideas and then give them a chance to add to own ideas. This type of reading, writing, learning and sharing brings out rich and thoughtful responses. Feel free to use and or adapt any of the prompts with your class! We’d love to hear other students’ reactions to the story! Reach us on Twitter @cherandpete Also check out our M.A.D Podcast (coming soon).

Use information from the text and your own ideas to write your responses to the prompts. Remember to “dig deep” when responding.

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 9.46.33 AMIf YOU were in Jeremy’s class how would you feel? Why?  If YOU were Jeremy’s teacher, how would you feel? Why? If YOU were Jeremy, how would you feel? Why?Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 9.52.03 AMIf YOU were Jeremy’s parents, how would you feel? Why?Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 9.57.47 AMWhy do you think Miss Miller reacted to Jeremy in this manner? How else could she have reacted?Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.05.06 AMWhat did Miss Miller want the children to do? Do you think Jeremy understood what Miss Miller wanted him to do? Why? Why not?Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 10.19.42 AMScreen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.07.02 AMScreen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.12.37 AM What did the children learn about Easter and the resurrection from Miss Miller’s lesson? Had Jeremy learned anything? Why hadn’t Jeremy put anything in his egg?

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.44.35 AMWhat do you think Jeremy may have taught his classmates? What do you think Jeremy may have taught Miss Miller? What did Jeremy teach YOU? How did he make a difference?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Math Class Reboot

Our wifi had been slow and sporadic for the past three months. Since I had recently upgraded to a higher speed, I would have expected it to have become faster and more efficient, not the opposite. Buffering and waiting was becoming the norm and I’d fallen into the trap of turning the wifi off and then back on again. We’d have some success for a while and then another device would drop the signal. Turn wifi off, turn back. REPEAT. My strategy was working but it certainly wasn’t efficient or effective. After far too long, I reached out to my network provider for help. With his advice and direction, we walked through some possible strategies to improve the wifi and get the most out of what I was paying for. He also had me do a full reboot of the modem. BINGO! Like magic, we were finally able to use our devices and our wifi network to their full capacity, with efficiency and effectiveness. I regretted waiting so long to reach out, change and improve.

Twenty-three years ago I began teaching math the best way that I knew how. I taught it the way in which I had learned it. Over the course of four or five years I had perfected the craft: Me at the front of the room. Take up a multitude of homework textbook questions from the night before (20 minutes), teach textbook driven lesson (20 minutes), assign textbook questions, students begin working silently and independently on their many questions (20 minutes). I sit at my desk and kids come to me if they have any questions; there was usually a long line (never enough time). Assign the unfinished textbook questions for homework (an hour or more). Next day…REPEAT. Throw in a few quizzes and an end of unit review and test. Mark, return test, take up test. Kids who did poorly on tests and quizzes stayed in at recess and after school to “catch up”.  Move on to next unit in the math text to “cover” the next strand. Don’t stray from the text, continue to push forward, cover everything in text by May, leaving me time to review for the Grade 6 EQAO test, which the kids would write at the end of May. Throw a grade 5/6split class into the mix! Do all of the above times 2. Teach, memorize, drill. Teach, memorize, drill. Homework. REPEAT!

Apparently, my math class routine was working because my kids would generally score at or above the “provincial standard”, and my success as a math teacher was reinforced and celebrated. But a few nagging questions still persisted. Did my students really understand math? Did they see it applicable to their everyday world? Did they see the relevance? Did they do the math because they wanted to or because the had to? Did they love math? Did they even like it? What about the kids who simply didn’t get math? Was my math program really effective? Dare I ask…. Could it be better?

Every year, in December, I strayed from the rigor and routine of my math program and  textbook. The math that we did during December was different, fresh, real and relevant. This was “Bang for the Buck math” and it kind of felt like a “reboot”.

But back to the grind and the old ways in January, when I’d try to muster up as much enthusiasm as I could and ask my kids to take out their math texts. Until one day Erin Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 10.48.58 AMgroaned and asked “Mr.C, when are we going to do some REAL math again?” Erin expressed what everyone in my class (including me) was feeling! I had a choice, continue the same ol’ routine or change. On that very day, at that exact moment, I changed. I  ditched the textbook, took my students outside and started building snow prisms. EUREKA! With her simple question, Erin forced a reboot of my math program! Her great question forced me to make ongoing reboots to my math program over the course of the following 15 years.

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 10.41.02 AM

Questions from the real world Today all math questions come from the world that exists around my students, not from within a textbook. My students are far more engaged by these types of questions and are able to make connect the math they are doing to their every day life. Below are just a few questions that challenged my students thinking over the past week.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Fewer Questions I assign my students fewer questions (I actually now call them challenges). The challenges are rich, have many entry points and a multitude of opportunities for students to extend their learning and understanding. Using questions such as the above also allow for ease of differentiation. We focus on quality opposed to quantity.  

Multi-strand Challenges In the real world, math is not compartmentalized into strands, nor is it in my classroom. Math can also be easily cross subject integrated as well. Read how a simple Snowflake led to An All Day Math Inquiry.  It must also be noted that teachers who fall into the “textbook trap” end up teaching many concepts that are not necessarily in their curriculum. Knowing your curriculum will allow you to easily blend strands, allowing you to more effectively and efficiently cover your curriculum expectations. How many expectation do you think were covered in the math challenge below?

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 12.31.00 PMTeacher in the Middle I try to spend as little time as possible at the front of the room teaching math to my students. Yes, there is a time and a place, teacher directed is important, but I find my time is much better spent being present in my students’ learning. I do, however, always start with a whole class warm up that is directly linked to the challenge for the day. Challenges such as the above allow me to circulate about the room and listen to my students’ thinking. At many points I bring in small groups to debrief and teach, at other times, students model and share and at other times a whole-class “regroup” and mini lesson is required. Every day and every class is different. 

Students Talking As alluded to above, I now spend less time talking and more time listening. Students talk and share their math learning and strategies with their peers when working on whole, small group and paired math challenges.  Talking and sharing helps them learn, understand, reinforce and question. Importantly, students are also responsible for working on challenges individually as well.  By being present in my students’ learning I am constantly assessing to understand where each of my students are at and what I need to do to move them forward. So, when I do talk it’s more focused to meet the needs of the individual students in my classroom. I have also rebooted my learning space to allow more freedom of movement which enhances the work environment and overall efficiency. Below is my transformed learning space.

Portfolios Quizzes and tests have long been replaced by portfolios. Students use their math workbooks to do their day to day math practice and also keep low tech (paper) and high tech (Google Classroom and Flipgrid) portfolios. Within their portfolios, many artifacts of  learning are filed. In addition to being present everyday in their math learning, these many artifacts become the basis for my assessment and my students’ own self assessment.

Low Tech Portfolios Simple Folders My students receive a folder with two pockets. Inside the two pockets are a total 5 smaller folders that are colour coded, one for each math strand. Students file their S.W.I.K (Show What I Know) work within the folder that hits the strand of focus. Since I spiral my math program, I have a system for tracking what expectation or concept we’ve hit and how often as well. 

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 3.15.00 PM

High Tech Portfolios Google Classroom With Google Classroom I can easily assign a variety of challenges to my students that are differentiated to meet their learning needs. Students have access to an unlimited use f tools to demonstrate their learning and I can watch them work in real time and provide individualized, timely feedback. On many occasions I’ve presented at workshops out of town, worked with participants to develop a real world challenge for my students, assigned them the question via Google Classroom and then watch as my students worked to solve the problem. I’ve had teachers at the workshops provide my students with prompts, feedback and next steps. This high tech portfolio is a true game changer.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Flipgrid I use Flipgrid to have my students  share and “talk through” their math solutions. This tool allows students to quickly and efficiently share their solutions with both myself and their peers. I can listen to and watch their math thinking and record my feedback to them. Of course, because of the power of tech, I can access their Flipgrid portfolios anytime, anywhere. Just imagine the possibilities.

Feedback Focused I used to spend hours evaluating and marking homework, quizzesScreen Shot 2018-03-12 at 8.07.05 PM and tests. My marks book would be chalk full of data. Kids would receive a multitude of math marks. My “Level 4s” would celebrate, “3s” would be content and my “2s” and 1”1s’; deflated and defeated. I also struggled with the fact that by the time my students had reached grade 5 and 6, they had plateaued; it was difficult to move them forward and upward. With a focus now on feedback, usually given verbally, in the moment, my students use the information given to them to make great strides in moving forward. Feedback can come in a variety of forms and received in whole and small groups and individually. Leveraging Google Forms on my iPhone with the voice record option has allowed me to efficiently record antidotal data while in the moment. A copy of the form can be accessed here

Feedback Now The more immediate the feedback the better. Receiving it two, three days and even a week later, proved almost useless to my students. Just in time, immediate, focused feedback has been the key to success in my classroom.

Tech Leveraged As alluded to previously, technology has provided a tremendous reboot to my math program. The ability to build and differentiate math challenges has become almost effortless. Opportunities for students to build digital math portfolios has provided countless opportunities for success. Leveraging Twitter in our classroom has allowed us to learn and share our math challenges and strategies with classes from around the globe. Video has allowed another opportunity to take my students on math learning journeys, where never imagined before. Check out how I took my students to Niagara Falls and how we did math along the way! mPower has become my one “go to” online math game to help build and reinforce my students math skills. All Ontario curriculum based!

Screen Shot 2018-03-12 at 8.25.18 PM

Math Anytime, Anywhere In my classroom, math used to begin at 2pm and end at 3:15pm. Now, our eyes have been opened to learning math anytime, anywhere. The incidental math that happens allows me to spiral back (or forward), to  build and reinforce math concepts and skills. During DPA we’ll use the clock to help us learn about fractions, decimals and percent. When creating groups, the same concepts can be easily covered. We look for geometric shapes and patterns when jogging outside, we’ll manage data that we collect when playing a variety of games. We play math dice games during indoor recess and when we’re done our work. When I started thinking outside of the confines of the math block and textbook, the opportunities for learning math were endless!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

HomeSHARE You’ve heard about the type of homework I used to assign. Lots of textbook questions, lots of repetition and lots of frustration. The kids who could do two or three questions, could do ten. What was the point of wasting their valuable time at home? The students who couldn’t do two or three questions certainly couldn’t do ten! This only created a huge amount of frustration and anxiety for students and parents, if in fact, they were there to support their children while doing their homework. I’ve rebooted to HomeSHARE. One prompt for my students to discuss and share (and not always necessarily math) with their parents.  My students, their parents (and I) love it!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dynamic and Fluid In hindsight, teaching from a text was very rigid and structured. It also wasn’t very logical. Textbook teaching is very strand specific. It didn’t allow me to combine strands, teach concepts that went together or provide many opportunities to differentiate. Rebooting allowed me to be far more dynamic and fluid. If I want to jump  immediately into measurement after teaching decimal numbers, I do. If combining data management with measurement concepts makes sense to me and is an obvious next step, I do just that. Sometimes, my students math inquiries also dictate where we “go” with our math. Fluidity allows me to think outside the box with my students and embrace learning opportunities when they arise. For example, my students initiated a project in which we repurposed K Cups to learn math. We also created a video to show the many different ways K Cups can be used for math and we developed a webpage to share our resources.

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 2.37.30 PM

Click to Read more

 

Understanding When my focus changed from teaching math through the rote learning of multiplication facts, algorithms, concepts and rules to deep understanding, academic success improved greatly.  My students now solve math challenges through a variety of different means and strategies depending on the specific numbers with each challenge. For example when playing a game of Triple Dice, it quickly becomes evident how deeply my students understand multiplication simply by listening to them talk their way through how they would multiply the three rolled numbers together.

Mistakes Understood As a kid growing up, I was taught that mistakes were bad and that all necessary steps should be taken to avoid mistakes. This in turn, most likely, caused me to have perfectionist tendencies, which more than likely seriously impeded my learning! In my class, mistakes are seen as a natural step in the learning process. When mistakes are made, we work to understand what they were, why we made them, correct them, learn from them and grow. 

The “math mindset” in my classroom is that math is “challenging and fun” The kids will tell you this and so will I. Isn’t this what we want learning to be all about? It is my job to challenge and support each and every one of my students in my classroom. It is also my job to cover the curriculum. BUT, how I decide to do this is up to me. Thankfully, I’ve changed, evolved and “rebooted” my math program over the course of my 23 year teaching career. If I hadn’t, I think both my students and I would agree that math would seem pretty hard and boring. 

What does your math program look like? How have you evolved, changed and rebooted how you teach math? What works? What doesn’t? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions?

Want to continue the discussion? I’ll be presenting “Reboot Your Math Class” on May 6, 2018 for #MADPD  You can join me virtually, live and for free…it’s the whole idea of M.A.D(Make A Difference) PD. Send me an cherandpete@yahoo.ca or tweet me to join me!

For more information on #MADPD visit Mr.C’s SharesEase-M.A.D PD

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

In Ten Years….?

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 3.25.57 PM

Education has changed more in the past decade than in the century leading up to it.

Think of your classroom ten years ago. In 2008, mine consisted of a blackboard, desks, textbooks, novels and workbooks. It was a place where I delivered content and students absorbed and memorized. In 1998 my classroom was pretty much a mirror image of my classroom in 2008. The classrooms that I sat in as a student, starting in 1976, were similar. Arguably, classrooms in 1918 weren’t much different.

Now think of your classroom today. In the past ten years has it changed much? I’d be willing to bet it has. I know mine certainly has. What has been the impetus for such dramatic change? I would have to say the accessibility of technology to both teachers and students within classrooms has dramatically affected the way students learn and teachers teach.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have tools and resources available to my students and myself that I never before dreamed possible. I also have a global network of educators with whom I connect with on a daily basis to help make me a better teacher and to help reach the needs of all my learners.  I’m thankful for the tools and networks that accessible technology has provided’ because now, more than ever, I need them.

Now, think of the students in your classrooms today. Are they different than they were ten years ago? According to over one hundred Ontario teachers, the answer is yes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Note: the number of people who voted “same” are as follows: Jan 14-0,  Jan 18-1, Jan 21-10,  Jan 27-5)

The above data suggests children in Ontario are coming to school less prepared and with far more mental health needs. It also suggests that students are coming to school less consistently and teachers have less support to help students who require assistance.

What has been the cause of such a dramatic change in our students over the last ten years? Does the accessibility to technology play a contributing factor?  The first four years of a child’s life are fundamentally paramount. These years are the ones that shape a child’s future. Prior to ten years ago, when technology wasn’t nearly as accessible, parents were left to traditional tools to teach and ‘entertain’ their children. Books, play, conversation and yes, tv and video games (although for the most part not portable) were the means by which children learned prior to attending school. In the past decade, readily accessible, portable technology (tablets and phones) have been added to parent’s toolkits. The question is: Are parents overusing and misusing technology which is contributing to their children being less prepared for school and, is it having a negative impact on their overall mental health?

Has wireless technology become the new pacifier for our children? Do parents believe that time spent on tablets and phones is a better option for their children than reading a book, playing or having a conversation? Human interaction is what human beings need to thrive and learn.

Technology seems to be a bit of a paradox. It can be so powerful and useful yet so damaging.

It has helped teachers give students opportunities to learn that were never before imagined. It has put tools into the hands of students, allowing teachers to break down  barriers to learning, helping students to flourish. It has provided students a means by which they can access instantaneous information, allowing them greater opportunities to learn, create, collaborate, think and solve problems. Because of accessible technology, students and teachers alike can connect with people the world over. Now more than ever, our students have incredible opportunities to learn and interact with one another.

Bringing such powerful tools into any environment comes with huge responsibility.

In a classroom, teachers must constantly reflect upon, and refine how, when and why technology (SMARTBoards, laptops, tablets, social media, blogs, podcasts, etc.) is being used.  Educators must recognize that responsibility comes with bringing technology into the classroom. A teacher should model and create opportunities to use technology in  positive, powerful and thoughtful ways. Luckily, we have a large networks of educators to rely upon to share best practices and ideas with.

Within the home, are parents recognizing the same responsibility? Are they reflecting upon and refining how, when and why technology is being used? Do parents model and create opportunities to use technology in positive, powerful and thoughtful ways? Do parents have access to networks to rely upon to share best practices and ideas for using tech within their own homes?

What other factors, other than technology are leading teachers to come to such drastic conclusions about our children compared to ten years ago?

If you are an educator, do you see the same trends in your school? What are your strategies for dealing with such an uptrend in mental health issues and the academic, social and behavioural needs within your class? How do you balance the use of technology within your classroom? How do you use technology in a meaningful way that helps to compliment the social, emotional, and academic needs of your students?

As a parent, has technology had a positive or negative impact on your children’s learning and their overall mental health and well being? What do you do to balance the use of technology within your home? How do you use technology in a meaningful way that helps to compliment the social, emotional, and academic needs of your children?

So….where do we go from here? I wonder how teachers will answer the same survey questions ten years from now.  What needs to be done to insure that teachers will respond by saying that children are coming to school far more prepared, with far fewer mental health issues, with much more consistently and receiving the support they require?

This is not time to point fingers and place blame. It is time to come together as a global community of educators (parents included) to plan and insure that we are are all doing what is best for our children, our future.

Update: Just as I was attempting to write a follow up to this blog post, my wife shared this blog post “The Silent Tragedy Affecting Todays Children (and what to do about it)” by Victoria Prooday with me. Perhaps we can all begin by reading and sharing this article.

As always your thoughts are welcome.

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 8.11.50 PM

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Dear Neighbour

Dear neighbour,

Hello! We are a group of students in grade 5 and 6 who attend St. Elizabeth School in Thunder Bay, Ontario. We are your neighbours to the south and would love to learn more about the communities that you live in!

This year we have travelled with Paddle, by reading “Paddle to the Sea” through the great lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve also read “Fatty Legs”, met Olemun and learned about her community in Canada’s high Arctic. We also have pen pals in the United Kingdom and our “connected classroom” learns and shares with people from communities all over the world. We’ve come to the realization that we know very little about some of the communities that are closest to Thunder Bay. So we’d love to connect with YOU!

First we’d like to tell you a little bit about Thunder Bay and some of our favourite places. Last year Mr.C’s class wrote about their most favourite place in (or around) Thunder Bay. You can read about them by click on the map below. Make sure you click on each pin!

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 11.58.09 AM

This year our class shared our FAVOURITE PLACES, WISHES and STARS for Thunder Bay. We love our community and what it has to offer, but as difference makers, we are always looking for ways to make our community better! Click on the links to read each of our Favourite Places and WISHES and STARS

We want to learn about YOUR Community!

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 12.13.13 PM

We would LOVE to read about YOUR home communities! What are your FAVOURITE PLACES in your community? What are your STARS and WISHES for your community?  If you would like to connect, please send us an email at pcameron@tbcschools.ca and we’ll send you a link to have your class fill out a simple form. We’ll then add your community to a Google map (it’s coming) so we can all learn and share about one another’s communities!

We are hoping to eventually take our connections a step further by starting up pen pals, and hosting Google Hangouts and podcasts.

We look forward to learning more about you!

Your friends in Mr. C’s Class, St. Elizabeth School, Thunder Bay

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Paths

Learning is a journey.

It will lead you down many different paths.

Paths straight and flat, easy to navigate.

Paths twisty-turny, with many unknowns.

Paths filled with obstacles, providing a challenge.

Paths that meet, bring things together.

Paths travelled alone require courage, provide freedom.

Paths travelled together give support and understanding.

Paths that are seemingly endless. Require will and determination.

Some paths arrive at a summit. Providing gratification, but always seeking more.

Regardless of the path you’re on….

It’s your attitude and mindset that will make the difference…

and determine where you end up.

Where will your paths lead you?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Looking BACK to Look FORWARD.

Dear Difference Makers,

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday! I hope you had a chance to spend time with family and friends and I hope you took time to rest, relax and reflect.

Only a few short months ago you entered our classroom in September and since then we have accomplished a lot! We have learned, questioned and supported one another as a community of learners.

Our learning has taken us down many different paths. Sometimes the paths were quite straight, flat and easy to navigate. Other paths were more twisty-turny when we never really knew what was around the next corner. Some paths were full of many bumps and obstacles that made travelling down them very challenging. Some paths met and converged and others didn’t. Some of you travelled further down some paths than others, and we all found our own paths. Regardless of the path travelled, I am proud of each and everyone of you!

We have come to a cross roads of our school year. January is a good time to reflect; to look back and to look forward.

Looking Back

As you reflect on the past few months of school, what learning journeys do you remember? What did learn? How were you challenged? What are you most proud of? What did you accomplish? What do you still want to accomplish? How did you make a difference?

Take some time to reflect on the past four months of the school year. Use your Writer’s Notebook to collect your thoughts.

Below are some of my highlights from the past four months. They may help you reflect.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What EQAO Doesn’t Know

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 7.39.26 AM

I’m encouraged by the current public consultation on the future of student assessments in Ontario which is being led by Dr. Carol Campbell. Her team’s task is monumental. I’m encouraged because the process is providing an opportunity for all stake holders in Ontario’s education to have their voices heard.

I offer my voice and experience simply as a classroom teacher. I have the unique perspective of having taught grade 6 for twenty-one years, since the inception of EQAO testing, at the same school, in the same classroom.  My teaching and assessment practices have evolved. What worked in my class 20 years ago, didn’t work 10 years ago and certainly would never work today. The only thing that really hasn’t changed during my teaching career is the Provincial Assessment. Over the years I’ve struggled with many questions about about the test and finally wrote my EQAO Test Questions that I simply don’t know the answer to.

But here’s what I do know….

I know that my assessment practices used to mirror that of EQAO. I know that I used the text and let it drive my teaching and my students’ learning. I’d teach from one lesson to the next and one unit or strand was followed by the other. Because I often taught a combined class, my math class was all about control and structure. My grade 5s would work independently on some math problems, typically following algorithms, while I took up homework with my 6s, followed by a textbook driven lesson, followed by textbook driven questions. Once I had the grade 6s working silently, I’d repeat the process with my grade 5s. My assessment was largely based on an end of unit test, a mark would be assigned and we’d move on. We HAD to move on. I had a full textbook of lessons to cover before the beginning of May so I’d have time to review everything before THE (EQAO) TEST…. the one that mattered the most! My Language lessons were similar to my math lessons; textbook driven, teacher centred, unit to unit, tests at the end.

The result of my teaching? We rocked the EQAO test! My students scored high above our board and provincial average in all areas. I was doing everything right! THE TEST confirmed and reinforced this. What EQAO didn’t know was that my first class of students to write the provincial test were conformists and rule followers. They were also a very academic group. Many had the support of their parents at home who sat down with them to do the endless hours of homework I assigned every night.

When our staff reviewed the results of our first EQAO test, we celebrated our success because the numbers looked great. Yes, 15-20% of our kids hadn’t met the provincial standard, but in general we had done great! We made some plans as to how we could improve our scores even further and dove into a new school year. This year’s group was different. I had many more level 1’s and 2’s in my class. But, I was confident, based on the “success” of last years class, that I could get them to that all important “level 3”, so our scores would once again look good. I had to push hard. I struggled and so did my kids. It was a stressful year with lots of tears, meltdowns and breakdowns.

The result of my teaching? We did pretty well on the EQAO test! We still scored above the provincial standard and even above our board average in writing. Yes, 25-30% of our kids were “Level 1 and 2’s”, but in general we had done well! What EQAO didn’t know was that I had many students with behavioural and emotional needs in my class that year. Many were not conformists and rule followers. Many did not have the support of their parents at home. Many came to school hungry and tired. I had students who had outbursts and meltdowns on a daily basis and our learning space was compromised often. I had six identified students who I struggled daily to get to; to help, assist and support. But, we had to push on, THE TEST was looming.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that three of my identified students, who were present every day  in our classroom, were exempted from the test; removed from our classroom and assigned a zero.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my students simply refused to write the test.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my student’s mom passed away two weeks before the test.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my students who was identified and modified at a grade 3 level, wrote the test and did her absolute very best. She was so proud of herself and so were we. Upon leaving her school in grade 6 and entering senior elementary school, she would have received a report from the Ministry of Education stating she was a “Level 1.”

Throughout the next 7 or 8 years of my teaching career the same pattern continued. My teaching and assessment practises remained static. How and why would I change? My resources were limited to the ones on the shelves in my classroom and my “success” was reinforced by EQAO test scores that were generally quite positive. Sure there were some years that we showed big blips, but why change what wasn’t broken?

But there was a question that was constantly gnawing at me…could I do better? Not for the test or the results, but for my students? What kind of difference was I making in their lives? What was I doing to help the most vulnerable, under privileged students in my class? Were my teaching and assessment practices really HELPING kids? Was I getting kids excited about learning and coming to school?  I could do better. I HAD to do better.

Part 2

I know that slowly, over time, I stopped focusing on texts, tests and marks and started focusing on kids and presence. Let me explain.

I know that a total shift in my teaching and assessment practice occurred approximately ten years ago after straying from the math textbook, as I traditionally did once a year at Christmas during our annual fundraising efforts for our local Shelter House. As tradition has it, my students raise money via a yard sale and then go shopping to a local grocery store where they purchase food for the less fortunate and finally hand deliver the food (a truck full) to the Shelter. Math, during this time, became relevant and “real” to my students.  They work with the money we raise and figure out totals, percentages, budgets, unit pricing and manage and analyze the data. For me, teaching math this way proved incredibly rewarding and easy. My students really seemed to”get” the concepts we were discussing.

However, upon returning to school in January, after Christmas Break, I would reluctantly return to the math textbook and math once again, felt mundane and teaching it often felt like pulling teeth. One day, in the middle of January, after returning from recess I asked my students to take out their math texts and turn to their new unit on Geometry. As my kids extracted their texts from their desks, I once again felt more like a dentist than a teacher, I was back to pulling teeth! It was at that pivotal moment that Erin let out I sigh and implored, “Mr. C, when are we going to do some real math again?” Her question stopped me in my tracks. I felt the same way and so did the rest of my class. However, I also felt conflicted. I knew the text like the back of my hand. The questions, assignments, black line masters  and unit tests were all laid out for me. The path was familiar and easy to follow and navigate.  But at the same time my students wanted more. The text didn’t provide the same opportunities for learning math that they desired. They wanted to do real math.

So I took a deep breathe, told my students to put their math textbooks away and put their outdoor clothing back on. Once outside I instructed them get into teams of two and construct a rectangular prism out of snow. The math talk and problem solving immediately began. I brought out the camera and took pictures of their learning. We brought all the prisms back inside and I challenged them to find the perimeter and area of the base of their snow cubes. From there we worked on the volume and I figured, while we’re at it, I could introduce surface area. The kids decided they could draw nets to IMG_2590help them find the surface area. The students were completely engrossed in their math and really seemed to be getting it. Their computations were based on something that was relevant, tangible and real to them. We decided that the following day we would compare our prisms, work out the mean and medium and graph and analyze the  data collected. As their rectangular snow prisms began to melt and my students prepared to leave for the day, Erin approached me with a huge smile on her face and thanked me for returning to real math. I thanked her for the challenge and for having the courage to speak up. As the kids walked out the door, I reflected on the number of expectations I had covered in one single lesson because we weren’t confined and limited to the content of the text. We had the freedom to explore many different math concepts, traveling down some familiar paths, as well as new and unexpected ones.

I know that over the course of the following years I slowly strayed further and further from the text and stopped stressing about preparing my students for the EQAO test. My focus was steadfastly on my kids and teaching them that they had the power to make a difference for themselves and others. While still working within the confines of our curriculum, I used what resources I had to let my students passions drive our learning.  The data I was most interested in was my attendance rates and getting my students excited about coming to school every day.  By moving away from being test and marks focused and to being present in my students’ learning, I had the freedom to move from student to student; to listen, prompt, question, reinforce and redirect. In doing so, I gained a much clearer picture of where my students were at and where they needed to go. Assessment became a much more fluid process in my classroom. Feedback and modelling was “just in time” and usable. Students no longer were marks focused; they became learning focused. They thirsted for my feedback and that of their peers. I knew that this is what teaching and learning was all about.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that some of my students who couldn’t wait to get to school every day throughout the school year stopped coming to school during the week of the test.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that some kids who are used to getting feedback often and having their teacher present during their learning tend to shut down during provincial testing.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that kids who are encouraged to collaborate and “think out” solutions feel limited and restricted when writing THE TEST.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is kids who are normally very engaged in their learning become quite disengaged when writing the EQAO test.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students read texts that are self selected and are given much choice in their writing. Ample time is given for students to reflect on their reading and writing. Time constraints greatly inhibits the quality of student work.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students’ learning is relevant and real. There’s very little that is relevant and real about EQAO testing.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that I also teach and model resilience and determination throughout the course of the school year and my students always try their best regardless of factors. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is that I worry deeply about my students, who, regardless of how hard they try, still “fail” the test. What impact does that have on their learning?

Part 3

I also know that I came to another cross road in my career approximately seven years ago. This road led me to a more personalized type of learning and assessment and allowed me to reach students in ways I had never dreamed possible. I know that the thoughtful integration of technology into my classroom has completely transformed my learning space.

I know that technology has provided my students with an abundance of tools that allows them to demonstrate their learning in ways I never before imagined. For example, my students use Explain Everything and QuickTime to explain their thinking in math, iMovie to turn their narrative stories into video and YouTube to share their ideas in many different subject areas. Google Classroom and GAFE tools provide endless opportunities for students to demonstrate and share their learning. Paper and pencil are still tools utilized in my classroom, however, they have become only one of an endless number of tools in my students’ toolboxes.

I know that these tools also afford me the opportunity to provide effective, meaningful, “just in time” feedback that my students seek and require to take their learning to the next level.  Technology has allowed me to be present in my students’ learning; to listen, observe, question and prompt. Google forms allow me to record my anecdotal observations and feedback immediately (I often use the voice option) and in a time sensitive manner. Technology also allows me to effectively model and share student exemplars which helps to push my students learning to the next level

I know that technology allows me powerful means by which to differentiate my instruction to most effectively meet the needs of all the learners in my classroom. Google Read & Write is an example of a multitude of tools my students access daily to meet their different learning needs and styles.

I know that technology also allows me to personalize my instruction to tap into the passions and interests of my students. Pursuits such as Genius Hour  or the ability to take my students on “math journeys” wouldn’t be possible without it.

I know that technology allows me draw upon resources I never before had access to. It allows me to tear down the walls of my classroom to give my students a voice that permeates far beyond our city and our country. Technology gives us the ability to learn from and with people all over the world.  My students are involved in projects that make a difference and matter.  They are incredibly engaged, active learners and show up to school ready and eager to learn.

Technology allows me to build an incredibly powerful network of educators to call upon, to collaborate with and share best practices. It has given me the ability and connect, to self direct my own professional learning; to become a better teacher for my students.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students demonstrate their learning everyday with tools that are real and relevant in their lives. They work on meaningful, rich tasks. They wish they could share that work with EQAO. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students are uninspired by THE TEST. They work collaboratively all year in a learning environment that is rich with tools and resources. During testing week all that is stripped away.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that there are many great teachers who leave grade 3 and 6 because of the pressures they feel from “the test”. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is teachers put very little stock in the data from EQAO tests. We feel that too much time is taken up talking about data when all we really want to talk about is kids.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that teachers crave the gift of time, to collaborate and share; to talk about kids and what works for each individual student.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that regardless of all of these facts, most of my students do very well on “the test”.  But I have a difficult time celebrating this fact, because I always worry about those who don’t and the impact it has on them.

So, we are at a cross roads. It’s time to look seriously at assessment and reporting in Ontario. Based on everything we know, how can we make it better?

I have my thoughts and my ideas? What are some of yours? You are welcome to share YOUR thoughts here.

….to be continued.
-P

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments