Welcoming Back Wonder


Over the past few days I like many other teachers have been getting ready to go back to school.  This year is different from the last two in that I know exactly where I will be all year this year. In January of the last school year I found my school home and landed in my absolute favorite grade level, grade 4/5. There is so much that students at this age can do around wonder and wondering, expanding beyond their immediate world to begin connecting with the broader community.


For the past two nights I have been watching a list of what I call my “Pump Up Ted Talks” a mixture of traditional Ted Talks and TedX talks that inspire me as an educator. The two that have really stood out to me the last two days are both by Dr. Ross Liard a former instructor of mine, I have imbedded both videos at the bottom of this post. I had the privilege of working with Ross as part of the Interdisciplinary Expressive Arts (IDEA) program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Ross has been one of the most influential people in my classroom philosophy. Even at the university level his program asked us to wonder, play, create, build and have fun. This program focused on the connection between academic and artistic disciplines and helped us to make our own understanding of the world and our place in it.


As teachers this year we get a new start with new students. One of the best things about teaching is that each year we get a chance to rework and rebuild our teaching. This year I want to move to the side of the room not be at the front. The students are the most important people in my classroom. I am a guide, my role is to respond to their needs and wonderings and follow them to allow them to grow as much as possible in our year together.


I would like to give students more time to create and to wonder. Wonder and creativity have led to solutions to major problems as well as inventions that have changed the world. I truly believe that wonder is innate in all people but we get so caught up in the what we are supposed to be teaching we forget to create time for wonder. I wish I could create more time however this year I am setting a dedicated period on Wednesday afternoons as “Wonder Wednesday”. This is my first step and I don’t know yet how it will play out, but it’s something I’m ready to explore. Whenever possible I would like to take my students outside, to find places to sit and observe nature and the weather. Wonder Wednesdays will hopefully become the start of a larger culture of thinking and wondering in our classroom. In our wonder time I want to create moments of stillness, time to sit and think and reflect. As a student in the IDEA program Ross frequently asked 3 questions, “what did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about society? What did you learn about creativity?”  These questions ask us to look deeply at our own learning and it is this line of questioning I am hoping to adapt for my own students to help them reflect on their own learning and growth. My questions for my students are, “what did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about other people? What did you learn about the world?”


I see wondering as crossing all of the curriculum and the core competencies. Wonder allows students to think creatively and generate novel ideas but also encourages them to think critically to begin the search for an answer or solution.  Wonder also supports student’s positive self-awareness and their awareness of others, as they share their wonders they work to understand each other and their feelings.


In listening to Ross speak on wonder and finding wonder in moments of stillness. I began to think of my own summer break and when I found my moments of wonder. I found the eclipse to be one of my largest moments of wonder. My viewing of the eclipse took place in a unique location, it is not one that I would have ever imagined viewing it at how ever it’s where I ended up. My grandpa and I had been talking about watching the eclipse together from when it first got media attention. For weeks we had been making plans to sit and watch in my grandparent’s yard together, however a week and a half before the eclipse my grandpa ended up in the hospital for what would be a three week stay. Even though he was in the hospital I was not going to give up on our plan, I had to get creative and tweak the plan. I asked the nurses a couple days before and they said that he could go outside but not leave hospital grounds, so I had my first solution, we could go outside. I got my hands on 2 pairs of eclipse glasses in the days leading up to the eclipse. So I watched the eclipse with my grandpa and grandma on the patio outside the hospital cafeteria. But it was not the setting that made it a moment full of wonder. Seeing the sky begin to darken and feeling the air grow cooler even though it was 10 AM it looked and felt like dusk as the moon passed over the sun. the view through the glasses was even more awe inspiring, it looked to me like the moon was erasing parts of the sun as it passed over.


I had many moments of wonder as part of the STEAM Days program this august at Science World.  I was able to explore and try many things, and while the robotics and many other projects were interesting and exciting one project stands out making me wonder more than others. That project was indigo dying, the process at first looked simple enough, prepare a piece of white cotton by twisting and folding it and tying off parts with elastics to create patterns. I got a bit carried away with the first step but am impressed by how it turned out. When we brought our white cloths outside do the dying vats I was amazed. The liquid in the vats was a lemon yellow colour and smelled strongly of Sulphur. How was a yellow liquid going to turn my white cloth blue?  Our instructor explained the chemical reaction which I will admit I still don’t fully understand, chemistry was never my best science, but the idea that this yellow liquid reacting with air creates a blue dye is simply amazing to me.


I also found wonder in one of the mediums Ross suggests in the first video, on the water. My family spends a lot of time in the summer on the water boating, weather at Alouette lake wake surfing and tubing or at Goose Bay fishing. I find that when we are on the boats which in the summer is often a few times a week, I have a lot of time to sit out on the bow, watch the water go by and wonder. I am fully relaxed on the bow of the boat weather a larger wake board boat or a small Boston whaler fishing boat, to me this is time to think, wonder and dream. I find I get lost in my thoughts and wonders a lot when fishing as were trolling and waiting for a bite. Often my wonders are inspired by something we’ve seen from the boat that day, a pod of whales or dolphins, a solitary seal or sea otter or the antics of the birds overhead. Storms two provide their own fuel for wonder and the imagination as waves crash and churn and our small boat bounce from one wave to the next.


I know for myself the chance to escape into my thoughts and explore my own wonders is often a relaxing and calming time. It is a moment of stillness and peace in an otherwise hectic world. My goal this year is to help my students discover the joy in their own wonders. I want our wonders to drive our learning, using the big ideas as a starting place. Students wonders can also help them become more passionate about learning more on a particular topic, as a teacher I want to help my students discover and follow their passions. I have written in previous posts about mentors who guided me to follow my own passions. It’s now my turn to help guide students to wonder and discover what they are passionate about.


My question to other teachers for this school year is how are you brining wonder into your classroom? individualized


The first video about wonder and the importance of taking the time to wonder.

The second video is about transforming our education system and returning to a more individualized way of learning.

Posted in Back To School, Creative Projects, Inquiry, Outdoor Education, Pedagogy, Personalized Learning, Philosophy, Reflections, Teaching | Leave a comment

Finding Time for Creativity

Wow, spring break has given me some great opportunities to reflect on what I’m teaching as well as why i’m doing it. As well as finding time to reconnect with what matters most to me. I began my journey as a teacher with a huge love for the arts and creativity. I’ve realized that over the past few months I have paid little attention to the creative side of learning for my students. My love for arts and the creativity started at home, my parents have always had a wide variety of music on in our house, and music has been used as a tool to provoke discussion throughout my life. My memories of long drives and family trips always have songs and music connected to them and songs were discussed, weather it was the deeper meaning of life in songs by Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earl, Randy Bachman, The Dixie Chicks, or a multitude of other artists or current pop music my family talked about the message that the artists were trying to send and what it said about life for people at that time. As I write this I’m listening to Garth Brooks a family and childhood favourite, rediscovering songs that I loved years ago and being inspired by their messages. I choose to listen to this artist tonight after watching one of his concert DVD’s with my extended family after dinner and every one singing along and sharing memories of the songs. Music serves many purposes in life, it communicates emotions, tells stories, spreads message, builds community and creates opportunity to be creative. Everyone is exposed to music in some way or another on a regular basis weather they create music themselves or listen to it for pleasure.  Music has always brought me comfort and helped me to focus and feel calm, there is little I do without music and I never go anywhere without bringing my phone (with iTunes and Spotify) and ear buds, weather it is warming up and getting mentally ready for a dance competition, driving, or getting prep done at school I always have music on. I even listen to music in the dentist’s chair, I’m trying to figure out if I can use my music to keep myself calm at the eye doctor later this week. My aversion to the eye doctor is like what most people have to the dentist, it’s the drops that dilate your eyes, I get scared when I can’t see properly after. As a teacher I often have a wide range of music on in my classroom during working times and vary the music based on student moods and what needs to be accomplished. Music is often a great tool to help students self-regulate especially when using instrumental music, I use instrumental music from different artists, eras and parts of the world including movie soundtracks, ballets, and covers of pop songs.


My own love for the arts truly began when I took my first dance class at the age of 3. Dance has for years been my happy place and my chance to express myself. I now have a total of 20 years of dance training in a wide variety of styles including ballet, jazz, lyrical, musical theater, modern and more recently I’ve become passionate about Scottish highland dancing. Dance for me is about telling a story, and taking the story that the music is trying to tell and adding a visual element to it. I have had many teachers over the years and they have all taught me many things about dance but all came back to one thing, to do it with your heart and give it everything you can. I continue to train and grow as a dancer and am working with fabulous teachers weather they have been teaching for 5 years of 50 years they continue to inspire me as an artist. This artistic outlet lets me be a better teacher, I can use dance to de stress and relax but beyond that it’s a connection to others and being part of a creative community. I continue to compete and one of the things that draws me to competition is to be part of a community that values the arts and has a passion for the same thing I do. Within my current dance community, I have met many wonderful people who all have the same dedication to our art that I do, as well as something unique to the highland dance community in my area, they care for each other and show kindness to one another back stage no matter where you dance or who your teacher is, we are all part of the same community.


My most inspiring experience ever as a dancer was about 4 years ago when I was working with a group of 3 children on the autism spectrum in a dance program created just for them, I called them my “Special Stars”. I spent a year teaching this group basic movements to Cotton Eye Joe with the help of one of my very first students ever. In that June my Special Stars participated in the studio’s annual recital, our director gave a beautiful introduction to the group but the magic happened when the music started. I was with the group onstage and I could not believe the audiences response to this group, they were on their feet clapping to the music and gave my Special Stars a standing ovation at the end. That night changed my perspective on why we participate in the arts, my students connected to the emotions of others. Students who struggled to communicate in daily life spread a message of joy and acceptance through their dance. I still tear up thinking of that night. Seeing my students connect with each other and the other dancers through a shared passion was extremely gratifying. Most importantly it taught me that we dance from the heart and for the joy that it brings. Dancing from the heart and for the sake of the joy it brings can be expanded to other creative endeavors as well, creativity often comes from a place of emotions and we are usually very emotionally invested in our creative works. It takes courage to share creative works because they are part of us.  Even when I am creating dances there are some that I prepare to dance on stage and preform and others that I do solely for myself, it is the ones that I do for myself that often have the greatest emotional value, which is why for now they remain confined to my basement, maybe one day they will be ready for a stage but not yet.



I am always trying to find ways to bring dance into my classroom and sadly it often gets limited to a PE class because of space restrictions or DPA. While both of those are good times to use dance they often don’t give students time to explore dance as a form of communication. Dance has a history of being used for storytelling and communication. It is able to communicate across time and languages. The aesthetic nature connects to people on a deeper emotional level. I am getting ready to work with my school’s explorations program running a dance exploration. As I’m taking time to prepare I find that I’m looking for ways to help my students use dance as a way to express themselves and tell a story as well as creating a piece that tells a story using a group of dancers. I have researched the role dance in human well-being as well as culture over the years and wrote about it in my inquiry project while I was doing Teacher Education at UBC.  As I get ready to teach dance and share my passion with a group that has chosen to dance I am starting to prepare the music. I need to find music that inspires the students to create an image, mood or tell a story as well as capturing their attention. My music runs from classical and instrumental music including covers of popular songs, pop music, folk songs and country music. In teaching dance at school my goal is not just to train the body and teach technique. I have a more important job than that, my goal is to teach the heart, and have my students approach dance and other arts with an open mind and an open heart. I want them to watch dancers and dance from the heart, telling their stories and learning from one another, exploring emotions. I find that dance class can often be a powerful time to explore emotions with students, they can use their movements to create a picture of the emotion and for many of my students this non-verbal communication allows them to share their emotions in ways that they may not have the verbal abilities to yet. Our language relies on non-verbal cues to help communicate intent and meaning and training as a dancer one learns to be intentional about how they move their body to communicate emotions and intent.  As a dancer I draw on the music to guide my creativity and it is my responses to the music that generate the choreography or how I present the chorography of others.


While dance is my primary art form I have a strong appreciation for other forms and have dabbled in others as well. I particularly enjoy culinary arts, cooking and baking, for me these arts communicate a message as well, particularly care. As well food brings people together, drawing them into community. Arts do the same, they draw people into community. My biggest learning point for this was in the interdisciplinary expressive arts program (IDEA) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC.  In the IDEA program shared creative experiences we used to build community, as well as to help us discover more about ourselves and those around us. It is this type of community building experience that I strive to create for my students creatively. The focus in this case is not about the product but on the process and reflection on the process. We spend time in discussion of the process and what that taught those involved about themselves and those around them. In these experiences the teacher becomes a facilitator creating opportunities for creativity. Many of the creative activities in this program were not traditional arts activities, we spent time creating and playing games to discover mythology from around the world as well as events in history. We did egg drops and built rope bridges to support the whole groups weight between trees in the forest. These activities stretched the limits of our creativity and pushed us to look at the world in new ways and see materials in new ways. This is the type of activity I want to do with my students and have tried.


One of my more successful activities pushing student’s creativity has been having them build marble runs when they were given a few parameters and a limited amount of supplies to make the project work. Often giving a limited amount or variety of materials or specific parameters increases creativity as students must now think outside the box and experiment with what they have to create something with in the parameters.


In my province we have creative thinking as one of our core competencies and I am very appreciative of this. So much of what we do day to day requires creative thinking weather small c or big c creativity. Small c creativity is the stuff of daily life, writing a blog post, creating a scrap book, cooking without a recipe. Big C creativity is the type that changes the world, works by Di Vinci, the discoveries of Newton, or the development of the car. Creative thinking is working with ideas that are new and novel, they are something that you had not thought of before. It may be new to you or new for a class of students or it may be new to society as a whole. I am working on helping my students find more creative ways to think about math and understanding numbers and showing them through creative means. As a class we are also working towards more creative work when we are writing and often this inspired by the creativity of others in the form of books and poems. Inspiring creative thinking is key as well in science class as it sparks the questions that begin the scientific process.


As a teacher I know that giving time for students to be creative is of immense importance. Both time to create as an individual as well as working in creative groups of various sizes. Creativity builds communication skills verbally and non-verbally as ideas are shared in a variety of ways. As well creativity and being able to work through creative projects helps students to understand more about themselves and their world, giving them more confidence. I also find that creative means can help students to develop their sense of place and connect to topics through music from a particular place or time or looking at the works of artist from that place. Creativity ultimately allows us to form community and make human connections.


How do you promote creativity in your classroom? How to you get students to think creatively across all disciplines?

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Building Students Sense of Place

I spend a lot of time building my students sense of place through our daily activities.  My first degree was in geography and this has greatly impacted my teaching. I still consider myself a geographer at heart and hope to share my love of this discipline with my students. BC’s current curriculum encourages learning related to place across many disciplines.  As a geographer I draw on that background to help create placed based learning opportunities for my students. While field trips are amazing experiences and a great way for students to experience a place it’s not something that we can do on a daily basis. Even walks in our neighbourhood can help develop sense of place but in an intermediate classroom this isn’t practical.  I have been working on ways to help my students develop a sense of place.


Before I write any more I feel like I should explain the term “sense of place” as I understand it. I come at sense of place from the perspective of a geographer. One of my geography professors at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in BC explained “Place” as a space that has meaning. Using “place is a space with meaning” my students cannot connect to a space or location until there is something that connects them to it. For many of my student’s place would include our school, their homes, the Boys and Girls club and our classroom. These are places that they have a personal connection to. A place in this sense has both a physical location and meaning to a specific person. Something that is a place to me could only be a space location to someone else.  I wrote more about Sense of Place and its importance here (http://cisforcreate.weebly.com/g-is-for-geography.html) .


I am learning this year as I get to know some of my students who are refugees how important sense of place is. These students have been ripped in most cases fairly traumatically from their place and they are feeling slightly lost without a connection to a new place. It is part of our role as teachers of these students to help them connect to their new place and make them feel safe and at home here. Having a place to call your own helps people to feel secure. I am also working with all of my students to help them understand the large place we call Canada.


I have been using a variety of tools to help connect my students to place and build their understanding. As we progress into discussions of Canada and Canada’s unique physical, social and political features this becomes a more pressing task. While I have not seen most of Canada, having only seen a couple cities outside of my home province myself I do feel a sense of connection to other parts of the country. I have been able to build this through reading both fiction and non-fiction as well as my post-secondary studies, and most importantly attending geography conferences where I was able to learn more about other people’s places from them and to learn more about Canada from my fellow students, as well as professors.   My geography professors, well the 4 that I worked with the most, as a rule went above and beyond to help us connect to the places that we were learning about. Weather through field trips to the local mall to study urban geography, a brewery to discuss global economics, or outdoor trips like hikes along mountain sides to explore rock formations or to the beach to look at coastal erosion patterns. My teachers also brought in objects and samples for us to explore the most memorable being food in a geography of food course.  We also used many maps, Ariel photos, satellite images and photographs to enhance the learning and our sense of place in many lessons.


I am hoping to use some of the techniques that my own teachers at KPU used to help my students connect to the content and develop their own sense of place. I am looking forward to using many of the place based learning techniques I benefited from more in my own classroom. I want my students to have the same tools for understanding that I had. Even though I benefited from these as a university student my own grade 4/5 students will be able to learn something valuable from them two. Using real life materials in the classroom as well as maps, photos and satellite images will help my students connect to Canada and begin developing a sense of place.


I have already started doing a few things in day to day classroom routines to build our sense of place and am looking forward to adding more ways.  The main way I have started using visuals to help build sense of place is through “Photo of the day”. We do Photo of the Day every morning as students enter the room, this is an easy transition that promotes sense of place and builds oral language.  I use my projector to display the photo of the day but have also done it with printed photos, I prefer to project it as it saves trees and has all students looking at the same image in the same orientation. While looking at a normal photo upside down may not change the story it tells looking at a map, satellite image or Ariel photo upside down can change its story.  My students work in their table groups to discuss the photo or image on the screen, they make observations about what they see, ask questions about things they wonder about and often make inferences about the photo drawing on their background knowledge. While I started using the photos as a strictly oral language activity to get my students talking and working together in the morning through my choice of photos it has become an activity for building sense of place.


One of our most powerful photos was an Ariel photo I found on google of Langley and projected. I put it up like a normal photo of the day without a lot of pre talking. I wanted to see what my students could figure out on their own. Students immediately recognized that it was take from above and many began asking where the photo was taken. They noticed that they could see farms and pointed out that the straight lines (roads) were probably made by people. They recognized that the Fraser River was water but guessed that it was a lake or ocean from its size and shape. As we discussed it as a class I did give the students some clues to help them make sense of what they were seeing, letting them know that the large body of water is the Fraser River and pointing out Brae Island that we had seen on a field trip the week before. My students were intrigued by the phot for sure and have asked if we can do Ariel photos of other places. I’m now on a mission to find good ones.


The second way I have started bringing place into the classroom is through picture books. I’ve heard my mom, another teacher, say “there’s a picture book for that” many times and in most cases she’s right, I’m still looking for picture books that teach me to code though. I have used picture books to teach hard topics and make difficult concepts more accessible to my students, I recently started exploring their role in place based activities. It started with a book about the boreal forest in northern Canada. The book is beautifully illustrated with water colour paintings and the text gives rich detail about the plants and animals that live there, crafting a story of how they are connected. Most importantly the book connects the reader to the place and gives the place a story and a meaning to the reader.


As I explore more ways to bring place based learning into my daily classroom activities I would love to hear how you do so with your classes. Weather your students are 4 years old or 34 years old, or somewhere in the middle I would love to know how you bring place into your classroom.


I can’t wait to hear how you bring place into your classroom.



Posted in Geography, Language Arts, Outdoor Education, Place Based Learning, Reflections, Social Studies, Teaching | Leave a comment

More Math Maddness and Mentorship Reflections

Wow, I haven’t posted since October. I’m sorry to all of you who were following my blog that I have neglected you. My blog has been a reflection on my learning and growth as a teacher for the last 2 years, while I have not been posting my reflections here lately my conversations about my learning have not stopped. I have been sharing my reflections with an awesome mentor through a district program, as well as some wonderful mentors in my new school!  I find that our conversations about my learning and what I am trying in the classroom, to be my most powerful tool for growth, as more experienced teachers often have ways of seeing and doing things that I may not have thought of, or have the experience to understand yet. While I am gaining more experience, I do benefit from the expertise of my mentors.  My new school, has many teachers who are willing to share their expertise not only on the students and the community we work with, but instructional strategies, differentiation and classroom management. I am very thankful for their care and willingness to share their strengths with me. I just hope that one day I will be able to do the same for others.

This year I have discovered a passion for teaching math. Math a subject that can cause fear reactions in many students and teachers, to the point that one of my post-secondary math teachers termed it “mathaphobia”. He characterized ” mathaphobia” as an intense fear of math leading to a decreased participation in math and lowered success.  I have never found math scary, while at times I have had to work very hard at it. I have always enjoyed it as a puzzle to solve, knowing that if I gave it enough time and effort I would eventually come to an answer.

Over the last few weeks and months I have been attending more workshops on math and reading more about math. I have continued my guided math program with greater success in a new, continuing position in an elementary school. My new school should be my home for a while and it is starting to feel like home. I have also learned more math routines in recent weeks that I am slowly going to bring into my classroom.

Guided math is working much more smoothly this term after taking time to meet with my students and changing how I went about implementing the program. I spent more time teaching them the way to do each station. I had the student’s work on not just doing the station, but also how to get themselves organized for and clean up each station. I was able to work with my students, to prevent some of the issues of being off task and unfocused that I had with my older students. We spent 3 weeks learning the routines of guided math, and working on one or two stations at a time.When our time is shortened or we need to get caught up I have learnt that its best to focus on one or two stations that teach the most important concepts.  I now run 7 stations for 5 groups, I know that 7 stations can sound over whelming but we took our time building up to doing all of them.

My stations are:

  1. Math with the teacher –> differentiated mini lesson
  2. Math Journals –> cementing and working on the concept and skill from the mini lesson
  3. Math with Technology –> practicing math facts
  4. Math by Myself –> practicing differentiated independent practice
  5. Math games –> practice with a partner or small group, working on both facts and concepts
  6. Math Challenges –> task cards with word problems and real world applications of the current concepts
  7. Math puzzles –> practice math games (Sudoku), tangrams, individual, pentominos, mystery number

I like doing my math in small groups with my students, so that I can meet with each student frequently (every other day) and spend time with them talking about their math and their math thinking. My small groups let me see what they know and what we need to spend more time on, I am also able to go at the pace of each group, and can adapt each group to their needs. Currently I have groups working on single digit addition and others working on 3-digit addition. My groups let me meet the needs of all of these learners in a way that fits them. I am also able to model the use of manipulatives better in small groups and make sure that my students can use them properly before using them on their own.

I have recently been part of a book study on ” High Yield Math Routines” and have tried them with my class with varying success. My students are finding success with ” Number of the Day”, where I pick a daily number currently between 10 and 100 and the students represent it in as many ways as possible. My students represent the daily number through words, equations, drawings and building it with manipulatives. The goal of number of the day is to get students thinking critically about numbers and decomposing them into their parts, in short building number sense. We have also tried a routine called ” Alike and Different” with less success, this task requires students to compare and contrast two numbers using a Venn diagram, this task requires a strong vocabulary specific to math, which my students are developing. We will try this task again when we have more language with which to describe and compare numbers. I also want to use two more of the routines in the book ” Function Machine” and Number Lines. Function Machine is a way of looking at patterns by analyzing the inputs and outputs with the number going into one side of a diagram and having a rule or function that is applied in the box, the number then comes out the other side as the out put. I will do Function Machine soon but I need to build my machine first, I want to have a concrete function machine for my students to use with manipulatives before I ask them to do it in a more abstract way. I want to have my students put the manipulative in to the machine on the in put side and give a student a rule , such as add two and have them put the correct number of objects in the output.  Number line has students place a number on a blank number line with or with out teacher defined benchmarks.

The last 6 weeks have really cemented my belief in interactive math using belief for all students. By making the math approachable using concrete objects such as counters and 10 frames then gradually moving to slightly more abstract tools such as Cuisenaire rods and base 10 blocks which require more critical thinking from the students, I am able to increase students feeling of success. When my students feel successful in the task and activity their engagement increases and they are willing to take more risks with their learning. I find that by starting slow with concrete objects, I can build the confidence that my students need to be ready to stretch themselves into the learning zone.


In closing this has been a long reflection to say that I have found a passion for teaching math and learning more about math and how to make it more accessible to students. I want math to be fun and approachable for all of my students and am always interested in learning how others make it so for their students.

How do you make math approachable and interactive for your students?

Until next time,



Posted in Math, Professional Development, Reflections, Teaching, Teaching Life | 2 Comments

A Month In the Middle

It’s been a month since school started and I joined the madness in the middle.  I love middle school! I really enjoy working with nearly 60 students each day, it is definitely a change from the 120-150 I could see in a day last year between my two schools. I find that I am building much stronger relationships this year because I see every one of my students for half the day every day. That’s right I said half the day. I am working with a wonderful teaching partner and we share the teaching of the core academic subjects. I am teaching my favourite subjects math and science and I also teach French. My teaching partner, who from here on out will be called Ms. P, teaches English, Social Studies and heath and careers. We work together to plan for PE and Arts. I really like working as part of a teaching team, by collaborating with Ms. P we can find ways to connect with each student and help them grow. I am also able to focus on only 3 subjects allowing me to explore how to teach each in new ways and develop more innovative projects.

The team aspect of working with Ms. P has helped me to work on my skills for collaborating, especially when it comes to talking about students and sharing strategies for working with them. I feel like this collaboration surrounding specific student has helped me to deepen my understanding of them as we each bring our own unique perspective and backgrounds to our interaction with students. This has been really helpful in finding ways to work positively with every one of our 60 students.


I am also seeing the benefits of being in middle school for my grade 6s, in terms of developing their organizational skills, responsibility, and social skills. My students no longer keep their belongings in their desks or in the classroom. We use lockers to store personal belongings with the exception of the few things I keep in the classroom, so the students are now responsible for all of their materials and belongings as well as bringing them to the right class when they are needed. Students brining the right supplies to class is something that we are still practicing, while we only switch between 2 rooms it quite often happens that binders or pencil cases are in the opposite room or left in lockers.  This new responsibility for themselves and their supplies has been a big adjustment for my students.


For my own teaching I’m finding that teaching three subjects works well for me because I can really dive deep into preparing the best activities and lessons I can on each subject.  I am also finding that I am able to adjust my teaching between lessons to fit each group better or tweak activities that may not have gone exactly as planned. This is really helping me to grow as a teacher because I am able to apply my quick reflections on lessons and activities to the next block or group and make adjustments so that I am more effective. I am also able to look more into research and best practices for my three subjects. I am feeling really good with 2/3 and am hoping to spend time this weekend investigating better ways to engage my students in French class. I have already posted about how well I think guided math is working for my students. In science I am exploring more hands on and project based learning ideas. I have a busy class who need constant movement and change in activity so using hands on learning stations works well for them. They are able to talk and discuss what they are doing in small groups as well as applying their knowledge and using it to ask more questions.  With our project based learning students are creating marble runs in science to demonstrate our understanding of Newton’s laws as well as balanced and unbalanced forces.


All in all, I’m loving my experience in middle school with my students. It’s a great new phase for me as much as for them.

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Talk, Talk, Talk workshop

I got the chance to attend a workshop after school today looking at the importance of class discussion and having students talk. We looked at a few different strategies:

  • Word splash
    • giving the students a word or image and having them brainstorm individual words or phrases. With this we need to try to extend beyond the nice surface level words we associate with the word, keep going past the slow sections to push students to deeper and more complex ideas. Give students think time to allow them to learn more and go deeper. This seems like a quick way to start or end a class with little prep for the teacher, just write the word or phrase on the board and let them go.
  • Quotables
    • Give students a set of quotes and have them choose the one they connect with most and share in their table groups or a small group which one stuck with them and why. I really liked this as it gave the students something that they can engage with right away and can look at it from a surface level or go deeper into the quote. The individual can be extended by connecting the main idea of the quotes on the sheet or the ones the group chose
  • Quick Write
    • I know quick write looks out of place on this list of discussion strategies but it can be used to support the sharing of ideas. It gives the students a chance to write down activity thoughts before sharing with another partner or the class. This gives them a safe way to share because they have something prepared.
  • Snap Chat / Timed Talk
    • Give the students a set time 2-5 minutes to discuss a specific question or phrase.
  • Paraphrasing
    • Having students re state what others said in their own word to check for meaning. This allows students to clarify what was intended.
  • T Charts
    • These can be used to compare and contrast almost anything. Students may start their chart on their own and then expand them as a group. I would like to try this with math concepts ie adding / subtracting or adding/ multiplying.  T Charts can be used as anchor charts for various topics and then displayed on the wall.

One idea that came up many times was using time as a focuser, and giving students a time limit so that they know that it has to be done. This is “teacher time” while you give the students a time you can shorten it or extend it depending on how the activity is going.

Something I would like to try is to display an image or give the students a copy of an image and have the come up with the Instagram or Snap Chat captions then projecting or posting the image on the board and having the class share possible captions for the image. It would also be do able by having a pair come up with their caption on a their piece of paper and taping it to the board or wall near the image to caption the image. We could then read these captions out loud and talk about which ones made an impact on us.


When looking at the research , Discussion ranks 7th out of 150 indicators of ceiling. It was shown to have a large impact on learning. I have seen this figure presented several times and it comes out of Hattie’s research. All students can participate in discussion, they may enter from different points and share.


I think for me the biggest take away for me was creating activities that are low threshold , so that any student may participate in the activity. For me I want my students to feel that discussion is low risk for them and that they are safe to share. I am finding that this is already happening in my small math groups, where students can talk about their math thinking with peers that they are achievement comfortable with. The other thing I want to work on is to create discussion opportunities have a high opportunities or no celling, so that students can take it where they need to by following the flow of ideas in the class, to reach new or different levels of thinking, expanding beyond recall or emotional responses to having them apply their knowledge and create new ideas or opinions from the ideas that were shared.

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Middle School Guided Math

Another year is well underway and this year I’m teaching grade 6 in a middle school. To see what my classes have been up to check out their blog divy.missyounger.com. This year I’m trying something new with my math classes. I have 56 students all at varying levels. I decided to try something different this year and jump into guided math.  This lets me work with students exactly where they are at. The process works similarly to guided reading or Daily Five with students getting time with the teacher, and working on individual stations to build their skills.  I currently have 5 groups and they rotate through 5 stations.  Currently I am using the following stations:

  1. Math with the teacher
    1. This is when students work with me on mini lessons tailored to their needs. They get a chance to show their learning and dig deeper into math concepts. At this station we also work with manipulatives to show concepts.
  2. Math journals
    1. In their math journals students have the chance to write about their understanding and show what they know. This also works as an interactive notebook using various foldable and activities. Students document the steps to solving new types of problems and the key information for new concepts in their journals. Math journals do not leave the classroom, I keep these at school so that they do not get lost and I have them as a tool to document students learning. This station is completed after students work with me so that they can record their learning right away and cement it. This way I am also able to give directions for the students at my table.
  3. Math Games
    1. Math games are students chance to practice their math facts, they do so through a variety of printable, dice and card games. Students work in groups of 2-3 to play the games. This not only works on student’s math fact knowledge but also builds social skills and team work skills. The games are chosen so that students have choice of which game to play or numbers to work with but are reinforcing a specific skill. Currently we are reviewing addition and subtraction strategies and are introducing working to three decimal places. So our math games are working addition and subtraction facts to twenty.
  4. Math by Myself
    1. At the Math by Myself station, students complete more traditional activities, typically a worksheet or a textbook page. At this station activity are colour coded by group so that students can easily find their activity and get started. Students are encouraged to seek help from others in their group as needed and work together to solve problems before seeking help from me. I discourage the use of calculators at all times unless the students IEP calls for the use of one. I do not want students to rely on the calculator before they understand the process of what we are working on. The calculator is a tool once students understand the concept. at the math by myself station students practice the concepts and the computation skills that we have been practicing in small group sessions.
  5. Math challenges
    1. Our final station is math challenges, students complete task cards that contain various word problems and deeper challenges to extend students understanding and help them to apply the concepts to the real wold. Currently I have colour coded task cards for the students to complete. Again students work on these in pairs or individually.


To get through a set of rotations takes my classes approximately two hours or two class periods, our schedule alternates between 40-minute math periods (2 rotations) and 80 minute periods (3 rotations). A typically lesson includes starts with 5 minutes of whole group directions and settling the class in including directing students to their first rotation, then 2-4 15 minute rotations before a 5-10-minute finish up and clean up time at the end of the class period.


So far I am getting positive feedback from parents and students, many saying this is the first time they’ve enjoyed math or felt successful in math class! My students enjoy the regular change in activity and workspace. Students do not just change activity they also move around the room, which helps them to stay on task. I am also finding that students stay focused on each station because they know that they only have a few minutes to complete the task. Having only a few minutes on each task also helps me to limit the number of problems I expect to be completed, typically I have them completing 8-16 problems in their math by myself. I find that if they can show they understand the concept in 10-16 questions that that is all they need to do. I do ask students to make corrections to incorrect work so that they can show that they know what worked well and what went wrong in their first attempt.


Overall I am pleased with how students are reacting to the new program and enjoying what they are doing. I am also seeing growth in student’s skills across all groups because they are getting the instruction that they need when they are ready for it.

Posted in E-Portfolio Artifacts, Highlights, Math, Middle School, Teaching | 2 Comments

Walking Across Canada In Our Own Gym!

“ From Vancouver Island to the Alberta Highlands, cross the prairies the lakes to Ontario’s Towers, from the sound of Mont Royals Chimes, out to the Maritimes”


For the last three weeks elementary students at LFAS have had the privilege of exploring Canada on one of Canadian Geographic Education’s Giant Floor Maps of Canada. We have walked from Tofino to Labrador and the Great Lakes to Elsmere Island. Covering much of the country in our journey. Students have been able to experience the vastness that is living in the second largest country in the world.


The last 3 weeks have given me a chance to share things that I am passionate about with my students. To me geography is a unifying discipline between all other academic disciplines; it is not just knowing provinces and their capitals. Geography asks “ where?” “ why there?” ,”what is there?”, and “ why do we care?”. Geography examines the relationship between people in their environment. Students in K-12 can use the 5 themes of geography as long as they are presented in an approachable way for each age group. The five themes of geography are place, location, movement, interaction and region. Place describes the value that people place on a particular space or location. Location may be relative or absolute giving a street address or GPS coordinates. Movement describes pathways for getting people, animals and other materials from one place to another and the patterns in which things move between places. Interaction is how people modify and work with their environment and how the environment impacts human lives. Region describes both naturally and human created regions and the relationships between the people, their environment and other regions.


Geography is truly multi disciplinary and forms a bridge between many disciplines. We can explore math through measurement and calculating the area on maps as well as scale and ratios. Geography can also look at speed or velocity and acceleration when looking at slope creep or deforestation. Geography teaches students to think beyond the box of a single discipline. As our world becomes more connected we need students who understand the connections between places and individuals. Geography fosters those skills.


Learning and teaching geography should and can be fun and multi disciplinary. We are not limited to colouring and labeling maps of Canada! Students can use a range of online tools from Arc GIS online, to Google maps and many others to create maps and begin to really look closely at the patterns that emerge in a map. We again can connect mapping and geography to math, in patterns, statistics, measuring and geometry. This can then be extended to include social studies and look at populations and population density. The numbers may look interesting in a chart in the textbook but when the population density is added to the map the students can now begin to visualize just how many people live in a given area and can make comparisons between areas. Geography also connects to science and is not limited to earth science, we can explore the geography of biomes and see where they are located in the earths surface and how their location may impact their characteristics. Even language arts can be connected to geography, every good story has a setting or a place, students can imagine the geography of the place or if the story is set in the real world explore the place using tools such as Google maps or Google street view. I have had students create maps of both real and imaginary locations and map characters journeys through stories.


For me a challenge has been to connect geography to the arts in a meaningful way. How do we make both come together in a way that is meaningful? Students can apply elements of design such as colour and line when creating maps. The other thing that we had fun playing with artistically was connecting music to the map, we were able to sing about different parts of the country and use music to help us learn where different things were. By using traditional and not so traditional music we were able to connect to both historic and modern culture and bring it to life on the map. We also used creative movement such as “ swimming” in bodies of water, or “paddling” waterways to connect to them and help us remember places.


One of the most awe-inspiring takeaways I had was watching my students sense of place and understanding of the country of Canada grow during their time on the map. They build connections in a real and tangible way that would be difficult to duplicate in other settings, the map allowed the students to get their bodies on the map and physically make the connections.



“What is the sense of place?

It is a combination of characteristics that makes a place special and unique. Sense of place involves the human experience in a landscape, the local knowledge and folklore. Sense of place also grows from identifying oneself in relation to a particular piece of land on the surface of planet Earth.

Another way of looking at sense of place is contrast: places like strip malls have little sense of place because they more or less all look very similar, often have no name and no one who wants to spend any time there or write anything about them. Whereas places that exhibit a strong sense of place have an identity and character recognized immediately by a visitor and valued deeply by residents.” – http://www.artofgeography.com/info/the-sense-of-place


People have a fundamental need to establish a sense of place. Or a connection the where they are. Think about how you navigate your self, you probably have a collection of land marks or intersections in your minds that for a mental map of the place in which you live. All people do this; it is an innate connection to your place. In this case place has a very specific meaning as a space or location with meaning; it is the meaning that we attach to it that makes a place a place not its presence on the earth. This means that a place to one person may be a space to another who does not hold the same connection. By having students explore maps of familiar places and of Canada it helps them to build their sense of place. They begin to see the relationships between them selves and the places important to them increasing their mental map. To me this is a fundamental part of geographic education, enabling students to discover the relationship between themselves, their environment and the community as well as the places in it. It is very difficult to begin to understand and learn about other places if you do not first understand your own and connects to it. Building students sense of place can happen on things like the giant floor map of Canada as well as on a walk to the fire hall or police station in your neighbourhood. The important learning there is connecting children in a meaningful and tangible way to their place.



In closing, having the Giant Floor Map of Canada at my school was a hugely powerful and motivating experience for both the teachers and the students. I especially loved getting to share my passion for geography and maps with those in my school community and seeing students and even a few teachers’ eyes light up as they looked at something a new way and tried something new.


Thank you to the wonderful staff and students at my school, for allowing me to bring this in and share one of my passions with you. And another huge thank you (again) to Canadian Geographic for their loan of the map.



Playing geography games on the Giant Floor Map of Canada.

Playing geography games on the Giant Floor Map of Canada.

Grade 1 map symbols activity

Grade 1 map symbols activity

Grade 1 map brain storming.

Grade 1 map brain storming.

We were sad to see the Giant Floor Map leave.

We were sad to see the Giant Floor Map leave.

Grade 2's looking at the regions of Canada.

Grade 2’s looking at the regions of Canada.

Matching the flags to the provinces.

Matching the flags to the provinces.

Looking for water bodies.

Looking for water bodies.

We found Langley!

We found Langley!

What province is your group in?

What province is your group in?

Grade 3's working as a team to locate capital cities.

Grade 3’s working as a team to locate capital cities.

Exploring the parks of Eastern Canada.

Exploring the parks of Eastern Canada.

Finding national capitals

Finding national capitals

Grade 3's exploring Canada.

Grade 3’s exploring Canada.

What other strategies do other teachers use to connect geography to the rest of the curriculum? How are you helping students develop their sense of place?

Posted in Creative Projects, Geographic Information Systems, Geography, Highlights, Teaching | Leave a comment

Learning at 900M Above Sea Level

With one of my schools I have the opportunity to chaperone the Ski / Snow board club, watching the group of grade 5-7 students on the snow it really is learning at 900M above sea level. We get to experience all that beautiful cypress mountain has to offer, from gently sloping runs on Easy Rider to the sweeping vistas of Vancouver, the Lions and as far north as Squamish from the top of the Sky Chair. While the setting is picturesque the students are more focused on the snow it’s self. For many our first troop up what their first time on the snow. Learning here is about more that just the physical skills of skiing and boarding. The students are developing perseverance, snow sports are not learned quickly and learning them can sometimes involve uncomfortable and cold falls, into the snow. They are also developing independence; students are responsible for their own gear including packing it up and getting it home again. Students can be seen helping each other track down wandering mittens and stray socks, or returning found items to their friends.


Even more important than the physical skills, perseverance and independence the students are building relationships with others. Their ski / board groups do not reflect their classroom groups, students come from a number of classes and groups on the mountain are mixed age. This allows students to get to know kids that they would not necessarily interact with at school. Building relationships like this draws students closer together and builds school community as well. The students can be heard singing and playing games together on the bus usually with out technology. On the bus they play games like the alphabet game (looking for each letter on signs and licence plates), grand mothers suitcase, the counting game and the camping trip game. Students are building human connections with those sitting near them on the bus and with the staff sitting near them. I really enjoy playing bus games with my students; the letters “ X” and “Z” are really hard to spot on signs and licence plates.

IMG_0521 IMG_0525 IMG_0533 IMG_0535 IMG_0559 IMG_0591 IMG_0592 IMG_0594

I think most important for me; the students are connecting with nature! We are outside in the elements, they get to watch the sunset over Vancouver and feel the cold mountain air as they glide down the mountain. So many students spend the majority of their time indoors away from the elements, yet time in nature is essential for student’s mental well being. Many only go outside for less than an hour a day during their recess and lunch breaks. Getting students on the mountain for 3.5 hours a week helps get them in tune with nature. Students are actively making comparisons to the week before. With things like “ it’s warmer this week the snow is stickier”, “ the snow last week was lighter than this week, why?” They made connections to their own experience and observed the conditions. In my own reading I have been looking at ways to bring nature into my own lessons more and more and also the why of bringing nature in. Some of the articles I’ve read recently include:






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Righting the Ship Workshop – Jan. 11 2016

One of my goal areas this year is to improve my classroom management and find more ways to build community. This afternoon I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop from my school district on the topic.


I was greeted right away by the facilitators and invited to have a cup of tea or coffee (I choose to refill my water instead). The room was set up to create a welcoming and confortable environment some of the things they used that made me feel very comfortable that I want to try in a classroom. These included

  • Alternate Seating arrangements (chairs & tables, spots on the floor, yes I sat on the floor)
  • Classical background music * I have used and loved music in my classroom to set the mood or a tone for an activity.
  • Lighting from lamps instead of overhead fluorescents
  • Supplies organized in baskets on tables
  • Table cloths and plants on tables

During the work shop a quote was presented that relates to my inquiry project from last year and reminded me that I am a Gardner in my classroom guiding and supporting my students the way a Gardner tends plants.

Questions to think about

  • What are you doing already?
    • Recorder hero –> connecting with each student in every 50 min block, giving guidance and encouragement every class as well as celebrating success!
  • What things could you incorporate in your classroom right away in order to create the same welcoming positive effect there?
    • Grade 6 HCE use lower lighting
  • What might you strive towards changing as the year progresses?
    • Connecting with every student at the door, watching student’s sports outside at recess and lunch.

What if we calmed down the colors in our classroom and brought in natural colours and textures?

Ideas for the physical space if possible:

  • Raised area to create a defined space
  • Inviting / first impressions
  • No clutter / clean & organized
  • Pillows
  • Low tables
  • Soft / natural / muted colours
  • Chairs flipped with pillows or soft objects
  • Give choice of seating options
  • Standing desks
  • File folders / personal; bins
  • Community tables

What about circles?

I’ve always enjoyed sitting in a circle I can see each of my students and they can see each other. I think my love for circles comes from the IDEA program at KPU where we sat on the floor or in chairs and in a circle, because in circles we are all equal and everyone is part of the same space.


The Effective Teacher

  • Has positive expectations of students
  • Creates a classroom climate that communicates high expectations
  • Conveys positive expectations to all students
  • Have high expectations from them selves.

” The effective teacher knows that the #1 problem in a classroom is not discipline: it is the lack of procedures and routines…” The First Days of School p 147


Anchor Charts – Make Thinking Visible

  • Create charts as a group, teacher and student ideas.
  • If they have input they have no excuses to not follow the routines.
  • Make anchor charts for routines and characteristics, not just academic content

How Does Assessment Fit in to All of This?

We need to examine what and why we assess? Our assessment helps to inform our decisions about our classrooms; we need to know what their strengths and weaknesses are as well as how well we are doing. Assessment tells us as much if not more about how we are doing as well as how the students are doing.

We had a chance to talk about formative assessment, where the teacher is the partner and the coach. Formative is our everyday assessment that we participate in on a daily basis, it lets both us and the students know how they are doing in the moment. On the other hand Summative assessment is the assessment that typically occurs at the end of a unit, and is often what is communicated to others to show the students learning.


Over the course of the workshop I noticed that sitting on the floor with a pillow between my back and the wall, I felt more alert than I normally do in the late afternoon. But sitting cross-legged on the floor is how I usually sit at home to do most things, I like to read and work sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace leaning back against the couch. If I work better in a more relaxed position, will this help my students? How can I create more space for them to be relaxed physically? I noticed that because my body was relaxed I wasn’t paying as much attention to how my body felt, and my mind was able to focus on the activity at hand. If it makes such a difference for me how much of a difference will this make for my students? How can I create this environment?


Building Community?

To build community students need us to first meet some of the layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Team builders are great when used properly; I prefer cooperative ones to ones that student to share about themselves with out embarrassing him or herself. I also like to start with more surface information (name, birthday, age, number of siblings, favourite food / colour / sport). One of the suggestions that were given was to create opportunities for students to cheer each other on. Team builders also let us observe whom works well together and where our natural leaders emerge.


We also need to create chances to get to know our students; we can do this in many ways. I always like to do this in an active way using games such as Big Wind Blows, Man Man Man from Mars, and place on the line (I love it to I Hate It). I need to take more time to do the written part of getting to know you as well as my usual physical getting to know you activities. One I would like to try is a “ no one knows this about me” and read them to the class and let them guess whose it could be.


Changing seating and groups can also help students to know each other because they are sitting with different people and the groups change on a regular basis. We also talked about many ways of forming pairs and groups in the classroom so that students work with different people regularly. One way of forming groups that I want to try is to take the class list and put in on to an inner and an outer circle on a spinner so that you spin one or both parts and the students get paired up randomly by the spinner, and you put students who should never be paired on the same part of the spinner so they can’t get randomly paired up.


This is all for now, I’ll post again later this week after the New Curriculum day on Friday and Tedx Langley Ed on Saturday. I am really excited for the Tedx event to see all of the awesome speakers. I will be trying to tweet that one as much as possible follow my twitter feed on Saturday to see what’s happening at the Tedx Langley Ed event.

Posted in Back To School, Pedagogy, Personalized Learning, Professional Development | Leave a comment