Monday, 24 October 2016

Outdoor Explorations: Connecting to Nature

Last May, I had the opportunity to observe two outdoor kindergarten classes in Nanaimo. I was seeking a new way to engage my students and wanted to “get out” of the classroom. When this opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to experience this place-based learning style and was pleased that I did.

 I felt that my class was having a hard time engaging with their learning. I felt that I was not teaching the way I wanted and that my class was in need of something different. So I started Outdoor Explorations. I saw a difference immediately! My students could not wait to go outside and write in their nature journals and learn about their environment.  I saw a big difference in my students who were more reluctant writers and ones who didn’t engage easily.  Outside I found they became very curious and had no trouble drawing and labelling in their journals. 

I was extremely lucky to have an Aboriginal Support Worker participate with us. She was able to provide an Aboriginal Perspective, which added a deeper connection with the environment. 

I did a number of things to make our Outdoor Explorations successful.  The students REALLY wanted to learn outside, so I told them that they could as long as it was always safe, and to be safe it meant that we had to be able to do a number of things.  

1.  Follow the three class expectations:  Respect Yourself, Respect Others, and Respect the Environment.  We discussed what each one of those meant and we talked about examples.  Respect Yourself meant that you were not going to do unsafe things – like hang from a tree or jump near a cliff; Respecting Others meant that we would do everything we could to keep everyone in our classroom community safe – for example we would look out for each other, we would not be pushing or shoving each other; and Respecting the Environment meant that we would not be damaging the environment, breaking plants, and taking things out of their environment.

2.  Listen for the whistle:  I taught them that if I blew my whistle at any point while outside, they would stop immediately and come back and gather together.  I assured them that if they could do that out on the school grounds then it would show me that they could respect themselves, and each other and keep us all safe.

3.  Spend time on our school grounds before going anywhere else:  We would do nature walks on the grounds, I would blow the whistle and they would come back and gather.    We practiced this over and over.  We would go outside and do nature journal writing – and I would blow the whistle and they would come back and gather.  These gatherings often lead to discussions about what they had seen or found or thought about.

 After I felt confident that the students would come when I called; we went on our first excursion.  I always took a whistle, cell phone, an extra adult (CEA, parent, principal, or another teacher) and was sure to have parent permission (field trip forms).  The children all needed to have a clipboard and pencil.

When we went off the school grounds, I set boundaries for the kids.  I would have 2 kids run to the edge of the boundary.  I would tell them they could go anywhere within these boundaries but if I blew my whistle they must come back immediately. I practiced this at every new site.

I always reviewed our 3 class expectations before going out on an excursion, during the excursion, and at the end.  The kids understood that safety is very important and that if they could act safely, we could be learning outside.

The kids ALWAYS want to go outside. They want to learn. They are inquisitive.  They have no difficulty at all distinguishing between running around at recess and learning time outside.  In fact, instead of thinking that learning time is recess, the opposite happens.  They come in from recess telling me about things they have observed, or sometimes problems they have encountered with students not respecting the environment.

During one of Outdoor Explorations, my students became fascinated with a spider web. They took great care not to disturb it. As they were examining it, a person walked by and asked what they doing. My students took the time to explain how a spider web was created and the importance of leaving it alone. They also informed the “stranger” how important it is to preserve and take care of nature. At this point, I was extremely proud of my students and knew that I made the right decision to bring Outdoor Explorations into my curriculum.

By Kelly Maxwell

Grade 2/3

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Multiple Ways to Demonstrate Understanding in Senior Biology

Scott Harkness teaches senior biology at Penticton Secondary.  Last week he did a number of things to teach and assess in different ways.  Using alternate ways to teach and assess opens the doors to a wider range of students being successful in their learning.  It also gives the teacher multiple ways to see what the students understand.  In these examples you will see evidence of both critical and creative thinking.  

1.  The students were introduced to the idea of replicating DNA. There are quite of few steps and it's not easy to know if they know the process. The next day we check in to see what the learned the day before. Rather than doing the standard paper quiz I had students go outside to draw and explain the steps of replication.

When they draw it out and explain it to partners they know pretty quickly where they are lacking in their understanding.  Going outside is also a nice change as it was a beautiful, sunny, fall day. The students had no limitations on space so they can show their understanding,  or lack of, without having to fit it on a piece of paper.

Students always seem to enjoy getting out of the classroom and I love being able to pin point trouble areas. When we return to the classroom we go through the concepts that the students struggled with.

2.  The second example is of students making a protein.  Here they are showing their understanding using whiteboards, play-doh and iPads.  It only took 40 minutes and I was really happy with their understanding after this activity.

Submitted by:  Scott Harkness

Monday, 26 September 2016

Provocation: Story Stones

Kelsey Allison has been exploring provocations with her kindergarten students.  She was excited to be included in an inquiry group in SD53 facilitated by Melia Dirk.  The group included primary teachers who were attempting to change traditional centres into more inquiry based provocations where students would have the opportunity to follow their wonders and curiosity.

One of the provocations was ‘story stones’.  Story stones are stones that have images painted or glued onto them.  Kelsey started with stones that had outerspace images – aliens, space ships, laser beams, etc.  Before using the story stones, the students learned about beginning, middle, ending, setting, and characters; they read a lot of stories, and also talked about how not all stories have the same structures, and how each story is unique.

The first time Kelsey used the stones the class did it as a whole group.  The stones were placed in a bag so that the students could not see the image they selected.  Initially, Kelsey began the story giving a detailed description of the stone she chose whether it was a character or a setting. She explains, “I found by modeling the detailed language and sometimes even having the kids close their eyes and imagining the description – it encouraged the kids to become more specific with their language and communication." 

After modeling the beginning of the story, the students would continue around the circle.  Each student selected a stone and added to the story.  The rest of the students knew they were not to interrupt – that the student with the stone was the only child to speak (the students were familiar with using a talking stick at circle time).  As the story went on, the kids were encouraged to make reference or connections to previous characters or events in the story.  The final student was to create the ending. Initially, many of the stories were not very coherent, however, they improved a great deal the more they practiced.

All through the year Kelsey used the stones in a variety of ways:
• she sometimes modeled a story using the stones to tell a complete story
• as whole group activity which would carry over into journal writing where students would draw or write about their favourite scene or an extension of the story. 
• at a centre or provocation where students were frequently drawn to using them to make up their own stories, individually or with a small group.

Kelsey has a number of different story stone sets.  Because of her strong interest in weaving indigenous pedagogy into teaching, her personal favourites are the stones the class created of local plants and animals.  “As a class we decided we wanted to do this after reading the book Kou-Skelowh - We are the People: A Trilogy of Okanagan Legends.  The kids decided to carry on with the local place based theme and create stones of local plants and animals.  What was really cool was that the kids wanted to take the stones outside and tell the stories in nature”. 

Story stones:
- painted
- pictures glued onto stones
- ordered through ETsy​ 

Kelsey is a kindergarten teacher in SD67

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Five Inquiry Groups

This year Through a Different Lens is pleased to sponsor 5 different inquiry groups.  Each group will be looking at authentic learning and how we can best support our students as we explore the renewed curriculum.  We will continue with the themes of hands-on learning, community building, strength based teaching and learning, choice, and weaving in Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing.  We will also continue to look at teaching to the whole class while watching our students who feel less confident as learners - and we will be slowing down and learning from those students.   It is going to be an exciting year as we work together to explore new ideas and ways of facilitating learning in our classrooms and district.

We are happy to have support from Dr. Leyton Schnellert (UBCO) and Shelley Moore as we learn from each other and from our students.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Aboriginal Book and Video Gathering

Looking forward to our first Aboriginal Book and Video Gathering for this school year.  Everyone is welcome to come and join us for the movie followed by a good discussion.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Engaged in Learning in June

Steve LaPointe teaches grade 4/5 and believes that May and June are the perfect months for kids to do some intense, engaging learning.  “All the scaffolds are in place.  The kids can self regulate, the parents are involved and supportive, there is a feeling of respect among the kids.  It’s important to keep kids thinking about learning during this time of year rather than thinking about the year ending.”  So one of the things  Steve involves the students in is “Genius Hour”.  He first got excited about Genius Hour working with David Hird at KVR Middle school.   He found that it was tremendously engaging and motivating, and so he has continued with his students in grades four and five.

Steve has the kids think of something they would love to pursue… using imagination and personal passions and interests.  He tells them about how Google operates – a company that give company time to its employees to explore their passions that are good for human kind.  “What would you explore if you could?”  “What is your personal interest?”  “What would you say to me if you had the chance to say ‘How come we never get to learn about ____ at school?’”  “What do you want to learn about, or learn to do?”

As part of the 6 weeks project (twice a week beginning in early May), the students write a question “How can I build a skateboard ramp”, “How big of a bubble can I make?”  “What kind of cat house might my cat like?”  “How can I build a car that runs on CO2?”  They research the project, spend time talking with their parents and peers to flesh it out, explore the internet for designs and ideas, and then write up a proposal that indicates their question and the materials or resources they need.  This proposal has to be approved by both the teacher and the parents.

Then the action begins.  The students start gathering information on a topic, or begin their creation. The classroom, hallway, and workspace outside the classroom door becomes a buzz of activity as students are gluing, hammering, and creating.  Though each project is individual you see students helping each other out with their projects, and displaying what they have learned about ‘coaching’ each other.  Engagement is high as all the kids appear to be highly self-motivated.  Steve reports that there are few behavior issues because they are all doing something they love (“sometimes they are just too excited”).   

When the projects are completed, each student does something to report out – a power point, poster, picture display, a movie, or a short write up.

Teacher reflections:  Steve values Genius Hour.  He loves to watch the kids totally engrossed in their projects, excited to learn and share their learning, displaying such respect and cooperation with each other.  “They are at peace with themselves and each other”.  It is a fabulous way to end the year.”  Steve noted that one of the challenges for him is not rescuing the kids… “it is hard sometimes to let go or not step in.  I am repeatedly saying ‘If you get stuck come and see me’ but then staying hands off unless I’m invited in.”  The kids disappointments are also key – “their plans don’t always go the way they think they should but they learn a lot from that, and I am there to support.”  All in it is “just so worth it.  You just have to watch them to know that”.

Comments from the kids:
“I learned that it is not always easy… there are always difficulties.  For example, you have to be careful with the length of screws you use cause some of them went right through the boards”

“What I loved is that you get to build something that inspires you – and might inspire you to do something in the future”.

“I liked working on something that I want to learn.  I got to explore ways that work and ways that don’t work.  It was all about something we wanted to learn.”

“It was really FUN for the kids”

If you want more information contact Steve at


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Teacher Inquiry

This year TADL sponsored four inquiry groups; indigenous perspectives, inclusive practices, assessment, and literacy and the renewed curriculum.  This video clip includes some of the teacher inquiry questions, and some of the learnings from being involved in an inquiry group.  Thanks to all the teachers involved this year.

Submitted by Jeff Fitton

Monday, 16 May 2016

Learning Outside the School

This fall I had a contract at KVR Middle School teaching grade 6, 7 and 8. I have a passion for service learning, community based learning, and letting students experience learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.  So during my time at KVR I focused on building empathy through having my students make connections to their school and greater community.

I started by having the students brainstorm problems within their school, city, and global communities, which they felt passionate about. The class narrowed down their ideas and came up with three ways to help their communities: garbage pickup around the school, collecting new and gently used warm clothing and toys, and going to a senior centre to keep them company.

Garbage pickup:
The grade 7 class organized themselves, went outside and picked up all of the garbage on the school grounds. The students had a blast and in just under an hour they collected 12 full bags of garbage. This might have seemed like a one time thing, separate from their day-to-day lives to the students, but it did make a lasting impact on some of the students. Some were clearly more aware of the garbage that surrounded them, upset at how quickly the grounds were once again covered in garbage. This helped them take ownership of their school grounds, and feel their connection the space that they spend so much of their time in.

Collecting new and gently used clothing and toys:
In December, the class organized a clothing and toy drive. Students throughout the school brought in new and gently used toys and warm clothing for all ages. In just over two weeks we collected 717 items, with our class bringing in over 1/3 of the total items.  Many of my students stayed in at lunches to help sort all the clothing and toys. 

I knew the students had started to feel empathy for each other when they were walking to a local elementary school to deliver the clothing and toys and one of the boxes’ bottom broke.  Scarfs, mittens and tuques flew everywhere. Almost everyone in the class stopped to help them pick up the articles and carry them the rest of the way.  The students were so proud as they recognized how they could directly effect lives around them in a positive way.

Senior Centre:
The grade 7 class chose to go to Haven Hill and bring holiday cheer and baked goods to the residents.  The students shared the goodies and helped the seniors make Christmas cards for their families.  One student played  the violin and a few others took turns on the piano, playing Christmas carols while the rest of the group sang along. Talking with the residents was eye opening for many of the students; they enjoyed learning from them and hearing some old stories.  

These actions were powerful for the students because they choose and organized them.  The students found things they wanted to do to positively impact the communities around them. It helped them see how much they can achieve on their own and the power they have to make change in the world around them.

Submitted by Alannah Stewart, a recent graduate from UBCO and first year teacher in SD67