Sunday, 19 February 2017

Quick and Creative Collaboration

The introduction of B.C.'s revised curriculum has challenged educators to shift their thinking in regards to the way teachers teach and students learn. While historically education has been a profession where people often worked in isolation, opportunities to discuss ideas and communicate with colleagues have never been more necessary.  Schools, districts, and regional networks have been working to provide various ways for teachers to share their thinking with each other. Three teachers at Parkway Elementary in SD67 came up with a simple but effective method for creating dialogue and exchanging ideas. When they developed something to help their students understand the core competencies, they posted their ideas on the cupboards in their staff room with a written explanation for the staff as well as a pile of sticky notes and a pencil for others to provide feedback. Their message to the staff clearly emphasized that their ideas were a work in progress and that critical feedback would help with the continual revision of their initiative. By choosing a communal space within the school building (the staff room) and providing a simple and quick way (sticky notes) for others to provide commentary, the teachers were able to collect a wide range of responses and suggestions for improvements.

It was a creative solution to the challenge of providing teachers with the essential opportunity to collaborate in regards to the revised curriculum, when there is often so little time available to do so.

Related Posts: See this post for further commentary on the importance of idea exchange in education, or this post for a discussion about teachers as learners.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Arboretum Activity: A Metaphor for the Core Competencies

A few months ago at a regional network meeting we were fortunate to experience an activity designed to help teachers understand the original intentions of the core competencies. Two members of SD23’s Instructional Leadership Team Carolyn Durley and Keely Flannigan began by giving us a little potted plant.  We were asked to discuss with a partner “What would success look like for your plant?”

Then we were asked to consider, "How would you care for your plant so it can be successful?" Some of us were fortunate enough to have little labels with instructions for proper care, however others had to make educated guesses about what their plant might require to thrive.

After our focus on the individual plants, we looked at a photo of an arboretum and discussed the strengths and beauty that resulted from the diversity of the plants represented.
The activity was a clear reminder of the intention of the core competencies which is to honour the individual strengths of every child and not to think of students as components to be evaluated, but as unique and complex people whose holistic growth must be supported and nurtured.

Next we were each given a personal blank plant label and asked to create care instructions for our own strengths. We were asked to consider “What care instructions would you write for yourself? What does success look like in learning for you? What do you need in order to be successful?” Reflecting on our own personal strengths as professionals was an excellent experience to help us prepare for developing self-reflection skills in our students.

While this activity is effective for helping educators reflect on the holistic intentions of the core competencies (and therefore resist the urge to reduce the competencies to a checklist or a rubric) it also has potential for classroom use.

Dave Searcy started his second semester Law 12 classes with this activity. Students began by looking at small plants that were brought in. After discussing the metaphor, the students were given their own plant labels and asked to create care instructions for themselves, both to begin practicing the self-reflection skills that would be needed in the course as well as to help their teacher understand what they each needed to thrive as learners. The labels became a visual display of the complexities and unique capabilities of each person, and the process gave the students a voice, allowing them to communicate their strengths and take ownership of their earning.

Note: Click here for a related blog post about getting to know your students at the beginning of the year or the semester.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

First Peoples Principles of Learning In Action

This video was recently created to highlight some of the exciting approaches being used in classrooms from K-12 in SD67.  Teachers who are intentionally working to bring the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL) into their practice are using engaging activities such as taking their kids outside, partnering students of different ages and grade levels together, bringing in more experiential hands-on elements, connecting with members of the community, and helping students connect their learning with their personal strengths and identity. A focus on the First Peoples Principles is creating classrooms where teachers and students are finding learning more meaningful and relevant.

While it is essential for teachers to acknowledge that what they are doing connects with the First Peoples Principles of Learning, it is equally important to recognize that we are only in the beginning stages of understanding the complexity and historical context of Indigenous educational approaches. The main purpose of this video is to help teachers recognize the potential for incorporating these ideas into their own teaching, but it simultaneously runs the risk of oversimplifying the FPPL.

In our work we sometimes hear the comment “Isn’t this just good teaching?"  or "What makes this Indigenous?"  Here are some things that are important to consider as we move forward.

1. The First Peoples Principles of Learning originated from Indigenous communities and societies.  These are methods and philosophies of teaching and learning that have been practiced for as long as Indigenous communities have existed which long predates the creation of our current educational system.

2. It is irrational to infer that our North American education system has historically reflected the philosophies and approaches represented by the First Peoples Principles of Learning.  Educational practices that have traditionally been used in North America and Europe bear little resemblance to the FPPL.  Traditionally, our system has focused on control, compliance, competition, regulation, production and standardization.  The goal has been to been to educate the largest number of students as efficiently as possible.

3. While it is certainly encouraging that current research on optimal learning environments (from groups such as the CEA and OECD) is compatible with the First Peoples Principles of Learning,  it is important to recognize that these principles have always been recognized by Indigenous societies and it is only now that these approaches to learning are being widely acknowledged by Eurocentric educators and researchers.

This video is an exciting example of positive things that are happening in our district when the First Peoples Principles are embedded within our current framework.  We want to continue to celebrate and support teachers in this work, while also acknowledging that this is just the beginning.

Note: A highly recommended resource for developing a greater understanding of the First Peoples Principles of Learning is Jo Chrona's Website.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Transforming Physical Space

 This year, the Social Studies department at Princess Margaret bought a small can of vibrant green paint and painted one of the walls in a vacant classroom. Now it is a multimedia center. Students with cellphones can now “green screen” video themselves to any location in the world. Using an ipad with a free app, students can stand against the wall, or sit at a desk in front of it and deliver newscasts with live footage and cool locations in the background.  

The green screen wall has so far been used by Social Studies and Geography classes; and now the French and Art classes are clamoring for the room. The green screen wall has become so popular that at times, we are competing for its use.  Some teachers have taken long sheets of green paper off of the rolls in our supply room and put them up on walls or onto bank of lockers and then take it off when done. Instant pop-up green screen!

The use of the green screen has also made me think about  other ways we could transform
the physical structure of our classrooms into  better learning environments. Wouldn’t it be cool if instead of regular linoleum, we could get linoleum stamped with a world map? Or periodic table?  At some universities, there are no chalkboards or whiteboads in some rooms. Every wall is covered in “Idea Paint” (basically, painted floor to ceiling with whiteboard covering) which means every wall can serve as a projection area or as an area to write upon! What a cool step in the right direction.

Submitted by Jeff Fitton

Friday, 25 November 2016


 It looks like a candle lit dinner at a restaurant … but why the books and journals? This is actually an inquiry group having a working dinner talking about changing practice and sharing ideas.  This group is one of four inquiry groups this year in Through a Different Lens.  They are pursuing hands-on active authentic learning and how it can be used to help kids think and connect with the curriculum.

The evening was filled with conversation and activity.  One activity was a provocation, a Reggio strategy that helped us connect with our memories and lives, and listen intently as others described some of their connections and memories.  At the end the group was asked to connect the experience with the First Peoples Principles of Learning.  There were so many connections – learning ultimately supports the well being of self, learning is reflective, learning involves generational roles, learning is embedded in memory, history, and story, learning involves the exploration of one’s identity.

We did a number of other activities such as musical chairs as a review or learning activity, taking notes standing up, watching a short inspirational video on design thinking, and one by Shelley Moore on the outside pins.  As well, each
person documented their thinking, and looked at how these strategies might be meaningful for students they are wondering about.

One of the richest parts of the evening was the two minute go-round at the table where teachers shared a strategy they had used recently or thought they might use soon. We listened to ideas about vertical math, snowball writing, pictionary, parodies, roleplaying to learn about the great depression, understanding mean, median, and mode on the basketball court, and building circle graphs with your bodies out on the field.

Ten teachers in the group – four are teachers on call; all who want to connect with kids better and create richer learning experiences for the all the kids they interact with. 

A good evening.  Thanks to Jeff who facilitated and all the teachers.

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