reflections and highlights from 2015-2016

Posted on: June 30th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

The end of June always brings lots of good-byes. We are losing about half of our curriculum department for Learning Services in Richmond – it has been an emotional month and change is always hard. We’ve been through a lot together as a team over the last three years and this year was particularly full with the addition of the two Curriculum Implementation days in our district. Through planning and hosting those two days, we have dug deep into understanding the aspects and layers of BC’s redesigned curriculum.

We have spent much of June “populating” the Curriculum page on Scholantis and planning for next year’s professional learning opportunities in Richmond.

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Next year will be an exciting year for our district as we embrace and enact BC’s redesigned curriculum. My portfolio is shifting from a focus on both K-12 Mathematics and Science to mostly focusing on K-12 Mathematics. Although I will continue to work on interdisciplinary projects the responsibility of curriculum “implementation” in science will be shifted to another teacher consultant’s portfolio (position to be filled soon).

As I look back on this past year, some professional highlights for me include:

  • the Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry dinner series – this large group of K-7 teachers came together to engaged in provocations and think about playful inquiry across the curriculum; it was exciting to see this embraced beyond the early years and to see a large group of teachers in our district begin the ripple effect in their schools
  • sharing work from our district at the Northwest Math Conference in Whistler in October
  • the Provincial Numeracy Project – as a pilot project this year, three school teams took part in this project modelled after Changing Results for Young Readers
  • Science Jam was back for its thirteen year at Aberdeen Centre – this year there was greater evidence of students’ personal inquiry questions being reflected in their projects
  • attending the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Conference in San Antonio in April (thanks to the RTA for Major Conference Funding)
  • attending the Opal School Summer Symposium with a team of 17 educators from our School District
  • helping to support Inclusive Learning Communities projects at Cook and Boyd and thinking more deeply about inclusive practices in mathematics
  • continuing to the develop a working relationship with the Musqueam community as we think about storytelling, plants and mathematics
  • the number of mathematics and curriculum evenings I helped facilitate for parents this year
  • being a part of the BCAMT Reggio-Inspired Mathematics collaborative professional inquiry project – this project has grown in unexpected ways and it is so inspiring to work alongside teachers interested in making mathematics engaging for their students

And both a personal and professional highlight this year was celebrating 25 years of service to the Richmond School District – such a special event celebrated with colleagues.

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Thank you to my CNC colleagues for an amazing year together – best wishes as you move on to new adventures – Brooke, Sarah, Diane, Kevin, Gordon and Lorraine! And a special thank you and good-bye to our administrative assistant Lisa Buemann for all she has done to support me!

Have a wonderful summer!

~Janice

tessellating inspired by Tessalation!

Posted on: June 28th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

I visited the grade 2&3s at Grauer Elementary on their last day of school at the end of June. I had spent some time in this classroom the previous year and was happy to see some familiar faces…excited first thing in the morning to do some math with me!

I told them about a new picture book called Tessellation! that I was excited about and explained a little bit about Kickstarter to them and why I only had a pdf version of the book at this point. I explained that the girl on the cover was named Tessa and that the title was a play on the word tessellation. We looked at the colour cover I printed out and asked them what they noticed.  They noticed the shapes in the trees and on the girl’s skirt. They explained that the shapes were “connected” together.

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We read a few pages and they noticed more tessellations making connections – “They are like a puzzle!” “It’s like a checkerboard!” “It works like a quilt!” The students were  particularly taken with the turtles – I think because they were not “regular” shape and they were curious how they all “connected” together. Inspired by their curiosity about the turtles, I suggested they might want to investigate what shapes tessellate and what makes something tessellate-able.

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At this point, I stopped reading the story, leaving it with the classroom teacher Mrs. Partridge to finish reading later to the students. I explained that I had put out several materials around the classroom and they could choose what materials they wanted to work with to investigate shapes, designs, patterns and tessellations.

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The tessellating turtles (available here) were very popular with the students and I appreciated how collaboratively the students worked together to find different ways to tessellate them.

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I also demonstrated how by beginning with a cardstock square, they could cut out a part of it from one side, slide it across to the opposite side and tape it down to create a “tile” that would tessellate. I left some squares, pencils, scissors and tape out for students to experiment with.

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Some of the other materials the students explored with were patterns blocks, glass tiles and wood shapes.

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The students were fascinated with the colourful transparent plastic triangles I recently ordered (from here). The set comes with hexagon trays which the students used to create their designs – focusing on repeating patterns, colour and symmetry, before placing them on the old-style overhead projector.

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I’m always on the lookout for books that inspire mathematical thinking and that lead to investigating mathematical concepts. Tessalation! does this nicely – encouraging students to look closely at the illustrations which in turn leads to students making connections and wondering,which for these grades 2&3 students then led to their own investigations with materials to explore tessellations.

The Kindle Edition is available here. Hardcopy versions of Tessellation! can be ordered here.

~Janice

Opal Summer Symposium 2016

Posted on: June 26th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

A team of 17 educators from the Richmond School District attended the Opal School’s Summer Symposium (at the Children’s Museum in Portland) from June 16-18. Our team consisted of four teacher consultants, one elementary school principal,  two Strong Start teachers and ten K-7 teachers from both French Immersion and Neighbourhood programs. We joined educators from all around the world (and quite a large Canadian contingent) for three days of examining what it means to invest in a pedagogy of play. We heard inspiring speakers, visited the amazing classrooms at the Opal school and engaged in studio experiences. As we were inspired to think deeply about our practice, we made connections to our context in Richmond and to BC’s redesigned curriculum and how taking a stance of playful inquiry, of seeing inquiry as a state of being, can be transformative for education.

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“Be curious, try it out and say I can do it.” – lots to be learned from children as we aim to continue to create, nurture and grow spaces for playful inquiry in the Richmond School District.

~Janice

thinking about measurement in kindergarten

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

I was invited into Denise Tong Vargas’ kindergarten class at Dixon Elementary to look at ways to present mathematical provocations to students at this age level as well as how to integrate technology use as a way to document learning.

For our first time together, I asked the students to share what they knew about measuring. I then did a little demonstration with matryoshka dolls which the students were fascinate with. We compared their height and ordered them from tallest to shortest. We talked about the importance of using specific mathematical language like long, tall, short instead of a general term like “big”. We talked about how when we are comparing two objects directly that we need to “line them up” or use a baseline for accurate comparison. The students were then challenged to find something in the classroom and compare and measure it in different ways.

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As we came together at the end of their investigation time, as a way to share the students’  experiences and consolidate students’ thinking, we co-created two pic-collages using photographs I had taken using iPad technology, focusing on the concepts of baseline and units.

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On my second visit to the class, Denise and the students settled in with their regular morning routine and then I talked to the students for a short time about the big idea that we were going to focus on – comparing and ordering objects and how we might use mathematical ideas and measuring tools to help us investigate this. I had set up three provocations on tables, adding to the one that Denise and her students had been investigating already.

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And I added another onto the carpet area involving containers and cylinders to  provoke students’ thinking about measuring curved surfaces and measuring capacity/volume.

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There was high engagement amongst the students and many of the children stuck with one set of materials or provocations while others moved around. It was interesting listening to them play with the language – second tallest, “mediumest”, third shortest, etc., play with the materials and play with mathematical ideas.

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I must say that there is something to be said for unique and “fresh” materials that engages students and helps bridge school and the world outside of the classroom. By using toys and materials (like ribbons and pinecones) that they might find outside or at home, the students can see that they can be measuring wherever they are – not only if they have a ruler or Unifix cubes!

Some new pic collages were created to help consolidate the students’ learning and to focus on the big ideas involved with measuring.

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I am looking forward to checking in on Mrs. TV’s classroom blog to see what other measuring experiences the students have.

~Janice

primary teachers study group: inquiry in social studies

Posted on: May 21st, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

For our ongoing look at inquiry in the curriculum, the teachers in the group chose Social Studies as an area of focus for the third term. When we met in April at Blair (thank you Jaclyn and Karen), teachers shared what they had been doing since we last met and then our new area of focus was introduced and discussed.

We looked at an overview of the K-3 curriculum, focusing on big ideas such as community that tell a story across grade levels. Connecting to the First Peoples Principles of Learning and the Core Competencies, ideas of place, story and self-identity were discussed.

Several books and resources were made available to teachers: the new K-2 Social Studies and Science big books from Strong Nations, Shi-shi-etko by Nicola Campbell, a photo book of Places in our Community and then some materials from the Richmond Museum and Archives – self-guided tour books of different regions of Richmond and a set of archival photo postcards.

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Jaclyn and Karen from Blair shared their ongoing inquiry into place – connecting both Social Studies and Science through their investigation of Richmond.

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Our final session of the year was hosted by the McNeely team in their library.

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Teachers shared how they had been thinking about social studies through inquiry with their students. Gillian from Grauer has been looking at diversity in Canadian communities and as an art experience, students drew portraits of themselves and then created outlines just using glue coloured with black tempera paint, squeezed onto recycled cardboard pieces. These art pieces, displayed together highlighted how much we are the same.

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She also had student randomly choose skin, eye and hair colours to paint their portraits to highlight the idea of diversity. Interesting juxtaposition.

Rehang from Tomsett shared how her class had been investigating what Richmond was like now and in the past. Using archival photos, students compared and contrasted different places in Richmond and different services, such as transportation.

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Terra from Homma shared an inquiry into the students’ names and their realization of the power of names and how they are linked to personal identity. Jenna from Homma shared the Newbery award winning (thanks Shannon) picture book Last Stop on Market Street and the potential for connections to big ideas of community, diversity and social responsibility. Jaclyn and Karen from Blair shared their ongoing study of place, recently looking at a map of BC and the different First Nations territories. Anna, Deanna and Shannon from McNeely shared their garden inquiry and all the student investment that has gone into planning and planting.

After our sharing time, teachers were asked to work together to create an inquiry map of one of the inquiries they engaged in with their students this year, based on the work we have done in our study group. The idea of this kind of mapping came from a workshop some of us from the group attended in early April, facilitated by the Ontario group Natural Curiosity.

Teachers began with the starting point or provocation for the inquiry and then mapped how the inquiry unfolded with the students, noting significant events that were either turning points or high engagement points for the students.

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The teachers agreed that this was an interesting way to reflect on their studies with their students and a way to be mindful of what structures or events proved effective and engaging for our students.

At the end of the session, we discussed what would like to focus on next year in this group. Many teachers are interested in outdoor learning and looking at more interdisciplinary or environmental inquiry. The area of personal stories as well as stories of family and community was an area of interest. There was also discussion around documentation to support student inquiry and the way that technology might support that. Study group members will continue to cast their votes and we will see where next year takes us!

~Janice

creating spaces for playful inquiry: April 2016

Posted on: May 16th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

For our second year, a team of Richmond educators who have visited the Opal school in Portland, Oregon, have facilitated a professional learning series called Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry. Blog posts about our first two dinner sessions this year can be found here and here.

Our third and final dinner session of the year was held on April 21 at Diefenbaker Elementary. Educators were greeted in the library with several provocations prepared by our playful inquiry mentors that focused on connections to the natural world and the use of art materials and visual tools. The following question was displayed to provoke thinking and engagement with the materials:

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During and after engagement with the materials, we asked educators to share what they noticed about the affordances of different materials and what connections they were making to our redesigned BC curriculum.

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Some teachers had been invited to share what they have been working on with their students since our last session in January. Christy and Jo of Cook shared their students storytelling experience connected to the First Peoples Principles of Learning and their study of residential schools. Jaclyn Cruz shared how she has been using morning literacy provocations and how she extended students’ storying with materials to think about “cover stories” inspired by book covers. Melissa Vervegaert has visited the Opal School the week before so she shared some of her experiences, specifically noting how the teachers and students accessed and used and were inspired by art materials.

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After a lovely dinner together, we came together in our different mentor groups – intermediate, primary, kindergarten, mathematics, outdoor learning, non-enrolling (teacher-librarians and learning resource teachers) and engaged in discussions and sharing facilitated by our playful inquiry mentors.

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This has been such a powerful series for teachers in our district and we have grown a community of teachers committed to playful inquiry in our K-7 classrooms. The following are some of the reflections from educators in the series:

What did this series offer you as an educator?

A chance to listen to others and hear their ideas – knowing that we are on a path together.

We can all try strategies in our classes but we truly gain a deeper shared understanding through engaging conversations.

It was a great opportunity to hear about what other teachers are doing in their classrooms and how they are taking risks and opening the door for their students to explore.

 An understanding of the power of using materials to scaffold thinking, build stories, develop relationships and self-awareness.

 A way to connect with others in the district and the inspiration I left with each time – what an amazing experience!

What will you take from your experience in this series that will endure in your teaching practice?

From this experience, I will take with me a different approach to my teaching in all aspects – my outlook, my word choices, how I view my students, how I tackle “subjects” and so much more!

 That I need to connect and talk with like-minded colleagues. Sharing circles, provocations, playing with a purpose.

 Creating an environment that supports deep thinking, community building and communication.

 Use of materials in many different ways. Arranging the classroom environment to better support student engagement.

 Inquiry happens naturally – honour the curiousity.

 Letting go.

 Risk taking…the courage to let go and make small but significant changes.

Wow. Rich professional learning.

We have a team of 16 Richmond educators visiting the Opal School in Portland for a summer symposium in June. Our playful inquiry community continues to grow and we look forward to continuing this series next year!

~Janice

investigating force and motion with grades 1&2 students at Wowk

Posted on: May 12th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

As a follow-up to an after school science session she had attended, Claire Thomas from Wowk Elementary emailed me and asked if I would be able to come to her class to work with her and her grades 1&2 students around developing an inquiry project about force and motion that they could share at their school’s science fair.

The students had been learning about force and motion and had been provided with Keva blocks and marbles to enrich their investigations. When I visited, I asked the students to share what they knew about force and motion and then what they were still curious about…what they were wondering about. These questions were recorded by their teacher and the students were asked to choose a question that they could investigate.

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The students worked together in groups of two or three to investigate their question using the Keva blocks and balls and marbles and after about an hour of planning, designing, testing, making adjustments, testing, etc., the students were asked to document their findings using pictures, numbers and words.

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Here is a link to a short video compilation of the students’ investigations:

Wowk Grades 1&2 Investigating Force and Motion

This week, Wowk held a K-7 science fair, with each class having displays celebrating their science learning. I was able to pop by and visit the grade 1 & 2 students and see their displays. They were so proud to share their updated projects!

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A few students called me over to see specifically how they had made their designs better. One group said, “we finally got it to work!” – love the persistence shown, such an important disposition for scientists!

~Janice

provincial numeracy project in Richmond: session four

Posted on: May 12th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

This year, Richmond is one of several school districts in BC that are participating in a pilot provincial numeracy project. Other blogs posts about this project can be found here and here.

For our fourth and final session together, teachers shared what they had tried in their classrooms since our last session- use of the rekenreks and what assessment tool they tried. We watched and discussed a short video about a Richmond K&1 teacher and how she has tried guided math in her classroom this year. We looked at dice games and how a bag or basket of dice can be a great source of differentiation. Students can choose from different dice based on their number range, fine motor abilities or sensory awareness.

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Teachers were also provided time to prepare their final case study form for the “wonder students” they have been looking closely at this year and teachers were also asked to complete a professional narrative, reflecting on the impact of this project on their practice. One teacher’s impact statement follows:

“Being a part of this Provincial Numeracy Group has been one of the most exciting projects that I have worked on in my whole teaching career. The other teachers were extremely supportive. The chance to share ideas and reflections with other primary teachers was significant in my growth.

 This project has changed my thinking and practice in teaching math that will continue for the rest of my career. I have always loved teaching math and been excited about sharing that love with my students. Now… they are sharing with me…I am learning from them in a way that I have not experienced before.” 

There is something to be said for working collaboratively with a small group of teachers, with a common focus and goals!  I look forward to compiling the information from the student case studies and professional narratives to reflect upon and share the impact this project has had on student and professional learning.

~Janice

grade 4 science: energy

Posted on: May 10th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

Based on feedback from teachers last spring, we have planned a series of after school sessions supporting new content in the K-7 science curriculum.

This month, the after school science series session focused on the grade 4 science curricular content of energy. We looked at the big ideas, competencies and content and also looked to grade 5 curricular content to see where they more “natural resource”-based forms of energy were included in the curriculum – solar, wind, hydro, etc. We looked at a variety of picture and information books as starting places for students to gain some understanding of energy before they begin their own investigations.

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The following are some compiled information about the curricular content and applicable resources.

Grade 4 Energy

Gr4 Energy Resources

~Janice

Richmond’s first IGNITE event – #sd38ignite 2016

Posted on: May 10th, 2016 by jnovakowski No Comments

The Richmond School District hosted its first IGNITE event on Monday, May 9th at the Big River Brew Pub. The first IGNITE took place in Seattle in 2006 and is now a movement that is international in scope. An IGNITE talk is a five minute presentation consisting of 20 slides, auto-advancing after 15 seconds whether the speaker is ready or not. The IGNITE tagline is….”Enlighten us, but make it quick!”  More information about the IGNITE movement can be found here.

Having presented a few ignite talks and experiencing the inspiration and fun that goes along with these social events, I really wanted to be able to bring this professional learning format to our district and my colleagues Rosalind Poon and Lorraine Minosky were on board and we ran with it. Chris Loat created our logo for us…

SD38 Ignite logo

And both Chris and Lisa Schwartz agreed to be our technical support for the event.  We found a site and had a meeting at the Big River Brew Pub to see where attendees would sit and how the technology and food service would play out.

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We invited Richmond educators representative of primary, intermediate and secondary as well as a balance of teachers and administrators to share a story about something they are passionate about. We also invited two out of district colleagues to add to our Richmond stories.

Two weeks before the event, we hosted a rehearsal especially for educators who were new to the ignite format. It gave them a chance to meet other igniters and to practice their presentation in front of an audience. By seeing and discussing what we appreciate about others’ presentations, I think it also gave presenters some ideas for their own ignites. And its always great to have sushi…and pens.

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As we were setting up on May 9th, we were all so excited to see everything fall into place. The venue was great and it was a beautiful day so the patio was open, the technology was cooperating and the tables were set with programs and sweet treats from Sinfully the Best for our guests.The burger bar was a hit and the company was great. Unfortunately two of our igniters (Neil Stephenson and Sarah Garr) had to pull out due to personal reasons.

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Some of the guests…

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And then the talks began! I was live streaming the talks using the Periscope app and people that weren’t able to attend the event could still watch the talks live. Between each “set” there was a 15-minute break for guests to chat about the talks, etc.

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Twitter was alive with #sd38ignite…we were trending!

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It was such a positive, passionate event and such a great way to build community amongst colleagues. All our igniters shared their own personal narratives within their professional narratives and these stories are what connect us and make us better together.

We will be releasing the IGNITE talks on youtube soon…watch twitter for announcements!

A HUGE thank you to our igniters…you are what made the event the success it was!

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~Janice