Archive for January, 2016

sharing the mathematics curriculum with parents

Posted on: January 27th, 2016 by jnovakowski

There is much interest from parents in our community about two things: 1) what is the math curriculum in BC and 2) how do we help our children be successful in mathematics. Understanding the goals, big idea and “content” of the curriculum is essential for parents understanding how to support their children. Foundational goals of the math curriculum are problem solving, computational fluency and communicating mathematical thinking.

In January, I have presented to parents about mathematics in four different contexts – at a parent information evening at Quilchena Elementary, for a group of new immigrant parents and grandparents with my presentation translated by one of Richmond’s Settlement Worker in Schools (SWIS), at the District’s annual Learning and the Brain conference and at Byng Elementary’s Family Math Night.

When I do an information night at a school, I share specific examples from classrooms in the school. I have to have spent some time with the students and the staff to be able to speak a bit about the experiences the students are having. I always remind parents that the curriculum is enacted in different ways and that they should speak directly to their child’s classroom teacher if they have any questions. When I presented at Quilchena last week, most of the staff also attended and there was a very large turnout of parents. I had worked in the intermediate classrooms two years ago looking at alternate ways of assessing mathematical understanding and last year I worked in the primary classrooms around developing number sense, particularly through number talks. This year I was also fortunate to attend the school’s fall farmers’ market which was a great example of an authentic mathematical experience for students, building on the financial literacy component of the math curriculum.

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At the presentation at the Thompson Community Centre for new immigrant parents, the parents graciously listened to my presentation, waiting for the translation from Lily, one of our SWIS workers. They enjoyed playing along and thinking of different ways to solve math questions. They had genuine questions as they try to figure out the differences between how math was experienced for them before coming to Canada.

At Learning and the Brain, I presented two sessions for parents, also attended by some teachers. We looked at the foundational aspects of the current and “new” curriculum as well as many examples from Richmond classrooms along with ways to support children’s mathematical thinking.

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On Tuesday evening, Byng Elementary hosted a Family Math Night, part of a three journey focusing on their school goal of developing computational fluency. I have spent a lot of time in Byng classrooms, with teachers on pro-d days and last year at a parent information evening to develop an understanding of mathematics and how to nurture fluency and flexibility in mathematical thinking. I shared a brief overview of the curriculum and how fluency in reading can be compared to fluency in doing mathematics – being able to write the answers for a series of questions (like being able to “read” the words on a page) doesn’t necessarily mean you are actually doing math (or reading). There needs to be thinking and understanding (comprehension) involved in order to be fluent – to be literate and numerate. We talked about the importance of “practice” in becoming fluent and the students enjoyed playing all sorts of math games with their parents for the rest of the evening. The staff put together a great handout of games that the families could take home and the school’s vice-principal read the students some “Bedtime Math” stories.

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The staff put up a comments and questions “chalkboard” in the gym and the comments at the end of the night reflected such a positive attitude towards math.


A brochure created by the BC Association of Mathematics Teachers helps explains the importance of how learning basic facts and being computationally fluent to parents and the broader community. You can find it here:

BCAMT Basic Facts Brochure 

Very similar questions often emerge when I am discussing mathematics education with parents – it is okay to send them to Kumon? (I ask consider parents to think about why they are sending them and remind them that arithmatic/calculations are just one part of a much larger mathematics curriculum) how come you don’t teach the old way of doing things? (many teachers teach traditional algorithms alongside more conceptually-focused methods and strategies, we honour what students know and bring to the classroom but also recognize the importance of students having a wide repertoire of strategies and methods to draw upon and that having a repertoire of strategies actually represents a deeper level of understanding of number; international research has also shown us that students that are just memorizers of facts and procedures are the least successful in mathematics) how come students don’t get more math homework? (teachers are not required to assign homework, when homework is given, it should be meaningful practice based on content that students have already learned; there is scarce research evidence to support the effectiveness of homework on student achievement) how can I learn math the way my kids are? (attend parent information events at your child’s school or within our district, read the BCAMT brochure mentioned above, talk to your child’s teachers, read the district math and science blog; many of our elementary schools have mental math strategy posters up in their classrooms – have a look!)

Teachers and parents need to work together to support our children’s thinking and learning – it takes a village!


elementary math focus afternoon: January 18 2016

Posted on: January 26th, 2016 by jnovakowski

On the afternoon of January 18, we hosted staffs from eleven elementary schools at Byng Elementary for our second Elementary Math Focus Afternoon of the year. About 160 educators attended an opening presentation followed by a choice of several concurrent sessions, over two time slots.


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Schools were also asked to bring something to share by putting it out on display in the gym – something new we were trying and received positive feedback from schools staffs about.

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Sessions available to teachers included kindergarten programming, supporting all learners in mathematics, screencasting using iPad technology, high yield routines, mental mathematics, inquiry and geometric thinking.




During the second time slot, we also tried an “EdChat” format where teachers came together around an area of interest (primary, French Immersion, etc) with a facilitator and were asked to bring something to share that they have tried since our last focus afternoon or a question that they had. This collaborative type of participatory professional learning is new to some teachers in our district and we will continue to think of ways to nurture this structure in future events.


As always, we ended the afternoon with teachers discussing with each other what they were going to try in their classrooms, connected to the redesigned curriculum and of course, there were draw prizes!



creating spaces for playful inquiry: January 2016

Posted on: January 24th, 2016 by jnovakowski

Almost 60 teachers came together at Diefenbaker on the evening of January 14th for the second session of our three-part dinner series: Creating Space for Playful Inquiry. This is the second year of this series, with most of the participants having attended this series last spring. This series was inspired by a visit to the Opal School in Portland in January of 2015 by myself, Braunwyn Thompson, Hieu Pham-Fraser and Michelle Hikida.

As teachers came into the Diefenbaker they were presented with invitations to provoke their thinking about light and darkness.


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Three teachers from the series shared what they have been playing around with in their learning spaces – Amanda Chura, teacher-librarian at Diefenbaker, April Pikkarainen, primary teacher at Blair and Karen Choo, intermediate teacher at Blair. We were all so inspired by how they have been engaging in inquiry themselves and with their students.

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Before and after dinner, teachers chose from six interest groups facilitated by our inquiry mentors. Teachers shared ideas, collaborated, posed questions and discussed their area of interest with like-minded colleagues. During the after dinner session time, teachers considered what their plan was going to be for this term and how they might engage their students in playful inquiry in a particular curriculum area – with materials, ideas or language.

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The discussions were rich, vibrant and inspiring. Many teachers commented that they felt “filled up” and inspired to move forward in new ways with their students. Teachers sharing their learning with each other is so important but I also think the community we are building is equally important in providing a support system for teachers to try  new things, take some risks, develop new pedagogical habits – we are truly better together.

An archive of blog posts about playful inquiry initiatives in our district can be found here:

Playful Inquiry in School District #38


Indian Residential Schools: resources to support teaching and learning

Posted on: January 23rd, 2016 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

Leanne McColl and I hosted an after school professional learning session to share a resource to support grade 5 teachers and teacher-librarians in the teaching and learning about Indian Residential Schools. For the past few years, alongside efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadians have been learning about the travesty in Canadian history stemming from the Indian Act, particularly enacted through the mandated attendance of children at Indian Residential Schools.

The First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) has developed educational resources to support teachers in the teaching of this shared history, which is now included in the elementary and secondary Social Studies curriculum.


Although available for purchase through the FNESC website (, these teaching resources are also available to download for free, as pdf documents. The grade 5 resource is available here:

We looked through the components of the resource – enduring understandings, essential questions, literature connections, experiential learning, using primary documents, etc. We shared the literature that is referenced in the resource and teachers also prepared their own “memory bag” to correspond with the lessons in the resource.

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Teachers at the session had many questions which we discussed as a group and shared our ideas. Other resources were provided to the teachers such as the Project of Heart document and Aboriginal Worldviews document – links to these can be found here:

Project of Heart ebook

Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives in the Classroom

Our session concluded with sharing FNESC’s Starleigh Grass’ Ted talk about reconciliation. The video can be viewed here:

Reconciliation and Education – Starleigh Grass

Due to the popularity and interest in this session, we hope to offer another one in the spring!


grade 3 science: thermal energy

Posted on: January 23rd, 2016 by jnovakowski

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. Each session will look at the learning standards around a specific grade and content area and teachers will experience both the curricular content and competencies through an inquiry-based approach. Connections to the core competencies and First Peoples Principles of Learning will be also be woven throughout the sessions.

This month, the after school science series session focused on the grade 3 science curricular content of thermal energy or heat. This is a new content topic in elementary, previously a focus in secondary science.

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After looking at the curricular content and elaborations to get a sense of the science concepts involved with an understanding of thermal energy for students at this age – sources of heat and how heat is transferred. I mentioned that I noticed the example of a hand warmer in the elaborations which led to me wondering how they worked. Teachers worked in pairs to investigate hand warmers – asking questions, testing different ideas, reading the label of the package, opening up the protective layer to spill out the contents and make observations, using the digital thermometer to measure the increase in heat and collecting this data over time, comparing results, inferring and interpreting what was happening.


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We talked about exothermic reactions and the transfer of thermal energy and how to use the concept of insulation to preserve heat. Some teachers really wanted to know what happening and how the materials in the hand warmer contributed to that and what contributed to the reaction – exposure to oxygen causing oxidation or rusting of the iron. As we re-looked at the science curricular competencies and began to go down the list, one teacher exclaimed – we did almost all of those things! By engaging in a task designed to focus on the “doing” of science, teachers experienced the curriculum how it is intended – curricular content was experienced and uncovered through “doing” which contributed to building knowledge and understanding about thermal energy.

The hand warmer investigation led to a collective group brainstorm about other investigations that students could engage in to learn about heat sources and transfer.

The following are some resources to support this area of study:

Grade 3 Heat Resources

Grade 3 Heat


math days at Kidd Elementary

Posted on: January 22nd, 2016 by jnovakowski

Professional learning comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes – reading, taking courses, attending series, workshops, presentations, study groups, inquiry communities, twitter, etc. Teachers in our district are fortunate to have a variety of opportunities. In the past few years, there has been “Innovation Grant” money that has been available to schools for the purposes of collaborative professional inquiry. I have worked with many schools on their professional inquiries, with schools often choosing to use these funds to bring in TTOCs so that teachers can meet and plan together.

Kidd Elementary is using their Innovation Grant as a way to extend their work around their school goal which focuses on increasing students’ overall numeracy.

I spent a full day at Kidd in November, discussing with grade group teams of teachers what they noticed and wondered about the assessments they had done with their students and to make some plans as to what they could do next with their students. During the first week of January, the staff at Kidd used some of this release time to have two math days to focus on both their school goal and the focus of their innovation grant project. During these days I taught alongside teachers in their classrooms and then we met in grade group teams to share what we noticed and to set some plans in place that focused on both intentions for student and professional learning.

We began in the kindergarten classroom where the students have been focusing on counting and developing number sense. We read the story Frog in the Bog and asked the students to figure out how many critters were in the frog’s tummy. The students used all sorts of strategies to solve this problem and they enjoyed walking around their classroom and seeing how others had solved it.


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In the grade 1 classroom, we read the book Bunny Money during which siblings Max and Ruby have all sorts of money problems. We asked students to think of their own problems that they could pose about money.



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In the grades 2&3 classrooms we did Number Talks, focusing on addition building from single digit to two-digit addition. Students shared their strategies, focusing on how to communicate their mathematical thinking. Students then chose a “just right” question to work on in their math journals, from three choices, and then were invited to share their strategies on the board if they wanted to.

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In the grades 4&5 classroom, we looked at the concepts involved with multiplication – visual models to understand grouping, repeated addition, multiples and mental math strategies to compute multiplication facts as well as operate with larger numbers through Number Talks. Students then could practice a couple of questions on their own, deepening their understanding of the strategies.

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In the grades 5&6 class we looked at the concept of division with larger numbers, making connections to other operations (subtraction and multiplication). It is so important for students to see the connections and relationships between the four operations. Students were then given a choice of questions to practice with – we asked them to solve the questions in at least two different ways to emphasize the importance of fluency and also that there isn’t just “one right way” to do things in math.

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In the grades 6&7 classroom, the students had been studying fractions. We introduced them to the “routine” called Which One Doesn’t Belong? The students worked with a partner to discuss the fractional numbers represented and to choose which one didn’t belong and to be prepared to justify their choice. This routine focuses on mathematical thinking, reasoning, analysis, conceptual understanding, justification and an ability to communicate using specific mathematical vocabulary.

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We did a short lesson on renaming mixed numbers to improper fractions, discussing different ways to help us think about this concept. The students worked on a couple of practice questions and then worked in small groups to create their own WODB? task – not an easy thing to do and this created much discussion and debate!

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As the teachers, principal and I met together, common themes came up between the groups. We noticed the importance of developing common mathematical language for the students to be able to use to communicate with. We also discussed the importance of providing opportunities to for students to talk about math – talk to each other, talk to orally rehearse their thinking and process and talking to share to the whole group. Another aspect that crossed all of the grade groups was the importance of building a numerate culture within the school and community – not just during “math time”.

Big questions came from these discussions – what does it mean to be numerate? what does a culture/community that values numerate citizens look and sound like?

I am looking forward to continuing this inquiry with the Kidd staff!