Archive for June, 2017

reflections and highlights from 2016-2017

Posted on: June 29th, 2017 by jnovakowski No Comments

To say this has been an interesting year in our district is an understatement. We began the year with a new email system, a new “portal”, a new eportfolio platform, a huge changeover in our district curriculum department all while under the umbrella of the full launch of BC’s K-9 curriculum framework across all subject areas. New layers were added as information about communicating student learning and core competencies self-assessment were added to the mix. We began the year with uncertainty about school closures and ended it with concerns about whether we would have our jobs and where money would come from to fund teaching jobs in our district.

In all of these twists and turns, there were some downs but also many ups.

There were many opportunities for educators in our district to come together and figure everything out (an ongoing process for sure). Professional development days, our Curriculum Implementation Day, professional learning events and series and the power of twitter to share ideas and collaborate.

In thinking back on this year, I will remember all the times I was surrounded by inspiring colleagues and in classrooms thinking alongside students about big ideas – this is what fills me up and sustains me.

Some professional highlights for me include:

  • the Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry dinner series – this large group of K-7 teachers continues to come together to engage in provocations and think about playful inquiry across the curriculum, this year looking at broad themes of community, identity and place
  • visiting the Susan Point exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery twice with colleagues and how that inspired connections in our classrooms – place, ecosystems, environmental sustainability, stories and math
  • having the opportunities to share our thinking from #sd38learn in other places –  Coquitlam, Kamloops, Sooke, Niagara Falls, Seattle, Burnaby, Vernon, Vancouver, Victoria and Cranbrook
  • being part of the BC Numeracy Network – this team of enthusiastic educators from across BC have collaborated to create a website that will support K-12 educators as they think about balanced numeracy through the lens of BC’s curriculum
  • being on the program committee for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (an international organization) for their annual conference in San Antonio in April
  • hosting teams of educators as they visit our district (from across BC, Manitoba and Sweden) – it is always interesting to hear about what they are noticing and what is resonating for them
  • working in collaboration with the Musqueam Language and Culture department to develop our first project together
  • being a part of the BCAMT Reggio-Inspired Mathematics collaborative professional inquiry project – this project continues to grow and we are working on publishing a book this summer with contributions from ten districts

But when I think about the biggest highlight of the year for me and what I believe has affected both students and educators on many levels, I think about the creation of The Studio at Grauer. My heart is so full when I think how Marie Thom and I transformed an old classroom being used for storage into a studio space to investigate mathematics through a variety of materials.

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And my summer reading “stack” – yes, there will be novels, travel books and magazines as well!

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I hope to share some of my thoughts on these books on the blog over the summer.

Wishing you a summer full of adventure and time to refresh!

~Janice

thinking about fractions

Posted on: June 21st, 2017 by jnovakowski

One of the foundational concepts in grades 3-5 is an understanding of fractions – some of the questions we investigate with students are:

What is a fraction? What makes a fraction a fraction?

How can we order and compare fractions?

When do we use fractions in our daily life?

What different ways can we represent fractions?

What are equivalent fractions?

In our BC mathematics curriculum, the big idea for grade 3 that we guide students to understand by the end of the school year is that “fractions are a type of number that can represent quantities” – this is a significant concept. I often have discussions with older students who have the conception that fractions have something to do with shapes/geometry, possibly because of the models used in school to represent fractional numbers (think circles/pies/pizzas or rectangles/chocolate bars). An intentional focus is to provide opportunities for students to see and represent fractional amounts using different models – area/region, set and linear. In grade 4, students learn about the relationship between fractional and decimal numbers and in grade 5, consolidate their understanding of fractions by working with equivalent fractions. During these investigations, students may begin to see relationships and connections to whole number operations when working with fractions and decimals. We want students to be able to think flexibly with fractions and decimals, just as they do with whole numbers and think about composing and decomposing, benchmark numbers, etc as they consider addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

This term I have been thinking a lot about fractions with students and teachers. I visited two classes at Homma and a class at Wowk and hosted classes at The Studio at Grauer to investigate fractions including a grade 4 class from Woodward, the grades 3&4 class from Grauer and the Richmond School Program students from Blundell.

The following are some images sharing our investigations. As you scroll through the images, consider:

What do you notice? What do you wonder?

What instructional routines and structures have we used to support students in their understanding of fractions?

What different materials have been provided to create opportunities to think about fractions?

What conceptions do students reveal in their representations of fractions? What might you ask students? How does this information guide where we go next?

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~Janice

playful storytelling celebration

Posted on: June 13th, 2017 by jnovakowski

We held our year end celebration for our Playful Storytelling through the First Peoples Principles of Learning project on June 1 at Grauer. Teachers and school teams came together to share what they had been working on during this school year. It is always interesting to hear how each school makes the project its own.

An overview of our session at the beginning of the year is HERE

After an acknowledgement of territory and a welcome to some visiting educators from Manitoba, in circle each teacher introduced themselves and shared the principle that they have most connected to this school year.

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A group of us involved in this project visited the Vancouver Art Gallery in early May to see the Susan Point exhibit. We made so many connections between her work and story and came up with several questions to guide our practice when having students engage with art. We shared this with the group and also shared how some teachers had already taken up these ideas with their classes.

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School teams then shared how they have investigated playful storytelling in their schools.

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We noticed a clear move to many classes taking storytelling outdoors and this will be something we continue to investigate next year.

After a lovely dinner together prepared by Marie Thom, we moved to The Studio at Grauer to engage in some sensory experiences with materials that can be used to enhance the storytelling experience. Experiences with clay, watercolour and wet felting were provided, for teachers to consider – what stories live in these materials?

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We all left inspired by each other and full of new ideas to enact with our students. Looking forward to continue this work in our district next year!

~Janice

The Studio at Grauer

Posted on: June 11th, 2017 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

The Studio at Grauer came to be based on a need we felt existed in our district – a space to engage in professional learning experiences for teachers as well as for a learning environment for students that could be left  “set up”. My office partner, Marie Thom, and I have been talking about this for the last couple of years. The notion of a “pop-up” classroom emerged and Andrew Ferguson, the principal at Grauer, was approached to see if we could use one of the school’s unused classrooms.

December 16 2018 – Room 102

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Room 102 was being used as a storage room until we began our transformation of it in January 2017. Blending Marie’s background in learning environments and my understanding of mathematics teaching and learning, we developed a space focused on mathematics, filled with inspiring materials in a learning environment designed for learners K-Adult. Our goal was to create a flexible, responsive and inclusive learning environment.

Room 102 – January 10 2017

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January 13 2017

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The learning environment is set up to create opportunities for choice, collaboration, personalized learning and inquiry. More specifically for mathematics, our hope was to broaden understanding of what mathematics is and what the teaching and learning of mathematics can be. Often school mathematics is perceived as “arithmetic” and mathematics is a much broader discipline that this. We wanted students and teachers to see math all around them and be inspired to think about mathematics in different ways – to see mathematical ideas in the materials, in pinecones, in buildings and structures, in images of our community, in art, in stories.

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As we discussed how we were going to use the space, we decided to call it The Studio, inspired the notion of an atelier, a studio space used in the early childhood schools of Reggio Emilia.

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Classes from Grauer, as well as visiting classes on “math field trips” visit The Studio to engage in mathematical inquiry. Marie and I take on the role of atelierista, working with the classroom teacher to facilitate learning experiences through different materials in the space. We have intentionally curated both mathematically structured materials like pattern blocks and Cuisenaire rods alongside materials often known as loose parts such as ribbons, gems, rocks, pinecones, etc. We also have art materials available to the students such as paint, clay, charcoal, yarn and wool so that students can express themselves and think using different languages. Students also have access to various tools to support their investigations such as measuring tapes, protractors, grids and ten frames.

The first class to visit The Studio – the grades 3&4 students from Grauer on January 18 2017

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The learning environment is intentionally flexible with choices in seating and tables available for both students and adults. Interestingly, although we have some chairs available, none of the students using The Studio have used them, preferring instead to stand or sit and lie on the carpet or use pillows. We have observed the flow of movement in the space and intentionally have large open spaces for students to move through. Shelves filled with baskets of materials are open and accessible to students. Students can choose the materials they want to use and take them to where they would like to engage.  We took doors off of some cupboards to create more open shelving. All of the furniture, except for four small Ikea open shelves, was found in school storage rooms and thrift shops.

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Provocations are set up on tables for students (and educators) to inspire mathematical thinking and inquiry. Inspired by one of the students’ interests in optical illusions, the grades 3&4 students from Grauer investigated the mathematics embedded in optical illusions. I gathered materials and tools that I hoped would provoke their thinking about optical illusions and the students also accessed and were inspired by other materials in The Studio.

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As we have more classes through The Studio, we have developed documentation to share in the space. Panels, photographs and photobooks are available for students and educators to engage with, to reflect upon and to inspire new experiences.

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One area of pedagogical intention in The Studio has been on noticing, naming and nurturing the Core Competencies and the Mathematics Curricular Competencies from our BC curriculum framework. A focus has been on both communication and creative thinking in mathematics. We intentionally create opportunities for students to engage in different types of communication and to reflect on how they are doing.

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We have had many groups of educators also visit The Studio. Our District Support Team, educators attending our Playful Inquiry professional learning series and teams from schools in our district. Many BC educators involved with our BCAMT Reggio-Inspired Mathematics project have visited the space as well. We have also had visitors from Manitoba and Sweden! We often focus the visits with the questions – what do you notice? what do you wonder?

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We also have a dedicated professional learning library with the teacher resources we recommend around teaching and learning mathematics, the use of loose parts and the importance of the learning environment.

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We had hoped The Studio would inspire similar learning environments in our district but recognize that many schools do not have access to a dedicated room for a studio space – we hope that teachers will be inspired by elements of The Studio for their own classroom learning environments. What has been exciting for Marie and I is that this little project has had a huge ripple effect at Grauer, in our district, and beyond!

~Janice