Archive for the ‘inquiry’ Category

creating spaces for playful inquiry: thinking about relationships – September 2017

Posted on: October 5th, 2017 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

Inspired by our staff’s visits to the Opal School in Portland, we continue this year with our Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry Series. Sixty Richmond educators registered for this three-part dinner series, with a growing waiting list of educators wanting to be part of this series. This continued interest in this work speaks to the ripple effect that our playful inquiry community is having in schools and in our district. Many new teachers have heard about playful inquiry and how it aligns with goals and aspects of BC’s redesigned curriculum. A goal for the series is for teachers to consider: How can we create new possibilities for joy, wonder and inspiration?

So what is playful inquiry? Playful inquiry is not a new term and much has been written about it as a pedagogical stance. In Richmond, we have drawn upon our experiences and relationship with the Opal School in Portland and made connections to our BC context and curriculum. At our last study tour to Portland in March, the following explanation of playful inquiry was provided:

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In this explanation of playful inquiry words such as community, collaboration, citizen and uncertainty pop out. The term “learning alive” resonates with the spirit of inquiry we are hopeful of nurturing in our classrooms. Why playful inquiry? The above definition suggests an approach that will support students in thinking through the uncertainty in the world around them and nurture student agency in seeing themselves as contributing citizens in their community. So we can work together towards the goals and vision of what playful inquiry can bring to our classrooms and schools.

So how do we enact playful inquiry in our classrooms? For planning purposes, we often use the framework of -

  • playing with materials
  • playing with language
  • playing with ideas

to help us consider different ways to engage our students and ourselves with playful inquiry.

Playful inquiry creates opportunities for deeper engagement with concepts and idea, choice in ways students may pursue uncovering the curriculum, personalization and meaning-making as well as providing openings for connection-making, seeking relationships – both with self, each other and with ideas.

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As teachers arrived at Grauer Elementary, they were provided with provocations created by our playful inquiry mentors. These provocations were either pedagogical – meant to experience through the lens of an educator and to reflect on practice or, were those that students engaged with in Richmond classrooms.

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After a welcome, introductions and an overview of the series, teachers shared and discussed questions such as:

What is a provocation? How is a provocation alike and different from an invitation or a rich open task? 

Some conditions for provocations were shared:

  • žresponsive
  • žprovokes thinking
  • žconnects to a big idea, concept or theme
  • žis ongoing, lingering, extends

We talked about the theme of relationships for this session and how relationships were an inherent part of teaching and learning – social and emotional relationships but also relationships with and between curricular ideas. Some of the provocations shared and how the concept of relationships is embedded throughout our BC curriculum were provided to participants here:

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Other big ideas and themes that we have engaged with as a playful inquiry community were shared:

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Three of our playful inquiry mentors shared stories from their classrooms. Michelle Hikida from Diefenbaker shared how her and grades 2-4 group planning team are focusing on the big idea of stories this year and how they collaborate together to plan provocations based on students’ interests an questions. Laurie David-Harel from Whiteside shared the movie trailer she created for her school’s parent evening to share how the Kindergarten students in her class engage in playful learning. Karen Choo from Blair shared how sharing circles and using clay as a metaphor supports relationship building in her grades 4&5 classroom.

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After dinner together, teachers met in interest groups with conversations and sharing facilitated by our playful inquiry mentors.

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Many of the interest-based inquiry groups will continue their conversations with schools visits, online collaboration or other forms of sharing before our next whole group session together in January.

Participants were asked to consider what “one thing” they will play with, try , take risks with…what might be your one thing?

Blog posts from previous years can be found HERE

More information about the Opal School can be found HERE

~Janice

2017-18 primary teachers study group: session 1

Posted on: October 4th, 2017 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

On September 21, our primary teachers study group came together for our first session of this school year, hosted by Anna Nachbar at McNeely Elementary. Our focus this year, as chosen by participants, is outdoor storytelling experiences, connecting multiple areas of the curricula. This collaborative professional inquiry draws upon the work we did last year as a group around outdoor learning in general and also draws upon our district’s three year Playful Storytelling through the First Peoples Principles of Learning project. Some ideas from that project were compiled and shared with the group and can be downloaded here: SD38_Playful_Storytelling_FPPL_Ideas

Books that we will be working with together this fall include teacher resources and children’s books:

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We will be compiling ideas that are inspired by these books to share with others.

After coming together in a circle and introducing ourselves, we shared ideas about working with groups of children at the beginning of the year with regards to learning outdoors. We then ventured out to the “McNeely forest” and spent time in the space noticing how the space might inspire storytelling. How do small spaces and big spaces allow for different storytelling experiences? What natural materials could students gather to contribute to their stories? How might a connection to place and knowledge of local plants and animals enhance their stories?

I brought out a bag of materials as a way to extend the experience – a collection of fabrics and some wooden and plastic animals. How do these materials extend or inhibit the storytelling experience?  Teachers came together in small groups to create and share stories and new ideas for storytelling that emerged through being outside and talking together.

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One area of discussion was what to do in schools that don’t have a wooded area such as the one McNeely does.  Some schools are using a garden bed and using it as a story garden. Another idea is to create small worlds using pots, planters or window boxes – plants can be created and pieces of wood, rocks and shells can be used to landscape a setting. How might the difference heights in a tree (base, trunk, branches) be used to create multi-level stories? Most schools have a few garden beds near their entrances – could one be used for storytelling? What characters might visit that space?

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Although registration filled up very quickly for this group, we will continue to share our thinking and experiences through twitter and this blog. We will be coming together in November at Woodward Elementary in their new outdoor learning space.

~Janice

summer professional reading: THINQ Kindergarten (and Grades 4-6)

Posted on: July 28th, 2017 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

IMG_6380THINQ Kindergarten: Inquiry-based learning in the kindergarten classroom

by Joan Reimer and Deb Watters

THINQ series authors: Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer

published by WAVE Learning Solutions, Canada, 2017

accompanying website: www.wavelearningsolutions.com

This is a relatively new series of books, written by Canadian (Ontario) authors. The Kindergarten book just came out this spring. One of the many things I like about this book is that it acknowledges that there are many interpretations of inquiry and not “one way” to engage in inquiry. There is a focus on remembering that being inquiry-minded is part of being human and that we are born with curiosity. I also like the recognition of the importance of the learning environment and the emphasis on developing inquiry dispositions. The “Inquiry in Action” sections share learning stories or case studies from classrooms. As I read the book, I added lots of post-it notes to pages to go back to, particularly connections I was making to our BC competencies – both core and curricular.

There are seven chapters:

1) Inquiry-based learning in kindergarten

2) Wondering and questioning

3) Creating an inquiry environment

4) Negotiating the curriculum

5) Documentation

6) Inquiry assessment in kindergarten

7) Final thoughts

IMG_6381The layout for each chapter is very similar. There is lots of “white space” and use of text boxes and colourful visuals to support the content of the chapter. Each section has a big idea and often quotes from well-known educators and authors.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6382At the end of each chapter there is a chapter summary with some questions to provoke reflective thinking. There are also “thumbnails” of the blackline masters/printables that accompany each chapter and can be found at the back of the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_6383The printable resources at the back of the book correspond to each chapter and focus on the big ideas from the chapter as well as templates for educators to use for planning and assessment.

 

 

 

 

The Grades 4-6 book was release last year and is very similar in format to the Kindergarten book. Interestingly, in this book, the assessment chapter is up front and then assessment ideas are woven throughout the rest of the book. I wonder if that is because this is a pressing issue for intermediate teachers – how to assess student learning during the process of inquiry? I know this question comes up a lot in my work with teachers. There is also much more of an emphasis on questions of personal significance, inquiry approaches across disciplines and the importance of providing feedback (often through questioning_ during the inquiry process in the Grades 4-6 or Junior book. The printable resources focus more on student self-assessment templates than the Kindergarten book.

The Grades 1-3 book and the Grades 7-9 book are supposed to be released this summer or fall.

~Janice

reflections and highlights from 2016-2017

Posted on: June 29th, 2017 by jnovakowski

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

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

 

 

creating spaces for playful inquiry: April 2017

Posted on: May 28th, 2017 by jnovakowski

For our third session of our Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry dinner series, Richmond educators came together at Grauer Elementary to share and learn together. This year at our sessions we have focused on broad themes or big ideas that cut across curriculum areas and grade levels, beginning with community, then identity and for our third time together this year, we chose to focus on place. Those that attended our Lower Mainland study tour to  the Opal School in Portland created panels reflecting on their experience. Many of our playful inquiry mentors set up either pedagogical provocations or shared provocations they developed to engage their students.

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Four teachers shared their experiences visiting Opal for the first or second time – what had an impact on them and how it is affecting their practice. Thank you to April, Louesa, Laurie and Karen for your thoughtful and passionate presentations!

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Based on feedback from the mentor groups during our January session, Michelle Hikida and I did a short professional learning presentation on playful mathematical inquiry and how we plan around a big idea, use provocations and projects based on students’ interests and curiosities and how we extend and sustain a math inquiry.

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After dinner together, we spent time in our mentor groups, zooming in on an area of interest and sharing and learning from each other.

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We are looking forward to continuing working together next year to support professional learning and building a playful inquiry community across our district.

~Janice

primary teachers study group: sixth session

Posted on: May 28th, 2017 by jnovakowski

For our sixth and final session of the year, the primary teachers study group met at Blair Elementary. Thank you to Karen, Robyn and Tanyia for hosting us!

We broke into small groups and worked on our environmental inquiry visual – still a work in progress! Lots of great feedback from the group.

We then toured the outdoor learning spaces at Blair. I was the teacher-librarian at Blair for three years when I introduced Spuds in Tubs to the school – since then the school has embraced school gardens and many of the teachers have made outdoor learning and integral part of their programs. April and Karen shared how they use some of the typical suburban school spaces around the school for outdoor learning and also shared how they involved the district Works Yard employees in creating an outdoor classroom space and storage.

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There was much talk about school gardening as a way to get students outdoors and feeling connected. We left thinking about ways to continue our work around environmental inquiry and creating opportunities for students to take action and take care of the outdoor spaces at their schools.

Next year, our primary teachers study group will be entering its fifteenth year as a professional learning structure in our school district!

~Janice

primary teachers study group: fifth session

Posted on: May 27th, 2017 by jnovakowski

For our after spring break session, we met at Steves Elementary, hosted by Kathleen Paiger. After sharing some of the outdoor learning experiences we were engaging in, we began to co-construct a visual of sorts to show the process of environmental inquiry that we have been working towards together this school year. For many teachers in the group – the first stages have been the focus: getting outside, noticing and naming local plants and animals, being curious and connecting. Drawing upon the work of David Suzuki, Ann Pelo and many others, we know these initial stages are essential if children are to care about the environment.

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What we discussed, and connecting to last year’s Natural Curiosity seminar that some of us attended, was that getting outdoors and gardening, although important, is not the overall goal of environmental inquiry. We want to find opportunities for students to take action, to take up a concern or issue that emerges or that they are noticing in their environment.

Kathleen regularly takes her kindergarten students for walks in their neighbourhood which includes the west dyke. We ventured out together and learned about some of the story of this place – the farmland, the coyotes and the birds that frequent the wetland areas.

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And as the weather eventually warms up, we know there will be lots of opportunities for our classes to get outside, to notice and wonder. We are using these three picture books this spring to inspire us.

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~Janice

Vision, Mission and Values Project at Thompson Elementary

Posted on: March 20th, 2017 by jnovakowski

The Richmond School District is embarking on a legacy project, developing new Vision, Mission and Values statements for our district. Teachers were invited to engage in discussions with their students and collect artifacts to contribute to the district process of creating new VMV statements. Two intermediate classes and their teachers from Thompson agreed to do some special filming for a district video for this legacy project.

At the beginning of January, I was able to meet with classroom teachers Lyanne McCaskill (grades 5&6) and Kevin Dimmick (grades 6&7) to plan how this project might unfold. The teachers put a lot of thought into the experiences they wanted to provide for their students. I was fortunate to be able to attend three different learning experiences with the students and to capture the students’ thinking and ideas with photographs and videos.

On the first day, as is the usual routine, the students in both classes entered their rooms to the morning provocation: What do you imagine school could be? They were invited to respond to the question using loose parts. Some students focused on the physical environment while others focused on metaphors and ideas. Each class paused to go to each table group and have those students share what they had done. Students could go back to their spots to revisit their work, connecting to new ideas or inspiration. Students were then asked to reflect on their thinking using a familiar response form.

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In the grades 5&6 class…

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In the grades 6&7 class…

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On the second day, the teachers used the Vision, Mission and Values from the Vancouver Aquarium website to initiate discussion about what Vision, Mission and Values are. In one class, the students were asked to use a familiar response format (Notice, Connect, Wonder) as they discussed and thought about the Aquarium’s VMV statements while in the other class, they used the Vision, Mission, and Values framework and questions as a way to respond.

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In one of the classes, the students sorted different statements they had made in their own reflective writing about VMV – there were very interesting discussions that emerged as students distinguished between what was part of a vision, mission or values statement.

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The students worked in small groups to create charts of words and phrases that connected to Vision, Mission or Values and these were displayed in the classroom for students to read and discuss.

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On our third day together, the teachers began their days as they had the first day – with a morning provocation posted for the students to engage with and loose parts available. The original question of What do you imagine school could be? was now linked to Vision, Mission and Values. The students could choose one or all of the three areas to represent and record their ideas about.

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It was fascinating to watch how the students’ ideas evolved over time and how each class had its own particular culture it terms of what came out in the students’ representations – kindness, inclusion, community, diversity and collaboration were the five big ideas that stood out to me as I listened to and read the students’ contributions to the project.

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An short video compilation of the Thompson VMV experience can be viewed HERE.

What has stuck with me, while spending time in these classrooms is the wisdom of our students. Their lived experiences in different types of learning environments, their understanding of each other, the importance of collaboration and the purpose of schools within a society made my heart sing. Our future is in good hands.

~Janice