Archive for the ‘learning environment’ 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

September thinking together: What is math?

Posted on: September 19th, 2017 by jnovakowski No Comments

This year I am going to share a monthly focus as a way for educators in our district (and beyond, of course!) to think together, collaborate and share ideas around K-12 mathematics education. On the list are number sense, estimation, reasoning, spatial awareness…it is a list in progress so suggestions are welcome.

My intentions are to begin each month with a blog post highlighting the focus area in our BC mathematics curriculum and connecting it to the broader field of mathematics education. I plan to share links to websites and resources, share books that I have found helpful and provide examples of mathematical tasks from Richmond classrooms. During each month, I will also tweet out related links, ideas, blog posts and photographs from classrooms.

For September, I thought we’d start with What is math?

I am fortunate to have opportunities to sit around tables with educators from many contexts – elementary, secondary, post-secondary as well as working with parents and students. What I have found over many years of having the conversation around What is math? is that there is much diversity in definitions and responses. Some views are quite narrow and focus on number, computation and operations while other views are much broader in topic but also in what it means to be a mathematician.

Mathematicians such as Fields medallists Maryam Mirzakhani and Cédric Villani have said that mathematics is a creative, collaborative endeavour. Other mathematicians emphasize that mathematics is more about justification and proof than getting the “right answer”. One thing that pretty consistently comes up from those who engage in mathematics is that it takes time – sometimes a problem or proof takes days, weeks, years.

How do these ideas about mathematics resonate with you? with your mathematical story?

As a classroom teacher and when working with pre-service teachers at UBC, I began the year with an individual brainstorm or web around “What is math?” – and these responses were added to a collective chart or web. For the pre-service teachers I worked with, I also asked them to tell my a little a bit about their background and experience with mathematics. These short narratives and webs usually gave me quite a bit of insight and where we needed to begin as a class.

What assumptions, conceptions and understandings about mathematics do students carry with them into our classroom communities? What feelings and beliefs do they hold?

This week a grades 2 and 3 class visited The Studio at Grauer and we began by talking about what is math? I then invited them to explore the materials, images and books in the studio space and to investigate something that piqued their interest.

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As we gathered back together, the students added to our original list. Interestingly, there additions were much more focused on mathematical experiences, different from naming mathematical content.

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What do our classroom environments say about what mathematics is? Do the images, books and materials we offer inspire our students and nurture connections? Do all students see openings to engage in mathematics? 

 

Ideas to nudge students’ thinking about what mathematics is:

What is math?

Create a class chart or math graffiti wall that can be added to as the school year progresses. Students can add images, diagrams, words, phrases, etc. Students can also use materials to create representations of what math is. The following is “math sun” created by a kindergarten student at Grauer last year – when I asked her what made it a math sun, her reply was that it was “full of math”.

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Where do we see math? What math lives here?

Encourage students to think about math beyond the classroom and school. Where do they experience and see math outdoors? in the community? at home? Create an area in the classroom to add photographs and materials found in the local environment that might inspire mathematical thinking and connections.

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A grade 4&5 class I worked with in The Studio at Grauer shared some of the math they experienced over the summer and then the grade 2&3 class added to their list this week:

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Many elementary classrooms have “wonder windows” to encourage students to observe and wonder the local environment. This year, we have added a math window to The Studio.

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I facilitated a K-7 place-based mathematics project at Byng a few years ago and one of the tasks classes engaged in was math walks around the school and in the community. Sometimes a specific focus was selected such as What shapes can we see? but we mostly looked for math to world connections. One class created a photo book while others created math problem posters (sharing problems the students posed inspired by their photographs) or concept panels.

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For the last three summers I have participated in a Twitter challenge with mathy types from around the world. Each week a math concept is posted and the challenge it to take photographs of the world around us that connect to that concept. Concepts such as estimation, tessellation and scale were explored this year. You can find this year’s posts on Twitter by searching #mathphoto17 – and here is a photo book I created of my photos and tweets from this year’s challenge:

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I will be launching a district-based K-12 math photo challenge on Twitter soon – hashtag #mathphoto38 (the 38 for school district 38) with plans to document and share the photos over the school year. We will begin with photos that respond to the question: What is math?

Make mathematics visible in your classroom and school

I also try and make different ideas about what math is visible to students, to parents and to colleagues. The following panel was created with images of the representations created by Kindergarten students as they responded to the question, What is math?

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A middle school teacher created an interactive bulletin board based on the instructional routine Which One Doesn’t Belong? to engage the whole school population in mathematical reasoning and communication – important mathematical work and this idea builds mathematical community in a school.

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source: Twitter

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source: Twitter

And for high schools – I think this is inspiring and helps to expand students’ notions of what math is. High school math teacher, Sara VanDerWerf, from Minnesota, has created a play table space in her classroom to engage students in thinking and playing with mathematics in different ways. She shares photos on twitter HERE and shared a blog post about play tables in high school classrooms HERE. Is there a secondary math classroom in Richmond that would like to set up a play table? I’d be happy to help.

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Think about how mathematics is experienced across cultures, across the world and across time.

Mathematics is a human construct and is often narrowly define through a Western or European lens. There is much evidence that mathematics as it is typically defined, existed in Asia long before it was “discovered” by Europeans.  There is a long history of cultural practices across cultures from all over the world that we would now label as mathematics. Alan Bishop has done considerable research in this area and describes six mathematical practices or activities that exist in all known cultures – counting, locating, measuring, designing, playing and explaining. I have found students find it interesting to learn about different number systems or how measurement is often contextual to a culture and environment. Some examples of these cultural practices are included in the elaborations for the learning standards in our BC math curriculum.

Seeing and experiencing mathematics as a creative endeavour

For the past three years, Dr. Jo Boaler and her “youcubians” have launched a week of inspirational math to begin the school year. There are a variety of videos and open mathematical tasks available for grade bands from K-12. The focus is developing a mathematic mindset  with messages such as: we can all learn math and we learn from mistakes. Resources can be found HERE.

There are many videos available that show mathematics as creative and inspiring but a particularly interesting youtube channel is created by self-defined mathemusician Vi Hart, daughter of acclaimed mathematical sculptor George Hart. I think her videos are particularly great for students in grades 5-12. Her channel is HERE.

There are lots of ways to nurture the creative thinking core competency (BC curriculum) while engaged in mathematics.

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The three facets of the competency are: novelty and value, generating ideas and developing ideas. I see these facets enacted when children engage in number talks and consider different strategies for solving mental math questions, when children engage in a rich open task or problem or when they apply mathematics to create or design something.

 What is math?

How will you investigate this idea yourself and how will you investigate and extend your students’ thinking about this over this school year?

~Janice

 

References

A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart (with new books Measurement and Arithmetic)

Mathematician Keith Devlin’s blog: Devlin’s Angle

Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms by Tracy Zager

The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics by George Gheverghese Joseph

Bishop’s six universal cultural activities

Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler

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

summer professional reading: Redesigning Learning Spaces

Posted on: July 17th, 2017 by jnovakowski

IMG_6202Redesigning Learning Spaces by Robert Dillon, Ben Gilpin, A.J. Juliani and Erin Klein, published in 2016 by Corwin.

 

This volume is part of the Corwin Connected Educators Series.

 

 

This short book has five chapters:

Leading Change Through Classroom Learning-Space Design

This chapter focused on listening to students about what works for them. It also cites the much referenced research study looking at how environmental print and stimulus in the classroom affects student learning. I appreciated the emphasis on creating “truly beautiful places to learn” and how we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the aesthetic element. The authors discuss the intentional design of learning spaces to focus on exploration and student centred experiences and how this type of design gives the message to students that “I respect you as learners.”

Learning-Space Change as a Lever to Shift School Culture

The overall message of this book is emphasized in this chapter: Learning spaces matter and they impact the entire teaching and learning community. The authors cite a 2012 study that indicates that classroom environment can affect a child’s academic achievement by up to 25%.

Shaping Learning-Space Change for the Community

“Redesigning spaces to maximize learning is primarily a shift in culture and mindset.” The authors share examples of how small changes in schools can have impacts on systems and whole school design can shift the school culture and that of the greater community.

Learning Space as a Lever for Systemic Change

This chapter looks more broadly at systemic change but begins with the metaphor for the classroom of  ”habitat” and how a supportive habitat helps students’ learning power to be magnified. The importance of technology and “connected classrooms” as part of a learning ecosystem is emphasized, but acknowledges that the learning environment or habitat of the classroom, seems to be supportive of this.

Systemic change can begin with: 1) new options for lighting, seating, work spaces, ideation spaces, 2) looking for innovative partnerships outside of the school with industry and in community, 3) a “laser” focus on meaningful learning as opposed to what the authors call Pinterest-based learning and 4) with seeing all spaces as potential places for learning such as hallways as ideation spaces. These changes in classrooms spread in schools and then in districts.

Models of Excellence and a Place to Start

The final chapter shares some specific examples and challenges educators to be agents of change.

I appreciated this book as a short and succinct read that I will draw upon when advocating for changes to learning environments in our classrooms and schools. The authors have curated educational and design research that supports shifts in classroom and school learning spaces.

~Janice