Archive for the ‘outdoors’ Category

primary teachers study group: fourth session

Posted on: March 10th, 2017 by jnovakowski No Comments

For our fourth session together this year, we gathered after school at Errington Elementary to share what outdoor inquiry experiences we had engaged in with students. There were many attempts at freezing bubbles, tracking different animals’ movements in the snow, looking closely at ice, snow and their affects on the environment, investigating melting of ice and snow and creating new experiences for students to experience the outdoors in winter.

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Our discussions took several turns…self-regulations, navigating how much we share about our personal choices such as vegetarianism with our students, the benefits of risky play. Here is a link to the UBC research that study group member Megan Zeni referred to as we discussed the benefits of outdoor risky play.

We ended our session discussing the upcoming forecast for more snow and the eventual arrival of spring!

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Thank you to Stephanie (Merrick) Rubio for hosting us in her lovely classroom!

~Janice

primary teachers study group: third session

Posted on: January 17th, 2017 by jnovakowski

The Primary Teachers Study Group had their third session of the year at Woodward Elementary, hosted by Anne-Marie Fenn. Anne-Marie shared the school’s plan for an outdoor learning space and then we went outside to imagine how the current garden space will be transformed.

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Teachers were able to purchase pictures books that are intended to inspire students’ wondering about winter. Sizing Up Winter is a book that inspires mathematical inquiry around measurement, In The Snow: Who’s Been Here? has students consider ways to know whether an animal has visited different parts of the environment and Curious About Snow shares factual information and photographs of snow – sure to inspire lots of questions, particularly with the very wintery weather we have had this year.

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Teachers shared ways that had been engaging their students in inquiry about the outdoors and winter – freezing bubbles, looking for tracks, creating icy sun catchers, learning about animal behaviour in winter.

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Jenn Lin from Maple Lane shared how she had guest speakers in from the Institute for Urban Ecology atDouglas College to teach her class about the important role bees play in the environment and then the students made bee containers/nests.

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What are your students wondering about this winter? Where do the bees go? Where do the raccoons and birds find food? What do the snow geese eat when the ground is frozen and covered with snow? Do trees freeze? Are your students making connections between how the weather and seasons are affecting other living things around them?

~Janice

looking for math outdoors

Posted on: January 4th, 2017 by jnovakowski

During my last visit of the year to the Kindergarten classes at General Currie Elementary, it was a snowy and icy day so we decided to venture outdoors with some iPads to capture images of things that inspired our mathematical thinking. We had a quick talk with the students about how to look for math outdoors – looking up, looking down, looking all around. We talked about what math might look like outdoors – the counting of items, the shape of things, patterns in the environment, as well as sources of inspiration for thinking about math.

One of the first mathematical ideas we played with was shadows – how does your position affect your shadow? what determines the height of your shadow? what do we need to think about if we wanted to put our shadows in height order?

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As with the case of all our school sites…there is a story that lives there. General Currie was one of the first one room school houses on what was originally called Lulu Island. We stopped briefly at the historic building that is still on the new school’s site and talked about the time elapsed – what school might have been like, what the neighbourhood might have looked like, etc.

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We ventured on to the field and took photos as we walking along noticing nests in trees, tracks in the snow, all sorts of ice and frozen leaves.

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The ice was a source of fascination and many questions for the students. They were also very interested in some footprints they found and wondered about the size of different footprints or tracks.

We came back into the classroom and the students used the app Skitch with one of the photographs they took. They labelled, circled or used arrows to show where they noticed math or what inspired a mathematical problem or question.

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Classroom teacher Kelly Shuto then showed some of the students “skitches” to the class to inspire further questions.

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The following week Kelly tweeted out about the class photo book they had created, based on the idea “What math lives here?”

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In this crisp wintery weather, what will your students notice outdoors? What math lives in the frozen puddles and tracks through the snow? How far do animals need to travel to find food? What might your students wonder about?

~Janice

primary teachers study group: second session

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by jnovakowski

A summary of our first primary teachers study group session and goals for the year can be found HERE.

For our second session of the school year, the primary teachers study group met at the Richmond Nature Park. We read and discussed the story of this place and learned about the formation of the bog environment and the uniqueness of this ecosystem. We connected this to the video of the formation of the delta from the online Musqueam teachers resource developed by the MOA and the Musqueam Nation which can be found HERE.

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We visited different parts of the Nature Park, thinking about how we could engage students in different spaces. The Nature Park has a covered area with picnic benches for eating or journalling as well as other seating areas.

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Another favourite spot is the bird watching area where there are many bird feeders set up that are visited by a variety of birds and squirrels. Makes for excellent observing and a chance look closely at animal behaviour! I like to take video to share with students after a trip to “re-live” and discuss what they noticed.

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We walked through along the board walk and took a short trail loop to notice and talk about the variety of trees and plants in the park and ways to engage students. We also bounced on the bog!

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One of the plants we looked closely at was Labrador Tea, a common local bog plant, turning the leaves over to help identify it. Traditional local indigenous uses for this plant include making a tea infusion to treat colds and sore throats.

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We looked at the variety of bat and bird houses and discussed these as a great ADST project for students to consider and design based on the needs of their local environment. “Bug hotels” or pollinator houses are another design option as well for school garden spaces.

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As it got dark, we visited the Nature House where one of the staff members shared some interesting information about local snakes with us.

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Teachers who have brought classes to the Nature Park shared some of their experiences and the Blair team shared how they were doing a self-guided trip with three classes the following week and were doing three different inquiry-based stations during their trip.

We will be meeting again in January, registration is still open on the Richmond Professional Learning Events site.

I am curious what sort of questions our students are having about the impact of the snow and cold on the living things around their schools?

~Janice

primary teachers study group: intro to environmental inquiry

Posted on: October 17th, 2016 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

Last week, Richmond’s primary teachers study group began its fourteenth year of coming together as a group of teachers to investigate an area of interest through sharing, discussion and collaborative inquiry. After a year of looking at inquiry-based approaches to teaching and learning in three specific curricular areas last year, the group voted to look at a more interdisciplinary approach to inquiry this year, choosing environmental inquiry. Teachers also wanted to examine different ways to document and make student learning visible during inquiry.

For our first session of the year, we met in Anna Nachbar’s and Deanna Mayotte’s classroom spaces at McNeely. Anna and Deanna have been teaching grades 2&3 together for several years but this year have been able to move to a shared space of two rooms and a co-teaching model. Anna shared their thinking and process and how they have focused on the learning environment and noticing how students are responding to is and making adjustments. They have a variety of choices for flexible seating and spaces for students to collaborate. The students and teachers have also been spending a lot of time outside, gathering from their school garden and spending time in their wooded area at the school. The class has been spending time looking closely and using different art materials as they do observational drawing.

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Several different professional resources and children’s books were displayed for teachers to look at and then we came together in a circle to discuss the format of the study group for some of our new members and for teachers to share some of the things they have been trying regarding outdoor learning.

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The Outdoor Learning book list can be downloaded here: ptsg-outdoor-learning-resources-book-list

The group of us then walked outside and through the school’s wooded area, stopping and looking closely, considering and sharing different ways to engage students in observing aspects of the outdoors. A first step to engaging in environmental inquiry is nurturing a connectedness to the natural world. Students need to feel connected in order to care about the environment and take action to protect it.

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We noticed such a variety of trees, plants and fungi growing in this small area as well as traces of human activity – cleared paths, clearing of some areas, garbage. What might our students notice? What might they wonder about?

Teachers left with ideas for different ways for their students to interact and connect to the environment and thoughts about ways to find natural spaces and living things in their school area for their students to begin to see as learning spaces. When we meet again in November, we will share what we have been trying and ways we are beginning to document our learning experiences outside.

~Janice

primary teachers study group: inquiry in science

Posted on: April 17th, 2016 by jnovakowski

In its thirteenth year, the Richmond Primary Teachers Study Group chooses a focus each year to guide their professional collaborative inquiry. This year, building on the focus on inquiry in BC’s redesigned curriculum, teachers wanted to investigate inquiry across curriculum areas and we’ve chosen one curriculum area as a focus for each term, with the second term focusing on science.

We did an overview of the science curriculum framework on the BC curriculum website, paying particular attention to the curricular competencies.

Anticipating (or hoping for) some winter weather, we shared some “winter books” that might inspire students to ask questions about the season, particularly during time outside.

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This term we have four picture books to inspire inquiry in science – The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, Flashlight by Lizi Boyd, and Stella, Queen of the Snow by Marie-Louise Gay. The whole Stella series of books is excellent for modelling curiosity and asking questions, as Stella’s little brother is full of questions!

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One of the articles we referred to that outlines a grade 3 teacher’s yearlong journey with inquiry is the following article from the NSTA journal Science and Children:

Inquiry Takes Time

The teacher/author describes three inquiry projects moving from structured to guided to open inquiry.

As a group, we co-constructed some inquiry-based experiences for our students and then shared how these went with our students at the next session. Unfortunately, we only had one very light dusting of snow this winter so teachers will be saving the snow books for next year!

Many teachers used the Flashlight book to use the structure “what do you notice? what do you wonder?” and to inspire students to play with and investigate the properties of light, darkness and shadows.

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Our second session of the term was hosted in Louesa’ K classroom at Thompson as she usually has a science/nature provocation table…

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Louesa shared some science inquiry projects she had been doing with her Kindergarten students, including looking closely at frost and noticing trees in their local environment.  Students also chose areas of interest to them and some of them engaged together in inquiries into rainbows or dinosaurs.

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As the weather warmed up, students have found worms and snails outside and have had lots of questions – Sharon and Stephanie have started inquiries with their students beginning with their questions about worms and snails. Louesa and her K students have been discussing “How are living things in our community connected to one another?” beginning with considering how to bring “life” into their classroom and what that living thing might need.

Many of the teachers’ science inquiries are very much focused on connecting to place, which will overlap nicely with our group’s third term focus on inquiry in social studies.

~Janice

place-based mathematics

Posted on: October 23rd, 2015 by jnovakowski

On the provincial professional development day on October 23, I had the honour of presenting the work we having been doing in the Richmond School District around place-based learning in mathematics. I was fortunate to present this session to over 100 educators from across North America in the Squamish Lilwat Cultural Centre at part of the Northwest Math Conference.

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After discussing the importance of place-based learning within our redesigned curriculum here in BC, we also discussed many of the pragmatics of taking students outside for learning as well as ways to incorporate these types of projects within a math program.

Whistler is full of inspiration for mathematics.

What mathematics lives in this place?

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The powerpoint presentation is shared here as a pdf file.

Place-Based Mathematics NW October 2015

~Janice

how materials inspire inquiry

Posted on: October 15th, 2015 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

Building on our Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry series, there will be several professional learning opportunities in our district this year that focus on specific aspects of playful inquiry. On the professional development day on September 25, Marie Thom and I hosted an afternoon at Thompson Elementary focused on how materials inspire inquiry.

A variety of art materials were presented alongside natural materials found in our area to inspire attendees to think about the changing of the seasons, what stories live in fall and to consider a connection to place and the cycles that autumn brings.

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Some of the teachers attending mentioned that they had never used charcoal pencils or watercolour pencils themselves and this was part of the intent of the session. We wanted teachers to consider the affordances of different materials and what they each offer so that they can make intentional decisions about which art materials they may provide to students. We emphasized the notion that students need to also learn how to use the materials, take care of them and to consider what materials might be more suitable for different projects. Just like with tech “apps”, we want students eventually to be able to have a repertoire of materials that they can choose from to use to help them think about an idea or to represent their thinking.

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By looking closely and observing leaves, nuts, branches and other objects outside or brought into the classroom, inquiry naturally emerges and students wonder aloud, creating an opportunity for teachers to seize the moment and create ways for students to investigate their question, to look even more closely or test their ideas. Working with art materials may uncover new ways of thinking about the object or their questions.

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If this is an area of interest for you, two professional books we recommend are: The Language of Art by Ann Pelo and In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia by Leila Gandini and Louise Cadwell.

~Janice

diversity of life inquiry at Lee

Posted on: June 11th, 2015 by jnovakowski

During third term, I have spent part of Thursday mornings at Lee Elementary, learning with Sandy Rasoda and her grades 6 & 7 students. Sandy has been teaching this grade level for many years and asked me if we could look at a science unit she has traditionally done by using the science text book and instead, look at the topic of  ”diversity of life” through an inquiry-based approach.

I looked at the three prescribed learning outcomes for this life sciences topic for grade 6:

•demonstrate the appropriate use of tools to examine living things that cannot be seen with the naked eye

• analyse how different organisms adapt to their environments

• distinguish between life forms as single or multi-celled organisms and belonging to one of five kingdoms: Plantae, Animalia, Monera, Protista, Fungi

After looking at the learning outcomes, I tried to think about the big ideas we needed to get to and what experiences we might provide to the students to help them get there.

On my first visit to the class, we had a short discussion about what makes a living thing a living thing and then went for a walk in the neighbourhood looking for different examples of living things.The students were very curious about the names of many of the plants we found in gardens and along the ditches. We were lucky to hear a frog croaking and to see mushrooms, lichen and moss just outside the school. I took photographs along the way.

What makes a living thing a living thing?

What living things can we observe in our community?

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When we got back to the classroom the students recorded the living things they observed and added questions they were wondering about.

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The next week, I brought a ditch dipper so that we could collect some water samples along with other specimens to look at with magnifying glasses and microscopes. We had petri dishes and pipettes available and there is something about using real science equipment that elevates students’ engagement. We discussed the difference between viewing something with the “naked eye” and with a magnifier of some sort. The students were  hesitant with the microscopes and had difficulties adjusting the focus and had to move the illuminator around to get enough light. The students recorded their observations, comparing what they could see with and without a magnifier/microscope.

What tools can we use to examine living things?

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During another class, I gave each group of students a set of photographs of different living things we had observed outside. I read a simple picture book introducing the big idea of classification and the five kingdoms and then the groups worked together to sort their photographs into kingdoms. During this task, the idea of sub-categories within a kingdom emerged and students began to consider how to categorize different types of plants and animals by their features. We had given the students the three learning outcomes on a sheet of paper at the beginning of our study and they had this in their science notebooks and used it to record notes and new learning during our investigations.

How do we classify living things?

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In-between my visits Sandy provided opportunities to extend their learning about both microscopes and the kingdoms and were given choices as to how they might show what they had learned. Some students did powerpoint presentations, some did booklets or posters and some use movie apps on the iPad to create their presentations. The students had opportunities to teach another grades 6&7 class how to use the microscopes as well as one of the primary classes in the school. Sandy was clearly able to see that they “got it” and this just came from repeated experiences actually using the microscope.

We had such great weather this spring and during one of my visits, Sandy suggested we take the microscopes outside to the picnic benches. The students learned how to safely carry the microscopes and their confidence was growing. One student even commented how great it would be to have a fine adjustment on the microscopes – they were learning the different functions of the microscope and its potential. The students looked at previously collected specimens and also found some new ones to examine.

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We also looked at some amazing images taken through microscopes, including some amazing electron microscopes

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We then used a Zoomy digital microscope to take our own images of various specimens, including a fly the students found in a windowsill and a ladybug and spiderlings the students brought in from outside.

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Using some local examples and examples from recent news items, we discussed how living things have adaptations, focusing on structural and behavioural adaptations. Using the app HaikuDeck, the students created a slideshow of what they had learned about different adaptations.

How do living things adapt to their environment?

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The following is one pair of students’ project.

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Animal Adaptations – E.K & N.S

I brought in glass slides and cover slips, tweezers and pipettes so that students could prepare their own slides to view under the microscope.

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The students also has an opportunity to view prepared slides under the microscope, including microscopic organisms from the Protista and Monera kingdoms.

What do microscopic organisms look like? 

At the beginning of June, we asked the students to consider a mini-ecosystem or habitat in the neighbourhood and we went outside with the iPads to take some photographs. The students were asked to synthesize what they had learned about the classification of living things as well as adaptations.

What have you learned about living things in our community?

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The minimum criteria for this project was to include living things from two different kingdoms and highlight an adaptation. The students could choose from using the Skitch or Popplet apps.

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The following are some examples of the students’ projects:

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Throughout this experience I have heard comments from students such as “science is so fun!” and of course this makes my heart sing a little. Learning can be fun…complex concepts and big thinking can be fun. Meaningful engagement with any content begins with the students…where will they find connections? what will make this learning important and purposeful to them?

I think we got there with this class. High engagement and students able to fluently discuss concepts such as the classification of living things and structural and behaviour adaptations of animals and plants in their neighbourhood. The students were all able to confidently use a microscope and teach other students from other classes about how to use a microscope.

 ”This unit traditionally for me would be a ‘textbook’ unit with possibly one or two experiments.  Instead, Janice took us on nature walks where we were out in our environment exploring and learning about Living Things.  The students eagerly found specimens they brought back to look at through the microscopes.  Every lesson was a hands on lesson where the students questions led them to finding answers and solutions through experimenting with materials from the real world.  It was great for me to see how much the kids “loved” being scientists.” ~Sandy

~Janice

place-based digital storytelling

Posted on: June 7th, 2015 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

Four grades 3-5 teachers at Anderson Elementary came together for an Innovation Grant project, wanting to look at how they might integrate iPad technology into their First Nations curricular focus. I met with the teachers and we brainstormed ideas together, looking at the First Peoples Principles of Learning and focusing on the principles of self-identity, story and connectedness to place.

I met with each of the classes and we looked at an aerial map of Richmond and its surrounding waterways. We asked students to try and determine where Anderson Elementary would be on the map, trying to get a sense of their awareness of the place where they live and go to school. We talked about the formation of our island delta and the arms of the river surrounding it.

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We also looked at the Musqueam place names map on the Musqueam website and discussed how the names of places were descriptive or purposeful – such as the “boiling point” – the place where people gathered to boil clams and crabs over a fire or the driftwood beach – the place where large logs and driftwood accumulated along the river. We then visited the neighbouring Garden City park and students thought of a special place there that they felt connected to or had a story to share about and considered what they would name that place. Using the camera app on the iPads, the students took photographs from different perspectives of their special places.

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To create the students’ digital stories, we did some “app smashing” using the camera app to take photos, taking screenshots of maps on Google Earth, using DoodleBuddy to create title slides and 30Hands to put the images and student narration together to create stories of their special places.

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The following are links to one digital storytelling project from each of the four classes:

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Anderson 6-1

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Teachers Lotti Smith, Adrienne Ferguson, Sandy Dhari and Richelle Walliser shared their project at the Innovation Celebration at the end of May.

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~Janice