Archive for April, 2014

financial literacy at Quilchena

Posted on: April 21st, 2014 by jnovakowski

April is Financial Literacy month in both Canada and the USA and April 16th specially is “Talk to Your Kids about Money” day, sponsored by the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education.

I spent April 16th at Quilchena Elementary, working with the intermediate teachers and students on lessons focused on financial literacy, specifically in mathematics. Our redesigned curriculum framework in mathematics includes learning outcomes from grades 1-9 that focus specifically on financial literacy.

In Una Simpson’s grades 4 & 5 class, the students are learning about mining and natural resources and have an upcoming field trip to Britannia Mines. Una used a lesson that she has used in the past to highlight the importance of budgeting, financial decision-making and business planning. This cookie mining lesson came from an older resource called Common Ground: Modern Mining and You. The students began with $19 in capital investment and then had to make wise financial decisions around purchasing a mining site (choice of three cookies) and mining tools (flat toothpick, round toothpick and paperclip). The overall goal of the exercise was for their mining companies to make a profit so the students thought carefully about their expenses.

IMG_0976 IMG_0977

The students then surveyed and measured their site and “mined” for chocolate chips.

IMG_0978 IMG_0980

The students were then paid $2 for each full chocolate chip or square centimetre of chocolate bits and also received $1 per square centimetre of their crumbs – reclaimed land from their mining site.


I was one of the bankers and enjoyed completing transactions with the students and listening in on their strategies for making a profit. This was a great lesson in economics!


The students in Andrew Livingston’s grade 7 class have been working on converting decimal fractions to percentages and using decimals in calculations and so we introduced a context in which students could apply these concepts and skills. We worked through two “percentage off” shopping problems together and then students had a choice of problems they could work though. One of the problems was based on a true story from my home, with my son finding an online coupon to get 30% off of a jacket but this would make it less than $50 so he would lose the free shipping deal. He had to figure out what was the better financial decision before I let him use my credit card to place his order and the students in the grade 7 class were intrigued by this real life story (I also added the tax calculation into the problem).


In some cases, when the focus of the mathematics is interpreting a problem or learning a new concept, we don’t want students to get stalled by complex computations, so calculator use is sometimes used in these situations.


We handed out the current version of the criteria sheet we have been developing together for students to use when working in their math journals or with ShowMe (screencasting). For this class, I noticed the students referring to the criteria sheet to help them think about all the things they should include in their math journals as they worked through the problem.


The student above systematically shows his calculations (it was recess and he wasn’t finished but continued later) for each situation so that he can compare his results later. He is setting himself up well to have clear evidence to show why he decided on the answer he did.


In Tanya Blumel’s grades 5&6 class, Lucie Joseph (learning resource teacher) and I worked with a small group of students to introduce the idea of creating a financial plan or budget. I gave the students two options – they could budget for a $20 dinner for a family or group of 4 or 5 people (students then extended this and also created budgets for breakfast and lunch meals) or they could prepare a budget for a Me to We fundraiser where the goal was to make a profit of $100 to donate to the charitable organization. Both choices involved students searching through this week’s Safeway flyer although we had our laptops ready if they wanted to search for prices for items that weren’t in the flyers.


IMG_0990 IMG_0989

We had great conversations about how grocery stores market their items. “Buy 1 get 1 free” may not always be such a great deal and the students were quick to notice that the actual price was not included for these deals.


The more complex of the two tasks was choosing an item and thinking about how much they could sell it for at a fundraiser and then how many of those items they would need to buy in order to make a $100 profit (with a loan from the school that would be repaid after the fundraiser). We had interesting conversations too about what would be a desirable item for a fundraiser because regardless of price, someone has to want to buy it! The two boys that worked through this problem chose a selection of baked goods that they thought would be good sellers.

This group of students will now be team leaders and facilitate this same math task with a small group of their peers.


The day was full of all sorts of conversations about spending, buying, selling and decision-making. I couldn’t help but notice how genuinely engaged the students were with the problems and tasks presented to them.




creative thinking, communication and paper airplanes

Posted on: April 20th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I was invited to work with a group of intermediate students at Homma on Tuesday afternoon. I met this group of the fall and introduced the idea of pursuing passions and going deeper with inquiry.

As the students begin the third term, their teachers wanted them to work on a personalized project and to get them thinking outside of the box a bit as to what that could be. I re-visited a book they students already knew, On a Beam of Light, the story of Albert Einstein. This such an inspiring story that values wonder, curiosity, pursuing your passions and interests, being true to yourself and perseverance.



We then read the story Anything is Possible (about a wolf and a sheep who persevere in designing a flying machine), and inspired by the book, I gave each student a piece of paper and explained that they were to create the farthest flying creation with their only tools and materials were their hands and the piece of paper. Although the criteria for success was creating something that would fly the farthest, we suggested that we would like to see some creative thinking. Some students moved right into making paper airplanes while others made more unique flying creations. All of the students incorporated ideas of aerodynamics, balance and weight distribution into their creations. It was interesting to observe various degrees of stick-with-it-ness or perseverance, and to watch students make modifications based on their trial results. We had a fly-off and the creators of the furthest flying creations shared some of their “tips”.

IMG_0938 IMG_0939

Next we asked students to focus on communication, thinking about how they would explain how to make their flying to creation to someone over the phone (ie. not in person or via Skype where they could see the steps!). This proved quite difficult for the students and they realized quickly the details and specificity needed as they communicated their instructions. Some students needed to unfold and re-create their creations step by step while others were able to visualize this and others needed to write the steps down.




Students then began working in partners, providing their instructions orally.




An example of a student communicating his instructions for making a paper airplane:

This session set students up to think about different ways to share some sort of  “how to” project. They can learn how to do something new and teach it to others or share their expertise in an already existing area of passion. Suggestions for presentations focused on oral communication with visual supports such an iMovie or an adapted version of PechaKucha.

As we move towards a more competency-based curriculum here in BC, highlighting and valuing competencies such as communication and creative thinking as we work with students will help to create awareness as well as nurture growth in these areas.



primary scientists professional learning series

Posted on: April 20th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Last Tuesday after school, a group of primary teachers gathered in Pauline’s Stephenson’s grades 1/2 classroom at Brighouse for our final Primary Scientists professional learning series session of the year. The series has focused on the assessment of performance-based and process oriented science experiences and this session’s focus was on incorporating indigenous knowledge as we connect students to the outdoors through place-based learning experiences. Several resources were shared, many from Strong Nations publishing.

IMG_0960 IMG_0961

The local salmonberry bushes are in bloom. Salmonberries are one of only a few berries that are native to Richmond and are the first berries to come into season, usually in June. We are beginning to create an ethnobotany resource for K-12 Richmond science teachers to provide information about local plants and their traditional uses by the Coast Salish peoples.

Since this was our last session in this series, teachers also brought something to share to celebrate their personal areas of professional focus in science this year. Karen Sato from Blair shared an animoto she created documenting a spring walk with her class, highlighting Blair’s focus on place-based learning and getting outdoors. Tanyia Kusch, also from Blair, shared some rock investigations her students did, inspired by the picture book this  group received at our last session in February, If You Find a Rock.

Pauline Stephenson from Brighouse shared the documental panels she created, highlighting several areas of focus from our series – getting outside, process-based science experiences and observational drawing.





The primary team from Ferris has been working outside in their school garden with their K students and have been documenting their experiences using the app PicCollage on the school’s iPads.

Terra McKenzie from Errington shared some of the looking closely photos she has taken with her class using the zoomy digital microscope. Here is a photo of the surface of a leaf on one of their Spuds in Tubs potato plants. Looking closely for sure!

bDD1625F-3B9ACA00-1-Photo on 2014-04-10 at 9.55 AM

Louesa Byrne from Thompson shared a series of the documentation panels she has created and shared with her students and parents to help make the students’ science learning visible.

IMG_0969 IMG_0970 IMG_0968

This has been an inspiring series, with lots of collaboration and sharing amongst colleagues. Here’s hoping that it can continue next year as we look ahead to our redesigned curriculum and assessment frameworks in BC!


documenting the components of soil

Posted on: April 19th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I made my monthly visit to McNeely last Monday to work the grades 2/3 teachers on their collaborative inquiry in using iPad technology to enhance students’ learning in science.

As part of the classes’ study of air, water and soil, I led a discussion with the students about the four main components of soil – air, water, organic matter and inorganic matter. The students were able to give example of what they might find in the soil outside that is organic and inorganic. Then, we went outside and collected a soil sample from the school’s garden plot. The students had great fun digging in the soil, trying to find some interesting specimens to add to their sample.

DSC_0424 DSC_0423



Upon return to the classrooms, the students looked closely at their soil samples, using magnifying glasses and loupes and using the zoom feature of the iPad camera.

DSC_0426 DSC_0425

DSC_0422 DSC_0421



The students took some really interesting photographs with the iPads.

photo 02 photo 03

The students used the app PicCollage to document their observations, including examples of both organic and inorganic matter.



C2DB732F-3B9ACA00-1-PicCollage B7bBD561-3B9ACA00-1-PicCollage A5D99343-3B9ACA00-1-PicCollage 7B9DA44D-3B9ACA00-1-PicCollage 1B695C0b-3B9ACA00-1-PicCollage

Pairs of students that were finished their PicCollage page then used the ShowMe app to explain the difference between organic and inorganic matter.




We are hoping to add a new app or two to the schools’ iPads in May so that we can add one more app to the students’ repertoire of apps they can use to document their learning.


sharing our work at NCTM

Posted on: April 19th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Last week I attended the annual NCTM conference, this year held in New Orleans. NCTM is a US-based association that is really international in scope. This is huge conference, with about 8000 attendees this year. I had been invited to share some of the work we have been doing in Richmond and was happy to share some of the things our schools have been working on to develop mental math strategies and focus on computational fluency.


My session focused on how we introduce and teach students in K-3 how to use visual tools to scaffold a transition to visual mental representations before they start working with numbers abstractly in their heads.

I shared how our K and K/1 students at Anderson and Blair used a variety of concrete materials to create representations of five to help develop a sense of five-ness and then how they used the Doodle Buddy and Haiku Deck apps on the iPads to represent five in different ways.

IMG_3736 IMG_3734 IMG_3733



I shared how K and 1 students at Blair and Thompson and the primary students at Byng use ten frames in different ways to help them represent numbers as well as support their understanding of addition and mental math strategies.






making 10 2 copy

I shared the app Find Sums that the grade 1 students at Garden City have used to work with five and ten frames, leading to work with the hundred grid as well.

IMG_0758 IMG_0757 IMG_0754IMG_0759

The most complex visual tool for students to work with is the number line. Beginning with a numbered line, then moving to a marked line and then working with an open number line allows students to work with numbers fluently, using a visual tool to support their computations. Examples below are from primary students at Blair and Byng.

8+5 numberline 8+5 hatchmarks 8+4 open numberline

counting on 3 copy

And here is an example of a “ShowMe” screencast from a grade 2 student at Blair showing how we would figure out 58+25 using an open number line as a visual support. The teachers at the conference got some insight into life in west coast schools when the Vice Principal came on the PA during this boy working on his screencast to announce an earthquake drill. He kept going until he was finished the question and then zipped back safely to his classroom to duck and cover.

58+25 with announcement of an earthquake drill

Besides sharing the work we are doing in Richmond, I was able to attend some excellent sessions. Math rock star Marilyn Burns shared her current work with assessing students’ work with number operations and I also attended a session by Sherry Parrish, author of Number Talks (widely used in our Richmond elementary schools) in which she shared her new work with Fraction Number Talks (new resource coming soon!).

Thank you to RTA major conference funding that helped with much of the cost of me attending this conference.

Hanging out with mathy colleagues in New Orleans, it became a bit of thing to search for interesting arrays in the local architecture. Can you spy five and ten frames in these photos?!

IMG_4488  IMG_4492

The conference was a great experience in a great city!


an afternoon at Musqueam

Posted on: April 19th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Last Monday, the teachers involved with the Quality Teaching and Learning (QTL) project in Richmond visited the Musqueam lands and Cultural Centre in Vancouver. The QTL project in Richmond is looking at ways of incorporating natural materials, indigenous knowledge and stories into playful storytelling experiences that lead to enhanced oral language development in our primary students. The teachers from the four schools involved in the project joined us at Musqueam.


After a lovely local lunch, we visited the current display in the Cultural Centre with many examples of Musqueam weaving and basketry.



We then had a bit of an ecological tour, walking to one of the last wild salmon creeks in Vancouver and seeing the salmonberry bushes in bloom.


We walked through the Musqueam Band administrative offices with its beautifully carved house poles and carvings by local artists displayed inside.


The Big House is sometimes open to the public but was not the day we were there. About six families would have traditionally lived in the Big House and it is still the place for community celebrations like memorials and naming ceremonies.


The street signs in the community included the Halkomelem language.


Our guide also told us about the Chinese market farmers who used to lease land from the Musqueam and lived in small homes on the Band’s land (see the abandoned home in the photo below).


We walked down along the Fraser River and looked across to Lulu Island in the distance, imagining the canoe trips the Musqueam people took up and down the river.


Audrey, our guide, told us some very powerful childhood stories and stories about how residential schools affected her community. As an adult, she has been re-learning the language, has begun knitting and weaving in the traditional Musqueam style and has embraced her culture.

As we joined together to share our own work on the QTL project, we all commented on what an inspirational afternoon it had been. We all felt connected to this place and inspired to share the knowledge we had gained from our afternoon at Musqueam.


using nearpod for immediate feedback

Posted on: April 13th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Chris Loat and I were invited to work with three intermediate colleagues at Blair Elementary as part of their Innovation project for the 2013/14 school year. One of the goals of their grant application was to investigate ways in which technology can help with formative assessment. Chris shared a few webtools and apps with the teachers before deciding together that NearPod might meet their needs.


NearPod is an app that combines presentation, collaboration and real-time assessment tools into one integrated solution. The app creates a wireless connection between the teacher and all students’ iPads and allows them to share work that between them. Teachers can create a lesson and manage that content on the students’ iPads. Responses by students on the iPad can be sent to the teacher during the lesson. This app can be used in various situations with all learners and we have found it to be a versatile app for formative assessment.

We felt NearPod would best suit the teachers’ needs because it provided specific formative feedback for each student (as opposed to general feedback about the class as a whole.) The teachers at Blair were looking at how immediate feedback during a lesson might inform their instruction and provide feedback to students in the area of mathematics and in writing. While planning how to integrate this app into the classroom experience, we realized that it is not necessary to create an entire NearPod lesson for each time you use the app. Instead, teachers can create a lesson with 5-6 blank pages, formatted as a ‘Draw It’ page and a couple of blank pages formatted as ‘Open Ended Question’. As the pages are blank, the prompts can be:

1) written on the board/screen at the front of the room

2) read out of a book

3) given verbally.

This one ‘blank’ NearPod lesson can be used in different situations with the intention that the teacher provides the prompts each time it is used. The students can respond in a variety of ways including:

1) writing on the iPad

2) taking a photo of their written work

3) taking a photo of manipulatives they have used

4) drawing a picture on the iPad

5) taking a photo of a passage/picture from a book.

Students can also annotate/mark up their photos they take, which would allow them to highlight something they want the teacher to notice.

On Tuesday, I worked with Kit Kwok as she introduced the NearPod app to her grade six students. One of Kit’s goals in using this technology was for her to receive immediate feedback when students began their practice questions in mathematics, so that she could provide support to the students who might need a mini-lesson or review before continuing on their own.


Tuesday morning was “real life” in school, with interruptions galore and connectivity issues! There were PA announcements for students to come down for different group photographs, information about the earthquake drill after recess and we were initially unable to connect to NearPod. After what we first thought was a wifi connectivity issue, it seems like NearPod was actually doing some sort of update just when we were trying to login. Coincidence, yes, but this happens sometimes! Instead of starting with the iPads, the students started working on some math questions in their notebooks. Finally, Kit got her slides loaded and the code for the students to enter. Kit decided to just use two open “draw it” slides with the title for each being the textbook questions she wanted the students to submit.


Because of our difficulties getting going, we abandoned the original plan and have the students submit the first question from their assigned practice questions. Students who had completed the work took a photograph of their response, often circling the answer to highlight it. Other students took a photograph of the hundredths grid and then annotated it on the iPad before submitting it to their teacher.





It should be noted that the Blair students are relatively fluent in using the iPads and were able to support each other and problem-solve as they learned how to use this app. Other classes may need more direction and practice before using it independently.

Kit was very enthusiastic about the experience and was confident that this would be really useful to both her and her students. She liked how she could quickly see the list of students who had logged in and then being able to visually see who had submitted their work.


She was able to click on a submitted file to enlarge it and see it in more detail and then provide immediate feedback to students as necessary.

Kit sent us an email later in the week explaining that she had used nearpod every day last week and found it really helpful in assessing what students knew right in the moment.

~Janice and Chris