Archive for May, 2014

observing and wondering about worms

Posted on: May 25th, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Friday, I joined Karen Sato’s and Marisa Quan’s grade 1 classes at Blair for a morning of investigating worms. My morning at Blair was part of an ongoing collaborative inquiry with the primary teachers, considering ways for students to represent and share their science learning through note booking, with a focus of connecting to the outdoor environment.

In each class we began with some wonder questions…having the students think about what they were curious about. We talked about what questions we could find out answers to by observing the worms and how we might need to consult a worm expert to find answers to some of their questions.

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It was a rainy day and the students at Blair are usually easily able to find many many worms on a rainy day. But Friday, they were nowhere to be found. The students speculated that they were hiding or at school or maybe on vacation ūüėČ


We were persistent (like scientists sometimes have to be) and dug down deep in the garden and found some worms! The students looked closely at the worms in small groups, using magnifying glasses if they wanted to.

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The students tried to find the worms’ eyes and mouths and were captivated by the way the worms moved and how they felt.

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One student, who seemed perplexed by all of our talk of how the worms felt asked me if worms had feelings. I told him that was such a big question and that scientists are always trying to investigate what other animals are able to feel and think. He really wanted to know though and so I explained that I didn’t think that worms had feelings of sadness and happiness like we do but they could feel things that were soft or rough or dark or light and maybe sense if danger was coming, like when they come up from underground when it is raining so they don’t drown.

The students recorded their observations, where they searched for the worm and further questions they had. We also read a short article on worms from the Kids versions of worldbookonline. This answered some of the students’ questions and raised more questions for them!

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The following link takes you to a short Animoto video of the students’ observations of worms.


place-based mathematical inquiry

Posted on: May 23rd, 2014 by jnovakowski

Last week, divisions 4 and 5 from Byng (the grades 4 and 5 classes) took some iPads and went for a math walk into Steveston. Before we left, we had a discussion about what math is (most students said “doing stuff with numbers” or something like that) and we began to then talk about mathematics in a broader sense, how we see it in our world and use it daily. One boy mentioned that his dad has told him that math is in everything. As we walked into Steveston, we asked the students to notice math in their environment, in this place that we live. The students were to capture images with the iPads that would inspire them to think mathematically. The students noticed lots of numbers (addresses, license plates, etc) but also noticed math being used, particularly in construction.

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We walked to Steveston Harbour, at the mouth of the south arm of the Fraser River, and sat down on the pier for a short talk. After briefly  discussing the story of the shared history of the river, the students were asked to think and wonder about this place.

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Inspired by the Fraser River, some of the questions the students asked are:

How much water is in the Fraser River?

How many fish do they catch?

How much money do they make?

How many boats are in the harbour?

How deep is the Fraser River?

How old is the Fraser River?

How far do people travel to catch fish?

How many fish would the Aboriginal people have caught a long time ago?

What was the traditional boat for fishing for the Musqueam people?

Was the water always this colour?

What is the most common fish to catch?

We decided to take the whole group down to the docks where there were some fishing boats open and with fish for sale. This was a great opportunity for the students to investigate some of their questions and they found a fisherman willing to answer their questions (and after being bombarded, we obliged by purchasing a pink salmon from him).

How many fish do you catch a day?

30-500 depending on how lucky I am.

How far do you go to catch your fish?

I caught these near Haida Gwaii.

How much do each of the fish weigh?

About 3-4 pounds each.

How much does this one cost?



The students walked back to school with even more questions and hopefully a greater awareness of math in their world. The next phase of inquiry will be to choose some of their questions to investigate.



computational fluency at Byng

Posted on: May 22nd, 2014 by jnovakowski

During the first two weeks of May, I visited every class at Byng Elementary in preparation for a professional development morning on May 16. One of the school’s goals this year is to develop their students’ computational fluency. Alongside the student goal, of course, is a professional growth piece for the teachers at the school. What is computational fluency? How is it developed? How do we assess it?

Our journey began in September with a professional development morning and since then there has been a fall performance-based assessment, professional discussions at lunch, the development of posters highlighting our curriculum’s mental math strategies and the teachers have been working with their students in an intentional manner to develop their students understanding and fluency with mental math. A resource we have used to support our work is Number Talks by Sherry Parrish.

On Friday morning, I shared photographs from each of the classroom visits from K-7 and teachers reflected on and discussed their students’ growing ability in mental math strategies and fluency with working with numbers.

Although there are not mental math strategy learning outcomes at Kindergarten, necessary concepts and skills that are being developed are subtilizing, decomposing numbers and developing five-ness and ten-ness. In the K and 1 classes, we working on finding many ways to make 7 (decomposing a quantity of seven into 2, 3, 4 + parts)

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and then began to think about how to represent numbers using ten frames.

With the grades 1 and 2 students we used ten frames to provide a visual support for thinking about mental math strategies to solve 8 + 5 and 8 + 7 and then expanding on these. We were looking for ways students might count on (ie start and 8 and count on five more, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13) or use doubles (i.e. I know 7+7 is 14 so 8+7 is one more than that so it is 15) and making 10 (i.e. to add 8 + 5, I can take 2 from the 5 to make the 8 a 10 and then I have 3 left from the 5 so that is 10+3 which is 13).

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As students shared their strategies, we recorded their thinking on chart paper, whiteboards, chalkboards and Smartboards in their classrooms.

The grades 2 and 3 students worked with adding larger numbers, beginning with a question like 8+7 so we could assess their strategy use and then building to 18+7, 48+7 and then 48+37.


The students continued to use doubles and making ten strategies and decomposed the numbers into tens and ones as well. The open number line was introduced in these classes as a way to record the adding of numbers by counting on by 10s and making friendly numbers.

The grade 3 and 4 class worked with finding differences between two larger numbers, a slightly different way from looking at subtractions as “taking away”. The open number line or linear model is a visual tool that supports this understanding.

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For students to solve 123-49, some students decomposed 49 into 40 and 9 and subtracted each from the 123, one at a time. Others, using the difference approach, began at 49 and added up to 123 to find the different. This is where the open number line was used by some students. So beginning at 49, students added 1 to make 50 (a friendly number to work with) and then added 50 to make 100 then 20 to get to 120 and then 3 to get to 123. Adding up 1 + 50 + 20 +3 is a quick mental calculation to find the answer of 74.

The intermediate classes worked on the doubling and halving strategy for use with multiplication, as well as practicing annexing the zero as a strategy. We began my creating models to show how the doubling and halving strategy works. Beginning with an array of 1×16, student halve the row, bringing 8 down under the first 8 to create two rows of 8. Halving and doubling again creates a 4×4 array and then an 8×2 and then a 16×1 array. The arrays and process was recorded for the students.IMG_1181


Students were then asked to visualize the 4×4 array but instead think of it as 16×16. What would halving and doubling do? ¬†Most students realized that by getting to 8×32, they could probably do that easily mentally by decomposing 32 into 30 and 2, but many wanted to go further and play with the number pattern.


We then challenged the students with a seemingly difficult question, with an odd number (that couldn’t be halved into whole numbers) but students realized they could double the 35 and halve the 16. This got the students to 8×70. By annexing the zero, students could recall the multiplication fact (again, emphasizing how important it is that students have ways to mentally calculate these facts) of 8×7 and then add the zero back to get to 560.


There were some aha moments for students with this one. 16×35 seems difficult to do in your head but that is the power of mental math strategies. If you understand them and why they work (as opposed to memorizing steps or procedures) you can play around with numbers in a way that utilizes reasoning and sense-making, very important aspects of thinking mathematically.

As an assessment checkpoint and extension task, I asked students to work with a partner to think of a challenging question that would utilize halving and doubling as well as annexing. Math graffiti filled the whiteboard as students shared their questions, giving us insight into the students’ deeper understanding of these strategies.




observations at the pond with K/1

Posted on: May 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

The K/1 students at Blair visited the pond at Thompson Community Centre to look closely at the seasonal changes happening there and to record some of their observations. We reviewed what it meant to make observations…to look closely, to zoom in, to notice details, to stay awhile and not rush around. The students used the magnifying glasses and loupes to get up close to some of the plants around the pond. They were excited to look for some moving living things and found success near the end of our visit when a large water strider made its way across the pond.

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While we were at the pond, the students recorded what they noticed…some focused on one or two things while others tried to capture everything they saw!

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Back in the classroom, the students added some colour to their drawings and we had the discussion around observing and recording like a scientist…for example, What colour was that flower you drew? You may want it to be purple because that’s your favourite colour, but if a scientist recorded what she saw, she would try and capture the exact colour of that yellow flower that we observed.



noticing and comparing plants at Blair

Posted on: May 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

IMG_1038I visited Blair at the end of April and worked with the grades 2 & 3 students in Daisy Khare’s class. The students were beginning to learn about plants and we decided it was an ideal time to go outside and look closely at the school’s new garden beds. Some of the other classes’ plantings were growing so well already.


This gave us a great opportunity to discuss looking closely at plants – noticing the colours, the textures, the lines, the shapes, the markings, the size, etc. The students were asked to choose two different plants to observe and notice what was the same and what was different about them. The students enjoyed using magnifying glasses and loupes to really zoom in on the details.

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IMG_1027 IMG_1019 IMG_1018 IMG_1010The students took their science notebooks outside with them and recorded their observations with drawings and words. We left it up to the students how they would do this.

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It was interesting to listen in on some of the students’ conversations. Many of them wondered what the plants were exactly and looked for clues (like plant markers with the names on them!) to help them out. They were excited to see bright red radishes bulging up through the soil. One student noticed the tendrils on the pea plants and wondered what they were for.


This led to other questions from the students and they began recording their questions in their notebooks alongside their observations.

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We came back inside for students to focus on the recording of their experience in their science notebooks. It was impressive to see the variety of formats the students chose to show their learning.

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This experience for the students was connected to the primary teachers’ professional collaborative inquiry looking at taking science outdoors and making students’ learning visible through science notebooking.


intermediate inquiry into law

Posted on: May 8th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Kirsten Wallace is the VP at Steves as well as a teacher in a grades 5 and 6 classroom. She participates in an intermediate inquiry group that I co-facilitate with Chris Loat and Brooke Douglas. The original inquiry group looked at the sturgeon and the Fraser River and inquiry projects involved the sturgeon, the salmon, the Fraser and then branched off to all sorts of interesting areas.

In looking at the Social Studies curriculum, Kirsten wanted a way to generate interest in Canadian government and law and asked me to come into her classroom to facilitate an initial discussion. I wanted to appeal to this age group and make it personal for them, so that they might connect to this topic. I began by putting the question, “Why do we have laws?” on the whiteboard and asked the students to discuss this in their table groups and then add their thoughts, graffiti-style, to the whiteboard.



For this first question, most of the students seemed to focus on safety.

The next question up for discussion was, “What are the most important laws for a country?” There was much discussion and debate around this one.


Some of the students were a little unclear on what some of the Canadian laws were and so I read them a short informational piece from the Canadian Immigration website. The main ideas were that laws maintain order and equality. The students made connections to books they had read and stories they had heard in the news and seemed very curious about why laws in some countries were so different than ours.

The students were then asked to think of their own wonder or inquiry questions about law. They were able to choose how they recorded their questions and some enjoyed creating vignettes or stories to support their questions while others preferred webs or tables. Choice in representation is a powerful thing and the students were all able to engage in this task.

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These personal inquiry questions will hopefully get these students started on some interesting inquiry work as they create meaning of the complex topic of Canadian law.


littleBits design projects

Posted on: May 8th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I spent three Wednesday afternoons at Blair working with teacher-librarian and resource teacher April Chan and a primary group of students that were working on inquiry projects.

Our first day together the students investigated littleBits and what they could do. One student exclaimed right away, “oh, they are magnetic!” I think it is so much more worthwhile for students to discover this themselves than for me to tell them ahead of time that the littleBits are magnetic and other things they are able to do.




One student read the battery (not realizing it was a battery because of its bright purple colour) and said, “It says juice. Juice is like energy. I think this could attach to this (connecting power wire and bit). It says on and off (reading the power bit). Can I touch the switch? The light goes on! Hey, it’s shaking! (as she realizes the connected DC motor is vibrating on the table).” I love that this student was articulating her discoveries as she went, and I was able to document them.




I asked the students to share what they had learned about littleBits so far and their responses were:

“They are magnetic.”

“The juice makes things happen.”

“The order of the bits matters.”

The primary group were ¬†able to synthesize their findings into big ideas…pretty impressive.

Then, we watched a short video from the littleBits website to inspire the students for the following week as they began to create their own projects.

During the second session, students worked on their own or in partnerships to create something that does something. Some students began by drawing their plans while others jumped right into making something, testing as they went.

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The students were asked to record their design plan so that they could replicate it the following week.


Here is a short video highlighting some of the students’ experiences:

Day 2 littleBits primary inquiry group

During our final session together, the students were to re-create their projects by following their plans. One partnership had their flying bird working in no time and decided to add a nest to their project.



One boy abandoned his robot arm project and decided to try something new, inspired by the mounting board.


A group of three boys quickly recreated their circuit and them expertly explained the contribution of each littleBit to their project.


A short little video of the boys explaining their circuit:

explanation of littleBits circuit

The make something that does something lesson was not lost on these boys…they very clearly told me that their project did do something – it beeped and buzzed and shook and lit up and the fan spun around!

A girl adapted her plan when she couldn’t access the light colour changing bit so using an LED, she used a fire coloured red with the light behind it to create the campfire glow she wanted. Once her campsite was all set up and she realized the strength of the LED, she creatively played around with shadows and added a character standing inside her tent!





Such diversity and creativity in all of the students’ projects!