Archive for December, 2014

how does measuring help us with our projects

Posted on: December 20th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Last week when I visited Louesa Byrne’s Kindergarten class at Thompson, it was during the afternoon which is usually their project time. Not wanting to disrupt their typical classroom practices, Louesa and I discussed how as teachers, we might provoke or inspire the students to think about measurement during their project time. When I arrived Louesa had already set out some provocations for the afternoon as well as some existing projects the students had been working on.

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She also presented the materials from the measurement kit out on a table, thinking that investigating those materials could be a project in itself for some students.


Many students moved to their projects and I don’t think they gave measurement a second thought and that is okay. Others played around with the idea of measuring within their projects. Drawing the beautiful poinsettia flower, followed by the recording of its height with numbers (a carry over from another student’s measuring strategy from another time) and then with gems engaged a student. The numbers are a playing around with the idea of measurement – this student said “the flower is 8 numbers” tall. The numbers are different sizes and may not be connected to the idea of a measuring “unit” at this point (although her unit might actually be “numbers” but they stand to represent an increase in tallness for this student.


She then used some of the class’ construction blocks and explained that the flower was “one and this much” tall.


When I asked her about measuring she said:

“When I think about measuring I think about counting and which one is bigger.”

Other students continued to explore the relationship in size between the measuring cups, this time exploring with sand.


Two boys went right over to the table with their folders of NFL and Canucks player information. One was particularly excited to tell me all about the stats of his favourite players. We connected to the ideas of speed and distance from our whole class measurement conversation to the information he had collected about the players. He wondered how fast the players really were and I could sense he needed to be have something to compare their speed to. Faster than a car? No. Faster than you? YES!

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Two girls engaged in their own little measuring project with the matryoshka dolls for most of the afternoon.



Figuring out how to measure the dolls was a challenge in itself and one little girl used two rulers masterfully to read the height of the dolls. I regret not asking her what made her think to do that or if she had measured like this before or seen someone else doing this.


The girls read the numbers on the rulers, again, not with a truly clear sense of measuring “units” but demonstrating an understanding that they could use those numbers to compare and order the relative sizes of the dolls, as can be seen in their recordings.

One girl said, “This one is so tiny. The numbers are how tall or medium or short they are. Measuring helps us know how big or short or tall.”

Another girl explained, “I measured how tall they are. I used the rulers. The numbers tell me how tall it is. This little one is two and a half (recorded as 2+).”


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One student questioned, “Why are we doing math in our projects?” and this caused some pondering between Louesa and I. Interesting, how at five, students may already see “subjects” as separate and it made us think about how to discuss interdisciplinary thinking and projects with young children.

Both Louesa and I saw lots of potential for students using measurement in their project time – especially in the construction area and we wondered about when to provoke or “toss the ball” and when to let the students bring up the idea of including measurement themselves.

The matryoshka dolls are such a hit in this kit, that we are going to add some new varieties – owls, penguins, etc. and we also need to think about what other measuring tools we might include.

Thinking about the materials, thinking about the students’ responses to the materials and thinking about provocations and what they can offer and how to support students in transferring their thinking about mathematics beyond their “math time”…all part of this professional inquiry!


what makes a pattern a pattern?

Posted on: December 19th, 2014 by jnovakowski

With Marissa Kishi’s Kindergarten class at Whiteside, our focus this week was on the question, what makes a pattern a pattern? As students investigated, created and built with different materials, we asked them to describe and explain their patterns and identify the part that made it a pattern.

Students were encouraged to explore positional patterning using materials that couldn’t be used to pattern based on colour or shape.

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From this exploration, students also began to pattern with a focus on quantity and to think about beginning growing patterns.

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With some special festive sparkly materials, students created positional and circular patterns.


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This Animoto compilation includes some short video clips of students describing their patterns. You may view it here.


more thinking about shapes in K&1

Posted on: December 18th, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Monday morning, I visited the Kindergarten and grade one students in Lauren MacLean’s classroom at Blair. The last time I visited the class, we had been looking around the classroom, noticing all the shapes we could see.

This time, we continued our inquiry into how shapes can go together to make new shapes. The students built, created and describe their constructions.

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Two students combined the rainbow blocks into one big rectangle. How many rectangles can you see in the rectangle?


The students also noticed lots of shapes in the classroom and how some things, like the door outside, were made up of multiple shapes.

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Students that didn’t have the chance to explore with the Osmo Tangram app during my last visit had a try. The app shows increasingly difficult tangram puzzles and the students have to recreate the image using the tangram puzzle pieces. There is lots of discussion about how to combine the pieces together and how to move and flip them as necessary. Great spatial problem solving!



A short Animoto photo video can be viewed here.

The Reggio-inspired geometry math kit will be moving on to another class in January. I wonder what they will learn about shapes!


investigating electricity with squishy circuits

Posted on: December 13th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I visited Dawn Lessoway’s Montessori class at Steves Elementary on Friday afternoon. These grades 3, 4 & 5 students welcomed me with a series of powerful questions, learning why I was there, my background and my connection to the Steves family and their neighbourhood.

I asked them what they knew about electricity to begin with and they knew it was used to power things and that electricity could come from water.

We were introducing squishy circuits to the students through a structured inquiry. The students worked in small groups and initially, each group was provided with a ball of conductive playdough, a battery pack with positive and negative wires and a small LED. I began by asking them to find out what would happen once they created a circuit into the ball of playdough, inserting the LED and turning on the power. Nothing. They wondered why.


Next, I asked them to remove the LED and separate the playdough into two balls, with the positive wire going into one and the negative wire going into the other. I then asked the students to carefully move the LED legs apart so they could put one in each ball of playdough and see what happened. Some lit up right away, others did not so we asked them to try and figure it out.

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The students realized that sometimes they forgot to turn the power switch back to on, that the LED “legs” needed to be switched (one leg is slightly longer and is the positive) or that their playdough balls were touching, thus creating a path of least resistance for the current.

This created the opening to introduce the insulating playdough, that can be used as a “spacer” between the conductive dough.


Now that the students had the basic understanding needed to work with Squishy Circuits, we wanted them to investigate their own inquiry questions. Lots of creative thinking and theorizing about electricity emerged.

A pair of boys wondering how they could create two circuits and how they would interact. Lots of theorizing about flow of electrons and investigating how circuits can be interrupted.


This group created a gingerbread man with LED buttons.


After awhile, I placed a beeper, buzzer or motor on each group’s table to inspire them to consider how to incorporate this into their circuit.

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To get the full effect of the beepers, buzzers and motors, watch the short video compilation linked here:

Animoto video compilation of students experiences

Our three new Squishy Circuits kits from the DRC arrived just in time to leave with this class so they may investigate further. I am looking forward to hearing about their new discoveries, creations and theories!


attending the FNESC conference

Posted on: December 12th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I was fortunate to attend BC’s FNESC (First Nations Education Steering Committee) last week. It was the twentieth year of the conference and my first one. More information about FNESC can be found here.

I attended the Thursday evening event with colleagues from Richmond and Delta and enjoyed participating in the “toonie auction” raising funds for the Seventh Generation Club. There was entertainment and great conversation.

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On Friday, Jo-Anne Archibald did the keynote presentation and as usual, she was inspiring and inspired my thinking.


There was a panel presentation, sharing the story of Aboriginal Education in BC over the last twenty years with hope for the next twenty years.


The rest of the day was spent attending workshops, learning, meeting people from all over BC, listening to singing and drumming at lunch and purchasing some new resources.


On Saturday, the keynote presentation was by Thomson Highway, literary great. He shared his multi-faceted genius in his presentation with his wit, talent and amazing piano playing.


The next session I went to was all about Cedar. The amazing collection of items woven out of cedar was impressive. The presenters shared how cedar bark was traditionally harvested by their community and how it was used for clothing and baskets.

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We then had the opportunity to twist and turn some cedar bark into a bracelet.



My last session of the conference was a FNESC-sponsored session on using authentic resources. We have used FNESC’s criteria and book lists in Richmond with teacher-librarians as well as the various projects that are running in schools. It was great to see some new books and share ideas with colleagues from across the province.


I hope to attend the FNESC conference again. It was such a positive, inspiring experience and it gave me great hope for the future of Aboriginal Education in our province. I especially appreciated hearing the many many languages spoken during the conference, as participants introduced themselves, welcomes were given and stories shared. The passion and dedication of educators working together to support the success of our students was embedded in every conversation I had during the conference. My mind and heart are still full from the experience.



celebrating winter with stories

Posted on: December 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I have visited the two new schools I am working with on our playful storytelling project (QTL) this year and shared a lovely new book by Terri Mack called Mouse Celebrates the Winter Solstice available here. This story highlights principles and themes like community, celebration, the role of elders and family and the power of stories.

After reading and discussing the themes in the story, the children had an opportunity to create their own stories about the winter solstice. Some stories focused on winter and the forest while others focused more on celebrations and bringing a community or families together.

At Steves, the K and 1&2 class looked at the cover of the picture book and predicted what the story might be about. The students loved looking for the mouse and her footprints in the snow. They also were quite interested in the illustrations of the “star pictures” or constellations. The students also enjoyed the illustrations showing all the animals from the forest coming together to celebrate and were proud to name them.

The students then created their own stories, taking time to carefully create their settings. The students take such care in creating these small story worlds, paying attention to details. Many of the students incorporated the photo blocks the students had created, using photographs of their local environment along the dyke.



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The students also used story stones that they had made.



At Ferris we began our time with the K and K&1 classes by sharing some materials to help the students think about the story.


The students were quite excited to learn about how pinecones open and close depending on the weather!

We spread out some materials for students to create their own wintery story scenes.


As we listened in on their stories, we noticed that the students were developing a stronger sense of story development with some sort of beginning and ending. Some students continue to describe their story scene while others are beginning to use dialogue between the characters and have some sort of action or activity in their story.

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The students in all three of the classes at Ferris liked having photographs taken of their stories and would often call me or their teachers over to take the photos. I would then ask the students to “tell” me their stories and audio-typed them on my iPhone. Although the focus of this project for our young learners is on oral language development, that concept that “talk can be written down” and that their stories can be captured in different ways to share with others has become an important part of the project.


where do we see numbers?

Posted on: December 10th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I visited Stephanie Merrick’s Kindergarten class at Hamilton Elementary earlier this week, returning the number kit that we had used for our professional development day last week. The students actually cheered when they heard they would be working with the materials again!

I did a short number talk with the students using ten frames. I asked them to identify they number they say and then explain “how” they saw it. For example, for eight


the students took turns explaining that they saw 8 as:

5 and 3 (five across the top and three under)

4 and 4 (students saw this in different ways)

2 less than 10 (if ten frame was full it would be ten and there are two missing)

6 and 2 (seeing the six dots arrangement like on a die and two more)

The students then moved to different part of the classrooms to work with the number materials.


I bought some new dotted dice (0-9) at Collins and like how they connect and extend the thinking we have been doing with dot patterns.


Playing with ten frame puzzles – finding complements for 10.




How many ways can you make 7? One of the girls brought over a book about counting eggs in nests and the gems became eggs!



One of the invitations presented to the students was to think about where they see numbers. A few books were on display to inspire them and I offered up my phone to take some photos as they found numbers in their classroom.


The students found numbers all over their classroom. Just finding them was enough excitement for the first look at this but it would be interesting to follow up with the questions…What are numbers used for? How do numbers help us?


Here is a short video of the students’ photographs:

Slideshow of student’s number photographs

After my visit, I got an email from Stephanie saying that as they left their classroom for recess, the students pointed out all sorts of numbers they noticed around their school. A class of number seekers!


science and tech – show and share

Posted on: December 8th, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Wednesday after school, we held a “show and share” to share some new science and tech learning materials available in our district. All of these materials promote creative thinking and links were made to the creative thinking competency in our redesigned curriculum.

Teachers had time to try out the different materials, sign up for borrowing kits from DRC and for some hot chocolate, tea and cookies.


The Osmo is a new device for the iPad that uses reflective artificial intelligence to use the camera within the iPad and a reflector to create a play area in front of the iPad. The kit comes with the device, a tangram set and a set of alphabet tiles and it now available at Apple stories as well as online. The three apps that work with the device are free through the iTunes store – Tangram, Words and Newton. The Osmo creates an interactive collaborative experience.

More information can be found at




littleBits are magnetic electronic components that can be connected to create circuits. The bits have different functions and allow students to make things that can do things just as make noise, light up, have a fan, etc. We piloted these materials in primary, intermediate and secondary classrooms last year with high engagement for students.

More information can be found at

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Squishy Circuits

Squishy Circuits are electrical circuits created with a battery pack, wires, LED lights and other components such as buzzers. Conductive and insulating playdoughs allow students to easily and safely create circuits.

More information can be found at



Three Osmos are available to borrow from DRC as are three littleBits  kits – the pilot project kit, the workshop kit and the space kit. Squishy Circuits are on order and will be available soon.


elementary math focus day: December 1

Posted on: December 8th, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Monday, December 1, most of our elementary schools in Richmond had a common professional development day and over 200 educators came together at Byng Elementary to participate in an Elementary Math Focus Day. It was inspiring to look out across the gym to see so many educators in one room that were thinking and learning about math for the day. Huge thanks to Courtney Bebluk and the Byng staff for hosting us and to all the presenters for sharing their enthusiasm and time.

After an overview of the redesigned curriculum in mathematics, what we want for our students and an overview of the day, teachers were able to choose four break-out, small group sessions for the rest of the day. We had teachers from Richmond, including our math mentor teachers, sharing instructional ideas that focus on developing mathematical understanding during sessions such as mathematical inquiry using iPads, using random groups and vertical surfaces for problem solving, developing mathematical vocabulary in French Immersion classrooms, approaches to problem-solving in primary classes, planning for combined classes, uses technology to support formative assessment, rich materials in Kindergarten classrooms, differentiation, number talks and teaching mathematics considering the First Peoples Principles of Learning.

We also had some guest teachers from Langley and Surrey sharing their expertise and passion for mathematics with us. Sessions included using Cuisenaire rods and picture books in the primary classroom, orchestrating mathematical discussions, big ideas in patterning, daily math investigations for intermediate students and guided math.

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Everyone came together for lunch catered by The Healthy Chef and visited vendors Collins Education and Vancouver Kidsbooks. The twitter feed (#sd38math) was active throughout the day with teachers reflecting on their thinking and learning.

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Links shared via twitter and during sessions throughout the day:

BC’s redesigned curriculum website

Jo Boaler’s seven positive norms for the math classroom

How Old is the Shepherd? video from morning opening

Financial Literacy project in BC

BCAMT Vector – Elementary Special Issue

First Peoples Principles Classroom Resources from FNESC

What is a Number Talk? (chapter 1 of book from Math Solutions)

Examples of Number Talks in SD38

SD38 inquiry into place-based mathematics 

Chris Loat’s technology integration website

Chris Hunter’s blog

Marc Garneau’s blog

Fred Harwood’s presentations

Reggio-Inspired Mathematics Inquiry Project in Richmond

Reggio-Inspired Mathematics Kits in Richmond

Sandra Ball’s Cuisenaire Rods Quest

Read a Story, Explore the Math with Sandra Ball

What is Guided Math? with Deanna Lightbody

Creative Apps for Mathematical Inquiry with Jen Barker

At the end of the day, there was such a positive vibe in the building and I really think we took a giant step forward as a district in terms of elementary mathematics.

A huge thank you to everyone who helped to make this joyful, mathy day happen – it truly does take a village.


math pro-d day: November 28

Posted on: December 6th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Friday, November 28 was a common pro-d day in our district, for all the secondary schools and many elementary schools. For the morning, I facilitated a session with the staffs of Debeck and Kingswood, looking at the components of the redesigned curriculum, with a specific look at math. Teachers had an opportunity to look closely at the learning standards at their grade level and then play around with a planning template that starts with a big idea and considers the (core) competencies. We also looked specifically at the competency of communication and already existing tools to support teachers in thinking about this like the Numeracy Performance Standards, the Kindergarten Continuum and a communication and representation in problem-solving continuum that was developed by the Primary Teachers Study Group a few years ago.



We used the hashtag #sd38math just for our pro-d events on Friday and Monday – here is a capture of some of the tweets from the morning:

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In the afternoon, 35 grades 6-9 teachers from across the district came together at SLSS to begin the discussion in our district about Bridging Elementary to Secondary Mathematics Teaching and Learning. A look at our history and story here in Richmond about this bridge, or lack thereof, was followed by a  look at what we know about the existing intermediate program and the redesigned curriculum in terms of pedagogy, assessment and how students at this age learn.


There were many rich discussions and we recorded some ideas as to what we want for our students as they transition from elementary to secondary. Although there is, of course, content that is core or foundational that students need to know, the bigger ideas that emerged from our conversation is that we need our elementary students to transition to secondary as problem-solvers, being able to think and communicate mathematically and to have strong computational fluency (which is much more complex than “knowing your facts” or following procedures).

The second part of our afternoon consisted of two breakout sessions facilitated by our two secondary math mentor teachers. Welly Lin, along with Asha, led a discussion and demonstration on the importance of the array model for understanding multiplication across grades.



Fred Harwood, recently retired teacher, led teachers through a series of problems using vertical surfaces. Teachers were randomly assigned into groups and Fred shared Peter Liljedahl’s research behind this practice.


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It was great to see elementary and secondary teachers learning alongside each other and many expressed that they would like to continue this type of professional learning and discussion.

And a bit of the twitter feed from the afternoon:

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It was a full day of professional learning about mathematics teaching and learning!