Archive for March, 2015

transforming learning series – March 2015

Posted on: March 11th, 2015 by jnovakowski

This week, the consultants and coordinators (CNC…Richmond loves its acronyms) from our school district have shared a series focusing on the redesigned curriculum. Teams of teachers from each elementary and secondary school are provided TTOC release to attend these sessions. This is the third series we have had and is our district’s commitment to supporting teachers with awareness of the redesigned curriculum.

The curriculum website can be found HERE.

We present in teams and I have had the pleasure of working with Lorraine Minosky, literacy teacher consultant and Diane Tijman, district curriculum coordinator for ELL and Multiculturalism.

After an overview of the website and major themes in the curriculum, we asked educators the question:

What do we want the children we teach to be like when they are adults?

Diane led the participants in a Silent Chalk Talk as they recorded their ideas, then rotated and connected and built on to the ideas of others.

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This task always leads nicely into discussing the core competencies, a foundational piece of the redesigned curriculum. After a discussion of what the curricular and assessment parts look like, we broke into groups to look closely at aspects of the curriculum, in an EdCamp style.


We ended the morning with school teams having a time to talk and plan how they are going to move forward towards the redesigned curriculum – choosing one aspect to focus on.

Documents we shared during our session today included:

14-15 Transforming Learning prof learning

Curriculum Redesign Update Winter

Trans Curric Math Overview May 2014

Trans Curric Science Overview May 2014

Trans Curric Lang Arts Overview Nov 2014

Trans Curric Social Studies Oct 2014


taking our storytelling outside

Posted on: March 10th, 2015 by jnovakowski

On Tuesday afternoon, the three kindergarten and kindergarten & grade one classes at Ferris took their storytelling outside.

IMG_0426We began with the story, Where is Mouse Woman? based on a traditional Haida story. Jada is looking of her friend Mouse Woman and uses the help of all sorts of animals to help her find her friend. When she finds Mouse Woman hiding in a log, Jaada asks her to come to her potlatch and the story ends with the two friends enjoying singing and dancing at the potlatch. I explained that a potlatch was like a celebration, sometimes including ceremonies and involved the sharing of food, singing, stories and dancing. Some of the students made connections to birthday parties and Christmas. Remembering that these students are five years old, we acknowledged their personal connections and didn’t go any further with the concept of the potlatch at this time.

It was a misty cool afternoon so the students put on their coats and they each chose two animal characters to take outside. I modelled a frame for a story that they might tell based on Where is Mouse Woman?- one character hiding and the other looking for it. Some of the students framed their stories like this, while others created their own stories.

In all three classes, there was high engagement and enthusiasm for going outside. The teachers and I observed a settling in period – some students ran around exploring and others wandered, not sure quite what to do. This was the first time for taking storytelling outside and there was some unsureness amongst the students. Within about 5-10 minutes, the students settled in to their stories, some by themselves, others in partners and others in small groups. There were many stories up and down and all around the big trees in the schoolyard. Pinecones, twigs, leaves and rocks were collected to create places to hide characters.

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There was disappointment in all three classes when we told them it was time to come inside (I was visiting three classes in one afternoon) and I know they will have other opportunities to take their storytelling outside.

A video of two kindergarten students’ story of finding their friends hiding behind a tree can be viewed HERE.


picture books to inspire inquiry

Posted on: March 10th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Over many years, I have been gathering a collection of picture books that I use to inspire inquiry when working with students. I think the first title of this sort that I used was I Wonder by Tana Hoban and it is still a favourite of mine today. Many of the books below are from my science collection but many are also more general – they can can be used to inspire a sense of wonder, curiosity and asking of questions. Many of our younger students or students learning English are learning to form questions, and having some models helps with this. Many of this books are filled with questions or suggest sources of inspiration of questions. Some provide suggestions as to how to pursue your inquiry questions – through investigation, reading about it or asking an expert.


Inquiry book list 2015.


what stories live in clay?

Posted on: March 9th, 2015 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

On Monday I spent the afternoon at Steves Elementary in Ellen Reid’s grades 1&2 classroom and Kathleen Paiger’s kindergarten classroom. Both teachers are taking part in our QTL playful storytelling project and also have a proposal for an AESN (NOII) grant to support the work they are doing around the goals of our AEEA, in particular around the themes of community and place. Hmm…that’s a lot of acronyms.

QTL – Quality Teaching and Learning Project (Ministry then district based)

AESN (NOII) – Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network as part of the Network of Inquiry and Innovation

AEEA – Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement

The Steves teachers and I, along with some other Richmond colleagues, spent an inspiring day out at  the Musqueam Cultural Centre on Friday, learning about their language revitalization initiatives. We wanted to weave some of the teachings from that day into our time together. The language of the Musqueam people is not an easy one to learn. The hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language is complex but fortunately we were provided with some audio resources of elders using the language so our students could hear this language of our place. I think its important for our students to hear the language that was used on the land and in the waters for thousands of year before it was called Richmond and the Fraser River by settlers. Language and culture are intertwined and the teachers and I agreed that while we have been learning about the story of this place, the language piece was an important layer to add. We viewed the interactive Musqueam Places Names Map and played some of the place names in our area for the students. They listened so carefully to the elders speak the words and I watched many of the students try to mouth the words as they were listening. We also noted how the places were named. For example, a beach along the south arm of the river was not named “London Beach” but referred to as driftwood beach. Many of the students chimed in to say they knew that beach with all the driftwood! As we brought out the materials, one kindergarten student shared how he created a scene with trees and knocked one down, he could call it “the fallen down tree place”. Big ideas for five year olds!

After a discussion about place and language, the students were invited to create stories using various materials. Today, we also introduced the “language” of clay and asked the students to think about what stories live  within the clay and how it could help them tell stories of place. We talked about how clay came from the Earth and many students connected to digging and finding clay. There was much exploring today and I left the clay behind at the school so the students can continue to investigate the affordances of this material.

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In Ellen’s class it was interesting to note how some students had a definite affinity for certain materials and Ellen said they went back to those same materials again and again. Some students like the kinaesthetic, gross motor experience of the puppets, others like moving the little animals and loose parts around in their settings and others enjoyed using the upright felt board. Some of the students wanted to continue capturing their stories using Book Creator on the iPads.

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In Kathleen’s kindergarten class, the students created all sorts of stories about place.

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The place in the setting above was called “the muddy place near the forest and near the water where the fish are and oh, there’s snow there too” and so we shortened it to The Muddy Place to keep things simple but the group of boys clearly got the idea of naming the place by describing it and how it might have been used for fishing. Amongst a very complex story going on with four boys, one boy stopped for a few minutes to tell me one part of the story and then he was right back with the group.


Here is a link to another kindergarten student’s story HERE.

The teachers commented that the students ask for storytelling everyday. We observed such high engagement, focus and collaboration amongst the students. It is also clear that these young students are taking in some big concepts around community and place. We debriefed after school and thought about ways we can support further connections for the students, particularly around language.


investigating number with a Kindergarten class at Diefenbaker

Posted on: March 8th, 2015 by jnovakowski

I spent two mornings in one of the kindergarten classes at Diefenbaker last week. The class has two job-share teachers, Sarah Regan and Jaclyn Cruz. Although they have not been a part of our professional learning experiences around Reggio-inspired mathematics, they were interested in trying out one of our project kits. They have had the number kit for February and March.

On Tuesday when I arrived, Sarah had several provocations already laid out on the tables for the students to investigate as they began their morning. I did a short number talk with the class using ten frames, to focus on the big idea of decomposing and the different “ways” to make a number and asked the students to focus on this idea as the investigated the materials.

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Sarah had put out long strips of newsprint paper with the wooden numerals, dominoes and crayons.

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The students enjoyed findings all the dominoes that “equalled” the number and various collections were left around the table for other students to add to.

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The students were also given a direct prompt to find ways to make 7 using glass gems. Some of the students chose to make math books to record their findings in.


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For one student, he began recording the numbers to 7 and then wanted to keep going, with the support of a classmate. Although he could count to 20, he didn’t  know how to write the numerals from 10 up and was very motivated to learn to I watched his classmate model how to make each numeral for him with his fingers or by putting wooden numbers in front of him to copy.



Ten frames, dice and pebbles were also presented to the students and Sarah had written out the instructions for the game “race to 10” for the students to play.


The students struggled a bit with the materials. Pebbles were dumped, glass gems were on the floor and a few of the wooden numerals got written on with crayon. In hindsight, it was maybe all too much at once for these students and that maybe introducing one type of materials or task at a time was needed. Each class is different and how and when provocations are presented needs to be responsive to the students.

On Thursday, Jaclyn already also had provocations set up for the class, using materials from the kit as well as from the classroom. This time, we did a short number talk together with dot cards, looking for combinations of dots within dot patterns. I modelled the dot pattern for 4 that was on the card (the regular dice dot pattern) using glass gems on a mat and then together, we thought about how we could move the four gems around to make different patterns but conserve the quantity of four. Based on what we had noticed on Tuesday, this seemed to be something the students needed further experience with. Some of the students wanted to count one-to-one while others saw their representations in parts.

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One little guy was determined to count out 100 gems. When I asked him how I would know that there were 100 he replied that I had to count them. I asked if he could arrange the gems in another way so it would be easier to know that there was a 100 represented but he was not sure about this. This was a large quantity!


The teachers had decided to put out a game of shake and spill using two-sided counters. Based on Tuesday’s time together they thought the students needed more structured tasks to stay engaged and focused.

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We had a visiting teacher from Vancouver come by the class on Thursday and her comment was that what she was noticing wasn’t so different from “math centres” and we talked about that together because she was right in this case…just replacing traditional plastic math manipulative and laminated work mats with glass gems, pebbles and cork mats and setting them out as “centres” or “stations” is a starting place but does not reflect the practices we aiming for. How are we provoking thinking? How are we inspiring inquiry? Finding ways to make the practices and our intentions more visible needs to be considered as we broaden our project.

In reflecting with the two classroom teachers on the time spent in the classroom, I am thinking about the conditions that are needed in a classroom environment for the type of Reggio-inspired practices in mathematics that we are working towards:

-a stance of inquiry, wonder and curiosity that has been nurtured and valued in the classroom

-an understanding what it means to be a learner

-a respect and appreciation for materials

-students’ ability to engage with materials independently or with a peer/small group and to share and collaborate with materials

-students’ capacity to listen to each other, build on each others’  thinking and communicate and discuss their mathematical thinking

Most children just don’t arrive at school being able to do all of the above, but they are capable of this. We need to model, coach, teach, moderate, facilitate, support and nurture these competencies and habits of mind in our students so that they can engage in the deep thinking we believe they are capable of.

So our Reggio-Inspired Mathematics Inquiry Project is not just about mathematical provocations with lovely materials. It is deep professional learning and reflection, thinking about what we need to do as educators to support our students. Lots of thinking and learning together as we move forward.


multiplication number talks at Byng

Posted on: March 7th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Last week I made one of my regular visits to the two grades 4&5 classes at Byng Elementary. For this set of number talks, we focused on multiplication facts and strategies the students could use to find other facts if they “knew” one related fact.

For example, we began with 3×8 in one class (and 3X6 in the other) and I asked the students what other x8 facts the students could figure out using what they knew about 3×8. It took some prompting but we got to the ideas of doubling, tripling, adding one more eight, subtracting an eight, doubling and adding, etc.

So for example, if you know 3×8 is 24, you could figure out what 7×8 is by first doubling 24 (which is 6×8) to get 48 and then adding one more 8 (to get to 7×8) to get to 56.



One student realized you could double and double again to figure out 12×8 and the students discussed whether to call that a double double or a  quadruple. One wise student noted that if you doubled and then doubled again, then it would be a double double but if you multiplied the product by 4 (or added four times) then it would be a quadruple.

After a group number talk, I put a related fact on the whiteboard and asked the students to show the different ways they could figure out the other facts and using word labels to indicate what strategies they used.



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Some students used their own decomposition strategies.



We asked the students to come up and record their strategies and the way they had recorded them.



For both classes, this was the first time the students had recorded their use of strategies like this and many found it challenging to communicate what they did in their head. One teaching and learning opportunity arose when I noticed students were using “run-on” equations to record their mathematical computation process by using two or more “equals” signs in their equations. I asked the students what the symbol meant, and like most students their age, those that spoke up felt it meant “the end” or “you put the answer after it”. This is a huge misconception amongst many students. We discussed how the equals sign was a symbol of equality and meant that both sides of the equation were balanced. One student clearly explained that you had to show each part or each step of the process with its own equation.

I used the example of a teeter totter and we role-played that a bit and then I asked what would happened if we placed two fulcrums under the teeter totter – it just wouldn’t work. Sometimes students need a visual or an analogy of sorts to help them make sense of an abstract concept.


The goal is to have students “fluent” with their multiplication facts by the end of grade 5 and practicing mental mathematics strategies as well as developing students’ number sense as to why those strategies work is a critical piece of developing computational fluency.


Science Jam 2015

Posted on: March 5th, 2015 by jnovakowski

On Tuesday afternoon and evening, 830 students from sixteen elementary schools in Richmond participated in this year’s Science Jam. Students in grades 3-7 shared their inquiry projects around three general themes: environmental sustainability, creativity and innovation in science and We Are The Fraser. The energy was palpable in Aberdeen Centre as students, their families and teachers began streaming in to set up their projects.

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At the opening ceremonies, our five student MCs spoke in English, French and Mandarin to a huge crowd and our Celebrity Scientists (sponsors, school board trustees and scientists from the community).


The Honourable Mayor of Richmond, Mayor Malcolm Brodie welcome the students and their families to the event as did Richmond’s Superintendent of Schools, Monica Pamer.

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The students then acknowledged our sponsors and partners – Science Jam would not be possible without them!

And then Aberdeen Centre was full  students sharing their science learning with family and community members and our Celebrity Scientists. We also had many high school volunteers from Palmer Secondary who interacted with the students and helped keep things going smoothly.

This year, we had great diversity in projects and students were able to speak about their choices of inquiry questions and how they conducted their investigations.

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Destination Imagination had tables of creative challenges out for students to try.


Our evening closed with a Science Surprises show by staff from Science World and a thank you from our student MCs.


A video of Science Jam highlights including projects from all sixteen schools and the opening and closing ceremonies can be viewed HERE.


UBC K-12 Aboriginal Math Symposium 2015

Posted on: March 2nd, 2015 by jnovakowski

On Friday, February 27, some of our Richmond School District math mentor teachers joined about 200 other educators from across BC to participate in the annual K-12 Aboriginal Math Symposium at UBC, sponsored by UBC and PIMS. More information can be found HERE.

It was a day full of thinking, connecting and being inspired.

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We began the day with a story from Dr. Jo-ann Archibald about Lady Louse and then a guided drawing experience with Haida artist Billy Yovanovich. As he explained his drawing process, he mathematized his practices for us – lots of thinking about doubling, fractions and ratios.

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Students from two UBC Math 335 courses shared their “math fair” projects, all of which incorporated Aboriginal content or themes.

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As in last year’s symposium, the mathematics of weaving was introduced and many participants wove throughout the day as they listened to various presentations.


Educators from around the province shared projects and initiatives.




And to end our day, we came back to a story and listened to a Haida elder share Raven Steals the Light on a CD produced by CBC Radio. An online audio file can be found HERE. The Raven Steals the Light story can be found starting at the 42:00 minute mark. We were asked to consider what mathematics the story inspired. One of the ideas that consistently came up was exploring the volume/capacity of nesting boxes. We watched three young girls on a video very quickly created some boxes through paper folding and tried to keep up! The creation of one box inspired all sorts of new mathematical thinking and questions such as What is the constant ratio for the size of the paper to have a set of boxes “nest”? What size ball/sun could the box hold? How could different shaped based boxes be created?


As Weily Lin, one of our secondary math mentors teachers observed on our drive home, he sees three aspects of Aboriginal mathematics education – supporting Aboriginal students for success in mathematics, weaving Aboriginal content and culture into our school mathematics program and teaching and learning through an Aboriginal perspective. It is a lot to think about for teachers who are not of Aboriginal descent and for us in a district with such a small population of self-identified Aboriginal students. We have few elders or families to collaborate with in our context so opportunities like the symposium are really important for us to attend.