Archive for June, 2015

learning about electricity with squishy circuits

Posted on: June 7th, 2015 by jnovakowski

We are continuing to pilot three Squishy Circuits in our district and this spring I was invited to use them with intermediate students at Homma and Blundell.

We opened with a short discussion around what the students already know about electricity. I then gave each group of three students a battery pack, 3 LEDs and a ball of conductive playdough and asked the students to examine the three components and then see what they could find out. The students usually place the LEDs in the ball of playdough, insert the positive and negative wires from the battery pack, turn the battery pack on then go hmmm, wondering why the lights don’t go on. It’s hard not to jump in but part of the inquiry process is for the students to problem solve and think through the different variables that could be the issue. Sometimes, if students seem really stalled and I think its because they might not have enough background knowledge, I sometimes prompt them to think about flow of electrons.




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Once the first group of students gets the LEDs to light up, this sends off a reaction in the class and the students get curious about what others have done. A conversation about the concept of the “path of least resistance” is really important here for students to understand the flow of the current. Some students want to know more about series and parallel circuits and use the materials to investigate this. I pass out beepers and motors to add another opportunity for students to investigate different ways of creating circuits.

Once students see the possibilities of using squishy circuits, the creative possibilities open up.


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More information about Squishy Circuits, including recipes for the conductive and insulating playdoughs, can be found here.


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.


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:

Anderson 17-2

Anderson 6-1

Anderson 4-1

Anderson 5-1

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



creating cedar storyboards

Posted on: June 7th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places…connections are made, ideas emerge and a plan of action gets set in motion. A friends is an eco-artist and she recently posted an image of a repurposed roof shingle she used for an art class with students. I quickly made my way over to our local building supply store in Steveston to see what kind of red cedar shingles or shims were available. I bought a huge bundle of cedar shakes for $30.

As part of our QTL storytelling project, many of the classes involved have been learning about local plants and animals and the importance of the cedar tree to local Aboriginal communities. We have also learned that although totem poles are iconic to the northwest coast, the local Musqueam community did not carve totem poles but did have house posts and beams carved from cedar.

I worked with Michelle Hikida and her grade 2&3 class at Diefenbaker to develop this project. We began by introducing the boards to the students the smell of fresh cedar filled the classroom. Connecting to a story Michelle had read the class (Totem Tale by Deb Vanasse), we introduced the idea of a symbol or image that would represent part of a story. The students then created their stories using materials and practiced telling them to each other. Michelle then created a story plan for them to think about the sequence of their stories and what symbols might be important. Then, the students practiced drawing their symbols before painting them on their boards. The students then used their storyboards to retell their stories to each other and to students from other classes.

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At our year end sharing session with teachers involved in the QTL project, Michelle brought her students’ story planks and shared the process with other teachers, many who were inspired to try this with their own classes.

We also put out extra cedar shakes and acrylic paints and asked teachers to share their own story of this professional learning experience.

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