Archive for September, 2015

thinking about your year with math in mind

Posted on: September 24th, 2015 by jnovakowski

I have had several meetings with teachers in the last few weeks, initiated by teachers who are wondering about and wanting to discuss an overview for how they might consider the teaching and learning of mathematics in their classrooms this year. We are in a year of optional use of a redesigned curriculum here in BC and I am suggesting to teachers that they explore one aspect of the curriculum, as it applies to math. Unlike some other curricular areas, like science and social studies, there actually aren’t significant content changes in math.

So aspects of the redesigned curriculum you might consider as you are thinking about math this year…

  • thinking about how a core competency like creative thinking or communication might be developed in mathematics
  • considering ways to personalize learning for students – using open-ended tasks, questions & problems and providing choice of materials, contexts or ways to represent learning
  • weaving the First Peoples Principles of Learning into your math teaching and learning – think about the role of story, place and self-identity
  • what opportunities do your students have for mathematical inquiry?

In terms of content and curricular competencies, have a look at what is the same and what is different. There is new content around financial literacy from grades 1-9. Computational fluency is very foundational in the redesigned curriculum – what does this mean for your grade level? What routines or practices are you using in your classroom to ensure your students develop computational fluency? I highly recommend Number Talks by Sherry Parrish and High-Yield Routines for K-8 published by the NCTM.

Begin the year with some assessment – what do your students know, where are they on a continuum with respect to certain concepts, how do they feel about math, what are they worried or wondering about. Let this guide how you plan learning experiences for your students.

In thinking about mathematical topics or “units” over the year, I encourage teachers to begin with topics that build a mathematical community in the classroom and provide an opportunity for all students to feel successful in mathematics. I often begin with patterning or some data analysis/graphing. With patterning you can introduce how materials are used in the classroom and there are lots of opportunities for open-ended tasks. With graphing, the students can create and discuss different types of surveys and graphs (relevant to their grade level) as they get to know each other at the beginning of the year and when large graphs are created together, they can be posted in the classroom, nurturing your mathematical community. These topics are also more visual-spatial in nature and this is an area of strength for some students who may not always view themselves as strong math students. I try to balance these types of topics over the year so there is one of them in each reporting period. I often include geometry in the second term and measurement in the third term, but may adjust these if one connects better with a science or social studies topic we are studying.

For number concepts and operations, I look at what is new content for that grade level (ie. fractions is first introduced as content in grade 3) as well as what I would describe as core or essential content. These topics need to be experienced throughout the year. Teaching fractions for two or three weeks in grade 4 is just not enough – we need to introduce the concepts early in the year and keep looping back to them in different ways over the year. For both new and core content as well as other the other required number-related content, I make sure to build in lots of opportunities for practice, review re-learning, re-thinking and experiencing number work in lots of different ways to develop both fluency and flexibility in working with numbers.

We are so fortunate in BC that although we have a required (legally mandated) curriculum, it is not prescriptive. We do not have scripted lessons, required texts or high-stakes testing as many jurisdictions in the United States do. We have flexibility in how we enact the curriculum in our classrooms, which allows us to be responsive to our students. There is no “best” order or way to teach mathematics…this is where our role as a professional educator comes in. We make pedagogical decisions based on the goals and requirements of our curriculum, but most importantly, based on the needs of our students.


making colour window blocks

Posted on: September 15th, 2015 by jnovakowski

So I know Pinterest is a black hole…and can be a bit of a temptation for teachers and often lead them down paths they maybe shouldn’t be led down. I was first drawn to Pinterest for recipes and home/craft projects – I am a very visual and like an image. Often an image is all I need to inspire, think and create from, so Pinterest was perfect for me…a visual collection of all my bookmarks of ideas from the internet. And then teaching ideas started appearing.

I have learned to be discerning on Pinterest and see it as a source of inspiration which leads me to my latest project. I saw a photo posted on Pinterest which I “pinned” to my block play board. At some point, I clicked on the link which led back to a mother’s project creating lovely colour blocks from dollar store materials. I tucked that somewhere away in my brain and when I was at a new Dollarama this week, I picked up these two materials:


With a glue gun, scissors and 20 minutes, I was able to make five lovely colour blocks to use in classrooms I visit. I’m going to put them up in the window in my office to capture the afternoon light and have colourful shadows cast in the room.

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A quick project for $3.50 with enough colour transparency to make probably 10 more sets. These will also be great on the new light tables that all our schools are receiving this September.

And just because I had so many pieces of colourful dividers left, I bought some more blocks and made a slightly different version – thicker and more like little shadowboxes.

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I think I am going to try some mactac with dried flowers, leaves etc next.



Posted on: September 11th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Our second Summer Tech Institute for our district (with lots of guests from neighbouring districts) was held last week on Thursday at Westwind Elementary and was coordinated by teacher consultant Chris Loat. 193 educators spent a day of their summer holidays learning all about ways to integrate technology into their classrooms.

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Apple “geniuses”  and “creatives” joined us for the first time and this added a new dimension to the day!


A link to the program with links to some of the presenters’ handouts and presentations can be found HERE.

I presented two sessions.

iPads in Math for the Primary Classroom

The first one was one the use of iPads for math in the primary classroom. Now, there are many not so good math apps out there, so I wanted to recommend some ones that developed conceptual understanding, provided meaningful practice of skills and concepts with visual tools and allowed for differentiation and choice.

The list of apps can be found here along with some links to blog posts Summer Tech 2015 Primary Math Apps list.

The apps I recommended are all free and all happen to be developed on the west coast. Some that will be new to teachers are the TouchCounts app developed by SFU Education researchers. It has English, French and Italian capabilities. Also, any of the apps from The Math Learning Center in Oregon correlate well with our curriculum. Their apps are available for different devices, including web-based apps. On their website find the app information under the Resources tab.

Place-Based Digital Storytelling

I shared the project I did with four Anderson teachers this spring, connecting their focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning with their school’s innovation grant focus on iPad technology. A detailed outline of this project can be found HERE. Apps that we used included Google Earth, DoodleBuddy and 30Hands.

Congrats to Chris on another great tech institute! It was such a positive day and the synergy in the building was amazing!