Archive for October, 2015

growing our Reggio-Inspired Mathematics inquiry project

Posted on: October 29th, 2015 by jnovakowski

So the final session I presented at the Northwest Math Conference in Whistler was on the Reggio-Inspired Mathematics inquiry project that began in Richmond and has grown to include six Lower Mainland districts, thanks to the support of the BCAMT.

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Along with our publications, articles and materials, I was happy to share our new blog that was created to archive resources to support educators as they consider teaching and learning mathematics through a Reggio-inspired lens. The blog can be found HERE. There’s a photo album of mathematical provocations, downloadable instructional resources as well as links to archived articles and presentations.

After the session, several teachers from around BC asked how they could be involved. Thanks goodness for an online community and technology that will allow us to connect virtually!


my first ignite

Posted on: October 29th, 2015 by jnovakowski

As part of the Northwest Math Conference, I was invited to present an Ignite session- defined in the program as “math educators present on topics that ignite their individual passions. Each talk is 5 minutes long and consists of 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds, whether the speaker is ready or not!”

Five minutes is fast – as is 15 seconds per slide! I had to really think about one big idea and how I would tell the story I wanted to tell.

I decided to title my presentation “Where’s the wonder in math?” and discuss the importance of students posing their own problems and asking authentic questions that they are interested in finding answers for. I referred to Alfie Kohn’s recent publication in this area, which can be found here. I also shared references from a Google Ad that can be found on youtube here – it’s called “A Question Waiting to be Answered”.  I wanted to provoke educators’ thinking with the question: What openings are we creating for wonder in our math classes? And then I shared my story of what I have seen when the classroom is turned over to students and they are asked to notice and wonder and investigate questions and problems that are important to them. I shared several examples from Richmond classrooms and discussed ways to nurture a stance of inquiry in our classrooms. Lots packed into five minutes!

I have done a lot of presenting over the years to different sizes of crowds but for the first time, I really got the jitters. The room was set for 400 people or so and people kept streaming in, till there were educators standing all around the edges of the room. The fast-paced timing of the whole thing was out of my control and I know this is what made me anxious – usually not my style of presenting at all! The other presenters around me (three others also first-timers) were also displaying different stress behaviours – rustling notes, bouncing knees up and down, talking about how nervous they were. Thankfully, Marian Small was sitting next to me and reminded me that the slides will just keep moving and it will be what it is – not to fret.

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We did it!  All of the other talks were so inspiring and I look forward to watching them when the BCAMT posts them on their website (although I’m not sure I want to see mine – will likely skip over it).

After my heart stopped racing and I had some time to reflect…someone asked me if I would do it again. I am not sure about how I feel about doing it in this large of an arena again but I have been thinking what a great structure Ignites might be for staff meetings, professional learning etc. I am envisioning beginning a professional learning day off with a panel of Ignite sessions and then breaking out into EdCamp sessions based on on topics raised by the Ignites. And of course, what a great way for students to share what they know about a big idea. Lots of possibilities!



place-based mathematics

Posted on: October 23rd, 2015 by jnovakowski

On the provincial professional development day on October 23, I had the honour of presenting the work we having been doing in the Richmond School District around place-based learning in mathematics. I was fortunate to present this session to over 100 educators from across North America in the Squamish Lilwat Cultural Centre at part of the Northwest Math Conference.


After discussing the importance of place-based learning within our redesigned curriculum here in BC, we also discussed many of the pragmatics of taking students outside for learning as well as ways to incorporate these types of projects within a math program.

Whistler is full of inspiration for mathematics.

What mathematics lives in this place?

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The powerpoint presentation is shared here as a pdf file.

Place-Based Mathematics NW October 2015


grade 7 science: electromagnetism

Posted on: October 16th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Based on feedback from teachers last spring, we have planned a series of after school sessions supporting new content in the K-7 science curriculum. Each session will look at the learning standards around a specific grade and content area and teachers will experience both the curricular content and competencies through an inquiry-based approach. Connections to the core competencies and First Peoples Principles of Learning will be also be woven throughout the sessions. Resources are provided to teachers to take away and use in their classrooms. These sessions have proven to be in high demand and registration quickly filled up for them at the beginning of September. We have been able to add second sessions for those that had long waiting lists and hope to provide an alternate form of this series in the spring.

The first session of the series was focused on Grade 7 and the physical science topic of electromagnetism. This is “new” content in that previously the grade 6 electricity content focused on simple circuits and renewable and non-renewable methods of producing electrical energy and the grade 9 content focused on static electrical charges, resistance, voltage, currents in circuits and related electrical energy to power consumption. The big idea now in grade seven is “The electromagnetic force produces both electricity and magnetism.”

We began by looking at the big idea and thinking about what students needed to understand first before exploring electromagnetism. Properties of magnets and magnetic force were investigated and basic electron flow and circuits were investigated using Squishy Circuits kits.

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We then looked at the bigger concept of electromagnetism and the teachers were provided with a variety of materials to create their own electromagnet. Different types of wires were provided so that teachers could compare their results, ask questions and investigate. The teachers also wondered about changing the battery type and we talked about designing experiments, controlling variables and other curricular competencies for science.


In particular we talked about how the curricular competency of Applying and Innovating had some possibilities for both creative and critical thinking. Comparing and judging different ways of generating electricity and their environmental impact is an opportunity for critical thinking. Thinking about ways to use electricity, magnetism or electromagnetism to make the world a better place or to improve on an existing design or invention is an opportunity for creative thinking and for students to pursue personal areas of interest that are meaningful to them.

I am looking forward to working alongside teachers with their students as they investigate electromagnetism and maybe we’ll see some related projects at Science Jam this year!

Grade 7 Electricity – curriculum information for Grade 7 Electromagnetism

Electricity Resources – Links to online resources



the new Numbers game for Osmo

Posted on: October 15th, 2015 by jnovakowski

I am a huge advocate for the Osmo system for iPads. I first introduced Osmo on this blog post here.

The company just recently release a new game that I was very excited about – Numbers. I received it in the mail and opened my box and automatically thought it was so clever. It comes with digit and dot tiles but the dots only come in 1s, 2s and 5s creating great opportunities for thinking about numbers in parts.

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Two Fridays ago I visited the grade 1 class at Kidd Elementary and all the students got to give Numbers a try. Suffice it to say, it was a huge hit! The students were asking where they could get the game and I emailed our DRC right away for the classroom teacher to get the Osmo kits into her classroom!


The grade one students had some great comments on the game:

“We use our brains to make the numbers.” – A

“I like that there are numbers to choose from.” – W

“I like that you get to make the numbers and that you get the fishes.” – K

“There’s not enough 1s to make 11 so you have to think of a different way.” -W

“You can think really hard.” – K


One drawback I noticed on Friday for classroom use is that you have to acquire “points” to open up new levels. This is great when a child is using it at home but for classroom use, it would be preferable to allow for different entry points for different students. I might be missing this accessibility somehow so am going to look into this further.

At this point, until I gain access to the higher levels, I can’t really comment on the other tasks available but it looks like there’s great possibilities for thinking about decomposition and composition of numbers, counting and addition.


how materials inspire inquiry

Posted on: October 15th, 2015 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

Building on our Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry series, there will be several professional learning opportunities in our district this year that focus on specific aspects of playful inquiry. On the professional development day on September 25, Marie Thom and I hosted an afternoon at Thompson Elementary focused on how materials inspire inquiry.

A variety of art materials were presented alongside natural materials found in our area to inspire attendees to think about the changing of the seasons, what stories live in fall and to consider a connection to place and the cycles that autumn brings.

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Some of the teachers attending mentioned that they had never used charcoal pencils or watercolour pencils themselves and this was part of the intent of the session. We wanted teachers to consider the affordances of different materials and what they each offer so that they can make intentional decisions about which art materials they may provide to students. We emphasized the notion that students need to also learn how to use the materials, take care of them and to consider what materials might be more suitable for different projects. Just like with tech “apps”, we want students eventually to be able to have a repertoire of materials that they can choose from to use to help them think about an idea or to represent their thinking.


By looking closely and observing leaves, nuts, branches and other objects outside or brought into the classroom, inquiry naturally emerges and students wonder aloud, creating an opportunity for teachers to seize the moment and create ways for students to investigate their question, to look even more closely or test their ideas. Working with art materials may uncover new ways of thinking about the object or their questions.

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If this is an area of interest for you, two professional books we recommend are: The Language of Art by Ann Pelo and In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia by Leila Gandini and Louise Cadwell.


elementary math focus afternoon: September 28

Posted on: October 14th, 2015 by jnovakowski

On the afternoon of September 28, about 220 educators from 15 Richmond elementary schools converged upon Steves Elementary for our first of two elementary math focus afternoons.

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After an overview of current updates to the redesigned curriculum in mathematics and some thoughts to connect us as we work together, there were many sessions for teachers to choose from during two “break-out” times. Each sessions focused on at least one of the key aspects of the redesigned curriculum such as Big Ideas, a core competency or the First Peoples Principles of Learning. All of the sessions were facilitated by Richmond teachers – math mentor teachers, teacher consultants and some of the teachers from Steves.

Here is a link to the program for the afternoon and an overview of the sessions provided:

Elementary Math Focus Afternoon Sept 28 sessions

Please contact the presenters or myself through Richnet if you are interested in more information.

Three professional resources that were recommended throughout the afternoon are:

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We have a growing number of educators in Richmond becoming active on twitter. Any tweets tagged with the hashtag #sd38math for the day are archived HERE through Storify.

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Some of the resources shared during the afternoon:

introduction_math Aug 2015 – Introduction to BC Math Curriculum, K-12

whatsnew_math – What’s New in Math, K-9

BCAMT BasicNumberFacts1 – BCAMT pamphlet for parents on basic facts

The Sum What Dice Game Jan2013 – Sum What Dice Game

FH final Turtle Pond coding – Fred Harwood’s coding resources

Financial Literacy primary resources – Primary Financial Literacy Resources (QR codes)

High-Yield Routines September 2015 – High Yields Routines, SD38, K-8

We are hoping that this afternoon was a great launch for the school year, especially for the 17 Richmond elementary schools that have math as a school goal or professional learning focus. We all know that an afternoon like this can be inspiring and teachers take away ideas to use in their classrooms but professional learning takes time. At the end of the day, we asked teachers to turn to each other and commit to trying one or more new ideas that they heard about during the afternoon. We hope that teachers will continue the conversation we began by sharing what they are trying on twitter, through blog posts or conversations at their schools so that we can make our professional learning visible and learn from each other.

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Looking forward to the second event on January 18th!


making number talks matter – post #1

Posted on: October 10th, 2015 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

Since returning to my role as a teacher consultant in our district, I have been a huge advocate for Number Talks. I appreciate the focus on flexible thinking, number sense and how well they provide an opportunity for students to think about and practice mental math and personal strategies. Our current math curriculum as well as our redesigned curriculum in BC have a significant focus on mental math, personal strategies, and computational fluency – all strong reasons for the use of Number Talks.

Although I have had similar math discussions with my students over the years, I was introduced to the idea of a formalized, intentional number talk by Sherry Parrish at a NCTM conference. I have recommended her book to our schools and often use the accompanying DVD as a staring point for discussion with teachers.

Making Number Talks MatterI was excited to hear about a new book being published in this area and ordered it to add to my summer reading list – Making Number Talks Matter by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker. In the introduction the authors acknowledge Kathy Richardson as being the originator of number talks which didn’t surprise me at all. Kathy greatly influenced my thinking about math teaching and learning in the early part of my career and I continue to use her resources today.


I didn’t get around to reading the book over the summer, but when I saw the post about an online book study on twitter, I signed up. Hundreds of teachers from around the world are participating through twitter, Facebook and the Teaching Channel’s website. More information can be found HERE. Although it is too late to formally register, you can still follow along through twitter and Facebook. Each week we look at one chapter from the book, with a question being posted each day for us to consider and respond to.

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As I work alongside teachers in their classrooms and participate in this book study, I am looking forward to considering some new ways of thinking about Number Talks.

I had a short visit to Caitlin Blaschuk’s grades 3&4 class at Byng Elementary where I used the number talk example from Chapter 1 of the book, 63-27.


The students were able to share all sorts of strategies, including using place value to decompose, using negative integers and using the open number line.

Building on the first question, I would typically next ask 463-27 to use a number string but today we jumped to 463-127.


The students right away that they just needed to really consider the 400-100. Because open number lines were a bit of a focus at the school last year, I asked if any of the students wanted to think through that strategy and one student started us off and then it became a bit of a collaborative effort.

I noticed a few things as we engaged in our number talk, some of which are because some of these students have two years of experience with number talks and others because the classroom teacher has set up structures and a learning environment that foster successful number talks. The students use specific math language when they are talking with each other and when they are sharing their strategies to the whole group. I heard words such as decomposing, finding the difference and annexing. The students have predetermined number talks partners so there is no time sorting that all out during the number talk. The students turn and look at each other and take turns sharing and listening. The students seemed comfortable sharing their ideas and taking risks and what I found particularly noteworthy was the way students built on each others’  ideas and supported each other. They were also able to compare their strategies and say how their strategies were the same and different from one of their classmates. With less than a month into the school year, this class demonstrated so many of the reasons why I think number talks are so powerful – building a math community, encouraging mathematical discourse and valuing flexibility and fluency in mathematical thinking.



creating spaces for playful inquiry – September 2015

Posted on: October 9th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Last spring we held a very well attended series called Creating Spaces for Playful Inquiry. This series was a result of a visit to the Opal School in Portland by Braunwyn Thompson, Michelle Hikida, Hieu Pham-Fraser and myself in January 2015. We reflected on our experiences and how they connected to what we were already doing in Richmond as well as to the changes in BC’s redesigned curriculum. The group of 50 teachers attending this series wanted to continue the conversation so we have scheduled a three-part series for this school year. We opened the series with an event that welcomed teachers new to this series as well as visiting educators from seven other school districts. With about 120 educators filling the gym at Blair Elementary, it was an inspiring evening thinking about playful inquiry with Susan MacKay and Matt Karlsen from the Opal School.

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Teachers arrived to find a “buffet” of loose parts, most gathered locally. These materials were going to be used during the evening for educators to engage in playful inquiry themselves, to consider how materials might help them engage in inquiry, represent their thinking or consider metaphors.

The teachers also received a small bag of local natural materials to take back to their classrooms.


When some of our teachers hear “Opal” they immediately think of story workshop, which is one pedagogical structure that Opal educators use to enact playful inquiry in their classrooms. This evening though was focused on playful inquiry more broadly and is very closely aligned with the goals and principles of BC’s redesigned curriculum. Susan and Matt engaged the audience in rich professional thinking and learning beginning with the provocative quote by Carlina Rinaldi:

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Professional learning is not linear and neat but messy and takes time. What are we curious about? What are own own inquiry questions? Just as we want our students to engage in playful inquiry, we need to embrace a stance of inquiry ourselves and see ourselves as teacher-researchers.

Quoting Brene Brown:

“We have to be willing to not know, to figure out – because thats the find of play that brings joy.”

Susan and Matt asked: What new questions are alive within you?

What was emphasized through the evening was a pedagogy of listening – of the importance of listening to children so that we can be responsive and help to develop and sustain their capacities.

I hope that teachers were abel to consider the notion of playful inquiry and deconstruct and unpack what that means for them. What does playful really mean? In talking about “play” I remind parents and educators that play isn’t only about playing with “things” but that we can also play with ideas, concepts, language and story. Susan and Matt reminded the audience that play is not an “activity” but a disposition or a strategy.

How are you nurturing a playful stance in your learning environment?

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Susan and Matt showed an excerpt from a DVD about a year-long inquiry from their school. The young students were curious about wild animals and spent months thinking about their relationship with wild animals. The clip that Susan and Matt showed revealed just the very final part of the inquiry, when the students visit the neighbouring zoo, wearing animal masks they had created. This short clip seemed likely out of context to me, for the teachers in attendance who did not have a sense of the whole inquiry. Having seen the whole video a few times, once presented by the teacher involved, I was very inspired by the inquiry as a whole and wonder what questions those in attendance had. What more do they want to know? What was the journey that took the students and teachers to this point? Both Marie Thom and I have the DVD “Inquiry into Wild Animals” – please contact us if you would like to borrow it so that you can see the whole story!

More information about the Opal School of the Portland’s Children Museum Centre for Learning can be found HERE.

Opal school’s blog can be found HERE.

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Because the evening was scheduled on the same night as some of our school’s “meet the teacher” events, we had the session video-taped by media students at Hugh Boyd and we will be hosting some after school sessions for teachers to view and discuss the presentations by Matt and Susan.

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We are looking forward to continuing this conversation through the series and other professional learning events this year.