Archive for November, 2015

number talks at Debeck

Posted on: November 30th, 2015 by jnovakowski

The Debeck staff is working together around a school goal involving increasing students’ engagement in mathematics and their ability to communicate their mathematical thinking. During our professional learning time together, we have looked at assessments the teachers have done with their students and analyzed the themes and findings across grade groups and across the school population.

In supporting their professional collaborative inquiry, I have spent two Thursday mornings in November in classrooms, collaborating with teachers around lessons that focus on communication. The school has used some funds for TTOCs so that teachers can be released from their classrooms to join in on the classroom experiences.

On November 12, I first visited Don Allison’s grades 6&7 class. Our first number talk was a simple two-digit addition question, to set the tone and expectations for the routine. We then moved to a question involving the addition of decimal numbers where I recorded the students’ different strategies. I then posted a new, related question and the students were asked to record their strategies in their math notebooks and then come up and add their ideas to the whiteboard.




The next class was Josie Zahn’s kindergarten class and we began with a flash and tell game with ten frames and then discussed a few more specifically – how did you see 7? is there a different way to see it? The students were then asked to continue to think about the quantity of 7 and used various materials to represent that amount. Some students also chose to record their representations in their notebooks.





The next two classes were Brent Hocking’s and Tara Johnson’s grades 4&5 classrooms where we focused on beginning multiplication number talks. We began with 7×8 to see how the students might explain different ways they could figure that out and then moving to the related question 14×8 and I recorded their different strategies for solving this. We then moved to some new but similar questions that students could choose from to record in their math notebooks with the prompt of using pictures, numbers and words to communicate their thinking. These students also enjoyed sharing their ideas on the whiteboard and comparing their approaches.



The following week on November 19, some of the roles of host teacher and visiting teacher flipped and I was in different classrooms. The teachers said they appreciated both lenses – seeing the lessons with their own students but also seeing them in other classrooms.

The day began in Karishma Poonawala’s grades 6&7 class and she was  particularly interested in formats and prompts to use for math journalling. We began with a simple addition question, 37+29 to set the tone and expectations for a number talk. The students had been learning about fractions so I chose to try a proof. I wrote 1/2 + 3/4 = 2/3 + 2/3 and asked students if this was true or false and to support their claim. I chose these fractions very intentionally – wondering whether students would decompose 3/4 into a 1/2 and a 1/4 to add to 1/2 more easily and if students would add across numerators and denominators and end up with 4/6=4/6 which would reveal misconceptions about adding and understanding fractions that we could then move forward from.




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Some students went right to common denominators to justify their claims while others relied on more intuitive or visual representations. Many students got part way with their proofs, stating that they knew 5/4 and 4/3 were not equal but were not sure how to explain why. The sharing of their approaches was rich in discussion and some a-ha moments for the students.

Next stop was Shauna Hudson’s grade 1 class where we focused on some basic mental mathematics strategies – doubles and near doubles, making ten and bridging ten. The students then recorded their thinking for one question in their math journals.

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And I love reading math love notes!


Then I returned to Brent Hocking’s grades 4&5 class where we co-taught a number talk. Brent began with a review of arrays as a way to think about multiplication and then moved to using repeated doubling and halving with multiplication. I built on what Brent had done with the students with another question and then we gave the students some questions to choose from to solve and record in their notebooks, and then contribute their ideas to the whiteboard. Such enthusiasm to get their strategies recorded!


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In Kathy Yamasaki’s class, we focused on how students would communicate their thinking first orally and then in their math notebooks. We chose simple two-digit addition questions to focus on the different ways students could share their thinking. Many students solved the first question 27 + 54 by “lining up the numbers in my head” and using the traditional algorithm which is do-able with small numbers such as this but much more complicated if using three or four-digit numbers. We discussed how it was important that they had more than one way to solve questions like this and that by being able to think flexibly with numbers, it showed they had strong number sense. The students became quite creative and came up with several ways to solve this simple question.

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Next I posed a similar question for students to solve and record (at least two different strategies) in their notebooks. Some students also chose to come up and record their approaches on the whiteboard.

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After each set of classroom visits, we have made time over the lunch hour to debrief, compare what we noticed and plan what teachers will try next in their own classrooms. The teachers have commented on how much they appreciate hearing the language used during a number talk and different ways of eliciting students’ responses. I’m looking forward to hearing more about how number talks and math journalling are moving forward at Debeck!


playful storytelling project

Posted on: November 23rd, 2015 by jnovakowski

We are into our third year of a playful storytelling project that focuses on the First Peoples Principles of Learning. Blog posts about the first two years of the project can be found by clicking on the QTL category in the right side bar. The first year of the project was part of a Ministry initiative looking at Quality Teaching and Learning and since then it has been a district-based project. This year we have added three new schools – Debeck, Tomsett and Bridge, to bring the number of schools involved up to ten. Each school has a team of primary teachers, and often a teacher-librarian or learning resource teacher, that are engaging in professional learning and classroom-based experiences.

The goals of the project focus on creating opportunities for oral storytelling experiences in primary classrooms, with connections to place through the use of local natural materials and local plant, animals and stories. We also explore the language of place with the language of the place where we now live, work and go to school being the language of the Musqueam people – hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓.

Teachers new to the project along with members from our Aboriginal Success Team joined Marie Thom and I on the afternoon of October 27th for a lunch together, an introduction to the goals of the project, some gifts of materials and resources and time to plan together.




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School teams received baskets of materials and resources from Strong Nations, Native Northwest, FNESC and story baskets from ThinkinEd.

Diefenbaker teachers Kelly Hinks and Michelle Hikida, who have been involved in the project since the first year, shared some ideas and experiences from their classrooms and shared what they have learned and gained from being involved in the project. Both teachers commented that they both have more confidence teaching with Aboriginal content and through the First Peoples Principles of Learning and that this has come with increased knowledge and rich professional learning experiences as part of this project. They have also noticed increased awareness in their students of our local Aboriginal communities and high engagement in storytelling experiences.


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We are looking forward to documenting lots of wonderful stories being created in Richmond classrooms and are using the hashtag #sd38story to share on Twitter.


creative thinking core competency project

Posted on: November 18th, 2015 by jnovakowski

For the third year in our district, Rosalind Poon and I are facilitating a Core Competencies Project. This series takes place over the school year, with release time provided to grades 6-9 teachers. This year, we have narrowed our focus to closely examine the Creative Thinking Competency and ways we can provide opportunities for students to develop this competency across disciplines.

For our first session together, we asked teachers to engage in a “chalk talk” about what creativity is- a strategy to record your thoughts about something and make connections between others’ ideas and yours.

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We watched a short video with Sir Ken Robinson discussing what creativity is and how we can assess it. Watch the video HERE.

We unpacked what Core Competencies are and then specifically looked at the Creative Thinking Competency.


The Creative Thinking Competency has three facets – novelty & value, generating ideas and developing ideas. Each teacher or school team of teachers was asked to choose one facet to play around with in their classrooms between our first and second sessions. Roz Poon documented our first session using Pages:

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We are using the Spirals of Inquiry cycle to engage in professional learning together. Teachers each received a copy of a teacher resource book that is full of ideas for the “taking action” part of the cycle.

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In order for teachers to connect to the Creative Thinking profiles and illustrations, we facilitated a series of mini-challenges from Destination Imagination and had teachers consider the facets of the Creative Thinking competency – novelty & value, generating ideas and developing ideas – and consider how they might describe their own competencies in these areas.

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Information about BC’s Core Competencies can be found in this short video HERE.

The information about the Creative Thinking Competency can be found HERE.

We are meeting together in January and I look forward to seeing how the creative thinking competency is coming alive in Richmond classrooms!



counting collections

Posted on: November 3rd, 2015 by jnovakowski

So although I was busy presenting at the Northwest Math Conference, I did get to attend a few sessions from speakers from the US that I typically wouldn’t get to hear. The Saturday session I went to was presented by Elham Kazemi from the University of Washington and focused on the importance of counting routines, not just for our youngest children but for all elementary-aged students. She shared her work in the areas of counting collections and choral counting and many wonderful resources to support teachers can be found on

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We have been talking about the NCTM book High Yield Routines in our district, routines that can be used regularly across grades and topics to develop mathematical thinking, reasoning and communication. I think the routine of  “counting collections” is another high-yield routine, one that engages in the concepts and skills of counting, understanding our number system, grouping, multiples, etc as well as providing openings for inquiry and problem-solving. Students work in partners which allows for a social component that nurtures thinking and communication.

On Thursday afternoon I visited Michelle Hikida’s grades 2&3 class at Diefenbaker Elementary to give “counting collections” a go. We presented the students will a tray of bags of collections to choose from as well as a collection of materials to organize the materials into groups if the students wanted to.

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We asked the students to choose a collection, count all of it (more on this later), and then record on the whiteboard what they counted it, how  they counted it and what the total count was.




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One of the things that became very clear was that collections of items with different colours caused a distraction mathematically. The students instinctively “sorted” these items into colour groups. In the example below, the students noticed most of the groups had 8 in them, so challenged themselves to count by 8s to #countall – the focus of the task.


Another pair of students poured out a large quantity of coloured beads and began counting the pink beads by 2s into a cup. There were 22 and then they started another colour, starting at 0 again. I asked them how they were going to #countall and they said they would add up the groups, which is different than counting up by equal multiples.


Part way through our hour together, I shared the idea of using a referent for estimating, using the book Great Estimations by Bruce Goldstone as an inspiration. We then asked students to add the layer of estimating before they started counting and including this in their record.


The students really enjoyed recording on the whiteboard and they created quite the “math graffiti” wall.


Before I left, we scanned our data on the board and I asked the students what they thought the most common way of counting was. One student commented that it was hard to tell because the data wasn’t organized and that maybe we should create a graph! It was the end of the afternoon, so that task was left for the next day.

On Monday, I spent the afternoon in Kelly Hinks’ K&1 classroom at Diefenbaker. Some routine, I just took out a few bags that had really large quantities (over 100 – although I missed a few) and added a few more that were 30 or less. I quickly summarized the story Too Many Pumpkins and showed the students the illustration with all the pumpkins growing in the woman’s yard. One of the students exclaimed, “So many pumpkins!”


I asked how the woman could count the pumpkins and the students suggested by 2’s, by 5’s and by 10’s. I wondered how the woman might keep track of her count and a student suggested she would move the pumpkins together, so she could see them in groups. Such a perfect segue…from a 6 year old.

The students then chose their collections and began their counting. Counting by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s isn’t yet fluent for these students and it was fascinating to listen in to the partners trying to figure some of this out together. I was able to capture some amazing conversation on video.




The students used little individual clipboards to record what they counted, how they counted and the total count.


As I listened to this pair of girls count to 54 by 2’s, I noticed that they hesitated slightly as they approached each decade – 36, 38…..40, 42, 44 etc.


This pair of boys wasn’t distracted by the colours of the pompoms and grouped them by 5s onto plates. They struggled to count by 5s past 20 though and negotiated between them what to do. They ended up putting two plates together and counting by 10s to 40. For their next collection, they applied the same counting strategy as seen in the photo below – first grouping by 5s and then combining to make 10s as they are more fluent in counting by 10s.


Another pair of boys used the same strategy across the classroom – grouping by 5s first and then counting by 10s. In both cases, counting on the “extra” 1s was a bit of a challenge.


At the end of the afternoon, we had pairs of students share their counts.


Both Kelly and I noted how much mathematical thinking we were able to listen to during this routine and Kelly mentioned she would have likely limited the size of the collections but realized how rich an opportunity it was for students to problem solve and figure out ways to count their collections of quantities that might typically be considered out of their range.