Archive for the ‘critical thinking’ Category

Vision, Mission and Values Project at Blair Elementary

Posted on: March 20th, 2017 by jnovakowski

The two kindergarten classes at Blair Elementary took part in our district’s Vision, Mission and Values project in February. As our district develops new Vision, Mission and Values statements, student comments and contributions are being collected to inform the process.

I worked with teachers Lauren MacLean and April Pikkarainen to develop questions to be a part of their regular routine of morning provocations for when the students arrive at school. 

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As the students chose what materials and question to engage with, we had the opportunity to capture some of their thoughts about what schools could be.

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The students had clear ideas about what schools should have and how they should be designed. They talked about natural spaces and spaces to work together. There was a lot of conversation about how schools are for all children and that happiness is a feeling we should have at school.


The classroom teachers then facilitated a sharing circle during which students shared their ideas about school. We unpacked the questions around Vision, Mission and Values with the students. The students “turned and talked” to a partner about one of these questions.


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Building on and connecting to the ideas they heard from their classmates, the students were given time to go back and revisit their creations and ideas.

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I was able to “interview” some of the students and capture their thinking about what schools could be. This tweet kind of sums up the wisdom from these amazing kindergarten students:

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I am looking forward to a district gathering in April when artifacts from classrooms across the district will be available for us to think about and am glad that the voices of these kindergarten students will contribute to the important discussions our district is having.


introducing WODB in Kindergarten

Posted on: October 30th, 2016 by jnovakowski

I was back visiting the kindergarten classes at General Currie last week. After being introduced to Counting Collections, the students and teachers were interested in being introduced to a new math routine. Because I had noticed they had been exploring gourds the week before when I visited, I used gourds to introduce the idea and thinking behind a WODB (which one doesn’t belong?). As is the case with most young students, the students stayed quite focused on one of the objects being “the” right one and we needed some prompting to look at  various attributes – colour/s, shape, size, “bumpiness” – to think about why each gourd was unique within this set of gourds (how they are alike…all gourds, all have some orange). The students began to use language layering attributes together to describe uniqueness – “this one is the bumpiest and mostly all orange”.


After looking at the gourds together and talking through “justifying” their choices, I showed them a WODB from the website – one I often use when introducing WODBs to primary class. I asked the students to notice how the dice were the same and then how they were different and then to turn and talk to a math partner.


The students then moved on to some table time, choosing from more WODB experiences or working with counting collections. I just used masking tape to add a WODB frame to a table top and added a basket of  fall leaves. The things the students noticed and their theories  – “this one doesn’t belong because it has holes, it has holes because an animal was hungry and munched it” were interesting to listen in on. Lots of opportunities for sharing thinking and reasoning along with oral language development.


I also had copied some WODB grids for students to use with materials from the classroom. One of the kindergarten classes used a basket of blocks to create WODBs for each other. Some students began by making three items similar and one that was significantly different and then, as they played with the idea of  a WODB a bit more, the students were able to explain a reason for each of the blocks not belonging in some way.

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The routine of WODB emphasizes many of the curricular competencies in K-9 mathematics:

  • use reasoning to explore and make connections,
  • develop, demonstrate, and apply mathematical understanding through play, inquiry, and problem solving,
  • communicate mathematical thinking in many ways,
  • use mathematical vocabulary and language to contribute to mathematical discussions,
  • explain and justify mathematical ideas and decisions.

Using WODBs as part of your math program provide opportunities to develop curricular competencies connected to curricular content.

wodb-student-book-coverBuilding on the exploration the students were doing with shapes, I left a copy of Christopher Danielson’s book Which One Doesn’t Belong? with the classes so they can continue thinking about shapes and WODBs!

I will be back to visit these classes in a few weeks and am looking forward to seeing and hearing how their mathematical reasoning and communication has developed!



BCAMT Fall Conference 2016

Posted on: October 21st, 2016 by jnovakowski

On Friday, October 21, our Provincial PSA day, I had the honour of sharing the work we have been doing in the Richmond School District as we have been enacting BC’s redesigned curriculum. This year’s BCAMT conference had over 900 attendees and speakers. Fawn Nguyen shared an amazing keynote address with us, reminding us that we are a gift to our students and to honour their time with us.






“that’s me in the front row!”

In the morning I was part of Curriculum Focus Session with a three-member panel – Ray Appel, Marc Garneau and myself. We shared aspects of the redesigned curriculum and then broke off into primary, intermediate and grades 8&9 focused breakout sessions.

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During the primary session, I shared snapshots and stories from Richmond classrooms. The handout from this primary breakout session can be dowloaded > bcamt-overview-primary-focus-oct-2016

One of the particular areas I shared was looking at the connections between the core competencies and curricular competencies in mathematics. My begin thinking around this can be downloaded > k-5-math-connections-between-core-and-curricular-competencies

I also shared the link between the heightened focus on computational fluency in the curriculum and the importance of regular number talks in classrooms.

Some info on Number Talks can be downloaded >



I also shared some of the BC Curriculum summary pages that reflect the work in the Richmond School District. They can be downloaded >





The next primary-focused session I presented was on Mathematical Routines such as counting collections, number talks and WODB.


The handout from this Mathematical Routines session can be downloaded > bcamt-2016-mathematical-routines

There are many blogs posts about Mathematical Routines available on this blog – use the search tool to search for number talks, counting collections, WODB etc.




Apparently, Counting Collections are taking over BC!


During my last session called Playful Mathematical Inquiry for grades K-5 teachers, I shared the thinking I have been doing with teachers in our district around frameworks to think about inquiry in mathematics and how playful inquiry encompasses the curricular competencies in mathematics.


The handout from this Playful Mathematical Inquiry session can be downloaded > playful-mathematical-inquiry-bcamt-2016



As always, it is great to re-connect with colleagues and a special thank you to the teachers who participated in my sessions! Thanks to Rick Hikida for this photo from the back of a very crowded room and for his tech support!


introducing WODBs to grades 4&5 at Westwind

Posted on: October 16th, 2016 by jnovakowski

I was invited into a grades 4&5 classroom at Westward to introduce the mathematical routine, Which One Doesn’t Belong? Teacher Carlos Victoria has emailed me to let me know the students had been learning about place value and different ways to represent numbers.

I began with a geometry WODB (found at ) and began the conversation about how these shapes are all the same, how they belong to a set or group. The students used the term shapes, then 2D shapes and with some guidance got to the term polygons. Then we looked at ways each shape was different than the others…unique. The students then turned and talked about if they had to choose just one shape, which one did they think didn’t belong? and WHY! We talked about how justification is a big part of being a mathematician.


We then moved on to the following WODB – one I often start with regardless of grade level because there are so many ways to analyze and compare the numbers. Same questions as before – how are they the same (numbers, numbers under 100, numbers between o-50, etc) and then how are they different. So many creative responses! As students described and defended their choices, I highlighted the mathematical language students were using such as “digits” and modelled new language for them such as the term “square numbers”.


After our two introductory WODBs, I shared our learning intentions for our time together:


And then we moved on to two WODBs that focused on the mathematical content the class was learning about. The students were given a quiet minute to examine the WODB on their own and then were asked to turn and talk to their table group about which one doesn’t belong? Some students focused on form (a visual entry point) while other focused on the numbers.

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The students were then invited to work together to create their own WODBs. This is not as easy as it seems! I provided some guiding questions for the students to go back to as they were working through the process. As students completed their WODBs, the moved to a part of the classroom together to discuss and try and solve each others’.




And as I said goodbye to the students, I know their teacher will continue the WODB routine with his class, as he just received our district’s WODB kit from the DRC – full of WODBs from the website as well as Christopher Danielson’s new WODB books  (picture book and teacher guide).

I am looking forward to hearing about more of their WODB experiences!


primary teachers study group: inquiry in social studies

Posted on: May 21st, 2016 by jnovakowski

For our ongoing look at inquiry in the curriculum, the teachers in the group chose Social Studies as an area of focus for the third term. When we met in April at Blair (thank you Jaclyn and Karen), teachers shared what they had been doing since we last met and then our new area of focus was introduced and discussed.

We looked at an overview of the K-3 curriculum, focusing on big ideas such as community that tell a story across grade levels. Connecting to the First Peoples Principles of Learning and the Core Competencies, ideas of place, story and self-identity were discussed.

Several books and resources were made available to teachers: the new K-2 Social Studies and Science big books from Strong Nations, Shi-shi-etko by Nicola Campbell, a photo book of Places in our Community and then some materials from the Richmond Museum and Archives – self-guided tour books of different regions of Richmond and a set of archival photo postcards.


Jaclyn and Karen from Blair shared their ongoing inquiry into place – connecting both Social Studies and Science through their investigation of Richmond.

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Our final session of the year was hosted by the McNeely team in their library.


Teachers shared how they had been thinking about social studies through inquiry with their students. Gillian from Grauer has been looking at diversity in Canadian communities and as an art experience, students drew portraits of themselves and then created outlines just using glue coloured with black tempera paint, squeezed onto recycled cardboard pieces. These art pieces, displayed together highlighted how much we are the same.


She also had student randomly choose skin, eye and hair colours to paint their portraits to highlight the idea of diversity. Interesting juxtaposition.

Rehang from Tomsett shared how her class had been investigating what Richmond was like now and in the past. Using archival photos, students compared and contrasted different places in Richmond and different services, such as transportation.

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Terra from Homma shared an inquiry into the students’ names and their realization of the power of names and how they are linked to personal identity. Jenna from Homma shared the Newbery award winning (thanks Shannon) picture book Last Stop on Market Street and the potential for connections to big ideas of community, diversity and social responsibility. Jaclyn and Karen from Blair shared their ongoing study of place, recently looking at a map of BC and the different First Nations territories. Anna, Deanna and Shannon from McNeely shared their garden inquiry and all the student investment that has gone into planning and planting.

After our sharing time, teachers were asked to work together to create an inquiry map of one of the inquiries they engaged in with their students this year, based on the work we have done in our study group. The idea of this kind of mapping came from a workshop some of us from the group attended in early April, facilitated by the Ontario group Natural Curiosity.

Teachers began with the starting point or provocation for the inquiry and then mapped how the inquiry unfolded with the students, noting significant events that were either turning points or high engagement points for the students.

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The teachers agreed that this was an interesting way to reflect on their studies with their students and a way to be mindful of what structures or events proved effective and engaging for our students.

At the end of the session, we discussed what would like to focus on next year in this group. Many teachers are interested in outdoor learning and looking at more interdisciplinary or environmental inquiry. The area of personal stories as well as stories of family and community was an area of interest. There was also discussion around documentation to support student inquiry and the way that technology might support that. Study group members will continue to cast their votes and we will see where next year takes us!


primary teachers study group: inquiry in science

Posted on: April 17th, 2016 by jnovakowski

In its thirteenth year, the Richmond Primary Teachers Study Group chooses a focus each year to guide their professional collaborative inquiry. This year, building on the focus on inquiry in BC’s redesigned curriculum, teachers wanted to investigate inquiry across curriculum areas and we’ve chosen one curriculum area as a focus for each term, with the second term focusing on science.

We did an overview of the science curriculum framework on the BC curriculum website, paying particular attention to the curricular competencies.

Anticipating (or hoping for) some winter weather, we shared some “winter books” that might inspire students to ask questions about the season, particularly during time outside.


This term we have four picture books to inspire inquiry in science – The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, Flashlight by Lizi Boyd, and Stella, Queen of the Snow by Marie-Louise Gay. The whole Stella series of books is excellent for modelling curiosity and asking questions, as Stella’s little brother is full of questions!




One of the articles we referred to that outlines a grade 3 teacher’s yearlong journey with inquiry is the following article from the NSTA journal Science and Children:

Inquiry Takes Time

The teacher/author describes three inquiry projects moving from structured to guided to open inquiry.

As a group, we co-constructed some inquiry-based experiences for our students and then shared how these went with our students at the next session. Unfortunately, we only had one very light dusting of snow this winter so teachers will be saving the snow books for next year!

Many teachers used the Flashlight book to use the structure “what do you notice? what do you wonder?” and to inspire students to play with and investigate the properties of light, darkness and shadows.


Our second session of the term was hosted in Louesa’ K classroom at Thompson as she usually has a science/nature provocation table…


Louesa shared some science inquiry projects she had been doing with her Kindergarten students, including looking closely at frost and noticing trees in their local environment.  Students also chose areas of interest to them and some of them engaged together in inquiries into rainbows or dinosaurs.

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As the weather warmed up, students have found worms and snails outside and have had lots of questions – Sharon and Stephanie have started inquiries with their students beginning with their questions about worms and snails. Louesa and her K students have been discussing “How are living things in our community connected to one another?” beginning with considering how to bring “life” into their classroom and what that living thing might need.

Many of the teachers’ science inquiries are very much focused on connecting to place, which will overlap nicely with our group’s third term focus on inquiry in social studies.


Science Jam 2016

Posted on: March 2nd, 2016 by jnovakowski

SJ 2016 logoThe Richmond School District is celebrating its thirteenth year of Science Jam, a featured event of Education Week.

Science Jam is BC’s largest non-competitive science fair, bringing together students in grades 4-7 from across our district to share their science inquiry projects. This year students from 11 schools participated choosing to do projects under three broad themes – environmental sustainability, going local and looking at the redesigned curriculum.

IMG_2732Two French Immersion students from William Bridge Elementary conducted the opening ceremonies with welcoming words from our mayor and superintendent, introduced our board of school trustees and honoured the event’s sponsors.




Science World started off Science Jam with a *bang* with a science surprises show.



And then it was time for our district’s young scientists to share their projects with “celebrity scientists”, parents, community members and each other.




A video with highlights of the event can be viewed HERE.


grade 2 science: forces and motion

Posted on: February 20th, 2016 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.

This month, the after school science series session focused on the grade 2 science curricular content of forces and motion. This is a content grade shift, most of which was previously at the grade 1 level but now with more emphasis on how forces affect motion.

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We looked at the big ideas, curricular competencies and content along with the elaborations and then considered ways the curriculum could become uncovered through investigating with materials



and supported with children’s information and fiction books.


The following are some resources to support this area of study:

Grade 2 Forces and Motion

Grade 2 Force and Motion Resources


more math days at Debeck

Posted on: February 9th, 2016 by jnovakowski

Debeck Elementary is in their second year of their math goal and they are using some of their innovation grant funding to bring in TTOCs to release teachers to observe lessons in each others’ classrooms. I come in and do a lesson with one class with other teachers observing and then we are able to debrief about what the teachers noticed and what they are wondering about at lunch time. I’ve been back twice in February.

During the first visit, three of the four classes began with a WODB (Which One Doesn’t Belong). This routine, similar to the Sesame Street favourite – one of these things is not like the other – presents the students with four objects, images or numbers and the students have to choose and then justify which one doesn’t belong. The twist is though that each object/image/number could be the one that doesn’t belong so students need to think carefully about the attributes and properties of each and be prepared to justify their choice. Justification and “proof” is a large part of mathematics and a routine like WODB strengthens students’ abilities in thinking in this way.

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In the grades 2&3 class and the grades 4&5 class we began with the WODB above. The instant reaction is that 9 doesn’t belong because it is the only single-digit number but as students dig deeper and talk to each other, they uncover properties of all the numbers. The students were talking about prime and composite numbers, multiples, division, odd and even, patterns they noticed, square numbers and we even discussed digital sums.

In the grade 4&5 class, the students then created their own WODBs and had others solve them and in the grade 2&3 class, we moved on to a number talk.


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In the grade 6&7 class, the students had begun learning about circle graphs so I put up the following WODB and very rich discussion ensued.

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I then asked the students what the graphs could be about. They chose one of the graphs from the WODB and added a title/question, labels and a legend. Some students added an explanation or analysis.

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A Canadian math educator curates submissions of WODBs here:

One of the Debeck teachers commented on what a rich routine this was for getting students to think outside the box and to not just focus on getting an answer quickly, something that our students unfortunately often have a focus on in mathematics.

On my second visit, the four classes all focused on math journalling as communicating mathematical thinking is part of the school goal. We always begin with a number talk or a chance for students to turn and talk to each other for “oral rehearsal” as a way to sort out their thinking before they are asked to draw, diagram, write. When moving to a math journal, the phrase “use pictures, numbers and words to show your thinking” is part of the mathematical norms in the classroom.

In one of the grades 6&7 classes, we looked at the big idea of equivalence, as the students were studying algebra. I began with a prompt on the board and asked students to do a quiet write, responding to the questions. The majority of the students responded similarly in that they described the equals sign as what the answer to a math question goes after.


We played around with the order of different equations (with the = symbol in different locations within the equation) and then used the number balance to highlight the idea of equivalence. One student looked at me and said – “I get it, each side needs to stay balanced.” We then asked the students to add to their previous explanation or definition but using a different colour so we could see how their thinking had changed.




I returned to one of the grades 4&5 classes to look at a string of multiplication questions in a number talk and then have students choose from some related questions to record their strategies for in their math journals. Always popular, the students were invited to add to the “math graffiti” board for these questions.

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With the grade 1 class we did some more Flash It games with the ten frame cards – this time adding Make 11 and Make 12, building on Make 10 that we had done before. We begin by doing a quick review of all cards with the students calling out the value of each ten frame and then for the next round instead of the value they call out the amount needed to Make 10. Today we moved to Make 11, bridging over 10 and we modelled this using the large magnetic ten frame first. The students did really well with Make 11! Make 12 proved to be a bit hard for them to visualize quickly for a Flash It type game and we need to continue to work on those strategies that help students decompose numbers into parts to make ten and then some.

We then moved onto the focus problem of the day – What different ways can you make 10? And we asked students to focus on using ten frames as one of their strategies. I was happy to see some students playing around with three and four parts of 10.

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In one of the kindergarten classes, the students were stars with the ten frames and then I modelled stories about 10 using ten peg dolls I happened to have in my bag. We talked about different stories involving 10 people – watching a movie was a favourite example, going on a bus, train or airplane and other examples were shared by the students. The students then thought about a number story they could tell and chose “loose parts” to work with. This is a class that engages in story workshop with materials and the students quickly took to the idea of math stories. Some students chose to record their stories in their math journals.


“ten guys climbing all over each other – like at the circus”

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Over the two mornings at Debeck, we tried to stay focused on lessons that developed and valued mathematical thinking, considering the curricular competencies of our redesigned curriculum here in BC – reasoning, analyzing, solving, communicating, representing and connecting. Students made “math to math connections” as they shared and compared their strategies or approaches to their classmates or to other mathematical topics. Students were given various opportunities to communicate – with materials, orally to a partner or small group or in whole class discussion or by using pictures, number and words in their math journals.

Until my next visit…




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