Archive for the ‘looking closely’ Category

looking for math outdoors

Posted on: January 4th, 2017 by jnovakowski

During my last visit of the year to the Kindergarten classes at General Currie Elementary, it was a snowy and icy day so we decided to venture outdoors with some iPads to capture images of things that inspired our mathematical thinking. We had a quick talk with the students about how to look for math outdoors – looking up, looking down, looking all around. We talked about what math might look like outdoors – the counting of items, the shape of things, patterns in the environment, as well as sources of inspiration for thinking about math.

One of the first mathematical ideas we played with was shadows – how does your position affect your shadow? what determines the height of your shadow? what do we need to think about if we wanted to put our shadows in height order?

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As with the case of all our school sites…there is a story that lives there. General Currie was one of the first one room school houses on what was originally called Lulu Island. We stopped briefly at the historic building that is still on the new school’s site and talked about the time elapsed – what school might have been like, what the neighbourhood might have looked like, etc.

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We ventured on to the field and took photos as we walking along noticing nests in trees, tracks in the snow, all sorts of ice and frozen leaves.

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The ice was a source of fascination and many questions for the students. They were also very interested in some footprints they found and wondered about the size of different footprints or tracks.

We came back into the classroom and the students used the app Skitch with one of the photographs they took. They labelled, circled or used arrows to show where they noticed math or what inspired a mathematical problem or question.

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Classroom teacher Kelly Shuto then showed some of the students “skitches” to the class to inspire further questions.

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The following week Kelly tweeted out about the class photo book they had created, based on the idea “What math lives here?”


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In this crisp wintery weather, what will your students notice outdoors? What math lives in the frozen puddles and tracks through the snow? How far do animals need to travel to find food? What might your students wonder about?


primary teachers study group: second session

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by jnovakowski

A summary of our first primary teachers study group session and goals for the year can be found HERE.

For our second session of the school year, the primary teachers study group met at the Richmond Nature Park. We read and discussed the story of this place and learned about the formation of the bog environment and the uniqueness of this ecosystem. We connected this to the video of the formation of the delta from the online Musqueam teachers resource developed by the MOA and the Musqueam Nation which can be found HERE.



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We visited different parts of the Nature Park, thinking about how we could engage students in different spaces. The Nature Park has a covered area with picnic benches for eating or journalling as well as other seating areas.

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Another favourite spot is the bird watching area where there are many bird feeders set up that are visited by a variety of birds and squirrels. Makes for excellent observing and a chance look closely at animal behaviour! I like to take video to share with students after a trip to “re-live” and discuss what they noticed.



We walked through along the board walk and took a short trail loop to notice and talk about the variety of trees and plants in the park and ways to engage students. We also bounced on the bog!


One of the plants we looked closely at was Labrador Tea, a common local bog plant, turning the leaves over to help identify it. Traditional local indigenous uses for this plant include making a tea infusion to treat colds and sore throats.


We looked at the variety of bat and bird houses and discussed these as a great ADST project for students to consider and design based on the needs of their local environment. “Bug hotels” or pollinator houses are another design option as well for school garden spaces.


As it got dark, we visited the Nature House where one of the staff members shared some interesting information about local snakes with us.


Teachers who have brought classes to the Nature Park shared some of their experiences and the Blair team shared how they were doing a self-guided trip with three classes the following week and were doing three different inquiry-based stations during their trip.

We will be meeting again in January, registration is still open on the Richmond Professional Learning Events site.

I am curious what sort of questions our students are having about the impact of the snow and cold on the living things around their schools?


primary teachers study group: intro to environmental inquiry

Posted on: October 17th, 2016 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

Last week, Richmond’s primary teachers study group began its fourteenth year of coming together as a group of teachers to investigate an area of interest through sharing, discussion and collaborative inquiry. After a year of looking at inquiry-based approaches to teaching and learning in three specific curricular areas last year, the group voted to look at a more interdisciplinary approach to inquiry this year, choosing environmental inquiry. Teachers also wanted to examine different ways to document and make student learning visible during inquiry.

For our first session of the year, we met in Anna Nachbar’s and Deanna Mayotte’s classroom spaces at McNeely. Anna and Deanna have been teaching grades 2&3 together for several years but this year have been able to move to a shared space of two rooms and a co-teaching model. Anna shared their thinking and process and how they have focused on the learning environment and noticing how students are responding to is and making adjustments. They have a variety of choices for flexible seating and spaces for students to collaborate. The students and teachers have also been spending a lot of time outside, gathering from their school garden and spending time in their wooded area at the school. The class has been spending time looking closely and using different art materials as they do observational drawing.


Several different professional resources and children’s books were displayed for teachers to look at and then we came together in a circle to discuss the format of the study group for some of our new members and for teachers to share some of the things they have been trying regarding outdoor learning.

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The Outdoor Learning book list can be downloaded here: ptsg-outdoor-learning-resources-book-list

The group of us then walked outside and through the school’s wooded area, stopping and looking closely, considering and sharing different ways to engage students in observing aspects of the outdoors. A first step to engaging in environmental inquiry is nurturing a connectedness to the natural world. Students need to feel connected in order to care about the environment and take action to protect it.

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We noticed such a variety of trees, plants and fungi growing in this small area as well as traces of human activity – cleared paths, clearing of some areas, garbage. What might our students notice? What might they wonder about?

Teachers left with ideas for different ways for their students to interact and connect to the environment and thoughts about ways to find natural spaces and living things in their school area for their students to begin to see as learning spaces. When we meet again in November, we will share what we have been trying and ways we are beginning to document our learning experiences outside.


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.


looking closely: the power of observation in early science experiences

Posted on: October 24th, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Friday afternoon, as part of BC’s PSA day, I presented a session at the BCScTA conference at Cambie Secondary here in Richmond. I shared some inquiry projects we have been working on in Richmond primary classes focusing on “looking closely” and investigating science outdoors.


The following is the handout shared at the session:

Looking Closely BCSCTA 2014


observing and wondering about worms

Posted on: May 25th, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Friday, I joined Karen Sato’s and Marisa Quan’s grade 1 classes at Blair for a morning of investigating worms. My morning at Blair was part of an ongoing collaborative inquiry with the primary teachers, considering ways for students to represent and share their science learning through note booking, with a focus of connecting to the outdoor environment.

In each class we began with some wonder questions…having the students think about what they were curious about. We talked about what questions we could find out answers to by observing the worms and how we might need to consult a worm expert to find answers to some of their questions.

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It was a rainy day and the students at Blair are usually easily able to find many many worms on a rainy day. But Friday, they were nowhere to be found. The students speculated that they were hiding or at school or maybe on vacation 😉


We were persistent (like scientists sometimes have to be) and dug down deep in the garden and found some worms! The students looked closely at the worms in small groups, using magnifying glasses if they wanted to.

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The students tried to find the worms’ eyes and mouths and were captivated by the way the worms moved and how they felt.

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One student, who seemed perplexed by all of our talk of how the worms felt asked me if worms had feelings. I told him that was such a big question and that scientists are always trying to investigate what other animals are able to feel and think. He really wanted to know though and so I explained that I didn’t think that worms had feelings of sadness and happiness like we do but they could feel things that were soft or rough or dark or light and maybe sense if danger was coming, like when they come up from underground when it is raining so they don’t drown.

The students recorded their observations, where they searched for the worm and further questions they had. We also read a short article on worms from the Kids versions of worldbookonline. This answered some of the students’ questions and raised more questions for them!

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The following link takes you to a short Animoto video of the students’ observations of worms.


observations at the pond with K/1

Posted on: May 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

The K/1 students at Blair visited the pond at Thompson Community Centre to look closely at the seasonal changes happening there and to record some of their observations. We reviewed what it meant to make observations…to look closely, to zoom in, to notice details, to stay awhile and not rush around. The students used the magnifying glasses and loupes to get up close to some of the plants around the pond. They were excited to look for some moving living things and found success near the end of our visit when a large water strider made its way across the pond.

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While we were at the pond, the students recorded what they noticed…some focused on one or two things while others tried to capture everything they saw!

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Back in the classroom, the students added some colour to their drawings and we had the discussion around observing and recording like a scientist…for example, What colour was that flower you drew? You may want it to be purple because that’s your favourite colour, but if a scientist recorded what she saw, she would try and capture the exact colour of that yellow flower that we observed.



noticing and comparing plants at Blair

Posted on: May 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

IMG_1038I visited Blair at the end of April and worked with the grades 2 & 3 students in Daisy Khare’s class. The students were beginning to learn about plants and we decided it was an ideal time to go outside and look closely at the school’s new garden beds. Some of the other classes’ plantings were growing so well already.


This gave us a great opportunity to discuss looking closely at plants – noticing the colours, the textures, the lines, the shapes, the markings, the size, etc. The students were asked to choose two different plants to observe and notice what was the same and what was different about them. The students enjoyed using magnifying glasses and loupes to really zoom in on the details.

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IMG_1027 IMG_1019 IMG_1018 IMG_1010The students took their science notebooks outside with them and recorded their observations with drawings and words. We left it up to the students how they would do this.

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It was interesting to listen in on some of the students’ conversations. Many of them wondered what the plants were exactly and looked for clues (like plant markers with the names on them!) to help them out. They were excited to see bright red radishes bulging up through the soil. One student noticed the tendrils on the pea plants and wondered what they were for.


This led to other questions from the students and they began recording their questions in their notebooks alongside their observations.

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We came back inside for students to focus on the recording of their experience in their science notebooks. It was impressive to see the variety of formats the students chose to show their learning.

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This experience for the students was connected to the primary teachers’ professional collaborative inquiry looking at taking science outdoors and making students’ learning visible through science notebooking.


primary scientists professional learning series

Posted on: April 20th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Last Tuesday after school, a group of primary teachers gathered in Pauline’s Stephenson’s grades 1/2 classroom at Brighouse for our final Primary Scientists professional learning series session of the year. The series has focused on the assessment of performance-based and process oriented science experiences and this session’s focus was on incorporating indigenous knowledge as we connect students to the outdoors through place-based learning experiences. Several resources were shared, many from Strong Nations publishing.

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The local salmonberry bushes are in bloom. Salmonberries are one of only a few berries that are native to Richmond and are the first berries to come into season, usually in June. We are beginning to create an ethnobotany resource for K-12 Richmond science teachers to provide information about local plants and their traditional uses by the Coast Salish peoples.

Since this was our last session in this series, teachers also brought something to share to celebrate their personal areas of professional focus in science this year. Karen Sato from Blair shared an animoto she created documenting a spring walk with her class, highlighting Blair’s focus on place-based learning and getting outdoors. Tanyia Kusch, also from Blair, shared some rock investigations her students did, inspired by the picture book this  group received at our last session in February, If You Find a Rock.

Pauline Stephenson from Brighouse shared the documental panels she created, highlighting several areas of focus from our series – getting outside, process-based science experiences and observational drawing.





The primary team from Ferris has been working outside in their school garden with their K students and have been documenting their experiences using the app PicCollage on the school’s iPads.

Terra McKenzie from Errington shared some of the looking closely photos she has taken with her class using the zoomy digital microscope. Here is a photo of the surface of a leaf on one of their Spuds in Tubs potato plants. Looking closely for sure!

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Louesa Byrne from Thompson shared a series of the documentation panels she has created and shared with her students and parents to help make the students’ science learning visible.

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This has been an inspiring series, with lots of collaboration and sharing amongst colleagues. Here’s hoping that it can continue next year as we look ahead to our redesigned curriculum and assessment frameworks in BC!


documenting the components of soil

Posted on: April 19th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I made my monthly visit to McNeely last Monday to work the grades 2/3 teachers on their collaborative inquiry in using iPad technology to enhance students’ learning in science.

As part of the classes’ study of air, water and soil, I led a discussion with the students about the four main components of soil – air, water, organic matter and inorganic matter. The students were able to give example of what they might find in the soil outside that is organic and inorganic. Then, we went outside and collected a soil sample from the school’s garden plot. The students had great fun digging in the soil, trying to find some interesting specimens to add to their sample.

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Upon return to the classrooms, the students looked closely at their soil samples, using magnifying glasses and loupes and using the zoom feature of the iPad camera.

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The students took some really interesting photographs with the iPads.

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The students used the app PicCollage to document their observations, including examples of both organic and inorganic matter.



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Pairs of students that were finished their PicCollage page then used the ShowMe app to explain the difference between organic and inorganic matter.




We are hoping to add a new app or two to the schools’ iPads in May so that we can add one more app to the students’ repertoire of apps they can use to document their learning.