Archive for the ‘science’ Category

grade 2 science: water

Posted on: December 13th, 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.

Our second session (which we held two of due to high demand) looked at the grade 2 earth and space science content of water. Each teacher received a lovely picture book called Water is Water, which along with a narrative that takes the reader through the water cycle, provides factual information of water in our world. The content within the curriculum focuses on sources of water and the the water cycle. For our session, we focused on the question, What is the story of water?




Several books were shared that would complement this area of study.


As  group, we began compiling ideas and building off of each other’s ideas to think about this study might unfold in our classrooms. We made connections to the Fraser River, weather in our region, BC Hydro and other local resources.   A Richnet contact list was created so that we could share resources and ideas.



We discussed different ways that students might provide evidence of their learning  – taking photographs outside or during indoor simulations or experiments, constructing models, etc, and I am looking  forward to tweeting out what some of our students share with us!

Grade 2 Water – curriculum information

Grade 2 Water Resources – links and book list

Water is a Treasure – Canadian Government resource


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



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.


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.


updated curriculum frameworks – August 2015

Posted on: August 16th, 2015 by jnovakowski

New revisions to the BC mathematics and science curriculum frameworks for K-9 were posted online mid-August.

You can find them HERE. Significant revisions to note:

1) For mathematics, the curricular competencies are the same K-5 and then a slightly different version for 6-9.

2) For mathematics, the BIG IDEAS for K-5 are now in two parts. The first part is the same across the grades and the second part (after the colon) is specific to the grade level.

3) For mathematics, the content part of the learning standards has been given a bit more detail but the elaborations are still to come (they will appear when you hover over the content).

4) For science, there are some revisions to content and the elaborations (hover over) have been extended.

5) For science, the big ideas include inquiry questions to lead to investigation of the big ideas. Hover over the big ideas to see these.

6) For science, the curricular competencies have a detailed explanation of the concept of place – hover over the word place at the bottom of this section for this to pop up. At some of the grade levels, there are other terms in the curricular competencies that are similarly explained.

There are other revised and new documents posted on the site as well.

Also, pdf versions can be found BC math learning_standards August 2015 and BC Science_learning_standards August 2015.


summer professional reading and opportunities

Posted on: June 24th, 2015 by jnovakowski 2 Comments

Thought I would share some of the professional books I have on my summer reading list and yes, of course I hope to dive in to some fiction as well!


Learning by Choice: 10 Ways Choice and Differentiation Create an Engaged Learning Experience for Every Student by A. J. Juliani

50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom by Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller – I follow Alice Keeler on twitter and she always has great tips 

Let’s Find Out!: Building Content Knowledge with Young Children by Susan Kempton

Building Proportional Reasoning Across Grades and Math Strands, K-8, by Marian Small – I read anything by fellow Canadian Marian Small, always learn something new

Doing What Scientists Do: Children Learn to Investigate Their World by Ellen Doris

Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding, Grades 4-10, by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker – Number Talks have taken off in our district and I’m looking forward to reading another perspective on this practice

Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions by Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz – we bought a set of this book for teachers in the district to read over the summer and participate in a slow chat on twitter, using the hashtag #intenttalk

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica – it’s Sir Ken, enough said

Math is a Verb: Activities and Lessons from Cultures Around the World by Jim Barta, Ron Eglash and Cathy Barkley (NCTM)

Critical Maths for Innovative Societies: The Role of Metacognitive Pedagogies by Zemira Mevarech and Bracha Kramarski (OECD)

Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools by Ron Ritchart – a group of Richmond educators attended a series with Ron Richart this year and I am looking forward to reading his latest book that continues to focus on thinking.

Another new book that is not in the photograph is Creating Thinking Classrooms, published by the Critical Thinking Consortium here  in BC. I have a long history with TC2 and respect the work of Roland Case immensely. I’m looking forward to making connections to our redesigned curriculum with this book.


There are all sorts of professional learning opportunities over the summer. Check in the External Pro-D Opportunities conference on Richnet for more information. I have listed two that may be of interest below:

As part of the Festival of Forestry, there are two Forestry Tours this summer, one on Vancouver Island and one in the Lower Mainland. More info can be found HERE.

There is a K-3 Institute at the University of Victoria from Augsust 17-19. More information can be found HERE.

And for those of you that are thinking ahead to the Provincial PSA Day in October, you can check out the BCTF site HERE for more information.

Specifically, the BCAMT is hosting the Northwest Mathematics in Whistler – for more information and to register, go HERE.

The BCScTA is having their annual Catalyst conference in Richmond – more information and registration can be found HERE.

Have a restful and adventure-filled summer!


cedar weaving

Posted on: June 17th, 2015 by jnovakowski

Back in April, the Richmond School District’s Aboriginal Education department hosted Alice Guss of the Squamish Nation for a morning of cedar weaving. Alice is an artist, storyteller and drummer and has been involved in the field of education for over twenty years. She does workshops around the world in drum making and weaving.

More information about Alice can be found HERE.

We invited Alice back to Richmond as part of our National Aboriginal Day celebrations and this week she worked with two of our QTL (Playful Storytelling through First Peoples  Principles) classes at Steves and then joined teachers from the project after school.

Kathleen Paiger’s kindergarten class and Ellen Reid’s grades 1 and 2 class at Steves Elementary listened to Alice singing and drumming and learned about how cedar is harvested for the purposes of weaving and making practical items and regalia. Alice shared some of items that are made from different parts of the cedar tree.



The students learned how to weave a cedar bookmark and they were quite interested in the texture and smell of the wood.

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The students then enjoyed listening to Alice’s stories and she said them in some dancing to her drumming, with the students taking on different animal roles.


After school, a group of teachers involved in our QTL project along with some other interested educators, came together. Alice shared her family’s history and we learned about the story of The Chief in Squamish and  of the two-headed serpent, a story important to the Squamish people. The teachers then learned more about the importance of cedar and how cedar trees that have been culturally modified (stripped for cultural purposes) can not be cut down by logging companies. An article about culturally modified trees can be found HERE.






The teachers learned how to weave a small cedar basket. There was lots to be learned during the process about persistence and learning new things and also about the natural properties of the cedar. The completed projects were cherished by the teachers and were all one of a kind.


It was an honour to have Alice join us in Richmond again and we hope to have her back again next year!


diversity of life inquiry at Lee

Posted on: June 11th, 2015 by jnovakowski

During third term, I have spent part of Thursday mornings at Lee Elementary, learning with Sandy Rasoda and her grades 6 & 7 students. Sandy has been teaching this grade level for many years and asked me if we could look at a science unit she has traditionally done by using the science text book and instead, look at the topic of  “diversity of life” through an inquiry-based approach.

I looked at the three prescribed learning outcomes for this life sciences topic for grade 6:

•demonstrate the appropriate use of tools to examine living things that cannot be seen with the naked eye

• analyse how different organisms adapt to their environments

• distinguish between life forms as single or multi-celled organisms and belonging to one of five kingdoms: Plantae, Animalia, Monera, Protista, Fungi

After looking at the learning outcomes, I tried to think about the big ideas we needed to get to and what experiences we might provide to the students to help them get there.

On my first visit to the class, we had a short discussion about what makes a living thing a living thing and then went for a walk in the neighbourhood looking for different examples of living things.The students were very curious about the names of many of the plants we found in gardens and along the ditches. We were lucky to hear a frog croaking and to see mushrooms, lichen and moss just outside the school. I took photographs along the way.

What makes a living thing a living thing?

What living things can we observe in our community?

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When we got back to the classroom the students recorded the living things they observed and added questions they were wondering about.

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The next week, I brought a ditch dipper so that we could collect some water samples along with other specimens to look at with magnifying glasses and microscopes. We had petri dishes and pipettes available and there is something about using real science equipment that elevates students’ engagement. We discussed the difference between viewing something with the “naked eye” and with a magnifier of some sort. The students were  hesitant with the microscopes and had difficulties adjusting the focus and had to move the illuminator around to get enough light. The students recorded their observations, comparing what they could see with and without a magnifier/microscope.

What tools can we use to examine living things?

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During another class, I gave each group of students a set of photographs of different living things we had observed outside. I read a simple picture book introducing the big idea of classification and the five kingdoms and then the groups worked together to sort their photographs into kingdoms. During this task, the idea of sub-categories within a kingdom emerged and students began to consider how to categorize different types of plants and animals by their features. We had given the students the three learning outcomes on a sheet of paper at the beginning of our study and they had this in their science notebooks and used it to record notes and new learning during our investigations.

How do we classify living things?


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In-between my visits Sandy provided opportunities to extend their learning about both microscopes and the kingdoms and were given choices as to how they might show what they had learned. Some students did powerpoint presentations, some did booklets or posters and some use movie apps on the iPad to create their presentations. The students had opportunities to teach another grades 6&7 class how to use the microscopes as well as one of the primary classes in the school. Sandy was clearly able to see that they “got it” and this just came from repeated experiences actually using the microscope.

We had such great weather this spring and during one of my visits, Sandy suggested we take the microscopes outside to the picnic benches. The students learned how to safely carry the microscopes and their confidence was growing. One student even commented how great it would be to have a fine adjustment on the microscopes – they were learning the different functions of the microscope and its potential. The students looked at previously collected specimens and also found some new ones to examine.

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We also looked at some amazing images taken through microscopes, including some amazing electron microscopes


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We then used a Zoomy digital microscope to take our own images of various specimens, including a fly the students found in a windowsill and a ladybug and spiderlings the students brought in from outside.

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Using some local examples and examples from recent news items, we discussed how living things have adaptations, focusing on structural and behavioural adaptations. Using the app HaikuDeck, the students created a slideshow of what they had learned about different adaptations.

How do living things adapt to their environment?


The following is one pair of students’ project.

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Animal Adaptations – E.K & N.S

I brought in glass slides and cover slips, tweezers and pipettes so that students could prepare their own slides to view under the microscope.




The students also has an opportunity to view prepared slides under the microscope, including microscopic organisms from the Protista and Monera kingdoms.

What do microscopic organisms look like? 

At the beginning of June, we asked the students to consider a mini-ecosystem or habitat in the neighbourhood and we went outside with the iPads to take some photographs. The students were asked to synthesize what they had learned about the classification of living things as well as adaptations.

What have you learned about living things in our community?

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The minimum criteria for this project was to include living things from two different kingdoms and highlight an adaptation. The students could choose from using the Skitch or Popplet apps.

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The following are some examples of the students’ projects:


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Throughout this experience I have heard comments from students such as “science is so fun!” and of course this makes my heart sing a little. Learning can be fun…complex concepts and big thinking can be fun. Meaningful engagement with any content begins with the students…where will they find connections? what will make this learning important and purposeful to them?

I think we got there with this class. High engagement and students able to fluently discuss concepts such as the classification of living things and structural and behaviour adaptations of animals and plants in their neighbourhood. The students were all able to confidently use a microscope and teach other students from other classes about how to use a microscope.

 “This unit traditionally for me would be a ‘textbook’ unit with possibly one or two experiments.  Instead, Janice took us on nature walks where we were out in our environment exploring and learning about Living Things.  The students eagerly found specimens they brought back to look at through the microscopes.  Every lesson was a hands on lesson where the students questions led them to finding answers and solutions through experimenting with materials from the real world.  It was great for me to see how much the kids “loved” being scientists.” ~Sandy


learning about electricity with squishy circuits

Posted on: June 7th, 2015 by jnovakowski

We are continuing to pilot three Squishy Circuits in our district and this spring I was invited to use them with intermediate students at Homma and Blundell.

We opened with a short discussion around what the students already know about electricity. I then gave each group of three students a battery pack, 3 LEDs and a ball of conductive playdough and asked the students to examine the three components and then see what they could find out. The students usually place the LEDs in the ball of playdough, insert the positive and negative wires from the battery pack, turn the battery pack on then go hmmm, wondering why the lights don’t go on. It’s hard not to jump in but part of the inquiry process is for the students to problem solve and think through the different variables that could be the issue. Sometimes, if students seem really stalled and I think its because they might not have enough background knowledge, I sometimes prompt them to think about flow of electrons.




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Once the first group of students gets the LEDs to light up, this sends off a reaction in the class and the students get curious about what others have done. A conversation about the concept of the “path of least resistance” is really important here for students to understand the flow of the current. Some students want to know more about series and parallel circuits and use the materials to investigate this. I pass out beepers and motors to add another opportunity for students to investigate different ways of creating circuits.

Once students see the possibilities of using squishy circuits, the creative possibilities open up.


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More information about Squishy Circuits, including recipes for the conductive and insulating playdoughs, can be found here.


transforming learning series – March 2015

Posted on: March 11th, 2015 by jnovakowski

This week, the consultants and coordinators (CNC…Richmond loves its acronyms) from our school district have shared a series focusing on the redesigned curriculum. Teams of teachers from each elementary and secondary school are provided TTOC release to attend these sessions. This is the third series we have had and is our district’s commitment to supporting teachers with awareness of the redesigned curriculum.

The curriculum website can be found HERE.

We present in teams and I have had the pleasure of working with Lorraine Minosky, literacy teacher consultant and Diane Tijman, district curriculum coordinator for ELL and Multiculturalism.

After an overview of the website and major themes in the curriculum, we asked educators the question:

What do we want the children we teach to be like when they are adults?

Diane led the participants in a Silent Chalk Talk as they recorded their ideas, then rotated and connected and built on to the ideas of others.

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This task always leads nicely into discussing the core competencies, a foundational piece of the redesigned curriculum. After a discussion of what the curricular and assessment parts look like, we broke into groups to look closely at aspects of the curriculum, in an EdCamp style.


We ended the morning with school teams having a time to talk and plan how they are going to move forward towards the redesigned curriculum – choosing one aspect to focus on.

Documents we shared during our session today included:

14-15 Transforming Learning prof learning

Curriculum Redesign Update Winter

Trans Curric Math Overview May 2014

Trans Curric Science Overview May 2014

Trans Curric Lang Arts Overview Nov 2014

Trans Curric Social Studies Oct 2014