Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

what we know about patterning at grades 5&6

Posted on: October 31st, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Thursday morning, I visited Gillian Ewart’s grades 5&6 class at McNeely to work with the students around sharing their learning with technology. The class has moved on to investigating patterns. I explained that I had just been in a Kindergarten class where the students had been learning about repeating patterns. I asked Gillian’s students to explain to me what they meant by patterns. Students mentioned the terms input/output, expressions and “plus-ing numbers” with an example of a pattern rule of “starting at 2 plus 4” with the number sequence of 2, 6, 10, 14, 18… and were able to use the terms increasing and decreasing patterns.

The students knew about t-charts and terms and what “n” stood for in an expression so I wrote the expression 2n + 1 on the whiteboard and asked the students to represent that expression using materials.

The different representations the students created reflected the materials they used. Some students wanted to replicate a t-chart and label the terms of their patterns, often using the materials to do so, like the photo on the right below.

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The photo on the left above shows how one student showed the “plus one” in each term but turning over the two-sided counter to show the yellow side. After sharing his example, we introduced the term constant. A growing vocabulary of mathematics language is associated with this topic of study.


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The students took a gallery walk around the class to see how other students represented the expression and thinking about “how is this the same as my representation? how is it different?” Next, the students were asked to think of an expression that they wanted to represent, choose their materials and represent the first four or five terms. Some students chose whiteboards or paper to create t-charts to solve for their expressions to support them as they built their representations. The students then took a photo with their iPads, labelled the photo using the Skitch app and then explained their pattern using ShowMe, submitting their screencasts to the class account.

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Some examples of their screencasts follow. These were their first attempts at orally sharing their understanding around number patterns and we asked the students to include as much of the specific math vocabulary as they could. We are considering these screencasts “first drafts” as most of the students just focused one part of a bigger explanation about their patterns. (please note that the sd38blogs platform is having difficulties with links to videos or embedding videos…here are the URLs for now until we get things sorted out)

For many students at this age, they become self-conscious sharing their thinking in large group discussions. Today we noticed the students were comfortable during the gallery walk where their models spoke for themselves and that the students are growing more comfortable recording their voices on the iPads. As a follow-up, some students will share their screencasts using the projector in the class and there will be another gallery walk where students need to figure out their classmates’ expressions, as expressed in their representations.



using visual tools to support early numeracy

Posted on: October 24th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I had the pleasure on the BC PSA day on Friday to share some of the work we are doing in Richmond in the area of early numeracy at the BCAMT fall conference in Surrey. My presentation shared the ways visual tools support strong number sense, the foundation of computational fluency. Examples of using Reggio-inspired practices, number talks and the use of iPad technology were shared from Richmond classrooms.


The handout with links and resources can be accessed through the following link:

BCAMT 2014 handout

Thanks to the many teachers attending my session for their contributions to our thinking and learning. Apologies to those of you who were crammed into the room, standing along the periphery or on the floor!


thinking about decimal fractions in grades 5&6

Posted on: October 22nd, 2014 by jnovakowski

I have spent two Thursday mornings in Gillian Ewart’s grades 5 & 6 class working with the students as they learn about decimal numbers (tenths, hundredths, thousandths) and how to represent them. Students at this grade level need a strong understanding of tenths and hundredths and then should be able to generalize this understanding to thousandths, ten thousandths, etc. Taking the time to work with concrete materials and visual tools to represent these numbers helps to develop strong conceptual understanding and sense about these numbers that will support students when they begin to apply operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing) to these numbers.

The iPad app, Skitch, was introduced as a way for students to capture representations of decimal numbers. The students took photographs of hundred grids in the classroom and then used the drawing and text tools within the app. The students saved their images to the iPad’s photo album.

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The students were then introduced to the screencasting app, ShowMe, and students were asked to show what they knew about decimal fractions/numbers by using the images they created in Skitch and then annotating the images further as they narrated their screencasts. Gillian quickly set up a class account on so the students could log in and save their screencasts to a shared site.



An example of one of the students first tries at a screencast is posted below:

A mathematics-based app that students used to start up their mathematical thinking at the beginning of our second session was Math Tappers: Numberline (an iPhone app). Students chose a range of numbers they felt comfortable working with and a type of numberline (different types of reference points) and then had to place a decimal number where they thought it should go. The students receive feedback as they play. The whole series of Math Tappers apps is excellent and they were developed by University of Victoria professors so they are particularly well suited to our curriculum.

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Next, we introduced the app Number Pieces. The students had been working on representing decimal numbers using base ten blocks and this app has students work with base ten blocks as a virtual manipulative and label and annotate their representations. The students then either used the Number Pieces app or a photo of a concrete representation with base ten blocks to import an image into ShowMe. The students then created a short screencast (we gave them an upper limit of one minute this time) to share their understanding of representing decimal numbers.

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By doing some oral rehearsal before recording, the students are getting more comfortable in communicating their mathematical understanding. The classroom teacher, Gillian Ewart has commented on the insights she gets into her students’ understanding and misconceptions as she listens to and views the screencasts which provide valuable information to plan what comes next in planning her instruction.


introducing Osmo

Posted on: September 27th, 2014 by jnovakowski 1 Comment

After seeing some early investors post about Osmo on twitter, I jumped on board and pre-ordered one. Osmo is an interactive system for the iPad using the camera to create Reflective Artificial Intelligence. The three free apps work with a reflector and base to create an interactive play environment. The Osmo is recommended for children ages 6-12. Osmo has two tag lines:

Play on the iPad with real people and real objects.

Osmo promotes social intelligence and creative thinking.

More information can be found here:

I opened my box and found three boxes of components.


I loaded the apps from the iTunes story, put my iPad in the base (you have to take any cases or covers off your iPad) and slipped on the reflector over the camera.


and we were ready to go!

First up was Tangram. The puzzles have difficulty options – the pieces are shown in colour, or in black and grey or just outlines. As you place the pieces in front of the iPad, the game provides feedback as to when you have the piece in the correct place and orientation. Great feedback provided as you play and overall, just a great visual-spatial play experience.



Next we tried Words. A beautiful photograph comes up on the screen and you are prompted with the number of letters in the word and then have to choose the letter tiles to spell the word. The letter tiles don’t have to placed in correct spelling order, the app reads the letter and places the letter in the correct spot in the word. If you place a letter tile out that is not in the word, it fills a spot at the top of the screen to show you what letter you have used incorrectly. This game can be played by yourself or versus friends and gets progressively more difficult. A great game for word work.


The last game we tried was Newton. There are not any physical components to go with this app but I personally found this one the most creative and engaging. Visual-spatial problem solving, physics and pinball wizardry all play a part in this amazing interactive experience. You begin with a plain white piece of paper and the reflector reads whatever you draw or place on the paper. Balls start to drop from the top of the screen and you need to direct them to their targets. It is a little mind-boggling at first to see your hand appear on the iPad screen as a line drawing. I also placed my phone down and it “read” that and created an image – I used it to bounce balls off of like a pinball machine. All the adults around me were amazed by Newton – lots of great interactive fun and learning to be had here!


The current price is $80 and a reflector and base would be needed for each iPad which makes Osmo a little pricey for classroom use but on the upside, it is such a social, interactive game that can be placed upright on a table so that a group of 4-6 children can easily stand around and play together.

I’m looking forward to seeing what new apps and play experiences this new company comes up with!



littleBits design projects

Posted on: May 8th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I spent three Wednesday afternoons at Blair working with teacher-librarian and resource teacher April Chan and a primary group of students that were working on inquiry projects.

Our first day together the students investigated littleBits and what they could do. One student exclaimed right away, “oh, they are magnetic!” I think it is so much more worthwhile for students to discover this themselves than for me to tell them ahead of time that the littleBits are magnetic and other things they are able to do.




One student read the battery (not realizing it was a battery because of its bright purple colour) and said, “It says juice. Juice is like energy. I think this could attach to this (connecting power wire and bit). It says on and off (reading the power bit). Can I touch the switch? The light goes on! Hey, it’s shaking! (as she realizes the connected DC motor is vibrating on the table).” I love that this student was articulating her discoveries as she went, and I was able to document them.




I asked the students to share what they had learned about littleBits so far and their responses were:

“They are magnetic.”

“The juice makes things happen.”

“The order of the bits matters.”

The primary group were  able to synthesize their findings into big ideas…pretty impressive.

Then, we watched a short video from the littleBits website to inspire the students for the following week as they began to create their own projects.

During the second session, students worked on their own or in partnerships to create something that does something. Some students began by drawing their plans while others jumped right into making something, testing as they went.

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The students were asked to record their design plan so that they could replicate it the following week.


Here is a short video highlighting some of the students’ experiences:

Day 2 littleBits primary inquiry group

During our final session together, the students were to re-create their projects by following their plans. One partnership had their flying bird working in no time and decided to add a nest to their project.



One boy abandoned his robot arm project and decided to try something new, inspired by the mounting board.


A group of three boys quickly recreated their circuit and them expertly explained the contribution of each littleBit to their project.


A short little video of the boys explaining their circuit:

explanation of littleBits circuit

The make something that does something lesson was not lost on these boys…they very clearly told me that their project did do something – it beeped and buzzed and shook and lit up and the fan spun around!

A girl adapted her plan when she couldn’t access the light colour changing bit so using an LED, she used a fire coloured red with the light behind it to create the campfire glow she wanted. Once her campsite was all set up and she realized the strength of the LED, she creatively played around with shadows and added a character standing inside her tent!





Such diversity and creativity in all of the students’ projects!



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.


using nearpod for immediate feedback

Posted on: April 13th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Chris Loat and I were invited to work with three intermediate colleagues at Blair Elementary as part of their Innovation project for the 2013/14 school year. One of the goals of their grant application was to investigate ways in which technology can help with formative assessment. Chris shared a few webtools and apps with the teachers before deciding together that NearPod might meet their needs.


NearPod is an app that combines presentation, collaboration and real-time assessment tools into one integrated solution. The app creates a wireless connection between the teacher and all students’ iPads and allows them to share work that between them. Teachers can create a lesson and manage that content on the students’ iPads. Responses by students on the iPad can be sent to the teacher during the lesson. This app can be used in various situations with all learners and we have found it to be a versatile app for formative assessment.

We felt NearPod would best suit the teachers’ needs because it provided specific formative feedback for each student (as opposed to general feedback about the class as a whole.) The teachers at Blair were looking at how immediate feedback during a lesson might inform their instruction and provide feedback to students in the area of mathematics and in writing. While planning how to integrate this app into the classroom experience, we realized that it is not necessary to create an entire NearPod lesson for each time you use the app. Instead, teachers can create a lesson with 5-6 blank pages, formatted as a ‘Draw It’ page and a couple of blank pages formatted as ‘Open Ended Question’. As the pages are blank, the prompts can be:

1) written on the board/screen at the front of the room

2) read out of a book

3) given verbally.

This one ‘blank’ NearPod lesson can be used in different situations with the intention that the teacher provides the prompts each time it is used. The students can respond in a variety of ways including:

1) writing on the iPad

2) taking a photo of their written work

3) taking a photo of manipulatives they have used

4) drawing a picture on the iPad

5) taking a photo of a passage/picture from a book.

Students can also annotate/mark up their photos they take, which would allow them to highlight something they want the teacher to notice.

On Tuesday, I worked with Kit Kwok as she introduced the NearPod app to her grade six students. One of Kit’s goals in using this technology was for her to receive immediate feedback when students began their practice questions in mathematics, so that she could provide support to the students who might need a mini-lesson or review before continuing on their own.


Tuesday morning was “real life” in school, with interruptions galore and connectivity issues! There were PA announcements for students to come down for different group photographs, information about the earthquake drill after recess and we were initially unable to connect to NearPod. After what we first thought was a wifi connectivity issue, it seems like NearPod was actually doing some sort of update just when we were trying to login. Coincidence, yes, but this happens sometimes! Instead of starting with the iPads, the students started working on some math questions in their notebooks. Finally, Kit got her slides loaded and the code for the students to enter. Kit decided to just use two open “draw it” slides with the title for each being the textbook questions she wanted the students to submit.


Because of our difficulties getting going, we abandoned the original plan and have the students submit the first question from their assigned practice questions. Students who had completed the work took a photograph of their response, often circling the answer to highlight it. Other students took a photograph of the hundredths grid and then annotated it on the iPad before submitting it to their teacher.





It should be noted that the Blair students are relatively fluent in using the iPads and were able to support each other and problem-solve as they learned how to use this app. Other classes may need more direction and practice before using it independently.

Kit was very enthusiastic about the experience and was confident that this would be really useful to both her and her students. She liked how she could quickly see the list of students who had logged in and then being able to visually see who had submitted their work.


She was able to click on a submitted file to enlarge it and see it in more detail and then provide immediate feedback to students as necessary.

Kit sent us an email later in the week explaining that she had used nearpod every day last week and found it really helpful in assessing what students knew right in the moment.

~Janice and Chris




I can see shapes at Anderson

Posted on: March 15th, 2014 by jnovakowski

Continuing our collaborative inquiry on ways to enhance students’ communication in mathematics, the kindergarten and grade 1 teachers at Anderson were introduced to the Book Creator app for the iPads last week.

IMG_0787I worked in four classes on Monday morning, beginning each class by showing the students the wordless book Shapes, Shapes, Shapes by Tana Hoban. The students could describe the shapes they saw in the photographs en francais if they were in the early french immersion kindergarten class or using English if they were in the other classes.

Next, I demonstrated how to take photographs with the iPad and the students were naturals! They each took a photograph of something in their classroom that had a shape of interest in it.

The students them worked in groups of 3 or 4 to then learn how to use their photographs and their voices to create an ebook using the Book Creator app. They were SO excited to hear their voices when we played back the narration they recorded for each page.

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The ebooks can be emailed and shared as epub files and published on the iPads and iooks but I have yet to figure out if there is a way to embed this kind of file in a blog post. I can embed the photos for you but hearing the students’ voices is priceless. For example, when flipping the pages through the ebooks, you will see a little audio icon in the middle of the page, like in the following photograph. When you click on the icon, the recorded narration plays.

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I made a short video of me viewing both french and english versions of the books through iBooks:

I can see shapes – English

I can see shapes – French

For young children, I think this is a great use of the iPad technology, using both the camera and audio recording features. The students “read” their books over and over again. Not one student hesitated in recording his or her voice…so this is an engaging way to nurture oral language use and to capture students’ language development.



what we know about coins

Posted on: March 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

The Grade 1 students in Jenna Loewen’s class at Garden City Elementary have been happily singing away to the classic song “Canada in my Pocket” by Michael Mitchell as they have been learning about the Canadian coins.

When I visited their class on Thursday, they could tell me all about the values of the coins, what colours they were and what animals or boats were on them. One student was also happy to share all that he had learned about the caribou…

We had small collections of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. The students enjoyed examining each coin and feeling the difference in their textures. They looked closely at the numbers, words and pictures on the coins. Each team of students took turns taking photographs of the coins using the iPads.

We then used the app Haiku Deck (like powerpoint for the iPad) and the students created captions describing each coin.

Here is an example of a group project created in Haiku Deck:

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Our redesigned curriculum in mathematics has re-introduced aspects of financial literacy beginning at the grade one level. Learning to identify and describe Canadian coins will be one of the curricular content pieces at the grade one level and this is an example of a task that will support student learning in this area.

showing what we know in math…first time using iPads

Posted on: March 11th, 2014 by jnovakowski

On Thursday, I introduced iPads in the classroom to Tina Grigoriadis’ grades 3 & 4 students.  Garden City has 8 iPads (with more on the way) and the students were very excited to use them for math. They worked so well in groups of three, collaborating and sharing.

The class has been learning about multiplication and has just begun to learn about division and its connection to multiplication, specifically looking at arrays. Tina had many visual supports up in the classroom to support students with their mathematical understanding.

We introduced the students to the MathTappers iPhone app called Multiples. It has options for working with different levels of factors and practicing both multiplication and division, with ten frames and hundred charts as visual supports.

 The students then worked together, creating three different arrays using math materials. They learned how to take photographs with the iPads and then import these photographs into an app.

We then taught the students how to use the doceri app to use photographs, diagrams and the students’ voices to represent and share their understanding of multiplication and division through the use of arrays.

 Some students preferred preparing a script that they could read as they recorded their voices on the iPad.

Here are some examples of the students’ screencasts:

These screencasts reveal a “first-timers” use of the app – figuring it out, seeing what it can do. Most of the students described multiplication and division equations for the array they had photographed. A further extension (maybe for second-timers) would be to further explain their thinking about the connection between multiplication and division and how an array supports their understanding.
When we asked the students what they liked about using the iPads, one student commented that he was having fun but then he realized he was learning at the same time. As educators, we know that engagement leads to higher rates of learning and retention of information and these kinds of experiences that are hands-on, minds-on and collaborative are highly engaging for students.