As an extension to our "Canada: Fair and Just?" Inquiry, my colleague and I invited students to create an Artwork to represent the intersectionality of their identity as Canadians and... ??
Currently, my students are engaged in a number of small group projects online.
In an effort to foster their meta-cognitive abilities and increase their online/collaborative literacy (and -- I won't lie -- to gather some concrete data for learning skills comments on report cards!!!), my instructional coach and I developed the following self assessment checklist for students to use when considering their online work in small groups.
In preparation for my upcoming "Making Math Happen for the OT" sessions in Thunder Bay and elsewhere across the province, may I offer the following suggestions to get your math juices flowing...
These online resources are in addition to my old Standbys, "Get it Together" and Marian's Small's "Making Math Meaningful to Canadian Students" and "Good Questions" books, as well as the EQAO student sample booklets in Math.
My only complaint is that few if any of these resources incorporate equity and social justice, so I invite you to consider taking advantage of current events like this and finding the math with your students, as you use math as a vehicle for social justice!
So, a few months ago, a colleague and I met with our instructional coach to map out a framework for a full class Inquiry. Using the Social Studies curriculum as our base, we decided to inquire into whether or not Canada was/is a Fair and Just Society. Here is what has transpired in my own classroom...
This is the first year I've really begun to use technology as a 21-century learning tool with students.
It's not that I was an "old school" teacher so much; I've always been interested in reading the research and doing well as an educator. But if I'm honest, before this year, I was still perfecting my use of effective 20-century teaching and learning tools!
For my new friends in Ottawa who attended this morning's workshop -- here are the materials from the session, as requested and as promised:
Thank you for your engaged, passionate participation. I really enjoyed our time together this morning, and look forward to hearing tales of your great work with students across the Ottawa-Carlton region!
For those of us who grew up in a time when "computers" meant a 20-minute bus ride to a lab at a nearby school to attend hour-long sessions once a week on the Macs so close to the origins you could almost eat them from the tree, the Internet is a marvelous thing!
A few weeks ago, I met a teacher in Australia on Edmodo, a virtual tool I've been using to get my classroom online and my students engaged in digital learning. Said teacher was keen to form a partnership with a Grade 6 class anywhere in the world in order to embark on a collaborative financial literacy project.
Game to try something new, I responded.
Over the (ours in Canada) winter break, my new colleague and I busily emailed back and forth, planning out what a collaboration like this might look like. Edmodo allows teachers to set up groups and students and "co-teachers", so my new Aussie friend set up an Edmodo class/group called "Friends in Finance" and made me a co-teacher, and we invited all of our students to join.
The end goal is to have our students work in small groups (online) to research, prepare and "present" a project that will showcase their evolving understanding of money and math concepts that transcend culture. But we knew that an important first step would be introducing our classes to one another, and developing both their media savvy and their collaboration skills. So we each decided to create class Padlet highlighting student interests and skills.
The virtual introductions went well, and students in both classes are now commenting on one another's posts as they get to know each other and ask questions to find out more about their respective school cultures. ("Will we be allowed to keep in touch when the project is over?" asked one boy in my class this morning, after reading Ms. Cross' class latest posts from down under.)
It's been interesting to observe which students in my class continue to take or embark on "leadership roles" online, and which are more tentative in their approach. (Fodder for term two learning skills comments for report cards, LOL!)
One serendipitous marriage of timing and teachable moments has been that we are just in the midst of our Space unit in science in my classroom in Canada, and as we study orbits and cycles, and in particular the rotation of the earth and why our "day" has 24 hours, our new relationship with this Australian class has provided a very practical learning opportunity for my students: it's one thing to read about cycles in a Science text or watch a video, and quite another to realize that the reason it takes 12 hours for students to receive a response to their message on Edmodo from their new friends is that while we are at school they are sleeping, and vice versa, due to their relative location to us on earth.
So, our little cross cultural friendship project is not only fostering cooperation beyond the physical classroom and providing an opportunity to co-study global finance, but is also lending itself well to other parts of the curriculum!
I am looking forward to co-learning with my new teaching partner and our students as we muddle through this virtual experiment together.
In keeping with the admittedly somewhat questionable practice of treats to motivate learners, I stole an idea I saw a colleague online use, and embarked with my Grade 6 students on an exploration of the lunar cycle with Oreo cookies today (thanks, Ricky, for sponsoring this lesson!!)!
After having done some full class discussion and video watching, and a little guided reading groups using texts about orbits in general and the lunar cycle in particular over the past several days, I introduced the task: Work in your group to model, describe and explain the phases of the moon, using Oreo cookies and whatever technology you wish.
First we co-constructed and posted some criteria for the assignment, then students eagerly set about researching the lunar cycle to confirm, consolidate or extend their understanding, and began building their models.
The rule was they were not allowed to eat their materials until I had seen and heard their "presentation". (This rule proved more of a challenge for some group members than others, but everyone seemed to enjoy the task pretty well, and most demonstrated a reasonable level of understanding!!)
The overall results were quite good, and the model really allowed students to demonstrate their understanding (or lack thereof), as they used it to describe each phase of the lunar cycle and explain how the relative position of the sun and/or the earth resulted in the different appearance of the moon. (And there there were errors, they could easily be corrected kinaesthetically as well as orally.)
Next up, a little "Math Eyes"...
A few weeks ago, I blogged about a mapping/measurement task we had played with in math class. As we worked on this task, I was inspired to consolidate and extend the learning by making links to the reality of the many kms walked by Syrian (and other) refugees in the world.
Serendipitously, my instructional coach had just had a conversation with a colleague of hers about a similar task, and said colleague had shared a link to a short (<20 minutes) documentary about the plight of one group of Syrian refugees in Hungary last fall.
Begin with Vocabulary Development
We began with a modified PWIM, to activate students' prior knowledge and build vocabulary for the many students in my class for whom English is not their first language. My instructional coach led the students through an initiating conversation about several photos on the whiteboard, while I labeled the emergent vocabulary in the photos (these "picture dictionaries" were later posted in our virtual classroom on Edmodo, for easy reference by students after the lesson).
As we watched the first 3 minutes of the video, students' eyes grew wide, and they were overflowing with questions.
The whole thing was particularly interesting in my room because a good 50% of my students speak Arabic, and much of the language in the documentary is Arabic with English subtitles. In fact, a few students were quick to point out the limitations of the interpretations in the translated subtitles!!
At 2:47, we paused the film, and began recording students' questions.
Once we narrowed down the list, and collaboratively (okay, with a little arm-twisting from the teacher -- after all, we wanted a link to math!!) selected the question about how long it might have taken the group of refugees from the film to walk from Hungary to the Austrian border (a distance of 180 km, according to the documentary), we partnered students up and gave them a G.R.A.S.P. organizer to begin thinking about and recording ideas for how they might solve this problem.
Differentiation; Following Students' Leads
While most of the students worked on the "G" ("Given") and "R" ("Required information") sections of the organizer, I took a few students out to another room to work on an alternate problem: One student in particular had been very passionate about saying that he felt 25 000 that the Canadian government had committed to taking in was not a high enough number (he was surprised to learn that some Canadians felt it was "too" high!), as he felt sorry for these people, and believed we should be doing more to help them. I sent him off with another student to consider ways they could help us understand how much 25 000 was, what representations that we could relate to would help us understand that number.
Another student wondered how many refugees there were altogether, fleeing Syria and trying to find a new home. She and a peer went to research this information. (As an aside, they later modified their question, as they discovered "official" numbers of refugees in Canada, in Germany and in other places, and wondered what had become of the rest -- there were still so many, this student pointed out, that were unaccounted for. They are still out researching, and are collaborating in a small group online to prepare a presentation about this data; they will present their findings to the rest of us on Monday.)
Scaffolding for the Many
Because the process of recording so much thinking was so new to many of my students, my instructional coach "coached" them through the first part of preparing to answer the "how long might it take them to walk from Hungary to the Austrian Border?"
Over the weekend, we continued to ponder what information might better help us analyse the problem, and students posted their ideas on Edmodo.
Going for a Walk
We finally decided that it would be helpful for us to go for an hour-long walk, with backpacks or other heavy-ish items to carry, in a large group, to begin to get a sense of what a typical hour might have been like for the group walking 180 kms from Hungary to Austria.
When we returned to school on Tuesday, we set out to see how far we could get in an hour.
Although we walked as a large group, we grouped students into 4 "families", each of which had one member with a clipboard, where they would record a "check in" every 10 minutes:
The first ten minutes were filled with excitement and anticipation as we set off to see how much ground we could cover in an hour. Spirits were high, and students chatted animatedly as they walked.
At the ten minute mark, we had walked nearly a km! Students eagerly recorded the data, and began to make predictions about how far we might get in an hour.
It wasn't long, however, before the novelty wore off, and "great" and "fine" (in response to how are you doing? from the the "family" clipboard monitor) turned into "cold", "bored" and "tired". Not one of our subsequent 10-minute segments yielded any distance close to the one we had walked in those first enthusiastic 10 minutes.
The social studies and character ed goals of the lesson were being met!
As we trudged back home to school, I thought about what one of my sons would articulate later that night when I told him about our lesson that day, namely that while we were looking forward to heading back to school for lunch, for the real Syrian refugees, "there's no home to go home to"!
Now, the Math...
Once back at the school, we began transferring some of our data into a chart which students were asked to complete for homework.
The results, my coach and I soon realised, yielded considerably more math than we had first envisioned: Not only were students converting metric units, but they were being asked to figure out rate and estimate "average" rate (per ten minutes, or per hour, in this case). They were also working through several multi-step parts of the problem to arrive at a solution, and the open-endedness of the numerical possibilities meant that even if every group did the calculations correctly, they could all conceivably arrive at slightly different final answers.
When we returned to the lesson a few days later, we recognized that students would benefit from a visual to wrap their heads around the concept of rate arising in the chart. So my coach quickly drew a timeline of sorts, to illustrate how after the first ten minutes, each subsequent ten minutes yielded considerably less territory covered.
Moving from Analysis to Solving
Then we talked about how this information might be helpful when solving the original problem (basically "how long might it take to walk 180 km"?)
Once students had a sense of what they were trying to find out, we sent them off to work with their partners again, while we circulated. We heavily scaffolded the task for students for whom the existing task was clearly too open, while prompting those who just needed a little push to get to the next stage.
More Math Emerges...
I soon found myself supporting some students in their pre-algebraic thinking, as an argument erupted between two groups about whether the "right" way to find the number of hours it would take was to multiply or divide. (They eventually realised that in fact they were doing the same thing, just coming at it from a different perspective.)
Inquiry for All (Caution Control Freaks!)
As we wrapped up the math portion of the lesson and prepared to finish showing the documentary that had provoked the initial task, my instructional coach and I reflected on the nebulous nature of true inquiry learning: The time needed to complete a deep and fulsome investigation like this is hard to gauge, and were I less married to my desperate need to micromanage every square inch of my dayplan, I would leave a few "open" periods in my daybook, just to make space for what emerges. This lesson could easily have continued another several periods and yielded rich mathematical discussions in several strands.
It is hard to imagine that a few short years ago I sat in an Equity and Social Justice in the Math Classroom workshop thinking that authentic inquiry through a social justice lens could not be achieved in math, that it was the one subject exempt to the possibility of "real" cross-curriculum links and authentic social justice connections.
I'm here to say I've been converted!
(Interested in the "lesson plan" and a few ppt slides to get the conversation going in YOUR class? Contact me!)
Guest Blog Post by Katherine Arbuthnot, Grade 6 Sci-Tech Teacher
EDITOR'S NOTE: Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of working with a Grade 6 colleague (Katherine Arbuthnot) from the Sci-Tech program at my school; together with our instructional coach (Lise Grimwood), we developed an Inquiry grounded in the Grade 6 Social Studies Curriculum, and drawing in Literacy, Drama and a host of other curricular areas and Learning Skills.
Recently, I coerced Katherine into sharing some reflections on her experiences with the Inquiry process. (Her class began a few weeks earlier than mine, and we are learning from their work!) As I am on Step 10 of Report Card writing, I decided that today would be the day to finally edit her comments and post them.
This post is lengthy, but totally authentic -- I've done only minimal editing, in order to preserve teacher voice. We hope it will inspire you -- if you've not already begun -- to explore Inquiry learning in your own classroom! ~ V. Teschow
Every year I set a goal for myself to improve my teaching. Sometimes the goal is selfish and motivated by personal gain, like reducing the number of hours outside of school spent assessing student products, and sometimes the goal is motivated by a desire to improve a particular facet of student learning.
This year the goal was both…I wanted to merge my Language Arts and Social Studies programs, thereby reducing my assessment workload, AND I wanted to improve student learning by focusing on the inquiry process. I wanted to cover the strands of Language Arts (reading, writing, etc.) through the Social Studies lens of “Is Canada a fair and just country?”.
My hope was that I would reduce the volume of “marking” that I always seem to have, and promote the skills of inquiry in my classroom.
Step One: Get Support!
I have been doing inquiry learning in my classroom for a few years and I knew that this new project was too big for me to broach on my own, so I contacted my Instructional Coach, Lise, and a fellow grade 6 teacher, Vera, for help.
Together we created collaborative learning centres that focused on different communities within Canada (Indigenous Canadians, LGBTQ Canadians, Black Canadians, Female Canadians, Chinese Canadians, Japanese Canadians, and South Asian Canadians). We chose these particular communities to reflect the diversity of our classrooms, the curriculum itself, and because these groups have experienced marginalization in some way.
Our vision was to provide students with a variety of resources with which they could begin to formulate an answer to our overarching question, “Is Canada fair and just?”
In hindsight, I realize that there were many communities that we did not include, that should have been reflected in our learning centres (e.g., Differently Abled Canadians).
How Much is "Enough"?
In preparing these learning centres and trying to compile a variety of resources (video, websites, news articles, books, etc.), I came to the conclusion that I could probably have spent years just sourcing information about the topic, but I had to say “no more”.
I also realized that through vetting each of the sources, I myself learned a ton of information about each of these communities.
So, after a month or so, we had together created six beautiful, glossy learning centres for our students housed in brand new bins; graphic organizers on which students could record their thinking; and an extensive assessment form on which to record our observations of student learning.
Handing it off to the Students
I have to admit when I looked at those bins that represented our learning journey as teachers, I was a little worried about putting our work into the hands of students who may (or may not) treat the resources with the respect that I felt they deserved.
This worry was short-lived as I watched the students dive into the resources with curiosity and enthusiasm. Who cared if the pages ripped...they were engaged and learning! They were reading, asking questions, having conversations and debating the merits of the resources provided (one student wondered, “Why is the book Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged in the Female Canadian station?).
My students spent twelve, forty-minute periods perusing the materials we provided for them. Each student was able to visit three different learning centres.
I assigned them the first centre, and they were given choice for the second two centres. During this time, my instructional coach and I watched the students and engaged them in conversations, recording our observations of the skills and thinking demonstrated.
Tracking Student Learning
I quickly discovered that our extensive assessment form, co-created prior to the beginning of the inquiry, was almost useless.
We had selected a variety of curriculum expectations as “look fors” and although these points were important, some of them, like “summarizes key information from videos”, were difficult to observe without directly comparing student graphic organizers to the videos (which would not have met my goal of reducing my “marking”!), and some students didn’t even watch videos at all, choosing instead to focus their time on reading books and articles.
I found myself making use of the “notes” section of our assessment form to record what students were saying, what critical thinking skills they were employing (or not employing), and how effectively they were collaborating with one another as they worked together at the various stations.
Supporting Student Thinking
I knew in advance of beginning these learning centres that students were going to need a lot of support in terms of selecting main ideas, identifying key vocabulary, developing questions, and making connections between topics and to big ideas (Charter of Rights and Freedoms, UN declaration of Human Rights)… I just didn’t realize how much support they would need!
I felt incredibly overwhelmed by all that I needed to do to support the growth of the students: I had to teach them critical thinking skills like determining relevancy and importance of historical facts. I had to teach them how to create higher order-thinking questions. I had to teach them how to read complex texts and use fix-up strategies to overcome obstacles in their reading. The list of all the things I needed to teach them could go on forever.
So much for trying to reduce my workload! And thank goodness for Twitter, Pintrest, and Google…because of the vast professional learning community present on the World Wide Web, I was able to find some solid teaching strategies and activities to address these student needs. I even turned to colleagues at my school who were not involved with this inquiry for help, and so “Q-Chart Battleship” was born.
RAN Bulletin Board
One of the strategies that I felt most beneficial for both the students and myself, was the use of RAN (Reading and Analysing Non-Fiction Strategy).
Now, I have to admit that over the course of my career, I have often attempted to use similar charts to help students track their own learning, but I always failed to follow through. Take the KWL Chart as an example. I was always great at getting students to fill out what they knew on the chart as a primer to a lesson, a way to activate that prior knowledge that we as educators know is important for students to access in order for new learning to take place.
Getting students to jot down what they wondered was a little more difficult because sometimes, they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
I always started out with the greatest of intentions of using the KWL chart to be able to show students how much they had learned over the course of the unit, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I’ve ever gone back and had students fill out the “Learned” section of the chart.
So when Vera first proposed the use of RAN, I hesitantly agreed to give it a go. I was overwhelmed by the number of sections on the chart (What we think we know, What we wonder, What we learned, What we couldn’t prove and/or misconceptions, What we still wonder)…if I couldn’t follow through with a KWL Chart, what was I going to do with RAN…and how would it even fit on a piece of paper???
I came up with a solution. I used a large bulletin board in an open space of our school. I thought, if I put this up in this public space, I will feel obligated to use it and by using the bulletin board, the chart became a collaborative document of our learning. Also, because the space in which this bulletin board is housed must be signed out for use, I had to commit to using the space, thereby “forcing” me to make time in my schedule to reflect on our learning journey.
I told the students that I was the “gatekeeper” of the board, anything that was going up on the board had to go through me first; in this way, I was able to monitor the quality of the contributions made to the board, and give differentiated feedback to students along the way.
By sharing their learning with one another, students were able to hear about topics that they themselves didn’t have the opportunity to investigate, correct misconceptions, and develop questions for further inquiry.
Independent Inquiry: Taking Differentiation One Step Further
After the collaborative inquiry learning centres, students were encouraged to choose a topic that they would be interested in pursuing further. Although the independent portion of the inquiry did not need to be focused on one of the communities already studied, it did have to relate to our overarching question, “Is Canada fair and just?”
Even though we had spent a lot of time working on how to develop good questions, Lise and I still had to spend a lot of time conferencing with students one-on-one to help them develop inquiry questions that were thoughtful, relevant, and connected to the ideas of fairness and equity. It took about three periods for us to make sure that everyone had a quality question.
When I look at a list of the questions they created, I am astounded by the thoughtfulness and insight of my grade six students.
They were asking questions like, "What do LGBTQ Canadians feel is being (or can be) done to create equality in Canada?" or, "Why were Residential Schools a good idea in the minds of Canadians of the past, and what do they think of their idea now?".
Could They Succeed?
Once their questions were selected, I started to worry that I as setting my students up for failure. How could eleven- and twelve-year-olds try to answer questions that are so complex, when educated adults would have difficulty?
I was worried that they wouldn't find enough relevant information, I was worried that the information they did find would be outside their "zone of proximal development", I was worried that they wouldn't have the grit to persevere with a long term, difficult task and wade through the quagmire that is the internet.
Although my students found it difficult, they did persist with the investigation into their questions. Along the way, they needed a lot of support from me and I spent most of my days walking around the classroom helping students figure out the best way to do a Google Search (No, you can't just put your question into the search bar and expect an answer), reminding students to use criteria for judgement to determine the credibility of a source (just because it's on the internet doesn't make it true), and asking prompting questions like, "Is there a different perspective?", in hopes that they would delve more deeply into their topic.
It Won't Be Perfect Every Day
Inevitably there were days when I just didn't have it in me to be "on", and it was a struggle to conference with just a few students, and there were other days that my FitBit told me I'd logged 10,000 steps before lunch!
The whole process was utterly, undeniably exhausting...and awesome!
When the students starting sharing with me their inquiry reflections, I was amazed at their journey. Students who had once not known what Residential Schools were began to recognize their long-term impacts and the responsibility of all Canadians to right that wrong. Students who had not once known the about racist policies of governments past (e.g., Chinese Head Tax) were able to identify the importance of not sweeping such dark days of history under the rug, but instead bringing them to light and learning from them so as not to make the same xenophobic mistakes again (cue images of Syrian refugees arriving at Canadian airports). Students who had once not known for what the acronym LGBTQ stood, were wanting to make documentaries about what the government is doing to support equity for the LGBTQ community. The journeys were varied in depth and breadth, but there is no doubt in my mind that each student made a journey.
One's Student's Journey
One student in particular comes to mind: Sirob. Sirob began his journey wondering why LGBTQ people were different from "normal" people. (He was at the LGBTQ Canadian learning centre with a few of his peers when this statement was made.)
The group and I had a discussion about the word "normal", and what it might mean or imply in this context.
I struggled with how to have this conversation: I needed him to understand that by saying heterosexuals were "normal", he was implying that all others were "abnormal" and as such, it was not appropriate to use the word in our inclusive classroom. At the same time, I didn't want to shut him down because I could see that he was genuinely trying to understand something for which he had so little (or such conflicting) schema.
I felt like I was walking a high wire tightrope...step too far to the right and misconceptions go unchallenged, step too far to the left and a student feels that my class is not a safe place for taking risks...either way, the results are disastrous!
This feeling is something I encountered over and over again throughout this inquiry. I was constantly second guessing the words that were coming out of my mouth.
I'm sure that with some students I missed my footing on that high wire, but with Sirob, balance was maintained. He continued on his journey and even reached out to his community. He interviewed people who identified as being a part of the LGBTQ community with the intention of creating a documentary. I had the opportunity to sit in on one of his interviews and was nearly brought to tears. Sirob was articulate, respectful, and able to bring a lot of knowledge to the conversation about equity for the LGBTQ community.
Assessment "How-To": A Few More Thoughts
If you were to stop reading here, inquiry sounds great, and it is, but it doesn’t come without its obstacles.
One such obstacle was monitoring student progress, especially during the month-long independent portion of the unit.
With 28 students per class, and only 40 - 80 minutes per day in which to provide feedback, I sometimes found it difficult to get around to every student. As a result, there were some days when I didn't even get to speak to every child.
I also found that students who were vocal and advocated for themselves took up much more of my time than those who waited for me to come to them. I started using a class list to keep track of whom I had spoken to and whom I had not (seems pretty logical, but with all the other planning, it was something we had overlooked).
I created an "Inquiry Process Checklist" to make sure that I was giving feedback on each stage of the inquiry process, hoping that specific feedback on the process would help students to engage more deeply in each stage.
Because the students were so intensively involved with our work around this inquiry, I was constantly on e-mail after school hours reading work students had shared with me and providing additional feedback. I'm pretty sure that my goal of lessening my workload was put out to pasture. I am by nature a workaholic, and I found that with this inquiry, creating a balance between work and life became even more difficult.
Everyday, I felt that I was making withdrawals from my energy bank account, but, every time I was tired, exhausted, and thought I had nothing left, a student would share something with me that would be so profound that it was like making a deposit of energy into that very same account.
My point is this: inquiry is hard...really hard...for everyone. It's hard for the teachers to manage; it's hard for the students to navigate. But in the end, all my students have progressed, each in their own way, as evidenced by the development of the inclusive and inquisitive nature of their language, and the growth mindset most of them demonstrated over time. Some journeys were short and some were long, but everyone, including me, made a journey, and isn't that the point of learning?
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera now focuses most of her written attention to prolific blogging, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and, more recently, SMARTbansho and Homeschooling 4. Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.