I was first introduced to the "single story" concept when I was shown Ngozi Adichie's Ted Talk at a diversity course I was taking a few years ago. What affected me most poignantly was how this articulate, well-educated black woman who had grown up on the continent of Africa had -- as a child -- developed a schema of fairy tales being about white girls who ate apples, a fruit she had never seen in her native Nigeria.
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!)
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!) 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.