Sunday, 4 June 2017

Animal Tracking and Inquiry in Science 9

For this Inquiry project our science 9 class took on a mini unit that focused on getting to know local wildlife. The goals were three-fold:

 1. To use an experiential and place-conscious approach to cover new curricular competencies.

2. To introduce students to real-world science through hands-on activities and exploration.

3. To interpret local wildlife from both Eurocentric and Indigenous perspectives.

 The topic for this unit was Animal Tracking and the premise was simple… we go to our local park, look for animal signs and document what we find.  To an outdoor enthusiast and naturalist this sounds fun and straight-forward.  However, most of the students in our class had never been to the park, had no idea what animals lived in our area and had never heard of animal tracking before.  Needless to say we had some legwork ahead of us.
Our unit began with a lively classroom discussion and information session about the recent cougar cull in our town.  This introductory hook was a success because cougars are naturally fascinating and all of the students had heard about the exterminations.  More importantly all of the students had enough local knowledge to contribute to this conversation; essentially the playing field was level.  This conversation got the students wondering about our local park, Skaha Bluffs, and if it could support cougars and other apex predators.

 To learn more about the wildlife in the park we had to go there but we needed to hone our observation and tracking skills first. 

 Through classroom activities and museum programming we studied bones, scat, tracks and artifacts of local animals.  These classes engaged different students and allowed for a lot of story-telling and sharing of personal experiences.  It also uncovered the artistic skills of many students whose drawings and attention to fine details were celebrated.  The saying, “when you change the rules you change the winners” was very apparent during these classes.

Our final field experience to Skaha Bluffs provided students with the opportunity to learn from community experts in an adventuresome walkabout.  We partnered with biologist and museum assistant Chandra Wong and local knowledge keeper from the En’owkin Centre, Dustin Louis.  Both
of these leaders shared their knowledge and understanding of the land and helped the students with their tracking projects.  Some exciting aspects of this field experience were setting up animal cameras to collect field data and partnering with our school’s photography and film class.  The photography class ‘tracked’ and documented our group through the experience and provided many of the photos featured in this post. 

Some important (and positive) numbers to consider:

Nearly 50% of the students attending this field trip had never been to the park before.

2 students visited the park again the weekend after our field trip to share it with their siblings.

100% of the students did not see a cougar while in the park however, based on our data we concluded that this park could be part of a cougar’s territory. 

Contributed by Allison Dietrich

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Complex Tasks Inquiry

Teacher Inquiry Question:  In what ways do complex tasks increase student engagement and confidence?

"When students are engaged in appropriately challenging tasks, they are more likely to repond to feedback because they need that information to continue growing and learning.  
We like to think of difficulty as the amount of effort or work a student is expected to put forth whereas complexity is the level of thinking, the number of steps, or the abstractness of the task.  
Students learn more when given complex tasks".  
Hattie, Fry and Fisher (2016), Visible Learning

In Through a Different Lens, teachers are encouraged to meet in collaborative inquiry groups to pursue questions they are interested in both teaching and learning.  This blog outlines a science project that one teacher pursued as she explored how her students respond to COMPLEX TASKS.

The teacher provided some introductory lessons on the human body to get the students excited about the unit of study.  She then let the students chose a human body system they were interested in learning more about.  There were four systems:  reproductive, excretory, hormonal, and nervous.  The students chose a system and worked in groups to do research on the system of their choice. 

Text sets were provided through collaboration with the teacher librarian so that each group had access to texts at a variety of reading levels.  Students were guided to collect important vocabulary and  images as they documented structures and functions, asked questions, and made connections to other body systems.  

After the research was complete, the students worked with the tech ed teacher to produce the body system out of a multiplicity of materials.  Students enjoyed creating the systems out of every day material.  

Each student created their own system,  labeled them and explained how each structure functioned and helps the human survive, reproduce and interact. 

Complex Task:
In many classrooms with ten and eleven year olds, this unit would have been considered a great success.  However, this classroom teacher was really looking at complex tasks and encouraging deeper and connected thinking.

She decided that the final assessment would encourage the students to think deeply and use the knowledge they had gained in a very practical but also complex way.  She invited the school health nurse, Karen Anne, to come in and talk with the class.  Karen Anne presented the students with a case study of a patient suffering from a medical condition.  She gave the students the patients symptoms.  The students worked in quads – one students from each system – to diagnose the patient and provide treatment options. They each were an expert in their body system.

After they had explored treatment options Karen Anne gave them the final diagnosis.  The groups continued to work on the treatment plans.  Each group had the opportunity to present their findings to a panel which included Karen Anne, the classroom teacher and the resource teacher.  They had to explain to the panel how each system was impacted by the medical condition and then suggest both short and long term treatments.

The public health nurse and the two teachers were amazed at the depth of understanding.

Submitted by Pam Rutten and Janice Moase 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Power of a Problem

Teacher comments included:
- The biggest factor that led to rebellion in upper Canada was land, so students showed that land was taken by the clergy and the crown. Often they used the symbol of a crown or a cross. In Lower Canada, the fact that the British controlled the French majority was an issue. Students showed this with many blue pipe cleaners being lorded over by red pipe cleaners.   
- The boat represented the concept of the journey of immigrants. It was long and dangerous, but led them to the promised lands.  
- One student used a castle to represent the iron rule of Britain and it had a moat and drawbridge which the student explained were obstacles to the French Canadians who wanted to metaphorically storm the castle and rule themselves through representative self-government.

Students explained that by having to create visuals and explain them, they came to a deeper understanding.

Friday, 31 March 2017

QR Codes, the Weight room and Student Success!

Through A Different Lens encourages teachers and students to use their strengths to make learning more engaging.  This blog is a great example of a student teacher at Princess Margaret who brought her enthusiasm and her love of technology to Superfit 11/12.  

The student teacher collaborated with her sponsor teacher and all of the students in Superfit 11/12 to create instructional videos on how to use each piece of equipment in the weight room effectively and with proper form. 

Every student in Superfit got to choose a piece of equipment or type of workout and was filmed doing the exercise. Once the short videos were complete, they were uploaded to youtube. At this point, each video was given a QR code using a free online QR code generator. 

Now, on every piece of equipment in the weight room, there is a QR code. Students simply take out their smartphone, scan the code and it takes them to a concise video. Moreover, students get to see themselves as teachers, helping future students reach their fitness goals.  This idea underscores the power of student agency, teacher collaboration and the use of technology to help students achieve their goals.

Friday, 17 March 2017

IGNITE: Where Ideas Intersect

Innovation guru Steve Jobs believed that random encounters between people were a catalyst for the production of great ideas. So resolute was his conviction, that when he designed a building for Apple, he demanded there only be a single set of staff washrooms to increase the likelyhood of people from all over the building crossing paths and having conversations. (He was eventually overruled by a pregnant woman on his staff). Jobs also believed that great innovation came from the intersection of traditionally separate areas of thinking, and commented that Apple existed at the "intersection of the streets of liberal arts and technology". Likewise, author Steven Johnson in his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" highlights the benefits of shared intellectual and creative spaces. IGNITE sessions are an example of these "creative intersections" where ideas can bump into each other, combine, and evolve.

IGNITE sessions have been happening all over the world and are being used by many school districts.  Thanks to the Network of Inquiry and Innovation conference where we heard a few examples, and to Paul Britton in the Vernon School District who gave us some help, we decided we would give it a try in SD67.  How fortunate for us that we have educators willing to take a risk and give it a try!  No one had put together an IGNITE session before, but 16 brave people have now given it a go.  Each presentation is five minutes, and is built with 20 slides, each one automatically advancing every 15 seconds. 

We have held three sessions now.  We meet in the back room at the Cannery Brewing Co. on Ellis Street in Penticton. Everyone who attends enjoys snacks, cold drinks,  and five or six presentations with an opportunity for engaged discussion between each one.  The typical session runs from 3:30-5:00 and is low key, informal and great fun.

Our theme has been the renewed curriculum – what are you trying that someone else might be interested in?  What has worked… or not worked?  How can we learn together, share ideas, and support each other?

In session one we heard about:  The Power of YET: Growth Mindsets; Teaching Applied Design Skills and Technology in Grade One with building challenges; Inquiry Projects in Law 12; How we can do better for our students of Aboriginal Ancestry; Vertical Math; and what potty training reminded one teacher about the teaching profession.

Session two included:  Inquiry in a grade one class; Cooperative Grading: Authentic assessment; Physical Literacy: being active and how it effects learning and life; Coding; and School, Work and the Power of Metaphor.  

Our latest session included:  The Joy of Co-teaching; Core competencies; Outdoor explorations; Humans of Penticton - a project with English First Peoples 10; Assessing the core competencies.

We have a lot of adult learners in our district – life long learners who are committed to making things better for ALL our students and who are willing to share ideas and help each other out.  We left the sessions so appreciative not just of the talks given but of the educators willing to take a risk and lend a hand as we learn together.

Here are a few examples from our sessions (more to come in the future). 

The Joy of Collaborative Teaching: Janice Moase and Pam Rutten

Applied Design Skills and Technology (Curricular and Core Competencies): Alicia Moura

Friday, 3 March 2017

Adventures in Science: Froguts and Bouncy Castles

Engagement in learning is a huge theme in Through a Different Lens.  How do we help kids understand big ideas and really want to explore those ideas in a meaningful way?  How do we hook them so that they become intrigued and begin to ask their own deep questions?

Here are a couple of 'hooks' into learning that some grade 6 teachers at KVR tried for the last two units in science in the Renewed Curriculum.

Fun with  “Froguts”:  A story of virtual dissection

One of the big ideas in the renewed curriculum for grade 6 science is "Multicellular organisms rely on internal systems to survive, reproduce and interact with their environment."  Students are expected to know the structures and functions of body systems. 

As an introduction to this unit, grade 6 teacher Pam Rutten and learning support teacher Janice Moase  co-taught a number of lessons to hook the kids into this new unit.  They worked Dr. Elizabeth Ormandy from the Animals and Science Policy Institute that is “dedicated to providing education on ethics and alternatives to animals in research”.

Over two days the students used a virtual dissection app on ipads called “Froguts” and were able to dissect a frog.  Dr. Ormandy from UBC, worked with the students through skype to learn how the frogs body systems help it survive.  She used the app to teach  the students about the reproductive system of male and female frogs.  The two sessions were interactive and the kids got to ask Dr. Ormandy questions.

This was a great introduction to the big unit on body systems.  The kids were able to speak with an expert, learn about the ethical treatment of animals in science, and dissect a virtual frog. With the app they learned how to pin the frog, use a scalpel, and remove parts so that they could see other parts.  Half the class dissected a female frog and half the class dissected a male frog and then they compared the systems.

Dr. Ormandy co-planned the lessons with Pam and Janice; and then talked to the students about ethics and science; humane alternatives to dissection, and guided them through the dissection itself.  

App: $6.00 for the app through iTunes
Dr. Ormandy is available and wants  to work with teachers.
For more info. Website:

Forces In Motion

To introduce the big ideas in science 6 the teachers put together a station approach in the gym.   Big Idea:  "Newton’s three laws of motion describe the relationship between force and motion".  
Students are expected to know "the 3 laws of motion, and effects of balanced and unbalanced forces in daily life, also... acceleration, equal and opposite reaction, force of gravity"  

The stations included:  trampoline, bouncy castle, long boards, teeter totter (made by the tech ed teacher), ball throwing, running up and down stairs (bleachers), tightrope, balance beam, skippet.

The students were split into groups and went to various stations with their clipboards to explore the movement and investigate what was causing the it.

As the unit progressed the teachers constantly referred back to the stations.  Where did you experience friction?  or acceleration?  The vocabulary was always explored in context of their experience in the gym… fulcrum, force gravity, momentum, compression.

Hard to tell who is having more fun… the teachers or the students.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Quick and Creative Collaboration

The introduction of B.C.'s revised curriculum has challenged educators to shift their thinking in regards to the way teachers teach and students learn. While historically education has been a profession where people often worked in isolation, opportunities to discuss ideas and communicate with colleagues have never been more necessary.  Schools, districts, and regional networks have been working to provide various ways for teachers to share their thinking with each other. Three teachers at Parkway Elementary in SD67 came up with a simple but effective method for creating dialogue and exchanging ideas. When they developed something to help their students understand the core competencies, they posted their ideas on the cupboards in their staff room with a written explanation for the staff as well as a pile of sticky notes and a pencil for others to provide feedback. Their message to the staff clearly emphasized that their ideas were a work in progress and that critical feedback would help with the continual revision of their initiative. By choosing a communal space within the school building (the staff room) and providing a simple and quick way (sticky notes) for others to provide commentary, the teachers were able to collect a wide range of responses and suggestions for improvements.

It was a creative solution to the challenge of providing teachers with the essential opportunity to collaborate in regards to the revised curriculum, when there is often so little time available to do so.

Related Posts: See this post for further commentary on the importance of idea exchange in education, or this post for a discussion about teachers as learners.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Arboretum Activity: A Metaphor for the Core Competencies

A few months ago at a regional network meeting we were fortunate to experience an activity designed to help teachers understand the original intentions of the core competencies. Two members of SD23’s Instructional Leadership Team Carolyn Durley and Keely Flannigan began by giving us a little potted plant.  We were asked to discuss with a partner “What would success look like for your plant?”

Then we were asked to consider, "How would you care for your plant so it can be successful?" Some of us were fortunate enough to have little labels with instructions for proper care, however others had to make educated guesses about what their plant might require to thrive.

After our focus on the individual plants, we looked at a photo of an arboretum and discussed the strengths and beauty that resulted from the diversity of the plants represented.
The activity was a clear reminder of the intention of the core competencies which is to honour the individual strengths of every child and not to think of students as components to be evaluated, but as unique and complex people whose holistic growth must be supported and nurtured.

Next we were each given a personal blank plant label and asked to create care instructions for our own strengths. We were asked to consider “What care instructions would you write for yourself? What does success look like in learning for you? What do you need in order to be successful?” Reflecting on our own personal strengths as professionals was an excellent experience to help us prepare for developing self-reflection skills in our students.

While this activity is effective for helping educators reflect on the holistic intentions of the core competencies (and therefore resist the urge to reduce the competencies to a checklist or a rubric) it also has potential for classroom use.

Dave Searcy started his second semester Law 12 classes with this activity. Students began by looking at small plants that were brought in. After discussing the metaphor, the students were given their own plant labels and asked to create care instructions for themselves, both to begin practicing the self-reflection skills that would be needed in the course as well as to help their teacher understand what they each needed to thrive as learners. The labels became a visual display of the complexities and unique capabilities of each person, and the process gave the students a voice, allowing them to communicate their strengths and take ownership of their earning.

Note: Click here for a related blog post about getting to know your students at the beginning of the year or the semester.