Friday, 3 May 2019

Something Magical: Intergenerational Learning

The following blog is from a teacher at middle school who took a risk and tried something in a different way.  Here, she highlights communication as an important competency for her grade 8 students.  She also writes so clearly about the area of social and emotional competencies and the surprises she has seen in this area.

This learning opportunity is also a wonderful example of the incorporation of the First People's Principles of Learning highlighting especially 'Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities',  'Learning ultimately supports the well-being of self', and 'Learning is holistic, and relational'. 

The pictures of the students and the seniors really tell a story. 

Navigating social situations and developing interpersonal skills at middle school is challenging, especially in an era when communication revolves around cell phones, social media, and virtual connections.  The chaotic energy and amped emotions that dominate middle school hallways leave little room for students to develop their face-to-face communication skills.  Meanwhile behavioural expectations in the classroom don’t usually allow for practice of communication skills that resemble those seen in a colloquial setting.  To help develop these important interpersonal skills our class partnered with some seniors from the Trinity Care Centre to form a rather unconventional, but successful buddy program.  

‘Who will hold the door?’, ‘How do I roll a wheel chair over a curb?’, ‘How many wheelchairs can fit in the elevator?’, were some of the questions tossed around as students readied themselves for their first hosting experience.  Instead of following a traditional visitation approach our class decided to host our seniors to a series of visits at our middle school.  Each visit took a different shape and varied in structure.  However, consistent throughout all visits was that the students were responsible for planning and providing care to their senior buddy.  The end result: an amaze-show.  
There is something magical that happens every time we bring the seniors over to our school.  It’s hard to explain the positive effect they have over everyone in the building: students and adults alike.  For that one hour a month, when the seniors are in the building, we all slow down.  We get out of our heads and ‘come down to the ground’ to connect with them. We lock eyes for a little longer, smile a little wider, and for that one hour…. we become the best version of ourselves. 

At the outset this partnership wasn’t intended to be more than a couple of visits with the seniors. However, due to the overwhelmingly positive response from the students we extended it until the end of the school year. 

Some unexpected outcomes of this partnership have included:
-      Seeing students who don’t participate in school come to life and fully engage
-      Learning that both students and seniors want to spend more time with each other despite initial feelings of nervousness (for both parties) 
-      Shifting student attitudes and perspectives to include a greater sense of appreciation and respect for the fascinating lives our buddies have led. 

A big thank you to this teacher.
TADL 2019

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Planning for Inclusion

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to sit in on a planning session with grade 4 and 5 teachers who wanted to plan a cross curricular unit on the human body.

The session was led by Janice Moase and Shona Becker (helping teachers in our district) using some of the formats and planning sheets from Shelley Moore.  To be honest, Shelley was supposed to be with us but was sick, so we set out on an adventure to see how we would do without her guidance.  Janice has experience with the planning guides and Shona is an amazing science and math teacher, so we were in good hands.

Planning a Unit Accessible for ALL

The goal in these sessions is to build a unit that is accessible to ALL.  That means choosing your content and curricular competencies goals and then finding the access point by looking at the students in your class - the starting point where EVERY SINGLE STUDENT can succeed.

Everyone begins together.  
There is a lot of power in beginning together.  It involves thinking a bit differently and planning a unit starting with what everyone can do… Planning for ALL.  Then looking at what is slightly more complex that MOST will do.  Then looking at more complexity - what a FEW will do. It means planning for the kids you know - but not planning to keep those kids in any box.  ALL options are open to ALL kids.  Planning this way means you are not planning a unit and then retrofitting for those who need more support and more challenge.  EVERYONE begins together - and while some kids continue to work on the initial goals, others move on to the next layer of complexity.

It is different work - it means looking closely at the curriculum and your kids and then thinking creatively, trying to build an inclusive, interesting, creative, fun, motivating, engaging unit where everyone can participate - all learning the same content and using the same processes (competencies).

The teachers decided to look at inquiry based learning to drive their unit.  They created the following overarching question as their BIG idea:

How can you use language in creative and playful ways 
to show how body systems interact with each other?

The main content and curriculum competency goals:

And here is the ALL, MOST, FEW triangle where it was decided what ALL can do, more complexity for Most, and then even more complexity for FEW.

First Lesson:  the HOOK

We planned all morning, then in the afternoon, Janice and Shona co-taught with the classroom teacher, Kristina. This first lesson was the HOOK for the unit.  As a group, the students watched short video clips of hearts and lungs, diseased and healthy, and were asked to think about and comment on what they 'wondered' and what they 'noticed'.  Following the video provocations and group discussion,   there were six tables of invitations/provocations set up in the classroom.  Students spent five minutes at each station with a short report out to their small group at the end of each station.

1.  Observing a moose heart and bones.  What do you notice?

2.  Explore books to get an idea of what you will be learning about… what did you find?  

3.  Maker:  Build what you know about your digestive system

4.  Time your resting and active heart beat and record; or help someone record theirs.

5.  What systems can you find as you put together these images?  What do you think they are?

6.  Maker:  Build what you know about your bones and muscles

This is the renewed curriculum, that has moved from a standardized approach to a standards based approach.  ALL kids are learners.  There is room for EVERYONE.   

Thanks to teachers at Giant's Head and Janice and Shona for a great planning session, and to Shelley for her guidance over the past few years.

Submitted by Judith King

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Image of the Child: Resilience

Over the past few years a number of primary teachers in SD67 and SD53 have been exploring the benefits of outdoor learning with their children.  They have been looking at the effects on well-being, regulation, motivation, curiosity, culture, play . . . .  In addition to outdoor learning, many of the same teachers have been looking at their practice through inquiry: "What are the assumptions I bring to teaching?" "How do those assumptions effect my view of the child?"  "What is my image of the child?" "Do I really see them as capable and competent?"

There is so much joy in the discovery of yourself as a teacher.  Nicola Korvin is a great example of a teacher who is not afraid to look at herself, laugh, and share what she discovers.  She is constantly asking herself why she does what she does, and why she looks at children in certain ways; challenging herself to see them as protagonists of their own learning.

 Here is one of the documentations she sent home to the parents about her learning about her children's resilience.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Inquiry Based Learning

As I began this school year with the grade 6 teachers, we wondered, how can we nurture our children to develop a sense of wonder? How can we increase student engagement and provide access points for our diverse learners?

With this question in mind, we decided to play with Inquiry based learning in a cross curricular unit with Socials and English.  I had recently attended BCTELA conference entitled Inquiry, Identity and Inclusions: Inspiring Learners into Action and I was excited to share my new learning about inquiry. As teachers, we met for a half day and planned a sequence of lessons for our unit.  The essential question the students would inquire about was “How are children being exploited in the 21st century and what can we do about it?”  Scholastics Issues 21 series was a great resource for this topic, and also provided us with our essential question.  We used this resource along with other texts that our librarian purchased for us. 

To guide us on our journey, we used ideas from Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathhust-Hunt’s book Inquiry Mindset as well as Jeffery Wilhelm’s book Inquiring Minds: Learn to Read and Write. 

What is inquiry based learning?

Trevor  MacKenzie defines inquiry-based learning as “a process where students are involved in their learning, create essential questions, investigate widely, and then build new understandings, meanings and knowledge. That knowledge is new to the student and may be used to answer their essential question, to develop a solution or to support a position or point of view. The knowledge is usually presented to others in some sort of public manner and may result in some sort of action.” – Alberta Focus on Inquiry, 2004

There are a few different types of student inquiry, and we referred to Trevor’s pool graphic to decide on what was the best fit for us and our students.

We decided that a controlled inquiry was the best fit for us and our students.
We then planned our unit using backward design and decided on the sequence of activities that would provide students with the background they needed to investigate this topic.  We also decided on which big ideas, curricular competencies and content our unit would align with and discussed the final project, which Trevor refers to as the Public Display of Understanding.

Great ideas start with great questions!

Coming up with a great overarching question for students to investigate is of utmost importance.  When we were looking at topics for the students to investigate, we considered what the students would be most interested in, what was coming up in the news, what we were passionate about teaching and having the students learn more about, and then we looked at how these topics connected to our curriculum.  We decided that looking at Children’s Rights would be engaging and important for the students, while aligning with the big ideas in the renewed curriculum.  We chose the essential question “How are children being exploited in the 21st century and what can we do about it?”  from the Scholastics Issues 21 series as it allowed for students to choose different areas to investigate.  According to Jeffery Wilhelm, an essential question will be successful if it is phrased in a way that is interesting and compelling to students and if it gets at enduring understandings from the discipline(s) being studied and this question met this criteria. 

Using backward design, we thought about where we wanted the students to end up and then we planned our sequences of lessons that would allow them to create a project that was meaningful. 

Sequence of activities:

“Frontloading is the most important thing you can do to insure student success.  Research suggests that well over half of student comprehension problems can be eliminated if teachers activate background knowledge students already possess prior to reading.” – Jeff Wilhelm

Frontloading creates engagement, activates background knowledge and builds background knowledge that will be needed for the inquiry.  Pre-reading, pre-writing, anticipatory sets, and provocations are all examples of frontloading strategies. 

We started the unit off with the Walk the Line activity.   One end of the line is “strongly disagree and the other end is “strongly agree”.  The teacher poses a statement and students place themselves on the line, depending on what they think.  Students can partner share why they think that, what evidence do they have, what background knowledge are they bringing into their understanding, pair up with someone on the opposite side and share their thinking (what is the same, different).  Our statements were connected to the unit on Children’s Rights. This could also be done as a four corners activity where students walk to corner – “strongly agree, agree, strongly disagree, disagree.”

Next, we used the Smart Learning tool GOSSIP.  This tool is great for activating background knowledge and understanding. We gave the students the concept of Human Rights and they went out and selectively searched for important points using the principles behind real gossip.  Students first generate their own ideas, and then start gathering ideas from partners to come up with their own definition of Human Rights, using the collaborations from peers.

Following this lesson, we showed this video on human rights to continue to build background knowledge. 

Provocation Tables – See, Think, Wonder

To get the students thinking about global issues, we put out thought provoking photos, books, quotes and materials to build a deeper understanding of children’s issues around the world.  Students were in groups that rotated around the stations and used “graffiti” to respond to the prompts what do you see, think and wonder. 

After, students generated their own questions about the topics they explored, trying to come up with as many questions as they could.  They sorted the questions into quick questions (one right answer or answered with a yes/no) and deep thinking questions
(open-ended with many possible answers).  Students then chose the topic they wanted to go deeper with and explore over the next month and refined their questions and choose their top 3-5 questions to investigate. 

Students decided on using a web to record their ideas and notes:

Creating Accessibility:

To support the diversity in our classrooms, a variety of appropriate and accessible materials were made available for students to use for research.  Technology was also used for students to explore topics and represent learning. Our computers teacher helped us teach the students windows photo story as an option for students that wanted to use story and technology to demonstrate their learning.  Other students chose to draw and paint and some built models or create museum displays to demonstrate their understanding. 

Public Display of Understanding:  

Trevor McKenzie’s final step in the inquiry process is the public display of understanding.  We gave students the choice to draw, paint, sculpt, build or use technology to share their learning with their peers. Here are what some of the students created. 

 Student Voice:  

What did you learn about asking questions for an inquiry?
I learned that by asking more and more questions to make 
a bigger question and when I put it all together it would make the final detials.  AS
Asking questions taught me that you can ask questions to help you research, to find answers to bigger questions and to use smaller questions and turn them into bigger and more powerful questions.  MM

What did you learn about how to research?
 I learned by gathering information from different sources I could make more than one big question and I could add more smaller questions and add on to my big question. AS

How did you come  up with your idea for your presentation?
I was thinking about how much of the display will show what I know, so that is why I chose a museum display.  
What inspired me was Ms. A from my old school, who went to a Residential School and shared what had happened to her and her siblings.  – MM

How has your thinking changed about the way chidlren are being exploited in the 21st century?
I did not know that kids were in war so almost all my thinking changed. Something that really changed my thinking was reading about someone who was actually in war when he was a kid and he escaped and made it home.  I also learned about residential schools.  When they went to school they would be put to work.   My thinking changed because of the presentaion I heard from B. about resedential schools and what happened. AS

I learned lots of things.  Some people boil water on fire powered by steam to have safe drinking water.  I also learned, still to this day child soldiers are being used and the weight of residential schools are still on individuals.  JW

My thinking changed when I heard about the way people treated Indigenous people and how we saw them as savages.  My thinking also changed when I read about The Royal Comission of Aboriginal Peoples because it made me wonder what made the government’s thinking change to form the Royal Commission. I also found out that people helped to stop Residential Schools by speaking out.  I did not know people treated the kids so poorly.  MM

Teacher Learning:

As teachers, we learned a lot about using inquiry learning in our classroom.  We noticed the importance of building student curiosity and spending time building background knowledge.  We were reminded of the importance of responsive teaching and working together as a team to meet the needs of ALL our students.  We also appreciated the support of our teacher librarian and computers teachers. 

Submitted by Janice Moase, KVR Middle School