Tuesday 27 May 2014

Atomic Play-Doh (Science 10)

I tried a different activity with students in Science 10 the other day using Play-Doh.  Instead of having the students go through the traditional method of learning nuclear fission/fusion with sketches and nuclear equation notes, I had the students use Play-Doh to model the reactions.
 I was hoping that something tactile such as physically making electrons, protons, neutrons and making the isotope models when constructing the nuclear equations would engage some less motivated students more than the traditional pencil and paper way.  The results were positive.  Although some students worked slowly,  the modelling forced them to discuss the terms and associate the colours of play-doh with the nuclear particles they had associated them with.  This allowed the students to "play" and learn at the same time.  Interestingly, the activity had a wide range of effects on the whole class. Strong academic students started teaching the other students the equations.  Students shared ideas and corrected each other as they worked through the activities.  Some students inquired about whether the atoms needed to display the electron shells.  This further allowed students to use the play-doh to model electron shells and Bohr model diagrams. The activity was a pleasant surprise.  All students participated and there was a significant level of inter-student discussion as well as peer coaching and teaching. I will try it again.

Post courtesy of Cory Hogg 

Sunday 25 May 2014

Elementary & Middle School Highlights

Here are some of the 2013-2014 highlights collected this year from our Elementary and Middle School teachers.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

BC's Economy: Agriculture

Social Studies 10:  Wild Goose Winery 

One of the focuses during Social Studies 10 is on British Columbia's economy and the major sectors that make up BC's economy. For our look at agriculture we discussed different agriculture based activities such as ranching and crop farming. We focused primarily, however, on the Okanagan based activities of orchards and vineyards. With recent discussions in the media about the Agricultural Land Reserve we were able to identify reasons why the ALR is both positive and negative for farmers and the general population of BC. This enhanced students understanding about the need to promote farming, not only in Penticton, but throughout the province. As part of this unit we looked at parts of three different documentaries, No Impact ManEnd of the Line and Dirt. During the documentary Dirt, students were given multiple looks at how dirt provides humans with the basis of all life on the planet and how through constant development we are negatively impacting so much of the dirt on our planet. One of the parts that stood out for most students was when a winemaker in Italy bent down and tasted the dirt. The winemaker said that he can taste many of the flavours of the wine in the dirt. This clip peaked students interests and led us to a field trip to a local vineyard in OK Falls.

On April 28th, along with Naryn Searcy and Christy Bevington, my class went to Wild Goose Winery for a tour of the vineyard and wine making facilities. For many of the students it was their first time in a vineyard. Throughout the tour our guide, owner Roland Kruger, discussed the impact the dirt had on the growth of his grapes and how simple things like a higher abundance of rocks in one area, or clover in another impacts the flavours that winemakers will produce. Roland helped us understand the farming methods that are used at his vineyard, including watering cycles and pruning methods. One of Roland’s greatest fears is that there is a limited number of young workers entering into the field of work. As Roland said, the young energy that these workers can bring to a growing industry can really help make the Okanagan market flourish. Our students were exposed to not only the agriculture of the vineyard, but also the marketing and tourism of the winery.

At Wild Goose Winery our students saw the full process from growing to shipping a finished product. Many of the students in my class are very hands on, the opportunity to pick up pruned vines and touch oak barrels full of two year old wine allowed them to connect the process. A highlight for all students was the opportunity to see the bottling room and the machinery required to produce the 14,000 cases a year that Wild Goose sells each year.

The winery tour allowed our students to see agriculture in action. By having an opportunity to put together information from the textbook, from class discussions and from a field trip, students were able to connect with the topic in a deeper manner. Having just written our test, it was evident that students understood agriculture much more than say another topic like mining which can seem quite foreign to many students in Penticton. As with most new learning opportunities there are things that can be adapted to still provide a richer learning opportunity, but overall this was a very big success and will hopefully be one of the better memories for students in my Social Studies class.

Blog post courtesy of Bo Boxall
Bo's inquiry question: If we offer students multiple outdoor learning activities how will affect student engagement?

Sunday 4 May 2014


I've spent a fair amount of time in Skaha Lake Middle School recently and also visited Columbia Elementary and am always interested on what is on the walls. Last year, I taught in a room now occupied by Lindsay Guza and I must admit, she has done a far better job with renovations. Her walls are alive with student work and ways for students to learn!  

It got me thinking about the ways our walls can be used to teach. In Lindsay's case, there are a few new things at play. First, there is a learning component, with notes pasted around the room for a recent unit of study. Next, there are science fair projects from previous years, meant to inspire students during ongoing work they are doing. Third, there are cool biology projects that showcase student works. Fourth, in a cross-curricular style assignment, students have demonstrated art skills and academic skills as they've drawn excellent pictures of organs. These all add to a vibrant sense of classroom community and learning.  

Judy Schneider is a colleague who is also great at building community. Every time I go to visit, she's like the fairy-godmother, with kids abuzz around her. Of the myriad of ways i've seen her build community is also on the walls of her classroom. Each student gets a poster in Judy's class. On the poster they get to draw a picture of themselves  and they get to list three wishes and a star (three things they hope for and one thing they want to work on throughout the year.).  It is awesome as they can reflect on their goals and constantly look up and see their own potential. What a cool way to build community and to showcase student values and goals. 

Once in awhile a student will come in and ask about a poster on my wall. Over time I usually forget the posters and they become part of the background. However, once in awhile I am reminded of the power of decorations and what we hang on the walls. A police friend of mine recently came to my class to visit and do some community policing (a term for meeting with students and answering questions in order to build rapport with the community.) When he arrived, many of his questions were about he posters of World War 2 that I had up around the room, or about the student work pasted on the walls. It made me realize that students likely see and wonder the same. 

Judith King gave me a map of First Nation's territories last year and I put it up near the doors so that as students leave, it is in a place of prominence. It is also near the front so I can reference it in Social Studies 11. Two students of First Nation's  ancestry noticed it right away  last semester and were enthusiastically showing me what Nations they had in their ancestry. They also taught me some correct pronunciations and mentioned that it was important that I had it up; but also wondered why. They were also intrigued by the fact that the map had some teaching ideas on it.

Visiting colleagues has made me reflect again on the power of the periphery. These items are peripheral to teaching (more so in the high school) but what impact do they have? Should I put statements of values on the class wall? Should I showcase posters of content? How much student work should adorn the walls? How often should posters/student work/pictures be mover or changed to stimulate learning?  Thanks to Judy and Lindsay for making me think about how to decorate my room to maximize learning. 

Post by Jeff Fitton with permission from Lindsay Guza and Judy Schneider