Sunday 21 January 2018

We Showed Them Where to Look, but Not What to See

Loving the outdoors, Kelly Maxwell (grade 3) and her teacher candidate Sydney Kemp explored the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist. Andy Goldsworthy is known for creating beautiful non-permanent works of art using nature.

Here is their blog on teaching students to use Andy Goldsworthy's work as a guide:

To introduce students to works of art using nature, students were shown a YouTube video that highlighted Andy Goldsworthy’s work (  

Students were put into groups and used their bodies to create a piece of art. They demonstrated their art to their classmates and discussed how they came up with the idea and how they felt when creating it. Some questions that were posed to the students were: Could you hold the poses forever? How long could you hold it? Would it change over time?  This led to the introduction of the idea that art does not have to be permanent by drawing attention to the fact that every pose was different; no two art pieces are the same. Students were unable to hold their pose for a long time, and each pose would change slightly over time and eventually end.  Learning intentions were written on the board such as:  I can recreate a story using different materials, I can respect nature while using natural materials, and I can recognize and recreate different shapes in nature.

The story of Shi-shi-etko was then read to the students as they looked for the shapes and symmetry in the book. A provocation table using natural items for students to create and explore different patterns, symmetry, and sculptures was set up in the classroom and after the story students were given an opportunity to use the provocation table and explore different ways to create art using nature. After using the table, students completed a See/Think/Wonder sheet to encourage “deeper thinking”.

Then we took their learning outside! Students were put into small groups and given the instructions to work together, find natural (only) materials and create a piece of art. Students were reminded of the Core Competencies of Communication and Creative Thinking.  The pieces they came up with were not only unique but thoughtful. Students had specific reasons for not only creating what they did, but for why they used specific materials. Students were then given time to write a Nature Journal entry to explain their “masterpiece” and their feelings around it.

An extension:  We are planning to give the students time to create individual art pieces using nature and then exploring photography. Students will look for “Nature Art” that was created with no human help and photograph it.  They will write about why they chose to take a picture of that specific piece of nature and what feelings they experience.  In the end, they will have a piece of learning that they can show (a photo), without disturbing nature.  Essentially they will take something nonpermanent and have a permanent reminder.

Thanks to Kelly Maxwell (grade 3 teacher) and Sydney Kemp (teacher candidate) for this blog post.


Saturday 13 January 2018

4 Strategies to Build Positive Relationships

 For the past seven years Through a Different Lens has looked closely at teacher practice that makes the most difference for students who are at risk of not completing school. 

After working with hundreds of teachers, thousands of students, and taking an in-depth look at the work with over 150 students that teachers have found difficult to engage, we can say with a great deal of certainty that the two most significant strategies that engage our students as learners are a positive relationship with the teacher and providing choice in various forms.  This blog will focus on strategies teachers have had success with in building positive relationships. 

We know that relationships are important and there is no short cut to establishing them.  Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in the Spirals of Inquiry impress upon us that every child needs two adults that believe they will be a success in life.  We need to ensure all of our children and youth feel connected with some of us in every school community.  George Couros in his book The Innovators Mindset tells us there is no point trying out new strategies or new innovations, if we don't have positive relationships with our students. We need to know them.  We need to take the time.

So how do we do this?

Here are some things people are doing:

1. The 2 X 10 Strategy:  Choose the student that you are most disconnected with.  Spend 2 minutes of uninterrupted time with them for 10 days in a row.  Two minutes is a long time when they don't want to talk with you.  Persist.  Tell them a little about yourself.  Ask questions.  Listen to the muttering.  Be patient.  Smile.  Show interest.  See what happens over 10 days.    Teachers who have tried this strategy have found it to be astoundingly positive.  We would love to hear your stories.

2.  Sharing or talking circles:  This technique reflects the First Peoples Principles of Learning, and teachers who have used sharing circles to build community have found that students are amazed with how much they learn about each other, how much better they understand each other and support each other, and how much they learn about themselves.

3.  Meet and Greet:  We all want to be seen.  Think about the difference it makes to you when someone greets you by name as you enter the school in the morning or even just walking down the hall.  Now imagine the difference it would make to that student who feels invisible and is struggling to feel connected.

 4.  Tea Time:  This year two grade 6 teachers who were having some conflict in their classroom met with the resource teacher and counsellor to come up with ideas on how they might deal with the conflict.  In the end they decided to try something quite unique.  The counsellor had suggested that they really needed to get to know all their kids, that the more 'familiarity' they had with each student, the less difficulties they would have when a conflict arose.  So they brought into each of their classrooms a tea kettle and cups and every day after lunch while the students read they invite one or more students to have tea with them. They sit and engage in an open-ended conversation meant to build genuineness.   It is a chance to really let the students voice be heard.

After the first round, students were asking when they would have a second tea time.  It's a simple practice that requires no prep and can actually be a time for the teacher to slow down and pause in the moment with a student.  This just might be a win-win strategy!

There are no short cuts to a healthy and positive relationship.  It takes time, interest, energy, and sometimes patience.

As George Couros says it sometimes takes a change in mindset.  Building relationships with our kids is a 'privilege'.  In one of his blogs Couros writes:

"Honestly, I remember hating doing supervision.  Teaching was really overwhelming for me and every minute that I had to myself, I really appreciated.  Having to 'deal' with kids outside was a pain.  Then one of my administrators talked about the 'privilege' we had in connecting with kids during that time and that we should see it as an opportunity as opposed to a burden.  That totally changed my mindset on it early on my career, and after that, I loved supervision.  

I would talk to them about things happening, play basketball with them outside, and would actually walk back to my classroom rejuvenated.  This was not just kids in my class, but kids all around the school that I did not have the same opportunities to connect with during the day.  It became a privilege and an opportunity in my eyes and made my day so much better. Nothing changed other than my attitude, and sometimes that's the most important thing."
A good question raised the other day was and why not?  What do we have to lose by taking the time to get to know our students?  What is holding us back?

Submitted by the TADL team

Friday 5 January 2018

The Robot Helmet Challenge

To help students understand the basics of coding in an experiential way, robotics teacher Lukas Toth designed a unique opportunity called the “Robot Helmet Challenge”. The task required students to write computer code that would “program” a fellow classmate to travel from the robotics classroom to another pre-determined location in the school.

Students wrote a series of code that was then placed on the inside of a cardboard helmet worn by one member of their group. The student wearing the helmet was not able to see where they were going so they were completely dependent on the written code. To make things more interesting, the code inside the helmet had to be written in C++ language that a robot would understand, meaning it was communicated in terms of power and time instead of body movements and distance. So for example, instead of the instructions saying “take one step forward” (human language) the code would read “motor one and motor two (both legs) full power for one second" (walking for one second). A key purpose of making sure the person wearing the helmet couldn’t see where they were going was also to help students grasp the concept that a robot is only able to do what it is programmed to do. A robot cannot “see” beyond the code that is written for it.

Coding instructions placed inside the helmet
The helmet challenge turned out to be a fun, experiential, and visual way to help students learn the concept of coding that was much more engaging than practicing on worksheets. After the students had finished programming their friends to reach the desired location, they took the same code and loaded it into their actual robots and then adjusted the code as needed based on what happened.

The results of the challenge were that the students were engaged and participated fully in the learning opportunity. Even though the task itself was simple in its design, it required complex problem solving skills as well as the use of the core competencies of creative and critical thinking and communication.

Some insights Lukas gained from the experience were that he will definitely do it again (this is his first time teaching robotics), and in retrospect he realized that having a challenge such as this one early in the semester really helped to set the tone for the way the course was going to run. Students realized they would have a lot of freedom and choice in the way they solved the challenges they would be given, and that collectively they could impact the direction of the course through class reflections and conversations. In Lukas's words, the robot helmet challenge really "opened up the culture of the classroom".  In their book "Empower", John Spencer and A.J. Juliani emphasize the importance of creating an environment where students take true ownership and control  of their learning, and the positive way that students are describing their experiences in robotics class supports this.

A final and unanticipated benefit of the robot helmet challenge was the engagement of students and teachers outside of the robotics class. Adults and kids alike were intrigued by the students in their colourful cardboard helmets and their various (often frustrating and humourous-see photo below) attempts to reach their destinations.  It created an atmosphere of fun but focused collaboration and problem solving, and it certainly created some positive publicity for a new program in the school.

This is the first post on the TADL blog from SD53 (Okanagan Similkameen).