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In this installment of TeachOntario Talks we are profiling and celebrating a group of educators from the KidsAbility™ School Authority who embarked on a year-long Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) using art as a pathway to learning for their students at the KidsAbility™ School (Waterloo site).

 

The Context

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At this Section 68 School, operating within a children's treatment centre, kindergarten-aged children who have communication, physical and/or developmental disabilities experience one-year programs that focus on early identification, intervention and transition into community schools. Kellie Bell, Lori Bick, and Virginia Andersen - three teachers at the school - worked together to develop their TLLP, "Art for All - Exploring Visual Art Across an Alternative Curriculum". Kellie explains, "We all had an interest in art and realized that could be a great vehicle for our students to access the curriculum."

 

The inquiry's objective was to:

  • investigate how a diverse array of skills and domains across the alternative curriculum can be targeted through visual arts
  • develop insight into how they can build students' conceptual understanding through art
  • determine which adaptations are necessary to enable all students to participate

 

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Planning started before the school year began. The educators thought about their students' abilities and interests and designed mini projects that would allow every student to participate. "A lot of our children have motor challenges, so they may not be able to participate the same way that other kids do. We wanted to look at what equipment and what modifications we might need to make, in order for them to be able to be artists" shared Kellie.

 

The Project

 

The inquiry consisted of one major project each month, along with other smaller projects all based around a specific medium. Over the course of the year, they explored Paint Splattering, Sumingashi printing, Stamping, Paint Making, Flexible Glass Sculptures, and even Chihuly Glass.

 

 

Impact

 

With the help of adaptive tools and assistive technology, including switch-adapted equipment, every student was able to participate and contribute equally to a giant mural at a community event. Zot Artz provided giant paint rollers and paint stampers that could be attached to walkers and wheelchairs, allowing each artist to be successful in their own way. The year culminated with an art festival showcasing all of the students work. The event drew hundreds of guests, including media, providing a truly special moment for students and their families to celebrate what they accomplished.

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Kellie says of "Art for All", "I think it reinforced our belief that, all of our children, no matter what their skill level... they all have the right and the ability to have the same experiences and be able to participate. Sometimes all it takes is a small modification, or accommodation, and it's really incredible what these kids can accomplish".

 

“Art for All” illuminated previously undiscovered talents in students allowing them to express themselves in different and powerful ways, regardless of abilities. It was an equally powerful experience for the educators as it brought them proudly together, it made them more committed than ever in their collective belief that “inclusion is possible” and that they can provide learning pathways that allow every child to learn.

 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario's educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher here.

students working together.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of teachers Kristen Muscat-Fennell, Kelly Little, Stephanie Skelton, Darrell Bax, and Lee Sparling of the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB).

 

When Kristen Muscat-Fennell learned about the balanced mathematics approach to teaching, she knew she had found a game-changer.

 

“It’s a framework for mathematics instruction that really supports student engagement, mindset, confidence-building, and achievement in students,” explains Muscat-Fennell, a Vice Principal and former Instructional Resource Teacher (Mathematics K-8) and teacher/math coach at Fieldcrest Elementary School.

 

kristen muscat.jpgKristen's balanced mathematics program is based upon the work of fellow Simcoe County District School Board teacher Lee Sparling, who shared her research and approach in her book Balanced Mathematics in 2005.

 

What is a Balanced Math Program?

 

The balanced math program aims to improve student attitudes toward math while they develop procedural fluency, conceptual understanding and problem-solving. Some components of the program which support higher-level thinking, problem solving and communication include:sample student journal.jpg

 

Math Journals: Math journals are an independent activity where students reflect upon and communicate their thinking about math in a variety of ways. The use of open questions promotes students to use math language, make personal connections and reflect upon their thinking. For example, in the primary grades students might communicate their math thinking in different ways, such as in pictures, numbers and words. See images (right) for example student math journal entry and, below left, math journal assessment.

 

math journal assessment.jpgMath Facts: Math facts ensure students have regular opportunities to build procedural fluency while learning and practicing math. Math fact examples might include learning all of the combinations of 1-digits numbers (2+2, 6+9, 8+4, etc.) and the corresponding subtraction exercises
(9-4, 8-5, etc.).

 

Math Games:  Math Games provide opportunities to build math confidence and develop positive attitudes towards math, while reducing the fear of failure and error. Games provide a fun, engaging way to practice skills and concepts. Examples of math games include flashcards, card games and dice games.

 

Shared Mathematics: Shared mathematics provides an opportunity for students to learn with others. Students work together to solve a higher order-thinking problem, which offers an assessment for, as or of learning. Each student has a job, such as reader, recorder, calculator or presenter, and all collaborate to solve the problem. A consolidation of learning occurs during a ‘share the wealth’ where strategies are discussed and connections to the learning goals are made. See the shared problem solving collage at the bottom of the page. student work.jpg

 

Guided Mathematics: Guided mathematics provides an opportunity for small groups of students, gathered according to assessment for learning to work directly with the teacher. They may solve problems, review challenging concepts, explore new technology (and how it can be used to help solve problems), explore manipulatives, focus on specific problem-solving strategies or math processes and learn new math games. For example, students may be asked to work backwards on a math problem, guess and check or look for a pattern.

 

Independent Mathematics: Independent mathematics provides an opportunity for students to learn on their own based on previously taught material and to stretch and deepen their thinking. Students can use group members to decode words or clarify the problem, but then work independently. This is an ideal time for students to integrate stands and spiral curriculum. An example task might be, "Raisins and sunflower seeds are sold together in packages of 250g. The ratio of the mass of sunflower seeds is 3 to 5. Determine the mass of raisins in a package. Show your work."

 

In the balanced mathematics program, open questions, parallel tasks, inquiry-based learning, rotating content, technology-enabled learning and a variety of assessment practices are also used. The program has proven successful for students from K-8, with great potential to be used in grades beyond.

 

“Teachers have adapted the program to meet the diverse needs of their students and incorporate their own teaching styles and ideas,” she says. “I think the flexibility of the program has helped with its success along the way. It’s been a sustainable, exciting project,” she says.

 

Impact

 

Teachers using the balanced math program saw increased improvement in students' procedural fluency, conceptual understanding and mathematical problem solving. They also saw improved student engagement and improved attitude for math learning. In a 2012 survey of over 300 Junior and Intermediate students participating in the program, 73% said they had increased confidence about problem solving as a result of the balanced mathematics program and 69% reported improvement in their ability to explain their math thinking. In a 2013-2014 teacher survey, 79% of teachers said they saw an increase in collaborative and independent problem-solving skills in students, 76% reported an increase in student engagement and 68% reported an improvement in student attitudes towards mathematics.

 

“Students are increasingly learning to use other sources to find their answers rather than coming to me,” reports a Grade 4 teacher. “They are talking more in math words, especially during math games and shared problem solving.”

 

This program is popular with the students. “The kids cheer for a balanced mathematics program,” Muscat-Fennell reports. “They like it. They have voice and choice.”

 

One Grade 3 student explained, “I like shared problem solving because I get a chance to communicate with my group and explain my thinking. I already know all of my ideas but if I share with someone else they can use my strategy too and I can use their strategies.”

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Elementary principal Chris Russell reports, "When I do walk-throughs during math time I see much more involvement, excitement and fun in classrooms. More students are talking accountably and working effectively with peers."

 

Mobilizing Mathematical Knowledge

 

Finding marked success with the program, Muscat-Fennell spent the last several years sharing what she’s learned with other teachers, first through leading a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program project starting in 2011, and more recently, through the Provincial Knowledge Exchange.

 

“With the TLLP, our team was looking to share beyond the walls of our school,” Muscat-Fennell explains. "The project began by sharing with teachers at eight other schools and grew from there. Participating teachers were given release time to learn, practice, co-plan, and explore the program together and in their classrooms. To date, more than 350 teachers from over 50 schools have learned about the balanced mathematics program through these knowledge-sharing projects.

 

The team’s work implementing the program and sharing the learning earned Fieldcrest E.S. the prestigious Canadian Education Association’s Ken Spencer Award for innovation in 2015.

 

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Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Spotlight on Award-Winning Balanced Mathematics Program

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In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating a group of teachers from the London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) who embarked on an Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) Collaborative Learning Community (CLC) Project to explore the role of computer programming and coding in mathematics instruction.

 

Across Ontario, school districts are very aware of the ever-quickening pace of programming and coding education worldwide. Students are excited and ready to go when it comes to learning how to code and program, and teachers are stepping up to ensure students are getting a jumpstart at an early age.

 

The Project

 

LDCSB educators Richard Annesley, Steve Floyd, Tim Miller, Mark Palma and Catherine Veteri, believe students learning how to code is of the utmost importance.

 

This group, ranging from grade 4 to high school, developed a Collaborative Learning Communities (CLC) project to research the benefits of student coding and programming. This unique project not only focused on an innovative topic, but also included students from elementary and secondary schools.

 

The purpose of the project was to explore what happens when a student learns coding. Does he or she use this knowledge as a link to understand mathematic concepts? This was the major question the group wanted to investigate. The group's work was closely based on research by Dr. George Gadanidis from Western University in London, Ontario. Gadanidis specializes in computational thinking and believes that students of all ages from elementary to high school should be educated in coding, programming, and technology for the many benefits that come along with it.

 

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In a research report developed by Lisa Floyd and Brian Aspinall for a graduate course on Computational Thinking in Math and Science Education, these benefits are outlined. The report shows that learning to program and code makes mathematical concepts more tangible, helps students develop pattern and structure awareness, and gave students the agency to become creators with technology rather than just consumers.

 

Action

 

To begin their learning journey, the team took part in collaborative discussions about coding and programming and its connection to mathematics instruction. Grade 11 and 12 computer engineering and computer science teacher Steve Floyd, showed his colleagues how the block based programming tools available for younger students compare to widely used, text based coding languages like JAVA and Python. The group shared resources as they learned from one another and quickly implemented their new learnings throughout the course of a school year. Through this process the group explored the impact their lessons had on students’ broader knowledge of mathematics.

 

For example, grade 4 teacher at St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic School Tim Miller developed "unplugged" activities that incorporated physical activity with coding language skills. Students would interact directly with cards that represented code as a way to develop sequential writing skills.

 

Similarly, in one lesson, grade 5/6 teacher at St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic School Richard Annesley helped students learn to write, represent, and announce the numbers zero to 10 while using ScratchJr. Annesley used pre-made cards with the numbers written on them and placed them face down on a desk. Students would respond when a card was selected by speaking up and also used Scratch characters to represent the number. This exercise helped students recognize numbers through finding connections to the software.

 

Furthermore, in order to help students explore angles in triangles, squares, pentagons, and hexagons, grade 7/8 teacher at Holy Cross elementary school Mark Palma used Scratch and ScratchJr – a free programming tool developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Palma developed an exercise to make a sprite turn in a circle, move on a line, and eventually complete a triangular pattern. This lesson reinforced the principles of geometry to students while growing their knowledge of basic coding.

 

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Moreover, to gain a better understanding of topics in mathematics such as parallel lines and interior and exterior angles, Secondary Mathematics teacher at Holy Cross High School Catherine Veteri used Spheros. Her exercise involved teaching students four to six basic tile commands using the Sphero app. They were able to use the commands to investigate the area and perimeter of a square and a rectangle.

 

Additionally, Steve Floyd worked with his grade 11 and grade 12 Computer Science students at Mother Teresa High School, exposing his classes to tool such as Sphero, ScratchJr and Scratch. Students then offered their opinions on how these block based tools compared to the text based programming languages students were using at the high school level. “My wife Lisa has been doing a tremendous amount of work in the area of teaching computational thinking and problem solving skills," reports Floyd. "Hearing my high school students talk about the importance of problem solving and computational thinking, and having them realize that the syntax of the language isn’t that important, was profound. All of this tech is an amazing context for the learning of so many skills beyond the accurate placement of commas, semi colons and braces.”

 

Over the course of the year, the CLC group discovered that their students had substantial prior knowledge of technology and its applications. This observation allowed them to make their starting points for lessons a little more advanced. It also helped them gauge the types of lessons to demonstrate at schools they visited.

 

The team of educators also found that the project had changed not only their view of teaching, but gave them a deeper perspective on how new knowledge can benefit students and teachers.

 

The group documented their progress on Twitter using the hashtag #CLCMathAndCompProg to archive both images and learning.

 

Impact

 

Richard Annesley says that his students' confidence in mathematics has greatly benefited from learning how to code.

 

"Students responded with consistent enthusiasm," says Annesley. "Students were sharing their projects and accomplishments with each other and provided peer-to-peer feedback about how they could improve coding developments.”

 

He found that through the coding activities students who were once reluctant to take on math began to enjoy it. They started using coding as a context for learning and even found themselves learning at home while playing with software like Scratch. It opened their minds to a new way of thinking.

 

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As part of their CLC, the team planned a celebration to highlight student achievement. The Coding and Mathematics Showcase Day at St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic School allowed their pupils to showcase what they had learned to teachers and administrators.

 

"It was a big day for us and we were all very proud," reports Veteri. "The students made all who attended see why we need this in our school and at an early age.”

 

Groups of students took on the role of facilitators to guide visitors through a variety of tasks including showing them how to navigate a Sphero through a maze and making a character move around the screen in Scratch. Students were able to show how their coding knowledge benefitted their understanding of mathematical concepts.

 

To build his knowledge of coordinates and measurements, Pablo Gonzales, a grade 6 student at St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic School, used Scratch. The programming language in the software allowed him to use numbers and commands to move characters around.

 

“I wanted to make a character move in Scratch, so I had to use ‘x’ and ‘y’ coordinates,” says Gonzales. “I had to use lots of measurements too.”

 

"I really like this way of learning," chimes Gonzales. "The lessons stay in your mind a lot longer."

 

He encourages other students to take on programming because he says it helps you see the world differently and assists you with problem solving.

 

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"Math really is everywhere," he says thoughtfully. "In coding you have to think of ways to make something work. When I see something in a video game now I think about how the code would appear and how I can make a mini version of it.”

 

"It’s a fun way to learn, especially for kids who like to play video games. This way you’re making things happen and you get to see the end result. You also get to learn math without even thinking about it" - Pablo Gonzales

 

Pablo's father, Andres, has also noticed the growth his son has experienced while learning to code. "Pablo has always been very good at school, but coding and programming gave him a new challenge that he definitely took on. We are definitely looking forward to continuing this program next year."

 

With the help of facilitators like Richard Annesley, Steve Floyd, Tim Miller, Mark Palma and Catherine Veteri, students like Gonzales will have a chance to get a head start on learning math in this increasingly conventional way.

 

You can read the group’s Action Research Report, CLC-ActionResearchReport.docx . You can also take a look at some of the lessons plans they developed during their project, here.

 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Driving Student Engagement in Mathematics with Coding and Programming

bluewater wordcloud.jpgIn this instalment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of teachers Cathy Griffin and Liz Campbell and the Bluewater Action Research Network.  Griffin and Campbell are teachers in the Bluewater District School Board in Ontario's Bruce and Grey Counties.

 

Taking a good, hard look at our shortcomings and mistakes is not always easy. But for teachers Cathy Griffin and Liz Campbell, that process opened a world of learning and elevated their teaching practice to heights they hadn’t imagined.

 

These outcomes were achieved as a result of the Bluewater Action Research Network (BARN), a project focused on using the action research process, including self-reflection, to inform and inspire improvements in practice for teachers.

 

“The word ‘transformative’ is so over-used, but this process is transformative,” says Campbell, who began BARN with Griffin as a Teacher Learning and Leadership Project in 2013. “When you ‘get’ this, it really is a game changer. I grew more than I have in any other PD in my life.”

 

cathy and liz.jpgThe Process

 

The BARN process begins with a full day group meeting of the teachers participating in the project. “We started off asking people to identify their values in their personal and professional lives and their concerns in their own practice,” Griffin reports. “For the most part, people came up with a huge list.” Participants are encouraged to focus on one thing they want to improve upon. They spend the balance of the day creating an action plan and referring to external research as needed. The focus is on teachers using their personal knowledge of context, students, and self, to generate and test their own theories. After Day One, participants go back to their schools and take action. They work on changing their practice and are encouraged to collect and record data in the form of reflections, critical conversations, student work and video of their practice before the next meeting.

 

Each teacher’s process is self-directed and self-determined, but includes identifying personal values and concerns about their own practice, planning corrective actions, reporting back to the group on the outcome of those actions and inviting others to critique their work. Educators involved in the project spend four full days meeting with the group and dedicate one personal research and writing day sometime between those meetings.

 

Action Research

 

A key facet of BARN’s approach is based on the idea of Action Research, which involves a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working in teams or as a part of a community of practice. Each individual focuses on a question, such as, "How can I improve what I am doing?"Jack Whitehead.jpg

 

Campbell and Griffin were specifically inspired by the work of researcher and teacher Jack Whitehead, who stumbled upon the value of filming himself teach in the 1970s.  Along with 18 other Bluewater educators, Campbell and Griffin were introduced to Whitehead through Professor Jackie Delong of Brock University in the Bluewater Masters Cohort (2011). Delong acted as a co-facilitator of the first BARN cohort in 2013/14 and continues to be a consultant for BARN. In this latest group, Griffin and Campbell invited past participants, Melissa Juniper, Bradley Clarke and Krystal Damm to co-facilitate and build sustainability in the process.

 

“When I video taped myself interacting with my students,” Griffin reports, “I realized that I didn’t do a very good job of just listening. My intention was getting the student to explain his thinking but I just saw myself on video taking over the conversation and misinterpreting what he was saying.”

 

Campbell admits this can be an unsettling process. “For some people, it’s not easy to embrace their ‘darker side,’ she says. “But once they bring the barrier down, they don’t go back.”

 

Some of this hesitation stems back to the fact that many teachers are “so afraid to be wrong,” she explains. “We’re supposed to have all of the answers. You have to be willing to be wrong and that should be celebrated.”

 

However, once teachers have identified some problem areas, tried some new approaches and reported back to the group on their successes and failures, they soon see its value. “Once they do even one round of it, they’re hooked,” Campbell says. “It brings a heightened awareness and once they have this they just get better and better.”

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Living Educational Theory

 

Another key influence on BARN has been research around Living Theory, an approach focusing attention on the experiences and implications of a person’s values that give meaning and purpose to their lives.

 

According to the Educational Journal of Living Theories, A living theory “is an explanation produced by an individual for their educational influence in their own learning, in the learning of others and in the learning of the social formation in which they live and work.”

 

This aspect of the group’s journey began by asking themselves some pivotal questions, including: Who am I? How do I know? So what? And, now what? Campbell insists it’s critical for everyone to know the their own answers to these questions.

 

“What we are trying to get at is the ‘I’; I have my personal value connections, trust, authenticity, humility, and love,” says Griffin. “These are the things we try to embody in life.” Aligning your professional work with these values and connections is vital to being the best you can be in the classroom, she explains. "As Parker Palmer (1999) says, "We teach who we are,” she says. “You can’t separate yourself as a person from your teaching practice.”

 

It’s crucial that teachers are able to carve out the time to stop and do this kind of meaningful reflection, the teachers say, stressing that TLLP funding or supportive administrations are key to this. “What happens is that teachers are so busy doing they don’t have time to stop and reflect on what they are doing,” says Campbell. “If they had to do this on top of what they already do, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

 

Outcomes

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A part of the process for Griffin was asking her students: What in my practice is helping you learn? “They were very reluctant to be critical at first because by being critical exposes the person being critical,” she reveals. “But as soon as I started to show excitement about their barriers to their learning, it just started taking off.” Some kids reported they work better alone, some said the class was too loud, one student said he felt teaching was being lectured to. All of this helped inform Griffin as she worked to improve her practice. She also learned to stop taking any criticism personally. “You start to equate our practice with a thing,” she says. “It’s not who we are. It’s not to be taken as an attack on me but as something I have power to change.”

 

At the beginning of each year at Bluewater, the facilitators ask what the educators hope to get out of their year. "Then at the end we go back and ask if they accomplished it and they always say they did and way more,” Campbell reports, adding that everyone comes together for one final symposium at the end of the year to share what they have learned with each other and invited guests from across the board. This public sharing of what they claim to know from their research, the telling of their story, is a crucial aspect of the process.

 

As the teachers get comfortable on this path, it's natural for them to share this approach with their students, Griffin says. "The students start to become a part of the process and they start to take risks," she says. "Showing vulnerability brings down barriers for students and teachers."

 

One student, who worked on an action research project with Campbell in high school and is currently a student at Ryerson University, recently came back to the school to report how much her teaching approach impacted her. “She said before she had done her self-study she wouldn’t have gone out when she moved to Toronto. She said she goes out all the time now and embraces every opportunity she gets because before she wasn’t confident in herself.” “We talked about the only way to be successful is to be really honest with yourself," Campbell explains. "Push yourself to be more honest.”

Another Grade 12 girl said “'I can’t be honest with myself. I’ve lied to myself my whole life, how can I start now?' "It was so huge," says Campbell. "And I didn’t tell her that. She figured it out for herself.”

 

One of Griffin's Grade 6 students reported on his action research project. "My problem was focus," he says. "Our barriers are that we get nervous. Our minds wander and get distracted really easily. Our action is that we are going to be drawing while we are listening, drawing out our thoughts. And also mindfulness while tracking our focus."

 

One of the themes that emerged from participant feedback was that the focus on improving self was contagious. One participant reports, "Through the process of recording and reflecting, I was able to gain new insight into how my practice can be improved upon by opening myself and my work to the ideas of others. This project opened my eyes to the learning of students as well. Much like ourselves, I discovered that when children are given the opportunity to take control over some of their learning, their ownership of it and sense of responsibility is improved."

 

Velvet Rollin, Vice Principal of Peninsula Shores District School, says that BARN, and the action research teachers are conducting through the BARN project, are important in many ways. "BARN itself has created a community of life-long learners who are travelling a path of professional learning that is both empowering to the individual teachers because they have taken control of their own professional development, but also beneficial to the group because of their shared journey and what they are learning from each other," she explains. "It is also important to the learning journey of all staff within our schools because our BARN participants are becoming experts other teachers can access when they have questions about student learning."

 

Campbell and Griffin say their practice is more meaningful and continues to be inspired by the dedication and insights of BARN participants and their fellow co-facilitators.

 

Sharing the Learning

 

While not everyone can take the time out to do a full action research project in their own practice, Campbell and Griffin recommend interested teachers read Jack Whitehead's book on Living Theory as a starting point. Campbell also regularly participates in Skype discussions with other teachers from around the world on the subject of living education theory and welcomes anyone interested to connect with her.

 

You can find more information about BARN (including the individual questions of researcher practitioners) and the international context connection, here. Click here for a summary of the 2014-2015 BARN symposium.

 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under:

TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Values & Reflection Drive Teacher Development in Bluewater Action Research Network (BARN).

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In this installment of the TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of secondary teacher Kendra Spira and her colleagues at Erin District High School in the Upper Grand District School Board. Spira has created a learner-centred classroom that uses technology tools to help deepen student learning.

 

With only about 500 students, Erin District High School may be small in stature, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in caliber.

 

The school is one of the Upper Grand District School Board’s leading schools, ranked in the top 10% of Ontario secondary schools in the Fraser Institute School Rankings. This is due, in part, to the sheer scope of programs it offers, from a champion athletics program, to a renowned French Immersion program, to a thriving Drama department, to a plethora of clubs and activities for students to join.

 

students_using_cell_phones_to_learn.jpgIt also has a rich technology department, which has recently become even more robust due to the efforts of Science teacher Kendra Spira and her colleagues. Spira, a self-confessed techno-geek, is passionate about students, specifically the students in her Grade 10 Applied Science class, and how technology can deepen their learning.

 

About one quarter of the students at the school are in the applied stream and require a different approach to learning. Spira believes that a learner-centred approach and using technology will open the world of learning to these students and as a result, all students will benefit.

 

A few years ago, Spira started introducing the use of iPads to her Grade 10 students. “We started trying things and looking at them a bit differently,” she says. From there she ordered tablets for the classroom and that led to working with Google to try out different products with her students. Her aim was to capture and deepen student learning through using technology.

 

This past September, Spira joined forces with Geography and Phys.Ed. teacher Melanie Sammit and Science and Math teacher Megan Millen. “We've been looking at ways we can really engage kids using technology and then if they're engaged, helping them improve in their school work,” explains Spira.

 

Shifting to a Learner-Centred Classroom with Technology

 

Some students struggle with organization, focus, productivity and putting their thoughts into words. There are many apps and online resources that help address all of these issues and Spira has worked hard to get the students to begin using those apps as learning tools.

 

“Differentiated instruction and technology is a way to help some kids hook into what they're doing,” says Spira. “I feel that they're very strong kids, just not strong in academics in the traditional way.”

 

“Once I can get one or two of them trying it, and then they will show their buddy how this is working, and then it's not me saying they should use it, it's somebody else,” describes Spira.

 

students_accessing_assignments_in_hallway_on_tablets.jpgGrowth Mindset and Risk-Taking with Technology

 

When Spira began using technology with her students, she assumed they would be even more technologically advanced than she was. This was not the case. “They know how to use phones to play games but they don't know how to use phones for learning,” she laughs.

 

So she realized the teachers and students would be learning the technology together, which has proven to be a unique learning experience in and of itself. “Watching us falling on our faces at times has been really beneficial for the kids,” explains Spira. “To say ‘oh so Ms. Spira really doesn't know what she's doing, so maybe I can take a risk and try something too.’”

 

The teachers want to facilitate ways to help the students make their learning visible and explain their thinking. To do that, the teachers are using apps like Explain Everything and Adobe Voice with the students.

 

For instance, before shifting to a learner-centred approach, when Spira was teaching Balancing Chemical Equations, she would teach a lesson, have the students complete a worksheet and then there would be a test. Now, she teaches the lesson using Notability, where her notes are projected on a 70-inch TV screen in her classroom. The lesson is then posted to her Google Classroom where the students can access the lesson, not only written out, but narrated by Spira.

 

student_presentation_using_explain_everything.jpgInstead of a test, students are required to pick one of the equations that they had worked on in class, and using an app like Explain Everything, do the equation while explaining their thinking.

 

“So many of my kids when we started said they knew how to do it but they didn't know how to explain to someone else how to do it,” Spira recalls. “What we are finding is that their learning is really being pushed much deeper because they have to explain what they were doing and why they are doing it.”

 

Spira, Millen and Sammit all use Google Classroom, which is available to Google Apps For Education users, to send notes and assignments. All assignments are submitted through Classroom so assignments can be checked and then sent back to students for changes and re-submission. The students all have Classroom on their phones and they get notified every time something gets sent. “This helps increase student organization and accountability,” says Millen.

 

Students need a variety of supports depending on their learning needs. The use of Google Forms allows Spira to have quick access to student thinking and provides feedback on classroom activities, so both Spira and her students know what they need to do to improve.

 

Students who struggle with reading and writing use Read & Write for Google which can be used to hear assignments and documents read aloud with highlighted passages for easy following. The use of apps like Mindomo, helps students organize and draw connections between ideas and review prior to a test.

 

student_presentation_using_adobe_voice.jpgTo provide students with voice and choice, options like Adobe Voice, Explain Everything and iMovie allow students to present their learning orally rather than in written form. “What we're trying to do is get them to get their ideas out and then when they get their ideas out, then they have something they can write about,” explains Spira.

 

Lesson content and resources are now being presented in a different way. The daily use of Chromebooks and iPads gives students and teachers the added value of online resources and videos. “Access to these devices allows students to view videos on topics we are learning in class to solidify information that they have learned,” explains Millen.

 

Spira has also made her digital binder of lessons public, so that parents can have access to some of the activities the students are learning and other teachers can use the lessons themselves.

 

The Impact of Shifting to a Learner-Centred Classroom

 

grade_nine_students_explain_learning.jpgAs a result of focusing on student-centred learning with  technology, Spira, Millen and Sammit have all changed how they approach their courses-- and working collaboratively has heightened their enthusiasm.

 

“It's been a real journey,” says Spira. “Melanie and Megan are discovering things and bringing them to me and it's been amazing and really exciting. That confidence that we feel just spreads to our students.”

 

“I have had the opportunity to explore new apps, programs, and ways of integrating technology, which has allowed me to improve my teaching methods, and therefore has improved student engagement,” acknowledges Sammit.  “Students have had the chance to work more interactively with information, which improves their engagement and allows them to take ownership of their learning.”

 

Grade 10 student Moses Santos, agrees. “The way we have been using technology makes it way easier to access information,” he says. “It lets me get the ideas from my head onto the paper easier so that my teacher can understand how much I know.”

 

“When we used the technology I understood the stuff we were learning way better,” says student Johnny-Tranter Allan.  “I actually remembered the stuff we were learning.”

 

Liam McGill, echoes his classmates’ enthusiasm: “When we use the technology, like the iPads, it’s way easier to explain what I mean,” he says.

 

Shifting to a learner-centred approach and providing students with different ways to learn and celebrate their work has been game-changing for the students and teachers alike. The technology has been a valuable tool in their teaching toolbox and the teachers plan on extending its use throughout the whole school and beyond.

 

Some of the Apps Used by the Teachers:


 

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TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Using a Learner-Centred Classroom to Inspire and Engage Struggling Students

Teacher-with-students.pngIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of teachers Louise Robitaille and Peter Douglas from Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board’s Monsignor Castex School in Midland and their work on inquiry learning.

 

What is the recipe for an effective and vibrant student-led inquiry classroom?

 

That’s what teachers Louise Robitaille and Peter Douglas aimed to find out when they embarked on their Teacher Learning and Leadership Program project entitled Uncovering Content: Integrating Critical Thinking into Social Studies for the 21st Century Learners in 2013.

 

The teaching pair launched their investigation while teaching at Midland’s Monsignor Castex School, of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, where Douglas taught in the junior division and Robitaille was the K to 8 Special Education Resource teacher. Confident in their students’ desire to be actively engaged in their learning, the pair believed the inquiry learning approach would inspire the children and ultimately improve learning outcomes.

 

teacher-team-photos.png“The hope was that we would create a classroom that had students engaged, motivated and excited about learning, and the bonus is that we developed a love and a passion for teaching like never before,” says Robitaille, who is now retired. “Now school is fun and exciting for both students and teacher. The inquiry-based approach changed how the class looks, feels and sounds. This approach changed our way of teaching and learning.”

 

According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, Inquiry-based learning is “an approach to teaching and learning that places students’ questions, ideas and observations at the centre of the learning experience. Educators play an active role throughout the process by establishing a culture where ideas are respectfully challenged, tested, redefined and viewed as improvable, moving children from a position of wondering to a position of enacted understanding and further questioning.”

 

Step One: Getting to Know the Students

 

In order to put student questions and curiosities center-stage, Douglas and Robitaille recognized they had to really get to know their students. The pair used a variety of strategies to achieve this, including engaging the the kids in activities centered on the students’ lives and interests. The teachers also made maintaining this connection with the kids throughout the year a priority.inquiry-groups.png

“Every kid in your classroom has something to offer and has a set of strong interests,” says Douglas, who continues to teach at the school. “They all want to learn, even if it doesn’t seem so on particular days. Find out what these strong interests are, allow them to pursue them, and watch amazing collaboration happen in your room!”

 

This sort of connection helps students to feel safe and cared for in a classroom, Douglas explains, which studies have shown, leads to greater engagement and, often, higher academic achievement.

 

Step Two: Creating a Safe Learning Environment

 

The next step in helping the students feel free and safe to open up and explore the world was to rethink the set-up of the classroom, Douglas explains. Clearing away anything that was not directly connected to student learning, Douglas decluttered his room, making sure learning tools were easily accessible and clearly labeled. Key to this classroom refresh was reconfiguring the student desks into small group settings in an effort to foster collaborative work. Small group work transformed the classroom into supportive learning teams, keeping his student energized, motivated and supported, Douglas explains.

 

 

With the students clustered in working teams, Douglas moved from his standard position at the front of the room leading the discussion, to sitting alongside his students, guiding and coaching their learning and hoping to spark their curiosity, he says.

 

Step Three: Establishing Routines

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Before students could successfully embark upon group work, however, the team discovered it was important to establish routines in the classroom and teach the students the skills they would need. Modeling expectations, establishing what the classroom ‘feels like’ and ensuring students can work independently were critical to this, the teachers explain. These routines were an important base upon which groups could work effectively.

 

Step Four: Introducing Social Skills

 

Every student needs to understand their role in group work situations, how to treat each other respectfully, how to deal with conflict and how to divide work within the group, Douglas says. “In our class, we built a collaborative culture by introducing a number of activities such as pair discussion (think-pair-share), and another lesson that works well with students is ‘Home Court Advantage: Showing Friendliness,’" he says. This ability to work and collaborate in small groups is a vital 21st Century competency, studies show.

 

Step Five: Launching Mini-Inquiries

 

To teach the students how to investigate questions, and then demonstrate their learning and understanding, the teachers learned it was best to begin by sharing their own questions and curiosities. From there, the students asked questions as they searched for their own answers. As a classroom, the students and teachers then started to brainstorm questions for mini-inquiries that the class could use to build their understanding of the inquiry process.

 

The teachers used the 2013 Ontario Revised Social Studies/History and Geography policy document to guide them with tools and strategies to work critical thinking into the inquiry process. The policy states, "It is crucial that students not simply learn various facts but that they acquire the ability to think and process content in ways best suited to each subject." By moving away from memorizing facts, teachers need to plan and promote students' inquiry to explore issues and deepen their understanding.

 

Examples of questions the class considered during the project included:

 

  • What exactly is the value of homework?
  • The 3D movies are fun, but is the movie going experience really better? students-working-in-a-group.png
  • How much sleep do we need?
  • Do kids really need cell phones?

 

Often, the students would discover one question would lead to others.

 

Inquiry in Action

 

Offering students a variety of learning opportunities while also maintaining focus on curriculum goals (for this project, Social Studies, History and Geography) was vital to successful inquiry learning in the classroom, the Robitaille and Douglas explain.

 

A class inquiry examined the question 'What might life be like in other parts of Canada?' This question offered a terrific opportunity to put inquiry into action in Douglas’ classroom. “This was just perfect: open-ended enough to allow true inquiry, but focused enough to provide a clear framework for the work ahead.”

 

The pair also reported they had a great level of student engagement by integrating technology into many of the activities used to support the inquiry. Some of these activities included:

 

  • Newscasts: iMovie, the students wrote, recorded, and presented a series of newscasts reporting on the events, climate and culture of different regions in Canada. Photo Booth allowed students to create endless backdrops and background videos.
  • Tellagami Weather Reports: Tellagami app offered students the chance to create personal avatars to report on the weather phenomena in their assigned region of Canada. “The reports were absolutely hilarious, highly creative, and the end product was so polished, it was perfect,” Douglas says.
  • Stop Motion Claymation: Stop Animator. “It was a blast to see how creative they were in depicting all kinds of regional quirks,” Douglas reports. “What an amazingly fun and truly creative task.”
  • Google Earth Tour Builder: Students used this app to add pictures and text and build a Google Earth-powered virtual tour of their assigned region of the country.

 

Results

 

inquiry-video.pngThe children were a lot happier in the classroom because of this inquiry approach to teaching and learning, Robitaille adds. “They were active, asking questions, being creative, doing research and producing work that was often marveled by peers, adults and teachers,” she adds. The students presented their thinking to the class and have become teachers themselves. “They were curious and interested in learning from each other,” she says. “This classroom became a workshop where the students collaborated, shared ideas, supported each other and most importantly encouraged each other. It’s surprising how students learn to build on each others strengths, much the same way adults do, when they work in a positive environment.”

 

Being immersed in finding answers is a lot more fun than listening to lessons or studying a book, one of Douglas’ students stresses. “I really like it,” she says. “It’s just a lot of fun. You get to work with all of your classmates instead of just doing workbooks.” Another student says Douglas’ classes are fun because he and his classmates get to teach too. “We learn in different ways,” he explains, “like with presentations. So we get to show our work to the class and it’s not just Mr. Douglas teaching. The class gets to teach.”

 

The teachers also learned a great deal from the process, including the value of working as a team with other educators. "I learned that teaching is so much easier when you collaborate with a colleague," Robitaille explains. "It was important for us to take time out of the day to connect, to support each other, to share, and to engage in deep conversations about what we were learning and doing in the classroom."

 

Ultimately, both Robitaille and Douglas found the students were more motivated and engaged than ever before after learning in the inquiry setting. “Students say they love school and can’t wait to begin the day,” Douglas reports. In the end, the students’ work far exceeded the team’s expectations.

 

Principal Judith Gatt found the students in Douglas' classroom to be more engaged and excited by their learning than before. "You see these students doing things, reading for purpose and it's authentic and they're going to use what they're reading in their projects when they report back," she explains. "I also get a lot of comments from parents when they get the report cards back from Pete's class. They talk about how much they know that Pete knows their child. He knows the child's strengths and he knows the child's weaknesses and he's looking at next steps."

 

The Team's Apps

 

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TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Curiosity and Teamwork Make the Perfect Recipe for Student-led Inquiry Learning.

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In this installment of the TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of teacher-librarian Kate Johnson-McGregor from Brantford Collegiate Institute & Vocational School in the Grand Erie District School Board. Johnson-McGregor has implemented a successful and vibrant Library Learning Commons in her school.

 

Today’s schools are in a state of transformation. It is important for students to acquire global competencies, including: critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, entrepreneurship, self-directed learning, collaboration and communication. The perfect place to do that is the school library.

 

The library has always been at the centre of learning in most schools. In an age of collaboration and authentic learning, teacher-librarians have embraced and driven change to make libraries the 21st Century learning hubs of their schools.

 

integrated learning.JPGOne of those teacher-librarians is Kate Johnson-McGregor. After teaching English and Drama for 12 years, Johnson-McGregor wanted to do something that would impact not only her students, but the whole school. She was teaching at Brantford Collegiate Institute & Vocational School in the Grand Erie DSB. In 2011, Johnson-McGregor left the classroom and became the new teacher-librarian at the school. She never looked back.

 

In 2010, the Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) created a document that outlined a vision for the future of school libraries, called Together for Learning: School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons, and later the Canadian Library Association released, Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada. Johnson-McGregor thought a Library Learning Commons was the perfect way to bring excitement for learning into the library.

 

What is a Library Learning Commons?

 

The OSLA defines a Learning Commons as “a vibrant, whole-school approach, presenting exciting opportunities for collaboration among teachers, teacher-librarians and students. Within a Learning Commons, new relationships are formed between learners, new technologies are realized and utilized, and both students and educators prepare for the future as they learn new ways to learn.”

 

The Library Learning Commons at Brantford Collegiate has very little in common with the school libraries of the past. It is not a place where the only noises heard are the gentle rustling of turning pages, furtive whispering and the occasional cough. Books are still very important there, but what is essential to the space is the learning, in whichever form it takes.

 

It starts with a commitment to flexibility. All the furniture is movable and can be rearranged to suit different learning designs. It can accommodate multiple groups and classes. It is high-tech with 30 computers, and areas for students to work on their own devices. There is a spot for quiet reading, complete with leather couches, a coffee table and a fireplace, however, jokes Johnson-McGregor: “we discourage napping, canoodling and tussling.”

 

couches for quiet reading.jpgFor a bit of fun, there is a Lego wall, and students and staff are welcome to build any creation they wish. Needless to say, it is a very popular spot, particularly for the Grade 12 boys.

 

There is no need to whisper because conversation, collaboration and curiosity are celebrated. “It's about building more of a collaborative culture in the school,” says Johnson-McGregor. “We're all on a learning journey and there's always a new way to think about something; there's always the possibility for solutions and creative ideas.”

 

That collaboration can occur in person and online. The Library Learning Commons has an active presence on Twitter, Tumblr and many other social media platforms. It tries to serve all of its stakeholders—students, staff and parents—equally.

 

What does the Library Learning Commons Offer Students?

 

Brantford Collegiate has 1,350 students and over 90 teachers. Students come to the library with any number of projects to work on, and although the online world provides a wealth of information, researching online is a skill that must be learned. Johnson-McGregor spends a great deal of time helping students with their research skills and ensures all online databases are used effectively.

 

blind date with a book.jpgGrade 12 student Chayce Perkins visits the library at least four days a week to work. “Having a librarian like Ms. Johnson-McGregor, who puts emphasis on relevant databases is something that I am extremely grateful for,” says Perkins. “Being in my last year of high school, I feel confident in my online research skills. I am thankful to have a librarian who is able to keep up with these trends and is always trying to remain on par with the best ways that current students can learn.”

 

In addition to helping with projects, the library always has something going on that encourages reading. The library has initiatives like “Speed Dating Books,” where 15 books are lined up on 6 tables and students rotate through getting 4 minutes per table to look at the books. At the end, they have a list of books to take out of the library. It’s a great way to expose students to different types of literature.

 

The Library Learning Commons is also meant to be an equalizer, and that means ensuring that all resources are accessible to all. “A tech revolution isn't a revolution if it's only for some kids, so we want to make sure that everyone can come in and use whatever we've got—and they do,” asserts Johnson-McGregor. “We have online books and resources, but also the physical resources that they can take out.”

 

Johnson-McGregor is always looking for partnerships with outside organizations to use the library in ways that are beneficial to everyone and to provide authentic learning opportunities for students. For instance, when the Brant County Six Nations councillor asked to use the library’s little seminar room for some local Haudensaunee women to make Two Row wampum belts, Johnson-McGregor insisted the group do the beading out in the open using the tables in the middle of the library.

 

Haudensaunee community explains the history of Two Row wampum belts and helps the students make their own.jpgThe group came with giant looms to make big belts and smaller looms that students could use to make individual belts. Students would come up, ask questions and start making their own belts. “Just by chance, I had a history class booked in to be on the computers and they ended up not doing their research,” describes Johnson-McGregor. “They came and sat on the floor and listened to the story of the belts and the history of the Haudenosaunee people. It was such authentic, awesome learning and it was exactly what the whole premise of the Learning Commons is.”

 

She also brings in experts, like the Historical Society, and the Public Library, as well as artists and a variety of guest speakers. “I am an extra pair of hands, eyes, ears and I'm always willing to try new things and revisit and rework existing ideas to make them better,” says Johnson-McGregor.

 

Another goal for Johnson-McGregor is to transform part of the library into a makerspace. A makerspace is a student-centred area where students can create, invent and learn using electronics, software, crafts and hardware supplies.

 

Along that vein, the Ontario Library and Information Technology Association (OLITA) has a technology lending library that is open to Ontario Library Association members. Johnson-McGregor uses that resource to try out new technologies in her library. For instance, she borrowed Squishy Circuit kits to incorporate into the Grade 9 electricity unit in Science. Soon students will be using Makey Makey kits to make anything from a keyboard out of bananas to a video game joystick out of their artwork.

 

The Library Learning Commons is an incredible place that supports academics and encourages inquiry. It also offers a variety of other activities. “With such a vast diversity within our school population, students are always in search of a place they can feel comfortable and the Library Learning Commons offers that location,” says Geography teacher Toni MacNeil.  “Students are able to express their creativity and relieve stress through makerspace activities as well as the Lego wall.”

 

For Johnson-McGregor, there are endless possibilities for what can be offered for students at the library, but the most important aspect of the Library Learning Commons is the collaboration with the staff.

 

How to Build a Collaborative Culture

 

squishy circuits and authentic learning.jpgIn order to build a successful Library Learning Commons and promote collaborative teaching and learning, Johnson-McGregor recommends something she calls “stealth librarianship.”

 

It is all about building trusting relationships with the teachers. Some tactics Johnson-McGregor uses to build those relationships include: connecting with all new teachers and helping them navigate the building, running professional learning sessions, connecting with departments that wouldn’t regularly visit the library, and when all else fails, offering free food. “Always have candy on your desk,” she says.

 

In this high school with so many students and over 90 teachers, it can be difficult to make yourself known. Teachers tend to stay in their own departments and are often unaware of how the library can help. So in order to spread the word, Johnson-McGregor will go to them “because I’m portable,” she jokes.

 

In addition to co-constructing and collaborating on the creation of inquiry projects, assignments and assessment, she gathers relevant resources for teachers and students, whether they are virtual or physical, to support teaching and learning.

 

“The BCI Library Learning Commons is a fantastic place of support, providing all staff with a place to pitch new ideas and questions about developing engaging projects for students at all levels,” says Toni MacNeil. “Our Teacher-Librarian is always excited for the opportunity to collaborate and team teach lessons, giving new and experienced teachers the chance to try new things and allowing students to benefit from their combined expertise.”

 

Johnson-McGregor credits her library technician, Sara Haddow, who manages the library collection and the space, and without whom, Johnson-McGregor would not have the time to do all that she does.

 

Recently, Johnson-McGregor became the incoming president of the Ontario School Library Association, and in that role she will continue to showcase how the Library Learning Commons can play an active and important role in the success of Ontario’s students.

 

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TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Co-Create and Collaborate at a School Library Learning Commons

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In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of Thunder Bay secondary school teacher Vicky Walker and teaching teams at two schools in the Lakehead District School Board. Together, the teams have improved student learning through two projects called "Engaging Aboriginal Learners" and "iPads for Success: Engaging Aboriginal and Applied Level Students."

 

When Vicky Walker’s Grade 10 Applied History students created iMovies on World War II that hit higher achievement markers than the work produced by her Grade 12 university-bound students, she knew she had hit teaching gold.

 

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“Watching these students shine, explore and be so proud of their accomplishments, for me, that has truly redefined education,” says the Superior Collegiate and Vocational Institute teacher. Walker boasts a long list of classroom success stories resulting from two Ontario Teacher Learning and Leadership Program-funded projects she led in 2011 and 2013.

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Entitled "Engaging Aboriginal Learners" and "iPads for Success: Engaging Aboriginal and Applied Level Students," the projects aimed to improve learning outcomes through the use of technology and make school a more culturally relevant place for all students.

 

There were two teaching teams working on the projects. On the first project, Vicky Walker worked with Rachel Mishenene and Karen Watt. The second project involved a larger group of teachers, including Lynda Bachinski, Patricia Cibinel, Tammy Coccimiglio, Donna Hrysyshn, Sylvia Hughes, Andrea McParland, Jason Pilot, Paul Wojda, and Sheila White.

 

 

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The Projects

 

Specifically, the first project built upon the 2008-2011 Urban Aboriginal Education Project, which identified that relationship building with Indigenous students is key to their engagement and success. Specifically, the project focused on seven key areas:

  • creating welcoming environments;
  • practicing cultural proficiency;
  • connecting with Indigenous communities;
  • embedding Indigenous content;
  • engaging and building relationships with students;
  • integrating 21st Century instructional and assessment practices; and
  • becoming interconnected professional learners.

 

The second project built on this foundation with the use of technology.

The projects offered students the chance to tell their teachers what would help them to be engaged and inspired in school. It also gave teachers at the board the opportunity to share research-based best practices with colleagues and to develop a teacher toolkit for engaging Indigenous students.


Welcoming Environments

 

In order to be successful learners, it is essential that First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students are engaged and feeling welcome in school, and that they see themselves and their cultures in the curriculum and the school community. That was a critical finding noted in the Ministry of Education’s Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Policy Framework.

 

“A ‘welcoming environment’ is one in which a student feels safe to learn, to ‘come as they are,’ and feels like a valued member of the school and classroom community,” Walker explains. Students want to see themselves reflected culturally in all areas of the school, including pictures, books, other students and staff. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, Walker says, including through student councils with multicultural representation, sharing or lunch circles, a breakfast program, an Indigenous students lounge or classroom, parent-guardian events or socials and community group partnerships during and after school hours.

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Practicing Cultural Proficiency

Research shows that when teachers become more familiar with students’ cultural backgrounds, they are better able to understand how cultural differences may affect students’ learning. Studies have shown that

understanding students’ motivations and values, adapting materials and approaches appropriately and building mutual respect with the students, are also critical to successful learning.

 

One teacher involved in the project reports that learning the basics of an Indigenous language spoken in your school can make a big difference to the students. “Saying “Boozhoo” (hello), or “Miigwetch” (thank you) shows respect and that you care enough to try,” the teacher says.

 

Connecting with Indigenous Communities

 

Indigenous elders from the community can be included in all aspects of the classroom, Walker reports. The Lakehead District School Board has created an Elder-Senator Protocol to help school staff understand how to engage an elder for a school activity. Special event evenings for the community where Indigenous artists, writers and other mentors come to speak and share are one approach the schools have used to build that connection with the community. Métis author and Order of Canada recipient David Bouchard and artist and broadcaster Elliot Doxtater-Wynn are among those invited to the schools as a result of these and other projects. Walker’s research into the needs of the community also found it is important to develop strategies with parents, not for parents.

 

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Embedding Indigenous Content

 

Building learning activities around meaningful content related to students’ experiences and interests is crucial to engagement, Walker and her team found.  Students reported they wanted Indigenous heritage worked into every subject and that more cultural resources should be used.

 

With this in mind, one teacher created a traditional garden in an Environmental Science class based on Grandmother and Grandfather teachings. Drumming circles, powwows, and outdoor experiential learning activities (including cooking a traditional meal of bannock and moose stew) are other examples of how the teachers are embedding Indigenous content directly into the curriculum.

 

 

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Engaging and Building Relationships with Students

 

When teachers show commitment and make the students feel welcome, the student is more likely to have a positive learning experience. That was some of the feedback Walker and her teaching team received from the Indigenous students during the projects. The students also reported that it was important for them to have a teacher who:

  • “Does not pressure me with questions;”
  • “Says ‘good morning [NAME],’ every single day;”
  • “Believes you can;”
  • “Doesn’t give up on you;”
  • “Knows when something is wrong;”
  • “Has a good sense of humour;”
  • and “who listens to students.”

 

From creating Oji-Cree welcome signs for the classroom and breaking bread with students, to simply asking them where they are from and what they need, the teachers in the schools have found many ways to connect with the students and create trust. “I engage in conversations that make the student feel valued,” says one teacher. Another reported he aims to show the student “that a caring adult is in the building.” The simple act of a teacher knowing what First Nation community the students are from and asking questions about that First Nation shows an interest and cultural acknowledgement that breaks down educational barriers and resistance.

 

Integrating 21st Century Instructional and Assessment Practices

 

The technology integration model of SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition), created by Ruben R. Puentedura, was a cornerstone of the team’s approach in the second project. This model helped the teachers approach the integration of the technology effectively into their subject-specific, content-driven classrooms.

 

ipads-charging-up-in-class.png“For a student like me, being able to use an iPad, a netbook, or one of the many kinds of software that the school offers is extremely helpful,” says Grade 11 student Daisy Darrach. “It allows me to focus on something that is more tangible than just a piece of paper. It is also a great help in terms of resources as it gives us greater access to more information than we could get from simply reading the limited knowledge available in a textbook.”

 

With most Indigenous students at the schools being functional or fluent in the Ojibwe language, Ojibwe language teacher Sheila White says she saw an opportunity with technology to build on these skills. “I have tried different strategies to teach new vocabulary and I always felt that the students were not retaining the vocabulary and therefore resorting to memorization,” she says. Using the Neechee Ojibwe App and iPads allowed the teachers to support a more engaging and robust approach to language learning, which White reports led to greater retention and learning in the students.

 

The access to iPads and the Internet also helped low-income students bridge the technology gap, giving them the power to change their social structures by being empowered and engaged, Walker reports.

 

Parent Susan Reppard was thrilled that her daughter was able to benefit from the iPads. "By teachers embracing and incorporating technology into everyday subjects at the school, students are more engaged and interested to learn and explore," she says. "Whether it be the green room used to broadcast the televised morning announcements to every classroom via SMART boards or the software used for the metal plasma cutter in the welding shop."

 

Becoming Interconnected Professional Learners

 

Pulling all of this student feedback and teacher success stories together in her TLLP reports, and sharing them with her colleagues, has been an important step toward empowering the teaching staff as interconnected professional learners, Walker says.

 

As a result of the projects, one teacher actually changed her curriculum to include issues relevant to the students in her class. Another reported that teacher training needs to revolve around the student and focus on making students feel comfortable in their learning environment. “Many students, not only Indigenous students, do not have the same lives teachers do. Recognizing this is crucial for all students to have success in the classroom.” History teacher Tammy Coccimiglio reports that giving students iPads has gradually changed her teaching practice from a teacher-directed style to a more student-centered style of learning. “My role has slowly evolved into that of a facilitator, where students have the opportunity to make choices about the way they learn.”

 

Principal Michelle Probizanski recognizes that, moving forward, Professional Learning Communities and the Ministry of Education's Student Success Support Initiative, which focus on Applied and Indigenous Learners, are supported by these projects. “The results of the TLLP built a base from which to work, and teachers and departments have continued using technology and research-based best practices to improve student learning," Probizanski says.

 

According to Puentedura’s SAMR model, Redefinition is the final stage in integrating technology into education in which student learning and assessment are transformed into new educational formats. The teachers involved in these projects know they have transformed education when, in the particular case of Indigenous students, learning is rooted in cultural respect and the technology allows Indigenous student voices to be heard.

 

The Team's Top Apps

 

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TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Cultural Connection and Tech Make School More Relevant for Indigenous Teens 

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In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers from Nipigon-Red Rock District High School of the Superior Greenstone DSB and their project: “21st Century Learning & Leading: Using Technology to Reach Every Child and Family.”

 

Research shows that parents who are engaged in their child’s education not only improve student achievement and well-being, but also make good schools even better.

 

Nipigon-Red Rock District High School is part of the Superior Greenstone DSB in Northwestern Ontario. The school serves the communities of Red Rock, Nipigon, Dorion, Hurkett, Lake Helen First Nation and Rocky Bay First Nation.  There are 115 kilometers between the two furthest communities and most students are bussed in from up to 75 kilometers away.

 

map of school.JPGGiven those distances, how can isolated schools encourage and support families to become active members of the school community so that their children can achieve greater success?

 

Answering that question was the challenge four teachers at Nipigon-Red Rock took on as part of their 2014/ 2015 Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP). Teachers Jenni Scott-Marciski, Colleen Rose, Kim Mannila and Erin Langevin thought they could use technology to bring families closer to the school, and so they began their project: “21st Century Learning & Leading: Using Technology to Reach Every Child and Family.”

 

The Use of Digital Tools to Reach Families

 

“One thing that is apparent now more than ever is that students at our school need strong, direct support from parents to be successful,” says Jenni Scott-Marciski.  “So, to engage students we need to engage parents first.

 

To do this, the teachers began by collecting data from students and parents through surveys about their need for, access to, and expertise with, technology. The results of the surveys informed local decisions regarding which digital tools to use to best engage with the school community.

 

The project team began by starting a school Facebook group. The goal in using Facebook was to engage parents and students through posts about school events, and increase enthusiasm and participation in those events.

 

The team also used Remind, a free teacher communication platform, to reach families and sent letters home to invite parents to view and comment on student blogs.

 

In the classroom, teachers began using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as a way for students and teachers to collaborate both inside and outside the classroom. The news of the ease of use with these apps began to spread throughout the school, and soon even teachers who were previously hesitant to use technology began collaborating with students and colleagues using digital tools.

 

The team also made use of Google+ as a way to collaborate with one another online. In this online community, the team was also able to learn how to better serve students by increasing their own understanding of technology-enabled learning.

 

The Impact of Technology on Community Building for Students and Families:

 

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The impact of using technology as a tool to bring student learning to families across the Nipigon-Red Rock District High School community was fantastic.

 

One parent shared that when the school started up the Facebook page she couldn’t believe all the things happening at the school. She laughed and explained that “every time I asked my kids what was going on at school, they would always say nothing.” This was clearly not the case! Another parent, after reviewing her daughter’s work online posted this comment, “Good job! It’s nice to see the progress of your work.” Another stated, “As a parent, I’m loving this blog. It is so nice to be able to follow along and see what you produce.”

 

Students also enjoyed sharing their learning with their families and friends. A Grade 12 student explained: "I have a lot of family that does not live around me. By using technology in my art class, I was able to post it on my Facebook where all my family and friends near and far could see my art. I posted a video I made on YouTube and copied the link to my Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and of course my art blog and had so many people watch it that never thought they could. Having to see the physical copy of artwork is close to nothing now days because people have their art all over the web. Technology has changed so much and I love to share my art online for all my family and friends to see who are not around."

 

Perhaps the best illustration on how the use of technology brought together a school community separated by vast wilderness played out earlier this year with the Nipigon River Bridge failure.

 

The Nipigon River Bridge, the only highway link between Eastern and Western Canada, split in two on January 10, 2016. Not only did this cut off transport of goods across Canada, it also severed the only access to school for students living on two First Nations reserves. It was a critical time to miss school, as students were in the middle of culminating tasks and exam preparation.

 

Due to the implementation of the TLLP project, teachers had embedded the use of technology in many Nipigon-Red Rock classrooms, and the students had become very comfortable accessing information and projects online. Teachers were able to communicate with the band offices at both First Nations reserves and direct students to blog posts, Facebook posts, and links to Google Docs so they could access their assignments, receive feedback and complete culminating tasks.  As a result, the bridge closure that wreaked havoc upon the rest of Canada, barely impacted students’ access to their learning at the school.

 

Regardless of the Nipigon River Bridge failure, technology has been a wonderful way to bridge the school community together in a climate that can sometimes be challenging! Students from Rocky Bay First Nation, who are located in a snow belt and are 75 kilometers from Nipigon-Red Rock, often miss school because of bad weather. Today they are tethered to the school and their learning all year, regardless of the weather.

 

The Impact of Technology on Community Building for Teachers:

 

There has also been an increase in out-of-box thinking among staff members who are now more willing to try new digital tools. For instance, the Grade 9 class has 47 students. Based on EQAO data and diagnostic testing, only a handful have reading comprehension skills at grade level. Seventeen of the 47 students have Individual Education Plans and require extra support. In response to this, a team of teachers who previously may not have considered using technology to support learning, are now doing an inquiry about the use of text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools to see how these tools can be used to help improve students' literacy skills and to assess learning in a variety of subject areas.

 

Just the TLLP process itself also helped bring together colleagues in a shared learning environment. “Our TLLP encouraged us to communicate more with staff members,” says Colleen Rose. The team facilitated 4 different learning sessions and staff participation was enthusiastic.

 

digital art.jpgHappy Surprises along the Way:

 

Although the team set out to reach families through digital tools, what they achieved turned out to be so much more.

 

The Facebook group increased engagement with school alumni, which was a surprise to the team. Bringing back former students is a great way to encourage community engagement! Parents of students currently attending the school continue to join the group today and the reach is increasing.

 

Through the data collection from families, the team increased their own knowledge and understanding of tools and how to use them to share and support student learning.  As new technology emerges, the team feels much more confident in their own understanding of how these tools can be used to bring the community into the classroom, as well as bring learning beyond the walls of the classroom.

 

Staff enthusiasm was another happy surprise. One teacher was so inspired by what was being done at the school as a result of the TLLP work, that she applied to lead another TLLP next year.

 

That good start continues to grow, not only at Nipigon-Red Rock, but throughout the district and beyond.

 

“Now if only we had more bandwidth and better information technology infrastructure in the vast northwest…” quips Rose.

 

Useful Apps and Online sources:

 

Here is a list of apps and online sources the teachers used during the project and continue to use:

 


 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under:

TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Using Technology to "Bridge" a School Community Together  

Joe_g_with_sharks_953x500.pngIn this installment of the TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the work of Guelph, Ontario intermediate teacher Joe Grabowski from St. John Catholic School in the Wellington Catholic District School Board. Grabowski has taken his students on more than 100 science-related adventures over the Internet in a program he calls 'Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants.'

 

Joe Grabowski’s Grade 8 students have joined an expedition on an active volcano in Italy, hung out in an Adele penguin colony in Antarctica and chatted with an ocean explorer from the bottom of the ocean. What's more, they’ve done it all from the seats in their Guelph, Ontario classroom.

These are just three of the more than 100 science-related adventures the math and science teacher has embarked upon with his classes as a part of a growing program he calls ‘Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants.’Explore_logo_242x201.jpg

“If you ask my students, they feel like the world is coming to our classroom,” says Grabowski, who aims to connect his class with 50 scientists, explorers and conservationists each year via Google Hangouts. “It makes my students feel important when scientists and explorers from around the world take time out of their busy schedules to share what they know with them.”

These cyber excursions have spanned the globe, from Europe and Asia to Africa and the Antarctic. Students have been along for the ride via these Hangouts on a kayaking expedition on the Amazon River, chatted with an astronaut at the NASA training facility in Houston, Texas, and joined a research team tagging blue whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

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How It All Began

An avid diver, Grabowski came to this virtual excursions idea naturally when he shared his love of the oceans, including scuba diving with sharks, with his students. “My students were deep into it -- that is, until I mentioned sharks,” he explains. “The mood quickly changed to a mixture of horror and disgust.”

Desperate to help his students see the beauty of these toothy beasts, and having no luck doing so on his own, Grabowski turned to some shark researchers in the Bahamas to speak to his class via Skype. And it worked. Soon, students who wanted nothing to do with sharks wanted to find a way to protect them. “We started writing persuasive letters to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, using research to illustrate why shark fin products should be banned in Canada,” he says. “They also learned of an impending shark cull, a government policy of capturing and killing large sharks in the vicinity of swimming beaches, in Western  Australia, and we began drafting open letters to Australian Premier Colin Barnett.”

Ultimately, the shark experiment set in motion a series of events that launched the Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants sessions and completely flipped the way he teaches right on its head, Grabowski reports. “The primary goal is to knock down classroom walls and take students anywhere in the world, never having to leave their desks,” he says. While the focus is providing lessons related to science and conservation, the sessions are not limited to these areas.

What the Kids Learn

Giving kids the chance to ask big questions and meet meaningful role models are key educational components to the experience, Grabowski explains. “We believe these kinds of experiences inspire students while exposing them to amazing wonders and challenging issues around the globe,” he explains. “Students won't remember every math or language lesson from school, but they will remember the time they were hanging out in a penguin colony in Antarctica or chatting with someone who just rowed across an ocean.”

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Along the way, Grabowski believes the adventures introduce students to exciting new projects, important issues and new careers while helping to create global citizens. “These experiences can supplement curriculum, but also create experiences that will stick with students,” he explains.

In particular, the growth in students’ questioning skills as the year progresses has been exciting, Grabowski reports. “In some of our first hangouts, students asked simple questions, along the lines of ‘What’s your favorite XYZ?’ or ‘Were you in danger?’ Later in the year, the questions became more sophisticated, often impressing our guests. It’s exciting for the students when a speaker responds with, ‘Wow, I’ve never been asked this question before!’ or ‘What grade are you guys in?!’

Increasingly, Grabowski’s students have been inspired to find ways to make sure their voices are heard when they are presented with a situation or issue that they find unjust, he says.

Conservation Awareness

Among the most memorable Hangouts was with award-winning freelance journalist Anna Therese Day, who often covers conflict zones around the world, Grabowski reports. Therese Day had been covering climate change and its impact on an isolated chain of islands called Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean. She explained to the students how the islands are slowly disappearing as sea levels rise. “Anna showed them pictures of people’s houses and land disappearing, and shared interviews with children,” he says. “They were stunned by the injustice, that a country like Kiribati, having contributed nothing to global climate change, would be one of the first countries to pay the ultimate price. I think this was the first time that the seriousness of climate change clicked with my students.”

Another exciting offshoot of the program was when the class invited the three founding marine biologists from the US-based Sharks4Kids (Grabowski is the group's director of education) to share their knowledge with the students.  Through crowdfunding, school board and community support, the class raised enough to bring the team to Guelph. “For five days, they made interactive presentations about shark and ocean conservation at 20 schools,” says Grabowski. “My students’ learning had spread to over 6,000 students! What a lesson, seeing firsthand, that their voices matter and can be heard on the other side of the planet. That what they have to say is important, and that opening their minds and thinking critically is more satisfying than automatically accepting one version of a story.”

Sharing the Learning

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With his students having so much fun and learning so much from the sessions, Grabowski decided he should find a way to share them with more kids. As a result, he turned his classroom adventures into a not-for-profit organization called Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants which gives students around the world the chance to join in on these trips.

Now, classrooms anywhere can participate in the free events by watching the live stream on the Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants YouTube channel. They can also register for webcam spots that allow them to interact with the speaker during the live event. Or, classes can catch up on the fun by watching the finished streams anytime on YouTube.

 

“A classroom isn’t meant to be a contained environment,” Grabowski insists. “The students, and their learning, should spill out all around the world! This is what Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants is all about. We never know where a connection will take us. What activities it will inspire. What the scientists and explorers will have to share. We are literally, exploring by the seat of our pants!”

 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: World Scientists Join Students in Guelph Classroom Via Google Hangouts

students sharing learning.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers from Halton Catholic District School Board's St. Mary Catholic Elementary School in Oakville and their project: “Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century Collaborative Inquiry.”

 

Before Grade 6 teacher Maureen Asselin and her colleagues at St. Mary Catholic Elementary School set out on their 2013/2014 Teacher Learning and Leadership Program journey, they knew that in order to teach 21st Century learners, change needed to happen.

 

As technology changes, opportunities to support learning can change. Asselin and her team decided that instead of reacting to the change, maybe it was best to flow and create along with it. To do that, they knew they needed to learn a lot more about the technology available, how they could use it, and how it can be applied in the classroom to support learning.

 

The Project:

To begin their learning journey, the Grades 5-8 teachers developed their TLLP project “Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century Collaborative Inquiry.”

 

The goal of the project was to introduce teachers and students to a blended learning environment and increase student engagement in language and math through the use of iPads and apps.

 

technology quote george couros.jpgHow the Team Began:

At St. Mary, the teachers decided to use Collaborative Inquiry to start their project.

 

Collaborative Inquiry work is local and specific to the school. The teachers took it as an opportunity to work alongside one another and the students, and learn together within a blended learning environment.

 

The Collaborative Inquiry process begins with curiosity, and that curiosity shapes an inquiry question. At St. Mary, the teachers created a Collaborative Inquiry question with two prongs:

  • How will increased access to technologies and digital tools improve students' critical literacy skills and digital fluency?
  • How will increased access to new technologies and digital tools improve student engagement and learning across the curriculum?

 

The Project Implementation:

The team had a set of professional learning goals for the project. These were:

 

  • share effectiveness of collaborative learning models;
  • promote 21st century learning opportunities;
  • promote successful teamwork;
  • share successes and challenges and see them as growth opportunities;
  • share available professional learning opportunities to support learning and development;
  • use the technology to further the learning and shift from traditional front of the classroom teacher to facilitator.

 

The hope was that during this journey of learning, analysis and adaptation, the teachers would be armed with the knowledge and tools needed to answer their Collaborative Inquiry question and see improved engagement in their students.

 

In addition, this project was always guided by the idea that the teachers would be learning alongside the students, and they would adapt and change together. It would not be a linear process and there were many entry points for others to help the teachers and students meet their project goals.

 

The project began by focusing on the following:

 

  • Where the learner (both teacher & student) is now?
  • Where the learner (both teacher & student) is going?
  • What does the learner (both teacher & student) need to get there?

In September, the Grades 5-8 classes spent time discussing how they were currently using technology both inside and outside of the classroom in order to establish a starting point.  Teachers and students also co-created success criteria on the use of technology both inside and outside the classroom.

 

blended learning definition.jpgIn the fall, the teachers explored the a learning management system and took blended learning courses along with other Halton Catholic District School Board teachers.

 

All Ontario teachers and students have access to Desire2Learn Learning Suite to explore and practice blended learning.  Asselin was elated to discover how quickly her students, herself and the other teachers adapted to the platform and the use of blended learning.

 

Also, throughout the year, the team brought in experts to help themselves and their students learn more about how technology could help them meet their blended learning goals.

 

“Blended learning has transformed my teaching practice especially in regards to success criteria, on-going feedback and assessment,” says Asselin.

 

During parent/teacher interview nights, Asselin and her team showcased digital tools and the online classroom for the families so that parents could learn more about blended learning and how it was being practised at the school.

 

The Impact of Nurturing a Blended Learning Environment:

 

For students:

 

“I think it is preparing my students for more than I could have hoped for,” says Asselin. “They are thinking more critically and able to problem solve in ways I had not imagined in a grade 6 classroom. We are moving forward with students becoming digital leaders.”

 

imovie picture.JPGThe students have become excited about what they are learning. For instance, students attended a two-hour course on iMovie at the Apple store and quickly got to work shooting and editing their own iMovies detailing their blended learning journey. The iMovies were then submitted to the “Give Respect, Get Respect” contest run by the Halton Regional Police Service.

 

Students have also become more engaged presenters of their knowledge by using applications like Prezi (which also hones organizational skills in a fun way).

 

“The students have a purpose for their learning and it shows in all that they have created since,” Asselin says proudly.

 

In addition to the technical knowledge, the data proved there was an overall impact. EQAO assessment results showed a 10 percent increase in students meeting the provincial standard in reading, a 15 percent increase in students meeting the standard in writing, and a 13 percent increase of students meeting the standard in math.

 

The team measured student engagement by monitoring logins to the blended learning course. Many students did their work early and most were meeting their deadlines. Also, in the Junior Division, a survey showed students gave online classroom instruction an 8.5 out of 10 in terms of relevance.

 

The impact of the project travelled to the younger grades. Kindergarten teacher Teresa Russo-Rocha, who was using iPads and the Smartboard in her classroom, says it really enhanced student learning because students could see the learning come alive. For her, the technology was a beneficial addition to Russo-Rocha's hands-on and explorative play-based classroom.

 

For teachers:

 

students using tech.jpgAsselin and her team have continued their journey and have spread their learning throughout their board and beyond. After the project’s conclusion they:

 

  • shared the effectiveness of collaborative learning models.
  • attended and presented their findings at On The Rise K-12 and at CONNECT2015.
  • promoted successful teamwork within HCDSB schools and across the 4 regions (Oakville, Burlington, Milton and Halton Hills).
  • shared successes and challenges.
  • provided recommendations on professional learning and resources available to support learning.

 

Susan Brady, a 2013/2014 TLLP cohort and Grade 6 teacher, met Asselin's group while attending CONNECT2015. The work done at St. Mary, and that of other groups, inspired her to bring blended learning to her classroom.

 

"21st Century learning is about choice and being able to choose the best tools for learning," Brady says. She now has moved toward  using Google classroom and creating a classroom with alternative seating to meet a variety of learning styles and needs.

 

Tips for Teachers New to Blended Learning:

The journey toward a complete blended learning classroom was not without hiccups. Asselin offers these tips to overcome these hiccups for teachers wishing to explore blended learning:

 

  • When using blended learning and digital tools, start slow. Pick a topic you are comfortable with and start there.
  • Technology does not always cooperate. Always have a backup plan.
  • Monitor student work. Set up office hours on-line for questions and discussions.
  • Support of administration is beneficial.
  • It does not mean more work, but rather a different way of doing work. Open your eyes and hearts to the possibilities!
  • Allow time for your teachers to meet with other blended learning teachers. Working as a team brings all voices and ideas to the table.

 

Useful Apps and Online sources:

Here is a list of apps and online sources the teachers used during the project and continue to use:

 

 

Screencasting Apps:Blogging or Collaborative Writing:
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XXXX

XXXX

Video Creation Apps:Audio Creation Apps:

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XXXX

XXXX

Annotation Apps:Animations and Stop Motion

PS express.JPG

toontastic.JPG

XXX

XXX

Assessment Apps:Social Media

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twitter.jpg

 

XXX

XXX

Online Classrooms, Learning Management Systems (LMS)

 

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Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Blended Learning and the 21st Century Learner

Shrek_edit.jpgW.H. Morden Public School students perform in the junior stage musical production of Shrek.

 

 

In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the last of three winners of this year's OTIP Teaching Award for Excellence sponsored by the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP) and the Ontario Teachers' Federation (OTF). Sandra Dubreuil, from the Halton District School Board, is the Beginning Teacher category winner.

 

Whether she’s setting up Skype jam sessions for her class with other students around the world, bringing professional musicians into the classroom or trying to captivate a reluctant student musician, teacher Sandra Dubreuil takes the job of music teacher very seriously.

 

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Getting to know each student and what they need to succeed is a big part of what Dubreuil loves about being a teacher. “I like to figure out how they learn, how to inspire them, to help them be successful and most of all, to provide them with the opportunity to love music and make it a meaningful part of their lives,” says Dubreuil, who began teaching instrumental music for grades 5-8 at W. H. Morden Public School in Oakville last year. “That's why I love teaching. It goes so much further beyond the classroom walls. Music instills confidence, pride, determination, personal reflection, learning how to win, and how to lose. It creates community and pathways to future careers.”

 

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Music is something that can make you feel safe, it can initiate connections with others, it can broaden your horizons, and open doors you never expected to be there, she explains.

 

Dubreuil came to teaching later in life than most. She started her working life in the aviation industry as a commercial pilot, delivering aircraft for an aircraft manufacturing company. Yet after three years, she returned to Ontario where she decided to ignite her love of music with something she always thought she’d love to do: teaching.

 

When Dubreuil sees the light go on in a child’s eyes, a child who hasn’t had much interest in music before, she says that’s her greatest reward. “There was one particular student who was able to play their instrument, but really struggled with the processing speed of reading the music,” she says. “Even though we tried many different ways to help, the student still wasn’t overly inspired to come to music." One day Dubreuil overheard the student's interest in playing another instrument in the class. "We were able to get the chords for the songs we play in class and this student is now learning the music and happily brings the instrument to class every day. It's really nice to see a smile on the student's face."

 

“Sandra is an incredible teacher,” adds vice principal Janice Bunn, who nominated Dubreuil for the award. “She’s a brand new teacher, yet she jumps into everything with enthusiasm and dedication. She spends many, many hours going above and beyond to create a great program for the kids in class and outside of class.”

 

A special insight into how kids think and operate is fundamental to her success, Bunn says. “Although we have some very talented kids here at Morden, she doesn’t just focus on the best musicians. She also helps the kids who don’t have a real interest in music and tries to help them find that love of music,” she explains. “I think that’s the key. She looks at every student individually and tries to find out ways that she can engage them.”

 

Dubreuil is widely loved at Morden, Bunn says, pointing to a conversation between students which Dubreuil overheard in the hallway one day. The kids were talking about their ‘dreaded’ Friday class schedules, then one boy said, 'But at least we have music today, so there’s one good thing.' “She’s so dedicated and one of the best teachers I’ve ever known,” reports W. H. Morden student Maya, 13. “She’s just so amazing. She goes above and beyond what you’d expect a teacher to do," adds Caitlin, also 13.

 

Dubreuil’s music class isn’t all about having a good time and connecting with the music. It's about creating respect within the environment, performance and audience etiquette in and outside the classroom, as well as challenging individual limits to be proud of their achievements, she says. The student concert band has been raking in some impressive laurels of late. The band won Gold at the Golden Horseshoe Music Festival regionals competition. That win landed them an invitation to the national competition at MusicFest, where they achieved a Bronze medal. At the end of the year, the band played for fun at Canada's Wonderland and the adjudicator said that had they played the way they did that day at the national competition, they would have easily nabbed Silver Plus or Gold, Dubreuil says. “The Gold at regionals blew our minds,” she says. “The kids worked so hard. The adjudicator congratulated them for their efforts and dedication, which was really nice to see coming from him. It meant a lot to the students in the band."

 

These achievements were particularly sweet for the band because they pushed themselves harder this year than ever, Dubreuil reports. “At the beginning of the year, they weren’t practicing and I just said to them, ‘do you want me to push you? If you want me to push you, I will, because I know you are capable of achieving excellence.’ They can accomplish anything if they put their minds to it, and they did. They should be so proud of themselves this year.”

 

Sandra_video_play.jpgAnother highlight of the year was the school’s junior musical stage production of Shrek. “Every moment of Shrek was remarkable,” Dubreuil says. “Every recess we were in rehearsals and the kids really pulled it together.” Whether she’s teaching a difficult concept or trying to inspire the students to practice their instruments at home, Dubreuil says picking music students enjoy is critical. “For instance, we’re playing Uptown Funk, arranged by Ryan Meeboer,” she explains. “I use this song as a tool to have the students learn a difficult concept, which they can apply to other genres of music. Students who were really struggling are now playing that song. Its difficulty level was on the advanced side, and I was a little worried to give it to them. But I took the risk and they just ran with it. So it’s just finding things that they like to do and letting them see what they can accomplish.”

 

Paul VanderHelm, principal of W. H. Morden, says Dubreuil transformed the school’s music department when she arrived. “She identified areas of improvement in the room, the instruments, the program and the students,” he says. “She then set to work to make everything better. Her tireless efforts have given students a real sense of pride in what they can accomplish.” Dubreuil created a concert choir at the school, is setting up Skype and ePal connections between her students and students in Harbour Island, Bahamas and Kenya, and co-organized an event bringing a professional singer in to talk to the students about life as a musician, he says. Dubreuil has added new instruments to the school (including the Chinese harp, violins, tuba and oboe) and encourages the use of technology, such as the song composition using various programs, such as GarageBand, Finale, iWriteMusic and Audacity, in her students.

 

While others are clearly impressed by her work, Dubreuil insists it’s her students who should get the top marks. “I learn so much from them even though I am their teacher,” she says. “I feel like every day I am inspired and in awe of their ideas.”

 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under:

TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Student Passion Drives Success in Music

bannock.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the tremendous effort by school boards and schools across the province as they work to move the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework into action.

 

What is Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Policy Framework?

 

In June 2005, the Ontario government released Ontario’s New Approach to Aboriginal Affairs which reflects a commitment by the government to help make Aboriginal communities healthy and prosperous. A big part of that commitment is the recognition of the importance of education in improving lifelong opportunities for First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children and youth.

 

Since June 2005, the government has been working with Indigenous leaders and organizations to improve the outcomes for Indigenous students because the Ministry of Education has committed to “improve achievement among First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students and to close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in the areas of literacy and numeracy, retention of students in school, graduation rates, and advancement to post secondary studies.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007)

 

To achieve those goals and help guide educators, in 2007 the Ministry released The Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework. An Aboriginal Education Strategy was also developed with initiatives that unite the Ministry, school boards and schools in working together to close the achievement gap between Indigenous students and all students in provincially funded schools.

 

In 2014, the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework Implementation Plan was released to build on the Aboriginal Education Strategy and help further support the full implementation of the Framework by June 2016.

 

snowshoe.jpgWhat are the Goals Set Out in First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework?

 

To track the progress of implementation, the Ministry has outlined performance measures for school boards. These performance measures were rolled out in increments since 2007 to ensure that data is collected and the efficacy of each measurement is tested. Here are six examples of the 2013/2014 performance measures:

  • enhance the inclusion of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students’

needs and experiences in board and school initiatives that promote

safe and accepting schools;

  • increase opportunities for the participation of First Nation, Métis,

and Inuit students in student voice, student engagement, and

peer-to-peer mentoring activities;

  • work in collaboration with community partners to identify and

address topics relevant to the health, including mental health, and

well-being of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students;

  • increase opportunities for Native languages and Native studies

education, based on local demographics and student and community

needs;

  • focus on supporting successful transitions for First Nation, Métis,

and Inuit students;

  • continue to work with local First Nations to implement successful

Education Service Agreements and to support successful transitions

for First Nation students.

 

A solid foundation has been built since the release of the Framework in 2007, and school boards and schools across Ontario are building on that foundation by improving outcomes for Indigenous students and fostering understanding and acceptance in all students.

 

How are School Boards and Schools Meeting the Goals?

drumming.jpgThunder Bay Catholic District School Board and St. Ann School

 

For the past three years, the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board has been committed to supporting Indigenous learners reach their full potential and has made implementing the Framework a key priority.

 

Tesa Fiddler, from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in Northwestern Ontario, is Thunder Bay CDSB’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Resource Teacher. She works with teachers and support staff in helping to infuse culturally relevant pedagogy in their classroom and subject areas. This includes offering authentic resources for teachers to use as well as co-teaching Indigenous content in classrooms.

 

An important part of Fiddler’s job is running professional learning opportunities for all staff in the district and conducting a workshop series that focuses on awareness training.

 

“The awareness training is so critical to the understanding of relationship building with our First Nation, Métis, and Inuit families,” says Fiddler. “Without understanding the history and current issues and successes, school staff might have difficulty working effectively with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit families.”

 

Recently Fiddler began working with St. Ann Elementary School in Thunder Bay to incorporate the Indigenous Knowledge Land-Based Learning Project. This project provides an opportunity for students and teachers to connect knowledge and learning with traditional Indigenous knowledge and culture.

 

grade 6 trap lines.jpgSt. Ann School welcomes students from over 16 different reserves in the North. Indigenous students make up 60% of the student population at the school, many of whom are facing unique challenges.  Land-based learning brings students back to the land, using traditional Indigenous knowledge of the land to feed into the curriculum.

 

“Being on the land is inclusive,” says Fiddler. “Land-based learning naturally develops environmental stewardship and character development. It easily connects with science and technology, math, language, history, and social studies.”

 

Just recently, the Grade 6 class at St. Ann’s went to a trapline for a full day excursion in the surrounding area of Thunder Bay. “We were out on the trapline and learning about habitats, history, harvesting methods, relationships and culture,” says Fiddler. “The students were so completely engaged.”

 

The land-based learning project is not the only First Nation, Métis, and Inuit education initiative at St. Ann. Principal Jan Bazaluk’s approach to learning is through well-being which includes honouring the students’ rich sense of oral storytelling and tradition. This is evident throughout the school, in classrooms, and through the programs offered to students and their families.

 

The well-being of the students is central to Bazaluk and the teachers at St. Ann because of the unique challenges faced by many of the students. Often the students come from remote reserves to go to school, and are sometimes away from their family. Parents who make the move with their children can find it difficult to find work in the city and struggle to make ends meet.

 

As a result, some students come to school hungry. To combat hunger and to teach students to cook, St. Ann has a cooking program where the students cook together and eat their creations. There is also an Indigenous after-school program that provides meals and culturally relevant crafts and activities.

 

grade 3 eqao and grade 6 eqao.jpg“It is amazing what can be accomplished with students when we are academically optimistic, have academic press, and are willing to change how we do things with students in order to meet their needs and impact success,” says Bazaluk. “Everything we do is constantly sprinkled with TLC. We are always mindful of the expectations around our well-being commitments for students at our school, as it is this part of school improvement that holds together and drives the academic achievement piece at St. Ann School.”

 

The implementation of these initiatives at St. Ann is driving student success and that success can be seen in the student achievement data. In 2011, 29% of Grade 3 students met the standard as measured by the EQAO in reading. In 2015, 88% of Grade 3 students met the standard in reading. In 2011, 57% of Grade 6 students met the standard as measured by the EQAO in math. In 2015, 74% of Grade 6 students met the standard in math.

 

“The Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board has done a great job of implementing the Framework and has worked hard at heightening knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity around Indigenous education," says Bazaluk.

 

"Over the last 5 years, St. Ann School has had a collective transformation in mindset around Indigenous education and meeting Indigenous learner needs. Change has proven to be progress, as the school has turned a corner, and is now currently making phenomenal student well-being and academic success gains. Despite the challenges, we push forward positively, relentlessly, and resiliently in order to ensure the equitable, inclusive, and subsequently effective implementation of curriculum for all learners.”

 

How are School Boards and Schools Meeting the Goals?

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and St. Marguerite d'Youville Secondary School

 

For schools with a large number of self-identified Indigenous learners, the success of Indigenous students would be a school priority. But how are school boards and schools with fewer Indigenous learners working to close the achievement gap?

 

Fostering an understanding and awareness of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit histories and perspectives in all students drives Indigenous student success. The awareness piece is what some boards are focusing efforts on in order to ensure equality and success for all learners.

 

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board does not have a large number of self-identified Indigenous learners but is committed to addressing the lack of understanding of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures, histories and perspectives.

 

students in north.jpgMary Ellen Gucciardi is the First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Studies Consultant for the Dufferin-Peel CDSB and she champions many initiatives to grow a collective understanding. Gucciardi collaborates with schools to provide professional learning and resources to help teachers and staff disseminate Indigenous cultures, histories, perspectives and culturally relevant pedagogy throughout the curriculum. Gucciardi also organizes school excursions to the North, where students can experience the Inuit culture first-hand.

 

"My job is to be an ally and work with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit elders and leaders and those in my community to better understand this history," Gucciardi says.

 

St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School in Brampton has collaborated with Gucciardi to increase student and staff awareness of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures and heritage with an aim toward greater understanding and acceptance. The school has made a strong effort to bring First Nation, Métis, and Inuit perspectives into staff professional learning, school-wide presentations, library resources and course offerings. Students also had the opportunity to participate in a 9-day excursion to Iqaluit, Nunavut.

 

“This excursion is an extension of our learning and our vision to build awareness and understanding of the complexities of Inuit culture and history, and to begin to provide a curriculum that facilitates learning about all Canada’s First Peoples,”  says Principal Kevin Greco. “We also want to build community partnerships and implement strategies that facilitate increased participation by First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities in Catholic school curriculum.” See a student-created video of the excursion, right

 

Students learned how to live off the land, even in the harshest climate, and learned about the Inuit culture and traditions. But most of all, they were exposed to social justice issues and the complicated history between Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people and the Church.

                                                                                                        video caption.jpg

“Our students entered into authentic, realistic and sometimes blunt discussions on social, political, and economic issues important to Inuit individuals and communities in Canada,” says Greco. “Our hope for the students on this excursion was to begin to unravel truth and wholeness of our Canadian history. If we ignore any part of our Canadian history, then our history is not complete.“

 

food.jpg"I can guarantee that every student who has gone on these excursions has been transformed," says Gucciardi. "Some students have even moved forward in their careers with a fascination for the Arctic and go back."

 

The excursions to the North have been such a success that they prompted the creation of two documentaries, one of a teacher excursion, and another of a student experience in the Arctic.  As well, Gucciardi and her team are working on final edits for an iBook about Inuit knowledge based on their experiences, to be used by teachers and students.

 

The Dufferin-Peel CDSB continues to be committed to including accurate Indigenous history, voices and stories into the curriculum. "Champion teachers are embracing this learning and continuing to offer students curriculum that includes an accurate history," says Gucciardi. "Dufferin-Peel CDSB is committed to addressing and supporting the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, including:  sharing information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history, building capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect, and identifying teacher-training needs to address these matters."

 

The Framework successes are beginning to emerge and will continue to grow as the Ministry, school boards and schools work in partnership to close the achievement gap, and make schools inclusive and equitable so that all learners can reach their full potential.

 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this school in Share under:

TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Closing the Achievement Gap for Ontario's First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Students

questions_in_math_slide_644x372.jpgIn this installment of the TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the teaching team at the Peel District School Board's Ray Lawson Public School in Brampton.

 

Overview

 

The teachers of Ray Lawson Public School in Brampton took teaching Math to a whole new level last year as they united in a school-wide professional learning project aimed at bringing best practices in mathematics to every classroom.

 

Led by Grade 6 teacher Jonathan So, the initiative was a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP). Teachers engaged in targeted practices to improve student numeracy, problem-solving and communication strategies, while improving student engagement and confidence in Math.

 

Jonathan_So_headshot.jpgThese targeted teaching approaches included practicing math facts and processes, using rich, open-ended problems, accountable talk, probing questions, strategy-building, co-constructed criteria and descriptive feedback, So says.

 

“One of the best things about the TLLP is that it forced us out of comfort zones and had us trying new things and exploring things that we did not know before,” he says. “It was all applicable and useful to the classroom, because it was happening in the classroom. The best PD is useful PD.” All 20 teachers in the school participated in the PD sessions, which were led by a learning team of 10 teachers and So.

teacher_groupshot_edited.jpg

 

“We wanted to try to incorporate rich authentic problem solving tasks more regularly as part of the program,” So explains. “I wanted to give the students lots of time to learn how to use manipulatives effectively, to see different ways of recording solutions, time to practice and explain their thinking to others. This way, students will become more proficient at communicating their solutions.”

 

Key to the new approach was creating a bank of questions to probe students’ thinking. “The goal is to build good questioning and critical thinking as a staff and to understand how math is developed in students from K-5,” he explains.

 

Watch the video below, left to see So's Math class in action.

 

The Impact on Student Learning

 

The teachers found giving students real life problems, along with effective questions to consider, has had a positive impact on student engagement. “I'm so proud of how well our students can orally communicate their thinking now and explain their understanding to others,” So reports, adding that students' confidence in their Math abilities has also shown improvement. “I also find it incredible the learning that happens with seven-year-olds. The strategies and discoveries the students make and how they feed off each other is amazing.”

 

 

Teacher Learning

 

The greatest part of the project for So has been the collaborative aspect of planning and modifying teaching plans with his teaching partner. “Co-teaching and co-planning is the way to go. I loved doing this as a team.” He’s excited by how much he's learned in this year of teaching Math. “I have grown a lot in my understanding of the three-part lesson and the types of rich tasks that are appropriate for this kind of teaching and learning,” he says. “I have also learned how to effectively facilitate a math congress to consolidate student learning.”

 

Some of So’s specific take-aways include:students_working.jpg

 

  • The importance of posing critical questions during the consolidation phase of lessons in order to enhance the learning experiences of the students and tap into their thinking process;
  • The importance of following up with students; to use their conversations as assessment or to clarify what they were trying to communicate with their work;
  • Setting aside time to moderate student work is essential. It is very helpful to hear student reflections on their work and processes as we continue to build strategies;

 

So has also marveled at how even when using the same lesson, two different sets of students can produce completely different responses. “As teachers we have to be prepared for these possible outcomes,” he admits.

 

Teacher Jennifer Foster says the TLLP process allowed the school's teaching team to co-plan, co-teach and moderate together. "We were able to draw on each other's strengths as educators and design an engaging lesson incorporating 21st Century learning and thinking," Foster says. "The experience highlighted the importance of collaboration on a daily basis and made us aware of all the little things that we do as educators that sometimes we forget we do that makes the difference in the thinking that our students are doing. The experience made us take further risks, and also increased our own confidence as teachers."

 

The process of going through the project also challenged teacher Keri Ewert to expand the digital learning opportunities she provides in the classroom, she says. "We strove to provide innovative Math lessons that promoted and enhanced critical thinking skills," she says. Providing authentic, meaningful problems to the students allowed them to develop critical thinking and collaborative communication skills, she says.

 

Having the time to plan, discuss, team teach and talk about how it went after class, have been key benefits to the project, according to teacher Heather Childs. "This project allowed my teaching partner and myself to try new problems, debrief and then approach the problem another way," she says. "I also learned a lot by watching students in other classes learn and have conversations in other teachers' classrooms," she says.

 

Looking Towards the Future

 

Coming together as a staff to talk about teaching practices openly and professionally has been very rewarding, he says. “As teachers we do have rich staff meetings yet there is seldom as much time as we would like for deep learning discussions,” he reports. “But this actually started to happen during this project. In addition, the learning and growth of the teachers was amazing. We went from a school that taught Math as individuals to a staff that has a common language, a common purpose, and for the most part, a common practice. The majority of our staff now uses problem solving as a primary teaching tool. The students are becoming better problem solvers, communicators, and critical thinkers.”

 

Going forward, the teaching team plans to continue to build on this success and seek out further opportunities for professional development in Math. “It would be great if we can continue to build this into our Collaborative Inquiries next year,” he says. “This year, the gift of time from the project helped us all grow as a school.”

 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this TeachOntario Talk in Share under:

TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Teamwork Drives Student Engagement in Math

astronauts taking sample.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the second of three winners of this year's OTIP Teaching Award for Excellence sponsored by the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP) and the Ontario Teachers' Federation (OTF). Dr. Jim Magwood,  from Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa, is the secondary category winner.

 

How do you get secondary students with differing interests and learning styles to get excited about math, physics, chemistry, geology and biology? You send them to space, of course!

 

That has been the strategy for Dr. Jim Magwood, a chemistry and science teacher at Lisgar Collegiate Institute in Ottawa. As a chemistry teacher, Magwood has been known to ignite a lasting love of science in his students.

 

fun chemistry.jpg“Dr. Magwood is an exceptional teacher,” says Susan Hewitt, the Head of Science at Lisgar. “In class, he’s able to challenge our most gifted students, while also inspiring applied level students to reach farther than they ever thought they could.”

 

But it is what he does outside of the classroom that shows his true dedication as an educator.

 

For the past 15 years, Magwood has been the teacher supervisor of the Ottawa Carleton Educational Space Simulation (OCESS), a non-profit organization that promotes a greater understanding of space exploration and space research in students. Each year Magwood dedicates hundreds of hours and personal resources to the program.

 

What is the Ottawa Carleton Educational Space Simulation?

 

“The OCESS is a student-run group of anywhere from twenty-five to fifty students each year,” says Magwood. “They do two things: they try to further their own understanding of the exploration of space and space science, and they try to disseminate this knowledge to other students through a series of science educational outreach presentations.”

 

The OCESS, or "SpaceSim" to the students, is a club open to high school students across the Ottawa-Carleton region. It brings together students with a wide range of interests and abilities to run an elaborate space exploration simulation culminating in a 120-hour “mission.”

 

 

The mission is no small feat. A spacecraft is built by the students and is complete with bunks for sleeping, chemical toilets, a kitchen, complicated machinery, lab equipment, space suits, a bank of computers and anything else an astronaut needs in space.

 

The students divide themselves into groups. One group of six is the astronaut group. The astronauts learn to use advanced flight software similar to that of NASA astronauts.  They do the bulk of their work during the actual mission, as they spend the entire 120 hours aboard a spacecraft, taking and analyzing planetary samples, making complicated repairs in space gear, and trying to solve a myriad of problems sent their way, like water shortages, hull breaches, and engine malfunctions. Before it starts, the location and almost all aspects of the mission are kept secret from the astronauts. See TVO's video profile of Dr. Magwood at right.

 

Another group is Mission Control. Mission Control is a representation of a base on earth, like Houston in the movies. The astronauts defer to Mission Control for permission to undergo various tasks and pass along information of critical importance. Mission Control has direct authority over the parameters of the mission objectives.

 

simulators cause asteroid attack.jpgThe final group of students act as the simulators. The simulators are treated as if they don't exist by both the astronauts and Mission Control. The simulators create the events and environments that the astronauts experience. They spend a large portion of the school year crafting a makeshift planetary surface, and have the ability to tamper with the flight software to simulate events meant to test the astronauts' ability to adapt and problem solve.

 

Everything from the ship to the planetary surface is built by the students under Magwood’s supervision. The group meets on Fridays and Magwood is often there for 7 hours after school helping students with complicated math equations or even consulting on the best materials to build stalagmites. Magwood wrote the complex flight simulation software used by the group and often brings his own tools to help in the building. He also collects and donates old, used computer equipment from which the group can scavenge parts.

 

Learning for All

 

It might seem that only students with a demonstrated scientific acumen would join a club requiring a keen understanding of biology, chemistry, physics and math. But, according to Magwood, that is not the case.

 

mission control prepares for launch.jpg“Club members are students who are interested in science and interested in space,” says Magwood. “But we also have students interested in performance arts and in drawing and construction. There’s a huge range of interests and skills. We’ve got all sorts of students.  People who are homeschooled, people who are in private schools, anybody who is a student and is in any way interested in what we’re doing can join up.”

 

And, Magwood says, it’s amazing how quickly students realize they know more than they think they do. “They all work really hard, they all really stretch their brains and they all pull stuff together,” he says. “They’ll be bringing in chemistry, physics, earth science and space science and picking the little bits of things that they've learned through the years and putting them together—sometimes on the fly.”

 

The club celebrates diversity. Over the years several LGBT students and even non-binary students have found a home at OCESS. Kids who would not necessarily feel comfortable trying out for school teams or joining the school council, find the opportunity to shine and lead others at OCESS.

 

“Dr. Magwood cultivates a space where people who don’t fit in, do fit in,” says Samuel Baltz, one of Magwood’s former students. “SpaceSim is a place where everyone is welcome every Friday night, and for some teenagers that welcoming space is the single most important constant in their lives.”

 

Student Opportunities to Share Their Learning

 

In addition to completing a 120-hour mission, the students harness their learning and do outreach to elementary schools and high schools through space science workshops and planetarium presentations (they own a StarLab © portable planetarium). They also run a space science contest open to all grade 9 and 10 students in the region. Dr. Magwood supervises and helps the students polish their presentations.

 

Life-Long Impact

 

The students who have taken part in Spacesim laud Dr. Magwood for giving them a once in a lifetime opportunity that will help them exponentially in the years to come.

 

Samuel Baltz moved on to astrophysics at the University of Toronto and became the president of the university’s space society and the director of a federal space advocacy not-for-profit.

 

"I do these things because of Spacesim,” he says. “Dr. Magwood did not simply inspire me, he concretely shaped who I am today.”

 

 

 

Magwood describes the spacecraft and planetary surface (Above) .

 

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this school in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Space Exploration Ignites a Passion for Science in Students