Sunday, 8 April 2018

Mathematical Mindsets Book Study Questions

This week, staff at Holly Meadows are embarking on a book study on "Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching" by Jo Boaler.  

How can we help all children know that they have vast mathematics potential? How can teachers instruct in a way that brings this belief to life? Jo Boaler- Stanford researcher, professor of math education, and expert on math learning- has studied why students don't like math and often fail in math classes. She's followed thousands of students through school to study how they learn and to find the most effective ways to unleash the math potential in all students. Her work has identified gap between what research has shown to work in teaching math and what happens in schools and at home. Boaler translates Carol Dweck's work around 'mindset' into math teaching, showing how students can go from self-doubt to strong self-confidence, which is important to math learning. The message behind this book pushes us to understand the power of mindsets in relation to math learning and how our approach as educators can help students realize the joys of learning and understanding math and improve outcomes for students. (adapted from Boaler, 2016)

I will be posting our weekly questions here as a central location for staff to access the weekly content,  as a forum for them to make comments and to share with others.

Chapter 1 The Brain and Mathematics Learning 
(April 12 reading and discussion)

Chapter Summary

As we encounter new learning, synaptic connections within the brain create lasting pathways and connections.  The more complex and challenging the learning, the deeper these connections will be. This is the foundation for our work with students, providing opportunities for mistakes to be made, feedback to be provided and learning to occur.

Chapter Questions
  • What flaws can be pointed out around the idea of being "developmentally ready" for math? 
  • What vital math experiences are some students lacking in schools? 
  • How can educators work with parents to promote the use of language that develops growth mindset in learning? 

Chapter 2 The Power of Mistakes and Struggle 
(April 12 reading and discussion) 

Chapter Summary

"Every time a student makes a mistake in math, they grow a synapse" (Boaler, p. 10)

Making a mistake is a good thing. Research has found that student's brains respond with increased activity when they make mistakes compared to when their answers are correct. This truth is even greater for individuals that display a growth mindset.

Chapter Questions

  • How as educators, can we create a safe and trusting environment where mistakes are acknowledged, valued, celebrating and used as a foundation for new learning? 
  • How can we encourage our students to persevere through challenges? 
  • Which strategy for valuing mistakes resonates with you? What are some other ways to show the value of mistakes?

Additional Reading- The man who's fighting girls' "mathematophobia"

Chapter 3 The Creativity and Beauty in Mathematics 
(April 19 reading and discussion)

Chapter Summary

"Math is too much answer time and not enough learning time." 

This chapter discusses the assertion that math is different from other subjects and that this is due to some widely  held misconceptions about math:
  • that math is only about right and wrong answers
  • that math is all about numbers 
  • that being good at math means being fast at math 
Many parents  and even teachers had negative math experiences in school and struggled to learn the subject but still believe that the same teaching practices must continue because that is the only way they know. 

This chapter shares studies that indicate that when students are given opportunities to pose real math problems, transition from real world to math models to perform calculations, communicate their thinking and then return to the real world model to see if their question was answered, they become  more deeply engaged and  perform at higher levels.

Additional Reading- Yes, I Can! Paying Attention to Well-Being in the Mathematics Classroom (Ministry of Education Capacity Building Document) 

Chapter Questions
  • What aspects of mathematics do you find to be creative or beautiful? 
  • What messages do we send about math when we give written diagnostic assessments the first day? What are some other ways we can gather diagnostic data from our students? 
  • Many students  only think of math simply as a series of answers. What sort of changes can we make in our classrooms to encourage the important mathematical aspects of communication of deep thinking and making connections? 
  • Mathematics is not solely about calculation.  Looking at the chart on page 27 based on the work of Wolfram, how much time do students in your class spend on stage 3 (calculating) vs. the other stages?  How might we change this?

Chapter 4 Creating Mathematical Mindsets: The Importance of Flexibility with Numbers  
(April 19 reading and discussion) 

Chapter Summary

As children and infants, we engage with mathematical play as a natural part of development.  Stacking blocks, noticing and creating patterns and exploring and experimenting with the world around us.  Traditionally in North America, when students begin school, this natural curiosity is replaced by memorization of a dry set of methods that are associated with dislike of the subject which fails to make meaningful connections.  To truly and meaningfully engage with math, students should not take a single method and practice it over and over again.  This doesn't teach them the knowledge, concepts and relationships that are the building blocks of mathematical thinking.  Rather, students need to be given opportunities to work on mathematics as a whole, considering a variety of ideas and applications, making connections, solving real problems and communicating reasoning.  The most important start we can give to our students is to allow and encourage them to explore, experiment  and play with  numbers, shapes and patterns, communicating their thoughts, questions and ideas throughout the process.

Chapter Questions
  • Research by Gray and Tall (p. 35) showed that students who simply followed pre-taught memorized algorithms (vs. those who experimented with different methods and used math more flexibly) achieved lower on math tasks.  What are your beliefs on facts vs. flexibility and how do our actions in class align (or not align) with these thoughts?
  • Our FDK program in Ontario has already made many changes to align with the premises in this book.  What lessons might educators of other grades learn from this revised approach to teaching and learning? 
  • Consider the following quote, "There are some math facts that are good to memorize, but students can learn math facts and commit them to memory through conceptual engagement with math. Unfortunately, teachers and parents think that because some areas of math are factual, such as number facts, they need to be learned through mindless practice and speed drills.  It is this approach to early learning about numbers that causes damage to students, makes them think that being successful at math is about  recalling facts at speed and pushed them into a pathway that works against their development of a mathematical mindset." (p. 37)  What are some tasks you have used in your classroom recently that encourage flexible thinking vs. memorization of facts?  How are these tasks different than those you may have used at another point in your career and what prompted you to make the change in your practice? 

Additional Reading and Next Step

As we read the next five chapters, consider this OAME link on creating rich math assessment tasks and be prepared to share some tasks you have created and changes in practice you have adopted as a result of our book study work.

Chapter 5 Rich Mathematical Tasks
(April 26 reading and discussion) 

Chapter Summary

Teachers have a great influence on students. They have the power to create excitement in the classroom and share positive messaging that supports the development of students' feelings about school and the  subjects they are learning. The types of tasks, materials and resources that teachers  provide their students to engage with can mean the difference between inspiration and disengagement in their students.

This chapter suggests six questions that support the creation of rich mathematical tasks:

  • Can you open the task to encourage multiple pathways, methods and representations?
  • Can you make it an inquiry task?
  • Can you ask the problem before teaching the method? 
  • Can you add a visual component? 
  • Can you make the task low floor, high ceiling?
  • Can you add the requirements to convince and reason? 

Chapter Questions
  • Discuss a rick task that you have used recently in your class.  What about the task made it a rich task?   How did it go and what might you have done differently?
Additional Resource

Here is a link to a conversation tool for worthwhile math tasks.  When working with grade partners to co-plan, this is a fantastic tool to support discussion around tasks that support the purpose of your lesson.

Chapter 6 Mathematics and the Path to Equity 
(April 26 reading and discussion) 

Chapter Summary

"Mathematics has the greatest and most indefensible differences in achievement and participation for students of different ethnicities, genders and socioeconomic levels of any subject taught" (p. 93)

To achieve higher levels of achievement and more equitable outcomes in math, we must recognize the elitist role that math plays in society.  Society often puts math on an intellectual pedestal, believing that people that can calculate more quickly are somehow more intelligent than others.  We need to challenge this thinking in order to open the study of math up to all students and truly empower all students to succeed.

This chapter offers six equitable strategies to make math more inclusive:
  • Offer all students high level content
  • Work to change ideas about who can achieve in math
  • Encourage students to think deeply about math 
  • Teach students to work together 
  • Give additional encouragement to groups that have been traditionally marginalized 
  • Change the nature of homework 

Chapter Questions
  • What inequities are present in our math classrooms and how can we work to overcome these?
  • Based on the discussion of homework on pages 107-109, what are your thoughts about homework?

Chapter 7 From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping 
(May 3 reading and discussion)

Chapter Summary

If students spend time in classes where they are given access to high-level content, they achieve at higher levels. Research shows that the brain has the capacity to grow and rewire at any time.  Streaming students into higher and lower level classes not only delivers a fixed mindset message, but  denies the opportunity to learn at a high level to all students and limits their achievement.   Additional studies show that countries with the highest and most equal achievement in math (Korea, China and Finland) reject the concept of ability grouping.  Conversely, countries that have the strongest correlation between achievement and socioeconomic status have a tradition of streaming.

Additional Resource

During last weeks meeting, we discussed Graham Fletcher's "Progressions" videos. Here is a link to the videos. I encourage you to take a minute and watch one or two that would  be appropriate to the grade you  teach.

Chapter 8 Assessment for Growth Mindset 
(May 3 reading and discussion)

Chapter Summary

We want students to be engaged and intrinsically motivated in their learning.  Since math is often taught as a performance subject, students who are most motivated are those who are extrinsically motivated, getting incentive from high grades.  The result is that those who are already achieving at high levels continue to be motivated, but the rest of the students are de-motivated.

Shifting from a grade to a feedback focused classroom is an amazing gift that teachers can give to students, freeing them from defining themselves as solely a grade and shifting the focus on what they can do to improve. This shift toward giving the students the information they need to learn well, accompanied with growth mindset messaging has the power to dramatically change the classroom environment and students attitudes toward and achievement in math.

Some strategies suggested for supporting students to develop self-awareness include:
  • Self assessment
  • Peer assessment 
  • Traffic lighting (p. 159)
  • Jigsaw groups 
  • Exit tickets 
  • Online forms 
  • Doodling
  • Students designing their own questions

Task for May 3 (in lieu of Chapter questions for Chapters 7 and 8) 

Bring a "traditional" (textbook task) or closed task at your grade level to the meeting.  We will work together using the conversation tool  to discuss how the task might be improved and discuss how we might we assess each of these tasks.

Chapter 9 Teaching Mathematics for a Growth Mindset 
(May 10 reading and discussion)

Chapter Summary

This chapter discusses the importance of setting norms in the classroom that clearly place value on the development of growth mindset.  The 7 norms discussed in this chapter include:

  • Everyone can learn math to the highest levels.  Students are encouraged to believe in themselves and work hard. 
  • Mistakes are valuable and help your brain grow. It is good to struggle and make mistakes.
  • Questions are really important. We should always be asking and answering questions.
  • Math is about creativity and making sense.  Math is about visualizing patterns and creating solution paths that others can see, discuss and critique. 
  • Math is about connecting and communicating. Represent math in different forms- words, pictures, numbers, graphs, equations...the possibilities are endless!
  • Depth is more important than speed.
  • Math is about learning, not performing. 

Chapter Questions

  • When working with students, how can we ensure that we are not  doing the mathematical thinking for them? 
  • Which one of the norms discussed in this chapter resonates most with you? Why?
  • The conclusion of this book stated, "Now it is time for you to invite others onto the pathways you have learned..." (p. 208).  Moving forward, how might we share the messaging from this book with other staff members? 

Additional Resources 
For those that want to delve deeper into this topic, here is a link to some fantastic "Math Mindset" resources from YouCubed (including posters of the norms discussed in this chapter).  Additionally, here is another link from YouCubed including a teaching guide to the 5 Mathematical Mindset Practices and videos to accompany each.


Boaler, J., (2016). Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing students potential thorough creative math, inspiring messages and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  

Monday, 19 February 2018

My Learning Journey and Leadership Philosophy Demonstrated Through use of the "Concerns Based Adoption Model"

       Every now and again, I believe it's important for school leaders to focus and guide their practice by considering and voicing their philosophy of leadership, which may change over time.  As I reflect today on my learning over the past three years as an elementary school principal and think of the leaders that I respect and the leader that I aspire to be, a number of themes come to mind. I believe it is the role of an educational leader to help all students and educators within their sphere of influence to reach their full potential. Secondly, a skilled leader fosters trusting relationships with those around them, leading through their actions and aligning those actions with their beliefs. Lastly, I believe that an effective leader facilitates change in the organization that is based on a shared sense of purpose.

       I believe it is the role of an educational leader to help all students and educators within their sphere of influence to reach their full potential. In order to do this, stakeholders must be engaged, empowered and barriers to progress must be identified and explicitly addressed. In a school community, this starts by recognizing the strengths of those within the community, and using a strengths based approach to develop the leadership potential of others in that community, tapping into their unique skills and talents for the benefit of the entire group. When a school leader engages and empowers others to lead, this channels into practices within classrooms where teachers use a similar strength based approach with their students.

    An important consideration in this area is the difference between the concepts of engagement and empowerment. As a leader, the concept of engagement or drawing interest, is important, however, engagement alone should not be, in my opinion, the ultimate goal.  "Engagement, in the absence of meaningful action is not the end goal for those whom we influence. The concept of empowerment on the other hand is deep, long lasting and has the potential to affect true change" (Couros, 2015).   In addition to solely using a strength based approach to engaging stakeholders, it is equally important to empower them, seeking to understand why they do what they do while identifying and addressing barriers to moving forward.

Within my work over the  past three years, I have been using and  refining the use of the "Concerns Based Adoption Model" (CBAM) to develop a targeted plan for staff learning that considers the role of differentiated professional development for staff in relation to school improvement planning. This model, which explores the measurement, description and explanation of the change process experienced by teachers when implementing new practices, has been studied for over 40 years in a number of different educational contexts and countries. The Stages Of Concern framework within this model is a developmental progression of seven stages (See Figure 1) that describe the feelings and motivations a teacher might have about a change in practice as it is implemented.  One of the tenets of this framework is that, as teacher needs are addressed through this process, capacity can be built and teachers can progress through a continuum in relation to their efficacy around the innovation or practice in question.  Furthermore, through this model, teachers with similar concerns can be identified and grouped together so that instructional leaders can address the specific clusters of concern within their building. This model honours the voice of staff, empowering them to articulate and subsequently address their concerns in order to advance their practice. This brings us to my second theme, that of building relationships.

Figure 1 Stages of Concern Figure adapted from Holloway, K. (2003)
Awareness- Aware that an innovation is being introduced but not really interested or concerned with it
Informational- Interested in some information about the change
Personal - Wants to know the personal impact of the change
Management - Concerned about how the change will be managed in practice
Consequence- Interested in the impact on the students or the school
Collaboration- Interested in working with colleagues to make change effective
Refocusing- Begins with refining the innovation to improve student learning results

     A skilled leader fosters trusting relationships with those around them, leading by example and poising themselves as a co-learner. Although all of the pillars of the Ontario Leadership Framework (2010) are necessary components of school leadership, the ”building relationships and developing people” aspect most resonates with me personally in terms of my own leadership philosophy. Without the foundation of trusting relationships, I would argue that it is difficult to complete the work of the remaining pillars of the framework.

     As a leader, I value the power of collaborative learning and continuously participate in a variety of professional learning opportunities, both as a co-learner and as a facilitator. The act of reflecting on and sharing failures as “teachable moments” is also an important aspect of this concept. As such, the staff, students and members of the school community not only see me as the principal, but also as an authentic human being, learning alongside them.  I strive to lead by example in this area by sharing my ongoing learning publicly and making connections with others through the use of technologies such as blogging and the use of social media. Although the use of social media has the benefit of connecting us on a larger scale, nothing can replace the value of actual relationships. I do this through day to day interactions with staff as well as planned activities that explicitly address failure as a part of learning (an example is a book study based on Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset”).

    Another important aspect of developing relationships is ensuring that as a leader, you act with integrity and that your behaviour is consistently aligned with your beliefs.   "As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve, but to unleash their talent. We need to create a culture where trust is the norm. This must be modeled at the highest level of the organization if we are to expect teachers to create the same culture in their classrooms." (Couros, 2015, p. 69)  In order to develop trust, it is important for leaders to be seen as "authentic, ethical and consistent" (Shields, 2013, p. 17). As a leader, I strive to ensure that my philosophy is evident each day through my words, actions and my interactions with those around me.

     Over the past three years while working with  the CBAM model, I have shared at a number of professional learning forums, encouraging school leaders consider how they might respond to teacher voice in a way that is differentiated by readiness or “areas of concern”. Sometimes school leaders think of teacher concerns as staff being negative or resistant to a concept or idea. The framework under which this model operates shifts this perspective by honouring individual concerns as a valid part of the change process. Within this framework, teacher's voiced concerns become “assessment for learning” and “assessment as learning” for the instructional leader and informs the way in which they, in turn, support teachers and plan professional development. Honouring this voice and viewing these concerns as justified also helped to build relationships.  It is my goal as an instructional leader, to talk openly about and address the concerns of stakeholders, not just silence the voices that seem to challenge the change we are attempting to implement.

It is also my belief that honouring the individual journeys and lived experiences of all stakeholders is a key component of leadership. This brings us to my final theme, that of creating and enacting a shared vision.  I believe that an effective leader facilitates change in the organization that is based on both a shared sense of purpose and transparent practices. Based on this premise, it is important to note that compliance alone is not an indicator of effective leadership. The role of a leader is not only to communicate a shared vision, but to co-create this vision through shared dialogue and sharing of diverse views and experience. Ideas, experiences and opinions that challenge our thinking are valuable when seeking new learning and attempting to effect meaningful change. It is also important to acknowledge and interrupt the reality of confirmation bias "which permeates our thinking at a subconscious level all of the time, thus supporting the status quo within our organizations". (Katz, Dack, 2013, p. 58). Permanent change in thinking and behaviour requires conceptual change.  "Conceptual change happens when people make their current beliefs explicit, subject them to scrutiny from themselves and others, consider how new information either fits in or challenges their existing beliefs, and then makes permanent changes to what they know and do." (Katz, Dack, 2013, p. 7)

     Our driving purpose as educational leaders, should always be fueled by the question, “what is best for students?”. This sense of moral purpose must be voiced in order to develop a shared understanding and consistency in practice. As such, leaders must be open and transparent about the reasons driving change.  "It begins with an awareness-of the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of our society and of our school system. It requires critical reflection of for whom the system is working and for whom it is failing, of who is advantaged, privileged, and always included and who is excluded. Once problem areas of inequity are identified, transformative leadership calls for critical analysis on beliefs, values, practices, and policies that need to be changed in order to promote equality. Finally, transformative leadership calls for action- action to redress wrongs and to ensure that every child who enters into an educational institution has an equal opportunity to participate fully, to be treated with respect, and to develop his or her capabilities" (Shields, 2013, p.11).

     The ways that leaders respond to voice to create a shared vision can either move the school community forward with depth and focus, or can cause teams to go a mile wide and an inch deep. Through the “Stages of Concern" process outlined in the CBAM model, everyone is empowered to work on the same topic and school improvement goal. However, although working toward a single goal,this model, honours and differentiates based on the individual lived experience of participants.

     In summary, it is my belief that an effective educational leader supports all of the stakeholders within their sphere of influence to reach their full potential. They achieve this through the relationships they build, aligning their beliefs with their actions and through the development of a clear and shared sense of purpose.  Over the past three years, I have been investigating and refining the use of the CBAM Model, which I believe aligns with all of these practices.   If you are an educational leader, I encourage you to consider how you might use this model as part of your own school improvement planning.  


    Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.  San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.

    Holloway, K. (2003). A measure of concern: Research based program aids innovation by addressing teacher concerns. National Staff Development Council Tools for Schools. Retrieved from

    Katz, S., Dack, L.A. (2013). Intentional interruption: Breaking down learning barriers to transform
professional practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

    Shields, C. M. (2013). Transformative Leadership in Education: Equitable Change in an Uncertain and Complex World. New York: Routledge.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Examining our Context for Transformative Leadership in Education

In a world where change is constant, complex, uncertain and happens at a rapid pace, the idea of leadership that is critical, adaptive and takes into account the perspectives of all involved, is no longer simply the mark of an effective educational leader but a necessity for all educational stakeholders in positions of influence.

As educational leaders, we are no longer the gatekeepers of information for our students or our staff members. Through various forms of media, there is a wealth of information at our fingertips. Our role then, has evolved to one where we must help students learn to critically and responsibly navigate our ever changing world. Important to consider, is the question, in a world where students and staff can find more dynamic and knowledgeable teachers with the touch of a button online, how might we leverage the power of personal relationships to create powerful educational experiences for students and staff? In some cases, this is a difficult task, as many of the leaders charged with this task are in a position where they themselves are learning to navigate in an educational environment that is vastly different from their own experience growing up.

It is my belief that educators have a responsibility to use this access to media to make connections and interact with the world around us and to bring awareness to issues outside of our daily experience. In order to create meaningful learning experiences, both students and staff must actively participate in learning activities that are relevant to them and to which they feel emotional connection. It is through these interactive and meaningful experiences, assumptions are challenged, new conceptual understandings are formed and we find answers that help us make sense of our world. Out of those questions will come some responses, but also more questions.

As a result of our changing world, I do not believe that we need newer textbooks, more accurate diagnostic assessments or more rigorous teacher training and standards, but instead an evolved approach to educational leadership that embraces critical thinking around ambiguous and ever changing issues and the power of collaboration (Shields, 2013).
It begins with an awareness-of the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of our society and of our school system. It requires critical reflection of for whom the system is working and for whom it is failing, of who is advantaged, privileged, and always included and who is excluded. Once problem areas of inequity are identified, transformative leadership calls for critical analysis on beliefs, values, practices, and policies that need to be changed in order to promote equality. Finally, transformative leadership calls for action- action to redress wrongs and to ensure that every child who enters into an educational institution has an equal opportunity to participate fully, to be treated with respect, and to develop his or her capabilities (Shields, 2013, p.11)
I leave you with the following questions:
  • How might we as educators hold ourselves and our peers accountable for creating educational environments that are responsive to the needs of the changing context of the world we live in?
  • When looking at our own actions, how do they align with our beliefs about powerful learning and what changes might we make in our practice to ensure that our actions support our beliefs? 

Shields, C. M. (2013). Transformative Leadership in Education: Equitable Change in an Uncertain and Complex World. New York: Routledge.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Random Acts of Kindness at NCPS

By- Fisher Monahan, Abby Hamerton, Alex Rawn and Alison Golding

Did you know that Nov 4th was “Random Act of Kindness Day”? We certainly didn’t until a received a call from a community member, looking to spread kindness in our community. “Rak day” is an opportunity to do something kind for someone else, to appreciate others and to build community. Our anonymous donor asked that we pass along $300 to 3 students ($100 each). She asked that they use the money to perform acts of kindness, the only thing she asked was that they share about the experience with their fellow students.

Fisher’s RAK
When I was first chosen I was thinking about how I would spend the money. The first thing I thought about was the Georgian Triangle SPCA. Last year, I organized a fundraiser at school for “international cupcake day” benefiting the SPCA, then my principal and the students working on the fundraiser got to go visit and take a tour to see the services they provide for homeless and abandoned animals in our community. This is a charity that I really like to support so I decided to donate $30 to them. On the same day that we received the RAK money, a flyer for “Plan International” came in the mail. Plan International is an organization that works to end child poverty around the world. I looked at the items available to purchase and decided to pens $20 to buy medications for moms and their babies and $50 on two birth certificates (which can help protect against child labour, child marriage and child trafficking). The organization then matched the amount donated for the medications by 5x and the birth certificates 4x. My favourite was going to visit the SPCA. The lady at the desk took a picture on her own device because she was so impressed with what we were doing and we got to play with the cats which is always fun! This was a great experience and and motivated me to continue to do good things for other people!

Abby’s RAK
When I was first chosen I felt amazing because this stuff doesn't usually happen to me and I wondered why I was chosen to have the privilege to do this amazing act. I talked with my family and it took us about an hour to brainstorm, then come up with the perfect plan. The first thing that we did was go to the bank and get $30 worth of Toonies. Then we went on the city bus and paid for people’s bus fare as they entered the bus. It amazing to see the people’s faces light up as they got on the bus and we told them what we were doing. Then we went to the Salvation Army thrift store and gave them $20 toward their purchase. She was so happy couldn’t stop saying “thank you”. The last thing we did was went up to a young couple with a little baby and gave them $50 and told them to buy something they really needed. They were amazed and almost completely speechless! It was an amazing feeling. My favourite part was saying people’s faces and hearing them thank me, it made me feel great inside!

Check out this video of Abby's RAK!

Alex’s RAK
When I was first chosen for this activity I was really excited. I talked with my family about ideas and decided that first we would go to the Stayner Tim Hortons and donate $50 worth of coffee and food for the next customers. It was pretty cool because a family friend reported later that they were given a free coffee at Tim Hortons earlier that day! After that we talked to the Stayner food bank and asked what they needed, we went shopping and got $40 worth of spaghetti and macaroni because they were running low on those items. We got to tour the food bank. The coolest part was how all of the food was sorted into sections, kind of like a small grocery store. With $10 left to spend, we decided to support a local business by donating $10 to “Video Visions” where I often go to get pop and movies. They have awesome deals like “free popcorn Friday” so I thought it would be a nice thing to do to repay their kindness. Lastly, I decided to add an extra $5 of my own money that I donated to the library building fund. It felt really good to spread kindness in my community. A lot of people said “thank you”. I even got a thank you card from the Food Bank and there was a thank you post on social media from the manager at Tim Hortons. It was a great day and I learned that if you do good things in life, you get good things back in return.

Kindness Everyday
The message behind “Rak Day” is simple; do something nice for someone and ask nothing in return other than they pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. The initiative doesn’t need to cost money and it also doesn’t have to be limited to one day a year.

Here are suggestions for some random acts of kindness that don’t cost a cent, that you can do any time:
- Holding a door open
- Saying something kind to someone
- Helping someone out in need 
- Donating time to a worthwhile cause (i.e. raking leaves for a neighbour, visiting a senior centre) 

Through this experience we learned that it feels just as good to give as it does to receive...maybe better. We encourage you to RAK up an act of kindness today!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Playing to Learn and Learning to Play: Game based learning in schools

In the summer, I attended three days of professional learning at an ETFO Summer Academy around, "Game Based Learning in the Classroom" and wanted to share some of my learnings and wonderings...

Game Based Learning vs. Gamification

Game Based Learning (GBL)- Game based learning involves intentional planning of games with defined learning outcomes which involve active participation, critical thinking, probing of and practicing of real world concepts. Within the context of game based learning,  experiences can be enabled that aren’t always possible in real life. Some of the key components of game based learning are that the games used have to have intentionality and are tailored to individual learners. 

Gamification- Gamification is the application of game design elements such as the acquisition of points, competition and rules of play to non-game concepts.  Some examples of gamification include when you use a promotional App (e.g.- Air Miles, Starbucks) to gather points and "win" free product, when you use a product like "Fitbit" to gain achievement badges, or using Apps like "Class Dojo" to shape desired behaviour. 

Both GBL and gamification have some positive implications for the world of education in that they are both hands on, give immediate feedback, encourage perseverance and are engaging for participants. However, from my point of view, GBL has a very distinctive upper hand over gamification.  Gamification is reward based (extrinsically motivating) where as GBL is intrinsically motivating.  A great analogy I heard in my course was around the concept of "edutainment" where the instructor compared gamification to "chocolate covered broccoli" explaining that by taking the concept of a worksheet and disguising it as a game, gamification makes the proverbial "broccoli" easier to swallow.  Since gamification often attempts to make a concept or behaviour that is not likeable more palatable or user friendly, in an education setting this implies both that education isn't fun and that games aren't educational, effectively insulting both education and gaming.  

Games are amazing at creating a sense of "place" and story...think of the possibility that this creates for learning, where the gamers act as "virtual citizens of the world".  Using this form of media to enter other cultures or historical events educates players through their play. Along these lines, there has been a paradigm shift over the past few years, where there have been increased conversations about how different groups of people are portrayed in games (check out the hashtag #gamergate). This is another excellent opportunity to create a entry points to discussions around diversity, equity, inclusion, media bias, human rights and digital citizenship with our students.   

I was also amazed to discover that there is a whole movement around "Gaming for Change" that incorporates concepts of social justice into gaming.  For more information, check out the website, Games for Change or this Ted Talk by Jane McGonigal, "Gaming can make a better world".  

Ways to use games in the classroom:
  • During guided activities
  • For independent practice as a balanced math or literacy centre. An fun example of a math website based on Ontario content that will be launching in the fall is TVO's mPower.
  • On an interactive whiteboard as a whole class modeled activity or as a centre
  • As a summative task to capture understanding
  • As a provocation activity
  • For home practice
  • As a "minds on" activity at the beginning of a lesson or unit of study to activate prior knowledge and prepare for new learning, either independently, in small groups or as an entire class
  • As a differentiated option for demonstration of knowledge (e.g.- Using Minecraft to build a and label a model of the digestive system v.s. drawing and labeling a picture)  
  • To intentionally develop and gather information about learning skills and 21st century competencies in conjunction with curriculum content knowledge.  Using the concept of "breakout" games from Breakout Edu is one of my favourite ways to do this!
  • Really, the possibilities are endless!

I would like to leave  you with one final thought.  I have often made the case for "pedagogy before technology", meaning that we should just be using tech for tech sake as something to be checked off a "to do" list.  The same case could also be applied to game based learning...I certainly don't want people to read this post and think that every academic task has to include gaming because it is engaging. However, after thinking a bit more about this topic, I feel that it is also worth asking, "What is it about this particular technology or game that is engaging or useful to the users?" "Is this something that can support or work into our teaching methods to support learning in a meaningful way?"  If so, then perhaps sometimes it can drive the pedagogy.  Just a bit of food for thought...happy gaming!

Monday, 20 June 2016

School Gardens: Can you dig it?

By Alison Golding (principal), Juliette Reynolds (parent volunteer), and Emily Worts (parent volunteer)

There is a phenomenon spreading across our country bringing gardens to our schools, inviting our children outside to learn about their connection with their food. No matter where a school is located, one thing every school has is outdoor space. It doesn’t matter if this space is green or asphalt, horizontal or vertical. Any outdoor space is a space where plants can grow and in the process teach students important lessons from the curriculum and beyond. The lessons from a school garden are multiple, from where our food comes from and how it’s grown, to stewardship for our planet and the concerns around mass food production. Students learn that the soil is alive and how to care for it. Gardens are also living laboratories from which interdisciplinary lessons can be drawn. A school garden is a dynamic classroom where children engage in a whole new way, they encourage children to be active participants!

Thanks to parent volunteers, the enthusiasm of school staff and students, a generous start up donation from Jerrico Industrial Maintenance as well as other community donations, we have been able to offer the rich experience of a school garden to our children in Creemore!

It all began a year ago, when the vision of a school garden began coming to life as students voted on naming the garden. The result of the naming process, “The Great Garden of Thunder” (the school’s logo is “Creemore Thunder”). The grade 8 class then class built our 9 raised beds and each class in the schools works with volunteers through the year to tend the vegetables, herbs and flowers!

Curriculum Connections

School gardens are inherently cross-curricular and can facilitate engaging and meaningful learning opportunities for students. The ideas are truly endless, but below are but a few ideas related to how school gardens connect to different areas of the elementary curriculum.

Math: Students can solve real life math problems related to measurement, volume and fractions, both through measuring plant growth and through the creation of recipes with the food that they grow.

Science: Lessons can include topics of soil structure, photosynthesis, compost and waste management, plant and animal life cycles through integration of bat houses, butterfly gardens, “bee hotels”, insect explorations and bird feeders. The use of indoor vertical gardens are another opportunity that can create year long opportunities for learning in colder climates.

Health and Physical Education: Gardens can contribute to daily physical activity through weeding, tilling, planting and harvesting which get children moving, bending, stretching and outside. Health lessons are a natural link to gardening related to healthy lifestyle choices, spending more time active in the outdoors and choosing healthy foods over junk food. Another timely trend in education is the idea of “mindfulness” and the garden creates an amazing backdrop for the practice of activities such as mindful breathing, an activity that helps students gain focus for subsequent learning.

Arts: This year, we have had some “Art in the garden days” where students paint the garden beds, decorate rocks, garden signs, bird feeders and picnic tables. On nice days, music classes can also take advantage of using the garden as a backdrop for playing Orff Instruments, recorders or ukuleles.

Language: The garden is a great method to engage students in procedural writing, whether it is through the creation of a “how to” guide for planting and harvesting or through the development of a recipe. Students can also participate in journal writing and non-fiction research. Lastly, there are many amazing literacy links to children's’ books, both fiction and non-fiction, that can be included garden lessons.

Social studies, History and Geography: Our Spring planting for next year’s harvest included planning for a Grade 3 “Pioneer” garden box in keeping with the curriculum expectations from that grade. As part of the pioneer garden, students are growing plants that can be used for food, medicine and dye. What an amazing way to make the curriculum come alive! There are also links to curriculum around the concepts of communities, community partners, the idea of local vs. imported, and land use.

Additional Benefits of School Gardens

  • Lessons learned in the garden can span from Kindergarten all the way through high school.
  • School gardens provide authentic, engaging and immersive learning experiences that help students make real world connections to curriculum expectations. 
  • School gardens beautify the school yard and also help students to develop a sense of pride, respect and ownership for their school. 
  • Researchers Graham, Beall, Lussier, McLaughlin & Zidenberg-Cherr (2005), found the following when studying school gardens, “These programs use a multidisciplinary approach to educating students and have been shown to increase test performance, attention, and enthusiasm for learning and to decrease discipline issues in the classroom.” (p. 150) 
  • The school garden supports positive mental health promotion through the encouragement of a healthy lifestyle and access to spending time outdoors. At our school, there have also been more than a handful of instances where a student has been upset or sad and after a walk in the garden to pick some veggies and talk with a caring adult, the student is able to return to class focused and ready to learn. Students also gain self-confidence and a develop the sense of competence that comes along with the acquisition of new skills. 
  • School gardens not only strengthen the school environment, by providing a collective space where students work side by side, but they can strengthen community bonds as they require support and knowledge from the broader community. Taking advantage of some of these opportunities can be particularly useful during winter months when there isn’t much actual “gardening” going on. In our community, there are partners eager to teach about topics such as biodynamic gardening, stewardship, food related to healing and nutrition, pollination, soil, worm composting, organic farming and making local food widely accessible. We also have a number of parent volunteers who are amazingly engaged in working with students on garden related activities. In terms of cross grade partnerships, we are fortunate to be able to partner with our local high school, Stayner Collegiate, who has an amazing greenhouse and has kindly started our seeds for us the past two years. Some of the students at our school have had opportunities to visit the high school and there are certainly a wealth of opportunities for cross-grade partnering both within our own school and for special activities in partnership with the high school. Lastly, we are extremely proud of our “Community Resource” shelf at the school where parents can sign out resources related to subjects including gardening so that activities th
    at can be carried over from school to their home gardens. 
  • Garden-based learning learning activities naturally embed the development of character, learning skills, work habits and 21st century skills, helping students to develop traits such as focus, patience, collaborative skills, creativity, responsibility, teamwork, communication skills, citizenship and perseverance through solving problems. School gardens can even nurture traits such as compassion and empathy through growing and donating produce to local food banks or charitable causes. 
  • School gardens not only cover multiple curriculum areas, but they also appeal to multiple learning styles. Looking at design and layout may appeal to students with strong visual spatial skills. Verbal-linguistic learners may be interested in documenting learning in the garden or promoting it within the community. Mathematical thinkers may enjoy the costing component. Planting, maintenance and harvest would appeal to the kinesthetic learners. Like the curriculum connections that can be made through school gardens, connections to multiple intelligences are also endlesss

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” - Audrey Hepburn

Sunday, 29 May 2016

TLAP Book Study: Week 5

Week 5- Pages 145-174

The Awkward Question, Where do I Start?, 
Finding A Crew

The Awkward Question

"Do you want to be safe and good or do you want to take a chance and be great?"- Jimmy Johnson

"Your greatness in the classroom doesn't negatively impact or inhibit anyone else's opportunity to be great. In fact, your greatness only enhances the opportunities and possibilities for others." (Burgess p. 145)

"By being great you are raising the bar...being your best possible self contributes to the school culture necessary to create the environment for greatness to flourish." (Burgess p.146)

"To ascend to the level of greatness, you have to be on fire with passion and enthusiasm.  Mediocrity is incapable of motivating...How could anyone be fired up about creating a lukewarm classroom environment where kids punch the clock, mostly behave and then file out the door...Teaching is a tough job filled with unbelievable hardships, hurdles and headaches.  Our profession has a notoriously high burnout rate,  Unless you find something big to care about, you won't make it...Suddenly it's easy to get out of bed in the morning because you are  motivated by a mighty purpose." (Burgess p. 147) 

"In these exciting times, we must be ready to take on the challenge of redefining greatness for a whole new generation of teachers and students." (Burgess p. 148)

In this chapter Burgess describes teaching using the analogy of the song, "Little Drummer Boy."  In the famous carol, Even though the little boy was too poor to bring a physical gift to honour baby Jesus he brought the gift of his talent.  Burgess then goes on to explain that we have to all find our personal "drum".  I have also heard this described as your "teaching superpower"...what is the personal strength you bring to the table that makes you unique?

Question #1- What is your teaching superpower?

"We have the ability to literally change the world" (Burgess p.149)

Where do I Start?

"Everyone who got to where they are had to begin where they were."- Richard Paul Evans 

In this chapter, Burgess talks about the five most common considerations that hold us back from taking our first step, which he describes as the most difficult part of the journey.  Below are these five reasons summarized with some advice from Burgess to help conquer them:

  • Fear of failure: There is no growth without failure.  In order to bring any dream to reality, you have to experience the process of failure (often repeated) and show tenacity to persevere to reach your goal. 
  • Believing you have to figure it all out before you begin: "Nobody is going to die if we experiment in the classroom and it doesn't work out...Unless you are constantly  climbing and striving to move forward, you are sliding backwards...You don't have to be able to see the top of the mountain to know that you can only get there by moving forward." (Burgess p. 158) 
  • Perfectionism: Burgess explains that perfectionism, which is an impossible goal, can paralyze us. He uses the analogy of a wedding photographer who, if they waited for the perfect shot would never take any pictures.  Instead, the photographer, takes hundreds, even thousands of pictures, and in that process, finds many great ones.  The lesson, "Create freely, liberally and in great quantities." (Burgess p. 152) 
  • Lack of Focus: Stephen Covey talks about putting the "big rocks" (priorities) in your jar of life first, then filling the remaining space in the jar with less important things.  "Realize that any time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. Learn to say yes to the significant, and no to the projects and activities that diminish the time and energy you need to fulfill your major purpose." (Burgess p.160) 
  • Fear of criticism or ridicule: "You can fear it all you's still coming." (Burgess p. 160) 

Question #2- Which of these is your greatest roadblock and what is one action that you will commit to in order to overcome it?

"The best way to overcome fear is to take action. The more action you take and the quicker you take it, the better." (Burgess p. 167) 

Finding A Crew

"All pirates travel with a crew; you can't sail, navigate, and fight battles all on your own. One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is the personal and professional relationships we develop on our voyage." (Burgess p. 169)

Burgess then goes on to describe the connections he has made and the learning he has experienced though attending conferences with like minded individuals as well as through social media. Over the past two years, these have also been the two most powerful collaborative experiences that have energized my own professional learning. 

"When a group of individual brains are coordinated and function in a spirit or Harmony, the increased energy created through that alliance, becomes available to every individual brain in the group." (Napoleon Hill- Think and Grow Rich)

"I believe that there is no single answer for how to fix our schools but that we should take the best ideas from everything that we can find." (Burgess p. 171)

Question #3 - How will you commit to making connections and finding or expanding your crew? 
Question #4 - How has this book made you a better teacher?
Question #5 - What is your post-TLAP next step?