Saturday, 2 May 2015

I Am a Teacher

What does it mean to be a teacher? 

I read an article The Teachers by Sarah Blaine this week and it is something worth sharing with the non-teaching people in your life. She really makes a convincing argument that people outside of the profession really do not understand it.

However, when I was reading her article, I couldn't help but wonder - do we, the education community really - holistically - understand our profession? 

Over the past few weeks I have been a part of some conversations that have got me thinking. These conversations in combination with all of the great reading I have been doing under #makeschooldifferent (started by @mcleod) have made it obvious that as educators, we are perceptive about the challenges facing education today. My sister, @szwildcat, aptly questioned if It is Ok for Anger to Drive Change and then encouraged  Ideas and Action (after the Anger). Although action is needed - I still have so many questions.

What I have been wondering lately is how teachers and administrators can develop systems thinking whilst they are segregated by grade, division or subject? How does a high school English teacher understand how students learn to read for example?

My own journey in education has not been typical. After completing my I/S English/History degree, I wholeheartedly expected to teach high school English and Social Studies for the remainder of my career. I envisioned I would teach, maybe coach some rowing, and inspire young minds to embrace literature the way I had been by my teachers. Life doesn't always mimic our plans - and my journey has been an adventure so far.

Hired as a 7/8 teacher in 2003, I fell in love with the integrated nature of the elementary curriculum. By the time I moved and switched school boards I saw myself as an elementary teacher. Always having had a strength in math, I found myself drawn to any pd around mathematics teaching from very early on in my career. Eventually this lead to accepting a position as a system numeracy coach and four years later to the K-12 numeracy consultant. Recently, after much internal debate, I returned to the classroom, accepting a position in an a ELKP classroom.  The first thing I needed to do was learn how to teach children how to read.

In my journey, I have noticed that secondary teachers often identify with a teaching subject while elementary teachers identify with a division or grade. How do we develop systems thinking amidst this often self-segregating profession? 

I am a teacher. I am not a grade. I am not a division. I am not a subject. How about you?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Are We the White Rabbit?

At the time I started this blog five months ago, ELKP was at the other end of the rabbit hole. It was an unfamiliar place, filled with Mad Hatters, unbirthdays, talking chess pieces and playing card roylaty. I wrote about this decision in my first post, Begin Again, and ultimately decided to name my blog Re-Visiting the Rabbit Hole as a result of how I was feeling at the time.

On my first day in the classroom I really was reminded of Alice and how she felt shortly after chasing the White Rabbit into Wonderland: overwhelmed, wondering where in the world she was and what to do next: Video Link 

This TubeChop clip taken from YouTube (Alice in Wonderland Part 1, 1985)

Unlike Alice, I did not have a white rabbit to chase and when I think back to those first few weeks, I was definitely in survival mode - but I had sipped the "drink me" potion and there was no turning back.

As the weeks went by, I started to think that there was not just one white rabbit in ELKP - there were many - fifteen in my classroom - and I chased them ( oh boy did I chase them) - all day long.  Not only did I have the help of my colleagues but also that of my ELKP advisors/coaches - my Cheshire cats - who question, sometimes annoy, but force me to grow (figuratively not literally like Alice) every time we meet. I think this conversation between the Cheshire Cat and Alice sums up the relationship I have with my ELKP coaches perfectly:
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" asked Alice 
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. 
"I don't much care where ..." said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"... so long as I get somewhere," Alice added.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

As long as we are moving forward - pushing ourselves to learn - we are on the right path.

It was only when sitting down here now to write this blog - reflecting - that I realized that I may have had the conceit wrong all along. In the ELKP classroom maybe it is me - the teacher - who is the White Rabbit.  We spark our students curiosity and get them to chase us through the rabbit hole to a wonderful - nonsensical - place of learning. 

This metaphor may seem imperfect - the White Rabbit characteristically is anxiety-ridden, obsessed with time (especially being late), at times outright rude to Alice and clearly too concerned about serving the Queen in a timely manner. But is it?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Ever Tried an Edcamp? #edcampham

A few great friends and colleagues of mine (@mrsturcotte and @mst) invited me to joint them to come to my first ever edcamp in Hamilton. I have always wanted to attend an event like this and I have been looking forward to it for some time.

If you have never been to an edcamp, sometimes referred to as an unconference, the premiss is that attendees both generate and participate in sessions on the day of the event. There are no presentations, no presenters, just people who are open and willing to learn from and with others.

It is quite amazing to witness rooms of educators sharing ideas, questions, challenges and ideas. The complete schedule of the day and shared notes taken by attendees are available in this Google doc:   Not being shy, I found myself jumping into discussions and being challenged to consider my opinions (both outwardly and internally). It was refreshing to be questioned, disagreed with and thanked for good discussion. 

Although an edcamp may not suit every learning style, I highly recommend that you try one out. Where else can you find a group of people discussing the challenges of inquiry in a school courtyard on a Saturday morning?

Picture courtesy of  @Dunlop_Sue:
The highlight of the day for me was meeting a high school student 
who, having seen reference to the edcamp on Twitter, asked the organizers if she could attend. Her polite assertiveness was inspiring to me (and I do not think that I was alone). She was courteous and complementary about our efforts to be there - to make education different - and to continue to grow towards a system that would work better. Student voice is so important - and she really made the day more meaningful with her honesty. 

Don't be surprised it there is an edcamp in Niagara within the next year - I've definitely caught the edcamp bug!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

#MakeSchoolDifferent Five Things We Need to Stop Pretending in Education

This afternoon, I came across @fryed's response to this blog challenge. It was not difficult for me to resist adding my own ideas to the mix - 

5 Things We Need To Stop Pretending in Education ...

(1) We need to stop pretending that mental health is really a priority whilst publicly funded support for children experiencing mental health crises is near impossible to access in a timely manner (either within or outside of school board environments - wait lists and red tape are often insurmountable). If mental health is truly a priority (and I believe it should be) funding should indicate that it is. There have been many gains in the past few years, but there is much more work to do.

(2) We need to stop pretending that assessment practices can really change effectively in Ontario until the summative report card is altered to highlight learning. This is especially true in the primary division where letter grades do nothing much more than create fixed mindsets in children for who being categorized and labeled seems a life-sentence. Something more inline with BC's checklist-based reports or a combination of checklists and comments just makes sense.

(3) We need to stop pretending that there is equity in the funding formula. Per student funding works only in theory. Every school board community is different as is each school within each board. Even the MOE has demonstrated they recognize the constraints with initiatives to bridge gaps like SaNB (Small and Northern Boards).

(4) To echo @fyed, we need to stop pretending that it is okay that the internet is not accessible to all. Hardware infrastructure is also essential. BYOD is a double-edged sword: it reduces the cost of hardware on boards and schools while increasing inequity within schools, boards and the province.

(5) We need to stop pretending that all curriculum expectations are made equal. Teachers are phenomenal in their abilities to multi-task, integrate and make time for the hundreds of curricular expectations they find themselves responsible for in a given year. We know that Early Literacy and early numeracy are essential for the future success of our students, yet as teachers we are expected to EVALUATE our youngest students by assigning a letter grade to areas like science, social studies, health and physical education. Exposure to all of these areas is important - but if the evaluation of these content areas is taking time away from helping students learn to read - aren't our priorities misplaced?

What are your thoughts on my list of five? Where do you feel we need to stop pretending in education ...?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

If You Want to Cover the Curriculum - Sit on it

Even after spending the past few years venturing into the Twitterverse, the openness and honesty of passionate educators and their willingness to engage in open debate still strikes me from time to time.Yesterday I happened upon one of these debates in which a few educators I follow were discussing the use of coding in the classroom. This particular debate caught my attention because it seemed to be revolving around an ongoing question that we all grapple with: can we teach what is not curriculum? (especially when there is so much curriculum?)

In my time working at the system level as a numeracy coach and consultant it was a big part of my job to encourage teachers to both know their curriculum and use it as their program.  There is so much rich content to be explored in mathematics and all too often it gets rushed through as teachers feel pressured to cover curriculum even if that means having students fill every page of a workbook. Many teachers are not aware that a textbook or program may only include about 80% of curriculum expectations for a given subject and there will be many aspects of those same books that are not curriculum requirements.

A much-respected mentor of mine, now retired, always reminded us: "If you want to cover the curriculum - sit on it. If you want students to learn - inspire them to want to do so."

Luckily in Ontario, our curriculum documents not only allow for creativity and innovation, they are laden with specific frameworks to encourage just that. For example, the mathematics curriculum document provide us with seven mathematical process expectations (problem solving, communication, reasoning & proving, selecting tools & computational strategies, connecting, representing, and reflecting) that really should become the central force of any mathematics classroom. Likewise, the Social Studies curriculum lists The Concepts of Social Studies Teaching (pp.58-62) and Science & Technology document details the Skill Continua for Scientific Inquiry and Technological Problem Solving (pp. 12-18) to encourage us to develop an understanding of the content in ways that allow for creativity and innovation.

Just because there is a rigid relationship between curriculum and evaluation does not mean that our teaching hands are tied. If we ground ourselves in an inquiry stance that allows us to open up our methods in ways that encourage our students to learn, we can create learning environments that prepare our students to adapt to an ever-changing world. I believe it is our responsibility as educators to be model learners: to take risks, to assess for learning and grow from our mistakes.

To those coding trailblazers out there - it is inspiring to "lurk and learn" from you. Cheers.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Play-based Connundrums Need Superheroes

My students love to engage in dramatic play - especially when it replicates things they enjoy. It can be challenging to know when it is necessary to set limitations to play. Body contact and red zone emotions (angry, mad) are clear flags that some teacher intervention is needed.  As a teacher who is new to ELKP, I have been struggling to know when to join into play, when to let the plot line develop and when to put the brakes on play.

Plot lines evolve over time in our room, but recurring themes tend to include zoo animals and puppies but most often involve Transformers, X-Men, the Avengers and Ninja Turtles. Recently a great number of my students spent the day with self-made ninja turtle bandannas glue-sticked to their foreheads.  The only theme I have banned from the classroom is that of the Walking Dead. I am a huge fan of the show and have read all of the graphic novels, but feel its content is not appropriate for the classroom setting. Having a young son of my own, I find it easy to follow the script of their play and I usually only intervene when they have created weapons, are escalating in volume or for the above mentioned red flags. 

Recently, I had some huge aha moments when reading The Play's the Thing: Teachers Roles in Children's Play by Elizabeth Jones & Gretchen Reynolds. (I came across the book on Twitter and was drawn to it - especially since one of the authors and I share the same name.) These superhero authors have done a wonderful job outlining the many roles of a teacher in a play-based environment: we are stage managers, mediators, players, scribes, assessors, communicators and planners.  I highly recommend the book if you have not already read it.  Reading it (and re-reading it) has helped me to recognize my strengths and set goals for improvement.

One of my take-aways from this book has been my changing understanding of my role as a mediator:  
"Teacher-as-mediator is not simply managing behavior; she is teaching social skills and suggesting ideas to enrich play." (p.36)

Upon reflection I realized that all too often I am acting as police officer in dramatic play - rather than mediator. It is a challenge to make the time to mediate play, especially when you are engaged in something like guided reading.  But I have come to realize that it is vital that I do so. In an attempt to quell the violent nature some of these play themes garner, I am finding that a simple prompt like, "who are you saving?" can do wonders to redirect the play to more positive themes that super heroes can invoke.

It is an uphill battle, and I am making baby steps - but I do believe in play.

What have you read that helped you define your role in the play-based environment?

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Game-changer

Any time a new student joins a classroom it changes the dynamics. 
How can we prepare our students to be accepting of all students and welcoming to new friends?

In February we were having a lot of impromptu conversations about love. Valentines Day tends to initiate those curiosities. It was the perfect opportunity to explore the golden rule. Loving others and treating them as we would want to be treated is not an easy task for adults, let alone Kindergartners. 

Let's be honest. If we take a moment in our daily lives to really pay attention to how we are treating each human being we come into contact with we will notice there is room for improvement. That guy that just cut you off with his big truck? You may feel irritated (in the yellow zone - and maybe even approaching the red), but if you knew he was racing to pick up his sick child from school, or even late for work - afraid that this time would be his boss' last straw - would that change how you feel? This strategy - creating a story- is something that I use all the time to help me to engage my empathy.

Often we differentiate how we treat our students based on what we know about them and their lives. There are so many reasons these differences are necessary. I recently blogged about a band-aid activity I used to explain differentiation to my kindergartners. Our young students may not have the capacity to truly understand differentiation, but they do understand how to love.

Just after Christmas break one of my students moved and our small class was down to 14 students. With no ECE, our class has a maximum capacity of fifteen. Since then, my students have been asking when we will have a new friend join us to replace the student who had left. Often, during prayers we would ask God to send us a new friend. Last week those prayers were answered. A new student joined our classroom - the game-changer.

Welcomed with excitement and open arms, the game-changer tore into our classroom and spun us around like a washing machine. There have been moments where I feel we have gone back in time, and that all our hard work to develop our classroom community has vanished. My students with eyes wide are still adjusting - but something wondrous is occurring. With any concern (ex. The game-changer dumped out all the Lego) my response has been, "the Game-changer needs love". They do not know why nor can they, but yet my students show empathy. They are learning to live by the golden rule. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Courage Can Be Contagious

I have been doing a lot of reflecting lately. Starting something new has re-energized me and brought back many memories of my first years of teaching. Recently I read a blog with some key learning anecdotes from a first year of teaching and I was inspired to do the same. 


How I came to work at an elementary school in a small rural town south of London is a post all its own. It was however serendipitous - that I, a self-proclaimed secondary English teacher came to work in this place of inspiration.

On the Friday of Labour Day weekend I packed up my dad's car and made the two-hour drive to London to start my teaching career. I had lined up a few apartment viewings for that morning and had planned to go and begin setting up my classroom in the afternoon. Upon arriving at my first viewing, the skies opened up and I waited out the seasonal downpour in the crowded car. When I realized the landlord was a no-show and decided to leave, the car would not move: it was the alternator.

Sitting in that car in the rain, waiting for the CAA truck I was in pure panic mode. I had packed, planned every minute detail, scheduled it to down to the minute. Although I did not know it at the time, I was learning my first valuable lesson as a teacher: to expect the unexpected.

The extraordinary CAA driver helped me unpack my car into a Tim Horton's and towed my dad's car the two hours home. My friend's mother picked me and my things up. She had agreed to let me crash at her place for a few nights until I found an apartment - and  The next morning - Saturday - I rented a car and drove back home to pick up my mother's car and made the long drive back to London that afternoon.

I remember standing in my 7/8 classroom - a portable - that Sunday, in utter disbelief.  What would I do on Tuesday? All I could do in that moment was take in my surroundings, arrange the desks and look over the welcome notes that my new teaching partners had shared with me.

On that first day, I survived the hour long commute, did my best to be inspiring (yet firm) as I outlined rules and procedures - and then I taught math. You see, the only student resources in the classroom were a stack of dusty old math textbooks and I found some comfort in their familiarity. I felt relieved to have a break at lunch. That was until my teaching partner burst into the room laughing, "which one of you taught math this morning - you're kids HATE you!" My quiet devastation was as harsh as you might imagine.

The next month flew by. There was little sleep, many teary phone calls home, apartment-hunting and the purchase of my first used car. There was also so very much learning. My students motivated my creativity, my colleagues - turned friends - guided me and my principal inspired me.

On October 2, 2003 (provincial election day) I had (what was at the time) the worst day ever. I woke up for the first time in my new apartment. My furniture was not arriving for a few days, but I had insisted on sleeping there (even if it was on the floor in a sleeping bag).  What I did not expect was to wake up with pink-eye. It was disgusting - and although Tele-health assured me I could work and my colleagues called it a new teacher "right of passage", I couldn't help but be mortified. That afternoon I headed straight for the small town clinic. Eye-drops in hand, I returned to my car only to find that I had a flat tire. One hour later, my car was towed to the local C-Tire and I was told it should be ready in a few hours. My stress-level was at a peak. I had made the necessary changes to ensure that I could vote - and now there was no way I could make it to the poll in time. Picking up my phone to make a call I realized it was dead.

From an old payphone I made a call to my then-boyfriend looking for some sympathy.  He was cold, uninterested and ended the call quickly. When I finally made it home to my new - dark - apartment, I was hungry, tired and deflated.  I should have expected what came next. We were both new teachers and in a relatively new relationship, but his arrival at my door that night to initiate the break-up was ill-timed and broke the last piece of strength I thought I had in me.

The next morning at school I was visibly shaken.  The cold hardwood floor was much less comfortable the second night and I had not slept a wink.  My perceptive principal arranged to have my first period class covered.  She listened - she did not judge - and in that moment I felt respected.
She said a lot of things that day, made me feel like I could quit and move home if I wanted to (I didn't) and let me know how much potential she saw in me as a teacher. But the thing I remember most about that conversation is what she said next:

My principal said, "move in with me".

Found on

She had a room in her home and welcomed me to come and live with her family. It was a tempting offer - living alone for the first time was lonelier than I had anticipated. Her offer was enough to awaken a new found courage in me. I did not need to live with her to be inspired by her. On blustery winter days we would share the commute and our car conversations always left me energized. Learning along side of her was and still is the richest opportunity I have had to date as an educator. When the time came eighteen months later to make the choice to move closer to home, I did so on my own terms.

In the process of putting these memories down in print, I have been thinking about how far that I have come since those early days.  As teaching professionals we need to recognize the trials new teachers are experiencing. How can we make their transitions easier? In what ways can we ensure new teacher wellness? I think that sharing our own stories is a first step - but we must also empathize and be willing to give of ourselves (maybe not our own homes-lol). Courage really is contagious!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Numbers Are My Band-Aid

Kindergarten is still very new to me - I am just 3 months in. There are days when I feel that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. This insecurity is my "boo-boo" - and in the words of Fox from Jeremy Tankard's Boo Hoo Bird - "Band-Aids always make my boo-boos feel better".

Recently, many of my students started questioning why some students were getting what they saw as special treatment. It is challenging to explain differentiation, accommodation and modification to intermediate students - let alone Kindergarteners. I found this great activity via Pinterest on Mrs. Saylor's Log, and decided to try it out. 

The students came in from recess and one boy was complaining that he hurt his knee. I immediately opened a Band-Aid and put it on his knee - on top of his pants. The students were hooked. Band-Aids are a hot commodity in our classroom and the students know that I do not give them out freely. Next I asked if anyone else had a boo-boo. Needless to say, every student's hand shot up, and one by one. each came up to receive a Band-Aid. Each time, whether they named a sore finger, arm or foot - I placed a Band-Aid on their left knee on top of their pants.

There was laughter, there was confusion, and as I had hoped - there were questions. They thought I was crazy - "you're putting the Band-Aids in the wrong place!" they scoffed. But eventually, the whats and whys did lead to a heart-warming discussion. In the end, the students demonstrated a deeper understanding than I'd expected- progressing from "it does not make sense to put a Band-Aid in the wrong place," to, "We all need different help."

Whenever I am feeling insecure about my venture into Kindergarten I grasp onto numeracy. There is so much we can do with numbers. We have spent a lot of time developing our math meetings. Two of my favourite resources are Sherry Parrish's Number Talks and Jessica Shumway's Number Routines. My students have grown confident with number representations to ten with dot plates, fingers and tallies. We recently have started to explore rekenreks using Cathy Fosnot's "Bunk Beds and Apple Boxes" unit from her Contexts for Learning Mathematics resource. We play a lot of math games with dice and are developing a number line. As I said - numeracy is my Band-Aid.

Sometimes Band-Aids are necessary; sometimes they are futile. They are by definition a "make-shift" or temporary solution. Practically Band-Aids cover up a problem until it has time to heal. Developing my students into little mathematicians is giving me the confidence I need to uncover the Kinder-teacher from within. 

What is your Band-Aid?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

"Breaking Bad" Assessment

We just finished watching the final season of Breaking Bad last night. With two small children, our television watching is admittedly quite behind. Curiously, Heisenberg's obsessive antics -aimed at perfection and power- got me thinking a lot about assessment.

Not unlike Walter White, assessment (and teaching) can easily become a day-in-day-out job that you do simply because you have to.  All too often, assessment is still used synonymously with evaluation; phrases like, “I still need a mark for one more strand of math” are commonplace in the hallways of schools nearing reporting periods as teachers try to “fit in” curriculum components to produce a letter or number for a report card.  
I have long believed that the Ontario report card is holding teachers back – but that is a topic for another blog.

As Walter White finds a new passion and transforms into Heisenberg he has a formula for 99.1% purity (or for our purposes) success. In Ontario, the Growing Success document lays the framework for successful balanced assessment practices, encouraging formative assessment and descriptive feedback as well as the triangulation of data. In my time working at the system level, I was blessed to meet and work with a number of passionate teachers who were constantly taking initiative - seeking to adapt their assessment practices to support the student learning (rather than simply evaluate them). Like Heisenberg, these teachers are driven, passionate and over time have developed the confidence that these assessment strategies result in successful outputs.

Unlike Heisenberg, his apprentices have varying success rates – and it is the tools they have access to combined with the amount of mentorship they receive that directly correlate to that success.  The formula is not enough. Teachers need effective tools and mentorship to making the learning process efficient. I am constantly seeking an answer to this question:

What is the most efficient way to collect and collate student data
so that I can make the most impact on student learning
in a way that is both clear and transparent
to my students, administrators and parent community?

Twitter and the blogosphere are excellent sources of information and mentorship. There is so much that can be learned in ten to twenty minutes a day online – it is differentiated, time-efficient and forever pushing the boundaries of 21C thinking. In addition to this, most districts offer mentorship support through Ministry-funded projects and these projects are increasingly posting resources online. Check out and, which are two my favourites.

Although he had been a good mentor, Heisenberg’s tragic flaw was that he put on the brakes – he wanted to maintain his power and assumed that the status quo would last him until the end of his days. How do we break these bad status quo assessment practices at the same time that we accelerate into the future? 

Digital assessment tools that not only allow for – but encourage good Growing Success assessment by their design are a key piece of the puzzle. Tools like Pearson’s Clic and FreshGrade are among the best I have seen. However, to parallel @fryed’s query, “Are Digital Portfolios a Disadvantage?” - I have to ask - are teachers endeavouring to integrate digital assessment practices at a disadvantage? There are so many challenges: firewalls, cloud server policies, Wi-Fi hiccups, and union recommendations. Teachers who are eager and willing to try are often met with policy roadblocks. Student information needs to be protected, but I question whether the Growing Success policy can be fulfilled without digital support.

What are your favourite assessment tools?

***Altough Breaking Bad was the inspiration for this blog post - I in no way believe that the character of Walter White (or Heisenberg) and his lifestyle should be considered an example of success. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Week Without Lego

Lego has become a central point of creativity and play in our classroom. My students frequently make cars, spaceships and even doll furniture. I really do love Lego, but "everything is not awesome". Although it is exciting to observe these little "makers" at work, lately the play has become stagnant.

Before Christmas vacation one of my students initiated Lego play by making superheros. (a simple construction of a 2x2 brick on top of a 2x4 brick with a 2x2 brick beneath). For weeks sharing time has involved superheroes and their vehicles.

As far as I have come with embracing the mess - I must say the Lego mess is out of control ...

So for one week I am removing the Lego from my classroom for those reasons: superheroes, messes and a wee bit of curiosity-what will they do without Lego?

- Monday, January 19 -

It did not take long for my little makers to seek out everything and anything they could build with during free exploration and play; the linking cubes and wooden blocks were front and centre (and there were of course, linking cube super heroes). One student even discovered an old box of LASY technics we had found while cleaning out the old classroom in November. I must admit, after I washed them I barely looked at them, and since I have yet to label the bin I put them in, had forgotten all about them.

- Tuesday, January 20 -

The LASY was the go-to toy again today. The students are quickly learning how to incorporate wheels and gears into their building. Our kit originally came with battery packs and lead wires.
We are missing the wires, so we went on quite the hunt today during prep. The students are very curious about the battery packs. They are VERY interested in trying them out. (So much so that I just spent an hour sourcing an Ontario supplier: Spectrum).

Aside from the LASY, there has been a lot more interest in our house centre, reading corner and big foam building blocks this week. Although I have been reading a lot online about setting up invitations for learning - I have done nothing differently this week.
All I have done is remove the Lego.

- Thursday, January 22 (oops, forgot yesterday) -

The classroom has really been transformed this week. Over the past two days the students have been very engaged in turning the house centre into a hospital. A LASY helicopter even became the primary vehicle for delivering student patients to its doors.  The waiting room has a great selection of books, the check-in clerks collect detail notes of your ailments and the doctors give prescriptions for bananas and strawberries - just make sure you have your health card!

- Friday, January 23  -

I have come to confirm what I suspected from the beginning. It is not really the Lego that was the problem. Lego is a great toy (it really is awesome). What I am learning in my infancy as an ELKP teacher is that play becomes stagnant unless something changes. Removing the Lego was the change my students needed to try something completely new.

What I am still struggling with is what to do with all of the stuff! (the age-old teacher conundrum). Although I have lots of shelving, there is no closed storage. It is not easy to hide the students' favourite toys - although I have put my mom to work sewing us some much-needed curtains.

What do you do to rotate learning materials / toys in your classroom?

(Oh, and if you have any LASY you would like to unload - we would LOVE it!)

***I am posting this Monday the 26th - and they did NOT ask for the Lego today :)

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

All Because of Sable Antelope ...

Sable antelope live in the African Savannah Woodlands. They weigh 4oo-500 pounds. Their diet consists of grass and leaves from shrubs and trees. They have many predators, including crocodiles, hyenas and lions. All of this information is new to me - all because of one little question: "Are these mountain goats?"
found in our classroom animal bin
On the first day back after our Christmas break, one of my students asked just that. To be completely honest, I almost said, "Yes," or "I don't know". It was near the end of a long day of indoor recesses and we were cleaning up the classroom to prepare for sharing time and dismissal. I wanted to say 
"I don't know" (because I really didn't), but instead I said, "I have no idea - would you like to find out?" After an enthusiastic response, I invited him to put the animals on our nature explore table (stationed atop our beaver-chewed log) where in hindsight, I thought they would likely be forgotten.

To my surprise - this was the beginning of a week-long inquiry - one lead with avid persistence by a four-year old. We looked at picture after picture of horned mammals, comparing them to our plastic figures. When we ran out of ideas we tweeted the friendly Toronto zoo keepers (@tozookeepers) to ask their advice. Even after making our tentative conclusion that these animals are indeed sable antelope, I must admit my student is still not convinced. 

But I have been convinced of something much more important: there is something to this inquiry-schminquiry. What I have read about inquiry has intrigued me - but witnessing the acceleration of learning it can inspire is truly a game-changer for me. 

Cheers ;)

Check out my student's learning journey here: