Sunday, March 18, 2018

Teachers as Researchers: Making the Shift

I think my heart will always be in a classroom…whether it’s a room full of energetic, shining-faced five year-olds or a university classroom filled with “big kids” training to become teachers, this is the place where I am always happiest and most alive.  My decision to pursue doctoral studies was a difficult one, as it meant leaving these special people and places for awhile and becoming a student once again.

Above: Junior and Senior Kindergarten sell iced tea and cookies to raise money to help the endangered Oregon spotted of my favourite project-based learning experiences!

In the past year, my cohort and I have shifted to view education through the lens of researcher as well as practitioner.  This has been an especially tough one for me…for many years, I have probably placed a much higher value on practical knowledge than research.  When research findings don’t align with my own experiences as a practitioner, I am guilty of defaulting to my own lived experience.  According to Labaree (2003), teachers firmly believe that only fellow teachers have the authority to speak about teaching and the educational process.  Labaree found that teachers can and will refute an entire study by citing one differing practical classroom example. 

At the same time, teachers are deeply caring professionals committed to providing the best possible education for their students.  When something isn’t working in their classrooms, they usually want to know why.  Many teachers are excited to implement new pedagogical approaches, curricula, or teaching strategies and want to know if these practices are making a difference for their learners.  Although teachers must report on students with letter/number grades and percentages, teachers know that there is a bigger story behind the quantitative data.  Despite a strong reliance on practical experience, teachers do care about research—they are interested in solving problems, investigating more deeply, and making a difference. This leads me to the topic of my blog post—can teachers also function as researchers?  Is it possible to operate with one foot in each camp?

What is teacher research?
Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1993) defined teacher research as “systematic and intentional inquiry by teachers about their own school and classroom work” (pp. 23–24).  However, instead of being the objective observer, teachers are involved in every aspect of the teaching and research process—both roles are intertwined, conducted at the same time, and inform each other (Klehr, 2012).  Klehr has observed that teacher research is an active, reflective, and constantly evolving process; research questions may shift over time as a direct result of data collection, student needs, or shifting political situations in the educational systems.  I believe the goal of teacher research is more informed, deliberate classroom practice.

Qualitative research methods are well-suited to the flexible, holistic nature of teacher-led research.  Teaching journals, pedagogical narration, field notes, observations, and media samples are accessible and natural for most classroom teachers.  In my practice, I blog on a monthly basis to reflect on and disseminate my work.  Blog posts have chronicled my evolution as a teacher, allowing me to identify what has worked, how I could improve as a practitioner, and what direction I should take next.   With blog posts, short case studies, and the other methods described above, it is possible to identify themes through narrative analysis.  Narrative methods are an excellent fit for the “personal, storied nature of teaching” (Carter, 1993, p. 8).  Teachers are natural storytellers who can analyze their stories through a research lens to gain important insights.  

In my own practice, I’ve been fortunate to participate in a more formal research process several times.  On both occasions, this has fallen under the umbrella of participatory action research as a teacher piloting new curricula and programs.  My first experience was in 2007 when Manitoba Education developed a Literacy with ICT continuum.  I was one of three teachers in my school district who implemented the new continuum and developed and assessed a variety of  learning experiences.  I collected student work samples and observations and maintained a teacher log of my experiences and reflections.  Throughout the year, I shared my findings with Manitoba Education which informed the development process and final product.

Another time, I was able to assist with the development and implementation of my school district’s first Junior Kindergarten program.  As a pilot site, we collected quantitative data such as test scores (using the DIAL-4 developmental screening tool), parent surveys, as well as relying on more qualitative measures such as observations, field notes, and student work samples.  We wanted to know if regular early intervention with a qualified teacher and clinicians had a lasting impact on students’ academic and social success.  Although I was an inexperienced researcher with a ton of bias and deeply invested in the process myself, my research informed my classroom practice and my classroom practice influenced my research questions.  Collecting data and constantly reflecting on what was working and what wasn’t led to the development of a research-informed, high-quality early intervention program that I still regard as one of the great achievements of my teaching career.

What shifts do teachers need to make to also function as researchers?
Upon completing an undergraduate degree, most new teachers aren’t prepared to engage in research activities.  Keeping their heads above water with teaching, assessing, reporting, and classroom management is enough to leave them exhausted at the end of the day.  Gaining life and classroom experience and developing a reflective practice are excellent starting points for novice teachers.  With time and continued professional learning, teachers may be ready to move toward these four shifts in perspective to engage more effectively in research activities (Labaree, 2003).

a) From normative to analytical: instead of wondering what to do when a particular problem occurs, teachers must transition to examining the nature of the problem to understand it more fully. This shift in viewpoint enables teachers to focus on the big picture (instead of just one student or one issue) and make broader connections and generalizations.

b) From personal to intellectual:  good teachers are deeply invested in relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.  However, to use an old cliché, sometimes this can stop them from seeing the forest because of all the trees. As researchers, teachers need to look beyond individual relationships to big, important ideas. 

c) From particular to universal:  many teachers are busy and overwhelmed, giving them a narrow focus limited to their classrooms and students. Researchers have a broad knowledge of theory that can create linkages to a community of practice.  My colleague and best friend Leah Obach and I like to work within a community of practice, including parents, students, community members, educational stakeholders, and universities in our classroom practices.  This creates opportunities for collaboration and learning experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. 
Above: Junior and Senior Kindergarten students collaborate with university students to investigate climate change and the impact on polar bears

d) From experiential to theoretical: as previously mentioned, many teachers believe their lived experiences trump any theory or research.  Teachers must be willing to consider theory as well as practical experience in their roles of teacher-researchers. 

Challenges and next steps 
Practicing teachers have great potential to benefit from examining and applying existing research and investigating and creating new research.  However, few teachers have the time (or the sometimes the desire) to read professional literature, finding academic studies to be dense and difficult reading.  One solution is to make clear language research summaries available to practicing teachers.  These concise and simple summaries are a quick and easy way for busy teachers to engage with current research (“Knowledge mobilization", n.d.). 

Children in classrooms can function as co-researchers (although this idea merits its own blog post).  Pedagogical approaches such as inquiry and project-based learning foster a classroom culture that values children's curiosity and ability to ask questions and identify problems and issues in their world.  Children are very capable of posing questions and can become tenacious researchers when pursuing ideas that are important to them.  Giving children the opportunity to participate in research builds important academic skills as well as the ability to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate with others.
Above: Kindergarten children collect quantitative data through a survey.

Additionally, stronger linkages must be forged between universities and K-12 schools.  When university faculty conduct research in K-12 educational settings, it demystifies the research process and provides useful and timely information to classroom teachers (hopefully). University faculty involved in local schools can also lead to mentoring or partnering with teachers as teachers begin to engage in their own research.  As classroom teachers experience the value in the process, it is likely that they will be more invested in continuing to ask questions, seek answers, share their findings, and make a difference in education.   


Carter, K. (1993). The place of story in the study of teaching and teacher education. Educational Researcher, 22, 5–12.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (1993). Inside/ Outside: Teacher research and knowledge. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Klehr, M. (2012). Qualitative teacher research and the complexity of classroom contexts. Theory Into Practice , 51(2), 122–128.
Knowledge mobilization documents best practices for clear language research summaries. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2018, from
Labaree, D. F. (2003). The peculiar problems of preparing educational researchers. Educational    Researcher , 32(4), 13–22. Retrieved from

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What I've Learned in the First Term of PhD Studies: Workflow and Wellness

It's hard to believe, but the first term of PhD studies has drawn to a close. As my last blog post indicated, September seemed to crawl as I battled a touch of homesickness, so many firsts, and being brave and by myself. Once I put September behind me, October and November have passed in the blink of an eye. I like to think as a slightly older and wiser PhD student, I've learned a few things in the last couple of months.

Figure Out My Workflow: Researching and Writing Papers

This has been a really hard one for me. The first paper I wrote took me DAYS because I didn't have any steps or strategies in place to help me organize my time, my resources, and my writing process. I'm doing so much better with this now, especially after writing three massive papers all due in the past week. Here's what works for me:
-search for articles and books in Google Scholar
-read abstracts of articles, if that is promising do a quick scan of the article, and determine if  it's useful
-copy the title and author, search them in the UVic library catalogue, then download to my computer into OneDrive files labelled by topic
-at the same time, extract the reference information into Mendeley (a free citation manager tool that has a desktop program, a Google Chrome browser plug-in, a Microsoft plug-in, and an app)
-based on the articles I found, I get a piece of chart paper and make a big concept map of all the ideas I want to include
-structure an outline of my paper and decide on the major themes. I set this up in Microsoft Word, not as the actual paper, but as a place to organize information. The themes continue to evolve throughout this process.
-then I begin to read the articles. Anytime I find anything useful, I copy and paste the text, article title, and page number into the correct section of my outline.
-revisit course materials for anything that links to my paper
-print out my outline (because it's just too hard to switch screens), then spend some time reading all my notes and let it sink in
-then I make a concept map that organizes the first section of my paper, then write the first section of the paper. I repeat this process section by section until all the writing is done, extracting citations from Mendeley as I go (the Microsoft Word plug in makes this very easy)
-write the introduction and discussion/conclusion
-draft the abstract
-let the paper rest for a day or two so I can return to it with fresh eyes
-read the paper and edit, at least two times
-read the paper paying strict attention to APA format, looking things up as necessary in my handbook or online
-ask friends and/or my supervisor to review to give feedback on the flow of the paper, cohesiveness of my thoughts, and sharpness of argument
-take a deep breath and submit, then pour a very large glass of red to celebrate!

Workflow: Organizing Class Materials and Notes

The only tools I need to manage course materials and notes are Microsoft OneNote and OneDrive. I've set up a Doctoral Studies OneNote notebook with sections for each course. Each class, I start a new page in the relevant section with notes. If the professor hands something out or shares a useful diagram, I photograph it and upload it to OneNote. This has worked wonderfully well, and when friends miss notes, it's easy for me to share mine with them. The only thing I might do differently next term is organize my course notes by topic instead of date, as it was sometimes difficult to remember what date we discussed something. As OneNote is a cross-platform tool, I have the app on my iPhone, my Surface, and my laptop. Everything syncs across devices, so I always have everything I need.
Additionally, I organize all articles, course outlines, and handouts in Microsoft OneDrive. I have a folder called Doctoral Studies and a sub-folder for each class. Like OneNote, OneDrive is available on all my devices, and it is really easy to share documents and work collaboratively with my colleagues.

Office 365 is free for educators and includes the tools I rely on so heavily. All you need is an education email address (your school division or university one will work) and you can start using it for free! Learn more here.

Leverage Your Resources

I'm fortunate to be surrounded by amazing friends, colleagues, and mentors, and I know that seeking their support is key to my success. It's sometimes hard to make myself vulnerable and share my work with them because I don't want them to think it's bad. But I know the only way I'll improve is with feedback, and sometimes I can't see my own glaring errors as I've spent so much time working on the paper. Sending my first paper to my supervisor for review was a very hard and scary moment. But her feedback was kind as well as constructive, and I learned a lot.

My best friend Leah and I like to do as much as we can together and we have very similar educational interests. It's a bit harder now, but that's where Skype has been a great tool. We used Skype to review my paper together last weekend; sharing the screen so we could both see the paper at once.

You Won't Survive Without Your Cohort

My department chair at Brandon University advised me that my relationships with the people in my cohort would be critical to my success, and he was absolutely right. On the first day of my first class, I made a new friend, and I've added to that number throughout the term. I took it upon myself to organize a cohort study group and we meet every other Wednesday before one of our classes. I used Microsoft Forms to find a time and location that worked for the most people. Sometimes only a few people show up, but it is an important opportunity to discuss the readings and assignments, ask questions, and listen to each other.
Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people standing
Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people sitting, table and indoor

Take Time for Wellness

Time spent in nature and on my yoga mat kept me sane during the crazy busy-ness of final papers. I keep my yoga mat unrolled by the table where I work, and every hour I stop what I'm doing and spend a few minutes practicing...often just a few cat-cow stretches, downward dog, forward folds, and some twists. Additionally, I take in a studio class most days at One Yoga, Alive Mindbody (barre--my new passion) or Fernwood Yoga Den, and occasionally Moksana and Moksha. Moving my body and focusing on nothing but my breath and intention are so therapeutic for me.  After finishing my a 6000-word paper, I was exhausted and overwhelmed, but thought I should carry on to my next paper. This proved to be a really bad idea as I was unproductive and tearful and incapable of doing anything. I used my Mind Body app to find an upcoming class and headed to Moksha for a 90-minute warm yin class. It was the best thing I could have done, and as my mind and body relaxed in savasana, I was hit with the most fabulous idea ever for structuring my next paper. I left the yoga studio feeling inspired, and went home to write half the paper in one sitting. I got an A+, and I firmly believe that I wouldn't have produced such great work without taking care of myself first.
Image may contain: indoor
Love yoga barre classes at Alive Mindbody!
Most days I visit my nearby beach which is only five minutes away. The fresh ocean air and refreshing breeze always energize and refocus me. There is a great trail that wanders from Willows Beach to Cattle Point that I love to walk along. The beaches are open to dogs beginning in October, so I often get to pat dogs and visit with their owners. Social interaction, animals, and fresh air always make me feel so much better.

And the first term is in the books...
My first term of PhD studies went so much better than I expected... I'm really pleased with my marks, the program and my supervisor are both excellent, and I love my new friends and yoga community. Happy to be back in Manitoba for the holidays, and excited to see what the second term has in store!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The ABCs of My Professional Practice with Video Scribe

I developed this video for an assignment in one of my PhD courses--we were tasked to create a multimedia presentation demonstrating who we are as a practitioner. This was my first time using Video Scribe, and there was a bit of a learning curve. There were lots of helpful YouTube tutorials which really helped. My only complaint about this tool is that the sound track has to be made in one big can't attach narration to individual slides/images. As a result, it took me about ten tries to get my narration...nearly...perfect!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

My PhD Journey Begins: Living and Learning in Victoria, BC

Well here I am in Victoria and it's October. Thank goodness. September was the longest month of my life. Usually, September flies by in a flurry of first days of kindergarten, endless forms to complete for the office, and all the usual "back to routine" stuff. This September was dramatically different as I am currently on leave from Fort La Bosse School Division and my busy and fun kindergarten classroom at Oak Lake Community School. It was a September full of new experiences, first times, and a lot of being brave. And time seemed to crawl.

So what brings me to Victoria? After years of flirting with the idea, I've finally decided to pursue my PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on early childhood education. I researched PhD programs all over Canada, and the best fit for me (complete with a fabulous supervisor and entrance scholarship) was University of Victoria on the west coast of Canada. I've been here for nearly 6 weeks and a lot has happened. Here are some of my thoughts on this new and exciting stage of my life.
On Being a Student
UVic has the most beautiful campus ever, and now that I've figured out most things are contained within the ring road with a huge green space in the middle, I'm navigating my way around campus without Google Maps. There are totem poles everywhere, a lovely fountain in the centre of campus, a gorgeous library, and the amazing First Peoples' House. Finnerty Gardens and Mystic Vale are also part of UVic, and they are beautiful green spaces that I enjoy as often as I can.
It isn't just the campus that's nice--the people in my cohort (the PhD word for the people in your year/program) and my professors are great too. I've already made some new friends in my cohort and organized a study group. And I'm super impressed with the high quality of professors...I'm regularly moved to tears in my curriculum class with Dr. David Blades. I've never met someone who could make curriculum fascinating, engaging, and emotional, but this man certainly can. This week's assignment was to write a story about a time we felt we'd made a difference in education, then reflect on it. Everyone was invited to share their story for last night's class, and it resulted in 11 teachers and a professor tearing up over and over. And this was how he introduced us to the phenomenological approach, which postulates that curriculum is experiential, relationship-based, and transcends the human experience. Wow! My supervisor is amazing as well. Her name is Dr. Jodi Streelasky and she is such a lovely person, and everyone who asks me who my supervisor is assures me that I'm so lucky when I tell them. Take a look at her latest project here.

I'm thriving on immersing myself in being a learner again, but I'm still not confident that I can actually do this. I just keep telling myself to do the work, participate in class, and it will all come together. Fingers crossed! There are so many additional learning opportunities on campus that I'm soaking up too--special lectures with visiting scholars, concerts, and sessions for improving my knowledge base and academic skills. I'm going to as many as I can because it's basically free professional development.

On Being Brave
I've had to be brave a lot lately, and I think that's why the month of September has been so hard. My best friend Leah drove out here with me, so together we navigated the bus system, set up my apartment, and toured around Victoria. But when Leah left, reality hit with a vengeance. I've never lived on my own before, so it's been quite an adjustment. Fortunately my little apartment is working out really well and the people I rent from are very nice.
First meal in the new apartment with Leah
First day on campus at graduate student orientation 

My first day of school probably took the greatest amount of bravery. I was (and still am to some degree) really intimidated of classes at the PhD level. I'm still worried that I'm not smart enough and although I make an effort to participate in class, I never think my comments are as meaningful and intelligent as what other people say, but I can only offer what I know from my own experiences. Just like I'd tell my kindergarten students, I focus on trying my hardest, doing my absolute best, and being myself. And if that's not good enough, then this isn't the right path for me.

Although I've always been a confident driver (not necessarily a good driver, but a reasonably confident one), driving in Victoria is stressful. My built-in GPS in my Jeep loves to take me the most random routes ever, so I constantly have to check with Google Maps. I'm always getting messed up by lanes that turn into turning lanes (or don't) and all the new "no left turns on certain streets" that were added recently and maps haven't caught up. There is also never ANY parking downtown, so I take the bus a lot. Since I never know where I'm going, I have to allow myself lots of time, and as a result I show up everywhere super early (my dad would be proud).

Teaching on-call requires quite a bit of bravery too. Just driving to the school in morning traffic is enough to get my heart pounding. Then the assignment is just like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get. Most of my experiences have been pretty decent, but I had a rough go last week. I've discovered a new love for high school low incidence classrooms (what we'd call a life skills unit in Manitoba) and those are my absolute favourite call outs. Since I have a Master of Education in Special Education, nearly all my call-outs are for learning assistance and special education. Not one kindergarten classroom yet :( Fortunately, the pay is really good (2-3 times what substitute teachers make in Manitoba) and it's nice to be with kids a couple of times a week. I've instituted a new rule: if I teach on call I can go to Starbucks. It's working pretty well.

Victoria and the People
I'd heard from a few people that Victoria was quite a "closed" city that didn't welcome outsiders well, but my experience has been the exact opposite. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and I chat with people everywhere I go. Yoga has been wonderful, as I meet lots of people in yoga studios and I made some new friends at my yoga teacher training at the end of September. The thing I like best is that when riding the bus, everyone thanks the busdriver when they get off. How charming is that?

Victoria's Yoga Scene
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm here to go to school, not attend yoga classes. It's hard. There are so many amazing yoga studios and events, and I'm less than 2 km from a therapeutic yoga teacher training program. Their restorative training was fantastic in September, and they offer weekend trainings twice a month. But finances and academic commitments dictate that this is something I can only take advantage of once in awhile. I'm also very guilty of wanting to plan my teaching on-call schedule around my favourite yoga classes. I've discovered a new passion--barre classes (especially the ones that blend yoga and/or pilates). I'm spoiled for choice here!
Taking relaxation to a new level at Ajna Yoga restorative training

New Things I've Learned
Anytime you step out of your comfort zone it's a great opportunity to learn new things about yourself. Not that it's always easy or fun, and I know these realizations are really simple. But sometimes you need experiences like these to drive home the most basic lessons.
1) It's a huge privilege to be part of a community. I miss Kenton, my family, my friends, my yoga community, and my school community. I miss people knowing me and caring about me, and I miss knowing and caring about other people too. Although I am making new friends and a place for myself here, I don't really think it's possible to replicate the level of connection and interdependence in Victoria that I've experienced as a lifelong resident of a small town.
2) Having a pet is an amazing gift. I miss my dog and cat SO much. It's not that I miss them more than my family, it's just that I can't text and call them. In six weeks of being away from them, I've learned that having a pet to love and care for is really imperative to my happiness. I ask to pat random dogs and engage in conversation with dog owners at Starbucks, the beach, and on trails just to get a dog fix. I have all these beautiful places to walk and hike and no dog to take with me, and it's so hard.
3) Keeping busy is key. I've always maintained a very busy schedule, and although sometimes I've longed to have fewer commitments, I've found that I don't do well with downtime. Especially when I'm lonely. My PhD workload is demanding, and I try to teach on-call 1.5-2 days per week. Any remaining time I fill with yoga. The busier I am the better I seem to do! Every week I try to do something new and "touristy". So far I've visited Witty's Lagoon, Hatley Castle, Ogden Point, Butchart Gardens, a couple of wineries, Beacon Hill Park, walked the Songhees Walkway, checked out Mile 0, and enjoyed a few beaches. I also went to the symphony in the beautiful Royal Theatre to hear James Ehnes with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. I'm so grateful that my temporary home has so many beautiful sites and new and different things to do.
The stunning legislature buildings and grounds in downtown Victoria
4) Everything is temporary. I tell myself this when I'm feeling homesick or overwhelmed. These feelings are temporary and will pass. This opportunity to live, learn, and practice yoga in Victoria, BC, is temporary too. I try and stay mindful, push myself to try new things and meet new people, and soak up every drop of this amazing, challenging new experience. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ten Tips for Meaningful Play in the Kindergarten/Grade 1 Classroom

Kindergarten teachers agree that their students need time to play each day—60 minutes of free play is a recommendation we often hear. This is supported by countless studies, a statement from Council of Ministers of Education in Canada, and Manitoba Education’s recent document, A Time for Learning, A Time for Joy. But what happens when you teach a multi-age kindergarten and Grade 1 class? You know that your kindergarten kiddos need play and you want to provide a developmentally-appropriate program. And, you recognize that Grade 1 kids need play too, but you don’t feel you can spare the time given the huge demands of literacy and numeracy achievement and reporting. What is a teacher to do without short-changing the kids or missing out on important instructional time? Here are ten tips to inspire you and provide some ideas for your classroom practice.

First of all...change your thinking! 
Opportunities to play WILL support your Grade 1 students' literacy, numeracy, and language development, as well as overall academic achievement. It is NOT time wasted, especially if play-based learning activities are thoughtful, intentional, and responsive to the needs of your learners. I do not spend a lot of time on "formal" reading instruction in kindergarten. Instead, my young learners have many opportunities for rich learning through play, project-based, and inquiry-based learning, where they use language for a purpose. We do spend lots of time developing phonological awareness skills (vitally important), practicing high-frequency words when we are ready, and reading together to access information for projects, but time spent playing contributes to their ability to learn to read. 

Second of all...educate and involve stakeholders.
Keep parents and your administrator informed and explain WHY play-based learning is an essential component of your program. Give them a clear understanding of how it is benefiting children and enhancing their emerging literacy and numeracy skills as well as motor development and social competencies. Post the CMEC Statement on Play-Based Learning in your classroom and send it home to parents at the start of the year. Be clear that there is a rationale behind including play-based learning and it is supported by Manitoba Education and current research. 

Discovery Learning
Start the day with 15-25 minutes of discovery learning tubs or trays—especially the days when your kindergarten students attend. Begin by teaching the routine of hanging up coat and backpack, handing in clipboard/agenda, putting on indoor shoes, then going to a table to explore and interact with the materials. Discovery learning can target literacy, numeracy, art exploration, as well as science and social studies concepts. Some teachers try to have one tub/tray from each curricular area each week for a total of 4-5 tubs/trays. Discovery learning is play-based, hands on, and promotes inquiry. Learn more here and check out these fantastic ideas on Pinterest.

The start of the year is a great time to begin discovery learning with simple fine motor activities to strengthen the hand skills of your learners—very important for the increasing demands for printing we place on Grade 1 students. See this post to learn more about fine motor activities that are open-ended and encourage exploration.  

Once a discovery learning routine is established, activities can become more complex. As a teacher, you can spend the time observing students, capturing evidence of learning through photographs and voice recordings, and taking anecdotal notes. You might choose to position yourself at one discovery tray or roam around the room. I highly recommend Microsoft One Note to organize all that information—create a page for each student, and you’ll have a wealth of data by report card time. Microsoft One Note is available across platforms (app and web-based). 
Maker Stations or Maker Spaces
Making is very much like free play—kids are given choices and opportunities for open-ended exploration, problem-solving, design/creation, and social interaction. Consider introducing maker stations or maker time when you feel your students are ready for it. Ideas include:
-cardboard creations (you could incorporate STEM/STEAM design challenges). It's a great use for recycled materials too. 
-building with a variety of materials such as lego, magna-tiles, blocks, Wedgits, etc. 
-coding and robotics (and if you teach in Park West School Division, you’re very lucky to have Leah Obach as an amazing resource in this area)
-making is an excellent way to meet Grade 1 science outcomes from Cluster 3: Characteristics of Objects and Materials while developing important Cluster 0 skills 
-consider scheduling making in your day or week for a period of time--longer blocks work best to give kids opportunities to really immerse themselves in what they are doing, Also, it can be messy, and I'd rather clean up one big mess once a week than slightly smaller messes every day!
-encourage your emerging writers to photograph what they have made and write about it--maybe by posting to Instagram and captioning it, or printing out the picture, pasting it in their journal, and printing sentences/words/labels. Preserving their creations through photography also helps with the heartbreak of dismantling it!
-learn more here
Making structures with cups is a popular MakerSpace activity
Make literacy and numeracy materials available to support and extend the play.
Provide students with markers, post-it notes, index cards, paper, tape, popsicle sticks, clipboards, dice, and basically anything you can think of to encourage them to use their emerging literacy and numeracy skills. Index cards and popsicle sticks make wonderful signs for a building project or hockey arena, for example. Clipboards and notepads are perfect for taking orders in the classroom restaurant. Pricing objects in a grocery store by printing numbers on sticky notes is wonderful practice.

I always like to provide blank stapled booklets so students can create their own books as a play option. Some kids will spend hours doing just that. Make sure you support them with a very simple word wall and great books to spark their imaginations—the Pigeon books by Mo Willems coupled with some You Tube drawing tutorials of the pigeon and the duckling led to amazing and spontaneous student writing in my K classroom and Leah’s Grade 1 classroom.

In my kindergarten classroom, I have an Independence Station full of materials that the students are free to use independently (after some instruction)--stapler, tape dispenser, pencils, erasers, markers, pens, paper, etc. Having the materials accessible saves you the hassle of kids asking permission and gives them an appropriate level of responsibility. 

Involve students in the development of play activities. 
When it is clear that we need a new dramatic play activity in the classroom (maybe I observe they are bored), the students help me develop a plan for it. Together we brainstorm ideas, sometimes voting on what the new dramatic play activity should be. Voting offers opportunity for graphing, one-to-one correspondence, counting, printing numerals, and comparing.

Once the dramatic play activity is chosen, we use shared writing to draft a list of the supplies we need. This offers a wealth of rich literacy learning:
-how to make a list (writing genre)
-initial, medial, final sounds as we spell words 
-stretching words out to hear sounds
-syllables in words 
-spaces between words
-students can share the pen with the teacher with the teacher printing the more difficult parts (otherwise it takes forever and everyone gets tired of it)

This pizza restaurant was the students' idea and provided many rich opportunities for literacy and numeracy, 
Teach mini-lessons that extend play-based learning.
Once our new dramatic play activity is up and running, I carefully observe my learners to see what teaching I can do to extend the play. For example, if it is a grocery store, we might work together to price items and print numbers for each item. Then we might use pennies or loonies to match one-to-one to represent the price. Sometimes, once items are priced, I'll grab a bunch of grocery items from the store and give one to each child and together we practice counting out the correct number of pennies/loonies/counters to match the number written on it.

If it is a restaurant, we might work together to create menus, captioning pictures of what the restaurant serves. Or, I might teach them how a server would take an order in a restaurant or how a chef would write a recipe. The opportunities are endless and directly linked to kindergarten and Grade 1 outcomes. 

Check out the following examples:
Shopping for Learning 

Observe play carefully and use it to inform your instructional decisions.
-choose one child to observe per session of play
-take notes and collect samples of learning (photographs, voice recordings, etc)
-what do you see? Is there an evident need that could be addressed with a small group literacy/numeracy lesson or a whole-class learning experience?
-do you observe a strong interest that could be developed into a class inquiry or project-based learning? What fascinates your students and what themes emerge repeatedly in their play?

Consider "play planning", especially for your Grade 1 students. 
It's a fantastic literacy activity and develops your students' abilities to develop, record, and follow a plan. I like to add a reflective component as well following play time. Learn more here

And lastly...a pitfall to avoid

Don’t make play available to your Grade 1 students only when they are done their “work”. This results in many of the kids who need play the most being denied precious minutes of learning, and creates a mindset that play is a break from learning/real work. Play is the work of the child and there should be equal access to play for ALL children in your classroom. 
Oh how I LOVE this! I find play so important and will justify an extended recess any day!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Not Just a Book: Outdoor Learning Fosters Early Writing

As we've been exploring outdoor learning, we've been inspired by the book Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis to learn with natural materials. Our student teacher, Kim Williment, planned a fantastic learning experience focused on this book and sticks. All the JK students brought a stick from home, and after reading the book, we explored a variety of math concepts--ordering our sticks by length, using our sticks to measure distance, counting the sticks, and forming numerals with them. Next, the junior kindergarten kiddos were very excited to come up with their own imaginative ideas for their sticks! We used the app Book Creator on our classroom iPads to create our own version of Not a Stick.

Take a look at Not a Sandbox written by the SK class, also inspired by this book.
The SK class decided to write a book about sandboxes as we don't have one on our playground, and we would really like to get one. Together with our student teacher Mrs. Williment, we brainstormed all the creative ways that a sandbox would help us learn and took pictures using an iPad. Next, we uploaded the pictures to Office 365 One Drive (follow this link to get your own free educator/student account) and used SMART Notebook to create a digital book. Next, we exported the pages as JPG files and uploaded them to Mixbook. The exciting thing about using Mixbook is we can embed the final project on our blog and classroom Facebook page and get it professionally printed too! We are sharing this book with our parent advisory council in hopes they will fund our sandbox project. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Walking for Polar Bears, Part 2: The Big Day

With the fundraising well underway and a developing knowledge of climate change, it was time to plan the actual event. We had decided at the project's inception that the walk would take place at Brandon University, as I really wanted to expose my young learners to university at an early age. Also, it made more sense to bus our students to Brandon than make my big kids from BU drive out in separate vehicles. However, no project is without some bumps in the road...

Mrs. Obach and I had a big discussion about whether or not it was reasonable to bus kids to Brandon in a project designed to raise awareness about climate change. Did it make sense to put more vehicles on the road when that was the very thing we were trying to stop? We thought the best way to handle this issue was to take it to our students. Leah's Grade 1 class had an excellent debate using the "tug of war" strategy  and raised many valid points about why we should travel to Brandon. In the end, we decided it was better to take two buses than multiple cars, and the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages.

Early in the project, I had asked Dr. Duncan about using the walking track at BU's Healthy Living Centre. However, the director of the centre felt that 21 big kids, 21 kindergarten kids, and 23 Grade 1 students was just too many to accommodate. What to do? With unpredictable Manitoba weather in a busy city, was walking outside a wise or safe idea? My kindergarten class brainstormed alternative locations, and we called Shoppers Mall Brandon and Keystone Centre. However, it didn't seem like a good use of time to walk in one location then travel to BU for learning activities after. This problem was solved by my big kids at university. They proposed walking around campus, going in and out of buildings to keep warm. This also gave our students a great overview of the entire campus. Problem solved!

In the days leading up to the actual walk, the JKs partnered with my big kids to create a green screen movie using the app Do Ink. My junior kindergarten class had taken a special interest in climate change and developed the understanding that by helping the earth, we also help polar bears. This movie showcased what we can do to slow climate change.

We also participated in a fantastic video call with Mr. Andy McKiel and the Hamiota Grade 1 class. Andy had travelled to Churchill a few years ago with a Discovery Education team to get up close and personal with polar bears. His amazing pictures and interesting information about polar bears absolutely captivated our young learners. Thank you so much for sharing!

Perhaps what was most exciting was the work my big kids did at BU. I wanted these future teachers to gain first-hand knowledge of project-based learning as it is so well-suited to multi-age/multi-level classrooms. They followed the project through all its stages, and then they stepped up to plan the events at BU. We made a list of what tasks needed to be accomplished, and the students worked in groups to complete them. We looked at each task and discussed what curricular outcomes would be met and how students of diverse abilities could be accommodated. I felt it was a real "a ha" moment for a lot of my students as they realized how interdisciplinary and inclusive project-based learning is!

One group was in charge of mapping the route we would take for our polar bear walk. A PDF of the campus and a Microsoft Surface pen was a fantastic tool!
 Another group of big kids developed a schedule for the day.
 Another group was in charge of advertising and contacting the media.
 One group had the brilliant idea that we needed a photo booth! And we also decided that a polar bear mascot for the walk would be amazing!
And finally our big day arrived! It was an amazing day that couldn't have gone better--take a look at our video!
This was one of my all-time favourite projects as it was such a unique collaboration among two classrooms, Brandon University, and World Wildlife Fund Canada. Together we raised $243 for polar bears. Everyone involved saw what a difference we can make when we work together. My young students built knowledge about polar bears and climate change as well as strengthened their early literacy and numeracy skills, and my big kids developed their abilities in a project-based learning approach.