Sunday, September 15, 2019

You Asked, Kindergarten Diva Answers: Four Practices to Save Your Sanity at the Start of the Year

"I feel like I'm expecting too much of my new Kindergarten class and I'm having them sit too long.  Things feel really chaotic.  Any suggestions?"

September in a Kindergarten classroom is a time like no other.  One of my good K teacher friends always used to say, "Kindergarten is yucky until after Halloween" and there is definitely some truth to those words!  Any Kindergarten teacher will tell you that introducing first-time students to the school setting is challenging!  It's an incredibly important time for you and your littles--starting the year off on the right foot will set all of you up for ten months of rich and productive learning experiences.  I find that too often, teachers are worried about academic outcomes from the first week of school (and no wonder...lots of pressure to boost literacy and numeracy achievement).  Instead, I believe that time invested in developing strong routines, procedures, and classroom community will pay huge dividends down the road in your classroom.

 Here are a few suggestions for setting appropriate expectations, keeping your little ones moving, and creating a calm and happy classroom atmosphere.

1) Frequent movement breaks:  at the start of the year, I maintain that a Kindergarten child should be able to sit and focus for five minutes (one minute per year of age).  I'm not sure where I got this notion from, but it generally seems to hold true.  So when planning activities, don't require your children to sit and be still for longer than five minutes at a time.  If they seem engaged, you can begin to stretch it out, but watch closely for signs of fatigue and restlessness.  What do we do for movement breaks?
  • action songs/games:  sing them yourself or play them on Spotify or YouTube.  Below I've included a Spotify playlist with some of my favourites.  Of course Go Noodle is always a great option too...however I find that sometimes I lose my class while I'm logging back into the computer and finding the activity I want.  Action songs need to be quick and easy...usually I just sing them myself.  A quick game of The Farmer in the Dell or Ring Around the Rosie works well for a fun movement break too. 

  • yoga: grab yourself a set of yoga cards and keep them nearby!  Depending on the length of the movement break, every child can choose a card or maybe the special helper picks five.  Go through the deck and eliminate the cards you don't want to do in your K classroom (headstand...not a good idea).  Hold up the card, demonstrate the pose, and let everyone give it a try.  Yoga is non-competitive and promotes balance, strength, and calm. 
  • action counting:  jump 5 times as you count out loud, march 10 times, pat your knees 3 times... you get the idea. 
  • move around the classroom:  I have two instructional areas set up in my classroom, one at the SMART Board and the other one at the circle.  We also have our table spots.  Throughout the day, we move frequently from one area to the next for quick and easy movement breaks.  I cover my eyes and challenge them to move so quietly that I can't hear them, then I make a big fuss that they mustn't be listening because I can't hear a thing.  They love it, and it provides excellent practice for moving around the classroom quietly. 
  • math games:  I post the numerals 0-10 around the classroom in random places.  For a quick movement break, I'll give each child a ten frame/dot pattern card and they have to find the numeral it matches and stand in front of it.  A few rounds of this strengthens number recognition and provides some much needed movement.
2) Visual schedule:  consider setting up a visual schedule in your classroom to bring order and strengthen routines.  Not only is this a recommended practice for supporting students with exceptionalities, it is incredibly helpful for many learners.  A visual schedule uses pictures/symbols to order the events that are happening in the classroom that day, and after each activity is completed, you take it out of the chart or move the arrow to the next activity.  My students rely on it and reference it throughout the day to see when a favourite activity is scheduled.  If you have a speech language pathologist who is willing to help, they are a great resource for developing visual schedules in Boardmaker.  Otherwise, photograph activities and use real pictures, source copyright-free clipart off the Internet, or use your Bitmoji (get the Chrome browser extension) to make a visual schedule.  You can use velcro to attach them to the wall or a pocket chart works well too.  I build the visual schedule before the children arrive, and we review it at morning circle.
It can also be really useful to just hold up the picture for the activity that is happening next.  Instead of talking, walking silently around the room and showing a picture can be very effective.  I find that this practice is helpful for students with special needs as it limits the opportunities for arguing and minimizes language.

3)  Develop a calm classroom atmosphere:  Kindergarten classrooms can be busy, noisy places (as they should be), but calm and quiet times are needed too.  How to accomplish this?
  • Insist on quiet before instruction:  there are countless ways to prepare students to listen (1-2-3 eyes on me, 1-2 eyes on you) or my personal favourite (criss cross applesauce, hands in lap, gingersnap, lips zipped, Cool Whip), so find one or two that work for you and your students.  Take the time to practice what good listening behavior looks like and why it is important.  Offer lots of praise!  
  • Breath work:  to help regulate our bodies and emotions, we take part in different breathing activities throughout the day.  Breath work can be as simple as a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, and both you and your students will feel more relaxed after.  In fact, I always maintain that breath work in the classroom is more for me than my students!  Check out this video for some ideas or grab this book from Amazon.  
  • Minimize classroom clutter:  cover your shelves with fabric, turn off the fluorescent lights and add some mini lights or lamps, and get rid of the glaring primary colours everywhere.  I haven't thoroughly looked into the research on this, but I know that my room feels calmer and more soothing since I made these changes (with more to come).  Take a look at my classroom here.  
  • Soothing music:  while we engage in quiet activities, we listen to soothing background music.  Here's our favourite playlist at the moment. 

  • Diffuse essential oils:  as long as families are supportive and you are compliant with school policies, consider diffusing calming essential oils such as lavender or Young Living Stress Away.  My kiddos love having a diffuser in the classroom and are so interested in the different oils and why we use them. 
4)  Schedule lots of play and small group activities:  we begin and end our day with play (if you need to justify this, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada recommend 60 minutes per day).  It's a fun and easy way to start the day, and children separate more easily from their family members when they can take part in a preferred activity with their friends.  We play for 30 minutes in the morning, and 40 minutes at the end of the day.  In September, my little ones are so exhausted that play is about the only thing that keeps them going until the end of the day.  I integrate lots of small group activities throughout the day as well such as:
  • math games:  simple dice games are easy to teach and fun to play.  They provide an opportunity to strengthen skills such as subitizing, one-to-one correspondence, number recognition, and turn-taking.  Here's a couple of my favourite games
  • fine motor activities: developing fine motor skills and strengthening little hands is an important pre-cursor to more formal printing activities.  That's why we do lots of fun centre-style activities in the first term of Kindergarten.  Students love these activities, and often I integrate literacy, numeracy, and science outcomes as students develop their pincer grasp and increase hand strength.  Learn more here

What are your suggestions for starting the year off right in Kindergarten?  How do you keep busy four and five-year olds engaged as they learn the routines of school?  Comment below or reach out to me on social media--I'd love to hear from you! 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Project-Based Learning Goes Post-Secondary: Educators' Voices and Visions for the Future

For the past four weeks, I've been teaching 02:210 Teacher Identity in Brandon University's PENT (Program for the Education of Native Teachers) program.  I had 37 students from all over Manitoba--everywhere from nearby Sioux Valley to Oxford House and Gillam in northern Manitoba.  It's been an amazing experience, one that has confirmed for me yet again that I love teaching big kids as much as little kids.  And as always, my students have taught me more than I could ever hope to teach them.

When I teach pre-service teachers, I strive to explore the course content while introducing teaching strategies and approaches that my students can use in their own classrooms.  For those of who you follow my work, you'll already know that project-based learning is one of my preferred pedagogical approaches regardless of the age of my learners.  In Teacher Identity, one of the outcomes is to gain insight into the nature of teaching as a profession.  I decided that an educator panel would be the perfect way to talk to real educators while participating in an authentic project-based learning experience.  My goal for this project was for my students to inquire into the teaching profession, construct new knowledge, and gain experience in designing and implementing a project-based learning experience. Throughout the project, I wanted to explain the teaching opportunities and links to K-12 curricula as well as how students of diverse needs might be included.

When I presented this idea to my students, they were enthusiastic about an educator panel, but many had little to no knowledge of project-based learning.  As a result, I shared a presentation with them that Leah Obach and I had developed to share at conferences.  We examined the history of project-based learning back to the days of John Dewey and reviewed the relevant literature from the field.  Exploring resources from the Buck Institute for Education PBL Works and projects from Kindergarten-Grade 12 gave students a clearer vision of project-based learning (PBL).  With this deeper understanding, we were more prepared to plan and implement an educator panel using a project-based learning model.

Steps in Planning and Implementation: Educators' Voices and Visions for the Future Panel 

Setting goals: enthusiasm was running high, so we jumped right into developing a to-do list for our educator panel.  We were floundering a bit until one student suggested that we needed to examine what we hoped to achieve from the panel.  We took a step back and had a group discussion about our goals for the educator panel.  We decided that we wanted to gain knowledge of the different roles and positions within the education sector as well as the role of the Manitoba Teachers' Society.  This was the perfect time to highlight the emergent nature of project-based learning, the importance of student voice, and the role of the teacher as the facilitator.

To-do list: with our goals more clearly defined, it was possible to develop a to-do list to structure the project.  As always, the to-do list grew and evolved throughout the project and structured our daily activities until the educator panel took place.
Student roles: once we developed our to-do list, we decided to form student committees that would be in charge of a group of tasks.  After much discussion we decided that the following committees were needed:
Our committees evolved throughout the project.  Originally, we had a hospitality committee, but when some of the students decided to create handmade cards, they split into two groups.  One group decided to handle the refreshments while the other group focused on the cards.  This was a perfect example of how project-based learning continually evolves and how students and teachers need to be flexible.

Students signed up for the committees that appealed to them.  In a K-12 classroom, I might have made rules about how many students could be on each committee--and you can see that the committees were not balanced.  However, I decided it was more important that my adult learners had choice--and I was delighted to see them solve problems and negotiate who should work on what committee.

Panel guest list:  all students had the opportunity to provide suggestions for potential panel guests, then our invitation committee made the final decisions and contacted them.  Our invitation committee was committed to a balanced and representative committee, paying close attention to factors such as gender, Indigenous/non-Indigenous, years of experience, and role/position.  Even the panel members themselves commented on the broad representation and balance of the group of speakers!
Panelists included Donna Prince (Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre literacy consultant), Noella Eagle (Assistant Professor, Brandon University), Rob Tomlinson (principal, Earl Oxford School), Steven Kaskiw (resource teacher, Strathclair Community School), and Adam Grabowski (Park West School Division local MTS president and teacher). 
Panelist Donna Prince with her daughter Jocelyn Prince, one of my students 

Panelist Noella Eagle with her niece Jillian Chalmers, another student in Teacher Identity 

Questions and event hosting: three students worked together to develop a list of questions for the panelists.  They also developed a form to solicit questions from other students, giving them the option to ask the question themselves.  These students liaised with the panel guest committee, sharing information so that our panelists were emailed the list of questions in advance. This was an excellent opportunity to discuss the interdependent nature of project-based learning, as well as some of the important ELA lessons that might be taught to support this portion of the project. 
Stacy Desjardins welcomed the panelists to our event, and Nicole Friesen posed questions and guided discussion.  Questions focused on student diversity (cultural, English language leaners, and special needs), the role of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, the panelists' reflections on their careers, and advice for our students.
Trevor McIntyre asked his question from the audience. 

Kyle McIvor shared closing remarks and thanked the panelists for their time and advice. 

Location, setup, audio/video: before we could choose a location, we had to decide if the event was open to other classes and/or the public.  The students decided to keep the event limited to our class, John Minshull (director of PENT), and Dr. Heather Duncan (Dean of Education).  Live-streaming the event seemed like the perfect way to keep the atmosphere small and intimate while sharing the panel with a larger audience.  One student approached the education office to find out if they would be willing to let us advertise and live-stream the even through their Facebook page, and they agreed to help us with setup and filming.
Setting up our Facebook live-streamed event, which has had 662 views so far!  Watch the recorded event here


We requested permission to use the Little Theatre across from our classroom.  We discussed how this would be an excellent lesson for children on capacity/area/perimeter when choosing an event location. Since there weren't enough microphones available, we conducted sound tests to find out if a non-amplified voice could be easily heard.  The Little Theatre's acoustics proved excellent, and the students and I remarked that this project would fit in well with the science outcomes on sound. 

Thank you cards and gift certificates: four students took on the task of creating beautiful handmade thank you cards.  We held a class vote to decide on gift cards for our panelists, concluding that Chapters/Coles gift cards would be the best choice.

Refreshments:  the students felt strongly that we needed to offer our guests refreshments and have a "meet and greet" after the panel.  The refreshment committee approached the director of PENT and asked for funding to cover the costs of refreshments and gift cards.  I was thrilled when Mr. Minshull asked the students to draft a letter outlining their requests and submit a budget.  As a class, we discussed these fantastic teaching and learning opportunities--numeracy, learning how to develop a budget, letter writing, and persuasive writing.

Mr. Minshull agreed to support our project and the students had the great idea of comparing prices between Tim Horton's and Forbidden Flavours for coffee and tea.  Forbidden Flavours was only $1 more with the added bonuses of setting up and taking away the coffee for us (as well as being a local business), so we decided to go with them.  Fruit, dainties, and bottles of water for the speakers were the other items on the menu.  Delicious treats from another local business, Chez Angela, seemed perfect for our event.
Jocelyn Prince, Jamie Mousseau, and Lori Campbell checking out the refreshments following the panel 
Donna Prince (panelist) and Delilah Bruce chatting after the panel

Dress code:  I made the suggestion that students might want to dress up as they would be meeting some well-known educators from the field who could influence their future careers.  We discussed how Brandon University logo wear was a great option to dress clothes.  On the day of the event, our class looked sharp!
Christina Cochrane Monroy and Nicole Friesen visiting with panelists Steven Kaskiw and Adam Grabowski following the panel.

Social media:  as part of our course, all the students set up Twitter accounts and learned how to use hashtags to participate in Twitter chats and back channels.  We decided to stay off our devices as we wanted to be present and focused during the panel, but we did want someone to share on social media as the event was happening.  Kyle McIvor agreed to be our official tweeter, taking on the role of paraphrasing and sharing important information from the panel using the hashtag #PENTteacheridentity.


Reflection:  the day of the education panel was quickly over, and due to the students' strong planning and execution, it proceeded perfectly!  The next day we spent time reviewing our social media feeds and photographs as well as debriefing, discussing favourite moments and what went well.  We were delighted with all the nuggets of wisdom shared by our panelists and how prepared they were.  We congratulated our classmates for their hard work and the great job they did fulfilling their various roles.  We spent some time discussing how project-based learning resulted in authentic learning that made a real impact in the world, and how it felt to complete a project that made a difference.  Many students expressed how much they learned about the education profession and their interest in trying this pedagogical approach in their future classroom practice and communities.

As always, following a project-based learning experience, I came away feeling amazed with my students' abilities and the amount of learning that had taken place--as well as incredibly grateful for the opportunity to guide a wonderful group of future teachers.

Interested in trying project-based learning?  Find out more here:
Strengthening Students' Numeracy Skills Through PBL 
A Road Map for Success in Early Years: Project-Based Learning 
Walking for Polar Bears 
Reindeer Rescue: Project-Based Learning in Junior Kindergarten










Sunday, April 28, 2019

Leader of the Day: 10 Steps to Strengthening Oral Language and Early Writing Skills

Last year, I had the pleasure (most days anyway) of teaching on-call in Greater Victoria School District while attending University of Victoria.  It was tough for the first month or two, but then I built up a collection of fantastic schools that I taught in regularly and I began to love the variety of classrooms, children, and assignments.  A favourite classroom of mine to teach in was Karen Higginbotham's Kindergarten/Grade 1 classroom at View Royal Elementary.  A day spent in Karen's classroom (and many of the others I taught in) provided wonderful professional learning and a wealth of fantastic ideas that I was itching to try out in my own classroom. This blog post is dedicated to one of my favourite activities from Karen's K/1 program and how I've adapted it to my Kindergarten practice at Oak Lake Community School: Leader of the Day.

Leader of the Day is a terrific ELA activity for helping children get to know their peers, so I decided to introduce it at the start of the year.  As well as strengthening the classroom community, this learning activity promotes oral language skills, numeracy skills, and early writing skills.  How did Leader of the Day look in Kindergarten at the start of the year?

1) Choose a leader of the day: our leader of the day was also our special helper (line leader, handing out papers, leading activities, etc) and was selected as part of morning calendar.  I like to use SMART Notebook's random word selector programmed with all the students' names to randomly choose a student.

2) Name recognition: the leader of the day printed their name on a special SMART Notebook slide and we named each letter. Using the magnetic letters tool in SMART Notebook, the student spelled their name a second time.

3) Developing questioning skills:  Little people have a difficult time telling the difference between a question and a comment, so this was our first challenge to overcome.  Once my students understood how to ask the leader of the day a question, we worked hard on formulating interesting questions rather than the standard favourite colour, favourite toy, and food.  I encouraged the students to ask questions with a numeracy focus, such as: how many people are in your family? How old are you?

4) Developing a concept map about the leader of the day:  the leader of the day sat at the front of the room and called on students to answer their questions.  As the we found out new facts about the leader of the day, I recorded this information in a concept map using SMART Notebook.  I tried to include a visual with each fact to assist students in "reading" the information later.

5) Paying attention to details: after the concept map was completed, the leader of the day stood up on one of my wooden stump chairs and we studied their physical appearance.  We talked about hair colour, eye colour, and the clothing the student was wearing.  I emphasized how important it was to observe the student closely so they could create an accurate picture.

6) Setting criteria: we created a list of what made a great picture.  Criteria included relevant body parts (such as head, neck, ears, arms. hands/fingers, legs, feet, etc) and using the correct colours.  We talked about how our pictures needed to be big (take up the page), bold (use at least three different colours), and beautiful (include many details).

7) Drawing the student:  we used a template to draw a picture of the leader of the day with a large space for the picture, with room for writing below.  Once the picture was completed, I encouraged students to print any relevant words, including the leader's name and their own name.


8) Editing as a group: once the pictures were finished, we came together as a group and looked at everyone's pictures.  Referring to our criteria, I modelled providing feedback to peers as I held up each picture.  I'd say things like, "Did you notice how Sam drew Gabe's eyes and coloured them the perfect shade of blue?" or "I noticed that Grayson doesn't have any fingers.  Next time, make sure you give Grayson five fingers on each hand."  After we reviewed all the pictures, I returned them to students and encouraged them to add or make changes.

Peer editing:  after a couple of weeks, students were familiar with how to give and receive feedback.  We started working in partners to give feedback to each other and make changes to our art work.  I shared the idea of "Two Stars and a Wish" (two things that your friend has done really well and one thing that they might add or change) and it worked beautifully.  I noticed huge growth in the students' art work and observation skills.

9) Portfolios:  once students were happy with their pictures of the leader of the day, we photographed them and uploaded them to their Seesaw accounts.  Parents were really responsive and commented frequently!

10) Book creation:  Each leader of the day received their own stapled booklet of all the drawings of them with the concept map as the cover sheet.  Students loved to look at all their friends' drawings of them and share with their families at home.  Pictures could also be photographed and included in a digital book, using a tool such as Book Creator.

This first cycle of leader of the day lasted about two months in our classroom, and during this time I noticed tremendous improvement in students' abilities to ask "good" questions, draw accurate and detailed pictures, print names and words, and provide and receive feedback.  Leader of the Day was an excellent activity for the start of the year, and I plan to revisit it for the last two months of Kindergarten--won't it be fun to compare the concept maps from the beginning and end of the year for each student?  This time, in addition to drawing pictures, we will focus more heavily on printing words and sentences about the leader of the day.  To give this activity a new twist, I'm considering using Skype to include leaders of the day who aren't in our building.  Wouldn't it be exciting for students to have the opportunity to ask questions to someone they admire and create a final product to share with them via technology?

In Karen Higginbotham's K/1 classroom, her Grade 1 students wrote paragraphs about the leader of the day and drew a picture as well.  Additionally, she included other adults in the school as leaders of the day, such as the principal and custodian.  The principal was the leader of the day when I was teaching, and it was such a wonderful way for the students to get to know him better.

Leader of the Day is a fun and simple activity that can be adapted to suit your students' age and learning needs.  If you decide to try it out, I'd love to hear how it went!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Count on Project-Based Learning: Strengthening Students' Numeracy Skills Through PBL

Project-based learning.  You've probably heard about it...but is project-based learning an appropriate pedagogical approach for developing numeracy skills in young learners? That is the topic I tackled last month when I spent the morning presenting at Manitoba Association of Math Teachers' MTS PD Day Conference, Rolling the Dice on Change.  For more than ten years, project-based learning has been my favourite tool for investigating student-initiated, real-world topics with young learners.  I was excited to dive deeper into the existing research and unpack how this pedagogical approach can strengthen numeracy skills in young children.

First of all...what is project-based learning? This video has been around for quite a few years, but it was developed by the Buck Institute for Education (an excellent resource for K-12 teachers implementing project-based learning) and does a nice job of explaining the approach.  In my own experience, I have found project-based learning to be a cyclical approach that uses student interests and real-world issues and problems as the curriculum of the classroom.  Usually, project-based learning is interdisciplinary and facilitated (rather than led) by the teacher, who teaches relevant mini-lessons and weaves in curricular outcomes to move the learning projects forward.  Sometimes, project-based learning is collaborative as partnerships are formed with other classrooms and organizations.  A few examples from my classroom practice are detailed here:
Walking for Polar Bears
MakerFaire and Yoga Festival 
Love Family Adoption Party 
Reindeer Rescue
Baby Love Baby Shower
National Sweater Day
Connected Wellness Global Yoga Challenge 

What does the research say?
-project-based learning has been defined as an active, child-centred teaching and learning approach that uses student interests as the impetus for building knowledge and implementing authentic learning in real world settings (Kokotsaki, Menzies, & Wiggins, 2016).
-a project-based curriculum “promotes children's intellectual development by engaging their minds in observation and investigation of selected aspects of their experience and environment” (Katz & Chard, 2000, p. 2).  
-project-based learning is not an extra activity in the classroom; instead it is the curriculum itself, integrating provincial outcomes and fostering literacy and numeracy (Bell, 2010). 
-children build subject area knowledge and collaborative skills while displaying motivation and positive peer relations (Kaldi, Filippatou, and Govaris, 2011).  
-educators should challenge young children to solve real-world problems to spark creativity and innovation (Pramling Samuelsson, 2011). 

What numeracy skills may be developed through project-based learning?
Researchers have highlighted the importance of young children becoming proficient in subitizing (ability to recognize small exact quantities), comparison of the sizes of numbers, estimation, where numbers fit on a number line, and procedural and conceptual counting (Martin, Cirino, Sharp, & Barnes, 2014; Whyte & Bull, 2008).  The specific numeracy skills that arise out of project-based learning may vary depending on the learning project.  However, I have found that the numeracy skills identified by researchers occur in nearly every project-based learning opportunity in my early years classroom.  Depending on the project and the learning needs of my students, I may choose to focus more strongly on certain numeracy skills.  For example, if my Kindergarten students are struggling with teen numbers, I may spend a few days teaching mini-lessons and really examining and using teen numbers within the context of the project topic.  Here are some examples from project-based learning experiences undertaken in my classroom and in collaboration with my teaching partner and friend Leah Obach.

Counting
In every learning project, counting happens on a daily basis.  We count objects, people, votes/survey results, money, and materials.  We have many opportunities to match one-to-one as we count and compare quantities.  We count by ones, forwards and backwards, and sometimes we need to skip count.  What I believe is most important is that we are counting for a real purpose and the success of our project is linked to our ability to count accurately and quickly. 
Counting loonies and toonies from our Timbits sale and polar bear white ribbon campaign provided an excellent opportunity to strengthen our ability to count by ones and twos.  I encouraged students to set the price at $2 to facilitate these counting experiences.

Visuals on the interactive whiteboard and base ten blocks can help young children count larger quantities of money. 
Number Operations and Problem-Solving
There are many opportunities to use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to solve problems key to the success of the learning project.  When working with larger numbers, tools such as hundred charts, Power of Ten cards, and base ten blocks are invaluable supports in solving these problems. 
Students used large ten frames to investigate teen numbers and adding ten as they counted cups for hot chocolate for our National Sweater Day project.

Printing Numerals
Throughout our learning projects, we are frequently required to print numerals for a variety of tasks.  A sense of urgency is created as students are faced with recording numerals to keep track of results, recording and sharing new facts they have discovered, and creating and labelling materials.  Suddenly it matters that they can print numbers quickly and correctly. 
This student printed numbers to record how many students were in each class as his class prepared to hand out flyers advertsing a Timbits and white ribbon sale to support polar bears.  Students printed more numbers as they labelled the notes for each classroom. 
Students reviewed their guest list for their MakerFaire and yoga festival, using tally marks to determine how many invitations would be delivered by mail, division mail, by hand, and email. 

Working with Data and Making Data-Informed Decisions
When students are deciding how they will tackle an issue or how they will work to make a difference, differing opinions are often raised in the classroom.  Votes and surveys are essential for making fair decisions that reflect what the majority of students would like to do.  Additionally, we have polled our school and local community to determine the most popular cookies and beverages when planning events and sales.  Students have been excited to personally survey people in our school and to work with me to create online surveys using Microsoft Forms or Survey Monkey.  The results from our surveys have allowed us to move forward in our projects and base our decisions on real data, not just on our opinions and personal preferences. 
We used Survey Monkey to find out how much people would be willing to pay for greeting cards that we created with our Instagram photographs.  This project arose out of the students' interest in creating, editing, and captioning beautiful images for Instagram and a desire to support the new early learning centre that some of them and their siblings attended. 

Estimation
Sometimes using an estimation jar gets old and lacks authenticity.  Through learning experiences such as these ones, we have opportunities to develop important estimation skills to move forward with our projects. 
After experimenting with the capacity of glasses and jugs, we estimated how many glasses we would get from one batch of homemade iced tea.
We estimated how many cookies would fit on a plate for our bake sale.  We sold homemade iced tea and cookies to raise money for sick kids and the endangered Oregon spotted frog. 

Measurement
Depending on what the project calls for, we usually have opportunities to measure objects and physical spaces.  In keeping with curricular outcomes, we usually rely on non-standard measurement.  Occasionally, it is necessary to use standard units when comparing distances and mass. 
We planned and hosted a yoga festival for Internatonal Day of Yoga.  It was important to plan how we would design the physical layout of the space in the gym.  We used steps to measure the length and width of the gym, then created a sort-of-to-scale map on the SMART Board.

We decided to hold a Timbits and white ribbon sale to raise awareness and funds for how climate change affects polar bears.  We made the perfect white ribbon pin, then measured it with cubes.  We used cubes to measure 100 lengths of ribbon--lots of great lessons about measuring accurately!

Final Thoughts
Implementing project-based learning in your early years classroom will provide many opportunities for developing numeracy skills in authentic, real-world contexts.  This pedagogical approach creates an urgency for counting, comparing quantities, representing numbers, solving problems, estimating, and measuring--students begin to understand why these skills are important and how they are used in the real world.  

Keep your eye on the curriculum.  It is crucial that the teacher has a strong understanding of the provincial curriculum and acts as a facilitator to connect the students' interests with learning outcomes.  Based on observation and the demands of the project, the teacher must provide timely mini-lessons to support students as they build knowledge and develop and apply solutions.  It's all about the teachable moment...be prepared to go where students lead you and don't worry if the skill they need to develop (or at least develop familiarity with) isn't in the curriculum until Grades 3 or 4.  Exposure won't hurt your students, and some will get a lot out of it.  Additionally, it is important for the teacher to be mindful of what outcomes have been addressed through project-based learning and what outcomes need to be developed in future learning experiences. 

Don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole.  Not all project-based learning experiences will teach all numeracy outcomes, so don't try to force it.  Embrace what works naturally with the project, spend more time on the skills that need to be strengthened in your students, and develop other skills in future projects or lessons. 

Document and share learning.  During project-based learning, I constantly capture our learning through photographs, videos, and voice notes that are organized in Microsoft OneNote in a section for each child.  This evidence allows me to determine if students are meeting learning outcomes and provides valuable information for reporting.  For content that I'd like to share with parents, I upload images, videos, and work samples to Seesaw and our classroom Facebook page.  Sharing student learning with families allows them to see how their children are developing important numeracy skills through project-based learning. 

And remember...project-based learning isn't "dessert".  Don't wait until the end of the year when the curriculum has been "covered" to implement project-based learning.  This pedagogical approach isn't an add-on, an extra, or a reward for completing traditional learning activities.  Instead it is an important vehicle for capitalizing on student interests, engaging students in hands-on, real world learning, and developing important numeracy skills.  

Presentation slides and references available here.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Words to Live By


I think it's only natural that as a lifelong reader, special quotations and readings have become an important part of my daily life and yoga practice.  Since I started teaching yoga, I've shared readings throughout the classes I guide.  I find these readings and quotations helpful in cultivating a theme for a class, encouraging students to set an intention, providing something to reflect on during long yin and restorative poses, and imparting something to take home at the conclusion of a practice.

In my daily life, my iPhone lock screen is usually a quotation that I've selected to remind myself of my current goal or intention.  I've been known to stick Post-It notes with important quotations to the dash of my vehicle, and I frequently share quotations on my Devon Caldwell Yoga Instagram account.  I find that quotations and readings often give me the boost I need to persevere or try something new.  Sometimes quotations are motivating, thought-provoking, or comforting.  My favourite quotations resonate strongly and say something in a way that I never could.  

When I share quotations (such as the one below), I usually use a photograph I've taken (or a standard purple background like on my Instagram account) and add text using an app on my iPhone.  Favourite apps include Word Swag and Rhonna Designs
Lately I've been asked a lot about the readings I've been sharing in my yoga classes.  Here's where you can learn more about my current favourites:

2) Prayers of Honoring, by Pixie Lighthorse

3) Brave Enough, by Cheryl Strayed

4) Worlds of You: Poetry and Prose, by Beau Taplin 


Additionally, please check out my Pinterest boards where I pin short readings and quotations for both my personal life and yoga teachings. 



Words for Wanderlust (Travel Quotations)

What are your favourite books of poetry and prose? I'd love to hear your suggestions!




Sunday, July 15, 2018

PhD Studies and Candidacy: Is There Life After Coursework?

On June 28, I completed the final course of my PhD program.  Every institution and every department within an institution has their own unique requirements for coursework and the candidacy process, and I've learned that the next step isn't revealed until I'm almost done the previous one. So what have I been up to lately and what is happening next? Lots of people have been asking, so I thought I'd dedicate a post to explaining the candidacy process in Curriculum and Instruction at University of Victoria!
First of all, doctoral students in Curriculum and Instruction are required to take four courses: two required (Discourses of Education and Advanced Research Methodologies) and two electives that can be outside the department and even the faculty.  My supervisor completed her PhD at UBC where the course requirements are a lot heavier, and she believed that I would be more successful with a broader knowledge base.  And she was totally correct--I feel like I lost a lot between my Master's degree and my doctoral program, AND I pay the same tuition if I take two courses or four courses at a time! As a result, I completed seven courses instead of four: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives of Child and Youth Care, Curriculum as Discourse, Global Education, a cross-departmental research internship, Gender and Leadership, plus the two required courses.

So while I was taking my courses, I was a PhD or doctoral student. Now that my courses have come to an end, I have started candidacy exams to hopefully embark on the next stage of my program.  If I am successful, I will become a PhD candidate who has demonstrated the theoretical knowledge and research skills necessary to begin my own program of research. So what does candidacy involve? If you follow me on social media, you probably saw my exhausted and overwhelmed posts from the library, coffeehouses, and my little apartment in the last couple of weeks. I pretty much lived on popcorn and wore my fuzzy robe all the time...except when I went to yoga or the left the house. Candidacy is the hardest thing that I've ever done in my life...here's the breakdown:

1) First step is to form a committee: a committee consists of your supervisor, another faculty member from the same department, and someone from a different department or faculty at UVic.  I have three people on my committee at the moment, and the third member is from the psychology department. I believe that a fourth member will be added down the road who will serve as my external examiner when I defend my dissertation.

2) Submit a candidacy proposal: this is a 5-10 page paper that outlines the direction of my future research.  It includes an introduction, rationale, significance of my research, theoretical framework, research design, and review of the literature. It is really hard to fit all of that into ten pages, but we are encouraged to be succinct at the PhD level, or "parsimonious" as the Dean of Education says! My candidacy proposal was hugely challenging. All year I had planned to research community and family experiences of project-based learning in early years. but my supervisor felt that this might be limiting for my future prospects...and it wasn't aligned with the funding priorities for Canada's big research council that funds research. I knew that she was totally right of course, but it meant a switch in topics this spring. I'd spent the whole year amassing literature on project-based learning and diving deep into the topic. When we decided to change my topic, it was like starting from the beginning a month before candidacy started. My new topic investigates how technology is being used with young children in rural and urban Manitoba as well as teacher purpose for using technology. This area is another huge passion of mine and I have a lot of practical experience, but I had no idea about the body of research out there.

3) Present the candidacy proposal: I submitted my candidacy proposal on June 25 and my committee had about ten days to review it. On July 5, I met with the three members of my committee. I gave an informal presentation about my proposal that lasted about 25 minutes, then they asked me questions for another 25 minutes. Answering questions from three experienced researchers was very intimidating; however, I really felt like all my years of teaching and presenting had prepared me for this moment. Based on my proposal, they decided that I was ready to begin the candidacy process. I really wasn't sure if they would accept my proposal or not, because it just seemed so last minute and thrown together--although I worked really hard on it, I felt like I didn't have a handle on my new topic or the research design. But as my supervisor reassured me after the meeting, everyone feels exactly like that (or else she's just really nice).

4) The first question: after I left, my committee met and decided on two questions for me. One question is about research design and the other one focuses on theory and a literature review. I received my first question on Friday, July 6, which meant I had exactly one week to write and submit a 20-25 page paper answering my question. My supervisor is no longer allowed to help me as now is the time for me to demonstrate strong and independent academic work.
My research process is a messy one 
My first question focused on my research design (case study). So for an entire week I immersed myself in case study research design. And, I couldn't just write about my thoughts and opinions...every idea needed to be substantiated by existing research or the writings of case study scholars. Unfortunately case study is kind of airy-fairy (Is it a methodology or a method or none of the above? Oh wait, maybe it's all of the above?!) with lots of opinions about how it should be done, so it was really difficult to figure it all out for myself. I actually thought about case study nearly every moment of every day and I dreamed about it too. I researched all weekend and Monday, then started writing on Tuesday. On Thursday night, I wrote until nearly 3 am, then got up the next morning, finished the paper, and edited it.  Academic writing requires a particular style--in education, I have to write and cite references in APA format which is the pickiest, fussiest thing in the world. For my final proofread, I read all 23 pages out loud and actually started crying when I got to the conclusion (dramatic, sleep-deprived, super stressed out...all of the above).
I submitted my paper just in time for happy hour on Friday. Now my committee has two weeks to review it, and I will either pass and be given my second question, or I might be required to edit it and re-submit it, or I just might fail if they decide that I don't demonstrate a thorough enough understanding of case study. I don't know what will happen. All I know is that I did my absolute best work and that I couldn't have worked harder. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough. If I pass this question, I will receive my second question in two weeks and I'll have another week to produce a 20-25 page paper that I anticipate focuses on theory and the relevant literature.

So what am I doing for the next two weeks? Hanging out on the beach and doing lots of yoga? Well, I'll probably go to yoga everyday, but I have a new task right now. I'm applying for a research grant from SSHRCC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) which is a big process...it's unlikely that I will receive one as a first-year PhD student, but it's worth a try I guess.

If I pass both questions, I will defend my candidacy in a formal presentation and question session. If I make it through that, I will officially be a PhD candidate! It seems like a long way away, and I'm not confident in my ability to make it through all these challenges. I'm trying hard to only think about my current task, otherwise it just seems really overwhelming. When I move back to Manitoba, I'm returning to Oak Lake Community School to teach Senior Kindergarten every other day. The rest of my time will hopefully be dedicated to writing my ethics application and research proposal.

This first year has been a time of huge growth both professionally and personally (read more about my first term here and here), and it's far from over. I'm looking at another year to get ready to conduct research, a year to collect data, and then at least another year or two of data analysis and dissertation-writing and editing. Stay tuned--with some luck and a lot of hard work, I hope to be planning a huge graduation party in about four years!


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Gender: What Teachers and School Leaders of Young Children Need to Know

Since I began a class on gender and leadership with Dr. Catherine McGregor, I realized that I knew very little about gender development in young children.  Our discussions, readings, and guest speakers encouraged me to examine my kindergarten classroom practice, and I realized that I was not creating a truly gender-inclusive learning environment for my little people.  When we were given the opportunity to do a choice project for our final assignment, I knew that investigating gender in young children was really important for me.  This past year, I have spent a lot of time in early years classrooms around Victoria, and it is clear to me that I'm not the only teacher who is uninformed.  With a desire to share research, statistics, and resources and ideas for wise practices, I chose to develop a presentation, podcast, and this blog post for teachers and school leaders of young children.

Since I am still learning about gender in young children and exploring the literature and resources, this presentation (available upon request), blog post, and podcast are far from complete.  I'm sure that I've made some mistakes and missed out important information and ideas.  Please accept my apologies if anything I've said or written is offensive as that was never my intent.  Instead, this is my effort to begin a conversation, pique other educators' interest, and make changes to classroom practice to improve education for ALL children.

Kindergarten Diva Podcast
Take 20 minutes to get a quick overview of what you need to know and what you can start doing now to create a gender-inclusive classroom!  This podcast is available on iTunes and Google Play, or you can listen right here.


Manitoba Government Resources
Manitoba Education and Training document, Supporting Transgender and Gender Diverse Students in Manitoba Schools 

Reports
The Every Teacher Project on LGBTQ-Inclusive Education in Canada's K-12 Schools 
-see pages 3-8 for a glossary of important terms

Transgender People in Ontario, Canada: Statistics from the Trans PULSE Project to Inform Human Rights Policy 

BEING SAFE, BEING ME:Results of the CanadianTrans Youth Health Survey 

Resources
Gender Identity and Young Children: Information from the Canadian Paediatric Society 

Healthy Gender Development and Young Children: A Guide for Early Childhood Programs and Professionals

Responding to Children's Questions on LGBTQ Topics 

Building a library of anti-bias children's books
Ideas from Brightly
Ideas from Huffington Post

Institute for Humane Education and Welcoming Schools: ideas for lessons/learning experiences

Gender Creative Kids of Canada: a wealth of information and resources, as well as opportunities to connect with other families and service providers