During today’s class, some fellow teacher education students delivered a workshop exploring how to support blind and low vision students in inclusive classrooms. A variety of resources were provided, and I’ve shared some of the highlights below.
What Do Blind People See?
Imagining a life from a blind or low vision perspective can be challenging for people who have always had sight. The video below gives a glimpse into how a blind person might experience their surroundings, and reminds us that there are many different ways for people to “see” the world!
Art is one subject that may be intimidating for teachers to tackle when considering the needs of blind and low vision students. The key message of the workshop was to re-imagine your art program for all students- not just blind and low vision students. One example would be to use physical models (e.g. C-3PO) and ask your students to recreate the model using plasticine and their sense of touch. This can be a powerful exercise in exploring the role of our other senses (e.g. touch) in creative arts. Check out this post for some other considerations for making art accessible to all your students.
A beautiful resource
This book was provided as an exemplary resource that uses raised illustrations and Braille letters to help students imagine living (and reading) without the use of one’s eyes. It would be a valuable addition to any teacher’s library!
For more information on what the assessment data and specialized education plan might look like for a blind/low vision elementary student in Ontario, check out this sample Individual Education Plan (IEP) provided by EduGAINS. While this may not be a challenge faced in every classroom, teachers must be aware of how to support every learner and foster a climate of inclusion throughout the school community.
Looking for a simple tool to help you create engaging animated videos and presentations? Search no further! PowToon is a presentation tool that offers awesome comic-style graphics that are easy to create and manipulate in order to communicate content in a captivating way. With various styles to choose from (ranging from professional to cartoon), PowToon emphasizes the creation process as building a story or narrative and makes it super easy to navigate by setting up the user interface as a storyboard. Powtoon could be used by students and teachers (and administrators!) in an educational setting for a variety of purposes, such as …
Creatively communicating their learning;
Presenting research findings;
Consolidating information in the form of an infographic;
Pitching new initiatives;
Getting their peers excited about an idea;
Exploring digital story creation…
Inspiring and engaging students;
Eliciting curiosity (i.e. ‘Hooking’ students in);
Introducing a new topic;
Differentiating learning process or product;
Bringing curriculum content to life;
Reviewing big ideas;
Presenting new initiatives (e.g. in the classroom, at staff meetings)…
These are just a few ideas illustrating how PowToon could be used in the classroom, but the options really are endless!
Strategy in practice
For example, on the last day of my grade 8 practicum, I wanted to celebrate the achievements of my students and thank them for all their hard work (and patience!) during my time in their classroom. Since I wanted to avoid the risk of getting too emotional, I thought an animated video would be a short and sweet way of showing them my appreciation (you can view the finished product below).
*Make sure you watch the video with sound, the music is the best part!
The students loved the personalized messages and we shared a few laughs as we bopped along to the video’s music. It was quite meaningful for us (myself included!) to take a look back and review all the things we had accomplished during our six weeks together. As teachers, sometimes we get so wrapped up in moving on to the next lesson/topic/unit that we forget to recognize all the hard work our students are putting into their education on a daily basis. For something that took me a short time to create and 1 minute to show in class, videos like this one are a powerful reminder to our students that they are, indeed, AWESOME. I will definitely be adding this tool to my teaching toolbox! 🙂
Clear communication between parents and teachers is critical for student success. One common question from parents (and teachers!) in Ontario is:
Why are learning skills and work habits assessed and evaluated?
Well, to be successful, students will require a number of competencies in addition to mastery of curriculum content. Learning skills and work habits outline key elements aside from the curriculum that studies have shown help our students to be successful in post-secondary and work contexts (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). While these skills are assessed, evaluated and reported separately from curriculum expectations, they are closely tied to student success and achievement of curriculum expectations in all subject areas (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).
Knowing the content of the curriculum is very important and it is certainly one of our goals in the classroom to make sure that our students have a solid understanding of the overall expectations, but positive learning skills and work habits will help our students to take ownership over their learning and become more effective learners, critical thinkers, and responsible citizens (OCDSB, 2014). By working on their learning skills, students are developing habits (see below) that have been identified as very important to employers, such as personal management skills, teamwork skills, and using tools interactively, for example (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).
In addition, they tie in well with the concept of growth mindset, which is the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems (Dweck, 2014). By providing a dedicated section on the report card for learning skills, we are emphasizing the importance of students’ development of their own self-awareness and a personal responsibility for their own learning. This will create a learning environment of more fully engaged students that are exploring their own interests and passions and becoming inspired to learn and ‘grow their brains.’
After reading, discussing and analyzing the trends in practicum observations among colleagues, I have identified several useful strategies to gather information about students and their learning before a new unit, term or school year.
From an academic standpoint, many teachers used diagnostic or before-instruction assessments to gauge students’ prior knowledge and learning styles. For example, math and reading assessments were frequently mentioned, as well as “What I did last summer” writing assignments. While these assessments can be very useful to the teacher and can inform instruction practices, it is important to remind students that they are for planning purposes and should not be viewed as tests. They should be supplemented or triangulated by observations and student-teacher interactions as well (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).
For example, in Learning for All (2013), the Ontario Ministry of Education identifies personalization – education that puts learner at the centre – as a key component of effective assessment and instruction. With this element in mind, it is crucial for teachers to have a strategy for getting to know their learners early on. Many of my peers shared “get-to-know-you” or “all about me” activities that they used to get a more complete picture of their students’ home life, social skills, interests outside of school, circle of friends and behavioural characteristics. Some examples included:
“All About Me” or “My Amazing Life” posters
“Facebook profile” worksheets
“Bag of 5” activity, where all learners (including the teacher) present 5 items that represent something about themselves.
You can find some great ideas for getting to know your students (and introducing your subject) at Teach Hub.
One of my colleagues described a particularly unique strategy and I would add her “My Brain” activity to my toolkit for practice. She explained that the teacher conducted a basic lesson on the areas of the brain and then instructed students to draw their own personalized brain. I would extend this activity to include a discussion of growth mindset, described by Carol Dweck (2014) as the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems. This brain activity would reveal the personalities and various interests/hobbies of each student (e.g. the teacher could circulate and have informal interactions with students), as students label their “brain” drawing with the different components of their lives and areas of their brain that they hope to “grow” over the year. I believe this would not only communicate the shared belief that all students can succeed (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013), but would also recognize the unique starting points and patterns of learning for each student. Armed with this insight into the students’ preferences and interests, I (as teacher) would be better prepared to differentiate instruction accordingly.
At a deeper level, I would add to my toolkit a strategy that strives to foster a safe, healthy and supportive learning community in the classroom. One such strategy mentioned by a colleague described an open-ended “class banner” activity for the start of the school year. By providing students with the opportunity to come together and decide how they would represent their learning community in banner form (e.g. flags of students’ countries of origin, digital or print format), the teacher transfers ownership of planning (and subsequent learning) to the students. This activity sets the tone for a learning environment that is student-driven, collaborative and inclusive. It would also provide a valuable opportunity for the teacher to make observations about the socio-affective and interpersonal characteristics of students, which could contribute to the creation of a class profile (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). While the class profile is a living document, it can be used to inform planning, instruction and assessment for all students.
I think these types of activities go a long way in helping a teacher to become acquainted with the learners in his or her classroom at a personal level. Furthermore, theyhelp students to understand each other better and they work to create a learning community characterized by mutual respect and support. As emphasized in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Learning for All (2013) document, every student has unique learning and motivational needs, and the teacher has a responsibility to put the learner at the centre of assessment and instruction practices.
One morning during our summer numeracy camp, we had a special visitor from the board who led the Mathletes in an exploration of lego robotics. These are my three main take-aways from observing this experience:
Let the students explore on their own first and provide guidance (if necessary) only after they have tinkered with the technology.
The room will be chaotic, and you must learn to be okay with this 🙂
Everybody- young and old- was engaged while learning with lego!
Painting with technology
Exploring lego robotics
Check out my previous post on the ‘hour of code’ and lego robotics initiatives that were implemented at my practicum placement school during my first year of teacher’s college. This exposure to technology and coding offers students the chance to explore and develop a specialized set of skills that will be useful to them as they seek employment in the digital age- in addition, it is LOTS of fun!
Our third and final week at numeracy camp focused on area and perimeter, which we introduced using the picture book Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! A Mathematical Story by Marilyn Burns. It is an engaging story that describes a family reunion, where the arrangement of the tables and chairs is constantly changing as more and more people arrive. The story cleverly delves into the concepts of area and perimeter in an everyday situation such as a family meal.
We read the book aloud to our Mathletes, discussing the differences in seating plans as we followed the storyline. We then used the SMART board to explore the area and perimeter of the different configurations of tables and chairs. For each “seating plan,” we documented the strategies used to find the area and perimeter. After investigating multiple options, the students were able to see the logic in Mrs.Comfort’s original seating plan in the story. This hands-on activity was interesting for the whole group, and our Mathletes particularly enjoyed discussing their favourite meal for family get-togethers!
Seating plan #1
Seating plan #3
Explaining our thinking
You can find a lesson plan based on this book by Cheryl Rectanus for grades 5/6 here (Math Solutions Professional Development Newsletter). It describes the lesson that Cheryl carried out after reading Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! aloud to the class, and gives some great ideas for prompts and questions that could be asked to deepen the students’ learning.
Activity #2: Area and perimeter art
As an extension to our discussion of area and perimeter, we tasked our Mathletes with creating a piece of artwork out of squares and rectangles on grid paper. We guided them in thinking about the following questions:
What is the area of the spaces you used?
What is the perimeter of your creation?
Which strategy did you use to calculate area and perimeter?
The final products were colourful and creative (see below), and they prompted some great math talk among learners about area and perimeter!
During the last week of math camp, we challenged our Mathletes to use the construction and math skills that they had been practicing to individually and economically build a boat that would float. The parameters of the challenge were simple:
Using the materials from the list below, design and construct the least expensive boat possible that will float and carry plastic people on it.
Steps of boat construction:
Design and sketch your boat
Decide which materials you will need
Estimate how much you will need of each material
Calculate the approximate cost of your boat materials
Construct boat and adjust cost estimate according to materials actually used
As this was the third week of Math Camp and the students had completed various STEM-based challenges already, they were becoming more efficient at planning, designing and carrying out the process of construction. The added challenge of calculating the cost of their boat was a great differentiation tool, which engaged the older students in particular to minimize their use of resources through unique design. The boat challenge was completed individually, which revealed each Mathlete’s strengths and areas of opportunity more clearly. For example, some students initially constructed ‘rafts’ (i.e. no mast, sail, hull). While this was an economical option, we challenged them to adjust their design so it more closely resembled a boat.
Boat materials and criteria
Boat design with materials list
Boat design with materials labeled
Testing different construction designs
Adding style points
Assembling “slotted lumber”
Following design plan
Following design plan
Throughout the various steps of their boat construction, students faced many hurdles with regards to design, use of materials, calculation of cost, etc. Yet, the most striking observation from this task was the resiliency and grit demonstrated by our Mathletes as they adopted the ‘Keep Moving Forward‘ mindset and persevered with the task. There was a large variety in the finished products, and many students added colour, decorations and a personal touch that demonstrated immense pride in their boats.
They were very keen to test their creations, so we decided to spend time as a large group floating their boats. One by one, each student placed their boat in the water (they all floated!) and added plastic people figurines until it sank. As a connection to our previous work on patterning, they added people according to the Fibonacci sequence (i.e. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8…) and we recorded how many people each boat held. While some students were initially hesitant to test their boats to the point of sinking, the fun atmosphere and support of their classmates encouraged them to give it a go! We discussed the strengths of their designs and the purpose of minimizing cost (i.e. minimizing use of non-renewable resources). It was a fantastic celebration of their hard work, and each Mathlete received a ‘Boat Building Award’ in recognition of their success!
To kick off the second week at Summer Numeracy Camp, we again wanted to challenge our Mathletes with a team-building exercise that required collaboration and communication: building bridges! We began with a simple question:
“What does good collaboration look, sound and feel like?”
This question generated a great discussion about the skills and attitudes necessary to work well in a team. Given this mutual understanding of what it means to collaborate, we let the students choose their own groups of 3 and each group received the following materials:
100 craft sticks (with 1 elastic)
5 pipe cleaners
1 small bottle of glue
The goal of the task was for each team to:
Design and build a bridge to span across a bowl of water.
Test the strength of the bridge (using pebbles)
On the first day, we gave groups a chance to design and begin building the different pieces of their bridges. The teams started by assessing the materials they were given, coming up with a feasible design, and constructing the different components of their bridge. Some teams also recognized the importance of including triangles, while others tried out the strength of the square.
Testing triangle strength
Components of a bridge
After leaving their creations to dry overnight, our Mathlete teams continued with their bridge construction the following day. They carried on measuring, testing, and adjusting their designs to figure out how they could be improved. All the teams found something they could adjust or modify to make their bridges sturdier and stronger. We again created some extra shapes for support and let them dry overnight.
Measuring length of bridge
Testing support legs
How much weight can our bridge hold?
How can we make our bridge more level?
On our final day of bridge construction, everything came together beautifully! The students used their resources and demonstrated creativity, perseverance and impressive problem-solving skills to successfully finish their free-standing bridges. During the consolidation, one member from each team explained their design and reasoning to the whole group, and we discussed the differences and similarities among our bridges. As our Mathletes had shown true grit and determination to complete this challenge, we decided to have a bridge celebration and prepared certificates for each participant that highlighted a ‘special mention’ for each group (e.g. positive attitude, perseverance, design and architecture, creative use of materials, problem-solving). They were very proud of their creations, and handing out these certificates was a lovely way to cap off another successful week at math camp!
As environmental inquiry is a large focus of the summer numeracy program, it seemed logical to spend some time working on number patterns- more specifically, identifying number patterns in nature. When thinking about math and nature, the Fibonacci sequence immediately comes to mind. In case you’re not familiar with it, the Fibonacci sequence is as follows:
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, …
Quite simply, it is a series of numbers where each number is the sum of the two numbers before it. For example, the 3 (5th term) is found by adding 1+2. The 5 (6th term) is found by adding 2+3, and so on. The TED Talk below is a great summary of the importance of number patterns in mathematics and highlights some of the wonders of Fibonacci’s sequence (which is FUN and BEAUTIFUL).
Mathematics is not just solving for x, it’s also figuring out WHY. (Arthur Benjamin)
I had previously seen a video of a lesson that centred on the Fibonacci numbers, so I revisited the lesson (here) and was inspired to do something similar with our Mathletes. We carried out a series of activities that formed a week of Fibonacci fun, and some rich learning experiences for our Mathletes (with a little bit of added mystery along the way!).
Activity #1: Fibonacci number sequence
The students worked in pairs for the first activity. Each pair was given an envelope (see picture), but the contents were left a mystery until they opened them up. Inside, they found cue cards with numbers written on them (Fibonacci sequence numbers up to 144). Since they are so accustomed to math centres, some of our Mathletes thought it was an adding game at first (not a bad idea!). Most had the instinct to order them from smallest to largest. Some pairs required extra guidance to get on the right track, and once they had them in order they were instructed to start looking for a pattern. With some prompting for the younger ones, they discovered the pattern rule for the sequence of numbers, and tested it to make sure it applied to the entire set of numbers they were given. Once they were confident in the pattern rule, they could come to me for envelope #2…
Activity #2: Square tiles
For the second activity, the students worked in the same pairs as activity #1. They were given a second envelope that contained square tissue paper tiles in five different colours, and were instructed to see how this could relate to the pattern they just discovered. There were a different number of tiles depending on the colour, but this was not readily apparent for some students. They required prompting to grasp that they had to make different sized squares, and with some guidance they soon discovered that the side length of the squares corresponded with the Fibonacci numbers! For most pairs, they got as far as making squares with the different side lengths (e.g. 1 x1, 1×1, 2×2, 3×3, 5×5). As the various teaching hands were circulating throughout the room, we were able to guide some pairs to assemble their squares into a rectangle.
Creating squares related to Fibonacci sequence
Arranging squares into rectangle
Labelling our work
Both tasks completed
As some of our older students were finished their squares early on (and even assembled them into a rectangle quite quickly), I challenged them with the following:
Based on the pattern rule that you discovered, what would be the next few numbers in the sequence? How do you know?
We briefly discussed our Fibonacci discovery experience as a whole group, and we discussed the different strategies that the students used to find the pattern rule and create squares of different sizes. As we were continuing with Fibonacci the next day, we left it at that and praised our Mathletes for their excellent inquiry skills!
Activity #3: Spiral
The following day, we started off the lesson by watching a video created by Jo Boaler and her team at YouCubed. This is an excellent video about patterns, the Fibonacci sequence, and where we see patterns in nature (it can be found in the YouCubed week of iMath Day 4 section). The students were very engaged by the examples given in the video (many ooo’s and ahhh’s), and it served as a good consolidation of the activities we had already completed, as well as leading in nicely to our construction of a spiral of squares. I created an exemplar for the students to refer to, and we provided each student with:
Large construction paper
Assorted pre-cut tissue paper square tiles
We encouraged the students to first pick out the appropriate number of tiles in different colours for each square, and then arrange them on their page before applying glue. Some of our younger Mathletes required a little guidance with creating the pattern, but every student was on task and excited to create their own tribute to Fibonacci! The results were impressive, and we sent our happy campers home with their very own representation of the Fibonacci sequence.
One pattern, many different colours!
Littlest Mathlete wowing us all with his patterning!
Activity #4: Patterning centres and beading
On our final Fibonacci day, we decided to host a celebration of patterns! We kicked the day off with a variety of patterning math centres (see pictures). One of these centres gave the students a chance to explore pinecones and their associated patterns. Thanks to a gracious donation of a large number of pinecones, our Mathletes were able to work as detectives looking at small, medium and large pinecones. I guided some students incounting the spirals in a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction, trying to find evidence of the Fibonacci sequence. Many were excited for the chance to just hold and manipulate the different types of pinecones, and we were all amazed by the patterns found within!
As our last patterning activity, the students were instructed to create a beaded bracelet that represented the Fibonacci series of numbers. This was the capstone to our week of patterning, and the students were equipped with:
Plastic beads of different colours
White cotton string
The results were beautiful, and many of our Mathletes knew the first several numbers of the Fibonacci sequence by heart after creating colour patterns according to these numbers.
Another week of math camp comes to a close, and with it come a few last thoughts about our Fibonacci activities…
Things I would do differently:
Use a sturdier material for square tiles ( I used tissue paper because we had some pre-cut, but it was prone to being accidentally blown around and thus tricky to work with).
Make extension activity clear from the get-go.
Give more guidance for Activity #2 (i.e. tell students they need to use tiles to make squares that have side lengths related to Fibonacci sequence)
Things that worked well:
Working in pairs or small groups (3) for Activities #1 and 2.
Preparing Fibonacci numbers on separate number cardsfor Activity #1 so students could manipulate and move them around.
We had a couple visiting teachers in the room on the day that we carried out the activities with the envelopes, so there were many teaching hands available to guide groups and prompt as needed.
The curious and inquisitive nature of our Mathletes continues to astound me, and their willingness to think outside the box is motivating me to bring my A-game for the remaining week of summer numeracy camp. I can’t wait to see what our final week has in store for us!
As a team building exercise to finish the first week at Summer Math Camp, our Mathletes created simple catapults designed to launch cotton balls. The full description for the catapult design and construction can be found at this Kids Activities blog post.
Each student created their own catapult from the following materials:
7 craft sticks
Egg carton piece (single egg portion)
We let the students experiment with how to construct their individual catapults, and provided guidance to those who needed it. The general construction resembled the exemplar below, although some students made adaptations as they saw fit. After testing out their creations, we all traveled down to the gym where students worked in pairs to measure the distance traveled (or height attained) for their cotton ball catapults.
Catapult design- front view
Catapult design- side view
For younger students, it provided the opportunity to practice:
Measuring distance/ height
Recording numbers in a chart
For the older students, they worked on:
Adapting catapult design to achieve greater distance/height
Adding up the total distance/height achieved over multiple trials
Estimating an average distance/height over a certain number of trials (for more advanced students)
We consolidated this activity by posing questions such as:
What was your longest cotton ball launch?
What was your shortest?
How could you have modified your catapult to launch the cotton ball further/higher?
Are there differences in the catapult designs that make some better at launching cotton balls further, and some better at launching cotton balls higher?
It was amazing to see how engaged the students were during this rich learning task. There were certain students who had been dead-set against anything resembling traditional math throughout the first week; yet even these students were eagerly measuring, adding, and comparing distances for their catapult cotton ball launches. Another great testament to the power of hands-on learning!