Blog, Forest School

Ottawa Forest & Nature School

For my final three-week placement in the Teacher Education program, I had the opportunity to work with the teachers and students at Forest and Nature School in Ottawa’s Greenbelt. This program is offered through the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, which supports educators in developing play-based learning in nature as part of their practice, and also builds a youth nature leadership program. The Ottawa Forest and Nature School is located on NCC land (currently leased by the Wesley Clover Foundation) and was established in 2014 as an early childhood education option that connects students with nature.

This location offers various programs, including:

  • Half-Day Forest Preschool: for children aged 2.5 to 4, this program offers an early opportunity for kids to wonder, question and experience the marvels of the forest. Students improve their strength, coordination and self-confidence, and definitely develop grit as they adventure through the woods in all weather conditions.
  • Full Day Forest School: the full day program is for students aged 4-12 and allows for a deeper exploration into the mysteries of the paths, rocks, trees, and creatures at Forest School.
  • Parent and Child Nature Mornings: this is a two-hour drop-in option for parents and caregivers to connect with their children, the outdoors, and other like-minded parents and educators. It is an awesome opportunity for families to get a feel for Forest School, and many take advantage of these mornings as a fun way to get outside on a weekly basis!
  • OCDSB Partnership: the Ottawa Forest and Nature School has a partnership with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) to support public school students in discovering play-based learning outdoors once weekly for 6 consecutive weeks. Some of these school groups complete their 6-week experience at the Forest School site, while other Forest School staff travel to schools and bring a class to a nearby-nature location.
  • PD Days, Summer Camps: while I did not participate in these program offerings, the Forest School does offer programming for OCDSB PD Days for children aged 4 to 10 years old. You can also register your child for a week-long summer day camp at Forest School, although the wait list is already full for this summer!

While I got to experience many of these programs during my placement at Ottawa Forest School, every day was different and I feel like I only got a taste of everything that this type of learning has to offer! I would be keen to experience similar programming during other seasons (e.g. winter) in order to learn how to handle other challenges and mitigate risks. For example, some students had to really push themselves to deal with the wet, muddy conditions of spring- I would be interested to see how they would respond to a similar day outside in the dead of winter, when there is snow on the ground and frost on your eyelashes. Having said that, I felt so fortunate to be able to engage with the inspiring educators at Forest School and observe their philosophy of education in practice. It was a unique and thought-provoking experience that will influence my future practice as a teacher.

Grade 8 Practicum

Power of PowToon

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 …

Students

  • 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…

Teachers 

  • 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;
  • Celebrating achievements;
  • 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! 🙂

Teacher as Professional

Building Futures

Today, the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education hosted the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “Building Futures,” which consisted of a selection of workshops for Year 2 teacher candidates. These workshops provided the opportunity to learn through exploration and facilitated discussion, with the goal of helping teacher candidates to become more familiar with Ministry priorities, initiatives and policies (see video below: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2017).

While I had to choose only 2 of the 6 workshops being offered,  I was impressed by the clarity and engaging nature of both of the workshops I attended. Below, I have documented my main take-aways from each session.

Session #1: Navigating those Difficult Situations and Conversations

It is no secret that the teaching profession can involve some intense and potentially negative interactions with students, parents, colleagues, or administration. To remain professional and manage emotions appropriately in these situations requires a well-developed emotional intelligence, and there are  many strategies associated with emotional intelligence that can help us to become better leaders in the classroom. Some practical tips that we discussed during the workshop include:

  • Take notes during a difficult conversation- this communicates that you are listening carefully and prompts the other person to slow down
  • Try asking questions rather than communicating through statements
  • Be present and mindful (e.g. notice new things in your everyday interactions)
  • Master a range of emotional leadership styles for different situations (e.g. from authoritative to coaching to democratic)
  • Practice gratitude (gratitude and anxiety can’t happen at the same time!)

For more detailed information, check out the Ideas Into Action Bulletin #7 (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014), which outlines ten strategies for success in perceiving and managing emotions.

Session #2: Promoting Well-Being: Developing Positive Conditions for Learning

While cognitive development is one aspect of student learning, the Ministry is also emphasizing  the physical, emotional and social elements that contribute to positive learning conditions.  In other words, promoting student well-being or a positive sense of self is being recognized as crucial to student success.

During this workshop, we worked collaboratively in small groups to develop a visual representation of well-being as it relates to both teachers and students. As you can see from the final product below, there are many different elements of developing well-being that are a shared experience in education, and it is always a balancing act to meet the cognitive, physical, emotional and social needs of diverse learners in the classroom!

Well-being teeter-totter
A collaborative brainstorming session – thanks to awesome colleagues for sharing your ideas and artistic talent!

To provide your own feedback regarding Ontario’ strategy for supporting and promoting well-being in education, check out their Engagement Portal.

Grade 8 Practicum, Inquiry-Based Math

QR Code Treasure Hunt

During my practicum in a grade 8 classroom, my associate teacher shared various techniques for increasing student engagement during math problem-solving. One such technique allowed students to use their own devices to scan QR codes that were posted around the classroom and hallways. By scanning the QR codes, students were able to access multiple different questions and work through them at their own pace. The order of the questions didn’t matter, so students (working in pairs) could disperse and travel freely to the question locations.

While they were working on solving math problems, the simple act of getting students out of their desks and moving between different locations kept them engaged and motivated to work diligently with their partner. *Side note: this class was used to working with visually random groupings, and we often used playing cards to determine groups of 2, 3, or 4 for different activities. 

This “QR Code Treasure Hunt” functioned best when guidelines were clearly communicated to students before the activity began. For instance, consider the following:

  • Devices to be used (classroom devices? student devices?)
  • Availability of QR code reader (app already downloaded on devices?)
  • Groupings (individual? pairs? small groups? visually random groupings?)
  • Range in difficulty of questions (simple to increasingly difficult? similar in difficulty?)
  • Number of questions (length of working time?)
  • Materials to bring (clipboards/paper/pencil?)
  • Teacher supervision (monitoring throughout halls?)
  • Consolidation techniques (select examples? group sharing?)

To create your QR codes and associated questions, check out this awesome tool- the QR Code Treasure Hunt Generator.

Overall, the students seemed to appreciate this break from routine and their level of engagement noticeably increased (which was especially obvious during this 8:00- 8:55 AM period)! I will definitely be adding this strategy to my teaching toolbox 🙂

Summer Numeracy Program

Area and perimeter

Activity #1: Tables configurations

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!

 

 

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!

Burns, M.,  & Tilley, D. (2008). Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! New York, NY: Scholastic Paperbacks.

Summer Numeracy Program

Boats that float!

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:

Goal:

  • Using the materials from the list below, design and construct the least expensive boat possible that will float and carry plastic people on it.

Materials:

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 1.26.11 PM

Steps of boat construction:

  1. Design and sketch your boat
  2. Decide which materials you will need
  3. Estimate how much you will need of each material
  4. Calculate the approximate cost of your boat materials
  5. 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.

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!

 

Summer Numeracy Program

Building bridges through collaboration

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
  • 10 paperclips
  • String
  • 1 small bottle of glue
  • Bowl
Bridge building materials

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.

 

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.

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!

 

 

 

Inquiry-Based Math, Summer Numeracy Program

Fibonacci fun

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!).

IMG_1936

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.

Extension

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?

Consolidation

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
  • Glue
  • 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.

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 in counting 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
  • Scissors

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.

Patterning centres

 


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 cards for 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!

 

 

 

Inquiry-Based Math, Summer Numeracy Program

Measurement with catapults

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
  • 3 elastics
  • Egg carton piece (single egg portion)
  • Cotton ball
  • Glue

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.

For younger students, it provided the opportunity to practice:

  • Measuring distance/ height
  • Recording numbers in a chart
  • Comparing distances/heights

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!

Inquiry-Based Math, Summer Numeracy Program

One is a snail, ten is a crab

Inspired by Marilyn Burns’ blog post about using children’s literature to teach math, I decided to try some of her suggestions with the read-aloud One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab by April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre.

One is a snail, ten is a crab

I was working with a small group (six) of JK to Gr. 2 students, so I wanted to focus on the different ways that can be used to represent a number. First, we read the book together, stopping at key points to allow the students to think about how each number was being represented. For example, asking:

  • Is there another way to show seven feet?
  • How do you know there are seven feet?

I also stopped at a couple points to allow students to predict what the next page will show (e.g. after 7, 10, 20). After finishing the read-aloud, I explained the Mathletes’ task: using cutouts of the different creatures from the book, the students had to show me a certain number of feet by glueing down the cutouts in their math journals. As there was a range of abilities in the group, I created custom targets for each of the six students. For some, they were given the extra challenge of showing me a number without using certain creatures (i.e. without using crab for 10  feet). The Mathletes liked the challenge, and some were getting quite creative in their approach! I think this task lends itself nicely to differentiated instruction, and the students enjoyed mixing and matching the different kinds of feet.

To create the cutouts, I made ten copies of the image below and cut them out. If I were to do it again, I would have the different cutouts in separate little bowls/containers on the table to prevent them from getting mixed up as the students were working. As Marilyn Burns describes, this activity could be scaled up for older grades by incorporating multiplication and equations to show certain numbers. Check out her full blog post on how this book can be used to target different grade levels. A definite must-have for my future teaching library!

one is a snail, ten is a crab

 

Pulley Sayre, A., Sayre, J., & Cecil, R. (2006). One is a Snail, Ten in a Crab: A Counting by Feet Book. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.