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:


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


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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!


Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts

Scientists in school

This week I had the pleasure of participating in a visit from Scientists in School (SiS), which is a Canadian science education charity that brings science workshops to K-8 students.

As the grade sixes are working on their biodiversity unit, their workshop focused on the science of classifying organisms. The facilitator briefly reviewed the process of classifying organisms before allowing the students to dive right in to the three stations, which were composed of unicellular and multicellular (invertebrates and vertebrates) organisms. The starfish and sea anemone were clear favourites at the invertebrate station, and the vertebrate station boasted a wide range of creatures, including a sea lamprey, bat, chicken, pig, painted turtle, snake, and many more. The students also had fun learning how to use microscopes to check out various unicellular organisms, and tried their hand at sketching what they saw.

It was a well-organized and engaging workshop that had every student smiling throughout the afternoon. The facilitators provided all the materials including gloves and a booklet for each student, so all the students had to bring was a pencil! It was a great example of hands-on, experiential learning that brought the biodiversity unit to life for the students. Even the reluctant learners demonstrated a new-found enthusiasm for the subject matter.

The Scientists in School website states that their mission is to “ignite scientific curiosity in children so that they question intelligently…” From my observations during this workshop, they are definitely succeeding in reaching elementary school students and helping them to learn through discovery. I would highly recommend this program to science teachers, and I hope I get to host it in my own classroom one day!


Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts

Misconception check

To use this strategy, the teacher gives a common misconception about a topic, and students explain why they agree or disagree with it. According to constructivism, students interpret new learning through the lens of previously developed beliefs and ideas about the world. These preconceived ideas could be misinterpretations of generally accepted explanations for a phenomenon, which can cause difficulty and frustration when students are learning something that conflicts with what they already believe. It is thus very important for the teacher to identify misconceptions and address them directly through classroom activities. This ensures that students will more readily accommodate new concepts that are being taught, especially in science education.

I usually used this strategy during whole-group discussions with grade sixes. I would ask a leading question based on a common misconception identified during formative assessment, and challenge the students to explain whether they agreed or disagreed. For example, during math and science discussions, questions could be something like:

  • Can we use a bar graph to represent this weather data?
  • When using partial products multiplication, is each partial product a separate answer?
  • If the switch is open, is our circuit still a closed circuit?
  • Are the colours of the wires important for our circuit to function?

Each question was developed based on observation, anecdotal notes or formative assessment that revealed a common misconception held by many students in the class. By posing the question and having a class discussion about the right answer, students were able to correct their understanding in a collaborative environment. This straight-forward approach led to many productive discussions!

Edutopia. (Sept.14 2015). 10 Fun-Filled Formative Assessment Ideas.

Tippett C. “Constructivism and Science Teaching.” (PED 3131 Course Notes).

Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts


As part of the ‘Maker Movement,’ Makerspaces (or hackerspaces) are physical spaces where students can come together to share, create, invent, network, build and learn. These community environments provide tools that could range from hardware supplies to a 3D printer. While they are often associated with fields such as engineering and computer science, this collaborative space’s primary purpose is learning through hands-on, self-directed exploration- however that may occur.

Makerspaces can be implemented in many different ways within the school environment. They may find a home in a computer lab, shop, or conference room, but in reality they represent the combination of all three spaces. In education, makerspaces provide students with the physical space and materials required for multidisciplinary, inquiry-based learning. Here are some tips when developing your school makerspace:

  • Guide students in developing metacognitive skills necessary to move beyond temporary failures
  • Create specific lessons and units that are project-based and align with curriculum
  • Ask the school community for donations of old electronics, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, balloons, toy cars, wire cutters, balls, adhesive, tools, cleaning supplies, safety equipment, etc.
  • Design your makerspace to accommodate many different activities, including: cardboard construction, woodworking, electronics, robotics, digital fabrication, building machines, sewing, metal working, etc.

While my host school during practicum was still developing their makerspace, students did get to experience a visit from the University of Ottawa’s ‘Maker Mobile,’ which is essentially a makerspace on wheels. The Maker Mobile visited grade 4 and 5 immersion students in early February and brought equipment such as a 3D printer and scanner, laser cutters, and Arduino microcontrollers. This makerspace connected the curriculum to programming and coding, and encouraged students to expand their learning goals. The Maker Mobile was an effective teaching strategy, as students were exposed to cutting-edge technologies and developed their creativity and problem-solving skills. Thanks to grade 4 and 5 teachers for the pictures!

Educause Learning Initiative. (April 2013). 7 things you should know about: Makerspaces.

Edutopia. (July 16 2015). Starting a school makerspace from scratch.

Edutopia. (March 21 2016). Makerspaces lead to school and community successes.

Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts

Sketch it out

Visual learning has many benefits, especially in the classroom. Sketching and drawing in particular can be used to develop students’ skills in observation, literacy, and creativity. By sketching, students not only learn how to represent and visually communicate their ideas, they also draw on background knowledge to meaningfully connect their ideas to the real world. Sketching is thus a powerful visualization tool that allows students to develop and express their individual voice, regardless of social, economic, cultural, or academic barriers that may exist.

The potential applications of sketching and drawing are infinite, so I will briefly outline a few possibilities that focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education.

  • Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST): this is a simple exercise where students are asked to draw a scientist/engineer. It reveals important stereotypes that exist in terms of student (and teacher) perceptions of scientists/engineers, and encourages teachers to help students develop more realistic conceptions of these occupations.
  • Illustrated nature journal: require students to make weekly journal entries that document their relationship with, and observations of, nature.
  • Botanical drawing: use sketching to communicate students’ understanding of plant life cycles and anatomy.
  • Visualization: read a piece of scientific text to students and have them communicate what they learned by sketching. This will help to reveal students’ understandings and potential misconceptions.

During practicum, sketching was used many times in the classroom as a visualization strategy that helped students to reflect on and represent their learning. This strategy also helped me to gauge students’ understanding of certain concepts, and to identify any common misconceptions. It was an effective tool for documenting student observations (e.g. functioning of an electrical circuit, planetary configurations in our solar system) and provided a creative outlet for all students.

One activity in particular that demonstrated the students’ imagination and creativity was based on the book Rosie Revere, Engineer, written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. This book, which describes the brilliant inventions of a young aspiring (female) engineer, was read aloud to the students. The class discussion then centered on the importance of perseverance and growth mindset: as the main character’s great-great-aunt Rose reminded Rosie, failures are an important and necessary part of life and learning. After being inspired by Rosie’s contraptions in the book, grade 6 students in the class were tasked with brainstorming and sketching their own unique inventions. The results were truly amazing, and highlighted both the interests and ambitions of the students. I think it’s safe to say that there are some future engineers –and imagineers-in the class!

Beaty A, Roberts D. (2013). Rosie Revere, Engineer. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams.

Planting Science. (n.d.) Sketching and drawing in science class (for teachers).

Science Shorts

Foldable Fun!

Foldables are an excellent way to help students organize and visualize their learning, especially in science. They can take the form of:

  • Mini books
  • Shutter-fold books
  • Layered books
  • Four-door books
  • Three-tab books
  • Index tab books
  • …and many, many, MANY more!

Dinah Zike offers resources and professional development on the use of foldables in education, and her “Big Book of Science Middle- High School” is a gold mine of ideas and directions for science teaching with foldables. From my experience, they are a fun and engaging way for students to record and present information. Foldables allow students to draw on their creativity and organize what they’ve learned in a way that makes sense to them- and you will be awed by their creations!

One great application of the foldables strategy is for documenting field trips.  Below is my “Field Trip Foldable” for a class trip we took to Ottawa’s Museum of Agriculture in October. While it’s not a classic foldable (it’s more of an adapted flip book), this is just one example of how foldables can be used to present science learning in a fun and informative way. It would be important to establish expectations and requirements for the field trip foldable with the students prior to the trip. If students know they must create a field trip foldable, they are more accountable for their learning and it creates a more purposeful experience. Try it out, get ready to be impressed, and enjoy some foldable fun!

Science Shorts

Science saturdays

Founded in 1993, Let’s talk science is a Canadian charitable organization that strives to prepare learners to thrive and lead by increasing science literacy through their support of learning and skill development.  The Faculty of Education at uOttawa partners with Let’s talk science to offer workshops linked to curriculum expectations for preservice teachers (Science Saturdays). As I have been lucky enough to participate in this program, I wanted to share some of the highlights from the workshops to date (which have been awesome!).

Human Body

In this workshop, we ran through a few different activities that addressed Gr.5 Human Organ Systems, including the skeletal system, the digestive system, the respiratory system, the nervous system, the circulatory system, and the muscular system. These activities were hands-on and engaging, and would help students to understand the functioning of each system.

Life Systems

The focus of this workshop was on life systems (other than the human body). For example, students in younger grades (K-2) could work on sorting wildlife and getting a basic understanding of the tree of life, while older students (Gr.6) could work at an advanced kingdom sorting level. The bird’s nest activity (K-4) would be applicable for units on Strong and Stable Structures (Gr.3) as well as Habitats and Communities (Gr.4), as the students must choose materials and build nests like birds do.

Structures and Mechanisms

This workshop touched on the topics of Materials, Objects, and Everyday Structures (Gr.1)Strong and Stable Structures (Gr.3), Pulleys and Gears (Gr.4)Forces Acting on Structures and Mechanisms (Gr.5), and Flight (Gr.6). The four forces of flight (gravity, life, drag and thrust) were explored through various stations and, of course, a paper airplane contest. Simple machines such as a wheel and axle, inclined plane, and lever were examined through the creation of a playground. My personal favourite was the balloon car activity, as you could draw in concepts of energy as well as math problems for older grades. We also channeled our inner beavers to build a beaver dam that would keep a beaver safe and protected while withstanding external pressure (you could also tie in ecosystem/habitat/biodiversity themes for this activity).

Looking forward to future Science Saturdays!

Science Shorts

The truth about bogs

As my master’s thesis focused on an examination of methane emissions at an ombrotrophic bog here in Ottawa (Mer Bleue), I am all too familiar with some of the common misconceptions surrounding the notion of bogs. When you hear the word “bog,” most people envision a foul-smelling, flooded area that would be a great setting for a horror film. This could not be further from the truth!

Bogs are beautiful and unique landscapes (see feature image above), and they actually have quite a nice, spicy scent originating from the dominant evergreen and deciduous shrubs covering the bog surface. While Mer Bleue does not have an adorable bog turtle, I did get to see insect-eating plants (Pitcher plant, left) and rare orchids (Lady slipper orchid, right):


Needless to say, I was pretty excited to find this Bird and Moon depiction of bog myth vs. fact. For anyone that asks me in the future if I worked in a swamp, I will be sending them this cartoon! With respect to teaching, Bird and Moon is an excellent source of science and nature cartoons/comics that are both educational and fun for the students (and teachers!) to read. They could be used to introduce a lesson, spark interest in a topic, or even prompt a creative writing activity… Just try not to get too bogged down by the plethora of choices !

bogs myths vs fact

Image source: Bird and Moon science and nature cartoons.

Science Shorts

A (class) walk in the woods

There is always something to be taught and learned by taking your class for a walk, whether it be indoors or outdoors. Your science teaching could be supported by taking your class for a walk as students can be more alert and less stressed, while the teacher has eliminated the walls of the classroom and opened the lesson up to new ideas and connections to the real-world and everyday life.

For example, going for a class walk outdoors could address overall expectations in the Grade 7 Science and Technology curriculum, including:

  • Interactions in the Environment (Understanding Life Systems strand)
    • Overall Expectation 3: “demonstrate an understanding of interactions between and among biotic and abiotic elements in the environment.”
    • e.g. What evidence can you see of foot and bicycle traffic influencing the capacity for plant life near the edge of the sidewalk?
  • Form and Function (Understanding Structures and Mechanisms strand)
    • Overall Expectation 3: “demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between structural forms and the forces that act on and within them.”(Ontario Ministry of Education, 2007).
    • e.g. Can you find 3 examples each of solid, frame, and shell structures during our walk? How do you think symmetry played a role in the design and stability of these structures?

To ensure that students are engaged and interested in the science aspects of the walk, it would be important to first establish a basic understanding of the key vocabulary and concepts required to answer inquiry questions such as the examples given above. In addition, you might consider having students work in pairs for half the walk, then share their answers with another pair during a small-group discussion halfway through the walk (“Think-Pair-Share”). This would enable students to build off of each others observations and look for clues that they may have missed to develop more complete answers. Another approach would be to allow the students to collaboratively develop the questions they want to investigate before heading out for the walk, which ensures that the walk will serve as a student-driven inquiry activity.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2007). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8- Science and Technology.