A strategy for improving students’ social and emotional well-being in the classroom or school-wide is implementing a mindfulness program. Mindfulness involves being present and aware of one’s thoughts and feelings. Studies suggest that “focusing on the present can have a positive impact on health and well-being” (News In Health, 2021).
To implement a mindfulness program, educators can start by introducing simple mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing or body scans, periodically throughout the school day. One of my go-to guided breathing strategies is Square Breathing. Square Breathing involves taking a deep breath over 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, releasing the breath for 4 seconds and holding your exhale for 4 more seconds. In total, 16 seconds of guided breathing can be an effective way to slow down the busyness of our bodies and be present in the moment. This strategy can be used a few times in succession to truly mellow the energy level.
Over time, these practices can be expanded to include longer mindfulness sessions or guided meditations. As a Catholic school, we have implemented a school-wide Christian Mediation that occurs each day after lunch recess. The midpoint of our day is full of hustle and bustle, with 20 minutes of eating and 40 minutes of recess. Christian Mediation has proved to be a great tool in centering our students after a busy transition and helping them to prepare themselves for the next part of the school day.
As the Christian Mediation plays over the announcements (1 minute song followed by 2-3 minutes of silence), classroom teachers approach the mindfulness practice with their students in various ways. Some classes use this time as a formal mediation, ensuring that their bodies are still, eyes are shut, hands are free, and they are fully present in the moment. Other classrooms encourage students to participate in independent prayer, whether it be a quick conversation with God or a structured prayer (e.g., Hail Mary, Our Father). Lastly, there are classes that have the students engage in artistic mindfulness activities, such as colouring or using Play-Doh. All of these approaches promote mindfulness, provide students with a quiet moment to calm their bodies after a long and busy recess, and prepare their bodies, minds, and spirits for the next learning activity.
By implementing Christian Mediation as a school-wide mindfulness program, we have helped students develop important social and emotional skills, including self-regulation and reflection. Before implementing this mindfulness program, there was a lot of redirecting of student behaviour (i.e.,, busy bodies, loud voices, continuing recess conversations in peers) as we transitioned from recess to our next lesson. Christian Meditation has truly helped to improve students’ overall well-being and helped them manage stress (e.g., leave whatever happened at recess outside). The calm period of mindfulness has proven to improve focus and attention, which can be especially helpful for students who struggle with attention and self-regulation (i.e., ADHD). By improving focus and attention, students are better able to engage with their peers and the learning environment in a respectful and appropriate way.
Student voice and choice is of utmost importance in our classrooms, whether you teach the youngest Primary division students or the oldest Senior division students. Elementary school is a crucial time in a student’s life, as it is where they begin to develop their sense of identity and learn essential social and emotional skills. When students feel empowered to share their thoughts and opinions, they are more engaged in the learning process and are better able to take ownership of their education.
One way to support and encourage student voice in school is through student council, which provides students with the opportunity to become involved in their school’s decision-making process and represent their peers. Oftentimes, high schools have student councils, but they are not always commonplace in elementary schools. How can we effectively implement a student council in an elementary school to foster student voice? Let’s explore this further!
Benefits of Student Council in Elementary School
There are a number of benefits of student council to both the students and the school community. Student councils allow students to develop leadership skills as they take on the responsibilities of representing their peers and making decisions that impact the school. By allowing students to have their voice heard and to be an active contributor to their education, they will come to realize that their actions and decisions can make a difference and they can bring positive change to the world around them. Being a member of the student council gives these students a sense of empowerment and encourages them to become active members of their community.
We don’t want our school systems to create passive learners; rather, we want to empower and inspire our students to develop and implement meaningful change in the world! Student council is a great strategy to promote student voice and agency. It provides a platform for students to voice their opinions and ideas, which can be used to determine some school policies and processes, fundraiser ideas, theme days, and special events at the school. This promotes a sense of ownership and involvement in the school community, which can improve student engagement and academic outcomes.
Assembling a Successful Student Council
A successful student council should be diverse and inclusive. “The overall goal of the student council is to represent each grade and the students as a whole and provide leadership for the student body” (classroom.synonym.com). The leaders of the student council could be students from the highest grade, depending on the structure of your school (mine would be Grade 8 students). One way that these student leaders could be chosen would be through an election or vote process, allowing their peers to identify and select which students best represent their class and school community. This strategy in and of itself allows students to exercise their student voice and make the council representative of them.
Another way to assemble a council is through teacher nominations. Teachers could nominate students who they believe would make effective leaders and represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers. I believe that it would be beneficial and important to have 1-2 students from each class be “class representatives” on the student council. This allows all voices to be heard from various classes and grades, while also making it easier to communicate information to the larger school community (i.e., class representatives can promote the upcoming fundraiser to their own classes).
Twinkl has curated a few helpful resources to get you started on assembling your own student council (Twinkl – How to Start a Student Council):
The American Student Council Association is a great starting point for your research: https://www.naesp.org/asca.
Many states have their own student council associations, such as the Texas Association of Student Councils: https://www.tasconline.org/what-is-a-student-council-.
The National Education Association has some helpful hints for starting an elementary school student council: http://www.nea.org/tools/tips/Elementary-School-Student-Council.html.
Supporting Student Voice
The more that we as educators can give our students “choice, control, challenge, and opportunities for collaboration, the greater their motivation and engagement will be” (Student Voice: A Growing Movement Within Education That Benefits Students and Teachers, pg. 2). Student council can be a great way to encourage students to share their thinking by creating a safe and inclusive environment where all ideas and opinions are valued. Through regular meetings with teachers and administrators, students can help to plan and facilitate school activities that they would want to participate in. These could be fundraiser activities, like book fairs or dance-a-thons, or community service initiatives, such as food and clothing drives.
Student council could also plan fun events, such as theme days (e.g., jersey days, pajama days), which would help to foster a positive and unified school community. During meetings, students could provide feedback on school policies and programs and have a say in decision-making, such as improving school facilities (e.g., recess equipment) or promoting environmental sustainability (e.g., composting program). All of these different examples of involvement provide students with a sense of agency and allows them to actively contribute to their school community, rather than being passive learners and products of the system.
Student councils can be a valuable resource for educators looking to differentiate instruction in their classrooms. One way the student council can help educators differentiate instruction is by gathering and analyzing student feedback on learning experiences. Student council could create a student survey where they assessed their learning environment and experiences at school, while also suggesting ways that their learning experience could be improved (i.e., hands-on learning, field trips, outdoor learning experiences, etc.). With this information, educators can tailor their instruction to better meet the diverse needs of their students.
The student feedback could also be used to help guide the student council’s programming. For example, student council members could create and participate in a peer mentor or tutoring program at school, providing additional support to students who need it. This can be particularly helpful for students who may be struggling with specific concepts or skills. Survey feedback about representation could be used to guide in-school initiatives, such as Black History Month programming or a Girl’s Coding and Robotics Club.
Developing Global Competencies
Participating in the student council would provide countless opportunities for students to develop global competencies. Collaboration and communication are at the forefront of the council, allowing students to use their voice to share ideas and communicate change to the larger student body. There will be plenty of opportunities to work through challenges and find solutions to issues occurring within the school. This collaboration will encourage students to exercise their creativity and problem-solving skills.
By working as a student community to represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers, student council members develop empathy and respect for others, which strengthens their citizenship competencies. To further this sense of citizenship beyond the school walls, student council could facilitate initiatives that promote global issues such as environmental sustainability, social justice and equity. This can help them develop a global perspective and prepare them for an increasingly interconnected world.
From leadership roles that encourage student voice to developing students’ global competencies, student council provides numerous benefits to elementary school students. Does your elementary school have a student council? How does your student council promote student voice, choice, and agency? What are some important considerations when facilitating a student council? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Technology in the classroom can allow students to be self-directed learners in many ways. There are many types of assistive technology software that can help students. However, even with these softwares, common technology, such as Chromebooks, can sometimes have physical restraints that younger students or students with physical disabilities may struggle with. These restraints can hinder the students ability to use the technology effectively, therefore making it less self-directed.
Touch screen technology, such as touch screen computers or iPads, has proved to be an effective assistive technology tool for these students. The touch screen can help them overcome the physical struggles of using certain technology and provide them with the ability to be self-directed learners. With touch screens, students can use their fingers to navigate through their devices, making it easier to use technology without the need for a keyboard or mouse. This can help remove physical barriers to learning and enable students with physical disabilities or underdeveloped motor skills to engage with technology in the classroom.
In addition to helping with the physicality of using technology, touch screens provide an interactive and engaging way for students to learn. With the ability to touch and manipulate the screen, students can interact with learning materials in a more hands-on way, which is especially beneficial for younger learners. Touch screen technology allows students to drag and drop items on the screen (i.e., digital manipulatives, sorting activities, etc.), zoom in on images, or even draw on the screen to illustrate their ideas, all with their fingertips.
Arguably the best part of touch screen technology is that it is useful for all types of learners to use! Universal supports are a great way to meet the needs of all students, and touch screens offer just that. While all students may not rely on using touch to navigate technology, or they may prefer to use a trackpad or mouse, the option is still there to use whenever they would like, while also being available for those students who do rely on it. Therefore, I believe that, while often more expensive, schools should prioritize integrating computers and tablets that have touch screens into their arsenal of technology.
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy describes “teaching that recognizes all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 2). Diversity is such an enriching component to learning. It is crucial that we, as educators, value and use students’ diverse cultural backgrounds, through culturally responsive pedagogy, to enhance learning experiences.
Global Competencies refer to a set of “knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values” that help individuals understand and engage with the world around them (OECD: Global Competency for a Global World, pg. 7). These competencies include:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship
- Self-directed learning
Educators build upon these competencies in the classroom, through intentional learning activities, so that students are prepared to be effective and responsible citizens of a global society.
There are several connections between the use of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and students’ development of Global Competencies. Firstly, in order to be a respectful and effective global citizen, students need to have an understanding of the world around them. By integrating Culturally Responsive Pedagogy into our teaching practice and having students learn about different cultures, ideologies, and perspectives, students will become a more knowledgeable and empathetic citizen of the world.
However, we don’t just want our students to understand the world around them; we want them to be active members of a global community! Educators that are “engaged in the work of culturally responsive pedagogy are ‘committed to collective, not just merely individual empowerment’ such that the impact of this approach to teaching is directed towards making change for all members of society” (Capacity Building Series: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, pg. 7). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy can help teach students that their voice and actions can make a difference, therefore developing social responsibility, global citizenship, and communication skills. These, too, are important global competencies that all students should develop within our classrooms.
We are only able to solve problems that we are made aware of. Therefore, by intentionally learning about both local and global issues, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, students can develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are essential for addressing global issues, especially when they become the adults in society that drive this change. We can also build upon these Global Competencies through a culturally responsive lens; by examining and discussing the ways in which different cultures approach and understand these issues (i.e., what led communities to experience this issue, what are the varying viewpoints from different groups involved), students can develop a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in solving global issues.
There are a multitude of ways that training can be delivered to education staff, both formally and informally. It is important to acknowledge that the education system is changing (e.g., new pedagogies and types of technology, while also adjusting to staffing concerns, etc.) and we must adapt to these changes in order to maintain innovative as lifelong learners. A creative approach to teacher training that I have read about and would be interested in trying is Pineapple Charts.
What is it?
Pineapple Charts provide an open invitation for other educators within your school setting to pop into your classroom and watch you facilitate a specific activity or lesson. The goal would be that other educators might learn something from watching and/or participating in your classroom that could be useful or integrated into their own classroom. Simply put, Pineapple Charts provide a space for “meaningful and affirming collaboration” for educators (Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).
How does it work?
Let’s say you have a tried-and-true lesson that your students enjoy every time you use it. Or, you have designed a new lesson that has your heart and mind pumping with excitement to try. Or, you are going to use a teaching strategy or technology tool that you think other teachers might benefit from seeing in action. Really, any sort of lesson that you think other teacher’s might be interested in, you post that information on the school’s Pineapple Chart. A Pineapple Chart is a blank chart with each day of the week and each period of the school day that is posted in the staffroom (or anywhere teachers gather) or digitally (shared Google Doc) where teachers can fill in information about their lesson (TECA, Pineapple Charts: Learning from Your Peers).
For example, if I know that I am going to teach my students about coding on Spheros on Wednesday right after lunch, I will write that in the Pineapple Chart (e.g., Mr. Burton – Sphero Coding). If this is something that another teacher has been interested in learning more about or seeing in action, but hasn’t found a way of learning that works for them (e.g., online training), they can come attend my lesson at that time. Teachers can either use their planning time, or can rearrange their planning times with other colleagues in the building, to attend this valuable, yet informal professional development.
But, what’s with the pineapple?
Well, pineapples are a symbol of welcoming and hospitality, which fits well with the overall theme of the Pineapple Chart! This approach to teacher training is built on organic, staff-led collaborative learning. When a culture of open-doors and teamwork is fostered and embraced, the level of deep learning that can be achieved is unmatched.
How can this strategy be implemented successfully?
This strategy to teaching training only works if teachers are willing to open their classrooms up to their colleagues. That being said, there may be some things that have to be put in place in order for staff to buy-in. Adrian Cargal, an Instructional Coach and author at Edutopia, outlines 3 key components to successfully implement the Pineapple Chart:
(Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).
- It’s a voluntary endeavor: Pushback will be inevitable if it’s a required task.
- The Pineapple Chart is accessible by all employees: A shared document via Google Slides or an equivalent is optimal.
- It’s a connected call to action that inspires others to join in on the fun: Highlight the positive things that you’ve observed in your classroom at every possible opportunity. This will encourage your colleagues to participate and will make the PD experience more collaborative.
Have you used Pineapple Charts in your school setting? What are some ways that staff buy-in could be fostered? What other uses could this strategy be used for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
With coding being a relatively new addition to many classrooms across the province, there continues to be much work that needs to be done in order to reach equity and inclusion. Many families value mathematics and literacy as the core foundations of education, and therefore place a large amount of emphasis on these subjects. However, many parents were not formally taught coding throughout their formal education, and therefore may be unaware of its inclusion and importance within the mathematics curriculum. It is important to explain to parents and students the “relevance and meaning in what they are learning, to make real-life connections to the curriculum” (Ontario Mathematics Curriculum, 2020, pg. 48). This involves first explaining what coding is (a digital language that tells electronic devices what to do), then explaining where it is used in their daily lives (virtually every electronic device that they use), and finally highlighting the purpose of learning it. Once students are aware of what coding is and why they should learn it, they will feel more included and invested in their learning.
As with all subject areas, it is of utmost importance that our students are represented in what they are learning. “Educators have an obligation to develop and nurture learning environments that are reflective of and responsive to students’ strengths, needs, cultures, and diverse lived experiences, and to set appropriate and high expectations for all” (Ontario Mathematics Curriculum, 2020, pg. 48). When we provide an open forum for students to showcase their coding skills, they can organically represent themselves in their work. For example, when asking students to code a scene on a program like Scratch, students can choose a sprite (a character) that looks like them and adjust the scene in which the sprite is shown. This provides ample opportunity for students to integrate their culture into their work and create a media that represents them.
Coding is typically a new concept that students begin exploring at school before they do so at home, especially with it being included in the mathematics curriculum starting in Grade 1. This puts most students on an equal playing field as they begin learning this concept. However, over time, as students with regular access to technology begin to explore these themes at home, the potential performance gap may continue to widen. This highlights the need to provide equitable access to technology to our students, especially for concepts that can be heavily technology focused, such as coding. It also challenges us as educators to find ways in which we can help develop coding skills with students without relying on technology. One solution that educators can implement in situations where the access to technology is limited is unplugged coding. Unplugged coding activities can provide students with examples of coding that they can continue to practice without the need of a device, such as games and crafts. Kodable offers many unplugged coding activities that would be a hit with students: https://www.kodable.com/learn/unplugged-coding-activities/.
Unfortunately, access to technology is not the only area of inequality that needs to be addressed in order to create a responsive learning environment. Studies show that the percentage of women that fill computer science jobs continues to decline, falling at only 24% in 2017 (GirlsWhoCode.com). This indicates a large inequality in this sector of mathematics and science. A way that my teacher colleagues and I could promote coding equity and inclusion on a school-wide scale would be to create and facilitate a coding club for female students. This club could be facilitated informally, but offering drop-in times for students to practice their coding skills and have access to the school’s technology. It could also be run more formally structured by offering tutorials and lessons to truly deepen their understanding of coding concepts and providing them with the opportunity to develop these skills in a safe and fun environment. There are many resources available online to begin a coding club, such as Girls Who Code (https://girlswhocode.com/get-involved/start-a-club).
By being aware and truly understanding the potential inequalities that are associated with coding, we are in a position where we can work together as a teaching staff to address these concerns. Ensuring that every student has access to technology may be a challenge, however, there are steps that we can take to ensure every student has access to learning opportunities, such as unplugged coding activities or coding clubs. My hope is that by addressing these inequalities, we can create culturally responsive learning environments that support all students!
When we think about the cultural diversity of our classrooms, we often think about the people within the classroom: the teachers, students, and support staff. But how often do we stop to think about the physical classroom environment itself? Does our classroom showcase cultural diversity? Does it provide a safe and inclusive place where students see themselves represented? The classroom environment – The Third Teacher – provides a physical space that can either foster or hinder the cultural diversity of the people learning within it. A strategy that teachers can use in their school communities to foster an approach of culturally responsive teaching and learning is to reimagine The Third Teacher.
The first step that we can take when reimaging our classroom environment is taking an audit of our classroom materials. Let’s start with our classroom libraries: Can each of our students see themselves portrayed in the books? Are there books with characters of various genders, cultures, races, physical abilities, and orientations? Or have our own implicit biases led us to stock our bookshelves with reading materials that only reflect us?
We can also look around the room at the posters and bulletin boards we display. Do these posters hold value and reflect the diversity of our students? A great way for the diversity of our students to be showcased in their learning environment is to have them create displays around the classroom. This could be student work that they are proud of, art pieces that reflect the diversity of their interests, or even family photos to remind us of the various value systems, languages, religious beliefs, and ways of life that also contribute to their self-identity. Students need to see themselves reflected in their classrooms in order to feel that they belong and are accepted.
After considering the physicality of our classrooms, we should also reflect on how we use our classroom space to be more culturally responsive. It is so important to empower students to take ownership of how their learning environment should function. Community circles are a simple and effective platform for students to learn while building positive relationships with their classmates and teachers. Early on in the school year, community circles can be used to discuss with students what they feel they need in order to be successful in their learning and how they can make those needs a reality. This essentially takes the place of a teacher outlining the rules and guidelines of the classroom, providing ownership to the students and asking for their voice in the ways in which they want to feel respected, heard, safe, and included in the classroom. The responses can vary greatly based on the diversity of student needs, but it ensures that each student voice is heard and valued, and that their environment is reflective of the student population.
We can learn so much about each other and our own cultures through respectful communication and interactions. Our classrooms should foster an environment that promotes sharing and listening. Welcoming and encouraging conversations about feelings, beliefs, and values are not only a great way to develop student voice, but it also provides an opportunity to learn from the varying perspectives and experiences of our classmates. Activities that allow students to celebrate both their cultures and those of their classmates within a safe and welcoming classroom environment are crucial in culturally responsive teaching.
In summary a strategy that teachers can use in their school communities to foster an approach of culturally responsive teaching and learning is to reimagine The Third Teacher. We can do this by completing an audit of our classroom supplies (books, posters), having students showcased in their learning environment (student work, pictures of families), and encouraging a learning culture rooted in student voice and collaboration.
The integration of technology into our classrooms serves many beneficial purposes. From new and innovative learning opportunities, to the development of crucial competencies required when working in the 21st century, technology is becoming a requirement in the world of education. When we think of technology in the classroom, there are many different mediums that we use: desktop computers, interactive whiteboards, robotics, Chromebooks, iPads… the list goes on and on! It is interesting to dig deep and investigate the businesses behind the educational technology that we use.
When I think of the technology that I use in my classroom, as well as the technology that the school boards in my region endorse, there are two main contributors: Google and Apple. While both companies provide many educational tools for students and educators to use, they vary in their capabilities and overall scope of applications. Let’s first explore the main two products that these companies provide to assist students in their learning.
Apple’s main product designed for educational purposes is the iPad. It is a sleek, easy-to-use tablet that even the youngest of students can quickly learn how to navigate. One of the most appealing features of the iPad is it’s touchscreen. This allows students of any age or learning stage to touch images and drag-and-drop information. Even in the upper grades, students can use apple products to create videos on a variety of Apple curated apps, such as iMovie. Just last month, I used iMovie to create our elementary school’s virtual graduation ceremony! While things may have changed in the last 10 years or so, when I was in high school, Apple products were heavily used for design type courses, such as photography, yearbook, media courses, etc. Apple has a solid product and a bunch of applications to provide a slew of learning opportunities for students.
Google provides their Chromebook product as a versatile educational tool. Chromebooks have a common computer feel with its trackpad and keyboard, however, some models are equipped with a touch screen to bridge that gap between using a tablet and using a computer. With Chromebooks, “student accounts are linked to the individual school” or the school board, providing them with “full administrative control” (9to5Mac). This would be one of the main differences between the Chromebook and the iPad. With the Chromebook, you are able to sign into any Google account, instantly linking them to their profile and schoolwork. This means that the device is just the vessel to the learning, rather than being a single-source resource (i.e., each student needing to use their own iPad to retrieve their saved information.
(Adapted from Brave in the Attempt)
As we compare the various products, we have to remember that there is a business behind each of these tools with a price tag associated with it. Our school boards, too, have to consider the cost of the products, which plays a large factor in determining which tools will be purchased for classroom use. In the simplest of terms, “iPads are relatively expensive devices” while “Chromebooks, in contrast, are cheap” (9to5Mac). Perhaps, in conjunction with the large amount of product capabilities and applications that Google provides, this is why Google has surpassed Apple in the realm of education devices. As of 2018 in the United States of America, “Chromebooks had 60 percent of the market share” (Digital Information World).
(Digital Information World)
While I have used both Apple and Google products in my own teaching practice, I will admit that I primarily use the Google platform. Not only are Chromebooks a solid product, but I find the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) to be of immense value for my students. Knowing that the schools boards in my area were users of Google products, I became a Google Certified Educator Level 2 before graduating from by Bachelor of Education to prepare myself with the knowledge necessary to not only use these applications properly, but to also be able to integrate them into my teaching practice.
Within the classroom, I use Google apps to help with content delivery and student products, such as making presentations, answering questions, recording research, drafting narratives, etc. As COVID-19 unfolded and Distance Learning became a reality, I heavily relied on GAFE. Students are able to access their schoolwork on an infinite number of devices, whether it be a Chromebook at school or logging into their Google Account at home, due to Google’s “unlimited Drive cloud storage space” (ITC Evangelist). This made it that much easier to transition from school to home learning. The Google products available through the student’s Google Accounts are very compatible with our digital Google Classroom platform, which makes it easier to use, and be loyal to, a brand of products and it’s multitude of capabilities. For example, Google Classroom has integrated capabilities within it to create a quiz on Google Forms or attach a lecture presented on Google Slides, therefore seamlessly weaving together many of the GAFE.
As with any pedagogy, it is better to draw resources from multiple sources rather than limit the students’ exposure to one thing. With that being said, perhaps there will remain a place for both companies in the world of education. Each tool provides students with learning opportunities that prepare them with a breath of 21st Century competencies for whatever their future holds for them. Who can say whether the company that they will work for one day will use primarily Apple or Google products. Or, maybe they will work for a Microsoft company… Uh oh! Luckily, both Google and Apple have programs/processors that prepare students for that cross over (Word, PowerPoint, Excel vs. Docs, Slides, Sheets vs. Pages, Keynote, Numbers). At the end of the day, as long as we continue to discern which digital tool will help to best enhance our teaching instruction, promote engaging learning, and enrich the minds of our students, then we are doing just fine. Keep bringing on the new technology!
Digital Information World: https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2019/03/who-is-winning-in-education-google-apple-microsoft.html
ICT Evangelist: https://ictevangelist.com/google-vs-apple-in-education/
The mathematics classroom environments of the past consisted of textbooks, worksheets, and rows of desks. This model catered to the rote learning model that killed student creativity and neglected the students’ ability to problem solve using their own methods and strategies. As an educator entering the teaching profession in the 21st century, I hope to bring a wave of fresh ideas and new approaches to learning that engage students, challenge their thinking, and promotes a positive growth mindset.
Role of the Educator
As an educator, I embrace the opportunity to create a learning environment in which students are able to flourish as learners and as people, developing into positive and active members of society. I think of myself as a ‘facilitator of learning,’ where I provide authentic learning opportunities for my students to inquire and discover as I continue to learn alongside them. By providing opportunities for guided experiential learning, rather than structured rote teaching, students learn by doing, writing, designing, creating, making and solving, not just by listening.
Within the classroom, the educator should circulate around the learning environment, checking in with each student or group of students to assess their learning, write anecdotal notes, and challenge or extend student learning. They can also identify which students require more academic assistance, especially those with math IEPs, and work with the students to find activities that develop specific learning goals.
More than anything, it is the role of the educator to build strong, positive attitudes towards math. As outlined in the Ministry of Education’s Parent Guide to Doing Mathematics with your Child, “When children feel positively engaged and successful, they are more likely to stick with an activity or a problem to find a solution” (pg. 2). A positive growth mindset will help students to exceed their own expectations!
Manipulative allow students to engage in experiential learning opportunities in which they can be hands-on and physically experience the mathematical learning. They should be readily available to students to use during any math task, thus providing a consistent and hands-on aid to their learning. Students should have access to a ruler and calculator for everyday use, both of which can easily be stored in the students’ desks or supply bins. Here are some examples of manipulatives that could be available in containers or shelving units within the classroom:
- Base Ten Blocks: great for showing differences in quantities, helping students when counting, visually showing multiplication, and reinforcing proportional reasoning
- Centimeter Cubes: used for counting, creating bar graphs, and measuring perimeter, area, and volume
- Tangrams: reinforce themes within geometry, such as shapes, sides, angles, and vertices
- Measuring Cups: used to practice measurement and comparing volumes and quantities of these measurements
- Tape Measures: valuable practice measuring tangible items within the classroom environment while using different metric systems (i.e. mm, cm, dm, m, etc.)
- Thermometers: applicable real-life measurement, students can measure the temperature of various items (outside temperature, classroom fish tank, bowl of snow, etc.) and track measurement overtime
- Money: great for teaching financial literacy, reinforcing adding and subtracting, and promoting play-based learning
- Fraction Strips: assists students with proportional reasoning, provides a visual representation of various fractions, and students can stack them on top of each other to view differences in quantity and size
- Pattern Blocks: promotes geometric concepts and allows for creativity (i.e., building shapes using smaller shapes)
- Protractor: used to measure angles of objects, assists students in developing geometric comprehension
- Graph paper: can be used for graphing data, measuring perimeter and area, and designing floor plans
The use of technology within the mathematics classroom can help to engage students in their learning, while also providing opportunities to work with different aids throughout their problem solving. Here are a number of ways in which technology can be integrated throughout the math classroom.
Kahoot is an online tool that engages students in a class-wide quiz about a certain topic. The quiz can be on any topic, including multiple concept areas in mathematics. Students read a question, choose the correct multiple choice answer and their results are recorded. Even with so much learning taking place, Kahoots always seem to bring out the fun and excitement in the lesson. The students are happy because they get to use technology and they also feel a sense of competition, which in my opinion furthers their overall performance.
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 22, 2016
Another digital tool that can be used within a math classroom is Quizizz. This program is very much like Kahoot, but students work through the quiz independently, at their own pace, and the order of the questions get randomized so students don’t shout out all of the answers. It still ranks the students based on the number of answers correct and generates reports for the teacher to review. Quizizz is a great tool!
Osmo has a number of different kits that you can buy. As long as the school has an iPad and can download the corresponding app, all that will need to be purchased are the Omso kits. These kits come with the iPad stand, the curved mirror for the camera, and the tangram pieces. They also have other kits about numbers, coding strings, and word tiles.
There are a number of online math games that students can easily access to help promote concepts being taught in class. An example of a game that students can access is Prodigy. This game allows students to create a profile, design an avatar, and complete multiple levels. Students have to complete math questions to battle other characters and progress through the levels. More times than not, students will be so consumed with the game that they won’t even realize how much math learning is taking place!
Coding is a great cross-curricular connection between Math, Science, and even Language. Coding has students create sequences of commands that lead to a specific action or outcome. When using robotics technology, such as a Sphero, students are able to code the robot to move a certain distance, rotate a specific way, and even travel at a certain speed. Robotics and coding would typically fall under the category of Science and Technology, however, there are many different and creative ways in which it can have a math focus. For example, students could use angles and rotations to maneuver the robot through a maze that the students create. There are also some valuable Language expectations met when coding, predominantly procedural writing. Even without robotic technology, students can practice coding online at Code.org, a free website that providing coding tutorials and challenges for students. Coding and robotics are great ways to bring a math problem to life, while also teaching the students valuable and applicable 21st century skills.
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 18, 2016
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 18, 2016
— Spencer Burton (@spencerburtonca) November 18, 2016
Khan Academy is an online learning platform on which students complete different modules and assess themselves by completing different tasks. The students’ profiles are linked to the teacher’s account, allowing the teacher to see how much time has been spent on Khan Academy and how much progress they have had in each module. The various tasks and instructional videos provide students with supplemental learning that can be accessed both within and outside of the classroom. Once or twice a week, students could come into the classroom with a Chromebook on their desk and a new module on Khan Academy assigned to them. From what I was told, this resource is based out of the USA, so there are some issues with measurements (gallons vs. litres), but for the most part, the curriculum standards and expectations are concurrent with Ontario’s curriculum.
Learning centres allow students the freedom of choice when it comes to their learning. These centres are readily equipped for students to go to and begin a task. They also provide many inquiry-based learning opportunities, especially since the centres are student-driven.
As outlined in the previous section, technology provides many great learning opportunities that may not otherwise be available. Computers, iPads, robotics, and other applications truly add to the learning environment and help students to gain imperative 21st century technology skills. Having technology learning centres available to students provides continual exposure to these important concepts.
In addition to the technology centres within the classroom, there should be some sensory stations that allow students to be hands-on with their learning. For primary grades, water and/or sand tables provide students with an environment in which they can play and explore, while using multiple math concepts, such as measurement. In the Junior grades, students could use scrap pieces of wood and various tools to practice applicable building and woodworking skills. These activities would also promote math learning through geometry, measurement, and number sense.
Games help to encourage play-based learning and show students that math does not have to be dry and scary. A variety of math games could be available at a learning centre in the classroom. Possible games could include playing cards with a binder of multiple card games (each game is strategy chosen to reinforce a mathematical concept), dice for probability games or operation races (i.e., first to multiply the numbers of the rolled dice together), and flashcards to quiz each other and race to be the first to answer the question correctly.
The classroom should be organized in a way in which each area is used effectively and is organized. Bins and shelving units are a great way to store manipulatives and electronics so that they are safe and easily accessible for the next person. The different areas of the room should be labelled so that students know what is available to them and where they can find things within the classroom.
There should be a variety of learning areas in which the students can choose to work at, such as:
- Classroom carpet: centred around a SMART Board or whiteboard for introducing a new topic, consolidating a lesson, having math discussions, doing number talks, or other group activities, such as Which One Doesn’t Belong
- Student-teacher conference area: area assigned for check-ins and working with specific students (such as students struggling with a concept or needing extra assistance)
- Tables: promotes collaboration, teamwork, and communication
- Cushions on floor: can be used for both individual learning and group work
- Standing tables: considers embodied learning by providing an area for students to stand while working
- Study carrels: an individualized quiet area that limits distractions and provides a safe space for students
The classroom will have evidence of student learning up on the walls for students to reference. This gives a sense of ownership and agency to the students knowing that their work is being displayed. It also allows students to reflect back on what they have learned and refresh themselves about strategies to complete a given task. In addition to student work, a word wall can be used to reinforce conceptual language and knowledge.
Success criteria are an important and successful way of communicating the academic expectations for a given task to students. This concept has developed by engaging students in the process of defining the learning goals and outlining what success looks like. This idea of co-creating success criteria is a great way to encourage students to use assessment vocabulary while also making them more aware of identifying what is expected of them given any assessment description. It also encourages the concept of students taking ownership of their own learning and deciding what the focus of assessment should be on. The success criteria should be explicitly labeled and posted in the classroom for students to see.
Problem solving questions, specifically in math, provide opportunities for students to practice their learned skills in applicable and relevant situations. They challenge the students to reflect on what they have learned theoretically and apply this knowledge in practical, thought-provoking applications. It is very important that we teach students to embrace problem solving, treating it like a puzzle to be solved rather than a brick wall preventing us from achieving success. When we adequately prepare students with the tools that they need during problem solving, they come to learn that they are able to problem solve and they can achieve success. This, in turn, develops a positive disposition towards problem solving for our students.
The Guide to Effective Instruction: Grades K to 6 – Volume 2 – Problem Solving and Communication teaches us that rich and engaging problem solving questions not only teach students through problem solving (practicing conceptual understanding), but they also teach student about problem solving by learning applicable learning skills (Guide to Effective Instruction, pg. 6). By teaching student through and about problem solving, we are able to see if the student has grasped the concept while also exploring the strategy they used throughout the process. When we are able to see both aspects, we then know that we have created a rich mathematical question. It is also important that we ensure the questions are relevant to the students by using real-world situations that are linked to their specific interests.
Conversations around problem solving help to teach students to be cognitive about their own strategies, while also being able to learn from their peers and adopt new and perhaps more efficient strategies. As Marion Small says in the video Open Questions and Contexts, “[Different strategies] enrich the conversation; it does not detract from it.” Math talks and bansho consolidation presentations are great ways to verbally explore these strategies in a whole-class setting. Other ways to communicate their thinking could be in a math journal, in which the student explains the strategies they used throughout the day’s lesson, or by creating a video/voice recording of their verbal explanations (for those students less inclined to share with the class).
As Doug Clements said in his talk about Intentional Play-Based Learning, the best type of learning including all kinds of learning experiences, including both play-based and guided learning. We should prompt students and give creative challenges that develop high-caliber mathematical thinking and reasoning while the students are engaging in play-based learning. This model of inquiry-based learning also provides the teacher with multiple opportunities to check-in with students throughout the learning, help to reinforce mathematical language, and develop the student’s ability to explain their processes and strategies. Students develop higher levels of social skills, emotional skills, and self-regulation skills when they emerge in guided play-based learning.
My goal when providing students with inquiry-based learning opportunities is to achieve multiple curriculum expectations, while also working on many learning skills. The 6 C’s are a great framework when considering the learning skills that students could work towards in a given task. The 6 C’s outline some important 21st century learning skills that each student should work towards developing.