Relationships Matter…I cannot stress this enough

The last couple of weeks I have been struggling with being a parent and a teacher. There has been many things lately that I haven’t agreed with but I have tried to stay calm and understand. It has been hard to sit back and find the right words to describe what I wish would be happening more in our profession. Then this tweet came across my feed today and it allowed me to center my thoughts that I have been struggling to communicate.

I want this quote to sit for a minute.


I know when I first started teaching I often neglected this very important piece. I often felt that I knew my students or that I was allowing them to be a part of the learning but the more I reflect the more I think I could have done more. Stuart’s work on self reg has been revolutionary for me. Reading his book was a breath of fresh air. The greatest take away I had was:

There is no thing/ concept as a Bad Child

I now firmly believe this but it is one of the toughest things that we have to realize as an educator. If you have been reading my blogs for the past I have often talked about the importance of relationships. I also have talked a lot about Stuart’s work and my daughter Izzy.

The latest update in Izzy’s school saga is that she has been formally tested and diagnosed with an LD, and ADHD. Now this wasn’t new information for me and my wife but it explains a lot of the problems that we have been seeing. The problem is Izzy is often misinterpreted. Izzy is not an easy child to get a long with. She is often difficult and stubborn. She has melt downs and high, high anxiety around school. These problems hinder her progress and have unfortunately labeled her as one of the problem children. However, there is a reason for her behaviour and she doesn’t do these things on purpose.

Izzy finds school hard, she finds learning hard and when she finds it hard she breaks down or is in a high stress situation. Like adults high stress causes her to be in a flight or fight mode, which in turn causes her to have behaviours.

For the past two years she has had two great educators who have taken the time to learn and honour Izzy as a person. They laughed at her quirkiness and joined in her loves. When she was stressed or struggled they often saw them even before Izzy did and was able to redirect and help her through them.

Now this relationship building takes time and I know oh so well that time is a very precious thing. As educators we often struggle with meeting all of the curriculum that we have to cover. There is so many things that we have to do that is not in the scope of teaching that we a lot of times forget about the most simplistic thing.

Teaching is not about teaching but about building

Our students know that we care. They pick up on our vibes, our stresses and our comments. This is for both the good and the bad.

Like most, if not all students, my daughter thrives on teachers who take a moment to see her for who she is. When you take the time to understand why she behaves the way she does, she actually has less bad behaviour and focuses more on the good. However, when she knows you think she is a problem then she tends to lean towards that. Students are pretty much the same. Relationships are needed and the time spent on them is time well spent.

When you take the time to honour students voices, who they are and what they like, they give it back to you. So I encourage you learn the stories of your students, understand who they are as individuals, recognize that they all of potential to do amazing things. I know that we all came into teaching to do just that but I think some times we loose site of it and get bogged down in all of the politics or curriculum.

If you spend the time building relationships I promise you will not be let down. My daughter is an amazing little girl, who I know has difficulties and causes a lot of stress in the classroom. But when she knows she is loved, she will do anything for you. I’ll end with this quote from Peel’s Modern Learner.

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Some more reflecting

Last week I asked my students to do a final reflection on Grade Six. I gave them a google form that asked four questions:

  1. Rate your year
  2. What is your favourite memory?
  3. What is one thing that you loved about the year?
  4. What is one thing that you would change?

It was amazing to hear their words and voice through the form. I loved the honesty and it really has me thinking.

The questions that I focused on was what did you love and what would you change. Here is the response to what I loved:

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What really struck me were two things:

  1. They loved the use of technology
  2. They loved their freedom

Technology struck me because you often assume that these children are growing up in a digital age, shouldn’t they be used to using technology? But that really isn’t the case. Sure they are digital consumers of things but they don’t really know how to use it. In addition, I know that we have the tech in the classrooms but it isn’t always being used. I know that it is more but many teachers are hesitant to use it because we ourselves have no idea what to do with it. But what this really shows me is that our students don’t really know what to do with it. It shows me that we still need to teach them proper digital skills to create and use technology for educational means. They need to learn and be taught how to harness the power of technology and not just use it in the classroom. The kids want to use it they just need to know how to apply it.

The last part really struck home. This year I have been experimenting more with allowing my grade sixes to have the freedom to choose the path that they want. I want them to be in charge of their learning. The more I teach the more I am getting tired of pushing curriculum and telling students how to learn. I want my students to learn because they want to learn. I want them to be in school because they want to be in school. I know that we have a curriculum to teach and that it was made with good solid research but I still want my students to feel empowered by it and not because I put on a song and dance. This year I have tried a variety of things from rearranging my classroom, passion projects, to doing badging and going gradeless. It is great to see my student are loving those changes, that they actually made an impact. It’s amazing to see when you turn things over to your students what and how they learn. They are amazing people.

I was also equally shocked by what my students said they wanted to change:

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A lot of it centered around working in groups for math. I think I need to do some more work around how to work in groups and why we work in groups. Though I also wonder if students need some time alone to think. It reminds me of the book “Quiet.” Do we as teachers sometimes forget about those quiet moments where we reflect or think on our own? I know that group collaboration is a skill but so is working on our own. Do we give our students enough balance? I also loved the line about more homework, had a chuckle with that one.

Overall, this year has been about showing my students that they have a voice and that they are in charge of their learning. I want them to be comfortable in who they are, and know what they need to do in order to learn. I did ask one more question and that was what is one piece of advice you would give next year’s Grade Six. I did smile a little when I saw the responses because it was exactly what I was telling them all year, “Be bold, Be Brave, Be confident!”


What would your students say about their year?


My 2ndish attempt at using provocations

I would like to think that I teach through Inquiry.  I really try to keep all of my work about the kids and their thinking; however, I do find myself still leading discussions more than I would like.  Then I learned about provocations.  WOW! I know that I have previously blog about this subject but since that time I have tried to use them more.  Today in science I did just that (at least I hope I did).

Here is what I did:

1) I got a bunch of experiments working on air and water

Center 1: AIR

Center 2: Water
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(note: some of these items were for other provocations)
Center 3: Water Cycle
Center #4: Pollution
I then broke them into groups had books and iPads at the centers and asked them what do they observe?  Wow, I couldn’t believe the talk, the focus, and  the engagement.  Take a look at this shot:
Here the students were so engrossed in what was happening that they didn’t even notice me.  They were saying, “cool look its raining!”  They were also using the vocabulary that we have been building before this through our watercraft project.
What did I learn?

1) Inquiry (true inquiry) is allowing planned exploration.  Students really need time to explore and make observations about the subjects.
2) This takes a lot of planning.  I been planning this for some time now (many thanks to my amazing PLN for their help in this).  As I have been planning I had to think about questions, get all of the materials ready and even think about possible misconceptions.
3) True assessment.  I was amazed at what the students had absorbed through previous books, the Watercraft project and our discussions.
4) Its a lot of fun to watch the joy and engagement of true learning
So if you haven’t done provocations before, give it ago.  Its a lot of fun and you would be surprised at what you will learn about your students.

Fraction kit and playing games

Fractions have always been a passion of mine. Started researching the concepts in my math part 1 AQ class and have been fascinated ever since.  I even ended up completing my Masters’ of Education thesis in the subject.  Through my studies I came across fractions, Marilyn Burns’ fraction kit and games.  I still haven’t found something anywhere close that helps students understand fraction concepts like this kit.  
For those not familiar with it, let me tell you about it.  The kit in itself is very simple, it is five strips of paper. Each piece is to be cut to a corresponding fraction (halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, and a whole). 
Now you may ask yourselves how is this the best thing ever it’s just a bunch of paper. It’s the best thing ever because of the talk that it generates. Since finding this in my research I have done some modifications that really bring out the talk. 
First and foremost, I have them create the kits. It does you no good to create them for your students.  By them creating the strips, the students explore how fractions are division, fair sharing, why fractions are a part of a whole and many more fractional concepts.
Second, I created a context to go with the problem. As many of you know who read this blog, I truly believe in contexts. A good context makes kids think beyond arithmetic and focus on mathematical big ideas.  For this problem I tell my students a story of how I need to clean up my mom’s back yard, she has a huge yard and in payment my mom buys me a large party sub. Now many students now don’t know what a party sub is because they don’t sell them anymore, so you may have to show them a picture: 

The students are so impressed and they can’t believe that I would eat this much. Now I tell them that just before I was about to eat lunch one of my friends popped over. Now what?  This continues all the way to eights, the door bell ringing every time we figure out portion we need to cut.  For sixteenths I tell them this is what we are going to do as I really don’t have sixteen friends; however by now we have really constructed a good understanding of the pattern that is happening.  Now why this context. I like this context because it is a linear model like the strips. Having the sub also means students have to think about measurement and division because technically you cannot fold a sub, as all the pieces fall out. The other part is students often will try cutting the their strips horizontally instead of vertically. Now this also brings up interesting discussions about equivalency versus congruency but this context stops that because if students cut a sub horizontally they don’t really get all of the sub.
Third I don’t have the students label their fractions.  When I have done this with my fours it was mainly because I didn’t want them to associate a particular fraction with the strips whole. Basically, 1/2 strip is 1/2 of the kits whole not 1/2 somewhere else.  A big misconception with students thinking is that a what they learn is he only representation of a particular fraction. When you label the students don’t understand that the size of the whole matters.  That 1/4 can be bigger than 1/2 depending on the size.  However, now that I am in primary I see a whole new benifit, it makes students understand what a fraction is. Why is 1/4, 1/4? While my students where playing cover-up, one of Mariyln burns fraction kit games, they asked me which fraction is 1/4? I turned it around and asked them. They then just picked a random strip up. I the. Asked them why that one? This discussion continued as students explored that the amount of pieces that we break our sub into is our denominator and the amount we use is our numerator.   If I had them label the fractions they never would have explored this concept and I would never have realized that they struggled with it.
The final change is the questions that I ask around this particular problem.  It’s not just to make the stud ets create the kit but to think about the big ideas around fractions. Have a listen to my grade two class discussion on fractions:

Day 1 of our Fraction Talk

It is quite interesting the talk that can come from building these kits and the big ideas that come from it. I have played this game in junior and primary and personally I would do this for middle school as well.  In junior I start to add fifths, tenths, thirds, sixths, ninths, and twelves.  By adding these other fractions you also start to see other misconceptions of students halving strategies but for primary halving is still okay.  I hope you really try the kits and see the benefits of it in your classroom.

You can find all of my fraction research and resources on my site:  Feel free to use anything you want.

Genius hour

So we started Genius Hour! Now you might be asking what is genius hour.  Genius hour is a time set aside so that my kids can pursue their own interests in learning. It allows the students to learn, research, and develop what they what to do. Now you might be thinking, you let your kids have free rain?  Well in a way, yes I did, however, their was one criteria, it had to benefit the classroom.  

I was really hesitant of letting go control to my grade two classroom.  This was not because of letting chaos happen or student discovery but more that I didn’t know if my students need more guidance I organizing their thinking and work.  
I started the process with watching two videos on creativity and what is an idea. We then made a proposal that they had to share with their parents.  The reason chose to have them make. A proposal was that I wanted my students to have a plan in order to succeed or feel like they accomplished something.  My students then had to share this proposal with their parents.  This was an interesting concept for many of my students.  We had to have a discussion about what a proposal was and why it needed to happen.  However, it did fit nicely into our covey habits and once explained with those my students had no trouble in identifying what they wanted to do.  
The ideas have been flowing.  Some of my kids want to get better in soccer, mathematics, and art.  They have planned to research and make videos, or have an art portfolio.
I don’t know if I introduced this right but I. Am hoping that the kids will take off with it and I am really looking forward to what they have planned. We plan to do genius hour once a week. 
Anyone else doing this? Any helpful tips out there for grade two?  Love to hear what other stories.