Friday, 14 December 2012

Math Assembly an Educational Success!!

This week we had our very first Math Assembly here at St. Rita Catholic School in Ottawa, Ontario. Every single class in the school put together something that demonstrated their knowledge and understanding of the Patterning and Algebra curriculum.

Some of the presentations included:

  • growing and extending patterns with kindergarten students modelling
  • using tableau's to demonstrate patterns
  • using music to show the pattern and showing their understanding with drums
  • short skits with props
There was an unbelievable amount of time, effort and creativity that went into these presentations. Once the assembly was finished there was absolutely no question that the students here benefited from this experience. The purposeful talk that we could all hear in the gymnasium was very empowering and without question it has carried on in the classrooms here in our school.

Staff members here also had so many positive comments about this new learning experience. One thing that was quite interesting was that every teacher in the school could see what the students were expected to learn in Patterning and Algebra from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and how they did it. This has lead to quite a bit of informal professional development right at our school and we are excited to look towards a new idea and a new goal.

Following the assembly we had a school wide assessment and we gathered in divisions the next week to moderate the student work. Teachers had great discussions and ideas to help increase student achievement in this area.

Here is our school wide assessment that covered K - 6 and met the big ideas of the Patterning and Algebra Curriculum from the Ontario Mathematics Curriculum.

In the new year we are going to have a school wide focus on Geometry and Spacial Sense and are brainstorming ideas of how we can demonstrate our learning to the entire school.

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Math Assembly?

My first reaction was that of surprise and intrigue. Had never thought of doing this before and when a group of teachers presented the idea to me I had to admit I thought it was very original with many possibilities.

Numeracy is an area of focus here at our school and we have been using school wide math problems to help get the students a little more excited about math at school. If there is more excitement surrounding numeracy at school I would hope this would would help change negative attitudes some students have about math.

We have developed a plan to have out first "Math Assembly" in three weeks time. Each teacher has looked at the big ideas for Patterning and Algebra in the Ontario Curriculum as it relates to their grade level. They will have their students present this big idea in a creative way to the rest of the school. The staff here is very excited to see what everyone comes up with!

I read an interesting quote on Friday at our Numeracy PD Day:

"Math is right up there with snakes, public speaking, and heights."

Math and numeracy should not be a phobia. If students leave our school with a numeracy phobia have we let them down? Trying new and creative things to help students develop an interest in numeracy should be a priority for all teachers. Regardless of the subjects they teach.

Let me know if you have any similar experiences with this sort of idea. I'll post an update on how things go and we are already looking forward to February 2013 when we look at Geometry and Spatial Sense. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

School Wide Halloween Learning Activity

Every now and them I try something like this out. Sometimes I think it is not often enough and other times I worry that teachers have so much to do in their classrooms that they do not want my 10 minutes activities. However, from feedback that I get they like to have these activities to do with their students at different times of the year.

Here is the activity that I have just posted for the school to work on: School Wide Pumpkin Activity

Some of the reasons that I think that they are important to do are:

  1. There are always curriculum connections that apply to each grade level.
  2. They build community within the school.
  3. It gets teachers talking about what they are going in their classrooms.
  4. The kids get excited and love to tell me about their learning experience around the task.
  5. It gets continues to get me involved in what learning is happening in the classrooms in the school.
If any other administrators do similar things I would love to hear about it and find out what your experiences are with these type of tasks. 

Monday, 22 October 2012

Reflecting on School Use of Technology

Getting more and more technology into the classrooms to help compliment student learning has been a goal of mine for quite some time. We are steadily acquiring the technology here at St. Rita Catholic School so we can offer a student experience that takes advantage to the reality that students learn in.

In our Learning Commons and classrooms students have access to:

  • 30 iPads
  • a cart of 25 netbooks
  • 20 iPods
  • 11/13 classrooms are outfitted with a SmartBoard as is our library
  • each teacher had a laptop 
We are looking at BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) activities here in our Junior grades and there has even been some collaboration of Junior and Primary students using the iPods.

Here is the St. Rita BYOD Policy for the 2012-2013 school year.

It never fails to amaze me just how much our students know about these devices. Not tapping into this knowledge to help our students meet their learning goals would seem like a waste.

I think it is important that we pause and reflect where we are at this moment. We are very fortunate to have so many great things here at our school. Taking a look at where we are and where we can move next is going to be a very important stage for us. Before use any more school funds to purchase more technology we are going to take a close look at how we use technology here at St. Rita and how we can use it to meet our students needs and to increase student achievement.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Flipping the Monthly Staff Meeting

I have been hearing a lot about flipping classrooms over the past year or so and more recently I have come across schools that are flipping their staff/faculty meetings.

The more I thought about it the more it seemed to make more and more sense to me. Here is why:
  • We are always looking for more time to get together to talk about the real issues in our school. These issues include assessment and evaluation, rich learning tasks and looking at student work as a team. It has been quite difficult to get teachers released to have the time to talk about these things. Flipping a staff meeting allows for teachers to read through all of the information items at their leisure so we can spend the time talking about the issues we want to. 
  • Staff members do not want to sit and listen to be for an hour talking about things that could have just as easily been sent in a email.
  • The flipped meeting will archive everything that is important that our staff members need to know about. If they forget something, need something or just want to reference something that was discussed, it is all in one place
So what I have decided to do it use a blog to 'flip' my meeting. In a perfect world I would have started this at the August Staff Meeting but for now the October one will have to do.

The first meeting is this afternoon and I am going to try it out. In the future I will be sending it out at least a few days in advance so everyone can take a look before the meeting takes place.

Any feedback would be most welcome. Especially from anyone who has already tried this in their schools!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Role of Homework in an Elementary School

I have never been a big fan of homework even though I admit I have assigned homework in the past that I would never dream of sending home now. Why? I am not sure if it is because I am now more informed about how students learn and how they or motivated to learn. Or, is it because I have my own children and I can see the other side of the fence.

The big question surrounding homework for me is: What is the purpose of the work?

Should work come home with students on a regular basis? Absolutely. What we have to look at is what type of work goes home with our students. Is it busy work that is given just for the sake of giving students homework. Or is it an extension of the learning process in the class meant to allow students to follow their own curiosity and make their own investigations and conclusions?

In Ontario we have a document entitled: "GROWING SUCCESS: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools".

The document takes an extensive look at assessment and evaluation and how they are used to improve student learning.

One of the sections of the document that really stood out for me was:

"To ensure equity of all students, assignments for evaluation and tests or exams are to be completed, whenever possible, under the supervision of a teacher. Assignments must not include ongoing homework that students do to consolidate their knowledge and skills or to prepare for the next class."

This section stood out to me for the following reasons:

  • It puts all students on an even playing field so to speak.
  • Every child's reality is different at home and they are not being penalized because of who helps them or who does not.
So what are the reasons that I am rethinking homework in an elementary school?

  1. Homework is often has the wrong focus: If homework is being sent home in order to get all aspects of the curriculum covered, there is a problem. Homework should go home that promotes learning and that spark students interest.
  2. School is a job: Our students spend 6 hours plus a day at school. Some of our students do not even get picked up from childcare until almost 6 o'clock. Let's think about ourselves. When you get home do you want to do and hour plus of homework? Our students should be able to focus on their studies at school in a positive environment that makes going to 'work' fun. No one wants to bring work home.
  3. Let a kid be a kid:  Kids need to run around and be active. When they get home they should have the opportunity to go outside and play and participate in extra-curricular activities without worrying about doing their hour of homework each night.
  4. Reality: Some of our kids go home to an empty house. Mom and Dad may work late. Maybe it is a single family home where the parent takes a night shift and your student is responsible to take care of her/his siblings. Often we have no idea what is happening in the homes of our students.
  5. The majority of homework is ....... well boring: More often than not homework mirrors what has gone on in the classroom during the school day. If we are going to assign after hours work, why not make it interesting and offer different learning opportunities.
When we do assign homework I would like to see the homework do the following:
  • motivate students to investigate
  • give the students choice of what they can do for homework
  • have the students document what they have done at home
  • have open ended homework assignments that act as a springboard to discover something new and exciting
I would really be interested in seeing what kind of effect this would have on a learning environment at school. Not for one second do I think that it would be perfect. Of course there would be obstacles and things that need tweaked. However, I am sure that there would be students at school that are less stressed out, chronicled details of out of school discoveries and students who have more control over their learning while meeting classroom expectations.

I think I will start the ball rolling here. I'll let you know how the journey progresses.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Library to Learning Commons

It is hard to believe that the school year is now three weeks in. The students and teachers are back hard at work and the next stage of evolution is taking place in our library. Our library will always be a place where were can go and get all kids of books. However, there are major changes out there that way that students learn and our school board, the Ottawa Catholic School Board has been implementing some very creative and innovative changes in our schools that effect how students learn and are being taught.

Our library's are be gradually turned into Learning Commons.

So what exactly is a Learning Commons:
  • A Learning Commons is a flexible and responsive approach to helping schools focus on learning collaboratively. It expands the learning experience, taking students and educators into virtual spaces beyond the walls of a school.
  • A Learning Commons is a vibrant, whole-school approach, presenting exciting opportunities for collaboration among teachers, teacher-librarians and students. Within a Learning Commons, new relationships are formed between learners, new technologies are realized and utilized, and both students and educators prepare for the future as they learn new ways to learn.
  • And best of all, as a space traditionally and naturally designed to facilitate people working together, a school’s library provides the natural dynamics for developing a Learning Commons.
Over the past few weeks we have seen a huge change with how people are using this space. We are going to be using the technology there to coincide with rich learning task that will provide new and exciting opportunities for our students.

The school community is very excited to see what how the Learning Commons will improve student learning and change teaching practice.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Flipping Parent Communication

Last week I saw a blog written by Peter DeWitt on a new and creative way to communicate with parents instead of the age old newsletter. I was very interested in the idea and modelled my first one from the one that he posted on his blog.

At our school we are trying to embrace more and more technology in our classrooms. I am a firm believer that if this is going to happen and be successful in a school the leadership in that school has to model and use the technology.

There would seem to be some great perks to this as they are more interactive, they can be paused rewound and repeated. I am hoping to get some feedback from parents and see what I can do to make them better and more interesting.

The program I used was SCREENR found at:


It was incredibly easy to use and they only thing I really want to work on is the sound quality and of course writing better scripts! You also have a time limit of 5 minutes so the announcement would not go on and on and on.

Take a look if you are interested:

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 17 February 2012

BYOD - We are going for it!

It's time..........

Whether you call it BYOD or BYOT we are going to institute it here at our school.

There is open wireless access in every part of the school and staff and students alike are accessing it. They are accessing it on laptops, iPads and NetBooks. They are using them to complete activities that promote higher order thinking skills. However, there is the opportunity to explore so many more learning opportunities.

Many students have devices that they could use on our wireless network but we have not exactly encouraged them to bring them to school.  With the right set of expectations there is no real reason why they cannot bring them to school to use.

From anything I have experienced I do not see much difference between teaching a student to play out in the school yard and teaching a student to use technology appropriately at school, and elsewhere for that matter. Having the conversation with students about leaving a positive digital footprint early is an obvious conversation to have.

This is kind of liberating. No longer will iPods, NetBooks and iPads be hidden away like contraband in backpacks stuffed in the cloakroom.

Bring them out.

Use them.

Learn with them.




Where else can we go from here?

This is very exciting.

Are there going to be challenges and obstacles? I should hope so. This is going to be a great learning curve for everyone involved. Student, parents, teachers and administrators will all have to all make adjustments. First and foremost we are going to have to figure out how to use them in the best possible ways in the classroom. That's my job and I am looking forward to it.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.........

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Connecting with Social Media

Using Social Media to Connect

Over the past few weeks we have been making more of an attempt to connect with other teachers and students  blogging and using Twitter.

Teachers and students alike have been amazed at how quickly questions, requests and comments are responded to. We are slowly building the capacity to have theses conversations and interactions over Twitter and Skype and think we are going to focus on a couple of areas to start.

1. Language Arts - specifically writing and the joint writing of a story
2. Having our Eco-Squad connect with other elementary school environments clubs and exchange ideas

If there are any schools or classes that are looking for similar opportunities please let us know and we can explore learning together.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Library to Learning Commons

Library to Learning Commons

At St. Rita School we just received to fantastic news about a new initiative our school board has backed and we will start to implement in the very near future.

Eighteen libraries across the school board have been given $20,000 to help the school library transition to a Learning Commons for students.

This is incredibly exciting for our students, staff and community!

The whole idea originated from teachers bypassing the library with their students when they were looking for current resources to complete class work. Where were they going? The Internet of course! With this transition teachers and students will have the tools to easily access this up to date current information.

What does a Learning Commons Sound and Look like?

“As one enters the Learning Commons, the first impression differs greatly from that of a traditional library or
computer lab. Immediately we notice a completely flexible learning space where neither computers nor books
get in the way… the buzz in the air is both purposeful and casual and it is a mix of learners both adult and
student engaged in a wide variety of activities” (The New Learning Commons, pg. 6).

Some of the items we have been encouraged to purchase are:

  • netbook cart
  • eReaders
  • mobile devices
  • tablets

We are on a unique journey and are exploring all of the different avenues to help bring this Learning Commons idea alive to St. Rita.

Any thoughts, ideas or opinions would greatly be appreciated as we continue on this journey.