Provincial Resource Documents Gaining Strength

I have been following the Ontario MathGains website for some time now. At first there were only limited resources available. Recently they have improved their website, and they now have some resources that are worthy of checking out.

A bit of background, the Math Gains website is part of the Ontario EduGains website, which was designed to improve teaching and learning in Ontario. When initially started, I believe that its primary focus was on math and literacy. It now appears to contain other resources, as well. There are support documents for differentiated instruction, assessment, evaluation and reporting, English language learners, and International languages, in addition to those for math and literacy. But I digress…

The Math Gains website has a variety of different resources available for teachers. First and foremost (in my mind, at least), are the resources that support the curriculum itself. These include the following:

  • CLIPS (Critical Learning Instructional Paths Supports) – These are web-based interactive learning modules for students in grades 7-12. Not all curriculum topics are currently covered, but new CLIPS continue to be added.
  • Links to the TIPS guides (Targeted Implementation and Planning Supports) – These guides are designed to help develop math instruction and assessment by providing teaching ideas and suggested questions to help foster an enriching math learning environment.
  • WINS (Winning with Instructional Navigation Supports) Learner Think Books – These appear to be draft versions of topic specific learning guides, designed for the student. There is a teacher’s guide as well.
  • Ideas for using manipulatives in the classroom
  • Technology Integration (with a specific emphasis on Geometer’s Sketchpad)

Within the learning resources, there are also links to Ontario Curriculum documents, EQAO support material, and a continuum for the math curriculum from grade 6 through grade 10.

There are a variety of other resources listed on the MathGains page that provide support for the learner, but I must admit, I have not explored them in depth.

But tomorrow is another day.

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Learning for One and All….the after story.

Not all PD days are created equally. Today’s rocked. Sometimes you leave feeling as if you have not learned any concrete strategies that you can implement in the classroom. Today I left with strategies in hand, and I have already incorporated one into my lesson planning for tomorrow.

As mentioned, our session today was on critical thinking. Our speaker for the day was Garfield Gini-Newman, a lecturer at OISE and a consultant with The Critical Thinking Consortium. He is the sort of speaker that you can listen to all day long, and continue to be intrigued with what he has to say. There were many interesting ideas, but here are the two that were the primary focus, and both are easy to implement.

The first revolves around how we frame questions and tasks. In his opinion, there are three main ways that we can do this. First, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that only require a recall answer, such as “What are genetically modified foods?” This type of framing does not require the student to analyze or judge the information, simply to retell it. Second, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that only require an opinion, such as “Would you eat genetically modified foods?” Again, the student does not have to analyze or judge, and quite often the answer would be linked to a personal like or dislike. Third, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that require a student to defend the answer based on a set of criteria, thus eliciting critical thinking strategies. For example, “Should we be identifying genetically modified foods in our grocery stores? Identify three criteria that help to defend your answer.” This type of question requires students to go beyond the research to examine the way we conduct ourselves in society. It requires an assessment of the health implications as compared to the increase in variety and enhancement of our food products. This type of framing requires students to assess our society and how genetically modified foods fit into our values .

An important point that Garfield mentioned – there is a time and place for the first and second type of framing questions and tasks. However, using those in exclusion of the third will not develop generations of thinkers.

The second “walk-away” strategy from the day was a list of the types of critical thinking questions and tasks that can be incorporated into lessons. They are as follows:

Critique the piece – Assess the strong and weak points of a person, product, or performance

Judge the better or best – Judge from among two or more options

Rework the piece – Transform a product or performance based on new criteria

Decode the puzzle – Suggest a solution to a problem

Design to specs – Develop a new product that meets a set of conditions

Perform to specs – Develop a course of action that meets a set of conditions

Currently my students are working on the evolution of systems. Tomorrow they will present a system that has evolved over time, and then offer their thoughts on what the next generation of that system will look like – a task they have already being working on. Without realizing it, in having them suggest how the system will evolve in the future, I already had them “Reworking the piece”. After today’s session, the activity does not stop there. They will also have to “Judge the better or best”. They will compare the different systems that are presented in order to decide which of those systems has changed society in the most meaningful way. For them, the first step will be to determine a set of criteria that defines, “What is a meaningful change to society?”

I can’t wait to see how it goes.

Posted by admin in General Education, The Learner, 0 comments

Learning for One and All

So tomorrow is a professional development day; students stay home to play, teachers go to school to learn.

And what will we be learning? The topic of the day is … critical thinking. We will be learning new strategies to help our students become more critical thinkers.

“And what does that mean?” you ask. It means that we want our students to be better decision makers, more capable of assessing the options presented to them. We want them to analyze and evaluate information, and to know that what they read is not always the truth. We want them to consider not just what is right in front of their eyes, but to extend their thoughts to that which they cannot see. We want them to learn these strategies now, and develop them over time, so that when they leave our doors they are ready to face the world.

Yes, we dream big.

So in the spirit of tomorrow’s day of learning, here are a few sites to help you begin your journey down the path of critical thinking.

The Critical Thinking Consortium – This is my favourite critical thinking site that I have found…so far. It has many different resources, course packs, and lesson plan. You can also sign up to receive a monthly digital digest full of strategies.

The Critical Thinking Community – I recently came upon this site, and have not explored it in full. It appears to have lesson ideas, professional development and conference information, and various suggestions for further reading on the topic.

If you know of other sites that are worth checking out, please share.

Posted by admin in General Education, The Learner, 0 comments

…and we’re back!

January 24, 2011

Yes. I am actually writing something.

No excuses. It is what it is.

Today’s subject is science. Even before we had our Smartboards installed in our classrooms, I have always loved using interactive websites for teaching. I send the students home with instructions to complete an activity on a website, and they go home actually excited to do their homework. What a great way to learn.

One of my favourite science sites is the PhET Interactive Simulation lab, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. There are simulations for physics, biology, chemistry, earth science, and math, too. You can search by topic or by grade level. Click on the section for teachers, and there you can browse the activities that others have submitted – activities which incorporate the simulations. Brilliant. Feeling generous? You can submit your own activities, as well.

The one that I have most used is the Circuit Construction Kit for the Grade 6 Electricity unit. I have created a set of challenges with parallel and series circuits, and I have the students try them out on the website before building the circuits in class. I have attached the worksheets that I created.

Go ahead, give it a try.

Series and Parallel Circuits Worksheets

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A Wake Up Call

Too often we get caught up in the daily grind. I love my job, but to do it properly requires many hours of dedication, both in and out of the school building. Sometimes weeks go by and I notice that I have spent the majority of my time marking, planning, and doing various other tasks, to the exclusion of family time. It is always a struggle to find the balance, as I mentioned in my last post many weeks ago.

Unfortunately, it usually takes a wakeup call of some sort to force us to put the most important things back on top, as was the case with me over the past week. A few health scares in my family quickly reminded me that I often work too hard and do not take enough time for myself.

 And so, with that spirit in mind, a few sites to help you appreciate life and to enjoy all this world has to offer:

 1000 Awesome Things

Because I work too hard, it does not take much to put a smile on my face. I don’t need huge vacations (although it would be nice) or grand gestures. Rather, I find the greatest pleasure in the smaller things – a funny comment from my son, a delicious bowl of ice cream, or finding the next great read. This site reminds us of the smaller things in life that can sometimes offer great pleasure.

 Fantastic Contraption

I love this site. Fantastic Contraption touts itself as a “fun online physics puzzle game”, and that it is. Get a pink ball into a goal zone by building contraptions to manoeuvre over/under/around various types of obstacles. Once I started, I was hooked for days until I had completed all levels. I introduced it to my grade 8 students, and they, too, were hooked.

 Kseniya Simonova’s Sand Art

I believe this was originally created for the show ‘Ukraine’s Got Talent’. The artist creates drawings on an illuminated sand table, and the whole process is set to music.

 The Lost Generation Reverse Poem

No words to explain…..go watch.

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Real Life Applications

The first few weeks of school have taken over my life. No surprise.
I am still trying to find a balance, but in the meantime…..
I came across this website through my Twitter network. Mathalicious tries to address the never-ending question of “but when are we ever going to need this?”. As teachers of mathematics, we know that there are many parts of the math curriculum that are easy to connect to the outside world. Unfortunately, there are other parts where we struggle to explain to students when the average adult would ever need that particular information. Mathalicious strives to take math curriculum subjects and connect them to the world in which our students live.
Upon entering the Mathalicious site, the first step is to choose a particular strand of the math curriculum. You are then taken to a series of activities that support that strand, each presented in a slideshow view. Under the slideshow are additional resources for the user, including the big ideas of the lesson, essential questions, and potential performance and assessment tasks.
Worth a few moments of your time.
Posted by admin in Math, 0 comments

Advise the Advisor

I have been appointed one of the middle school student council advisors for the coming year, and I have been looking for resources to support this endeavor. So far, this is what I have come up with:

1) Canadian Student Leadership Association

Here you can find various publications to purchase online, links, videos, lists of speakers, fundraising links, among other things. My favourite part of this site was the Idea Share Shop on the resources page.

This was a good starting place for me, but I was looking for handouts/booklets that I could access right away. There were a few resources that came up from different countries, such as:

2) Student Council Manual for Secondary Schools – Although I was looking for middle school resources, this manual had information about the function and structure of student council, the election process, planning meetings, and communication. There is some data specific to their school, but there is still relevant information.

3) Second Levels Student Council Resource Pack – This resource is from Ireland. It goes through the role of student council, how to set up a student council, structures, elections, operation, communication, and some activity ideas. Pretty good.

Surprisingly enough, these were the best resources that I found, despite searching the internet for over an hour. I can’t believe that is all that is available online. If you know of any better resources, I would love to hear about them. Direct message me at edusites2see on twitter.

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A Smart Educator

I have been very good at using my Smartboard to enhance my curriculum with interative websites, but I feel as if I could be doing more with the Notebook software. So I have been searching the internet for Notebook files that have already been created, that I can either use as is or make slight modificaitons in order to fit my needs. So far, this is what I have found:

1. Smart Educator Resources

This is usually the first place that I check. There are a few different ways to search. You can go into the SmartExchange, where you can search for lessons by keyword, grade, or subject. You can also search the lesson activities by country and related curriculum expectations.

2. Scholastic’s Interactive Whiteboard Lessons Page

Another set of Notebook collections.

3. Mathgains

From the Edugains website – they have added TIPS interactive whiteboard lessons. There aren’t many, but they have to start somewhere…..

4. There are also a series of blogs that you can find regarding Smartboard use. Here are a few to start you off….

Teachers Love SmartBoards

SmartBoard Revolution

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A Starting Point

In my quest to engage students and encourage them to think creatively and with inquiring minds, I have spent many hours this week reading blogs, internet sites, and tweets and listening to various TED talks. So far, these are my faves, in no particular order:
This site has extensive resources for K-12 classes with a focus on engineering, or how humans have designed our world. You can search by individual lesson, activities, or entire units. The plans are detailed, providing learning objectives, a materials list, background information for teachers, step-by-step procedures, and extension activities. Assessment ideas and worksheets are also given. All of these things are provided free of charge.
This site focuses on developing rich mathematics tasks. Once again, all resources are provided free of charge. It is based in the UK, so check out the key stage/age equivalencies on the help page. They put out a monthly publication with new tasks, or you can search the archives in the “For Teachers” section.
3. Sir Ken Robinson on TED talks
Humorous and thought provoking, he speaks about creativity, or lack of it, in educational settings.
4. Dan Meyer on TED talks
Asks us to consider a new perspective on teaching math – check out his blog when you are done.
Posted by admin in General Education, General Science, Math, 0 comments