Saturday, December 8, 2018

Don't Forget Rome!

Greetings Travel Seekers! Are you planning a trip to Italy but contemplating leaving Rome out of your itinerary? Well this blog post will certainly argue otherwise. When we were planning our honeymoon destination, some people tried to strongly advised us from going to Rome. If we had listened, we would have missed out on one of the most breath-taking and romantic places we have ever been in the entire world!

Like every place, Rome certainly has its pros and cons. Sure, my boxed mac and cheese is better than the pasta you will have right outside the Vatican or the Colosseum. However, out of all the countries we have explored (and we have explored many), nothing made my jaw drop more --- literally... than the Colosseum. It is spectacular in size and architecture... it is a must see and please don't worry, the food is delicious once you travel down a road or two away from the tourists. Another con-sideration is you may be asked by some local merchants near the major tourist attractions to buy a selfie stick, a scarf or a bottle of water. To be perfectly honest, the water came in handy and in our opinion it all has it's charm... because you are in freaking Rome... and it certainly wasn't built in a day!

If you are looking for instagram worthy photos look no further than Rome. Every street corner has its charm and elegance. The architecture is to die for and the history is so interesting. My personal favourite thing to do was to walk across Rome all the way to the Vatican on our last day. It took us  14 hours round trip by foot, but that's accounting for our stops along the way to dine and get a foot massage on the way back. Do we regret starting our trip off with a hop on hop off bus? Definitely not, since it was how we got our bearings but once you figure out this place, Rome begs its visitors to soak in the history and culture step by step, rather than zip by in a car or bike. 

At nighttime, the lights come on, the nightlife begins and the sweet sound of Italian street performers wraps your heart like a warm blanket rich with the fabric of culture. No, we didn't get mugged and yes it safe. Just be mindful of your belongings and you will never regret visiting this amazing destination. 

Thank you for reading and don't forget to leave a comment below about how wonderful your vacation was when you return! To see more pictures of our Rome and Italy travels, visit my instagram account: @smithers_amy

With love, 

Amy xoxo

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Small Group Instruction in Math: The Math Daily 3

For some, math class can be an exciting place full of opportunity to engage in inquiry, problem solving & discourse. For others though, math anxiety as defined by Mark H. Ashcraft “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance” is their lived reality.

With Ontario's Renewed Math Strategy underway, Lake Simcoe P.S. has been identified as a "few" or "intensive support school". This meant that this year, Lake Simcoe P.S. educators did a lot of learning and relearning around the Comprehensive Math Program. This led a group of teachers to rethink their math structure and the ways in which they teach mathematics. This shift in practice has helped support our students in building their mathematical confidence, endurance and achievement. We believe, that these are the precursors in which will continue to help change anxious tendencies towards mathematics from our students.

Our learning began with some reading. From these texts we realized we needed small group instruction in mathematics.

We looked at the Daily 3 Math structure and adapted it to fit our school board's concept of a "Comprehensive Math Program"(Click here for more info). We also made sure that we applied our learning around self-regulation, zones of regulation & mental health to help create safer, more inclusive classrooms with students able to learn. Our structural changes took some work upfront with our students such as co-creating norms, gathering resources such as math games and building a positive, safe math talk community environment.

Some considerations when changing your math structure might include:

  • Apathy (Is the math engaging/meaningful?)
  • Math Anxiety (What supports are being put in place to reduce this?)
  • Fixed Mindset Towards Mathematics (Are you teaching growth mindset in math?)
  • Social Identities & Bias (What conversations have you had with your class? What materials & resources are you using?)
  • ELL & Special Ed. (Are you implementing effective accommodations/modifications?)
  • Parent Attitudes Towards Math (What conversations are you having to move them along?)
  • Deficit Approach to Teaching Math (What skills do your students have?)
  • Classroom Environment (Is it flexible, is it responsive, is it inclusive?)

Some of the key learnings feedback from both staff and students from changing our math structure include:

Small group instruction in math is…
  • Possible across all grades
  • Essential especially for our students of wonder & for our struggling learners
  • Building mathematical confidence & reducing math anxiety
  • An opportunity to play with different manipulatives and strategies
  • Helping us with our assessment as learning (Observations & Conversations)
  • Making us reconsider our FOSNOT strings/number talks mini lessons- more effective in small groups?
  • Possible when students are engaged and provided choice with the activities they do during Math Daily 3
  • Getting other teachers in the building & across our board intrigued by its possibilities & potential
  • Enjoyable for students
For more information to help support your students in your math classroom go to:

Or Check Out:

Here are some pictures of what setting up the classroom environment involved. I have also included many images from my school below that are just a few of the inspiring strategies that have been put in place by either myself or other teachers that I currently work with. I hope these ideas will light a fire in you too!

Success Criteria
Math Games
Setting up the classroom

Norms for Collaboration
Student Choice
Math Talk Moves
Pedagogical Documentation

What 'zone' are you in?

Mental Health Check-in
Strategies for coping

Celebrate Differences (Culturally Responsive Pedagogy)
Learning Styles
Class Mantra
Zones Toolkit

Mindfulness Jar
Safe Space

Growth Mindset
Positive Messages - Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
Mindfulness, Deep Breathing & Fidget Tools
Mindfulness Cards & "Food for Thought"

Friday, January 20, 2017

Have a Math Night at Your School!

Just yesterday we had a fabulous turn out at our Math & Music Night. We decided a good way to bring families into our building was by asking families to come to the school to see their child's musical performance. Once parents came inside, they were greeted by two of our lead teachers at the welcome table. They provided families with information on when their child's musical performance will take place and a"math passport".
The math passport encouraged students to come visit each learning center and receive a signature. One students got a full page of signatures (and we rewarded effort with a signature, not necessarily success), they got a take home prize (pack of cards, dice, games to play at home with the family). Students had so much fun visiting each learning center. See more of the pictures below!
Each center was led by either a grade 8 student or a teacher. We were even fortunate enough to have our very own Vice Principal lead one of the centers!
We selected activities that were shared at the Annual Quest conference, activities we have done in our own classrooms, activities we learned about at staff meetings and activities that are aligned with our school focus (e.g. growth mindset). 

Some activities even encouraged parents to get involved!

The smiles on everyone's faces and the fun we all had made the whole experience so much fun to be part of! 

I hope this blog entry has you inspired! Thanks for reading :-)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Math Manipulatives Stigma?

“He is just not using the manipulatives!”

This comment is something I have both said and heard from my colleagues about our students. It is something that has me wondering about our mathematics instruction. I have learned through my journey in mathematics education that we need to intentionally select and/or offer manipulatives and models that can help support students in completing rich math tasks. I also have learned that we need to explicitly teach and offer a shared experience of using manipulatives rather than presume that students know how to use them and that they will. However, I am still puzzling over the fact that there are teachers out there doing these things and students are still hesitating or outright refusing to use math manipulatives. It has me wondering: Is there a math manipulatives stigma?

That’s when I started to reflect back on my own experiences learning math. I never used manipulatives. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. I used manipulatives when it was socially acceptable to do so, when we were using graphing calculators or when we were all using protractors, you know as an entire class…but definitely not as a free-thinking student. You never caught me dead busting out the counters or tangrams. In fact, I didn’t even know what tangrams were until I got into the education field and a rekenrek? You got to be kidding me! When I think of my education in elementary school, I only ever remember kids being encouraged or offered manipulatives when they struggled. I actually remember being discouraged from using counters if I already had rote counting down.

Jo Boaler’s current research supports students using their fingers to count. This is fantastic and I hope it will help make a lasting shift in mathematics pedagogy. But is it enough to break what I am proposing as a real problem in our mathematics classrooms today: Math manipulative stigma? That I am not so sure. I know I had a genuine fear that my peers would identify me as “dumb” at math if they caught me using them. I felt that if I touched manipulatives I was “giving up”. I wonder if this belief is still widely held? I wonder if we educators have had enough conversations about this? And what about the parent community? What messages are we putting out to them as our partners in education? Have we offered enough experiences using manipulatives beyond the primary grades to our students in order to interrupt this kind of thinking?

With technology these days and web-based tools like “mathies”, manipulatives are becoming more and more accessible and in theory, also easier to disguise. Are students disguising their use of manipulatives? Are they hiding the fact that they are using their fingers?

So I pose this as my final question in what seems like a blog post full of them...

What can we do to help encourage and honour the use of manipulatives in our mathematics classrooms?

Friday, November 25, 2016

What's a Student of Wonder? Why Case Management?

The education system is highly influenced by the health care profession. So much so, that we have adopted ‘Case Management’ into our very own school system.  According to the National Case Management Network of Canada, Case Management is a “collaborative, client driven provision of high quality health and support services through the effective and efficient use of resources...”

What Does Case Management Looks Like at Your School?
Our administrators have created a Case Management period once a week where teachers will get internal coverage for their classrooms so that they can have the opportunity to sit together as a team of professionals and share strategies and resources to support their “students of wonder”. Teams will meet approximately 4-5 times in a year and follow the progress of their student from beginning of the year until the end, after implementing the feedback from the team.

What Qualifies as a “Student of Wonder”?
A student of wonder is someone in each class which is struggling to meet grade level either academically or in learning skills. The teacher has exhausted all accommodations and support they have in their toolbox and may feel “stuck”. However, a teacher has carefully selected this student because they feel they have the potential to grow and achieve, with the support/advice and problem-solving of the entire team’s input.

How is this any Different than an In-School Team Meeting?
These meetings are intended to be an intervention before pursuing the Special Education Track. Students of wonder tend to have a growth plan in place and are flagged incase further Special Educational support needs to be pursued.

What is your reflection of Case Management?
Last year, I brought forth a student of wonder from my SSC. My question of inquiry was: how can we as a team, support the successful transition of my student socially from the SSC back into the regular classroom on a full time basis? This student was meeting the academic goals and needed some extra support making the transition a positive one socially. I found that the team brainstormed many ideas and strategies I never would have come up with alone and I really found it beneficial for both myself, as well as for my student. This year, I have a student of wonder for a math class I am taking. Already in just 2 months, this student has "moved up the landscape" (I am referring of course to Cathy Fosnot's Landscape of Learning), through the subsequent tasks my team and I have created.

 As a facilitator of Case Management this year in my school, I enjoy having the opportunity to sit in on each meeting and with each team of teachers. I am learning how to refine my guiding questions for team members and learn many more strategies to support our struggling learners along the way as well! My hope is that more schools jump aboard the Case Management train, because it is well worth the time! :)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

McMichael Art Gallery: VOICES Program

It's almost approaching a year since I had the amazing opportunity of being a staff supervisor for a group of 15 grade 5 & 6 students from LSPS who got a chance to participate in a 6 week art intensive program offered by McMichael Art Gallery, last January and Feburary 2016. Our school was lucky enough to take part in this “Visual Outreach Initiative Creating Empowered Students” (V.O.I.C.E.S.) developed by McMichael Canadian Art Collection professional artists/educators in partnership with YRDSB. 
The program is designed to engage students who would otherwise not be engaged in school and is an opportunity for them to be immersed in art curriculum as well as an opportunity to express themselves in alternative response modes. There was no art experience necessary for these students to take part. The program included 5 day  trips to the McMichael Gallery and one follow-up trip by the Gallery to our school.  

 I had a chance to bond with students that I wouldn't otherwise get the opportunity to know. I watched students who struggled to communicate advocate for themselves to voluteer staff  at the McMichael Art Gallery about their need for a "fidget toy" and do some on the spot teaching about themselves and their strengths and needs. For my students with exceptionalities, this program has meant improved social skills, self-advocacy and an entry point into the curriculum. The Arts is a way in which all of us can communicate what is in our hearts. 
 I watched students who struggled with mental health find a healthy outlet to express their emotions through using their sketchbooks and I saw the sense of pride and wonder on each of these students faces. I have received media release form consents to showcase the students on this trip and their journey exploring the gallery and various art forms. 
 I highly recommend this program and will let the pictures speak for themselves. Thank you McMichael Art Gallery for making a forever impact on our students at LSPS. Even a year later, the students and I still bond over the life changing experience. Thank you to Bonnie and Christina our art leader-facilitators and to Pauline who all helped make this experience possible!