This would have been the 40th anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, and allowing COVID to disrupt Terry’s legacy seems incredibly wrong, especially when those who are living with cancer are among our most vulnerable. With no assemblies this year, and no mass gatherings, how to run Terry Fox Day at your school will require a little ingenuity!
Here is one way that you can bring the Marathon of Hope to your school:
Instead of a mass run on a single day, turn it into an extended event. Each class walks or runs a route (the distance around the outside edge of our field is 300m, for example) daily or every other day and records how far they have run. Those totals are recorded by the class and submitted to your Terry Fox lead, who can either record the total on a map of Canada, or on a simpler chart. A cut-out of Terry running along a distance-marked length of road would be a great visual as well. You don’t need to be completed by the “official” Terry Fox run day… given the late and complex start to the school year, extending your Terry Fox run/donation time by a few weeks makes sense.
Can your school make it the 5373 km to Thunder Bay? If your school is smaller, you may want to choose a shorter distance… it’s 3101km from Thunder Bay to Victoria, where the Marathon of Hope was to have ended. If you have a large school, maybe you want to try for the full 8474km distance across Canada.
This activity has the advantage of fulfilling DPA requirements, and getting your classes outside into the fresh air! You can also use it to review basic math skills and number sense in the class. For instance, at the Primary level, (our recommendation to our Primary teachers is to round three laps of our field to 1km), counting and keeping track of how many kilometres your class has run can be a great time to practice tens, ones, and grouping/counting by tens. At the older grades, keeping the 300m distance would mean that you can work on adding decimals and multiple of three. If you are having students do as many laps as they can in a given time period and having each student keep track of their own, I’d recommend handing out lap-tokens (I use popsicle sticks, but have also used plastic counters, which can probably be sanitized more easily) as students will tend to lose track of how many laps they have run. Alternately, to simplify your accounting, you can just have students each run 3 or 5 or 10 laps.
The Terry Fox Foundation has a theme of “What’s your 40?” for the 40th anniversary. You can check out in-class activity ideas here: https://terryfox.org/schoolrun/whats-your-40/ One idea might be for your Terry Fox lead to create 40km certificates and to post them up near your distance tracking as a class reaches 40km run. For every 40km after that, another certificate could be added (if, like us, you have 23 divisions, choosing a different colour for each subsequent 40 and layering them may be needed for space constraints!)
While many fundraising techniques (bake sales, for example) are not an option this year, the Terry Fox Foundation has online donation capability, making it easier for friends and family who are more physically distant to participate.
If your school enjoys a robust Terry Fox Day culture, with celebration assemblies and incentives (if you raise $XX, teacher A will do this… if you raise $XXX, teacher B will do this… if we get to $XXXX admin will do this), some of those incentives could be recorded and shared by the teacher in the classroom. This year, given the potential for family incomes to have been affected by COVID, we have chosen to attach the incentives to the number of kilometres run, rather than the money raised… however, we will be promoting fundraising in our school all the same.
Good luck to all BC schools as we continue to honour Terry’s legacy and continue his Marathon of Hope.
This is going to be one of the strangest starts to the year that BC education has ever faced. There are so many moving parts and as we go into this, so many of us are facing uncertainty and anxiety over what we should be planning for. Looking forwards, we can expect a few things to potentially occur, and hopefully planning for these events will help us feel like we have at least a tiny bit of breathing room.
1. Classroom community is key. Relationships are a huge part of what will make this year function, and it is important that this is where we start, even with the tension we will feel to push into curriculum when our teaching time is so greatly reduced by health and safety protocols or by compressed schedules in the older grades. The relationships will be what allow us to support our students through the changes that may occur over the course of the year.
2. Disruptions and switching between in-class and isolation at home is a distinct possibility. If the local health officer orders a classroom or cohort to isolate, we may have to switch on the fly. Just like we put together our “I’m too sick to plan for a TTOC” dayplans of emergency activities, have two or three days of emergency independent home learning planned and ready to go. If you happen to be able to update it as you go along so that it involves review of material you’ve already covered in class, that’s amazing… or it can be skill building and review of last year’s concepts. It will allow you the time to set up and switch over to your online classroom in a less rushed and panicked manner, since your students have meaningful work to occupy them while you make that shift.
3. Chances are, you may end up stuck at home with mild cold symptoms while you wait for COVID test results. It’s anyone’s guess what the TTOC situation will be like this year. Those “too sick to plan for a TTOC” day plans? You probably want to have two or three days worth of them ready to go.
4. Keep your safety a top priority. There are safety protocols that are required to keep us safe. Many of us feel that they are insufficient, but we need to remain vigilant in making sure that what protocols there are are followed. If your school/district is not following the PHO and WCB’s health and safety protocols, please document it and report it to your health and safety committee and, if that doesn’t garner results, to your Union local. If something feels off to you, contact your local for further support.
MyPITA will continue to advocate for reduced classroom density and extra support for teachers and students this year.
These games assume that students are playing within their learning cohorts, and that sharing some equipment with minimal handling is permissible (not touching their face during games, washing hands afterwards to minimize the risks involved). They are adapted to allow for lack of physical touching, but many involve periodic movement to within 2m. As with any time you are organizing physical activities for large groups, consider the diversity in your classroom and make sure to pre-teach or adapt for students who would need help fully participating in the activity.
1. California Kickball/Baseball
This game can largely be played as normal with some minor alterations to the tagging-out rules.
a. Each corner of the diamond is actually two bases, side by side. One is the base for the team at bat (the running base) and that is the one that the runner must tag to be safe, or in passing. The other base is for the fielding team, and that is the base they must tag to tag a player out.
b.) The only way to tag out a player is to tag the base. There is no tagging during the run or during a stealing attempt (you may want to remove the option to steal)
2. Zone Soccer (Human Foosball)
Set up your playing area in a grid (either drag your heel through the dirt to create the lines, use cones or use skipping ropes). Students must stay in their own square, though they can move around it. This includes keeping their feet within their square… no stealing the ball from another square. That will probably be the hardest part for your competitive players. You can either stagger the players, or simply use full rows of the same team. Depending on the number of students involved, you may choose whether to include goalies.
Play will be a little slower, as students try and make good choices on where to pass the ball, but you can increase the pace of play by either giving a time limit for how long people can hold on to the ball before passing, or by adding a second ball to the game.
3. Mini golf with balls or frisbees
Set up a series of “holes” using laminated numbers and hula hoops. Students need to complete the whole course while keeping track of their score (a great time to work on tally marks for younger students, and use the range of scores for mode, median, and mean for the older ones!) Break your class up into groups, and have each group start at a different number to begin with, meaning no long wait times or crowding. Balls in question could be kick balls, handballs, or even bean-bags.
4. Fitness circuit
Set up a variety of fitness challenges and have students rotate through them. Have students come up with stations that can be included and switch them out from time to time. Consider having stations be timed, so that it is “as many as you can in 2 minutes” rather than “do 30 jumping jacks” as that allows less downtime and means that students who struggle with a skill aren’t still trying to finish the number of repetition while the rest of the group is waiting for them.
5. Captain’s Orders
One person is the leader (Captain). They call out different actions for students to do. You can use the ones below, or make up your own. This game can be easily adapted to link to books you are reading (imagine, for instance, how you’d play this game with a Harry Potter theme) or even subject matter (bonus points to the science teacher who makes this game work for cell division).
Man Overboard - Everyone drops to a plank position
Captain’s Coming - Stand to attention and salute
Starboard/Port - Players run to the designated side of the room… (for the non-nautical, when standing on a boat and looking towards the bow, Port is to the left, Starboard to the right)
Scrub the Deck - Crouch down and pretend to scrub the deck
Swab the Deck - Staying standing, pretend to mop the deck
Climb the Rigging - Pretend to climb
Find North/East/South/West - Players point in the appropriate cardinal direction… great for if you’re doing cartography, and you can add in the in-betweens as well if your students are ready for it.
Polly Want a Cracker - Flap your arms and make parrot noises
Teaching is a profession that is an endless time sink. There is always something more we could do: our lessons could be more engaging; our worksheets could be more appealing; we could create more manipulatives for our math lesson; we could give more detailed feedback on those essays we’re marking. If teachers were given three extra hours a day, we could fill them with nothing but planning and still be wishing we had more time.
Teaching is also a profession that draws on your emotional energy. We teach because we care, and caring for so many young people means that instead of having one, or two, or three children we have thirty, or forty, or a hundred. Did Johnny have a lunch today? Was Mohamed able to find a friend to play with at recess? How is Xi Wen doing today with their mother back in China for another 3 months? Did Tina get enough sleep last night? How can I support Ryder’s mum, who has to work night shifts, to help Ryder complete their homework?
It is a daily truth for us that our students bring their home lives with them when they come to school. It is equally true that when we as teachers go home, we take our school day worries with us. This can be overwhelming, especially when our homes have their own stresses and as we are navigating the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We may have spouses, children, or aging parents. We may have health concerns, home maintenance issues, or budgetary constraints. We may have hobbies we never get enough time for and passions we feel we’re neglecting. And we often have the guilt that no matter what we do it is never enough.
Teachers are Super Heroes. We try to do it all, and often we succeed, but sometimes that comes at a very high cost. Compassion fatigue is endemic among teachers and can lead to serious physical and mental health concerns; in fact, approximately 1 in 42 BC public school teachers are on stress-related disability leave. We have to acknowledge that we are human and have respect for our limitations. Sometimes it is vital that we take off that super hero cape, look at what we’re doing, acknowledge a need to conserve our energy and say, “you know what, that’s good enough.” Could I spend another 15 minutes on this hand out and have it be perfect? Yes, but it’s good enough. Is this lesson exactly as I’d like it and covering all the aspects of the new curriculum I want it to? No, but it’s good enough. Did I respond to Rhett’s emotional issue in the way most likely to help them? Maybe not, but I tried my best and that has to be good enough.
We cannot be everything to everyone all the time. The good news is, we don’t have to be. We are one adult in the lives of the children coming through our rooms. We are one of many teachers they will interact with, learn from, and connect with. We don’t have to do it all, because there are others to share the load. So if we are in a place where we can’t be our best teacher self, if we only have the energy and emotional capacity to be “good enough”, that is, indeed, good enough.
Don't suffer in silence until it is adversely affecting your work or personal life. If you find yourself dreading coming to school and the emotional labour of the day, talk to your district or BCTF wellness contact. (https://www.bctf.ca/wellness/)
This blog entry is an article from a MyPITA Newsletter. Some minor edits are included.
Science in the Age of Covid Crisis Teaching - A simple experiment linking temperature to solubility.
Before we start: It is important to know that everything in the world is made up of atoms and molecules, which are tiny, tiny pieces of matter, so small that we can’t see them.
Solutions (and mixtures)
diffuse: to spread out in every direction
solute: the substance that is going to be dissolved
solvent: the thing (in our case the liquid) that the solute is going to be mixed into in order for it to dissolve
dissolve: to mix a substance (solute) with a liquid (solvent) so that the molecules of the substance diffuse through-out the liquid
A mixture is when you combine (mix!) two or more things together. The type of mixture we’re looking at this week is called a solution. A solution is a mixture where all the bits of the two (or more) things we’re mixing together are so thoroughly combined (mixed) that you can’t easily separate them any more.
Today, we will be looking at dissolving honey into water. When we are working with creating this solution, we combine together the solute (the honey) and the solvent (water).
Our question: How does Temperature Affect Dissolving Rate?
We are going to test what happens when we try and dissolve honey in three temperatures of water: hot, lukewarm, and cold. This will take some set up, and will require a little help from an adult.
You will need:
- three clear glasses or glass jars, and one more for chilling the cold water
- some tape or scraps of paper for labeling your experiment
- measuring cups and measuring spoons
- a way to boil water
- 3 clean spoons
- 6 teaspoons of honey (if you don’t have honey, you can use golden or corn syrup... if you don’t have those you could use granulated sugar)
- 6 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice
Read through all the instructions. After you have read through all the instructions, think about what you know or what you have seen in the past with liquids, temperature, and mixing things together. On a piece of paper, record your HYPOTHESIS (a hypothesis is a guess where you record what you think will happen and why). Your hypothesis might look like this:
The honey will dissolve fastest in __(hot/cold/lukewarm water)___ or
The warmer the water, the _(faster/slower)_ the honey will dissolve.
1.) ONE HOUR BEFORE - fill a glass with one cup of water and put it in the fridge to get really cold
2.) MEASURE 2 tsp of honey (the solute) into each clear glass/glass jar.
3.) LABEL the glasses with the tape/scraps of paper - “boiling”, “room temperature”, “cold”
4.) PREPARE the solvents (the water). Boil some water, get the container of cold water from the fridge, and run the kitchen tap until you get the water to a temperature that is lukewarm/tepid (this means that it isn’t warm but isn’t cold either).
5.) POUR one cup of each temperature of solvent (water) into the glasses containing the solutes. (Get your adult to help you measure and pour the boiling water) DO NOT STIR (yet).
6.) OBSERVE the solutions. Which solvent dissolves the honey the fastest? Next? Last? You can test how well the solvent has dissolved the honey by using a (clean! don’t double dip, because we’re going to use the solutions for something else in a minute) spoon and getting a little bit of the solution out to taste it.
7.) STIR the solutions. How does that affect your experiment?
8.) RECORD your observations and check your hypothesis. Were you correct?
In Science, it’s important that we report out our findings. You will be handing in your findings to Mrs. Slack. She would like the following:
1.) Tell me what your hypothesis was.
2.) Tell me what you observed after you poured your solvents in the jar. What happened after you stirred the solutions?
3.) Why do you think the different temperatures changed how the honey dissolved?
Usually, there’s an important rule in Science and it goes like this: Don’t Eat the Science. However, this is a special science experiment that is designed for you to be able to consume it. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice to each glass. Stir, add ice if you want to get it nice and cold, and enjoy!
Recently, I was reading through an article on using Electronic Portfolios and my mind kept coming back to student self assessment. There are several elements of self-assessment that I have been turning over in my mind in the past few years, especially as we move more fully into the new curriculum.
1. Student self-assessment tends to be accurate.
In my experience, this is true. In fact, I’d argue that students are usually harder on themselves, when it comes to assessing their ability levels and performance, than teachers are. This, however, relies upon the teacher having provided clear criteria for what the learning objectives are and what success and mastery look like. If I was to ask students to grade themselves with letter grades, the results would be all over the place because letter grades have little to no real attachment to the reality of learning. Students are generally pretty accurate when given a rubric, however. The most interesting to me are those where there is a complete, serious mismatch between the student’s assessment of their ability level and that of the instructor. In almost every case, those have been red flags for me that the child involved should be seeing the school counsellor. In general, it has been either a method to protect a child’s fragile sense of self/adequacy (when they seriously overestimate their ability level) or an indication of depression, trauma, or severe lack of confidence (when they seriously underestimate their ability level).
2. Self-assessment leads to metacognition regarding the learning process.
This is one of the reasons I love having students work with me to create a rubric. It is a long process, and one where we can push into what learning actually means and what it looks like, beyond performance/hoop jumping. We can also discuss using rubrics as a means to push your ability levels. What I find interesting, however, is how much motivation plays a role here. When given a rubric, there are often students who, even when the jump from minimally meeting to fully meeting takes only a minimal amount of effort, will produce at the “minimal” level.
I’m really intrigued, lately, by the rubric format that my post-bacc diploma professor Kevin put forwards:
This model doesn’t give examples of how elements of the criteria might exceed or not yet meet the expectations of the assignment. Instead, it is up to the student, if the work doesn’t fall into the Meeting Expectations column, to indicate how it goes beyond, or falls short, of the assignment criteria. It has students putting in the effort to examine their own work and decide how they can expand it, or where they need support to be successful.
This will require explicit teaching of vocabulary to our ELL students, however, as they will need practice in being able to articulate how things are expanding or developing. So will all students, however, as this is a new form of assessment for them, and will require a fair amount of whole-class and partner practice before they can manage it accurately themselves.
I'm looking forward to trying this out with my class.
Jennie Slack is a grade 4/5 teacher at Chaffey-Burke Elementary School in Burnaby, and is president of MyPITA.
I know. You are so busy that your head is spinning. You have just handed in your final progress reports (maybe) and you have 3 field trips to go and I come knocking on your door or send you an email. Ugh. I am the LAST person you want to talk to.
Who am I? Your school Learning Support teacher or Resource Teacher or whatever your school district chooses to call the person who supports the students in your school who need that extra help. I am usually part of your school based team (SBT) and we have been busy too. One of our jobs is deciding where the best fit is for those students for next year.
.....and we picked you!!!!! You will have one or more students with IEPs in your classroom next year. This may be new to you or maybe you have done this many times but I just want to encourage you to start planning ahead for next year using a different approach.
Maybe you have heard of Shelley Moore? If not, you can google her while you are sitting on the beach. I just want to suggest that over the summer you consider using her approach: planning for those students with different learning needs FIRST and all else will follow. Kind of a mind-altering concept! Here are some suggestions to do that planning.
My first suggestion is to visit SETBC's online self-directed course called Curriculum for All. There are five modules that attempt to answer the following question, "How can we, as educators, strategically and collaboratively plan to provide an inclusive learning environment for all students, regardless of grade, content or cognitive ability?" The course was developed by Shelley and is full of great information and ideas for planning an inclusive learning environment. It will fill you in on the why's and the how's!
My second suggestion would be to go directly to Shelley's blog "Blogsomemoore - Teaching and Emplowering ALL Students". She has handouts, videos and other resources you can go through that will give you an overview of her ideas.
My third suggestion (if you already have an idea of how to do this and want to get right to work) would be to go to her Template page. Here you will find, free for your use, all the tools, templates and strategies to get going. For example, she has the Class Review template (Brownlie & King, 2000) which will help you get to know your students and the Unit Planning Pyramid to really be able to use our new BC Curriculum with your whole class.
My last suggestion would be to talk to this year's teachers before you leave for the summer and perhaps even arrange for a visit for your new students to your classroom if at all possible. Yes, things may change over the summer but the more you know about each other ahead of time, the easier the September start will be. You could even put together a short picture story telling your new student(s) about what the first days in your classroom will be like.
My role as a Learning Support/Resource Teacher is to help you every step of the way. Please ask me questions and invite me to come in. If I don't know an answer, I will find out. Together, we can make next year the best year ever for ALL your students.
Have a wonderful summer, I know you have earned it!
Written by PITA Executive member, Jan Palmer - District Behaviour Support and Intervention Teacher, New Westminster School District.
Last Wednesday was International Day of Pink. In honour of that day, I included a lesson on diversity, both gender and otherwise, and the importance of feeling comfortable in our own skins.
I try and include SOGI themes and diversity themes throughout the year, so my students are familiar with many of these ideas and the terminology already. Our conversation didn't go particularly indepth, but some of the artwork it created for our display board showed these lessons have really started to percolate into their understanding.
I used Michael Hall's lovely book Red as our discussion starter. For those not familiar with the book, it is about a crayon who is labelled "Red" at the factory, but who is actually blue. It is about how, no matter how hard they try, they can't successfully be red. It is about all the others who try and help them, and it isn't until someone asks them to be blue that they finds out how good they are at being blue, and how happy it makes them.
It's a great story to use on multiple levels; it is a great illustration of a transgender individual, but it can also be used to illustrate other internal and external stress factors as well. The discussion in my very multicultural grade 4/5 class also included how sometimes different cultural and religious expectations can make us feel like we're not the person others would like us to be, either. Our discussion talked about the complexity of who we are on the inside, and how that doesn't always match our outside, and that part of being happy is to see and understand what is on our inside, even if it isn't always visible.
I then provided students with a sheet of paper, on which were drawn three black-line crayons. Their task: to colour them in however they wanted. They could make a crayon that showed them, if they wanted, but that wasn't a criteria, as who you are on the inside is a very private thing that is shared only if you want to. They could do all three crayons with matching insides and outsides if they wanted (I had only one student who did this, from a fundamentalist background).
The results were colourful and creative.
There were a lot of crayons where the insides matched the outsides.
And there were a number of quite creative ones, which showed an understanding of our classroom conversations.
It is a colourful world indeed; and our students are moving into it with a better understanding of how complex people are. Everyone is different, and that is okay.
To keep students trying, comment on the process more than the product. This is the message of Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. Learning is iterative (a bit at a time) – encourage trying, learning to stick your neck out, making your “best” mistake. Below are some possibilities for different stages of learning.
The contrast is between the Fixed Mindset and the Growth Mindset. In the fixed mindset, students believe their intelligence is fixed; in the growth mindset, they believe they can influence their intelligence. In the fixed mindset, effort is seen as negative because the point is for achievement to look effortless; in the growth mindset, students see effort as positive. “Look how hard I am working.” With a fixed mindset, students get frustrated and quit because they don’t understand something immediately; with a growth mindset, they are resilient and keep going.
What to say if something was easy:
• Do not praise speed (or intelligence).
• That was too easy for you. I think you need something more challenging. I
don't want to waste your time.
• You deserve a challenge.
• I’m glad you have the material down pat. Now let’s have fun with a challenge.
What to say if you want the student to try harder:
• Do not say, “This should be easy. Try harder.”
• I’m proud of you for not giving up.
• School can be difficult. That shows you are learning.
• Look at how much progress you have actually made.
• If it’s easy, you are not learning.
• Tell the student to say, “I don’t know it – YET!”
What to say if a student is still struggling:
• Do not say, “That’s OK. Math (or whatever) is not your thing. Your strengths
• Other people may have had invisible experiences you haven’t had that makes it look like they learn it faster. Remember, the duck looks like it is gliding on the water, but under the water his legs are paddling like crazy.. Maybe you played Minecraft and they played Math Blaster – it’s practice or experience they have had that you can’t see.
• Let’s break it down into smaller problems.
• Let’s try a different strategy.
• No babies can walk at birth. They all learn to walk at different times, but they all walk. Hundreds of millions of neurons is not enough – trying, learning, working that brain – that’s what does it.
While I love simple models, I mostly love the research behind the model – a study that demonstrates the truth of human behaviour that has been found. It makes me confident that what seems practical, and useful, really is so. This study showed the kind of effect we can have over the student mindset by just what we say.. It started with the classic three groups. Each of the groups had a fairly easy non-verbal puzzle to solve.
Group 1 was told - “Good score.”
Group 2 was told – “Good score. You must be smart.”
Group 3 was told – “Good score. You obviously try hard.”
So far, so good. The next puzzle was designed to be very challenging with no comments for the student upon completion – whether successful or not.
For the third puzzle students were asked, “Would you like a puzzle like the first one, or a more challenging one like the second?”
Group 1 - had a mixed response. Some chose the challenging puzzle, some the
Group 2 – almost all chose the easier one. The object in these students’ mind was
no longer solving the puzzle. It was now being perceived as smart.
Group 3 – almost all chose the more challenging puzzle. The objective of these
students was solving the challenging puzzle and being perceived as
So now I’m off to work hard, without believing that achievement is all about intelligence, and that I have a fixed amount of it – without ever quitting. Have fun with your students!
- Diana Cruchley
Countries vs. Continents: A question from the New Teachers Conference
By Melissa Salter (gr. 4-7/SD#41)
The New Teachers Conference is a wonderful place for early career teachers to make connections and learn about what supports are available to them. While manning the myPITA table, I had many wonderful conversations and answered lots of questions about conferences, workshops, and supports. One student teacher asked a question that at the time, I was not able to answer, but now I think I have a few suggestions. This early career teacher said to me, "My students are confusing continents and countries, do you have any suggestions to help?" Her initial instinct was to give them maps to colour, but it just wasn’t working.
This question speaks to the heart of many issues in Social Studies and Science. We are often trying to teach students about concepts that are large in space and/or time. We know as educators that hands-on learning and active engagement are vital for deep understanding, so how to we take abstract concepts and solidify them in the minds of children? This student teacher has stumbled onto a larger issue that has sat with me for about a week, and I think I have a few ideas to help now. As I am currently on maternity leave, I can honestly say that I have not tried all of these specific ideas in my class, but I have worked with all of the processes using different subject matter with success.
Understand the Topic Yourself
First and foremost, you as the teacher need to understand the concepts to the best of your ability. If you understand the key idea that differentiates a topic, it will allow you as a teacher to help students understand the idea. This might mean looking in a textbook, the dictionary, and at reputable online sources. Looking at several sources can help you understand the most important aspects, differences or similarities between concepts and identify what might be challenging for students. Identifying the challenges can help you as the educator identify what needs to be concrete or hands-on in your lesson.
Example: Continents vs. Countries - Understanding the Topic
Continent: one of the main landmasses of the globe, usually reckoned as seven in number (Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica).
Continent: one of the six or seven great divisions of land on the globe
Country: a state or nation; the territories of a nation
Country: a political state or nation or its territory
What might be challenging for learners about this topic?
Concept Attainment- Beyond Monet
Beyond Monet is a text resource I used in my early career that has many interesting points and good strategies for cooperative learning. The concept attainment lesson suggests giving both examples and non-examples in order to help students’ define/create understanding of a topic. A clear description of this idea can be found at: http://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/strategies/how-to-teach-with-the-concept-attainment-model/
Additionally, I highly recommend checking out the professional resources in your school library or finding a copy of Beyond Monet for clear descriptions of how/when to use many graphic organizers and/or cooperative learning strategies.
Analogy- Hands-on please!
With large concepts like countries and continents, analogy can be a powerful tool to create concrete understanding. If you can explore a kinesthetic link as well, this will create a powerful memory in the brains of learners.
Example 1: Continents vs. Countries- Jigsaw Puzzles
Visit your local primary class and nicely ask to borrow 5-7 jigsaw puzzles. Try to get puzzles with a different number of pieces and some that are different sizes (6-24). In groups, ask students to first put the puzzles together and give the puzzle a title. Next have them write down facts about the puzzle on a white board or chart paper. Have them focus on quantitative data like size or number of pieces. (Adaptation - Prepare a fact for students who will find this challenging and make sure they have the opportunity to share it with their group.)
Create a chart on your white board or smart board with data from all groups. Ask the students to make comparisons based on the data, maybe even two column notes as a group. Introduce the idea that the entire puzzle is like the continent and the pieces are like the countries. Challenge the students to identify ways the pieces are like countries (example: each has a border) and also how they are different (example: borders can change). Create the same challenge for the continent level (example: some large continents have many countries, while others have only a few). You could follow this up with mapping exercises, or discussions on political instability. The possibilities are endless!
Example 2: Continents vs. Countries- School Diagrams
Give each student a piece of blank paper (14 X 8.5 is my suggestion) and ask him or her to take out 2-3 different pencil crayons and a pen or pencil. Have the students fold the paper hamburger style and label the sides NOTES and DIAGRAM. Give students two minutes to sketch a bird’s eye view outline of your school on the diagram side with one pencil crayon (Outline=Continent). Then ask your students to use the second pencil crayon to draw the rooms within the school (Rooms=Countries). Again, encourage group discussion on how each room is different and has different functions, which may have analogies to different countries. This could even lead to a discussion about how countries within a continent can work together (examples: NAFTA, EU, school play) or against each other (examples: war, school competitions). The analogy can be extended as classrooms change every year you have migration, changing borders, or complete new regimes (a teacher moving schools!). This conversation could go quite deep depending on your grade, scaffolding, and background knowledge. Brainstorm other schools in the area as this could lead to discussion about how different continents have different divisions, concentrations of people, and/or philosophies. Use the diagram/notes columns to record a key, add ideas, and make comparisons.
(Adaptation - before the lesson create your own diagram as a visual to those students who need it (see photo above). Prepare and photocopy two versions for students who need extra supports - one where the student can use two different colours to outline the school and classroom and another where the school outline is provided and they can draw in the classrooms. Notes can already be added and highlighted by the student.)
Cross Curricular Links
Linking ideas across the curriculum (1) makes our lives as teachers easier and (2) creates more strands of understanding for students. I find that there can be many links made between concepts in Math, Science, and Social Studies. Often in Social Studies, students are reading graphs and trying to interpret data. This is a wonderful time to reinforce ratios, percentage, and how data is represented. Language Arts can be found through small group discussion, simulations, and written response. You could focus on non-fiction writing through comparison or stick with graphic organizers and group discussion.
Conclusions- Deeper Understanding
For many topics in Social Studies and Science, the concepts are intangible or of a scale that is challenging for learners. It is our duty to find ways to bring conceptual understanding to students in an engaging way. I have used many cooperative learning strategies, as well as analogy, simulation, acting etc. to deeply explore ideas. Sometimes it works, other times it does not and I try something different the next time. The simple question from a student teacher at a conference made me think about concept based learning and I feel bad I could not answer her question fully at the time. My hope is that these ideas reach her, and if not her, someone else who needs them. I encourage you to take risks as a teacher and push yourself beyond what you have tried in the past when exploring the redesigned curriculum. I challenge you to have fun, engage with students, and watch the magic of connection. I'd love hear your comments back about what worked and what didn't work in your classroom.