Using Partner Work and Conferencing in Math

A few months ago during my volunteering, my supervisor introduced me to the idea of Math Sharing Conferences in the classroom, and so far, it is one of my favourite ideas I’ve seen being used during Math. In a nutshell, the activity begins with the students being introduced to a new Math concept in the form of a whole-group lesson. Afterwards, they are presented with a set of 3-4 questions, to be worked on in partners (which have been strategically chosen ahead of time, based upon the students’ academic strengths and needs). The first 2 or 3 questions are designed to reinforce the main ideas from the lesson, and the final question is framed as an extra challenge for the students who finish their work early.

I love this idea for at-risk learners for 2 main reasons: (1) by working in partners, students are both able to split their work load evenly and help one another to problem solve, thus decreasing any stress or anxiety that they may associate with Math tasks, and (2) Once the class has been given ample time to work, the structure of the activity allows for time for the whole class to form a “conference group” and share their strategies with the entire group. This discussion session is great in my opinion, because it gives any interpersonal and verbal-centered learners an opportunity to shine, and it introduces the class to idea that in Math, everyone learns and works differently. I want my students to feel confident in their ability to solve Math problems, and to know that they can do so using an almost endless amount of different strategies. The conference portion of this activity is also a good time to reinforce growth mindset principles with the class, making it an excellent tool for helping at-risk children develop the resilience, determination, and self-confidence that they need to thrive in the Math classroom.

My Goals for 2017 as a New Teacher

Ah, January. The month of fresh starts, and newly created (and often broken) New Year’s Resolutions. This year, I am more determined than ever to achieve both my professional and personal goals (the former will be the focus of this post), and will use a number of different strategies to keep myself motivated over the course of the year. With regard to teaching, I have set 3 main goals for myself as a newly certified professional:

  1. Earn a spot on a supply list: This one is rather self-explanatory. I have recently done everything in my power to ensure that 2017 is the year that I receive my first-ever teaching job, and I will continue to keep my eyes open to other potential opportunities. I am so eager to enter the classroom as a professional, and feel as though I am well-prepared.
  2. Expose myself to a wider variety of educational technology: I am always looking for ways to become a more tech-savvy teacher, so I feel as though this is a good choice for my second goal. So far, I have learned about the following technology-related programs in my time spent volunteering:
  • Go Noodle: Go Noodle is a website providing interactive, kid-friendly games, songs, and activities, ¬†which my supervisor uses with her Grade 4s for their Daily Physical Activity (DPA) time. The kids love the fun, upbeat, interactive nature of all of its video content, and they genuinely enjoy singing and dancing along every DPA period. I think Go Noodle is also an excellent resource for “body breaks”, and can be used throughout the school day as needed.
  • Kahoot: Kahoot is a free website providing kids with game-based learning activities. I’ve seen it being used in the Grade 4 classroom several times, primarily as a review tool after a lesson, and/or before a unit test. The students love the interactive nature of Kahoot, and are able to play along on their tablets. I would definitely try it out in my own classroom!
  • Dreambox: In Math, my supervisor has recently begun using Dreambox with the Grade 4s. Dreambox is an online Math resource that allows students to independently practice the skills and concepts that they learn in class. I’m very intrigued by this resource for two main reasons. First, Dreambox teaches Math using a variety of games and engaging activities, which I am passionate about incorporating in my Math lessons as often as possible. Second, Dreambox allows teachers to tailor each student’s account to his or her ability and achievement levels (in a very subtle way), allowing each child to work and improve throughout the year at his or her own pace. This makes Dreambox a great opportunity to use independent work and differentiated instruction at the same time.
  • PlanBoard: I know that this website is likely very popular with students, but I was unaware of PlanBoard as a lesson planning system until I began volunteering with the Grade 4s last Fall. I love how easy the website is to use, and how organized it will help my day plans to be. I will definitely be using this once I finally begin working full-time!

3. Conduct professional research throughout the year on my free time: As a teacher, I would like to be able to inspire my students to become life-long learners, and I feel as though one of the best ways for me to do this would be to set a positive example, and remain one myself. Some examples of the topics I would like to learn more about this year are play-based learning, teaching strategies for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, mindfulness and meditation in the classroom, and preparing Intermediate students for the transition to high school. I am very passionate and enthusiastic about these areas, and eager to expand my knowledge and understanding of each of them.

What I’ve Been Up To Lately

Since September of 2016, I have been volunteering regularly in a Grade 4 class within my former public school. I have also applied to the supply list for my local school board (and received a job interview in November), but this volunteer position has been wonderful so far, because it is providing me with valuable classroom experience in the meantime.

My favourite part about this job is not only the amazing, inquisitive, kind, and funny children I’ve gotten the chance to work with in both small-group and one-on-one tutoring settings, but the teacher who has been supervising me each day. I am currently working with Mrs. Skinner, my own Grade 1 teacher, and the person who inspired me to enter the profession myself. Watching her teach from the perspective of a new teacher has been incredibly rewarding, and I have gained a great deal of insight into her classroom management techniques and routines, the power of strategic student grouping throughout daily activities, and into the processes and strategies that she uses when planning lessons and units over the course of the school year. Overall, this volunteering feels like a completely full circle moment for me, and I’m definitely enjoying my time at the school. I’ve met a number of supportive fellow teachers, been exposed to several new assessment and evaluation tools, and had the chance to start and maintain an ongoing resource bank, containing activities and ideas for my own future reference and use. This position has also reminded me to stay optimistic about my professional prospects as a teacher, and it has been a great, incredibly fulfilling first step in starting my career. I am so excited to see what 2017 has in store for me, and I will continue to post updates as they happen.

My First AQ/ABQ Experience: Summer 2016

Happy New Year! I know that I have definitely not been writing on this blog as I should be lately, but that is all going to change in 2017. I’ll be back to making regular posts, and today, I wanted to take some time to discuss my post-graduation experiences. I became an Ontario Certified Teacher, received my Education degree from Queen’s, and decided to embark on not only my first try taking courses over the summer, but completing my first Additional Qualifications (AQ) and Additional Basic Qualifications (ABQ) courses as well.

The first course I selected this past summer was Special Education, Part 1. As a whole, my favourite part of this class was having the opportunity to explore a range of educational topics that I am truly passionate about. As I have discussed in previous posts, one of my main goals as an educator is to improve the social and academic lives of students with special education needs, and to make going to school a positive experience for them; one that they look forward to each day, rather than dread. In one discussion-related task, I also had a chance to apply Dr. Richard Lavoie’s theories of equity (i.e., giving each child what he or she needs in order to succeed at school) ¬†versus equality (i.e., treating every student in exactly the same manner, regardless of their academic strengths and needs) to my writing, and this was incredibly fulfilling. Special Education, Part 1 was also my first experience with the phenomenon of online group assignments, and we were able to cover a very wide array of exceptionalities in a more in-depth way, making the course both informative and very eye-opening. Finally, one of my most important take-aways from the course was the in-depth knowledge and practice I received working with student IEPs, a skill that will be crucial as I prepare to enter my own classroom someday.

Next, inspired by my former placement students in Grades 6 and 7, I decided to complete an ABQ in Intermediate English. This course was exciting for me, as it allowed me to boost my confidence in my own ability to teach Intermediate learners, gain a great deal of new teaching strategies and ideas, and receive insight and advice from fellow teachers who are far more experienced in the classroom than myself. In addition, I learned how to create an implement a writing program in an Intermediate English class, and as a final assignment, I created my first detailed unit plan from start to finish, using Poetry as my topic (no surprise there!). I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in this course, and I am excited to be able to frame my English lessons in a way that sparks a sense of joy and curiosity in my own students. Overall, I would say with confidence that my first experiences taking AQ and ABQ courses with Queen’s University were very positive. The course content was engaging and interactive, and I was fortunate to have incredibly supportive and knowledgable instructors who were truly passionate about the subject matter. I also enjoyed the freedom to work at my own pace, and gained a very valuable professional development opportunity as a new teacher. I would without a doubt recommend these types of courses to my colleagues, and hope to take further AQ classes later on in my career.