Monthly Archives: January 2014

In Defense of My Math Program

I’m feeling very defensive right now.  About my profession and my practice especially when it comes to my program planning in the area of math.  I feel the need to shout out and stick up for myself and my colleagues.  There’s been a lot of buzz and talk on my Twitter and Facebook feeds about the 4 Million dollars the Ontario Government plans to spend on training teachers on math and I’ve read a few opinion pieces about why your kids are bad at math and what your kids aren’t learning at school and while I certainly cannot speak for every educator I can speak up and stand up for myself.

The students in my math class are learning basic foundation skills. Contrary to what you may have read or heard.   On the advice of my husband, Phil Young a grade 7 teacher, I front end loaded a lot of Number Sense skills in the Fall.  A big focus on counting, addition and subtraction and I didn’t move on until I was fairly confident a great number of my students were ready to move on.  This front end loading was a new way of teaching for me and I’ve seen amazing results.  I introduced multiplication today and one of my students shouted, “hey this is just like when we counted by 5’s in the fall!” and another said, “Ms. Lewis-Young I figured out if you can add you can multiply”.  My experience in the past was my Grade 3’s just didn’t “get it” when I introduced multiplication.  Never have I had so many heads nod yes when I asked “are you with me?”

Foundations, and basics are key in math.  But so is open ended, real world problem solving skills.  I expect my students to come up with strategies to solving problems and we always discuss and share our ideas so that they can be exposed and see other ways of approaching something very often my students come up with a strategy that I didn’t see.

I put a lot of effort into planning quality lessons for my students.  I rely on my Twitter professional learning network (go PLN!) and colleagues to bounce ideas, give me tips and suggestions.  On average I stay up until 11:00 each night planning  my lessons.  While it isn’t always math often times it is because historically math isn’t my strength so I want to make sure I’m doing a quality job.  How did you spend your Saturday evening? Maybe you went to a hockey game or had coffee with friends?  I planned out my unit on multiplication and division.  I take as many opportunities for professional learning in math as I can get my hands on.  Again through my PLN and Professional Development through my board.  I had a fantastic opportunity this fall which focused on the 3-part lesson and collaborative inquiry process.  We even had math instruction by Marian Small during this PD which was a highlight for me in my learning career.  You can peek at some of this instruction if you check out the #mathwithsmall hastag on twitter.

I am not unique.  Several of my colleagues are as dedicated as I am and put as much effort into their instruction as I do.  I feel like teachers are being blamed for low test scores and results instead of figuring out why.  While I welcome the 4million for new learning opportunities I think it’s the wrong approach.  Maybe we should take a look at really dense curriculum and pare it down to basics and what foundations kids really need to know.  Maybe we need to look at kids themselves and figure out why they aren’t retaining basics and what we need to do to help them.  Maybe we need to focus less on standardized testing (ask any grade 3, 6, or 9 teacher about the pressure of covering the curriculum by the time EQAO rolls around) and more on filling in the gaps students have in their learning.  Maybe Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) should have considerably less than 30 students in the classes so the excellent educators can focus on setting the foundations for success in math.  Maybe the Ministry of Education needs to turn to the people who are with the children Monday to Friday and ask us for suggestions instead of “retraining us”.

I don’t know the answer but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because I know I’m doing a great job.  The only difference is maybe I’m going to speak up and be a little bit more loud about it!

Mudroom Madness!

We fortunately have a small mudroom off the garage door entryway.  It wasn’t initially there on the plans well it was but it was much smaller and had a storage closet.  We removed the closet and took the second larger pantry out of our kitchen and flipped it into the laundry room.  This created a nice sized entry way.  However up until now it’s been an empty space.  Well not so empty it usually is a dumping ground for backpacks, coats, boots, hats and mittens.  Initially I would take all of those things after school/work and hang up in the front hall closet and then each night before I went to back take them all back out again and lay them neatly in the mudroom in each persons pile so that we would be ready in the morning.  You can probably understand why I stopped this routine.  

Originally I wanted a cubby/locker that incorporated the corner but my husband Phil said unless I was willing to wait until the Summer when we had more time off I would have to simplify my design and he was hoping we could also incorporate some Ikea pieces.  We found the Hemnes bridging shelves and instantly knew they were perfect.  The size was right, the price was too.  We could mount one up high for storage baskets to hold hats and mittens and one low with legs to act as a bench and a shoe/boot cubby.  I wanted it to have a custom look as well so I asked Phil to add bead board and trim between the benches and of course we needed hooks to hang our coats.  I was going to hang all coats at the same level but Phil suggested we put the kids hooks lower in the middle so they could hang their coats alone (way to encourage independence daddy!).  Visually, I like the way the different heights look.

This was so easy and inexpensive and exactly what we needed to finish the space and make it functional. Now I just want to add some decorative touches to the top (suggestions please) and on the opposite wall I’m going to hang a cork board and some hanging file folders.  

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After:

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A Place to Create

The quest to organize our house and create functional and fun spaces continues this week.  My husband Phil has done an amazing job putting things together for me but the room I am most proud of is our new craft room.

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In our old house we had a super functional craft room space that was set up in the unfinished basement portion of our house.  Keelyn spent many hours in that room and William was starting to use it too.  We set up a temporary space in this house but it was not very efficient so I dreaded when Keelyn asked to do crafts.    We decided that needed to change so Phil and I set to work.  Our new spot is set up in the front room of our house officially labelled the “den”.  To date, we’ve had it filled with our sofa from the old house we couldn’t sell and random boxes that we hadn’t unpacked because they were the boxes filled with things we didn’t really know what to do with.  Our plan for this space was to set it up as a really nice office for Phil and I as we’ve never had a great work space.  But what we want isn’t totally in the budget yet (not a priority) and we don’t want to just do something temporary office wise.  We also planned to do a small space for the children to have as a craft room, games room and when they are older homework space.  We decided to clean out the boxes and set up the room as a functional space for the kids.  We had all the shelving from our old house craft room so this wasn’t really an investment.  I did find a great round adjustable table from Kijji  for $20.00 only and I have ordered some colourful school chairs from School Speciality in singles.  The kids were lucky to get some Christmas money so we used it to get our chairs.  I’m so excited for the chairs to arrive as it will complete the room.  

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We also need to hang out Keelyn’s first painting and fame and hang William’s first and over the summer I found some large picture frames from Value Village that I spray painted green, pink and blue so the kids could display their own art work.  

Like the playroom, all materials are organized in bins so it makes tidy up time really easy.  We also hung a magnet/white board for each child which we purchased (previously) from Ikea right now they can play with it, draw on it, hang art work up and I figure once they are older it will be a great spot to hang homework assignments, and “to do” lists.  

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We also have a bar with cups from Ikea hanging for gluing materials.  Foam stickers, beads, popsicle sticks etc the materials never last long they get consumed by our little creators pretty fast.  I was going to put crayons and markers in the cups but my little ones are in the draw on the wall/table/floor stage right now so those are all in bins on a shelf up high until they are bigger. 

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I love, love this space.  It’s a lot of fun and super functional and will really grow with my children.  We are fortunate to have the room in our house for this but it’s not necessary.  A craft, creative space can be created in any small corner in any sized space.  Like I mentioned previously we made it work in an unfinished corner in the basement of our old home.  A bedroom closet would work, a corner in the living room or mudroom entryway would be perfect. The size of the space isn’t what makes it a functional space it’s how you organize it that counts!