Non-Standard Units of Measure

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to be a guest math teacher in one of our grade one classrooms. The grade one team was beginning to plan a unit on non-standard units of measure when I was sitting in on their planning meeting. I piped up that I know a non-standards unit of measure and I could teach a lesson about it.

Well one teacher took me up on the offer. So I taught a group of grade one students how to measure height in “hands”. The way that you measure a horse. This is something that comes almost naturally to me with my love and experience with horses!


I started out by showing them a picture of a friend and her horse. I talked to the students about what position a horse needed to be in to measure them, and that we measure to the withers. I then informed them that we don’t measure to the head and asked them why they thought that might be. They had many great answers, which were all a bit correct. They realized that the head moves too much to measure.img_7804

Then I showed them how we hold our hands to measure and that I happened to have
perfect hands for measuring horses, but that one of the smaller girls in the class did not because my hands were bigger.

I then measured one of the students to show them how it worked. We discovered that she was 11.1 hands tall. We talked about how we only measure horse’s height in hands not their width.

They then took a guess at how tall Henny might be. We had guesses from 8 hands to 20 hands! One student nearly had the right answer when she suggested 14 hands. I then showed them that Henny is 14.2 hands tall.

Finally, I gave them a list of things that we were going to measure and we talked about how to measure only the height and how to hold our “hands”. Then I set them loose on the room. It was very interesting to see all of the different measurements that they came up with for the same thing! They even had their teacher as the tallest person in the room which made her happy even though she is the opposite!





The Big Ideas with Heidi Hayes Jacobs


This week at our school Heidi Hayes Jacobs spent time with us helping the curriculum teams get to work on some of our projects. I was lucky enough to see her three different times.

The first time was with my design team hat. I am on a design team looking at technology in learning. Heidi sat with our group in this meeting and helped us to see some of the paths that we could take while pulling research for this team. As well as what some of the suggestions or prototypes could look like.

The main thing that I took away from this session was that we need to have good research and good examples to show. I think that the tricky part for us might be the research. Not that there isn’t research out there that will help us, but that it might not be obvious to other teachers why we chose a piece of research that might look like it has nothing to do with technology. I think the important thing will be to find a variety of research that supports the pedagogy behind a type of learning not of technology. For example finding research that shows that students learn effectively through independent exploration. Then, as a team connecting that to the role technology can play in independent exploration.

The second time I was with the curriculum council, which is a group of teachers from all curriculum areas. This is where I really got to see Heidi flex her curriculum muscles! Her main point was the one in the image above. What do you Cut? What do you Keep? What do you Create?

One of her points was that in order to bring your curriculum into the present and help it modernize, then you need to cut some things. Cut the things that have been done the same way for 10 years.

We have to look at the content, skills and assessments. We have to make sure that our curriculum is accessible. Remove statements like “Shows knowledge of, or Shows understanding of.” The curriculum must be full of measurable statements. Only then can you design assessments that will show that a child has achieved success in the curriculum.

The skills within the curriculum need to be actionable, scaffolded over time and described in specific terms.

Assessments are demonstrations of learning, tangible products, observable performances, observable evidence. They must also be varied.

As we were beginning work on mapping the curriculum to units of study Heidi discussed how the unit needs a big idea (in the PYP the Central Idea). Then it needs essential questions that help guide the student to understand the big idea. Thinking of these essential questions as “chapters” of the curriculum. The big idea is the title of the book and the questions are the chapters. They must be married to the big idea.

I think that the PYP does this well, though I do see that sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the content that is required by the curriculum and try to make essential questions fit both the content required and the big idea, when they don’t.

She also talked about the idea of bundling the curriculum. This is the idea that one unit of study can pull standards from other subjects. For example a MS Science unit might pull data collection and analysis from Math, explanatory writing from Language and citing sources from Information Literacy.

I know that this is the idea for the PYP but sometimes I find that it is too fragmented. I feel that many times that single subject teachers for example could pull more curriculum statements from a classroom teacher’s realm. I have tried to do this as an integrationist. I have offered to take over whole writing units only to be told by the classroom teacher that they would still have to do what they “normally” did. My hope is that teachers will continue to see how this can help both them and the students and they will give up the control a bit more to allow what is already happening to be explored and expanded.

The third time that I saw Heidi was during her keynote to the whole staff. I was active on Twitter the whole time that she was talking so I have linked my Storify here for you to read.

So what are my takeaways from Heidi? That I am at the forefront of a major shift in Education. My role as an integrationist makes me a key player in this shift. I have a lot of (Sorry, Ms. Spencer!) homework to do and several books to read.

I am looking forward to exciting times in education.

Lego Coding in Grade Three Final

For the final lesson the students edited their hand written coding draft looking for “loops”. When they found loopable text they rewrote it as a loop. Then they typed up their final draft. Here is an example of that final draft on a Google Doc.

One great thing that came out of this lesson was one of the teachers saying to me. “Wow, I could do this during my instructional writing unit next year.”


See if you can follow her code?

Grade 5 Art Collages

For Exhibition this year our Art teacher decided to have the students create digital collages. She got the idea after reading this post by Princess Arty Pants

The goal of the collages was to make a collage that would support the idea of raising awareness about their exhibition topic. This was the first time that she had tried anything like this before and as you can see there have been some amazing products that have come from it. 

Below you will find the collage that they made and the reflection that they completed to accompany it. 


One of the tricky things that she found was that you could only add 30 small images to the background at a time. This was overcome by the students saving the collage or taking a screen shot of it. Then pulling that first save back up as the new background and continuing to build the layers on top.


Using Explain Everything to Track Reading Progress

A couple of years ago I saw an idea of using Explain Everything to track reading. I have been working on getting teachers to try this since, but this year I managed to get it started in 3 grades. Each year we have 3 two week long assessment blocks. During those weeks I used my IT time to complete this project with the students. 

I recently finished up with the Grade Two class. It was amazing to see them whizz through putting their third reading into their Explain Everything in just one lesson. 

I have also been building these in grade one as well. Here is an example of two students. One who is in our EAL program and one who is not. I ask the EAL students to use their reading books given them by their EAL teacher since they are designed to build their English vocabulary and fluency.

I began in grade one by taking students one at a time out into the hallway with their books. We recorded the introduction slide and their reading. 

For the second round I had the students add the “March Reading” slide, take pictures of their books, insert the books into their project and record their reading through 3 guided lessons following me as I instructed them with help from a partner. 

For the third round I had the students add the “May Reading” slide, take pictures of their books and insert the books in one lesson. The following lesson I reminded them all of how to complete their recoding and send them off to record.

In grade two I had the students add the “October Reading” slide, take pictures of their books, insert the books into their project and record their reading through 3 guided lessons following me as I instructed them with help from a partner. 

The second time we recorded we were able to add the “March Reading” slide, take pictures of their books and insert the books in one lesson.

The third time I simply reminded them of what they needed to do and they completed it all in one lesson. 

I look forward to seeing one of these progress through another year as I think it will be an amazing sampling of how a student reads. 

Lego Coding in Grade Three part 1

The grade three teachers this year asked me to do some coding lessons as we had wrapped up most of our curriculum needs with all of the doubling up that I do at the beginning of the year. I thought to myself “Sure, and this would be a great time to develop the Lego Coding lesson out more fully.” So here it is. 

First, I started the students off by explaining that we were going to do a combined math, language and IT lesson. They all kind of looked at me like I was a bit crazy (but we all know this is true so they have learned to just roll with it!). I reminded them of the coding with legos lesson that they did in second grade. Then I told them that we were going to do a more complicated version of it. We weren’t going to use symbols or make up our own language, but we were going to use “real” coding terms. 

I gave them each a base plate and six legos. They then had to decide on their starting positions. As you can see in this picture. Each group decided on their own arrangement for their starting position. The only rules were that no lego could be on top of another and they had to all be on the bottom half of the plate. 

Then they began some of the math elements by copying their starting position into their math books. Their book have 1cm squares in them and I told them that 1 square = 1 dot on the base plate. They had to make sure that their drawing matched exactly the position of their starting position. This took the rest of the first lesson to get correct. There were lots of students at this point making connections to doing coordinate point work in previous math lessons. 


The next lesson that we had I introduced the coding language terms that we would be using and asked them to record them in their books. I choose some simple terms to get them started. We had a discussion about which direction forward and backward were on the base plates and when lift and set would be used. Also how “turn” would have to be combined with “rt” or “lt” and have a number added. I had an image on the board showing what 0 – 45 – 90 degree turns of a rectangle looked like. 
Then we started with the first line of our code. I explained to them that they needed to put a # then a sentence telling their “computer” what materials they would need to get started. We quickly realized that 4 dot Legos could come as squares or rectangles. So, we discussed how they could be described so that the “computer” collected the correct Legos at the beginning. They learned that lines that begin with # are things to read not do. They help the “computer” understand the instructions that are coming in some way. 


Then they set about coding. They were only able to code a few lines before the time was up and what was really nice was the “ahhhhhs” that I got because they had to stop. They wanted to continue! It was great. 

The this week they got on with more coding. And again they didn’t want to stop. They wanted to finish their first draft, which most of them did. 

My plan is to have them “edit” their work like a piece of writing. The first edit will be for “Does it work?” which they will do with each other. As some of them have already found out, they aren’t’ always correct in their first draft. 
Then I have taught the ones that have finished how to make repeat loops in their code. Then they went through their code to find places where they could use repeat loops and they rewrote those sections. 
After the on paper edit, I am going to have them type up a Google Doc that has their code in a published format. I will have pictures of that part on my next post. 

Coding ACS Egham

I love the times when an idea for a lesson comes together like what happened in my Geek Squad today! As we were walking back to the lab one of the Geeks started stating everything we were doing, that turned into my “coding” while we walked. I was calling out what I was doing as if it were code. 

When we got back to the lab I decided to have the Geeks code the school. I gave them each a clipboard, paper and a pencil. Then I gave them a start point and a destination. 

They then set off to code their way to their destination. They worked in partners to write their code.

When they came back confident that they had finished their code, I tested it for them! And we found a few mistakes!

Some of them tested their code themselves before they asked me to test it.


 While I was testing I spotted one of our grade five students waiting for a music lesson and roped her into helping with the testing process!

When they thought they had their code correctly written I asked them to type them up in a Google Doc. Each group approached the writing of the code differently. As you can see they each approached the “walk” command with a different technique and varing degrees of success!



Then the parents arrived to pick them up. By then I had printed copies of their code. They showed their parents their starting location and off they went!

I have to say this lesson has been one that I will remember. It was fun, engaging and challenging for the Geeks. I even had one throw in an “if this, then that” statement into their code!

If I get the chance to introduce coding as a replacement for instructional writing this would be one of my lessons. I also think it would be a great first week activity. You could match the new to the school students up with the ones who knew where things were and send them out to code. Then they could follow each other’s codes.