Category Archives: Developing and Facilitating Leadership

We Integrate Language Development and Critical Thinking

I believe my “French Immersion appreciation” roots began to grow during the first 15 years of my teaching career; working alongside my French Immersion colleagues at Legal School, I began to see the benefits of the program. My roots grew even deeper with my daughter’s K-12 schooling in the French Immersion program in St. Albert Public Schools. These experiences laid the foundation for my work of supporting the French Immersion program in Parkland School Division. My own limited ability to communicate in French drives my desire to support French Immersion programming, wishing that I, too, would have had the French Immersion experience in my formative years.

Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year, Parkland School Division Grades 6-12 French Immersion teachers and students were deeply engaged in year three of our project, We Integrate Language Development And Critical Thinking (WILDACT). As the Curriculum Facilitator, I have the honor of leading and coordinating this 5-year project.

WILDACT has two main outcomes: increased student engagement (through critical thinking and assessment as learning) and increased French language acquisition. These two outcomes are interrelated in supporting student achievement in French Immersion classrooms.

This video captures the highlights of this year’s WILDACT journey.

Instructional Design ~ Should it Be a Bachelor of Education Requirement?

ADDIE model of instructional design

The promise of revised curriculum continues to taunt Alberta educators, and we continue to prepare ourselves for the unknown; I believe my English 30 teacher would have called this a juxtaposition! As part of my own preparation, I decided to take the online Instructional Design course from Mount Royal University.

I was roused by its description, as it seemed to align with the work I currently do, and I hoped it would also support my future work of supporting implementation of new curriculum. The course description read: Instructional Design– “Explore instructional design principles, characteristics of adult learners and their implications in designing an effective instructional program. Apply information about learning styles to the design of instructional learning outcomes. Write clear and concise performance outcomes and competencies in order to direct instructional design.”

Much of the information in the first 2 weeks of the course wasn’t new learning, but rather, strong reinforcement of what I already knew about learners and learning. To be given the opportunity to articulate my thoughts on paper and to have someone else read and find value in my thinking was very invigorating! Weeks 3 and 4 refreshed my brain with new learning, and I had a particularly strong “aha” moment that I described in this post on our online discussion board:

Aha!  Learning Outcome Statements are NOT the same thing as curricular learning outcomes!  Learning Outcome Statements (LOS) are derived from analysis of curricular outcomes; LOS articulate what the learner is able to do to demonstrate the learning.  In my experience as an “instructional designer” in the role of a teacher, the curricular learning outcomes were the drivers for designing my instruction, for designing my teaching, learning and assessment materials- yikes!

What an AHA moment when I realized TODAY that NO WONDER it can be an exhausting task for teachers to design these materials. Classroom teachers are not basing the design and development of our materials on strong LOS, we are basing them on curricular learning outcomes that may or may not articulate what students are required to DO to demonstrate their learning. We are designing and developing materials that have students demonstrate their learning, when we’re not really clear on what those performances need to look like. We’re missing a critical step between curricular outcomes and assessment tasks; i.e. developing Learning Outcome Statements! 

As a teacher, it seemed  easier to design and develop Language Arts and Math course materials when I used the “illustrative examples” and “achievement indicators” in conjunction with the learning outcomes. Well, it’s no wonder I found that easier! The illustrative examples are a logical “step” in the process of bringing vague curricular outcomes to life in the course materials, as they articulate what the learner should be able To DO as a result of their learning. As it turns out, the illustrative examples serve the purpose of the LOS that guide instructors to design and select effective learning strategies, learning assessments and materials that align with the specified curricular learning outcomes.

Why isn’t an Instructional Design course a requirement for the Bachelor of Education? It would help teachers be so much more efficient, effective and confident!”  

The ensuing comments for this post were evidence that my fellow educators in the course were in total agreement, and one even noted that she was going to write the Dean of Education a letter in this regard. The comments that resonated with me the most, though, were from two of the younger learners in our course, as they are written from the perspective of a student, and not from the perspective of a teacher.

Colt: “Being new to the field of education, it is great when others share their experiences with the group! I can recall being a student, and seeing curricular outcomes on course outlines, rather than a strong learning outcome statement. As a learner, it creates confusion when determining your personal level of success, and knowing what the needs are that you are expected to meet.”

Alena:  “I second that Colt. I’m still fairly new to education as well but after learning all these awesome things it makes me realize more and more that we are not using a lot of strong learning outcome statements in our courses to create a clear path for learners to know what is expected of them.”

Of course I spent WAY too much time on the discussion board, and even more time perfecting my assignments, thinking, re-thinking, editing, re-editing…  The estimated 15 hours per week turned out to be 30+ hours per week. On top of my already full work schedule, the addition of the course resulted in a very tiring 4 weeks without any down time- but the learning was so worth it and I don’t regret a minute of it.  New curriculum, I can’t wait for you to roll out- I’m ready for you!

Math Minds- An Innovative Project


Math Minds is a project committed to enhancing the development of numeracy skills in early years’ students. This post reveals some of the components of the Math Minds project, which I’m certain we’ll be  hearing more about as the project progresses.

Canadian Oilsands Limited has invested $3 million as part of a 5 year commitment in this initiative to enhance numeracy competencies in young students, and to build teachers’ capacity to do so. Much of the $ is being used to fund teachers’ professional growth. The participating school(s) will use Jump Math as the lens for instructional practice and programming. Jump Math is also learning along the way, and will work to enhance their program based on the findings.

The goal is for Calgary to become an “excellence in math centre”, and if successful, Canadian Oilsands hopes to be able to replicate this model in other areas of the country. The project is working to create a model school(s) where guests will be able to visit to see promising math practices in action. They also hope that the model school(s) can be place(s) where teachers can participate in a possible residency program for a year to build their capacity, after which time they would go back to their own school and be a lead math teacher.

In addition to providing the model school(s) with the Jump Math training and other professional development, part of Math Minds initiative also trains volunteers (pre-service teachers from the University of Calgary as well as members of the community) to tutor students after school using the Jump Math Tutor program, through the Boys and Girls Club. During the conference, I was sitting with 2 people who are math tutors at the Boys and Girls Club. They shared some of the successes they are seeing through the use of Jump Math.

Jump Math is a not for profit organization that has developed grades 1 – 8 math programs, for classroom teachers, tutors and parents.

Several speakers at the MathConnect Conference spoke about their work with Jump Math.

The University of Calgary is endorsing Jump Math, saying it is a good blend of discovery learning and explicit instruction. It breaks down the concepts and teaches the teachers themselves the concepts, so they can understand them in a deeper way, and in turn, teach them in a better way. It helps teachers determine what early skills the students are missing, so those skills can be developed to enable students to learn skills further along the developmental continuum. It supports the research that shows that early deficits have a cumulative effect, and that success in early math skills are a better predictor of success in later years, than success in early literacy skills.

Elisha Bonnis, an elementary school teacher with Vancouver Board of Education shared how Jump Math helped her overcome feelings of inadequacy in math. It helped her learn the basic skills and knowledge she was missing, and helped her to realize she CAN indeed DO and TEACH math. The philosophy behind Jump Math reflects Dr. Dweck’s Mindset research. Elisha offered the advice that if teachers do decide to use the program, to follow the teacher’s guide, as its explicit teaching method helps uncover the skills that students are missing, and helps them develop those skills so they can be successful in learning and growing from the discovery activities.

If you’re interested, all the teacher, tutor and parent Jump Math lessons are available, for free, on their website.  The student consumable books are available for purchase.

All in all, Math Minds sounds like a very worthwhile project!  I know I’m going to be keeping tabs on its progress. What do you think?

Why do we Resist the Evidence?

Sunrise at Haleakala 1

Sunrise at Haleakala, Maui- the dawning of a new day…

The MathConnect Conference  in Calgary on February 2 hosted a colorful spectrum of speakers

The following write-up summarizes messages about teaching math that I took away from some of the presentations.

Dr. Carol S. Dweck

As noted near the end of my Mindset blog, many students have given up on math because they believe they are not good at math, and will never “get” math.

Teachers and parents are supporting a fixed mindset when they tell students, “Don’t worry, not everyone is good at math.”  This kind of feedback writes kids off, gives kids lower confidence that they could ever do it, releases them from the responsibility of ever doing well in math.

On the other hand, teacher who are developing a growth mindset would say, “Let’s break this down even further and try some strategies together to see how you can get better.” When teachers and students believe skills can be developed, it opens students up to learning.

The highlight of my day definitely was meeting Dr. Carol Dweck in person. I got to tell her about our Learning Services’ team’s Mindset book study, how we involved ourselves in examining our mindsets, as individuals and as a team, and how we continually reflect on our growth.

Dr. Rafael Núñez

Dr. Núñez’ presentation worked to uncover the topic, “Where does math come from; making sense of human ideas.”

“Mathematics is a paradoxical conceptual system.”

  • Math concepts are not directly perceivable through the human senses. For example, we cannot see infinity…
  • Mathematical entities are imagined by humans, not visible in our environment, so how can we make sense of them?

Can we relate mathematics to other kinds of perception? If we can, maybe we can use those relationships to help us teach math. Conceptual metaphors help fictive motions make human imagination possible.

Metaphors– For example we can perceive the domain from a cold heart to a warm heart, so maybe numbers are also perceived as a domain, as if they have a location in space.

Fictive motion– “We often talk effortlessly about static objects as if they were moving.” For example, “The fence stops after the tree.” The conception we construe in that the fence is moving may provide the inferential structure required to conceive mathematical functions as having motion and directionality.

Gestures– we use hand and body gestures to enhance communication; to help the speaker express him/herself, which in turn, help the listener make meaning. Perhaps the intentional use of relevant gestures in teaching mathematics could support students in construing meaning as well.

Are there any mathematics that are hard-wired- the basic number line perhaps? Is this an embedded part of the brain, or something we need to learn?  Núñez’ Yupno Study concluded that mapping a number to a point in space doesn’t come naturally-it seems that something as simple as a number line is not inherent, it is learned, and so, we need to intentionally teach it. If this basic simple model in math is not understood, concepts that depend its understanding will not be understood.

Núñez’ summarized his message by saying that “the portrait of mathematics has a human face”; articulating meaning is necessary because mathematics is such a complex conceptual system.

Also, like development along a continuum, the understanding of mathematical concepts relies on the understanding of previous concepts. If we do not understand what comes before, we will not understand what comes after.

Diane Chang

Diana is the Program Coordinator of the Robertson Program for Inquiry-based Teaching.  During her presentation, Diana shared the “Math for Young Children: A Lesson Study Research Project” that she is working on. The driver behind this project is current research showing that success in early math skills are a better predictor of success in later years, than success in early literacy skills.

The lesson study involved a step-by-step approach.

  1. With the support of facilitators, teachers did a lot of reading and professional learning about some key concepts in mathematics. They then chose a topic they wanted to focus their work on.
  2. Students’ strengths and needs were assessed in this chosen topic. Teachers interviewed students and got them to work on some activities to see where their development was at in that concept area.
  3. Based on the findings from the work with students, the team of teachers and facilitator co-designed exploratory lessons to help students develop their skills and overcome some misconceptions. During the exploratory lessons, the teachers observed each other’s students.
  4. After debriefing to determine explicitly what needed to be taught to move the students forward in their development, the teachers built “public lessons” that they would all teach.
  5. Teachers taught the public lesson.
  6. Teachers debriefed the lesson and determined next steps.

The “public lessons” the teachers co-developed, as well as a summary of the Lesson Study can be found on Math for Young Children space on the Trent Math Education Research Collaboration website.

Why do we Resist the Evidence?

At the end of the day, the presenters assembled as a panel to address questions from the audience. A question one person asked was, “Why do we resist the evidence- why do we ignore the research and continue to use teaching methods that are not always the most effective?” Should we not embrace new evidence just as we embrace the dawning of a new day?

The panel offered several indirect responses to the question, and I also have some theories of my own, but I’d love to hear your response to the question, “…so why DO we resist the evidence?”

Critical Thinking as a Way of Teaching

“Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” Albert Einstein

What should I write about for my first post, the post that by the very nature of its hierarchical position, indicates that the topic is of utmost importance to me right now? It would be remiss of me to write about anything other than critical thinking!

Critical thinking has been identified by researchers as one of the competencies that students need in order to be successful in the 21st century. In its Framework for Student Learning publication, Alberta Education has identified critical thinking as one of the 7 Competencies for 21st Century Learning.

With so much talk about critical thinking, it seems odd that there is still so much confusion around how to teach students to be critical thinkers. “Critical thinking” conjures up such misconceptions as teaching students to criticize, or to look for flaws in everything they read and view. When you come to know critical thinking, you realize that it has nothing at all to do with criticizing!

When people discuss critical thinking, it tends to have as many definitions as there are people in the discussion. The definition I have come to champion is that critical thinking is about “making a judgement in light of relevant factors or criteria.”  I love how Roland Case, co-founder and CEO of The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2), defines critical thinking in the first minute of this video clip from

Critical Thinking as an Effective Way of Teaching

A misconception of the critical thinking approach is that it is about teaching skills rather than content. In fact, the critical thinking approach is about teaching and assessing both skills and knowledge outcomes, along with the thinking tools, resulting in students learning the content more deeply.

Over the past three years, Parkland School Division (PSD) has embarked on a journey to embed the TC2 Critical Thinking Model into teaching and learning. At first, it did not come naturally for us to teach using the model; it was a huge shift in our way of teaching… in our way of thinking. When we are teaching students to think critically, we are no longer transmitters of knowledge, but instead, designers of learning experiences; we ask questions and design tasks that have children make judgments in light of relevant criteria that we co-create, and we have them support their judgment with evidence from the content.

Are we all experts in the critical thinking approach at this point? No, absolutely not, and we’re not expected to be; we’re all at different places in the implementation journey, and that’s absolutely okay. I concur with the advice Roland Case gives us in this video clip:

Advice to Teachers

Through my work in supporting implementation of the TCCritical Thinking Model in PSD, I have seen several significant shifts in practice:

  1. Increased use of criteria to help make judgements
  2. Increase in intentional collaborative work as a way of learning
  3. Shift from reliance on pencil and paper tasks, to teachers posing authentic problems to engage students in learning subject area content
  4. Shift in assessment practice; greater focus on self-assessment and peer coaching
  5. Intentionally teaching the tools of critical thinking

Along with changes in teacher practice comes growth in student outcomes. Our teachers are reporting these things:

  1. All levels of thinking are supported through the Critical Thinking Model
  2. Less academic students are experiencing noted success and are becoming leaders in classroom conversations
  3. Vocabulary development is enhanced
  4. Students are more creative and more willing to take risks
  5. Assessment for and as learning are becoming more prevalent

Upon considering the huge potential this approach has in supporting the educational shift – moving from the left side of the continuum where teachers “cover the outcomes”, over to the right side where teachers engage students in “uncovering the outcomes”-  how can one NOT be excited about critical thinking as a way of teaching!

I’d love to hear about your experiences with teaching critical thinking. Do you have any gems to share or any lessons learned?