Celebrating Inquiry Spring 2019

Welcome to the tenth issue of our online celebration of learning and achievement by University of Lethbridge intern teachers. Below you will find profiles of all projects presented at the Spring 2019 Professional Inquiry Project (PIP) Symposium. These projects were completed by by pre-service teachers in their final twelve-week practicum. Please be aware that external links are supplied by contributors and are not maintained or monitored by the University of Lethbridge.

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Classroom Instagram 101

How can social media benefit your classroom?

The reality of our current day and age is that most students will have cell phones and various social media accounts. Rather than allowing these phenomena to become distractions in our classrooms, we wanted to turn them into something useful which allowed us to connect with our students. Our social media platform of choice (as per student preference) was Instagram. Instagram is a popular social media platform with many unique tools and features. Our initial plan was to use our "teacher" Instagram accounts as a way to upload photos of homework assignments or class notes, much like a D2L shell. However, we soon realized that we were not using the platform to its full potential. We began to utilize features such as direct messaging and polls to answer questions, gauge understanding/opinions, and provide important information to our students (during the time they are undoubtedly already spending on their phones)!

Ultimately, our inquiry revolved around three central ideas: building a supportive classroom community, practicing safe digital citizenship, and increasing student engagement. 

Ramona and Emma are partner teachers for their internship at a junior high school in Calgary. They are teaching grade 9 humanities and math/science.


Elementary Educators: Applying Foundational Knowledge ​about FNMI Peoples

How are Alberta elementary educators applying foundational knowledge about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in their classrooms? 

Recently there was an addition to the Alberta Teaching Quality Standard: A teacher develops and applies foundational knowledge about First Nations, Métis and Inuit for the benefit of all students(Teacher Competency #5). While many resources and information on FNMI topics are aimed at junior high and high school, we wanted to focus on how educators can integrate TQS #5 at the elementary level. This is a responsibility of all Alberta educators, not just Social Studies teachers. 

As a part of our Professional Inquiry Project for Professional Semester III, we are collecting data on the following critical inquiry question: How are Alberta elementary educators applying foundational knowledge about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples in their classrooms? In addition to interviewing educators at our schools, we want to extend our inquiry project to other elementary educators in Alberta through an online survey.

Jazmin Roe is a fifth-year social studies education major and hopes to one day be an elementary teacher in grades 4-6. She recognizes that education for reconciliation is such an important topic and is encouraged that many elementary educators are applying knowledge about FNMI peoples.

Antonia Comanda and is a fifth-year social studies education major. With the recent change in Alberta Teaching Quality Standards she has found it difficult to locate quality resources for apply foundational knowledge about FNMI peoples. 


It's Genius Hour in Grade Four!

How can we use research skills to encourage students to be motivated, independent learners in the elementary classroom?

After starting out in my grade 4 class at my practicum school, my teacher mentor and grade team teacher expressed a desire/interest to develop their students as more independent learners, as well as to increase student motivation. Before I even started my practicum, they had decided to change the format of the final periods on Friday afternoons to incorporate a Genius Hour program. I was interested in learning more about it because of the focus on research skills and on student-directed learning, a topic I have encountered in University. I also agreed with my mentor and grade team teacher that this program could be to enhance student motivation, as well to increase their ability to work more independently (or with less need for constant guidance.) I worked with my TM and grade team partner to sort out the kinks in this program, as it was the first time any of us had done a project like this with elementary students. My PIP shows how a genius hour program can support the development of research skills while also allowing for autonomy in student learning. It includes resources to help teachers get started with something similar, as well as feedback from my students on how they felt about the program.

Devon is in the final semester of her combined Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degree, majoring in social studies education. She completed her third professional semester in Sylvan Lake, Alberta in a grade 4 classroom teaching Language Arts, Science, and Art. She hopes to teach middle school humanities in the future.


Play-Facilitated Education

What is play-facilitated learning?
How has play-facilitated learning impacted schools?
How can play-facilitated learning benefit a variety of learners within the classroom?

We were overwhelmed by the number of resources available for us to learn about play-facilitated education, so we decided that organizing information into a website would help other teachers as well. Based on peer feedback, the website has been helpful in addressing some concerns and giving teachers a place to start with play-facilitated education. We also believe that it will help to inform skeptical teachers about the benefits of playing in the classroom.

We addressed the implementation of play-facilitated education practices as well as providing resources for teachers and parents. Furthermore, we tackled the importance of play and how that play can be used within our classrooms.


Happy Vibes: An Extra-Curricular Program for Division 1

How can the implementation of an extra-curricular program for division 1 help foster feelings of school inclusion for both students and parents?

Division 1 is a time in students' lives where building strong relationships is fundamental for social development and fostering feelings of inclusion within the school community. Unfortunately, we have found that students in division 1 can be overlooked when it comes to extra-curricular programs and overall school inclusion. Due to a lack of options for division 1, we decided to create an after-school program designed solely for Grades 1-3. We created Happy Vibes Tribe as a friendship club to help foster feelings of school community for both students and parents. All students should feel welcomed and included in a school's community, and not just during sanctioned school hours. Through the implementation of our program, students left feeling more positive toward other students and the school itself. We have received positive feedback from students, parents, and administration. Our presentation will be showcasing our session activities and our end results.

Katie and Heidi are both grade 6 intern teachers at Coalhurst Elementary School and will be graduating this spring.


English Language Learners and the Power of "Yet"!

What are the benefits of a growth mindset, especially in elementary ELL students?

Our question stems from the uniqueness of our placement. As we are at a Low German Mennonite Alternative school, our students are all English Language Learners. We have noticed that the school has made strides towards creating strong reading and writing programs for its diverse student-base. We are interested in looking more deeply at how students experience the process of learning a new language, particularly in the face of any struggles or difficulties. By focusing on growth mindset in relation to ELL students, we hope to equip our students with the knowledge and skills to further develop their capacity to meet such challenges. Through learning about growth mindset in this context, our students will gain a broader understanding of the benefits of resilience and determination. We hope these important principles can then be more readily applied not only to their language acquisition but to all other aspects of their schooling and life.

Elyse Mastel is a fifth year English and Education major who has a passion for teaching in rural communities. Adara Morrow is a fifth year Modern Language and Education major who wants to explore the world of teaching English Language Learners. They are both teaching at Barons School which serves the LGM community and are very excited to share what they have learned with you!


The World in Your Classroom: A Google Earth Project

How can Google Earth become more accessible to teachers?

During my time at St. Michael's school I have been determined to find something that helps the teachers around me and continues to be helpful even after I leave. The school has slowly been transitioning into Google Chromebook computers with an emphasis on using Google-based products to enhance learning. It can be a large feat for many busy teachers to try and learn a new program. Knowing the exciting potential of Google Earth, I chose to dive deep into this application and create a website that each teacher from grades 1-6 can use within their classroom. I interviewed teachers and asked them, “if you could take your students anywhere in the world based on your curriculum, where would you take them?” The website is called “Schoogle” and it’s based on the needs of the teachers around me. Each grade has a tab that take students to many locations around the world. They can use each picture as a 360 image to look around and explore. In some areas they can explore inside museums, parliamentary buildings and churches. It's all laid out for teachers and students to use.

Dani is a 5th year General Humanities student who has been teaching in grade 5 at St. Michael's School, Medicine Hat.


Blended Learning: Letting Students Determine Place, Pace, and Path

How can blended learning opportunities enhance student engagement in our classrooms?

Blended learning focuses on students being given opportunities to learn through technology, independent practice, and future-ready skills. Students are given more control over their learning, to determine an educational path and pace that promotes foundational understanding and skill mastery. Blended learning is supported by structured planning that promotes independence and creates opportunities for personalized project-based learning.

I chose this topic because my PSIII teacher mentor uses blended learning in her classroom. Essentially, she uses blended learning strategies to develop checklists for student learning. I was introduced to the idea of cross-curricular lessons in my previous practicums, however, I had never seen it in action in relation to blended learning.

Blended learning allows my students to be comfortable and confident in their unique educational journeys.

Taylor is a fifth-year general social studies education major with a passion for rural education. She believes that allowing students to be active in their own education encourages them to further engage with the curriculum and create their own real-world applications.

Learning to Stay: A Case for Place Based Education in Rural Schools

To what extent has and does public academic education result in the marginalisation of rural people and lifestyles? How can we make public education work in rural areas?

The current public education system is urban-centered and academic-centered, leaving little room for rural cultures and contexts and devaluing vocational educational pursuits taken by many students. Through previous research as well as my own experiences, I conclude that public education can be a factor in the marginalisation and alienation of rural communities and students. I also see it as a contributing factor leading to the demise of many rural communities.

I believe that in many rural areas there is a large need to change how we teach in order to make school useful and accessible for all students. We need to make school work for these communities, rather than against them. This is true in all rural and urban settings, including Colony schools such as the one I am currently teaching in for my practicum. The impact on levels of engagement and where we place power and value shifts a great deal when we implement strategies such as place/community-based education, resulting in a bridge between schools and the community rather than barriers.

I grew up in a small farming community and attended a rural school. I came to Lethbridge to attend university, and found the switch from rural to urban life rather jarring. This has made me very interested in the differences between rural and urban cultures and contexts, and how this is impacted by our current education system. I believe one of the largest benefits of my rural upbringing is my sense of place and love for the outdoors. I hope to frame my future teaching around a sense of value and respect for the land and people around us.

Aileen is currently finishing her PSIII placement at the Wilson Colony Allenby School just outside of Coaldale and has learned immensely through the challenge of having grades two through nine in one classroom.

Behavior Intervention in the Classroom

What behavior intervention resources are available to teachers and how can they navigate the tiers of behavior support?

I chose to focus my PIP on behavior intervention after meeting and connecting with a district Behavior Specialist (Teresa Eveleigh). Through her mentorship and resources, in combination with my own reading list and online resource hunt, I built a website that amalgamates a variety of tangible and accessible resources, reading and theories that aim to support intern teachers, new teachers, and veteran teachers. The focus is on modern, useful strategies and methods for effectively, and empathetically, supporting students who require behavior intervention.

Jocelyn is completing her PSIII in Taber with the Holy Spirit School Division. Born and raised in Lethbridge, Jocelyn loves being an active member of her community and is eager to take on her new role as a teacher. She has enjoyed teaching both elementary and junior high in her practicums and looks forward to further exploring grade levels, schools and unique learning settings. Jocelyn loves bringing creativity, curiosity and inquiry into the classroom, as well as teaching students resiliency and tenacity. She will graduate in May 2019 with a specialization in Early Childhood Education.


Elementary Kindness Ninjas

How can we best model and inspire kindness amongst our students and school community?
How does kindness impact the school community, and make a difference to the overall school culture?

Due to the diversity of our student body we wanted to encourage inclusion and kindness. Studies have shown that modelling kindness promotes inclusion and reduces the instances of bullying. When students put kindness first they develop stronger relationships, which plays an important role in learning (emotional learning). By mentoring kindness we hoped to foster a peaceful and emotionally supportive school culture.

Our goal was to model the ripple effect kindness has in a community and inspire students to proactively spread kindness whenever and wherever possible! We created and executed a kindness club that was open to all students and staff in the school. The focus of the club was to spread an awareness of kindness and share kindness in our classrooms, in the school and out in the community as well. We worked on projects like random acts of kindness, volunteer projects and community involvement. The students tied this club to the Leader in Me philosophy. Being proactive is not waiting for someone to be kind first, but proactively setting a positive example for others.

Ashlyn and Jessie are both Elementary intern teachers in Lethbridge. They are both English Language Arts majors graduating this spring. As huge believers in the power of kindness, they organized a kindness club with their students in mind.


Making Mindfulness Possible

How can we, as educators, better understand the realities students face outside the classroom by implementing mindfulness and creating a positive learning environment?

I am very passionate about creating community within a classroom. I believe that as teachers, we need to be empathetic towards the various realties our students face outside the classroom setting. In order to achieve this, educators need to create an inclusive learning environment that makes all students feel comfortable. This can be achieved by introducing activities that instill community within a class, and by exploring topics such as mindfulness. As teachers, we need to take the time to get to know our students and build relationships with them. Because I joined my class mid-way through the year, I found it particularly important to attend to these considerations. As a result of my work in this area, I was able to build strong relationships with my class and helped create an inclusive community where students started establishing new friendships with each other. I discovered that the lessons I created to support my topic would be a great mini-unit to start a school year off with.

Ashley is a fifth year English Language Arts major with a passion for creating an inclusive classroom community. She believes that by using various children's stories as a learning tool and inclusive classroom activities, we can create a learning environment where all students feel included, welcome and safe.


Using Process-Oriented Art Activities to Foster Self-Efficacy in Students

How can process oriented art activities reduce social anxiety and build self-efficacy in students?

As a student and an educator, I noticed there is often a large emphasis on the end product in art education programs. I have heard students express that their own art work is not as "good" in comparison with the work of another, and at times would devalue their skills before attempting an art activity. I wanted to start an art club that offered students the opportunity to experiment with different techniques without the parameters of an end product. The art club was a chance to investigate how using experimental and sometimes uncontrollable art techniques could cultivate a sense of trust in themselves and in their social group as they took part in collaborative and process-oriented art. Research shows that play can help students build social skills and self-trust, and I saw process-oriented art as another form of play. During this art club I conducted a pre-survey and a post-survey to measure social anxiety and self-efficacy. Though there was a margin of error with the data, the overall results suggested that these art activities did promote self-efficacy in students.

Alexandra Wright received her Art degree from the University of Lethbridge in 2014. After graduation, she spent time working as an educational assistant, where she realized her passion for education and decided to return to the University of Lethbridge in pursuit of an education degree.

The CIA: Why Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Should be One in the Classroom

How can I blend Instruction and Assessment into one to create more engaging learning experiences while freeing up class time?

It is my belief that in order to better prepare our students for life outside of school, the distinct silos of instruction and assessment in the classroom need to be blended. “Out there” in the real world, we rarely have the opportunity to learn first, then “do”; most often we figure things out as we gain experience. In order to bring this idea into the classroom, I rely on a project-based learning approach where students learn content while creating a project, then share and celebrate their understandings with classmates. In combining instruction and assessment, we free up additional class time for more engaging, hands-on learning experiences that we otherwise might not experience.

Brady is a General Science major who centres his teaching around experiential learning. Student learning is much more effective when they are given opportunities to discover and explore concepts on their own. The more we can create these opportunities for our students, the more effective we can be.


A Resource for Instructional and Classroom Management Strategies

What instructional strategies can be used to engage students and minimize or reduce unwanted behavior?

I chose to focus on instructional and classroom management strategies because when I started my PSIII internship, I was a bit overwhelmed. I was facing classroom management challenges with one of my classes. The discussions I had with my teacher mentor led me to think that probably my instructional and classroom management strategies were not very effective. I started researching other ways to engage my students and reduce unwanted behavior. The resources that I gathered are not necessarily new to teachers, but I felt that if some key resources were available in one location then it would make them more accessible to others.

Gibion is currently finishing his PSIII internship in Lethbridge. He is teaching a combined Grade 2/3 class.