Celebrating Inquiry Spring 2021

Welcome to the Fourteenth 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 2021 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.


Return to Past Issues of Celebrating Inquiry

Engaging Junior High Students in Physical Education Class

In what ways will the implementation of cooperative games in physical education classes impact classroom culture?

I created a survivor style unit using cooperative learning teaching strategies and backwards design planning. Each class is separated into tribes in which they cooperatively and competitively compete for points. Once a week, students work with their tribes to accumulate points in team building activities. Throughout this unit students build connections with their tribe mates and others in the classroom, increasing sportsmanship qualities. The goal is to create a non-threatening environment for students to participate, feel a sense of belonging, and have confidence to tackle challenges in physical education class. Students work together, trusting their teammates.

The implementation of this unit supported my own professional development through intentional focus on positive relationships with students, effective planning, instruction and assessment. The learning activities varied greatly, and I was also able to integrate First Nations, Metis and Inuit perspectives through including activities related to Indigenous culture and identity.

Jenna is graduating in April with a BA/BEd. She is currently completing her PSIII internship in Picture Butte, teaching grades 6-9. Jenna has a minor in Native American Studies and is excited to start her career. She grew up in Okotoks and is excited to continue her education journey in southern Alberta.

Differentiation Through Narrative Play Writing

To what extent can a differentiated dramatic narrative project support student expression, skill development and peer relationships?

The idea for this project came as an extension of the narrative writing unit that I was assigned to teach for my practicum. The overall goal of this project was to scaffold student learning throughout the narrative writing unit to create a narrative play that would be done within small groups. This assignment filled a gap that was left at the school after the cancellation of dramatic performance opportunities due to Covid-19.

This project was also designed to further explore differentiated instruction. Differentiation is a key component of all teaching, whether it occurs through small daily adjustments or larger changes such as different handouts or modalities of response. For this project, differentiation occurred through assigning students different roles in the play creation, as well as assessing their work based on different expectations appropriate to each role.

Within their cohort, students have worked together safely to create both a play and all the materials to perform it. Ultimately, they will record the play. The differentiation embedded in the process has allowed students to excel more in their work. Further, the project became a great opportunity for students to creatively express themselves and to develop stronger relationships with their peers.

Derek is a Social Studies major with a previous B.A. degree in History. He is currently finishing his Third Professional Semester in a Grade 4 classroom. He works to include student interests in his planning which helped shape this project.

Teacher Resources on Student Trauma

How can we help children in the classroom who have experienced trauma?

In our shared PSIII experience and through discussions with other teachers, we found that a variety of traumas affect students in the school. This knowledge motivated us to create a resource for teachers that could help/assist them with general and specific strategies for students impacted by trauma. We outlined the following areas of focus for the resource: teacher strategies for managing their classroom and anticipating potential triggers, individual vs. class-wide strategies, and teacher wellness/well-being.

The resource explores how we can help children in the classroom who have experienced different aspects of trauma. The teaching strategies we collected also feature universal classroom strategies to benefit students with unidentified trauma. Issues may arise from classroom management strategies that do not reflect trauma-safe pedagogy: if students are not identified as experiencing trauma, their behaviour may be interpreted in a negative way without recognizing or addressing the actual source. Teachers need general information about how trauma might affect individual students. They also need strategies to establish a trauma-sensitive classroom while building trusting relationships.

We also chose to address the effects of second-hand trauma on teachers in the classroom. Our resource identifies strategies that can help teachers maintain their own personal well-being when trying to address trauma in the classroom. We recognize that teachers are better prepared to support complex situations with students when they have support for managing their own stressors.


Inquiry in Math: Encouraging Students' Creativity and Flexible Thinking

How can we use inquiry and puzzles in Elementary mathematics classes to increase student engagement and support flexible thinking?

On the first day of my PSIII practicum the students told me that MATH is Mental Abuse to Humans. As a math major I constantly hear people express negative attitudes towards mathematics and how they were never good at it. I have taught math in all of my practicum placements and generally the students are more engaged when they are not just completing worksheets. I decided to implement puzzles as early finisher activities and found that they encouraged many of the students to challenge their thinking and find new ways to solve questions. I wanted to try and make math a subject where students find enjoyment in learning to solve problems in a variety of ways.

My project focuses on flexible thinking and creativity in elementary math classes. I created a Website of different resources that can be easily implemented into math lessons in order to encourage a focus on the process rather than the answer. The classroom example section shows how these activities went in my class and how the students’ thoughts changed in respect to these activities. Even in a short period of time, the students experienced a change in attitude towards math through some simple daily activities.

Jodi is currently in her fifth year of Mathematics Education and completing her final PSIII practicum in Sparwood British Columbia (grade 4). She is excited to graduate this April and hopes to teach around her hometown of Fernie.


 All You Need Is Dance

How can enhancing music literacy through folk dancing expand physical literacy while also promoting student social, emotional and physical well-being?

Movement is an important aspect of my Teacher Mentor’s music program, and this year especially it is proving to be a Covid-friendly way to teach musical concepts. With my TM’s guidance, I decided to focus my PIP on the benefits of folk dancing for students. Through research, I discovered the connections folk dancing has to physical literacy, music literacy and social, emotional, and physical well-being. During my internship, Grade 4 worked through a circle dances unit I had created and gained experience with long-way set dancing. Grade 3 worked on a variety of line, scatter and circle formation dances and Grade 2 and Kindergarten focused on 4 and 8-beat phrase movement in scatter formation.

I gathered students’ thoughts on the use of dance in music class, which were very positive. From my own observations, students are demonstrating proficiency at the musical skills dance requires (such as listening, moving and creating), and are showing that they understand the key musical concepts presented in dance (such as rhythm, form, melody and expression). I have seen high levels of participation in all movement activities, and students collaborate well with each other through these inclusive, hands-on learning experiences.

The applications to physical literacy development are also particularly evident. Teaching movement and dance is a sequential process. Younger students experiment with symmetrical locomotor and non-locomotor movements and spatial relationships in personal space. Older students will progress to more complex, collaborative dances that focus on phrasing and steady beat, and sequence locomotor-and non-locomotor movements in structured formations such as concentric circles and long-way sets.

The results of this project suggest that folk dancing is a great way to build community in any classroom and is not limited to music classrooms only.

Rebecca is a music major who plans to graduate with a combined BA/BEd degree this spring. She was placed at Mike Mountain Horse Elementary School in Lethbridge for PS III, currently teaching music to Kindergarten, Grade 2, 3 and 4.


Mindful Littles: Mindfulness, SEL, and Self-Regulation in the Early Elementary Classroom

 Should mindfulness practices be used in an early elementary classroom as a pathway to support Social-Emotional Learning and Self-Regulation?

I had the wonderful opportunity to teach Kindergarten for my PSIII, and I quickly recognized that teaching Kindergarten is not like any other grade; in Kindergarten many students are getting their first taste of school which comes with many layers of teaching and learning. My PIP came out of my desire to learn more about how their brains are working during this time, particularly how they develop capacity for Social-Emotional Learning and Self-Regulation. From my own experiences and my PLC I saw that mindfulness supports these areas, so I wanted to try it in my own classroom.

After taking MindUp Training, I began trying small things like the chime or doing quick guided mindful moments. I quickly realized that introducing mindfulness needed to be more intentional and built into the routine in order to see the benefits I desired. I also needed to provide more ways for students to access this state of mindfulness in order to support SEL development.

Mindful practices are just like instruction and assessment in that one size does not fit all. I found that some students responded better to more activity-based mindfulness, while others responded really well to sedentary practice. I started integrating mindfulness into our actual routines, consistently- before morning meeting, after body breaks, and then after snack or other times when we needed to transition back to learning. It felt like magic when our room began to calm and come back down from the excitement of our previous activities- students began asking for more mindfulness and started to use words like calm/peaceful (or crazy/excited if they still felt dysregulated and needed more grounding) to describe how their body felt afterwards.

My project explores how these routines and changes can help support SEL and regulation by training the brain to be in the moment.

Ashley is graduating this semester with her B.A/B.Ed after successfully completing my PSIII internship at Herons Crossing School in Airdrie, teaching Kindergarten! She has wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl, and this journey has been most rewarding. She is excited to have her own classroom soon!


Restorative Approach to Classroom Management

 How can a school community effectively prevent and respond to disruptive behaviour in a positive, corrective manner?

Classroom management is a vital and challenging component of an effective learning environment. I felt this project was a necessity considering the multitude of needs in the classroom I was assigned for my Internship.  I was inspired by Dr. Lance Grigg's work in his Chess for Life program. He found the root of his clients’ struggles and built them up with a restorative approach. Focusing on the student's strengths and helping them realize they are responsible for their choices and consequences is key to effective management. I'm honored to be able to share part of my research and successful strategies.

Victoria is a fifth-year Math major and Art minor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge. She is passionate about critical thinking for all learners and across disciplines.

PDF iconpip_presentation_full.pdf


How to Increase Student Engagement in Numeracy and Literacy

How can teachers increase student engagement in literacy and numeracy in elementary classrooms?

For my project, I looked at students’ understandings, attitudes, and engagement towards numeracy and literacy. This idea came from work being done by my school and the broader goals set by my Principal. Initially, I was only interested in looking at student engagement in numeracy. However, I found that literacy was so closely tied in with students understanding in all areas that it was too important to not include.

My project addresses how students can make connections to numeracy and literacy in a way that makes it meaningful for them. Oftentimes, students do not seem able to identify how they might use information learned in class in their everyday lives. For example, when I asked "where do we see fractions in our lives?" students could only think of the response “in math".

To help students make meaningful connections and better understand course content, I tried to regularly incorporate everyday examples. I also had students try to put themselves in the shoes of people and events discussed in class. Through my project, I have found that making connections through art has been especially beneficial to giving these concepts meaning.

Irene Jones is a fifth-year student at the University of Lethbridge completing her BA in Sociology, and BEd in social studies education. For PS III, she was placed in a grade five classroom in Airdrie, Alberta.

Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in Kindergarten

In what ways will teaching critical thinking skills to kindergarten children impact their visible thinking?

My curiosity around critical thinking began as I observed my teacher mentor engage our students in a variety of critical thinking activities. I was surprised by the depth of ideas that kindergarten students were capable of contributing. This left me with the desire to learn more about teaching critical thinking skills to kindergarten children.

Now that I knew the focus of my PIP, I planned to design a critical inquiry unit with a problem that students could investigate.  As I researched about critical thinking I discovered how important it is that the central questions come from the students themselves. Thus, I created this inquiry unit based on a conversation that we had with some of our students. During this conversation several children voiced their opinions about what made a playground fun. Their questions left me thinking about what a playground would look like if it was completely designed by children. Therefore, throughout this inquiry process we investigated playgrounds from all around the world and prepared for the final project of creating our own playgrounds. As the project progressed I realized that critical thinking does have an effect on student abilities to participate in visible thinking. I also learned that you should never underestimate a kindergarten student!

Sara is in her final year of a Bachelor of Education/ Bachelor of Science combined degree. She is currently completing her PSIII internship teaching kindergarten at Galbraith Elementary School. Her dream is to teach in the early elementary grades and to help guide students as they learn through play.


Multiculturalism, Diversity and Anti-Racism from a Catholic Lens

Can acknowledging and celebrating cultural differences foster confidence and promote positive relationships among students?

In my own personal experience with schooling, we did not do much to learn about and celebrate the different cultures present in our classroom and school. Being a visible minority, I felt like there was often ignorance or misunderstanding regarding my skin colour and culture, and I did not have the opportunity (nor did I feel equipped) to address cultural diversity.

My project was a mini unit addressing the need to celebrate cultural differences by teaching students the importance of acceptance, openness, and how our religion teaches us to love all people. In a world where racism and prejudice are still very prevalent, I felt it was necessary for students to feel confident with their own cultures, while sparking a curiosity in the cultures of their peers. Having my practicum at such a culturally diverse school, I was presented with a unique opportunity to make this happen. I surveyed students on a variety of questions relating to their knowledge and willingness to learn about other cultures before teaching my unit. After the unit I asked a set of questions, checking for growth and interest, and I even started a Country of the Day activity before each class, using the cultures of the students.

Dominique is a Mathematics Major in his final semester of the Education program. He's wanted to be a teacher for a while now, because he experienced teachers who demonstrated they really care about their students. Dominique wants to be able to have the same impact.

The Power of Affirmations in Early Learning

How can weekly affirmations support increased perseverance and student wellness?

After spending time within the school community and interacting with my kindergarten students, I wanted to find a way to help support our class wellness goal of perseverance. I was inspired by a student in particular that struggles with self-confidence and the skill of “bouncing back” after making mistakes. I decided to try teaching the students affirmations that they can use along with their personal calming strategies to help them accept where they’re at while trying to improve no matter the task. I introduced Thoughts of the Week as a way to help all students navigate daily challenges and further develop their perseverance and independence. Since introducing our Thoughts of the Week, I have noticed students approaching situations with a growth mindset, willing to try in areas that are new or challenging. Students use more positive, process-driven language and are showing evidence of improved confidence and efficacy as they approach a task independently before asking for help. Affirmations are a great tool to use in conjunction with other wellness strategies to support student social-emotional development.

Jenhene is currently finishing her final internship in Calgary in a full-day kindergarten class. When not teaching, you’ll often find her singing in a group setting (most recently a band), travelling, or crocheting. She is passionate about public education, celebrating diversity, and educating students to become empathetic citizens of tomorrow.​

A Breath of Fresh Air: Outdoor Learning in Core Subjects

How can outdoor learning impact student engagement in core subjects?

My research project explores the role of outdoor, land-based learning on student engagement in core subjects, while also looking at the impact outdoor learning has on formative assessment, teacher well-being, and the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge.

Two key understandings motivated me to pursue outdoor learning as my inquiry topic. The first was the understanding that, as teachers, we have a duty to teach and engage with Indigenous ways of knowing. Land and relationship to land are integral aspects of many Indigenous cultures – including the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) people. Bringing students outside to learn from and with the land and environments around them can help bring Indigenous perspectives into the classroom. Secondly, kids like playing outside. On my first day of practicum, I asked the Grade 3/4 class I was teaching what their favourite part of the day was. Many responses were “recess”, or even simply “going outside”. I wanted to take advantage of this excitement and engagement with outdoor spaces. I also knew going into my practicum that COVID-19 restrictions would present barriers to moving and around and collaborating in the classroom. Outdoor learning provides students an opportunity to take a break from the constraints of the classroom, move around, get fresh air, and explore and discover both independently and collaboratively.

Throughout my project, I found that: students were more engaged, it was easier to formatively assess, and my own engagement and motivation to teach increased.

Sophia has a Bachelor of Environmental Geography from the University of British Columbia and is currently completing her Bachelor of Education in Social Studies and Science Education at the University of Lethbridge.  She grew up in Sikóóhkotok on Treaty 7 territory.  


Sharing Stories: Integrating Indigenous Content into the Drama Classroom

How can Indigenous content be integrated into drama classrooms in a way that fosters connection in an empathic and respectful manner?

This project was created to give drama teachers resources and techniques to bring Indigenous concepts into the classroom. I formulated my inquiry project after discussing with my TM how I could address TQS 5 in the drama classroom. I learned that, to date, the school had not yet developed or delivered a unit solely focused on integrating Indigenous perspectives. I also made FMNI integration one of my Teacher growth plan goals at the start of the semester.

I wanted to begin my project by determining how other drama teachers were approaching this need, so I created a google forum to collect information. The responses indicated that approximately half the teachers in the sample were at the early stages of this process. As a result, I determined that my project would focus not only on growing my own competence around FNIM integration, but also on exploring ways to support other drama teachers in bringing this crucial content into their classroom.

Authentic links between drama and FMNI traditions provided me with a starting place. I chose to focus on storytelling as a way to bring Indigenous perspectives into drama. I also built on the idea of acceptance through honouring an individual’s gifts. The main component of my project is a web-based guide that provides tips, lesson plans and considerations for bringing knowledge keepers into the classroom.

Alyssa is a fifth-year drama education major. She is currently in her PSIII placement at Tom Baines Middle School, teaching drama to grades 6-9. Once she graduates, she is hoping to sub for the Calgary Board of Education and to experience a wide variety of classrooms.


Enhancing Curriculum by Incorporating Diverse Contemporary Picture Books

How can teachers increase representation to enhance curriculum and provide meaningful learning opportunities for students?

Throughout my practicums, I have noticed the incredible diversity of students in each school. Despite this reality, many of the resources found in schools are not representative of that diversity. Given the need for representation and my passion for picture books, I realized that I could use the latter to address the former. Using contemporary picture books as the focal point for my lesson plans, I created cross-curricular connections to deliver content in a way that was relevant and meaningful to my students. While there is still a place for classic literature in my teaching, I think it is important to choose resources that reflect a world that my students know to be true. What they know is a world full of diversity, technology, and complex issues. When I used books that depicted current realities and tied into curriculum outcomes, I found that students could achieve a deep and lasting understanding. My Professional Inquiry Project is an ongoing teaching resource, one that I plan to continue building for many years to come. The website I have designed will be full of fantastic literature. It will include diverse titles for all subjects and the teaching approaches and lessons I have used.

Jenn is a musician, artist, writer, and picture book enthusiast. Jenn lives in Lethbridge with her husband, daughter, and sweet little dog. She is currently finishing her last semester in the education after-degree program, having also attained her BA in English from the University of Lethbridge in 2012.

The Global Citizen Project

Are large-scale, multidisciplinary projects an effective way to increase student motivation?

We have quite a few students who struggle with task engagement. I firmly believe students learn best when they are deeply engaged and when their learning is embedded in relevant content. I wondered if large-scale multidisciplinary projects were a way to achieve motivated, authentic learning?

I began my inquiry by interviewing several educators about projects they have done and seeking out their advice. I then began planning for our own project which incorporates many curricular outcomes from Social Studies, ELA, Art, and Math.

We started by learning about poverty and inequality using several modalities. After students had a deeper understanding of these issues they were already motivated to try and help. At this point students were tasked with crafting up a business plan and pitching it to a room of “Dragons”. The winning pitch received a loan from the local ski hill. Our class will now execute their business idea and donate all profits to microfinancing efforts in impoverished countries.

My TM recently sent out an email to parents stating, “in 17 years of teaching, I’ve never seen a group work as diligently, thoughtfully, and ambitiously on a single project as our class did over the last few weeks”.

Sara is currently completing her PSIII in an incredible grade 6 classroom in Revelstoke, BC. She is a CTS major with minors in Social Responsibility and French. Sara is passionate about playing in the mountains, community, and empowering kids to be the best version of themselves!


Collection of Activity Modules in Lieu of Typical Options

How can a centralized database of 'activities' contribute to a collaborative covid-friendly classroom environment?

Many schools have forgone offering option classes due to safety restrictions that limit interaction to designated cohorts. As an alternative, Gilbert Paterson Middle School offers a daily ‘Activity’ block that allows teachers the freedom to implement activities and projects of their choice. These activities are non-academic, one to two-week projects that are intended to be engaging and fun for the students. While an adequate replacement given the circumstances, this solution challenges teachers to continually come up with new activities.

For our Professional Inquiry Project we will be creating a collection of Activity Modules that teachers are able to use during this activity block. These modules will consist of lessons, project directions, materials and suggested timelines. This collection of resources will be available through a website that will be shared with all GPMS staff and any other teaching staff looking for engaging, safe activities. Our hope is that offering a compiled resource of Activity Modules will allow for student wellness in the classroom and inter-teacher collaboration at all levels of the school.


A Focus on Wellness to Increase Student Engagement

To what extent can practicing wellness strategies in the classroom increase student engagement?

I decided to do this project when my students and I were feeling very cooped up in the classroom during a week of extreme cold weather. I myself need movement or I start to feel under the weather. Bringing movement into the classroom became a goal for me, to see if this addition could increase their engagement. I started by asking students to students give me a hand signal when they needed a movement break.

I also realized that a few of my high-achieving students appeared to be anxious while taking tests. I felt that teaching the students to support wellness through breathing strategies would likely help to curb test anxiety.

With movement and breathing strategies came a focus on personal wellness and the wellness of others in a Language Arts unit. I found that focusing on a strategy like breathing was better done as an activity on its own. Movement breaks were most effective when not a total break from learning, but an integral part of what students were learning. I found that my students were very willing to participate in activities that got them up and moving. Telling students WHY a strategy is important to their health (breathing) also gained buy-in and interest.

This project meant a lot to me during a time of stress for many of us with COVID. I wanted my students to learn some life-skills that they can take throughout all their learning, while observing to see if wellness strategies could increase their engagement.

Jenita has been enjoying a unique practicum situation: teaching in grade six while also creating and leading activities for students with complex needs. She hopes to teach higher elementary or middle school once finished her degree. She is very interested in learning new strategies to increase student engagement in their learning.

Put Your Trust In Me: Team Building in the Classroom

To what extent will team building exercises positively impact student connection and behaviour?

This project was part of an effort to improve my students’ treatment of and acceptance for one another. The idea for this project emerged while I was observing my students early on. In one instance, they had moved all over the classroom to work, however some students were still choosing to bicker with and make faces at one another from across the room. Watching the students make faces at one another, I realized that maybe what they needed was to be on the same team for something other than a game; maybe they needed to have the opportunity to genuinely work together, rather than against each other. In order to give my students this opportunity, I chose to focus on team building activities where each student in the classroom had to be both involved and accountable in order to achieve success. The immediate impacts of this project have been subtle, yet encouraging enough that I would recommend team building activities in every classroom.

Amelia is completing her PSIII is Sherwood Park Alberta and will be graduating with a combined B.A/ B.Ed majoring in social studies in May 2021. She was born and raised in Calgary, but quickly discovered a love for the sense of community found in smaller cities. As a teacher, she hopes to bring this same sense of community into all her future classrooms. She strives to laugh every day, and believes that safe, fun, and engaging experiences should be a staple in all learning environments!