Thursday, October 2, 2014

OESSTA Newsletter

Check out the newsletter for Ontario Elementary Social Studies Teachers' Association (OESSTA). The following was compiled by Byron Stevenson:

OESSTA News #8

Hello teachers , I have included a variety of materials that support the teaching of Social Studies History and Geography focusing on the 2013 Revised Curriculum. There are a variety of professional learning opportunities available to you that will enhance your practice.

We have also completed most of our projects related to the roll out. They are posted on our temporarily on our blog Do visit and see what we have created. In addition our new website will be ready shortly. The main feature of the website will be a forum to promote sharing and collaboration. Please share with your colleagues.

Professional Learning Opportunities
Please promote the conference within your district school board.

A) Ontario Elementary Social Studies Teachers Association Conference - OESSTA in conjunction with OAGEE will hold a conference at Ryerson University on October 17 & 18, 2014.

The conference will highlight teaching/learning approaches and resources related to the 2013 Revised SSHG curricuum document.

Registration has just opened:
Select the OESSTA section for registration. There are session relating to : inquiry, spatial technologies, using primary sources, teaching an African Canadian perspective , leading teachers with the revised curriculum, and working with the concepts of thinking.

B) Connecting with your colleagues across the province using twitter!

Teachers and administrators are invited to participate in the Ontario Elementary Social Studies Teachers Association (OESSTA) social media network to explore the New Revised SSHG on twitter @oessta1 using the hashtag #ontsshg for discussion. There will be a twitter chat on Thursday nights at 9:00-10:00 PM to discuss, share ideas and strategies. Hope you will follow!

Upcoming chats:  October 9/14 - Sharing effective practices for SSHG

(PLEASE CONSIDER facilitating (or co-facilitating) a #ontsshg Twitter chat on Thursday at 9pm - DM your email address to @Robitaille2011 - thank you)

C) Webinar - Heritage Minutes (register today) - Heritage Minutes, also known officially as Historica Minutes: History by the Minute, is a series of sixty-second short films, each illustrating an important moment in Canadian history.

Presented by Historica Canada in conjunction with The Ontario Elementary Social Studies Teachers Association (OESSTA) - October 8, 2014 3:45-4:30 - OPEN TO ALL

D) OTF Connects… small, frequent doses of valuable PD designed to fit your needs and your schedule

Registration opens -  October 7, 2014

The Ontario Teachers’ Federation cares about supporting your learning and is pleased to continue to offer OTF Connects. The OTF Connects program is online, ongoing support developed by teachers for teachers. A wide variety of session topics are available in the 2014-2015 calendar, including 21st Century Learning, Critical Thinking, Environmental Education, Financial Literacy and Violence Prevention.


1) What is Inquiry-Based Learning? (read this article about two OESSTA members)
“Inquiry-based teaching is an approach to instruction that begins with exploring curriculum content and providing a framework for the students to ask their own questions which builds interest and curiosity,” says Louise Robitaille, an elementary teacher in Midland.
Visit the inquiry website for more ideas at

2) The Thinking Teacher
The Thinking Teacher highlights ideas, strategies and resources for teachers and educational leaders who are working to support critical thinking in K-12 classrooms.

History? HERstory! Daily life of a pioneer woman - October is Women’s History Month. Invite students to determine what daily life was like for pioneer women at the turn of the 20thcentury using photographs, interviews and even a letter-to-the-editor. The set of History Docs,Daily life for pioneers 1890-1914, contains source documents, an image viewer, student tasks and teacher notes.

Targeted grades: Middle

View the History Doc

Find out more about the History Docs collection.

See more resources in The Thinking Teacher archives.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What Happens When....

...the eggs don't hatch!

Our classroom of grade two students, were very excited when their teachers introduced the idea of learning about the life cycle of a chicken. Their class would watch and care for eggs that would be in the incubator, those eggs would hatch and they would have baby chicks in their classroom. And so, the inquiry began!

The teachers rented an incubator, bought fertilized eggs and waited for the eggs to hatch. All of the students could hardly contain their excitement. It turned out to be a school wide event. Everyone was counting down the days for the big hatch! We even had a team of staff members that came into the school on weekends to turn the eggs over twice a day.

Students started researching, asking questions and wondering about the life cycle. Their teachers gathered books, read stories, explored other life cycles and compared them. This group of grade two students were writing, reading, learning, asking questions and wondering. It was perfect!

Except, day 21 came and went, still no chicks! WHAT HAPPENS WHEN...the eggs don't hatch! What would you do?

Well, our teachers jumped into action, and called a local farmer to order 6, day old chicks. But first, they would have to set the stage. They drew cracks on the eggs, made little holes, and spent the day talking about how the eggs would probably hatch during the night. The students were so excited when they left school that day, and we heard from parents, that many of the students could not sleep that night.

Once the students were home for the evening,  our teachers "planted" the chicks! Yeah, the chicks had arrived, and the next day, the class spent most of their time sitting and watching the chicks.

The chicks stayed at school for two days, every classroom came to visit the chicks. The grade two students shared their learning and observations. They started a survey, "What is your favourite name for a chick?" Just so you know, the name Fluffy, had the most votes.

On the night the chicks were going to be delivered to the farm, our students left the school, crying and talking about how they would miss the chicks. This inquiry will be an experience these children will never forget!  Check out our 'Animoto' movie here!

What would you do? Please share!

P.S. Don't let your students google "chicks" in images!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Importance of Sharing!

One of the important pieces of the inquiry-approach to teaching and learning is the sharing part. No longer, does students' work sit on a teacher's desk waiting to be marked. Students are constantly sharing their work and we have noticed that the quality and the pride that our students show in their work have increased 100%. In the previous post, we looked at the work that was being done in a grade one class. Below you will find photos of students sharing their finished product.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Busy and Active in Grade One!

Our Grade One teacher always organizes the day for active learning. Students are engaged, motivated and ready to learn in this classroom! Students have been learning about money and working in centres that were developed by the teacher for hands-on learning. The following are pictures of a Grade One classroom in action.

Computer Centre

Interactive White Board Centre

Stamp Centre

Puzzle Centre

Making a Book Centre
Writing a Menu Centre

This group of students were also busy learning about simple machines. They worked in centres throughout the inquiry and their culminating task was to design and build a simple machine. Most had never touched a hammer or nail before this project. They loved it! 

What kind of active learning is happening in your classroom? Please share!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Twitter Hashtags

Starting a New #Hashtag

Twitter is my virtual staffroom. It helps me keep up with latest trends and ongoing professional discourse. The benefits of this tool as PD inspired me to start the #ontsshg hashtag that would focus a discussion with fellow educators around Social Studies/History & Geography (SSHG). Specifically, the chat was created to have a professional dialogue around the implementation of Ontario’s SSHGcurriculum document September 2014.  Using hashtags on twitter is a way to search for tweets that have a common topic and it’s a great place for people to connect,  share ideas, questions, and resources.

The tools and strategies presented in the SSHG document are for some of us, a shift in teaching and learning.  The focus is on: the inquiry process, concepts of disciplinary thinking and the citizenship education framework.  Using twitter and the #ontsshg hashtag is a vehicle to support the shift in pedagogical thinking with educators. 

#ontsshg meet on Twitter every second Thursday at 9:00pm with a variety of topics related to Social Studies, History & Geography. This has opened up a whole new way of sharing, not just with Ontario teachers but also with teachers from around the world. At times, we’ve even teamed up with other professional discussions that are connected to our topic and created the #inqsshg hashtag. In general, the use of #ontsshg has provided educators with great discussions, ideas and resources related to the document. Topics such as; the inquiry approach (which continues to be a hot topic), historical thinking concepts and citizenship education have generated links to resources, questions and ideas from a variety of people.

Please consider joining #ontsshg for a rich discussion around Social Studies/History and Geography -SSHG on alternate Thursday at 9:00 PM EST.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ancient Civilization

Our grade 4/5 students are exploring Ancient Civilizations! To get started, we spent time building background knowledge. This of course, develops interest and curiosity for our topic. Pete modelled a lesson, teaching them how to skim for information. The students worked in groups, we provided reading material, gave them post-it notes to jot info, then gave them a chart paper to post their findings and their questions.

Following this step, students shared their findings and questions with the class. We took note of questions and corrected misconceptions. The charts were filled with student questions, this provided us with ideas to develop work stations for our unit.  We were surprised to discover that many of the students wanted to know about food!

Stay tuned, more to follow! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Organizing for Inquiry Learning!

In my previous blog (here),  I wrote about our daily schedule and explained the day in the life of our inquiry-based classroom.

This post, outlines how we get started with an inquiry and how we organize the workstation block.
First, we spend up to two days building background knowledge, interest and curiosity around the content area that we will be exploring. During this time, the class builds a bank of questions and a list of vocabulary words that are connected to the topic.

Next, teachers create activity cards that are built around the questions and interests that the students showed during the background knowledge building.  These activity cards are designed to be open-ended and to allow for creativity.  The students are provided with a large block of time to complete the activity with the goal to present at the end of the day. 

The following chart is an example of how the groups (4 to 5 students per group) rotate through the stations. For this unit, we let the students pick their team members, then they picked a name connected to our topic.

The list below is a summary of the activities we used for this unit.  More information about this unit can be found on our website - - Take a look under the Social Studies Lessons tab.

 1.  Dream Catchers.  Create a dream catcher, research its origins, and write a poem.  These can be easily created using found materials, some wool or string, and items from home.  There are dozens of good suggestions online for creating dynamic dream catchers.  

2.  First Nations Settlements Diorama.  This is fun for the students to research.  Have a list of dwelling types for First Nations groups, or have your students research.  Using any of the many materials available commercially or home-made, have the students create dioramas.  If time permits, use stop animation software to film figures moving through the diorama and to create short movies that tell a tale of life at the time. 

3.  Soap Carving.  Using soap blocks and simple plastic or wood carving tools, design and carve a 'soapstone' sculpture.  Combine them with members of your group to tell a story or relate a legend.

4.  Art Cards.  Combine poetry and visual arts by creating 'Norval Morrisseau'  pieces that have a theme supported by text.  Have the students write stories or poems that are depicted in their piece.  It could take the form of a legend of how something came to be, or a lyrical poem.  

5.  Legends.  Comic Life is such a wonderful app that supports both text and graphics in a graphic novel format. Students who are more visually talented may find the lower emphasis on text appealing. Students can write and produce a Comic Life piece that is as detailed as they desire.

6.  Totem Poles.  The students love anything that lets them get their hands on building materials.  There are dozens of totem pole creation ideas, from highly elaborate carved pieces to more simply constructed poles using construction paper and glue.  'Pinterest' has dozens of great activities to get you started and great photos to show your class as examples.  Each member of the group can be responsible for an addition to the whole.  The students can write short pieces about the characters that tell a story about the life of the First Nation group they are studying.  They are not limited to the Haida, for example, because all First Nations peoples' stories can be told by using any appropriate figures.  The totem pole simply becomes a story-telling vehicle.

The students really enjoyed this unit. The classroom was buzzing with learning, curiosity, interest and creativity.

 What does your day look like? 
How do you organize for student inquiry?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Day in the Life of an Inquiry-Based Classroom

Daily Schedule 

8:40-9:10- Computer lab - keyboarding skills, researching and writing. 

9:10 – Mini-lesson – may include any of the following: a read-aloud/think aloud, teacher models reading/writing strategies, shared/interactive reading and writing. The lessons are connected to the theme or topic (curriculum content) we are exploring. We introduce new concepts and/or focus on certain skills that we notice the majority of students may need. (Most skill-based lessons & conferencing is done with small groups or with individuals, during workstation time).

9:20- Workstations – All students work in groups to accomplish their station for the day. 

Students work in groups

Students are: Collaborating, reading, writing, researching, questioning, creating, and preparing to share their learning. They are moving around, talking, engaged and motivated.

It should be noted here that this routine takes time to establish. In order, for the workstations to run smoothly, we need our students to be independent. Setting rules and expectations about how to collaborate is the most challenging. This can take time and you need to be patient. It’s worth seeing a classroom work together like clockwork. To begin with, the focus of the teacher is to build a positive relationship, create a safe classroom environment and establish rules, routines and expectations for learning. This ensures that students become independent problem-solvers which then gives the teacher time to work with small groups or individual students without interruptions.

Teacher is: Conferencing, leading a guided lesson group, pushing thinking and learning, asking questions, teaching a mini-lesson to a group or to individuals. The teacher never sits down at a desk but is in constant motion facilitating the learning of his/her students.  

10:20 to 11:20 – Nutrition break and recess

11:20 to 12:00 – Planning time - we co-plan with the planning time teacher (prep teacher), the students continue working on stations from the morning block. Time is built in to allow students to share their culminating task. (Students realize they will have to present again to the classroom teacher and peers– but that’s OK, they love to share!)

12:00 to 1:00 – Math – this part of the day is moving toward an inquiry approach. It takes time to shift a way of teaching and our focus has been to use inquiry in all other content area.

1:00 to 1:40 – Lunch

1:40 to 2:20 – Gym A day only
                       Presentations & Sharing – B day

2:20 – Independent Reading - We use the first 20 days of independent reading by Fountas andPinnell as a guide for our reading routine.  

Independent Reading Time

Classroom full of books!

3:00 – Agenda & Dismissal

Our schedule is not perfect, but it works for now! We are always looking for ways to improve our practice and often that means change. We feel our success, in this inquiry classroom has been to give our students large blocks of time to go deeper, to explore and to create quality pieces of work. Transitions are few which helps our students with autism.

Next post – I will share examples of the workstations we’ve used. While content/theme changes, there is always a (guided) reading group and writing group. The rest of the workstation may include, drama, art, religion, math, science, social studies, health…it depends. In other words, all areas of the curriculum are integrated into the workstation block.