Gr 4 Science Unit ~ Habitats and Communities

We have done it again!

We have now compiled a complete unit for Habitats and Communities to help you in your Gr. 4 Understanding Life Science Strand.   This unit, just like our Combined Gr. 4/5 Science Unit for (Habitats and Organ Systems), integrates curriculum in order to create cross-curricular lessons. Once again you will not only be covering curriculum expectations, but cross-curricular activities which tend to be more engaging and creative.

Here is what is included:
* Learning centres: students work in small groups or individually to rotate   between three centres over the course of the activity (five types of centre activities: iPad integration, technology, reading/writing activity, creative response, and a fun or hands-on activity);
* Whole class lesson/discussions followed by either small group activities or whole class activity
* Cross-curricular integration with other subject areas, including Language Arts (Reading, Writing, Oral Communication, Media Literacy), Drama, Physical Education, Art, and Health
* A focus on Assessment For and As Learning through student self-assessments and group assessments, KWL charts, exit slips, anticipation guides, and project planning sheets
* Reading strategies addressed include making connections, inferring, determining important ideas, drawing conclusions, and cause-and-effect
* Differentiated Instruction is achieved through Learning Centres, choice board for the end of unit project, RAFTS assignment, and a variety of hands-on activities and labs

The entire unit, including lessons, assignments, assessments, printables, and centre activities comes to over 160 pages!

Need more?  Preview the unit!

To be taken to the complete unit just click on the picture below!



Stay tuned as we are working on our Gr. 5 Science Unit for Organ Systems!

Three Part Lessons ~ What is a Math Congress?

Here it is, the last installment on my three part lesson plan series.  After discussing the concept of Bansho and Gallery Walk, we move onto another instructional strategy that supports the development of mathematical thought.  This last part is called Math Congress.

While every child’s solutions are valuable, we as teachers are always in need to be effective communicators and efficient in the ever-stringent timetables we face on a daily basis.  This strategy allows for us to have whole class discussions on two or three, carefully chosen student solutions where connections can be made to every student’s mathematical learning.

Utilizing this strategy to consolidate a three part lesson for problem solving will allow a teacher to direct thoughts to big ideas, which can be extrapolated from the thinking of other students and their solutions.

This strategy is built upon the belief that learning and developing connections within a concept can arise from a group of learners who discover, discuss and reflect upon their solutions.  To do this, students need to be encouraged to test, try, and discover efficient strategies and come to a consensus on mathematical problem solving.  The Math Congress provides an environment to communicate their thoughts, hurdles, solutions, problems, justifications and assumptions.

To prepare for this type of instructional strategy student groups or pairs post their solution on chart paper and decide what to share in their presentation to the rest of the class.

While students are writing out their solutions, we as teachers need to be aware of students’ use of different ideas.  The teacher acts like the mediatory in a congress to mitigate discussion and conversation.  Questions a teacher should ask him/herself are:

1)   What ideas/strategies in the solution should be discussed?

2)   How do the above connect to the lesson learning goals and previous knowledge?

3)   Which ideas can be generalized and how do I develop a strategy for students to come to these generalizations?

4)   Between the solutions I want presented, how will I have students present, so it is in a manner that scaffolds learning for students?

During presentations probing questions are necessary in order to facilitate discussion.  Some sample questions could be:

1)   What are the similarities and differences among solutions presented?

2)   Will this strategy always work?  Why or why not?

Again this type of discussion is of great value.  Typically students are not asked to defend their thoughts, and will stumble initially but with practice they will become more comfortable in communicating their thoughts about their understanding of concepts being taught.

Have you tried any of the 3 strategies?   Will you try any of the three?

Your thoughts and ideas are always welcome!  Drop us a comment or leave us some samples, we would love to share what you have learned and continue to learn.


Resources consulted for this post:

Three Part Lessons ~ What is Gallery Walk?

Our previous posts have been on understanding what three part lessons are, how to design and implement them and how to utilize the Japanese technique Bansho in your classroom.  Today we are writing about how Gallery Walk is a technique to actively engage students in math problem solving.

In 2005, the Ministry of Education of Ontario stated,  “Mathematical communication is an essential process for learning mathematics because through communication, students reflect upon, clarify and expand their ideas and understanding of mathematical relationships and mathematical arguments”.

Utilizing a Gallery Walk technique helps students use higher order thinking skills such as evaluating, analyzing and synthesizing in a collaborative environment.

The idea here is to solve questions collaboratively and to build upon the skills of others to a solution that has been posted.  Now instead of having just one problem-solving question for whole class discussion, create different ones for small group discussions.  You will set up your class into heterogeneous groups of 3 to 5, where they will circulate between the posted problems as a group.  Each group will have the opportunity to add new content to the solution of each question. (Some teachers use sticky notes where notes can be easily stuck on the chart or some have students write directly on chart paper).  Ensure students understand that they are to review what previous groups have written to not repeat what has already been done.

As a teacher, you should have groups rotate through the problem centers every 4-6 minutes (always depending on the type of questions posed).  This process continues until each group returns to the first question they started a solution for.

At this point, each group will have solutions that have been analyzed, evaluated and built upon.  They will now need to synthesize the information they have provided along with what other groups have provided and create a report of their findings.

This is typically the last stage of Gallery Walk.  I personally find it beneficial to go through each question, as a whole class discussion to dispel misconceptions and address further needs.  Usually, I have the groups present orally to the rest of the class.  Some teachers, for assessment purposes, would rather have written solutions submitted.  I think this is all up to you.

Should you not want to have written solutions submitted, during the actual time that students rotate, as teachers we can circulate to gauge students learning or address misconceptions.  I tend to take note of the misconceptions to ensure we discuss them during the presentations.

The following websites were utilized to prepare this post:


The three part lesson ~ What is Bansho?

Once you have chosen problem-solving questions that are engaging and demanding both procedurally and conceptually, it is time for your students to work in their groups.  When they have worked through a solution it is time to have the deep and meaningful conversation about the process of solving the question.  Students need to be given the opportunity to observe what others have done, what mathematical concepts others have applied to solve the problem.  This process will support students to make connections to their own learning and become adaptable to other methods to help them solve future problems.

Three methods that can be used for this part of your lesson are Bansho, Gallery Walk and Congress.

This post will give a breakdown of Bansho and future posts will discuss the other two.  Make sure you subscribe to be up to date with our posts.


This high yield strategy derives from the Japanese word that means “blackboard”.  The Japanese developed an instruction style where everything is recorded on the board.  Nothing is insignificant.  Every thought is respected and discussed.

On your work on it part of your three part lesson students complete their solutions (determined by you if they are working in pairs, or groups), teachers use their “blackboards” (or any other flat surface) to display student solutions. This is where students can discuss, compare and contrast ideas presented.  Students are to sort and classify their solutions according to mathematical complexity.  This by no means is a grading/scoring system.

An initial suggestion is to have 3 diverse solutions presented and discussed.  You can figure this out when students are initially working on their solution, making mental notes of the ones are different. Then ask students if they have a different way of solving the problem.  If so, then have students present their different solutions.  If not, then have students display their solution in the spot that matches their solution.

Again this brings you to a time of discussion and reflection.  Students compare and contrast solutions.  They support and defend their placement of the solution at that spot.

So what is it that teachers need in materials for this type of strategy?

Paper or chart paper


Magnets for blackboard or tape

A flat surface where work can be displayed

An understanding that students will move around, discuss and analyze.  You as a teacher are there to mediate and adjust but not to correct their thinking,

Here are a few images of what Bansho looks like!


















By clicking on the image you will be taken to the original source of these wonderful images!

Let us know how Bansho has worked in your classroom.  Don’t forget to post your images!

Look for my next post on Gallery Walk!





Three Part Lessons ~ Teaching Math through Problem Solving

Being teachers means that we are always learning new and exciting ways to build our students knowledge.  New methods and research are always available and great new developments are pushed forward.  The Three-Part Lesson is one of the new methods that we as teachers are being taught to utilize in our Mathematics classrooms.  The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat of Ontario Canada, published a break down of what happens within each part of the lesson.  These types of supports are essential to help us develop our craft to be the best in our classrooms.  This link will bring you to a detailed breakdown of the structure of a three-part lesson:

But what does this actually mean for teachers?

Obviously to be able to implement this type of strategy means teachers need to determine where to start instruction.  Where are students on their learning continuum?  What skills are they lacking to be able to solve the problem presented? Teachers need to do this through pre assessments that aid in determining if the students have the necessary skills and knowledge.  This is vitally important, as teachers need to be able to determine what must be accomplished with students prior to attempting the problem.  When doing so, teachers ensure that all students have a strong foundation to be able to attempt the problem and can experience success.

While students are working on their solutions teachers should expect to direct and guide them.  This means that, as always, teachers need to be prepared.  How?  Solve the problem on your own!  This will illustrate the challenges students may face in solving the question.  But do note that this method of problem solving stipulates that there is not just one way of solving it.  Attempt to come up with a different solution than the first one and be open to other methods.

When it is time to display the results teachers should be able to support this step through meaningful discussions regarding the diverse ways that the problem has been attempted and solved.  Note that this method cannot be done in one class period!  Usually, it is done over at least 3 class periods.

Therefore, when choosing questions, they must encompass a variety of strands from your curriculum.  These questions must be open ended to allow for diverse use of strategies.  This will aid in ensuring your curriculum expectations are addressed.

Furthermore, you must have the appropriate supplies (chart paper, sticky notes, markers, & manipulative as minimum requirements) and a classroom management style that supports heterogeneous groupings, collaboration, support, focused discussion and certainly student accountability.

This last piece is exceptionally important, as this is where students have a voice, take ownership of their learning, and can convey their understanding to others.

If you are a teacher that uses this method, then please let us know about your experiences.  Collaborating together allows for deeper understanding for all of us!

Let us know what you think or add in your comments about teaching through problem solving.

How will you color your classroom?

I always knew that color affects people differently but I then started to think: “Can color affect how students learn?”   

Since we are preparing our classrooms for our new school year we should be prepared to understand what can help or be a detriment to our students. We usually use posters, charts, and other décor but consider the backdrop while planning out this year’s classroom space.

Color can be used to help gain students’ focus and increase their learning. However, if the wrong color is used, it could also be a detriment to learning. 

High contrast and bright colors are intellectually stimulating and can increase mental focus for younger children. Those same colors can be too distracting for older students.  More subdued hues can be less distracting in the upper grades. 

We can use this knowledge to our advantage!

If we know that high contrast and bright colors are distracting, then think about putting those bright colors where you tend to do more demonstrating which would draw greater attention in that direction. 

Using neutral or pastel colors (blues, greens, primary colors) in the area where students are to work and concentrate, allows better productivity due to their soothing nature and decreased distractibility.    

Due to this calming effect, students are more open to new ideas.

Use yellows and oranges to help students’ creative energy but stay away from white and off white shades which are boring, make students restless and cause frustration.

Do you want students to pay greater attention to detail?  Use red!  It is known to energize and make students more attentive to mistakes.  But beware that red does not invoke creativity, but is linked to aggressive behavior!

So what will you do?  How will you prepare and set up your classroom?  Let us know what you have done, post your pictures, what has worked and how it has worked. We would love to hear from you!



NeoCON. The Impact of Color on Learning. (accessed August 2, 2012)

NPR. Study: Seeing Red, Blue Affects Outcome of Tasks. (accessed August  2, 2012)