Using the School Garden to classify Pleasant & Unpleasant Sounds in Gr3 Science – connections to Hattie


I have been enjoying my time at Buchanan School on Centre St N in Calgary. For the past few months I have been spending some time immersing myself in the world of teaching and learning. Through the generosity of teachers and the Principal, i’ve been able to put into practice some of the ideas I have reading about and sharing with teachers.

The other day in science, I shared the learning intent as being able to discern pleasant sounds from unpleasant sounds. First, we talked about the words and what they meant. Then we listened to a sample of sounds from a sound library. With a show of hands, students classified sounds as pleasant or unpleasant. These steps although not out of the ordinary were deliberate. Hattie’s (Visible Learning, 2009) identifies classroom discussion as a significant inflence on student achievement. in addition, questioning is also identified as a significant influence on achievement. I set out to have some discussion and ask some questions to move students towards the learning intent.

I then shared some information about the Scientific Method of having a question, making a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, and recording data, then analyzing the data. Students worked with their visual journals and wrote a prediction based on their best guess about whether the front of the school or the back of the school would have more pleasant sounds. I then shared with students a way of recording the data. All of this was done with a Direct Instruction approach – sharing out information, checking for understanding, and teaching to the ideas that kids struggled with. I did this quite deliberately as well as Hattie identifies Direct Instruction as a significant influence on student achievement.

The we went outside first to the front of the school for 5 minutes and then to the back of the school.


It was amazing what we heard on busy Centre St N – geese flying overhead, cars and buses, birds signing in the trees, carpenters hammering, children playing down the street, a police car, the wind in the trees and on and on. Students recorded what they heard in their visual journals. This was an important part of the lesson for me. As the env/outdoor ed consultant with the CBE, I figured I should get these kids outdoors and engaged with the environment. Hattie’s research supports engaging students with outdoor education as well – another significant learning influence on student achievement.

Then we returned indoors to our classroom. When we were all settled, we pulled out our visual journals and I asked students to circle the pleasant sounds with a blue pencil crayon and the unpleasant sounds with a red pencil crayon. Then we counted up which side of the school had more pleasant sounds – the Centre St N side or the Centre St. B side. If you had to make a prediction, knowing how busy Centre St N is, which side of the school would you predict had the highest frequency of pleasant sounds?

Kind of surprisingly most students found that the school garden on the Centre St N side of Buchanan School had a higher frequency of pleasant sounds.

There were lots of positives that came our of this very simple lesson. Students appreciating the natural world and the abundance of sounds that you can hear even on a busy street like Centre St N. Conducting an experiment. Using a mix of direct instruction, teacher questioning, and outdoor education. None of this rocket sceince, but I think it was good learning – an artifact was created that students could self assess their learning, that teachers could provide feedback on, and ideas that creating some stepping stones for the next lesson.

Thanks to teacher, Liz Laberge for sharing her grade 2/3 class with me. I have had such a terrific time teaching this fall!

Roy Strum


The Importance of Clear Learning Intentions

I’ve been reading Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers this fall. Every chapter leads me to reflecting on my own teaching and coaching practice. It makes me want to jump on my blog and share out my reflections. Here is a blogpost copied from my coaching blog –


So much of the work of effective teaching and coaching is centered on being able to help your learners improve technically. More effective coaches do this over a smaller time period than less effective coaches. The fact is that most of us who coach adolescents are not immersed in the world of coaching full time; most of us are volunteers who have day jobs, often quite unrelated to working with adolescents in a sport context, and we work with club skiers in the evenings and on weekends. We do our best, work with our best hunch about what we think will be most effective and go for it. Nonetheless, you can see it at races, some clubs have kids who ski with greater technical proficiency than other clubs. Something is going on when you notice this, and its good to think about ways to improve your effectiveness as a coach.

One of things that helps kids to learn technical ski skills quicker are things that effective teachers do when teaching mathematics or science or phys ed. Great teachers share their learning intentions with their students. For us as coaches, this means being explicit in sharing with kids what the learning intentions are at each practice. It might look like ‘today we are going to work at gliding on a flat ski’. As coaches, its then important to provide some learning experiences that provide some surface learning, some building of deeper understandings of the skill, and some conceptual understandings of how the task relates to the skill. As coaches, we need to have a clear idea of where we are going with our instruction and ensure that our athletes know where they are going.

As coaches, we also need to encourage kids to commit to achieving the learning goals and provide feedback on how successful their efforts are in attaining the learning goal. This might look like ‘your inside edge is closer to the snow than your outside edge – what do you need to do to have your outside edge of your ski have equal contact with the snow when you are gliding’. Its important that kids get descriptive feedback if they are going to improve their technical skills.

Kids need to know what success looks like. This can be done in lots of ways. First the coach can demonstrate the skill – which is why at a certain level its important that a coach can perform a skill to the level they want their athletes to perform it. Secondly, you can use world cup video clips of an athlete performing the skill you’re working on and play it in slow motion or use a tool like Ubersense to mark joint angles or show how an expert performer, for example, glides on a flat ski. Or if your lucky, you’ve got some junior racers who can show kids what it looks like. Having a clear idea of what success looks like will help athletes get there alot faster.

When you are explicit in sharing your learning intention; when you give kids descriptive feedback that helps them move in the direction of attaining the learning intention; and when kids know what success looks like, both physically and conceptually, their attention is increased, and their motivation to succeed increases – these things lead to greater success.

I’ll be honest, I am crazy about coaching kids in cross country skiing and I’m passionate about sharing out best practice ideas to help coaches who are looking for ideas and growth in their practice to help kids learn to be better skiers, enjoy our fantastic sport more, and keep them involved. I have found that where kids don’t get the best instruction, they drop out of our sport with higher frequency than where they have a passionate, skilled coach who not only is a good skier, but more importantly who is a good teacher.

Its early winter in Calgary. There is nothing I like more than getting my skis on, feeling the incredible sensation of propelling my body up and down hills with grace, efficiency, and the pure unadulterated joy of movement.

Roy Strum