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

Using elements of Design Thinking in Teaching Grade 3 Science


It has been nice being more deeply embedded in teaching and learning environments again. This school year, I’ve worked at getting back to where the work happens – in schools. Its always been a part of my work as a consultant, but I’ve wanted to do more than surface learning. One of the schools I have spent lots of time in this fall is Buchanan School on Centre St N in Calgary.

In teaching grade 3 science, I have worked at using some design thinking ideas. Here is what I did with a recent lesson focused on units of measure for loudness and how protect our hearing with hearing protection devices.

Using some direct instruction, we started out with a review of the anatomy of a human ear –
Hattie’s Visible Learning research points out that direct instruction is significant influence on achievement.

Next I shared a visual of how sound travels in sound waves –
explaining, and answering questions, and asking students about new questions that this information brings up – e.g. what about when sound hits a window, can sound waves travel through a window? etc.

I then introduced the idea of units of measure for sound loudness – decibels. We talked about how sound that is more than 85 decibels can hurt our hearing – kids asked what part of your ear could get damaged? we generated a list of questions that students wondered about. Then we played a game as a class that asked kids to predict whether a sound was above or below 85 decibels.

After these direct learning and inquiry based experiences, I introduced design thinking as a concept. We talked about what design is, what a designer does, what kinds of designers we find in the adult work world. We talked about steps in designing, how a designer thinks about possibilites, shares and collaborates with others, plans out their ideas, seeks feedback for improvements, gathers materials, creates a prototype, tests the prototype, share the prototype with peers, seeks feedback for things that work well, and design improvements, then modifies their design to make improvements.

The learning task was focused on creating a hearing protection device. The task included building in prediction, hypothesis, and experimentation with design. ‘Create a hearing device that uses different materials for each ear, then test which prototype works best. Then compare with another students prototypes and offer and give feedback for improving the design.’

How did I think about the instructional core in this learning task? Elmore’s instructional core model asks teachers to work with students to design the learning task and assessment strategies while considering their expertise with curriculum. Considering the intended learning outcomes, and framing the learning as experimentation and design work, and student interest in their own anatomy and autonomy in decision making made it easy to engage students in the relevance of the topic and task to their interests. Students could be creative in design, test their prototypes and modify their design with input from teachers and peers along the way.

I have to say, it has been a thrill to work with Liz Laberge, the grade 2/3 teacher at Buchanan on this unit. And of course some of the best professional learning comes from looking at the artifacts of learning to determine how successful our teaching has been in terms of helping students to learn the intended outcomes.

I’m loving my time at Buchanan School.

Roy Strum
Consultant, Env and Outdoor Education
Calgary Board of Education

“0” Influence – “0” Gained!

I came across this great blogpost today – as an instructional leader in the Calgary Board of Education, I have been reading Ten Things that Matter Most by Tom Schimmer. Tom’s ideas have really resonated with me. Roy Strum, Learning Consultant, Calgary

Tom Schimmer

Zeros don’t work; never have, never will!  While a good number of schools/districts have already addressed this issue through a shift in policy or practice, two questions come to mind: (1) Why hasn’t everyone, and (2) What took us so long?  For some of us, our reaction to this post would be, “Ya we know that already. We did ‘no zeros’ three years ago!” However, the knowing-doing gap is still alive and well in some places which is why I think the topic is still important to discuss.

Now before I go on about zeros, let me first tell you that early in my career I was the zero guy. Like many of you, having received no instruction on sound grading in my teacher prep program, I started by doing what was done to me, including the use of “0”…not that I was assigned any zeros in High School! The…

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Reflections of Student Views of Teacher Effectiveness…


I’ve been busy reading John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers this past few weeks. I’ll tell you I cant help but reflect on my own teaching practice as I read. In his book, Hattie shares 2010 findings from the Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching Project One of the very interesting findings from this research was around student perceptions of highly effective and less effective teachers based on their experiences in these teachers’ classrooms. The research asked students (n=3000) about how they see the classes of teachers who have added higher than expected achievement gains compared with students in classes where gains were much lower. The findings identified several key differences between highly effective and less effective teachers in 7 dimensions of their work – care, control, clarify, challenge, captivate, confer, consolidate.

If you ask my friends where my deepest passion resides they would probably tell you that its focused on engaging children in healthy, active outdoor activity. I love this stuff. Getting kids our on bikes or skis or exploring natural spaces – its what I’ve given my time and energy to for much of my career. I have taught alot of childreo how to cross country ski – my passion has been advancing skill and understanding about efficient motor skill development that leads ultimately (I hope) to increased enjoyment of sport and technical performance of skills in the children of outdoor physical activity. Much of my reflection and learning about teaching kids outdoor physical activity has been shared out on my coaching blog –

Like most teachers, I am to make a difference in the work I do. The Gates Foundation research points out some good things for teachers to reflect on in their work to advance effectiveness.

Care – highly effective teachers make students feel that he/she is cared about. Building relationships that advance learning is critical. In my numerous years of coaching, finding things out about kids and showing interest in them as a whole person has been a key to my work.

Control – students in highly effective teachers’ classes treat the teacher with respect; classes are busy and students dont waste time. I have found that a combination of enthusiasm, high expectation around listening to instruction, and positive reinforcement have worked really well in my work as a PE/OE teacher

Clarify – highly effective teachers can explain difficult ideas well. In my work teaching kids to cross country ski, I have found that the language you use can either make things easier or harder to grasp – pointing out that you want kids to ski on ‘one foot, then the other foot’ is so much easier to conceptualization than ‘improve your weight shift’.

Challenge – in classes where highly effective teachers work students feel they learn alot everyday. Doing more than rolling out the ball is important – building understanding and offering lots of feedback is super important in creating a challenging learning environment.

Captivate – Highly effective teachers make lessons intereating. Feedback from my students and athletes have let me know that relating physics concepts to a skill session is interesting and concept building. Plus I’ve worked hard at sharing enthusiasm

Confer – highly effective teachers create spaces where students speak up and share their ideas.

Consolidate – highly effective teachers check to make sure that students understand. This is the important work of checking in with kids about their level of understanding of the idea being presented. ‘Does that make sense?’

Like most teachers, I learn everyday. I learn from noticing if kids are getting the concepts of the work i am presenting. I learn from sharing ideas with colleagues. I learn from taking some risks with the work I do – trying something new and never, ever feeling like I’ve arrived.

Thinking about improving teaching practice is a conversation I enjoy having. I’m found on twitter at JRStrum if you want to continue the conversation sometime.


Outdoor Education and Visible Learning – connecting the dots

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This article was originally written for @CBE182 a twitter account where teachers, administrators, consultants from the Calgary Board of Education share out best practice ideas and celebrate the work of teaching and learning in our school division. This article is the full version of the shortened article found on CBE182. If you aren’t following CBE182 yet, I’d encourage you to do so – you’ll find a different educator sharing out ideas every school day of the year.

Here is the extended version of the @CBE182 article published on Oct 30, 2014.

CBE 182 – A Day in the Life of an Outdoor/Environmental Education Consultant – Roy Strum

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Last week I had the chance to get out for a ride with a group of grade 9 students and their teacher from Simon Fraser School. It was the sort of experience that made me reflect about the place for outdoor physical activity in our current education culture. I’ve been reading Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers the last couple of weeks. I’ve been mulling over connecting the dots between outdoor education and learning that addresses both surface and deep knowledge and is a part of constructing new ideas. Can physical learning be an exemplar of visible learning? Or is it merely supplementary to the important learning work that can happen with a passionate teacher within a classroom?

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Here are my observations from my day with Simon Fraser School. Hattie would say that Visible Learning occurs when: learning is the explicit goal; the learning task is appropriately challenging; the teacher and student seek to ascertain whether and to what degree the challenging goal is attained; there is deliberate practice aimed at master of the goal; there is feedback that is given and sought; there are active, passionate, and engaging people participating in the act of learning. Given this definition, I’d say some impactful learning occurred on our mountain bike trip to Nose Hill Park.

Learning is the explicit goal – The teacher had framed the day as a skill development experience focused on cross country mountain bike riding skills. He had planned the use of gps units as a skill building experience. The afternoon was about learning – learning to ride your bike in undulating variable terrain and to be able to use a piece of technology to locate yourself in an expansive natural setting.

The learning task is appropriately challenging – Nose Hill Park provides a variety of terrain to challenge riders – from narrow single track, to double track trails, options for riding on paved paths, or technical sweeping flowy descents. Terrain that would encourage good riding technique and make skill instruction relevant.

There is deliberate practice aimed at mastery of the goal – instruction and demonstration of technical riding skills were offered, opportunities to practice a skill on appropriate terrain were present, such as neutral position on descents, repeated opportunities to practice ascending, flat ground riding, and descending were provided as part of the two hours of riding in a natural area.

There is feedback that is given and sought – Riding alongside students as they ride a big climb provides a teacher to suggest and show them how to move forward on their saddle, or drop their elbows or wrists – as a result, skill level improves for the student and their ease in ascending a long climb on their bike improves. This results in improved student confidence in their abilities and subsequent improved physical skill performance efficiency. In fact, what also happened on our ride at Nose Hill was students began to offer feedback to other students about their body positions, the riding skills; peer teaching what they had learned to peers who needed some more instruction.

There are active, passionate, and engaging people involved with learning – when you’re riding some twisty undulating single track trail, and you’re the person in charge of your bike, you get engaged pretty easily, otherwise you end up on the ground. The teachers from Simon Fraser School shared their passion and interest in spending time outdoors engaged with fun, active physical activity.

None of this really comes as a surprise to me or will it to many others. Cross country mountain biking at Nose Hill Park has inherent appeal to students – there is adventure and novelty and an experience that has immediate effects on later cycling experiences. And let’s face it, for many, many students, getting a chance to improve their cycling skills at school may be the only formal instruction they ever get focused on riding trails on a mountain bike. On top of this, Hattie’s research identifies outdoor education as a significant influence on student achievement. When students are engaged in deliberate practice in a challenging learning task where feedback is offered and tasks are structured so that learners can attain the learning goals then visible learning happens.

I’m pleased to say, some great visible learning happened last week with Simon Fraser School’s outdoor education class and it happened at Nose Hill Park while kids were riding their bicycles. Hats off to teacher John Komori for his great work with his students.

Exemplars of Great Teaching in Physical and Outdoor Education


This week I’ve picked up Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers. Hattie describes characteristics of ‘expert’ teachers.
– Expert teachers can identify the most effective ways to represent the subject they teach.
– Expert teachers create optimal learning climates.
– Expert teachers can monitor learning and provide effective feedback.
– Expert teachers believe that every student can reach the success criteria.
– Expert teachers influence surface and deep understandings.

As I read and reflect, I can picture this type of teaching most clearly in the world where I have spent the most of my career energy – physical and outdoor education. Teaching motor skills is a natural platform where exemplars of Hattie’s description of expert teaching can take place. Great PE and OE teachers have suffient content knowledge to know how to break down a skill, put together a learning progression, and use learning technologies to advance skill acquisition. Master PE and OE teachers possess integrated knowledge. Teaching a motor skill is bigger than just learning to put your body in a certain series of positions, it is about integrating concepts from other disciplines to create new understandings. Introducing concepts such as drag forces and propulsive forces become deepen understandings when learning about how to climb a hill on cross country skis. Expert teachers in PE and OE seek negative evidence – looking for who is not learning. This is an easy task when teaching motor skills – its evident who gets it and who needs a different strategy for achieving the success criteria. For example, kids learning to descend on mountain bikes whose feet aren’t in neutral position are going to have a tougher time with balance and responsiveness to terrain. Expert teachers also maintain a positive belief that every student can learn the content. Having a deeper understanding of the skill and the context for using it allows expert PE and OE teachers to change other variables in their teaching to respond in the moment to the learning context. Changing the teaching terrain, or the learning task, or using peer teaching are all ways that expert PE/OE teachers respond to the situational learning needs presented by students. Expert PE/OE teachers help students learn.

Great PE/OE teachers create optimal climates for learning. Learning a physical skill is different for every person – a unique combination of nature and nurture. Risk taking and failure are what it takes to learn a new motor skill. Having an environment where its ok to make mistakes is something that expert teachers do. In these kinds of PE/OE learning spaces, kids thrive because they know its ok to fall down, its ok to struggle, its ok to not be an expert performer in the first hour or 50. Improvement in skill performance takes place as a result of time and effort, instruction and feedback. This learning occurs in PE/OE much more successfully when the teacher has created a climate where error is ok. Lets face it, people put themselves on the line in a very visible way when engaging in physical activity. Its why so many of our young people stop being phyiscally active – it is immediately obvious to those around you that you are in a learning place. Great PE/OE teachers create safe spaces for kids to take risks when learning physical skills.

Every learner needs feedback to improve. This is the case in learning to read, to write, its true in learning math skills, or learning a new language. Feedback is also a crucial piece of learning a motor skill. Expert PE/OE teachers canonitor the current status of skill learning in each student and provide them with the indiviual feedback to move them closer to the success criteria. Giving every student something different is what expert teachers do based on their individual performance of that skill. One student might need to bring their shoulders closer to their handle bars when ascending on a mountain bike, while for another student, the more appropriate feedback might be move your bodyweight forward on your saddle. In learning a motor skill, sometimes it is plainly evident to the student that something isnt working right in their skill performance. A deficiency in an aspect of a motor skill can make it alot harder work. For example, not paying attention to the biomechanical principal of using core muscles before extremity muscle groups makes it much more tiring when double poling as a cross country ski skill.

Hattie states that expert teachers believe that every student can achieve the success criteria. One of my own experiences when I was a high school student, and something that led me to believe I can be an athlete, was a grade 11 phys ed teacher’s tenacity, patience, and belief that I could learn to do a forearm pass, that I was capable. I did learn to do a forearm pass, even though it took a while, and I am still not the most expert volleyball player in the world. The language and the interactions of phys ed and outdoor ed teachers when teaching a physical skill have both short term and long term influences on students lives. As a club cross country coach, I have worked hard to send the message to every athlete that they are capable of being a master performer of a skill.

Expert PE/OE teachers foster deep and surface learning when it comes to motor skill acquisition. Putting a skill into the context of a game, using tactical situations to learn a skill, give opportunities for deeper understandings. In the case of outdoor education physical activities, putting the skill into the context of the terrain provides opportunities for the development of deeper understandings of that skill. Understanding the biomechanical concepts or the physics of physical activity provide the deeper understandings that can positively influence skill acquisition. Surface learning happens easily with motor skills – put your arms in this position, bend your knees first, etc. Great PE/OE teachers start with the surface learning and then move into deeper understandings so that activity becomes more efficient, less taxing on the body, and more enjoyable.

Reading Hattie makes me realize I have lots to learn. It also reinforces that visible learning concepts apply equally to physical education and outdoor education learning. Great teachers have alot in common.

Roy Strum
CBE Outdoor Ed Consultant

Roy Strum, Teacher, Assistant Principal, All-Around Nice Guy