Student population: 242; Grades: K–8; Principal: Sara De Divitiis
Nelles Public School is located in the growing town of Grimsby, which is situated between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment. The school became a kindergarten to Grade 8 school (having been a K–6 school) when the previous school that students attended for Grades 7 and 8 became a French Immersion school. In order to impact the learning of each student, parents—through their active School Council—helped to equip every classroom with math manipulatives, thereby ensuring none were negatively affected by the swelling student enrolment.
EQAO considered schools that:
The work in Niagara District School Board began with each area’s team of principals, along with superintendents, reviewing EQAO results together. By identifying commonalities, such as trends in elementary schools in a similar geographic area, they were better able to collaborate and coordinate efforts. Back at their schools, teachers and administrators considered the attitude and behaviour data on the EQAO reporting application, which allowed them to uncover a need for strategies for increasing positive student attitude through continued attention to developing a growth mindset in students. Then they followed up with classroom observations and conversations. The schools looked at the students coming out of Grade 3 and into Grade 4 with the Learning Resource Teacher and school team, and asked if the children’s needs were being met. In the junior division, more accommodations were put in place, and the results showed that special education students were successful in Grade 6.
"I teach all of my students that mistakes help us to learn and make our brain stronger."
— Mrs. Janssens, Teacher
"I matter as an individual at Nelles because …when I play Dreambox, the math that I have to do, it will get harder'"
In the District School Board of Niagara, a lot of thought, time and resources have been put into encouraging leadership from everyone in mathematics to nurture learning math leaders throughout the system. It is a board where principals are lead learners. At Nelles Public School, the instructional coach models learning with teachers and is required to have at least Math AQ Part 1 and to work alongside principals and teachers when learning math, developing strategies and supporting the use of research-based math resources (such as VandeWalle). The board offers Math AQ courses at no cost to teachers. As a result, teachers are not only taking advantage of the opportunity, they are coming back to their schools and impacting the learning of all teachers in their buildings by sharing during collaborative work time, at staff meetings and during Professional Learning Days.
Speaker—Sara De Divitiis
At the District School Board of Niagara, one of our large focuses is math instructional leadership and nurturing the learning of everyone, and that includes superintendents, principals, teachers, instructional coaches. At our area meetings, which is with our superintendent and groups of principals, we look at the EQAO data at the beginning of each year, and we determine needs. We determine next steps, best next steps—and we also celebrate our successes—and we look at commonalities, trends across our area of schools, and this helps us to build our math goals and our math plan for the school year. From there, we bring it back to our schools, to our school staffs. So once I bring it back to my staff, we look at our school data specifically. Again, we’re looking at our needs of our students. We determine next best steps—and we also take time to celebrate our successes because that is important—and from there we determine our School Improvement Plan goals, and we make sure that we are looking at what our learning plan will be for that school year, which is obviously going to change and tweak based on student need. Instructional Coach is a big part of our learning as well in our support. We revisit our EQAO data throughout the school year. Including—we look at our Attitude and Behaviour data to determine how we can better meet the needs of our school. One of the things that we did is we asked our school council to come on board. We shared our math goals, because one of our indicators in our data showed us that our students were not using math manipulatives as much as we had hoped, and that came down to the fact that we just didn’t have enough to offer them in every classroom and have them at their fingertips whenever they needed it. So they [school council] purchased a large amount of manipulatives for us, to help us move forward in our math learning with our students. Another thing that I think has really built capacity and helped to move student learning forward in my school specifically is the District School Board of Niagara offers math AQ courses, Additional Qualification courses, to all teachers across our board who are interested in learning, free of charge, and they can take Part 1, Part 2 and their Specialist. There is many teachers in my school (Sic.) who have taken advantage of this learning and have come back excited to share their learning, and it has really impacted our student learning and teacher learning in a positive way. In PD days, staff meetings, PLCs—it’s been invaluable and exciting, and lastly, we really work together as a team. We work together. We respect each other. It’s a great place to come to work and learn every single day, and I think that that’s a really key piece to a positive learning experience.
Through regular professional learning communities, which are determined by teacher learning needs, teachers asked for learning support through the principal and coach. The staff determined that the whole school’s focus would be math and that a growth mindset was a significant part of the math goal. As the school team explored creating a growth mindset, they realized they needed to embed that mindset in their everyday teaching. Students developed more confidence with their skills and were excited about learning math.
Speaker—Wayne Hodgson, Teacher
So for me, it is really about making every student believe they are a mathematician and can be successful in math. Curriculum is always going to be the thing that drives us in the classroom, but for me, it really takes a back seat when it comes to helping students realize their ability in math and they can be successful. We celebrate mistakes in the classroom all the time—it’s an opportunity for every student to learn, and once kids see their ideas are valued, they feel more a part of the math community and are willing to take more risks, which really is one of the keys to being successful in math. You know, as they start to see some small successes, they begin to get a growth mindset where they realize that, “Hey, I can do this. It doesn’t just have to be the ‘smart math kids’ that can be successful at math,” and then once that starts to grow, confidence grows, and as the year progresses, they become more and more convinced they can do math, and for EQAO specifically, something we do in the classroom—and please don’t take offense to this—but I make EQAO out to be a Math Villain that we have to take down. So all year long, we’re doing EQAO-style questions. We get together as a group and analyze and figure out how we can effectively communicate our thinking. Their goal, much like a video game, is to achieve a level three or higher, and when we do, we always rejoice in that and talk about how, “EQAO has no idea what it’s in for when it walks into our classroom.” We even have a cheer before we even start the EQAO testing, which goes something like, “One, two, three. Crush it!” So the kids are really geared up for taking this test. By the time May rolls around, they’re not the least bit concerned about taking it. In fact, they are excited about taking it, and I really believe that that attitude really does help improve our scores on the test.”
The entire school is using the board's Math Scope and Sequence, which provides suggestions and support for teachers in planning effective learning and teaching. This resource not only creates conditions for collaboration between colleagues, it assists the principal, the coach and the Learning Resource Teachers in planning for professional learning and resource support, as well as helping teachers with planning for combined grade classes. As part of the use of the Scope and Sequence, each class has a 100-minute math block with a portion of each math class (approximately 20–40 minutes) spent on one or more of the following activities: developing computational fluency, playing games and doing activities that develop spatial abilities and reasoning skills and revisiting previously taught math concepts and vocabulary. Use of the Scope and Sequence also encourages collaboration, since everyone is talking about it and sharing ideas. It is timely, ensures that math teaching is effective and allows teachers to refine practice; the document provides suggestions for revisiting, as well as effective research-based resources.
Speaker—Shelley Schroeder, Teacher
I think our school has done so well in the last few years because we provide students with a variety of math learning opportunities, authentic experiences, opportunities to use hands on materials, and we also include technology. One of the other strategies I like to use is teaching through problem solving, where students get to work with a partner, share ideas, practice communicating with one another, and solve real life situations that shows them that math isn’t just inside the classroom during that 50 to 100 minute block, that it’s actually all around us, and we use it every day. I like to incorporate the kids in the problems too sometimes, to make it a bit more fun, but also it gives them some ownership, so that they feel that it’s meaningful to them, not just a problem out of a textbook. Then we’ll come to a full class situation where we get to share those different strategies, and students can learn from one another. They share what they have done, and sometimes students can pick up new strategies that are maybe more efficient, or they look at it in a new light that they hadn’t seen before. I think it’s really valuable to share that and those strategies and share that learning together. Another tool we have is the DSBNs, using the scope and sequence, where it lays out the math curriculum in a specific order, and it’s just nice and easy to read so that you know exactly what expectations you are doing at what time. It also allows us to really plan with other teachers in our school, and sometimes we have PD where you get to work with teachers that are in the same grade group so then you can again share some ideas, and you’re all going through the same unit or the same strand at the same time, and that’s super helpful. It also includes some resources—some online resources for us—and just gives us new ideas, new approaches because sometimes you need to have that fresh look at math and make it new and exciting.
School Profile and Results