The 30 Days Are Over – Now What?

Thirty days ago, my vice principal, Kristi, challenged all of us to 30 Days of #Gratitude.

2014-03-26_08-03-30I was one of many people that decided to take this challenge. I did so for many reasons:

  • Being positive is one of my personal goals for this year, and Kristi’s challenge coincided with that.
  • I find this to be a stressful time of the year. The staffing process starts in schools, and it’s easy to get immersed in the negative. I didn’t want this to be the case.
  • I love my job! Teaching makes me happy, and working with students ALWAYS makes me smile! I thought that this 30 Day Challenge would be the perfect reminder of why it’s always worth being positive!

And now that the challenge is officially over, what did I learn?

  • There are lots of things to be positive about! Most days, I used the #gratitude hashtag multiple times, and probably could have used it multiple more.
  • Attitude matters. I know it sounds silly, but I actually found myself dreaming about what #gratitude tweet I would send out each morning, and starting the day with a smile, tended to help me end with one too.
  • We all need a support system. I really felt as though this #gratitude challenge was a “team affair,” and it was great to know that there were other people there being positive with you. After a hard day or a sad moment, I’d find myself checking out the #gratitude tweets just to help bring about a smile. This always worked!
  • A home/school connection is essential! A wonderful parent at our school also contributed to this #gratitude challenge, and it was great to see teaching and learning through her eyes. I’ve always believed strongly in supporting this home/school connection, but this challenge made me realize this even more!

A Look At Some Of These Parent #Gratitude Tweets!

This challenge was the perfect reminder that I’m one of the luckiest people in the world: I work in a wonderful school, with amazing educators and administrators, terrific parents, and outstanding kids, doing a job that I absolutely adore! As our principal, Paul, says every day on the announcements, “Make it a great day or not … the choice is yours!” I plan on continuing to make it a great day, everyday, as there’s much to be grateful for in education. Who’s with me?



Calling All Health Teachers: What Would You Do?

I use this professional blog for different reasons: sometimes it’s for reflection, sometimes it’s to share learning, and sometimes it’s to ask for advice. Today I’m asking for advice. While I primarily teach Grade 5, I also do two prep coverages a week: one for Grade 3/4 Media Literacy and one for Grade 3/4 Health. For both of these prep coverages, I’ve really tried to use inquiry and/or project-based learning (it tends to vary somewhat) to give students more control over their learning and to develop thinking skills. This has been a great experience, and the Grade 3/4 students seem eager to come and learn with me for 100 minutes each week. But now I have a problem: my last Health unit for this Grade 3/4 class is Growth and Development.

Here are the Grade 3 expectations …


and here are the Grade 4 expectations.


OPHEA has a wonderful resource for both of these grades, and I definitely plan on using the ideas shared. My problem is that many of these materials are blackline masters. They share important information, and I need the students to learn this information, but these worksheets will not work well for all students. I have students with varying needs, and I want to be able to address these needs.

Given any other unit, I would use the ideas from the resource as a starting point, and then move from there. I know though that there are components of this unit that can be more difficult/sensitive for some students, and I want to respect this. So do I just go with the worksheets and scribe for students that need it? Do I have students use assistive technology to help with reading and/or writing for the given activity pages? Do I use the information on the worksheets and try to create my own materials? What would you do and/or what have you done? I’m open to ideas and would welcome any suggestions! I’m reluctant to use the blackline masters and am hoping for another good choice.


My Drive Home: How Inquiry’s Changed Things For Me!

I don’t have a very long drive home every day, but even in my 10-15 minute ride, I’m always thinking about something. This change is weather is causing quite the migraine for me tonight, and while some of my thinking this evening was along the lines of, “Please don’t throw up!,” :) I was also thinking about math. Why?

Today, my student teacher, Ashley, introduced the students to our Teapot Box Challenge (evaluation here). When she asked the students about calculating the perimeter of the net – one of the expectations — she noticed that some students had questions. She said that she’d do a mini-lesson tomorrow on this as the class was off to music.

During our prep time today, we spoke about this perimeter expectation. We thought that students need to realize that the perimeter is found by adding up the lengths of the sides along the unfolded net. Easy, right? This option definitely makes sense if we think of the net in the “unfolded” sense, with the prism or pyramid being the “folded” option.

Could the “net” also be referring to the prism or pyramid? If so, I have more questions:

  • Would the perimeter refer to just the perimeter of the base as the “area around the outside” is really just impacted by the size of the base?
  • Would the perimeter change depending on how the prism or pyramid is placed (e.g., in a rectangular prism, would the perimeter change if the prism is laid flat versus standing tall)?

I really don’t know the answers to these questions, and I’m hoping that one of my blog readers might be able to help me out. What do you think? How would you get students to uncover this learning? Is there just one right answer here or could there be many? Inquiry doesn’t just get my students thinking more, but it has me thinking more as well! Thanks, in advance, for sharing any thoughts (and maybe helping lessen at least some of my migraine). :)


Is The Teacher At The Helm? Further Reflections On CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING

Over the years, I’ve read many educational resources, but few have made me stop and think as regularly as Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. This weekend, I finished reading Chapter 3 in Shanker’s book in preparation for our upcoming Book Club Meeting on May 5th. Chapter 3 focused on The Cognitive Domain, and while this chapter resulted in numerous notes and many a-ha moments for me, I think that I was left at the end with the biggest question of all: Does the “teacher” play the most powerful, pivotal role in a student’s success or failure?

I put the word, “teacher,” in quotation marks because I think that students can have many teachers at school – from classroom or prep coverage teachers to educational assistants to DECEs in the Full Day Kindergarten Classrooms - but I’m starting to wonder if all of them really are the keys to student success. Please don’t get me wrong: I always believed that teachers played a value role in student achievement, but now I’m thinking about the extent of this role.

Just like in the other chapters in Shanker’s book, this one is full of examples to highlight his main points. Here’s what I see from these examples:

  • When students are playing in the classroom, it’s up to the teacher to know when to intervene, when to stay back and watch, and how to interact with the students to help scaffold their learning, while also allowing them to self-regulate their behaviour. (pages 49-50)
  • We want students to persevere during difficult tasks, and we want to give them time to do so, but if they’re given too much time or if the challenge is too much, the students will go from engagement to disengagement. Teachers really need to know their learners to create an engaging environment that allows all of them to succeed. (pages 52-53)
  • Students with learning needs may need different strategies and/or different supports in place to meet with success. Teachers need to know about these student needs and strategies that can allow for increased self-regulation. (pages 54-55)
  • Teachers can play games in the classroom, such as Simon Says, to help increase attention. While these games can help students follow auditory directions, for further classroom learning, teachers also need to put into place options for students that cannot remember long lists of oral instructions (such as visuals or written cues). Small changes can lead to big success. (pages 58-59)
  • There’s definite value to DPA (Daily Physical Activity) in the classroom. Whether this is done through classroom obstacle courses, digital dance and movement activities, or even fun games, students can develop both self-regulation and listening skills. Again, teachers knowing their students and their needs (e.g., students that may become upset with “out” options and ways to work around these) will help make these activities successful ones. (pages 60-61)
  • Rules are important, but they can’t just be given to the students. Children need to take ownership over these rules, and that comes with co-creating them. The teacher acts as the facilitator in this important activity. (pages 63-64)
  • Teachers need to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students have always struggled, and teachers believe that they won’t succeed, then this will happen. Instead, teachers need to provide scaffolding and meaningful choices that will result in success. They need to get the parents involved, and teachers need the parents to also see this success. Working together is essential. (pages 65-68)

Looking back on these examples, I can’t help but focus on the role of the teacher. What we do and how we do it seems to be crucial for student success. Teaching is a HUGE responsibility – and a wonderful one – but how do we ensure that we meet the needs of all students? What do you suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


What Would You Say To Googling?

This post is largely an opportunity for me to think aloud as I try to decide how I feel about what happened during math class today. Right now, the students are learning about geometry, and they’re creating various nets. My student teacher introduced this concept earlier this week, and before we work on constructing nets for our Teapot Project next week, she had a challenge for the students today.

2014-04-17_17-57-21While groups of students quickly started using various tools as they began this challenge, I found it interesting that a couple of groups got devices and started Googling different types of nets. They were looking at the images of them, and using these images to construct their own.

2014-04-17_18-00-23I’ll admit that I was initially tempted to tell them to put the devices away, but I resisted the urge. Why?

  • I thought about the tweet that I’ve seen numerous times questioning that if an answer is “Googleable,” is the question the best one to ask? (I’m paraphrasing here.)
  • Even if the students copied the net, would they actually meet the challenge? (It was with this question in mind that I went over to talk to the different groups.)

These conversations were incredibly interesting. These students,

  • explained how they knew their chosen net could be assembled to create their chosen prism or pyramid.
  • explained how they measured the sides and the angles to ensure that the measurements were correct.
  • explained how they knew the correct measurements in the first place.
  • explained why their prism or pyramid was the best one to use for this task.

Here is just one of many videos that I took today (my iPad ran out of storage space, so I’m sorry that the video ended so abruptly) that shows that the this activity was about way more than just creating a net, so does it matter if the students consulted Google?

I’m starting to really believe that it doesn’t matter, but then I keep on thinking about Grade 6 and EQAO. If this was an EQAO question, students would have had to draw the net without using the Internet.

  • They could have looked at the three-dimensional figures on the math cart though.
  • They could have used trial and error.
  • They could have started with the shapes that they knew and thought their way through the process.

I wonder if future net building activities, like next week’s Teapot Project, will help students use these other options instead of the Internet. I wonder what would happen if I asked these students that looked online what strategy they would use if I said that they couldn’t use the Internet. I wonder if they could talk through for me how to create the net without using a resource. So much to think about! What would you do? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


We All Need A Mrs. Bishop!

This post actually comes out of a conversation that I had with some visiting teachers from London today. Caroline Woodburn, an Instructional Coach that I met through Twitter, came to visit with a colleague of hers, Bera. They wanted to see the use of inquiry in the classroom.

During their visit, my students were working on the initial task in this natural phenomenon activity. As the students worked in their groups on developing their questions and beginning their research, I conferenced with them. My goal was to have the students develop better questions: ones in which they had to think. 

When reflecting on the lesson afterwards with Caroline and Bera, they were speaking to me about the questions that I asked my students to have them redevelop their own questions. They thought of the initial research questions that some of the students asked (e.g., Where are places that have tsunamis?) and how I knew to press more and dig deeper to get to the final questions of, Is it possible for a tsunami to occur in Canada? Where might it occur? Why? It was through this lunchtime conversation that I realized what I do: I channel my inner Mrs. Bishop. 

Kristi Bishop is our vice principal, and her ability to ask hard questions and engage student thinking is truly incredible. I love watching her in action, and I try to listen very closely as she talks. She even offered to come in earlier in the year to model a Challenge Game with my class to show the value in asking good, deep thinking questions. Since that time, I always think of Kristi when I ask students questions. As silly as it sounds, I imagine a little Mrs. Bishop sitting on my shoulder right next to my ear. When I sat today to listen to student questions, I thought to myself, What would Kristi whisper in my ear? How could the students make these questions richer, and what questions could I ask to help them see where to go next? And then I said and did what I thought that she would say and do.

I’m definitely not perfect at this, but I am getting better. I needed someone to help me get there though. That Challenge Game Modelling Activity was not just for my students, but it was for me too. Until this year, I’m not sure that I really knew how to get students to truly think, but watching people like Kristi in action, helped. We all need a “Mrs. Bishop”: a person that can show us what to do and can support us during the process, whether they’re there in reality or as the little voice in our earWho is your “Mrs. Bishop?” How does this person help you during the teaching/learning process? During this month of #gratitude, let’s share and celebrate those people that make us better at what we do! Thank you, Kristi, for being one of those people for me!


My Little Game

Every day, I play a little game with myself. This is a game just for me. At regular intervals throughout the day, I look up at the door. If I see a teacher, EA, parent, or administrator walking by, I take note of what we’re doing at the time:

  • Am I teaching at the front of the room?
  • Are the students leading a lesson?
  • Are the students working in groups?
  • Am I working with guided groups?
  • Am I conferencing/working with an individual student?

Then at the nutrition breaks and again at the end of the day, I think about what these people walking by might have seen. I begin to reflect:

  • Do I spend too much time doing full class instruction?
  • Am I circulating enough during small group time?
  • Am I taking the time to really engage with the students during guided groups and conferences?
  • Am I giving the students enough time to really engage with each other during class time?

Based on the answers to these questions, I start to re-look at my teaching practices and make changes for the next day. I certainly haven’t achieved perfection, but this low-stress game helps me make positive changes for my students, and for this, I’m grateful!

Please don’t get me wrong: I think that there’s value to full class and small group instruction, but I wonder about the amount that we need of each. As I’ve looked more closely at inquiry this year, I’ve realized that not everyone needs to hear the same information at the same time. Mini-lessons are wonderful, and scaffolding is important, but does this always need to happen with the full class? I’m not convinced that it does.

My goal with this game is to see that I’m spending less of my day talking to the full class and more of my day working with small groups. I also want students spending more of their day working with and learning from each other. I’ve found that this is the best way to meet individual student needs and see the most student growth in academic success, independence, and thinking skills.  Have you ever played a game like this one? What would you hope for people to see as they walk by? I’d love to hear your thoughts of this!

Aviva – Trying To Look From The Outside, In :)