Monday, June 10, 2019

Success is Relative

When I found out that I was transferring to the school I am currently at, I was told that my skill set (integration of technology and building relationships) was going to be a really good thing for the students at the school. With the end of the school year approaching fast, I have been reflecting on and processing what I was told.

I have always been a firm believer in meeting my students where they are at and helping them build and grow based on the skills and attitudes they demonstrate to me. No two classes are the same so why would I expect to engage in the same "recipe" I may have used with the last class? Every group helps me set a customized path for them and I have to say that I am really proud of where my students started this year and where they will end. Let me explain.

The school I work at has a large population of newcomers to Canada. In my classroom alone the majority of the class is made up of students that have not been in Canada very long. Just today I was looking around the room as the students were working and was fascinated with the cultural diversity. There are students in my class from Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Isreal, to name a few locations. English is not their first language and as they are learning to speak, read, and write English they have been open to building positive relationships with me and their classmates and have been open to the use of technology to learn and demonstrate their learning.

Some of the things I have introduced them to has blown their minds. 3D printing, virtual reality, coding, Google Drive, and the use of audio/video are examples of things I have introduced them to for the experience and for them to consider as options to help them with their learning and their demonstration of learning.

The introduction and integration of the technology I have mentioned above has come differently than any other class I have worked with. My experience at this school has required me to teach in a way that I have never experienced before. It's hard to explain the shift but it was a necessary one. The student make up of the class in front of me is largely made up of ELLs, students with special needs, and "neurotypical" students. I have worked in a variety of schools in a variety of locations and none of my prior experiences come close to what I have been experiencing this school year. Having said that, it has been a special year and has been a good change for me for a variety of reasons.

My focus with this class was to build relationships and learn how to "reach" them so they would learn and achieve. The integration of tech took a backseat because It didn't feel like it was appropriate to engage in the way I have done so in the past. As I learned how to teach the students in my class this year, and built good relationships with them, I started to feel more comfortable taking risks with my learning which led me to start introducing them to learning that would require them to take risks. Together, we have been able to engage in some pretty awesome stuff. Those experiences have only strengthened relationships and led to more risk taking with our learning.

I had a moment late last week which has led me to this blog post. As I was conferencing with a few students, I looked up and saw the following:

1) students talking about the Father's Day gifts that the 3D printer was printing,
2) students working on a writing activity using Google Slides,
3) students discussing the YouTube video that we would create for our Math coach,
4) students speaking in English and their home languages as they worked on the items I mentioned above.

Success is relative. It looks different depending on your circumstances. I can say, with full confidence, that this group has found success this school year.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Lend a Helping Hand: Kids helping other Kids

I became interested in 3D printing about 6 years ago when one of my grade 2 students told me about an idea she had. She was writing about and drawing pictures of a Leperchaun trap. She said that she could see it in her mind. She wanted to create a prototype that she could hold in her hands. It was that conversation that got me thinking about design and creation using 3 dimensional technology.

Two years after that conversation I had a 3D printer in my grade 4 classroom. It tuned out to be an amazing year of learning! We documented our journey - you can read all about it at I remember hearing about 3D printed prosthetics back then and I tried to connect with people so that my students could help out but we had no luck. I thought it would be a great social justice project for my students but it wasn't meant to be.

Fast forward to this school year (three years later) where I stumbled upon Valerie Perez's twitter account (@3rdgrade_STEAM) which led me to "Enabling the Furture" (@Enablethefuture): a global network of volunteers using 3D printers to provide people with prosthetic hands. I checked the website out and learned about the great work that Enabling the Future is doing. I brought it to my student's attention and told them what my students and I tried to do years ago. They thought it would be a great learning experience to try and print a test prosthetic so we started our learning journey.

One of the first things we had to do is figure out which hand to print. Once we made our decision, I started looking for the files to print so we could start putting the hand together. I had difficulty finding files that were compatible with our printer so I reached out to Doug Braden (Chief Technology Officer at Inksmith) to ask for help - and he did!! After a couple of days of printing we were happy to share with our twitter followers.

The day after the above tweet, we had the hand assembled and my students wanted to share a little bit about our journey.

After pushing this out we got some responses. All of them were complementary but one of them really got me thinking. I was asked how I am convincing people that primary students did this?

My class and I are doing this together. Parts of the project are more appropriate for me to deal with rather than the students. Having said that, I don't feel that I need to convince anyone of anything. I talked a little bit about this on a podcast, you can hear my response to the question here:

The work we are doing is much deeper than printing parts and putting them together. Of course, that part of this project is necessary but it isn't where I would like to spend our focus. My hope is that the students remember our work as a service to others, the importance of learning (especially the hard parts that we have to overcome), and that they don't need to wait to make a difference in this world. Using the technology we have at our hands, we can help other kids and hopefully lend them a hand.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

micro:bit, macro:thanks

Matthew Griffin, Operations Manager at Kids Code Jeunesse (KCJ), was in our classroom yesterday. He came to teach us about the micro:bit - a hands on tool that makes teaching code fun, easy, and accessible. KCJ is bringing micro:bits and a FREE micro:bits workshop to schools and educators across Canada. I read about this initiative on Twitter through my PLN - big thanks to Doug Braden (@DugBraden) and Michael Leonard (@mfleonard23) in particular. I applied for a workshop and was fortunate enough to get a spot.

Matthew did a great job of working with the students and presenting the material to them at their level. The students were partnered up and each group of two had a Chromebook. After an unplugged activity, the students were introduced to the block coding site where they would start putting instructions together to be tested out on the emulator and then downloaded to a micro:bit. This experience was a great opportunity to practice showing grit (persistence + resilience) as the students failed forward in their quest to program the micro:bits.

Aside from my students having a great time learning how to code the micro:bit, I have to say that this was excellent professional learning for me. Since Matthew was directly teaching the students, I had the same learning opportunity as them and I got to walk around the room and help students as well as troubleshoot some of their issues. Rather than leaving the classroom to attend a workshop on my own, it was embedded in my class with my kids so we could all learn together. This has turned out to be quite beneficial for me because I was learning it with them and because it came naturally to some of them - more than it did for me! Now I have "experts" in the room who can support their classmates. This is a big win for me and for them.

When school started this morning there were a handful of students asking when they would get to work with the micro:bits again. They are excited and want to engage with the technology to learn more about how it works and the things they can do with it. I was provided with some resources for next steps and will certainly be using them to help the students who are keen about continuing their learning around coding.

If you are interested in trying this out, head over to and apply to have someone from @kidscoding come to your school to work with you and your students. You won't regret it!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Spark

Image result for spark

A couple of weeks ago I emailed all the teachers at my school and asked if anyone had any interest in learning about 3D printing.

No one responded to the email. I was feeling low, but realized that we were in the middle of writing progress reports.

I decided that I would approach a few people and talk to them - face to face. Before I could get out of my classroom three staff members approached me about my email! I was feeling high again - ready to chat with and support teachers and students who want to bring their ideas to life with respect to their learning at school.

One of the grade 6 teachers decided to dive into 3D printing by allowing his students to spend some time playing with Tinkercad in order to familiarize themselves with the software they would be using. The next step involved providing them with an assignment to create a key-chain with specific dimensions. The teacher was a bit apprehensive but also quite excited about the process his students would enter into.

You can imagine how happy I was when two of his students came to my door late this week to ask if they could print their key-chains. They were excited to see the machine and how it worked. We loaded their stl files into Makerbot and hit print. They were mesmerized as the machine started to do its magic.

A few hours later they were holding their key-chains and amazed at how they had visualized what they wanted to create. They put their thoughts into action to get their ideas out of their heads - into a computer - and then finally into the palm of their hands.

The classroom teacher was full of excitement as he talked to his students about their key-chains. He talked to them about the success criteria attached to the assignment, asked them to reflect on it, and together we made notes about how the machine works and how to maximize what the technology can do and the connection to the design process.

I left school on Friday feeling good about the support I was able to provide the teacher and his students and look forward to what comes next with respect to their learning and bringing it to life with the 3D technology.

As I was pondering this blog post this morning, I received a message from one of the Grade 3 teachers asking about providing him support this coming week with the technology. Of course I said yes and can’t wait to see what his ideas are and how his students respond to the challenges that will be presented.

Sometimes, a spark is needed to get people to take a risk and try something new - something they are not comfortable/familiar with. When it comes to technology and its integration into the classroom I don’t necessarily need a spark, but I recognize that others do. These teachers have started their learning journey - I can’t wait to see and hear their students in action as they embark on the same risk taking that their teachers have undertaken.

Image result for spark

Saturday, September 22, 2018

I AM NOT a Math Person

As an elementary school teacher, one of the content areas I am responsible for teaching is Mathematics. If you allow me a moment to speak in a negative way, I will tell you the following:

I am not a "Math" person. 
I didn't enjoy learning it when I was young and 
I am resistant and generally scared of it as an adult.  

From a positive perspective, I know that I can teach it and that there are lots of resources to assist me in teaching it. What I stated above is how I feel when my back is against the wall and/or when I am at a Math workshop/pd surrounded by people who seem to know what they are doing when it comes to numeracy and how to teach it. 

When I was interviewing for the teaching position that I am currently in, I was asked by the Principal what I thought I had to work on from a professional perspective. My answer? Mathematics. I told him that I am frightened of it. It gets done and I am constantly learning but that it has always been an area of weakness. I am thankful that he didn't hold it against me! He told me that our school is provided with support in the area of mathematics and that I would get to be a part of that. I was up for the challenge and that time and I am still up to the challenge now. 

Fast forward to this past week when I had a chance to meet with the Numeracy Coach attached to my school. Ms. Dosman will be working with my students and I. In an email to myself and the other teachers involved she provided us with the focus of our first sessions of collaborative inquiry: what impact would daily number sense routines, and rich number tasks have on student flexibility and tool strategy selection? The email also asked us to consider where our students' greatest needs are in relation to our inquiry focus and an example question was provided:

There are 18 animals in a pet store. Some are birds, and some are dogs. There are 50 legs in all. How many birds and how many dogs might there be? Show your thinking.

I decided to take the question and present it to my students.

Here is the email I sent Mrs. Dosman the morning after my students tried the problem:

Ok, so they didn't solve the problem completely. Some of the kids said they were going to work on it at home so we shall see what happens today. I am going to try something to see if it kickstarts them in a positive direction.It was nice to see some of the students step up and take a risk - many of the students didn't jump in. I had more success with the number string we did (dots). Hopefully when we start with the number string today they will feel more confident. We shall see!They needed prompting but I was careful not to provide too much as I didn't want to be the one doing all the work.They focused on the legs and then forgot that there had to be 18 animals. Will update you today if any more comes of it.

Here is what ended up happening when we addressed the problem again:

My message to Mrs. Dosman:

Ok, so I drew a picture for them. It was the pet store with 18 legless animals in it. We had a lot of fun and finally solved the problem. Some students wanted to eliminate animals from the store and some were saying that we would have birds and dogs with no legs!

I took some liberties the second time around with the question. They were able to solve the problem and I was able to gather important information about what my students were doing and not doing with this question. I ignored my lack of confidence with math and did my best to praise my students for taking risks and providing their thoughts and ideas. 

Shortly after the students worked on the animal/leg problem, Mrs. Dosman came into our class to do a pre task activity with the students. They were provided with three questions (progressing in difficulty from the first to the third question), a pencil and paper activity. They were allowed to use any strategy/tool (except calculators) to complete the questions but could not seek assistance from the teachers or their classmates. It was tough to not provide them with any ideas or direction but we had to see what they could do on their own. It was over an hour before the last student finished and we could gather the class to debrief. 

Mrs. Dosman working with one of the students.

By this point they had worked with me on the word problem twice and the pre task for an hour. I thought that they would not want to actively engage in something like this again any time soon but I was pleasantly surprised when one of the student asked a great question in class. It was pizza day and the student wanted to know how much it would cost to purchase an entire pizza! He had two slices but was wanting me. I (the non math person) felt an excited and asked the class if we could play around with his question. They said yes and wanted to get to the bottom of this!

Here is a photo of what ended up happening:

I told the students that I personally like to draw information from the problem. I then solicited their thoughts/ideas and we went from there. As you can see, we ended up talking about money, fractions, and skip counting. More students engaged in this problem than the last one and they seemed to be more at ease with the process. For me, this is such a gift. 

One of my goals for this school year is to look at mathematics as a new fluency. One that I can jump in and out of with a confidence around the ability to learn new things and be able to apply them in order to help my students with their learning and love of math. With Mrs. Dosman's coaching and my self directed PD, my hope is that 1) my students will become comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas in math; 2)  they will willingly enter into working through problems like the ones above; 3) that they will acquire a variety of tools/strategies and know when and how to use them; and 4) a flexibility in their thinking when dealing with math problems. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Jumping into Deep Learning

Last year my students and I participated in a twitter chat about New Pedagogies for Deep Learning during their annual global event. It was such a great experience that I made it a priority point to participate in this years event. As I kept my eyes open for information about this years conference, I stumbled across this tweet from our 21st Century Learning Consultant, Ferdinand Krauss:

Ferdinand's tweet encouraged students and teachers to participate in this years NPDL deep learning task. He also attached the task and other important information:

Thanks to Ferdinand, I had everything I needed to get started with my students. The prompt involved students to think about "What the world needs now" and to share their ideas to develop global competencies in our school/town/city/nation. The students started by taking a look at the UN Sustainable Goals website. We decided that each student would research one of the sustainable goals and then share their knowledge/new learning using 1 google slide. Once the students finished their slide, they would share it with me and I put them all together into a single slide show.

At this point we seemed ready and excited to share our preparation for the global discussion. As a class, we had accumulated information about the sustainable goals and looked forward to applying some of our knowledge to talk about what we think the world needs right now. We tweeted out our work and responded to people who were following the #npdlworldneeds tag on twitter. 

People were seeing our work and tweeting about it and connecting with us. Things started to feel "real" for the students and they had a 'global' audience that could could interact with.

We were especially fortunate to connect with two educators from our school board who were in attendance at the NPDL conference in Vancouver - Kelly Roberts (WCDSB Research Coordinator) and Richard Setler (VP at St. Kateri Tekawitha). They provided us with prompts to consider and and even recorded a video for us while they were at the conference.

We responded to their video by creating a quick one of our own...

Within a week of returning from Vancouver, Richard and Kelly connected with our class via Google Hangout to share their experience and to continue to prompt the students to think deeper and to work on using the NPDL competencies to analyze situations and problem solve. 

Shortly after this hangout Richard reached out to us with a wonderful opportunity to work with a grade 1/2 class at his school.

The students were more than happy to oblige.

This new connection with Ms. V and her grade 1/2 students is proving to be an excellent learning opportunity. The grade 4/5 students are happy to help out the primary students and are challenging themselves with the questions/prompts coming from Richard and Ms. V. The discussions have been deep - allowing students to think about their perspectives and then explain their thinking. Students are respectfully challenging each others thoughts/opinions while they decide what information they want to provide the grade 1/2 students with. 

Having gone back and forth over Twitter, we are now working on bringing the students face to face in a Google Hangout. 

We are scheduled to meet with Ms. V's class early next week. The students are really looking forward to it. As their classroom teacher, I am quite impressed with the effort they are putting into this activity as I observe them work through it. Thanks to Richard and Ms. V, I am provided with the opportunity to assess my students with respect to the skill sets known as the 6C's (see below). My assessment will help me determine where my students are at with respect to the competencies and what my next steps will be to help my students attain the skills needed to excel in our complex world. 

Screen shot taken from

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bringing Down the Walls of the Classroom

When you are inside the 4 walls of your classroom (7 walls in my case) magical things happen. Students and staff grow and develop, risks are taken, and lifelong relationships are forged, just to name a few of the amazing things that transpire. While students and teachers are in their classrooms, sometimes they forget about, or are not fully aware, of what is happening outside of their four walls.

When I discovered the power of Google Hangouts and Twitter, for example, I became much more aware of how those tools could help me bring down the walls of my classroom in order to take my students places that they may never go, meet people they may never meet, and bring people into our classroom who would never be able to physically join us.

People who know me know that I am a firm believer that the technology tools we have at our fingertips today can benefit student learning/achievement and that of the teacher's as well. What I want to share with you today is how my students and I find ourselves learning with, and from, a class in Thunder Bay, Ontario. 

It all started with a tweet from Mr. Peter Cameron:

Peter is quite an avid tweeter and uses social media to its full capacity to connect with other educators, his parent community, and benefit the learning of his students. I showed my student his tweet and we decided it would be a cool experience to work with his class. We let him know that we would be borrowing the book from a library and jumping in with him.

When the book arrived we jumped into it immediately! Talk about being excited to READ, the students wanted me to halt our day and get started.

We started by looking at the front and back cover, activated prior knowledge about what we saw and read, then jumped in by reading the first two chapters. Chapters 3 and 4 provided us with some more information about the story and we engaged in some reading comprehensions activities. Before I read chapter 5, we talked about visualization and I informed the students that they would not get to see the illustration for this chapter because they would be visualizing it!!

When we completed our visualization activity, we made a quick video for Peter's class.

Peter then used our video to engage his students!! He used our work to assist his students with predicting what would happen in chapter 5 of the book. This excited my students! They were/are so proud of their work and feel good knowing that their work will help the students in Thunder Bay with their learning. 

As we moved on with our reading we wondered how we could continue on our learning journey and engage Peter's class at the same time. We decided to use our class Q-Chart to create a variety of factual, prediction, analysis, and synthesis questions for the students. 

While tweeting about the questions we came up with for Peter's class, we ended up catching the attention of an educator who informed us that a replica of Paddle to the Sea was currently sailing on Canada C3.

Ok, now the students were really excited and interested. We started off by reading a book that another class in Ontario was reading with the hope of connecting to talk about our learning and now we are working on communicating with a ship sailing from coast to coast to coast with a sculpture of Paddle to the Sea on the ship. Things started to really open up and now it was clear that the 4 walls of the classroom where no where in sight. There was nothing to stop us from taking our learning to "sea".

The students are now asking to check the Canada C3 twitter page to see if they have posted a pic/video of their Paddle to the Sea carving. I have NO problem with that! We continued our learning by providing Mr. Cameron's class with some levity around chapter 7 - a little taste of what is to come.

While preparing for our Terry Fox run, the students were reminded of the Thunder Bay connection to Terry Fox. We decided to tweet Mr. Cameron to see if he could provide us with some photos of the memorial in Thunder Bay. As expected, he didn't let us down.

You can imagine the effect this had on my students. As we sat in our classroom, doing what we do, our connection to Thunder Bay with Mr. Cameron's class was providing us with wonderful learning prompts around language literacy, great modelling of digital citizenship, and an opportunity to learn more about the Terry Fox - Thunder Bay connection from people who actually live there. Amazing. Mr. Cameron didn't disappoint. 

As we continued our reading, I decided to work on making predictions by activating prior knowledge.

We read chapter 8 and made some predictions. Then we read chapters 9 and 10 to see if our short term predictions were confirmed or not confirmed. We took a photo of our work and passed it on to Peter's class. 

This last activity brings us to the present day. We aren't sure what exactly will come next but the kids are really into it and they feel like what they are doing is benefiting their learning and that of others. They are working hard and producing artifacts of their learning that they are proud of and know that there is a "real" audience who cares about what they are doing and will be using their work to help them learn. As their teacher, I am very excited to see that they are motivated and care about what they are doing. They are sharing their work with me and their classmates - within the walls of our classroom. They are also seeing that they can share their work beyond the wall of our classroom. That there are ways for them to publish their work to the world and that there are no limits to what they can do, who they can connect with, and what they can share. 

We are bringing down the walls and extending our learning experience outside of the class and school - and bringing people from the outside into our classroom/school environment. We have the technology to make things like this happen and I believe that it is important for us to try and engage in activities like what Peter and I are doing here. It certainly doesn't have to look like what we are doing, but I think that it is important to connect with others and leverage the technology that we have at our disposal to start showing our students what is possible and how it can benefit their learning.