Monday, July 25, 2016

What's new in September?

I feel like there is a revolution happening in Education and I'm dying to be part of it!!! I'm talking about less and less teacher-led lessons and more and more innovative, creative, relevant, and engaging student-led projects. 

There is a fantastic TedxTalk by Brian Aspinall that talks about the importance of preparing our students for jobs that don't exist yet, since majority of our students will be working in jobs that aren't even created yet today! That really resonated with me - take a look at his video and you'll see what I mean! The following post is inspired by his talk. So here's what I'm going to be adding on in September so that I can try and better prepare our kids for the future. 

I have to admit though, sometimes my heads spin from these constant changes and trying to keep up with them all. I've had to learn to just pick a couple of things I want to read about and look further into or I'll drown in the abundance of info out there!

So here's some basic info and resources on each topic/idea I plan on adding. I hope you like it! Feel free to leave comments with additional ideas or resources!

I feel like I'm missing out on something - all I hear about is coding!!! I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I have done very little in my classroom with coding. I allow students to do coding during their "initiative period" (a period where they chose a project of their choice and work away at it!). Does that count? :)
I recently tuned into a #PubPD on Twitter where they talked about coding in the classroom. Click here for the link to the "storify" of the conversations had. 
When asked "why code" Scott McKenzie replied "Anyone can play a game, how much cooler and educational is it to design, develop and create your own game through code". (Click here to follow him on Twitter - he's got lots of neat ideas on coding in the classroom).

So, to keep it simple, here are a couple of websites kids (and teachers!) can play around with to learn about coding (for more details on coding, what it is, and how to get started visit my "Coding" page to the left!):

  • & Hour of Code (great for beginners, especially students who can already read and teacher who want to learn more)
  • Scratch (a great "next step"; requires basic knowledge of coding, good for students who have had some exposure)
  • Coding in the Elementary Grades (a Google Site created by TDSB)
  • Watch YouTube videos!
  • **NEW**: "Beyond the Hour of Code" - Listen to this outstanding podcast by Sam Patterson to "learn how to use the newest tech tools to support learning in your classroom though programming" (description from podcast)

"Get children familiar to the idea of coding as a way of learning, not just as a video game" - said by Matthew Bernstein. I completely agree!

I've dedicated a separate page (here) just to talk about Makerspace, since, just like coding, it's an incredibly broad idea/topic.
What caught my eye about Makerspace is this idea about giving students a physical space to build! When students have an opportunity to do hands-on learning AND create something that was their own idea, you create permanent learning. Not just learning that they memorize for a test. You are providing students an opportunity to be entrepreneurs - how cool is that! Like coding, the idea of Makerspace is immense and you can do as little or as much as you like with it. You can dedicate a period a day, a week, or a month to it. 
Check out my Makerspace page for more ideas (there's a link to a free e-book there)! 
As for myself, I plan on using one of Sam Patterson's examples that I learned from his amazing podcast (see above). He talks about having students create puppets! So I thought, what a great idea for #BackToSchool! How fun would it be to have students create puppets of themselves then write about how they created them, show them videos perhaps of other students who have made puppets (as model texts/videos), and finally they could also create a video about their puppet and how they made it and publish it for the world to see! That's how I'm going to kick start this idea of a Makerspace in my class! 

Spiraling the Curriculum
Inspired by another great TedxTalk, this time by Kristin Phillips. She talks about how teaching in blocks, or these once/year units, doesn't create "sticky" learning. For instance, teaching fractions for 2 weeks a year isn't going to create permanent learning. The students may do great on a test right after the "block" of learning, but months later, would do they do just as well? And then what if for some reason the following year it isn't taught?
She suggests "returning to key concepts many times over the course of a year, not just in one yearly unit" (a quote from her Tedx Talk). As soon as I heard this, I thought... OF COURSE! DUH!!!! It sounds like common sense when you hear it out loud doesn't it?!?!?! 
So again, I'm not sure what that's going to look like in my classroom, but I'm hoping that the projects that the students will work on in class over the year will be diverse and layered enough that each time they will have to use various Math concepts to create and/or solve their projects. 

Brain Gym / Health & Wellness
Every year I introduce some type of "Brain Gym" to my class. Whether it's practicing sitting still for a minute or two after the bell, doing some gentle stretches or yoga, or doing actual Brain Gym. The feedback that the students have given me is extremely positive about this. In fact, if I forget it one day, they remind me, they ask for it! 
I highly recommend googling some of these exercises (you can get posters that go along with it). Each exercise serves a different purpose. Some are for concentration, others for connecting your left and right brain, others to wake you up, etc. So what I do is at the beginning of the year I teach them all the exercises and then each week we have two new Brain Gym leaders that lead the class in these activities after each break.
I have seen notable difference in children who had great difficulty with fine motor skills and whose writing therefore was very hard to read. Within weeks these students' writing improved significantly! How neat!!!
This year I'd like to incorporate more meditation and journaling of some sort in the class to provide students with some sort of outlet for their emotions. Even providing more class meetings might help as well. What do you do in your class to promote the well being of the kids? Would love to hear! 

By far my biggest professional goal for September is to revamp my Math program. I will be taking Jo Boaler's Math course (click here to see more info about it), which I've heard will completely change the way I think about Math, and therefore how the students think about Math, which I'm SOO excited about!
Please check out her Ted Talk here to take a peak at where I'm heading. 
I will also be blogging about what I learn in her course, so stay tuned! 

To finish off, I want to leave you with a quote I once saw on Twitter, and I apologize, I can't find who wrote it anymore. But this summarizes how I feel and how I see this revolution in Education unfolding:

"If you are teaching your kids content that Siri can answer, they won't ever move of their parents' house."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Revolutionary Way to Run a Class

I had the extreme fortune of attending the 2016 Google Summit in Kitchener, Ontario this past April.


I had just returned from mat leave and was so inspired, I thought, I HAVE to get back to my blog and share what I've learned.

I could write a book about the myriad of tips and tricks I learned to improve my teaching and better the lives of the students in my class, but for now I will focus on just one.... drum roll please...

Edu Quest/French Quest, AKA:  Gaming. Differentiation at its finest. Students working at their own pace. No deadlines. No schedule. Engaging projects. Success for all.

This is the future of teaching my friends. THIS.

Talk about inquiry based learning at its finest. Let me paint you a picture: You walk into the classroom and EACH student is ACTIVELY engaged, excited, and passionate about EVERY project they're working on. There is collaboration, creativity, leadership, confidence, all in one place. There are hardly any behavioural problems. Sounds too good to be true? Let me explain.

EduQuest is an educational tool, a platform, that allows students to win badges. These badges can be earned alone, in partners, in groups, however they see fit. For example, in a French class, learning 250 new words on the Duolingo app is worth a badge. The student simply takes a snapshot of their screen, showing their username (proving it's them) and the amount of new words learned, and uploads it into their EduQuest account. Once the teacher sees this, s/he approves it and the student has earned a badge! So fun! So easy!

There are also no deadlines. Only when a project is done (and both student and teacher agree it is done to the best of the students' ability) will it be submitted. Whether it takes a day, a week, or a month. "WHAT!" I yelled out during the presentation at the Google Summit. "How do you assess the students then?" I asked the founder, Erica Armstrong. "It all depends on how much support your students need. If they needed your guidance every step of the way, you assess them accordingly. Plus, you know your students best."

This made so much sense to me! You are setting students up for success! There are no rubrics, no useless feedback (not that all feedback is useless, don't get me wrong, but it has to be done very effectively and in a timely fashion for it to be constructive), no "next time I encourage you to...". There is no "next time". This is it, and because they have chosen the project they're working on, because they're passionate about it, they will do what it takes to make it as good as they can. It will be done according to THEIR personal "best". 

Additionally, there is no daily schedule. Students come in to class, they pick a badge or project they are working on, and get to work. Again, because students are picking projects they want to be working on, there is no "slacking" or "wasting time". 

Carrying out this new, innovative, and exciting platform in a class, while also trying to cover the curriculum, can be a challenge, but it is a challenge that I am willing to face and learn from. 
I would love to hear other people's thoughts, or if you've tried it in your class, please share! What I imagine my class to look like, is that I'd set up guidelines. For example, I may tell students they have to do a certain amount of badges in Math/French/Writing, etc. by the end of the Month. I'm not sure! I will learn as I go! 

What I do know is that this is the future of teaching. Student can literally work on anything they want. Learning is fun and it's real. They can take a passion and bring it to life, whether it's interviewing someone and making a TedTalk about it, then getting it published online, or building the latest app - what an experience! 

The program costs a bit of money, but it something I am willing to pay even out of my own pocket. It is SO worth it. I believe it's $10 a month or $100 for the school year. You can set up a whole class with that. 

To learn more about Edu Quest and French Quest please click on the following links:

To contact Erica Armstrong, the founder:
  • Twitter: @ms_e_a
  • Email:

Please note that everything here is strictly my opinion. I did not get paid to talk about this program. I merely believe in it and what it can do for the future of our classrooms.