Opinions expressed on this blog are my own and do not represent any other organization or affiliation I may have.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Yawn Busters...

I was looking into interactive classroom activities, not only for use in the classroom, but to use in workshops I put on for new teachers and TTOCs. Nothing is worse than a lecture style (though it has it's place) lesson. I need to get up and move (unless it is early morning and I haven't had my coffee!)

I found this site: http://www.yawnbuster.com/Yawnbuster_attentiontrainers.html

With a name like "yawn buster" it caught my attention! The fact that it said "click here for free trial" lost most of my attention.

Still, browsing the free trial, samples and previews, there are some great ideas that you may wish to purchase or create yourself/adapt.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Snowflake Math

I recently posted some holiday math activities to try here. One of the activities was snowflake making and

Check out the very detailed instructions for Snowflake Math here.

Also there is a cool website to make a virtual snowflake and how to make the cuts to design a certain snowflake. Check it out here.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Learning from Tragedy....

In wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, there are so many things that fill mind, but no words to express how I feel. I hate the sensationalism of media and the way incorrect details and even names were released through social media and even major news outlets. It angers me that being first, getting an exclusive, trumps facts, feelings and journalistic integrity. But that is another rant for another day.... today, I think educators need to learn from this tragedy so if they are ever in such a situation, maybe they have the tools and trainging to try and get through it. There were brave teachers and children who survived this horrifying tragedy and my heart goes out to them as well as the families who lost loved ones.

Sub Hub writes:

The first is to remind all subs to make sure you know the emergency procedures of the schools where you sub. Unfortunately, you never know when tragedy may strike, and it could just as easily happen on a day when you are in a classroom, rather than the full time teacher. Make sure you know what to do in case of fire, power outages, inclement weather, and most horrifyingly of all, a lockdown. The death toll was lowered in Sandy Hook because of quick thinking, heroic teachers who knew how to keep their children safe. You need to know the exact same thing.

Full time teacher, you have a roll in this too. Make sure in your sub folder or sub tub, there is information on emergency procedures. Sure, the subs who work at your school nearly every day may know, but there is always one who has never been there before. Don't put your students at risk because you didn't pass along the information.

I know we all hate the drills. Yes, they are a pain. They interrupt our day of teaching; they upset some of the special needs students, and they are stressful to try to keep students quiet. But, Sandy Hook showed us that those drills are sometimes needed in real life situations, and we need to practice so we can keep our students safe.
What I find interesting is that our TTOC Committee is in the middle of developing a "Teacher-on-call binder" that would list the things TTOCs need to know when in a classroom in hopes classroom teachers would provide all the information when they are out of the classroom.

Our TTOC Committee has also worked recently with the Health and Safety representatives to ensure every teacher-on-call gets a key in case of such situations (lock downs) far too often TTOCs are not given keys, this can be a HUGE safety concern if there ever was a lock down!

Also, the class I am going into Monday is indeed having a lock-down drill, which was planned weeks ago. As a TTOC I wonder what kind of discussio this middle school class I have never met, doing this kind of drill so close after the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

The best $10 I ever spent

The other day I posted a blog wondering about how to teach young women positive self-esteem. I talked about a story I had heard about a $20 bill. [Read the post here] and wondered if it would work with my middle school class.

Today, I gave it a try.

I held up a $5 bill and said, "someone is getting $5 today" instantly, my class of grade 8's perked up.

I asked, "who wants this $5?" all their hands went up excited, a couple seemed weary.  I promised someone would leave class with the $5 bill in my hand. But first, I had to show them something important.

Then, I scrunched the $5 bill into a ball in my hands and asked, "who wants this $5 bill now?" Still, hands flew up.

I nodded, threw the $5 bill onto the ground, still crumpled into a ball and I stepped on it. I twisted my foot onto the $5 bill tattering it's edges and flattening it.

"This $5 bill is now dirty, crumpled, damaged.... anyone still want it?" of course, the hands STILL went up. "Why?" I asked. One boy said, "because it is still valuable, it is still $5"


I told them that sometimes life throws us curves, sometimes we are thrown on the ground, crumpled and feeling worthless, but that we are all valued and loved and that our true friends and family will always love us even when the going gets tough. I mimicked some of the sentiments from the story I heard this from:
Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way.
We may feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who DO LOVE you.
The worth of our lives comes not in what we do, who we know or a price tag but by WHO WE ARE. You are special-Don’t EVER forget it!!
The same boy who pointed out the $5 was still valuable crumpled or not asked, "Why tell us this now?"

Good question!

I told them that middle school is tough! Highschool can be tough too! There have been and will be good days and bad days, and we can't always control that. I told them that I can't promise things will always go how you want, but I can promise you that no matter what, you can overcome the bad because the good is worth it!

After some further discussion, I gave the $5 to one of my students, hoping the message was delivered. I also explained I had read about this story but that they used a $20 or $100 bill. I told them I didn't carry that kind of cash on me, but that $5 told the same story!

Later that day, my next class came in and they were a buzz with the news I had given out $5 to the previous class, "Word in the twittersphere is you have some money to give out today?" [No they hadn't tweeted it, but it had been a hot topic at recess apparently]

I was glad the money news had spread, but even more impressed that the story's message had spread.

At lunch a few students came to talk to me more about the story. "I never thought of it that way" and "It's true, bad moods don't mean I am a bad person, everyone has bad days" were among comments I heard from students from the two classes.

I just hope the message sticks... I hope that one day, when one of them is going through something tough, they remember they are loved and they are valued. I hope they remember the day their teacher gave out $5

If so, it was the best $10 I ever spent!

Tuesday 11 December 2012

The Writing Process: Peer Revision

I found this video on youtube, it is a very cute look at the peer revision process. I like that the kids identify and act out problems with peer review. I showed this to my Grade 8 class before we started peer revision and they really enjoyed it.

Monday 10 December 2012

How do we teach young women positive self-esteem?

My daughter's school had a Saleema Moon presentation for parents [and then for the kids.] My husband and I disagreed on what was appropriate for a 9 year old in relation to sexual education, but agreed that the presentation would be a positive educational experience for our daughter.

I have been pretty open and matter-of-fact with my daughter about puberty and how babies grow etc. We have a very open relationship, where (at least for now) she seems to talk to me about everything. After the presentation she admited she learned some things, didn't understand some things but overall was glad she went. The presenter, Dr. Brandy Wiebe, had told us at the parents session that if a child was not ready to learn something, it would just go in one ear and out the other, so I let my daughter know that if there were things she didn't understand she could always come to me to ask questions now or later. I hope that openess continues as she gets older. I think every child needs a trusted adult to talk to about "life" but am not so niave to believe it can always be the parent.

I found the Saleema Moon talk to be very informative and presented in a way that was very appropriate for the age group(s). I think young girls and boys should understand these things before they experience them so they aren't scared, or surprised. As Dr. Brandy Wiebe said to our children, "How many of you are grossed out ? That's ok, this is an adult activity so luckily you don't have to worry about it for a long time, phew!"

As a parent, I am glad my daughter is getting this information early on so she has it "in her back pocket" for if and when she needs it in the future.

As an educator, I was interested in what topics were covered from each age group (which was provided in a hand out) and how they address more complex and mature topics with older students, in particular, decision-making as a pre-teen and teenager.

Dr. Brandy Wiebe spoke with me one-on-one and said that often the decisions young people make with regards to sex are because of others, not themselves. She said, if students can learn to value themselves and make decisions FOR themselves, that is a good start. This resonated with me...

I am very interested in how to help young girls in particular, develop self-esteem and how to promote positivity for young women who too often make decisions based on other's opinions, wants, needs and not their own,. How do we teach young women to value themselves?

Here is a story I heard:

A well-known speaker started off his seminar holding up a $20.00 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, “Who would like this $20 bill?” Hands started going up. He said, “I am going to give this $20 to one of you but first, let me do this.”
He proceeded to crumple up …the $20 dollar bill. He then asked, “Who still wants it…?” Still the hands …..were up in the air. “Well,” he replied, “What if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe.
He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. “Now, who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air. “My friends, we have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way.
We may feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value. Dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to those who DO LOVE you.
The worth of our lives comes not in what we do, who we know or a price tag but by WHO WE ARE. You are special-Don’t EVER forget it!!
I wonder if this example would work with my own students? At what age can they make that connection? I wonder...

Now, my focus on young women's need for strong self-esteem does not mean that young boys are any less important in this equation, however, having been a young women that was bullied and often struggled with low self-esteem, I have a real desire to help young girls become strong women! I had positive teachers in my life and hope to be that for even one of my students!

Christmas Math Graphing

There are plenty of fun activities to do around the holidays with math, but this on and educational. What I like about this is that if you are a TTOC this is a fun activity that requires very little materials (just some graphing paper which can be found and printed online if there is not any in the class)

This teacher had students do a coordinate graphing picture of either a tree or a fireplace for extra credit.

In addition there is a decorating contest for anyone who wants to win a free assignment pass. The students who want to be in the contest color there pictures and bling them out however they choose. The students who want the extra credit, but don't want to be in the contest, just do the coordinate graphing (the kids who do the contest also get the extra credit).

Here are some of the decorated trees and fireplaces that were decorated for the contest:


There are some awesome other Math Holiday activities here including snowflake making.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Identity Maps

This lesson on identity was found here. It is not my lesson, but something I found online and wanted to share with teachers. It would work best at the start of the school year in a class, or could be modified for mid-year or new semester. It uses sociograms, word maps, research and self-reflection.

Lesson Question:

How can students create identity maps to introduce themselves to their peers?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this "ice breaker" lesson, students use Visual Thesaurus maps as a source of inspiration for creating their own "identity maps" to identify their own multiple roles, qualities and attributes. Then, students share their identity maps as a means of introducing themselves to their peers.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to look up a historical figure
  • create identity maps incorporating words and elements from Visual Thesaurus maps
  • share their identity maps in a small or large group setting


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • large drawing paper (one sheet per student)
  • markers (one per student)


Looking up historical figures on the Visual Thesaurus:
  • Start this lesson by looking up a historical figure's name in the Visual Thesaurus, and displaying the map associated with that name on the classroom whiteboard. (For example, you could look up Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, or even Charlie Chaplin.)

  • Once you display the historical figure's description by scrolling the cursor over the red bubble associated with the person's name, click on that red bubble to reconfigure the map to show different nouns that are used to describe that person's roles. For example, by clicking on Benjamin Franklin's description, students will see that Franklin was known as an "American Revolutionary leader," a "writer," a "printer," and a "scientist."


Introducing the concept of an identity map:
  • Explain to students that today they will be mapping their own identities, in a similar fashion to the people and word maps they have seen on the Visual Thesaurus. Although they may not be well known or famous for their different roles, they will use this mapping opportunity to introduce themselves to their peers through their identity maps.
  • Distribute a sheet of large drawing paper and a marker to each student.
  • Instruct each student to use a marker to write his or her name in the center of the drawing paper with large bold letters.
Brainstorming roles and nouns:
  • Encourage students to consider all the roles they may identify with in the different facets of their lives. They can think of their familial roles (Big brother? Big sister? Baby of the family?); their roles in school (Writer? Reader? Scientist? Historian? Artist? Class clown?); their roles outside of school--on the playground, on the Internet, or among friends (Hoopster? Gamer? Confidant?); or any other roles that may come to mind
  • Direct students to draw a different line or ray on their identity maps for each role they wish to include. At the end of each line, they should write the word that identifies that particular role. Students should include at least three or four of these lines.
Incorporating adjectives:
  • Explain to students that they may also wish to borrow other elements of Visual Thesaurus word maps for their identity maps. For example, they may wish to include adjectives on their maps to describe themselves.

  • Adjectives could be written at the end of lines that originate at their names and branch out (if they are adjectives that generally apply to their identities), or they could be rays surrounding a particular role (e.g., the adjective "responsible" might be used to describe "big sister," or "prolific" may be used to describe "writer").

  • Encourage students to use the Visual Thesaurus if they are gravitating to vague, trite or commonplace adjectives. For example, if a student has decided to include "kind" on his map, display the Visual Thesaurus word map for "kind" and inquire if he could be more descriptive in his use of adjectives (sympathetic? tolerant? charitable?).

  • Students should include at least five or six adjectives in their identity maps.
Here is a sample identity map:


Sharing Identity Maps:
  • Once students have completed their identity maps, have them use the maps as a way to introduce themselves to their classmates.

  • In order to save class time, you could have students share the maps in small groups or in a "gallery walk" format (where students post the identity maps on the classroom's walls and students circulate around the room reading the maps and leaving feedback on sticky notes).

  • After sharing their identity maps, students could discuss their observations. What did they learn about their peers through this mapping exercise? What roles do many students share? What adjectives were the most descriptive or unique?

Extending the Lesson:

  • One way to extend this lesson would be to have students incorporate other Visual Thesaurus "relationships" in their identity maps. (To see the list of relationships displayed in VT word maps, open the Settings panel and click on the word "Relationships.") For example, a student could reveal what he or she "is not" by including an antonym relationship, or a student could draw a "is a member of" line to designate a club or team affiliation.

  • If you want to further emphasize parts of speech in the lesson, you could have students color-code the words they add to their identity maps according to parts of speech. On the Visual Thesaurus, nouns are indicated by red bubbles, and adjectives are indicated by golden bubbles. Students could use this system on their maps as well, or come up with an alternative.


  • Assess students' identity maps based on the variety of the roles and adjectives they included. Did they consult the Visual Thesaurus to avoid use of vague or trite adjectives? Did they include multiple roles to show different facets of their lives? Did they share their identity maps with their peers in an engaging manner?

Educational Standards:

Language Arts
Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.
Level II (Grades 3-5)

1. Contributes to group discussions
5. Uses strategies to convey a clear main point when speaking (e.g., expresses ideas in a logical manner, uses specific vocabulary to establish tone and present information)
7. Makes basic oral presentations to class (e.g., uses subject-related information and vocabulary; includes content appropriate to the audience; relates ideas and observations; incorporates visual aids or props; incorporates several sources of information)

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Plays a variety of roles in group discussions (e.g., active listener, discussion leader, facilitator)
6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)
7. Uses appropriate verbal and nonverbal techniques for oral presentations (e.g., inflection/modulation of voice, tempo, word choice, grammar, feeling, expression, tone, volume, enunciation, physical gestures, body movement, eye contact, posture)
Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Uses criteria to evaluate own and others' effectiveness in group discussions and formal presentations (e.g., accuracy, relevance, and organization of information; clarity of delivery; relationships among purpose, audience, and content; types of arguments used; effectiveness of own contributions)
5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)

Saturday 8 December 2012

Gym Game: Fruit Basket

As a TTOC, it is important to have some gym games in your 'bag of tricks' a variety of tag games and activities that require little (or no) equipment is best, just in case you don't have access to, or can't find certain equipment in the gym storage.

A student favourite I play is with them is 'fruit basket'

  1. I have kids all line up on one side of the gym, with one or two people "it" in the middle.
  2. I name them off with a fruit name (like numbering them off, but with fruit names not numbers)EX: apple, orange, watermelon, grape, apple, orange, watermelon, grape. (You can, of course, use any fruits you wish)
  3. The "it" person(s) yell a fruit and all the kids named that fruit, must run to the otherside of the gym. The "it" person(s) may also yell "fruit basket" to have everyone run.
  4. If the "it" person(s) tag a fruit, they now join them to be "it"
This game is great fun and you can change the fruits you use, or how many of each fruits there are and so on.

Yesterday, I TTOCd in a Montessori grade 4/5 class and learned their version of fruit basket which involved pinnies.

The game was essentially the same with a few exceptions:
  1. All students had a pinnie that hung out of their pocket or belt like a "flag" Students chose red, yellow, green or blue pinnies (as that is what this school had in stock)
  2. The "it" person yelled out a colour (or "fruit basket" for everyone to run) and the people would run across the gym
  3. If the "it" person grabbed the pinnies/flags from the runner, the runner joined them to be "it"

What I liked about this was that it wasn't just "tag" but like "capture the flag" in that the "it" person(s) had to retrieve a runners flag/pinnie not just tag them. Of course, you had a few runners that rigged the pinnie/flag to be harder to get (or held it as they ran) but those incidents were quickly corrected.

Their teacher had obviously encountered this as well because the students informed me (after the gae of course) the class rules were 9" or more hanging, no holding, no tying, no cheating.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Poetry for all

When introducing poetry, I often hear the moans of discontent. Why?

Poetry carries some kind of stigma of being "useless" and "not important" and "difficult"

Well... yes... I guess for some those are true. But my goal when teaching poetry is to make it none of those things.

A starter to poetry that I used last year while teaching Grade 9s was to let them go through poetry anthologies, or online, and find 5 poems they liked and answer a few questions about why they liked them. This helped put poetry control back in their hands.

Another way to introduce poetry is by playing a song or letting them choose a song and bringin song lyrics. Most are surprised at how many literary devices are used in songs.

My teacher friend who I taught with last year used "My heart's a stereo" as

Here are some links to sites with poetry lesson plans for all ages:




www.teachingliterature.org/.../pdf/poetry/poetry_deshotels.pdf (Grade 10 unit but adaptable)

Last year I did this post with some poetry ideas for TTOCs and classroom teachers.

Tuesday 4 December 2012


It has been a while since I used Flocabulary regularily, but recently, I have been using the SMARTboards more and more and one of the things I like to do at the end of the day with Middle Schoolers before planners and clean-up is show a short video.

Of course, I prefer educational videos, but also videos they will enjoy. Luckily, Flocabulary is both of those things.

There are a number of education rap videos available for free, and many more for members. You can do a 14 day free trial to access these videos. Also, a few are available on youtube.

They do a week in rap video most weeks that talks about current events (though it is American based) but also has Socials Studies, Language Arts, Math and Science videos.

Check out their site, there are so many cool videos. My students love them and sing them throughout the day. They know their Parts of Speech, Elements of a Short Story and Prefixes very well now because they rap and sing the song from Flocabulary!

One of my favourites is 'Five Things: Elements of a Short Story':

Finland's Education System

At a recent Professional Development Training session we were asked, what would our dream Pro D be... sky is the limit.... no barriers of time or money. The responses were interesting. My response was to spend time (a month, 6 months, a year?) in Finland or one of the Nordic countries. To observe and participate in their education system. I have heard amazing things and I would love to experience it myself.


26 Facts about Finland's Education System:

  1. Finnish children don't start school until they are 7.
  2. Compared with other systems, they rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens.
  3. The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.
  4. There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.
  5. All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms.
  6. Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States.
  7. 30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.
  8. 66 percent of students go to college.
  9. The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World.
  10. Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments every class.
  11. 93 percent of Finns graduate from high school.
  12. 43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.
  13. Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the US.
  14. Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for "professional development".
  15. Finland has the same amount of teachers as New York City, but far fewer students.
  16. The school system is 100% state funded.
  17. All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.
  18. The national curriculum is only broad guidelines.
  19. Teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates.
  20. In 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots
  21. The average starting salary for a Finnish teacher was $29,000 in 2008
  22. However, high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what other college graduates make.
  23. There is no merit pay for teachers
  24. Teachers are effectively given the same status as doctors and lawyers
  25. In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finnish children came top or very close to the top for science, reading and mathematics.
  26. And despite the differences between Finland and the US, it easily beats countries with a similar demographic
 Interesting isn't it? This list is from Business Insider but I found the commentary on this blog even more interesting:
Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned by all nations is that individual achievement is important; but, creating a system that is truly equitable for all families in all regions regardless of socio-economic status raises EVERYONE'S academic achievement levels (and still allows for individual success as well).
I wonder what it would take to see that kind of system here in Canada?

Monday 3 December 2012

Culture of Learning: Fooling Around in the Bathroom

Loved this story from a principal in our district: 
It is not rare to walk down the hallway and hear strange noises coming from the boys bathroom in an elementary school. Sometimes you hear giggles, or doors slamming, or screams as the boys play tag, toss around paper towel, or slam the doors on the stalls. And although my school is not immune to this type of behaviour I must admit that I am very pleased that our students do a pretty good job of respecting their school, and this includes their bathrooms.Last week I was heading down the hallway on my way outside about 10 minutes into the outside play portion of lunch. As I walked past the boys bathroom I could see that there were two boys standing at the sinks. I paused…it was quiet. I heard a whisper. I looked again, they hadn’t moved.
Read the rest of this story here: http://principalofthematter.com


Sunday 2 December 2012

TTOC Classroom Management Workshop

Last week I presented a BCTF workshop: TTOC Classroom Management to a group of our local Teachers-Teaching-On-Call. It was incredible to share strategies and situations everyone has encountered in their careers.

The workshop explores prevention, intervention and action for various types of classrooms TTOCs may encounter and allows for TTOCs to share strategies and things they are tried (both successful and not.so.much)

What I loved most was hearing ideas grow through discussion. For example one teacher would talk about a challenging situation they experienced and the things they tried, and the things they may have tried if it happened again, then other TTOCs offered ways they have handled similar situations or asked questions about the scenario and reflected on what they may do.

It is amazing that most Classroom Management workshops focus on the rapport and connection over time, but TTOCs do not always have that option. Their first 5 minutes in a classroom are like a contract teachers first month. No time to develop new routines, they either learn the classroom teachers and adapt or explain quickly and clearly their expectations and make sure students 'Buy-in'

Overall, I really enjoyed facilitating the workshop and engaging in discussion with other teachers in our district.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Love this post: Re-Engaging the Disengaged: 5 Strategies

I love Middle School. When i tell people I am a teacher, they ask what grade... I tell them and they seem shocked... "wow! I could never do that" I laugh and explain all the reasons why Middle School is amazing.

When I saw this link pop up in my twitter feed i instantly connected to the writer and found his strategies to be quite accurate:

A common response, when people find out that I work with junior high school students, is an eye roll and a comment to the effect of, “I could never do that.” The thought of spending five days a week with nine-hundred teenagers is enough to make most people shudder, but I love this age group and the challenges they present.

When talking about Middle School, I admit the greatest challenge can be keeping these pre-teens engaged in learning. "How do I make learning relevant to each of them?" this blog post continued to address similar ideas and questions I have asked my self and my colleagues...

Lately, our staff has struggled in their efforts to make connections with students who are disengaged from the educational process. These are kids who are seemingly apathetic–they don’t participate in class activities; they don’t complete assignments; they frequently exhibit poor behavior and they are frequently absent. For all intents and purposes, these students have lost hope in their educational future.

These are the 5 strategies he suggestes:

(1) Make it Personal – take time to visit with students and learn about their personal interests. Better yet, give them opportunities to tell you about their passions (see Identity Day by George Couros). If they don’t think they have a passion, help them find one. Most importantly, allow students to apply what they are learning to their personal interests. Allow school to be about them!
(2) Search for Celebrations – be constantly vigilant for celebration moments. Trust me when I say that this isn’t always a personal strength and that I realize the school day isn’t all daffodils and candy hearts. If we are looking for reasons to be frustrated or discouraged, we will undoubtedly find them. Instead, search for the moments that making this profession rewarding. Catch students making good decisions, using sound judgement, meeting expectations, working diligently, enjoying school…and take time to recognize these behaviors. Make “celebration moments” the focal points of daily instruction.
(3) Give Every Student the Opportunity to Succeed – it is unfortunate, but some of our students have not tasted success for so long that they have lost hope–no longer possessing the self-confidence, or will, to invest in what they see as a wasted effort. One way to overcome this sense of helplessness is to plan opportunities for every student to experience success. This will mean different things for different students, but by designing lessons, activities, assignments and questions that will set students up for success we can begin to repair student self-esteem and open doors for greater challenges.
(4) Reflect on class assignments and homework – in spite of our best intentions, we frequently set our students up for failure by burying them in assignments that do not serve a clear purpose, or that students have little chance of completing. The issue of homework has been widely debated in education circles (check out the post entitled Homework, by David Truss). Regardless of your position on making homework assignments, I would hope that all educators recognize the importance of making ALL assignments purposeful and relevant. If you are making assignments, be sure to ask yourself (1) what is the purpose, (2) is it a good use of time and resources, and (3) is it in the best interest of students? (see 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework, from ASCD)
(5) Try something different – if things don’t seem to be working, do something different. There are rarely easy answers when it comes to motivating struggling students and keeping them engaged, but doing the same thing over and over without results makes no sense. As problem solvers, we have to shake things up, employ new strategies, and be on the lookout for opportunities to challenge students to be active participants in their own education.

I love this post. I think some of these strategies are common sense, some are a bit vague/general, but all are absolutely correct and fantastic reminders of the things we can do eacha nd every day with students.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Learning-Focused Teaching

Learning-focused Teaching: A Question-Driven Approach to Planning

I am a mentor for the TTOC mentorship group in our district and a participant in the Middle school group. As part of our training to be facilitators we have taken the mentoring and coaching workshops and seminars with Bruce Wellman.

If you are not familiar with his work, you really need to be! It is very deep, very detailed, but very worth it!

Something I have been thinking about in my own teaching and in co-teaching and observing others teaching is how can I improve my instruction to be more learning-focused and how can I assess that?

I found this awesome question-driven approach to lesson planning and reflection through Bruce Wellman's site and I wanted to share it with you.

In teacher training, I remember being so tired of hearing the word "reflection" however, as time goes on, I am recognizing it's value and appreciating the opportunities to discuss with others and reflect on practices to improve.

Check out this question-based approach:

Friday 2 November 2012

Math Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks are helpful tools to create a plethora of hands-on math activities. They are not just for students in first grade and below, activities with pattern blocks can be adapted to fit a wide range of skills and difficulty, strengthening geometric reasoning and spatial awareness. Here are some activities and games students can enjoy:
  • The Last Block is a 2-4 player game that challenges students to be the last player to place a block on the gameboard. You can use this as a board for the pattern block game.
  • FirstGradeParade adapted Musical Chairs into a game where students added blocks to the patterns created by other students. This is a great way to get students up and moving while practicing with patterns!
  • MathLearningCenter has free pattern block lesson plans to download and use in class. Activities are suited for K-2 students.
  • MarcialMiller lists several games and activities using pattern blocks. Ideas include everything from working with tessalations, fractions, and making pictures of animals and flowers

Source: http://substitutesftw.blogspot.ca/2012/10/math-activities-with-pattern-blocks.html

Thursday 1 November 2012

Task Cards

I have seen task cards used in a variety of classes. A Montessori class I have taught in uses them for Math and the cards are broken into groups based on level and skill set then sorted into drawers. Another class I was in used them for group work so that each group member would complete a task then rotate the cards.

I found some information on task cards:

Task cards are pretty self-explanatory: they are cards which contain tasks, or activities for students to complete. Teachers usually create a deck of these task cards for students to practice skills. They are good worksheet alternatives, can be adapted in to games, easy to make and readily accessible since so many teachers make and share them.

Here are some resources about task cards, if you're thinking about utilizing them:

  • Task-Cards.com, which gives a thorough explanation for various ways to use task cards, including for individual, small group and whole class activities. The site also provides details on several types of task cards and gives examples of each. There are also four sets of free task cards as a sample of the type of material sold on the site. Visit here for a one-stop shop for info on task cards!
  • Talbott's Teaching Trove contains a few sets of free task cards, including working with antonyms and rounding numbers. My favorite are the "7-Up" cards, which encourage students to turn short, lifeless sentences into descriptive ones.
  • The Third Wheel posted free math task cards to sharpen students' problem solving skills.
  • Pro-Teacher.net forums have many awesome members who create and share task cards for all subjects and grade levels. Sign up and join to share and contribute.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Happy Halloween

I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches Primary. After the pumpkin patch field trip and hours of baking in preparation for her young students 'Halloween Party' at school tomorrow, she asked, "So what are you doing with Middle Schoolers?"

Yes, Halloween has arrived and while "parties" can be fun, so can learning! I try to avoid "parties" in class, but I do love to have "holiday activities" and with Middle Schoolers there are a lot of options that are educational AND fun!

My teaching partner and I have planned a few Halloween themed lessons which will cover math, grammar, writing, critical thinking and eating treats... 4 out of 5 are highly educational, not to mention fun.

I have a SMARTboard interactive lesson I created last month and have been saving for Halloween. It is a grammar game with spooky characters and themes.

Also, I teach French and we will be doing L'Halloween vocabulary review BINGO for "les bonbons"

Some other classes in our school are doing pumpkin carving/decorating and the leadership team is creating a "haunted portable" for classes to go through.... spooky fun!

The internet is a wealth of resources for Halloween acitvities. If you are TTOCing having some fun activities ready to go is a good idea as the students are often excited for the holiday and anything fun, education and structured will help you get through the day.

Here are some things I found.... you may also check out pintrest for great ideas!

High School:

SmartBoard Lessons:

Arts & Crafts:

All Levels:

Monday 29 October 2012

The Rainbow Fish

Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister is one of the most popular books I see in elementary school libraries. Kids love the cool illustrations and glittery cover.
LearningParade has an  eye-catching craft activity designed around this book. Students create a tissue paper lantern that closely resemble the colors associated with the popular book series covers. Students can also work on a cut/paste activity and color their own rainbow fish in this printable sheet from the site.
As an added bonus, check out MrsRojas's story maps made with post-it notes! They are just the right size for a little story analysis for students. She's even included a printable sheet to include information about different story elements.

Monday 15 October 2012

Photos as teaching tools...

Some of my friends and I have started to take more photos of nature and things we find beautiful or interesting. I love sharing photos with my class and using them as prompts for discussions, writing, etc.

In the past, when I have taught EAL/ESL (English as an Additional/a Second Language)I have used photos, magazine covers, pictures of any type and allowed them to write sentences or talk about the picture as a warm-up activity. This helps them with written and / or speaking because they are using vocabulary and forming sentences.

In a regular class I have used photos as prompts for story writing, making connections, and speaking/mini-speeches.

I now make it a point to try and use my own photos and usually have my camera with me to capture things I think may be interesting to use for my classroom activity.

As a TTOC, having a few photos in your 'bag of tricks' you can use them for any of the above ideas. Here are a few more recent photos:

Value of a Journal

The past week I have really started to journal again. I had forgotten, or perhaps lost appreciation for the art.

As a teen, I used to write and journal daily. It helped me focus, express myself, sort my ideas and thoughts.

This week, I have used it to deal with my feelings around tragedy, my goals both professionally and personally, as a way to brainstorm and sort ideas to share with colleagues, and as a tool with students and my own daughter to express what is on their mind.

Students who use journals are actively engaged in their own learning and have the opportunity to clarify and reflect upon their thinking. When students write in journals, they can record such things as ideas and feelings, special words and expressions they have heard, interesting things that have happened to them or information about interesting people. Journal writing offers students opportunities to write without fear often associated with marking. Every journal entry is individualized.

Check out these strategies for using journals in the classroom

Here is another great resource with things to consider if you want to use journals in the classroom and ways to use them.

As a TTOC, having a writing prompt, journal or discussion point can be a great idea! Allow students to write then share (I always give the option to pass)

We use this strategy in our mentoring program for new teachers and TTOCs, we always start with a 5 minute quiet write and then allow the participants to share out or pass. It helps us as mentors see where the participants are at and guide our meeting, as well as gives everyone a chance to "vent" or let out their feelings.

I am learning to re-appreciate the value of writing and journals as I use it in my classroom, with my colleagues and for my own personal reflection.

Friday 12 October 2012

RIP Amanda Todd

I am still processing this tragedy. It has reminded me of the important job I have as a teacher to be a positive role model and support for students. This is more than bullying, this needs to stop. We need to protevct our children.

"If you are not part of the SOLUTION, you are part of the PROBLEM"


Monday 24 September 2012

Scoot Game

As a TTOC (Teacher Teaching on Call) I like games and activities that are interactive, can be adapted to any subject and age, and do not require a lot of prep or materials.
Some of my favourites include Tic-Tac-Toe and Basketball Trivia.
This is a new one I haven't tried yet, but can't wait to give a go.... it does require a bit of prep, but could easily be done in a short amount of time.

Scoot Game-
1. Make a simple chart with enough boxes so that each student in the class has one. Give this chart to students (you could even ask them to make a chart and number it 1-30 [or however many people are in the class] This is where students will write answers to problems.
2. Assign each desk a number (to match the chart) If desks are in a circle it will make movement easiest, but regardless of desk seating plan, be sure to give clear instructions on which direction students move during "SCOOT" (You may wish to put # signs on the desks to make it clearer)
3. On each desk put a flashcard face down with a problem on it (Math, Socials Studies, Vocabulary, etc) You may put the # on the back to make it clearer for students which question/answer they are working on.
4. Students flip over the flashcard and solve the problem, writing the answer on their chart sheet. When you yell "SCOOT" they flip the card back over and move to next question/problem/desk
5. Once everyone has gone to each desk and gotten a chance to answer each question, you can end the game and review the answers they wrote on their charts.
*You an decide how much time to wait between calling "SCOOT"
**Review rules, safety in moving from desk to desk before starting the game.
Here is an example created for a class of 12 students reviewing percents:

Sunday 16 September 2012

Card Trick Teacher

So I was shown this website http://www.thecardtrickteacher.com/ which has a ton of interesting ways to use cards in the classroom.

There are some cool Math tricks to use in class as well as some fun other tricks to try.

What's neat is they have videos showing the tricks as well as how they are done.

Here is an example:

I always have a deck of cards in my classroom or in my TTOC bag, so I find these various videos pretty awesome.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Fun Activity for TTOCs: Miss Nelson is Missing

Pinned ImageClassroom teachers this is a great thing to leave in your folder for when you are away.

Teachers teaching on call, this is a great thing to have in your bag of tricks.....

Read the story book "Miss Nelson is Missing" to the class class.

Have the children then write a story about where they think their classroom teacher is while they are away from school.

There may be some funny, creative stories that come out of this activity.

For younger children and primary classes be careful they don't worry about where their teacher is, this activity is intended to be fun!

Thursday 6 September 2012

Twitter for Educators

If used right, Social Media can be a fantastic tool for educators. I have embraced social media and am curious on ways to explore it further. I want it to be an effective tool and I still struggle with some ways to incorporate it into not only education and collaboration, but as a means to reach out beyond my PLN (Personal Learning Network)

I realize that a lot of educators are weary of social media, in particular, Twitter. I have spent a lot of time speaking with new teachers about twitter and thought it would be nice to have an easy "manual" on how educators can get started on twitter. Of course, I found something (several somethings) on the internet...

This google doc starts with the basics and is useful in getting started.

Monday 3 September 2012

Back to School... Get Your Bag of Tricks Ready

The first week of school for TTOCs can be slow. Often there are not a lot of calls to go in for work, but there are things you can do during that week to prepare for a busy school year.

One suggestion I give to TTOCs is to take this time to get your "Bag of Tricks" ready to go. A 'Bag of Tricks' is something I have with me when I go into any classroom. The items in there will have you prepared for (almost) any situation. Here are some items in my bag:

  • Writing Utensils
    • pens
    • pencils
    • overhead pens
    • dry erase pens
    • chalk
  • Activities
    • mad libs
    • sudoku
    • picture book
    • playing cards
    • dice
  • Personal Items
    • Lunch
    • Running Shoes
    • Tylenol
    • Tissues
    • Waterbottle
    • Mints
    • whistle
  • Extras
    • stamps or stickers
    • small beanbag or ball
    • prizes or rewards
    • your card or contact info
I also like to have my camera or cell phone to snap photos of bulletin boards, classroom set-up, and such that I like.

What do you always bring with you?
Comment below with your ideas to share....

Monday 27 August 2012

First Day Jitters

I love this book, First Day Jitters but Julie Danneberg. It is a story that starts off with a young lady who doesn't want to go to her new school. A man, who we believe to be her father, urges her to go and in the end we discover that she is the teacher not a student and the man was her husband. It is a cute story that shows everyone can be nervous about the new school year or starting at a new school.

Lessons to try with the story:
This book is especially great for Primary students to ease the anxiety of starting a new school year or going to a new school. It is also good for new teacher's too!

Here is a youtube reading of the book:

Using Anticipation Guides for reading

When I taught Grade 6/7 for half a school-year I was excited to try various activities with them and one of my favourites was an anticipation guide.

It is a pre-reading (and post-reading) activity where you have students activate prior knowledge before reading a text, and engage with some themes and issues they will deal with in the reading (which builds anticipation)

Using generalizations students will agree or disagree with statements before they read the book, and discuss reasoning with groups or the class. After they read the book, their opinions may change, based on what they read or learn. As a class or in small groups students can revisit the anticipation chart to explore any changes they may have.

Beers explains that the point is not to change the students' minds, but to encourage them to think deeply about their beliefs. Good anticipation guide statements should provoke thought and discussion amongst students. In her example, the students reading a sample guide called the statements "tough" because it was hard to know what contexts in which the statement was agreeable or not. They responded to a lot of the statements by saying, "It depends." That's what you want to hear! It's not about right or wrong answers; it's about students beliefs and their explanations for them.
Beers recommends using words like "always," "never" and other nonnegotiable words in your statements. Play on students' usual line of thinking.


  • "Murder is never right." (How would reading To Kill A Mockingbird or Julius Caesar challenge this idea?)
  • "It is never justifiable to break the law." (Would The Diary of Anne Frank or The Hunger Games add a twist to this idea?)
  • "There is always a better way to solve problems than using violence." (What about in Ender's Game?)
  • More information on this strategy can be found here and here

    Here are some charts already done for you to use or gain ideas from:

  • Hunger Games Chapter 1
  • Lord of the Flies
  • What I really love about this activity is that you can adapt it to any piece of reading, any age level and it provokes deep discussion and thought.

    [Source via Site]

    Saturday 25 August 2012

    BCTF Summer Conference Closing Plenary - Brigette DePape and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois

    Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois from CLASSE (Student Movement in Qu├ębec) speaking at the BCTF Summer Conference Plenary. They galvanized the population of the province.

    Former Senate Page Brigitte DePape speaking to teachers at the BCTF Summer Conference Plenary. She is known for her silent protest in the Parliament of Canada.

    Wednesday 22 August 2012

    BCTF Workshops for TTOCs

    There are a number of workshops available for Teachers-Teaching-on-Call that can be booked for free. You can talk to your local TTOC rep or local president to secure a location and date to book these workshops. Then you can email or call the BCTF to book a facilitator who will come in with the materials to run the workshop for your TTOCs.

    This is available to all BC teachers and is usually booked for a local or neighbouring locals can team up to book.

    Currently to book the workshop you email nbove@bctf.ca or kshields@bctf.ca

    Teachers Teaching on Call (TTOCs) Workshops

    1. Work-Life Balance: This workshop offers strategies for maintaining work-life balance in a particularly stressful role.

    2. Dealing with Stress: Teachers Teaching on Call often face uncertainty in the workplace, this workshops explores how to develop positive strategies to effectively respond to stress.

    4. Raising health and safety awareness: Teachers Teaching on Call are often unaware of of the workplace risks. This workshop deals with awareness and procedures for workplace safety.

    5. Reality 101: Life teaching on call. This workshop is designed to support new teachers teaching on call. It provides current teaching practices and practical resources, and to enhance confidence in new TTOCs.

    6. Employment Insurance Seminar (EI): This presentation helps TTOCs understand the steps to follow in applying for and obtaining EI benefits. This presentation is also on-line on the BCTF website.

    7. Classroom Management for TTOCs: Teachers teaching on call encounter a variety of classrooms and this workshop deals with the unique issues of classroom management faced by TTOCs. It outlines reasons for student non-compliance, the difference between punishment and discipline, and uses discussion and scenarios to outline strategies for dealing with these situations.

    9. Engaging and Supporting Teachers teaching on Call: The New Reality in a Bill 22 World: TTOCs are often more vulnerable than members who are attached to a regular staff with access to frequent support. This workshop will cover ways locals and individuals can create support structures and build solidarity amongst TTOCs.

    There are also a number of other workshops available to all teachers, including TTOCs. Here is where to read up on them all.

    1. Go to the BCTF portal

    2. Click "Teachers"

    3. Click "Professional Development"

    4. Click "Workshops and Conferences"

    This will open a PDF of all workshops offered by the BCTF.

    This week I spent three days at the BCTF Facilitators' Institute where new and experienced facilitators met to train and prepare. There are a number of people available to facilitate these workshops. Contact the BCTF to book!

    Friday 3 August 2012

    Soccer Board - Classroom Expectations

    I really like this board set-up as a fun way to introduce a new class to class rules, goals, exxpectations. I found it at this site and thought I would share it for any new teachers looking for a way to start the school year.

    This display (although not photographed very well,) gives the children a positive example of what behaviors I believe are ‘goals.’ -Work together -Do your best -Encourage others -Be a good example -Give a helping hand In addition to the goals, I also introduce the yellow and red cards to talk about misbehavior and discipline. Kids can earn a yellow card by showing: -Disrespect to learning -Disrespect to others -Disrespect to property -Unsupportive behavior
    Read more at source site.

    Thursday 26 July 2012

    Boggle Wall

    I found this online today and loved it so much, I wanted to share it with you.

    I love word games, Boggle is one of my favourites. As a TTOC, it's a fun game to do writing letters on the board, or having handouts. In a classroom long term, you can set up a bulletin board or station for this type of game.

    This site wrote:
    Arrange letters on a wall (or a wall, desk, cabinet... I've seen some pretty nifty use of space with these!), embedding spelling words, sight words, vocabulary or "bonus" words for students to find using the same rules used to play Boggle. I love a comment on 4thGradeFrolics that suggested making one word using all the letters posted (related to something being taught in class or a seasonal concept) and challenging students to work on it when they have free time. You can change the letters at intervals and present a new challenge to students.
    Pinterest has more examples.

    Thursday 28 June 2012

    Clark government cuts Science World program for kids

    Christy Clark and the Liberals putting Families First... right?



    Though this cut is to an important education program, so it makes sense they cut funding - that is what they do best!

    Vancouver Sun writes:
    VICTORIA - The B.C. government has cut funding to a Science World program that brought innovative education to hundreds of thousands of children across the province. In an interview Thursday, the chair of Science World's board of directors said his organization will no longer be able to run the Program for the Awareness and Learning of Science, which included free fieldtrips and touring educational science programs to communities around the province. "Why it's so important is we're of the view that graduates in science, technology, engineering and math are the natural resources of the future," said Andrew Harries, chair of Science World's board of directors, adding the BC PALS program helped inspire kids to follow careers in these areas. "Any government that doesn't recognize that is short changing its society." Harries said provincial funding of the program began in 2005, adding the province has contributed between $1 million and $2 million each year since. He said the program allowed Science World to extend its reach into communities across the province, including many First Nations communities. "Science World will roll up in a truck and it will take its hands on, highly visual and entertaining form of science learning to kids that just don't get to experience that," he said. "There are very few communities, in fact very few schools in the regions, that the PALS program hasn't reached in the past few years." Education Minister George Abbott has not yet commented on the issue. Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Clark+government+cuts+Science+World+program+kids/6856207/story.html#ixzz1z8K2rLKa

    Why I am Voting.... The yes/no debate....

    I am not telling teachers to vote yes or vote no....

    I am encouraging them to think about the whole issue and consider the big picture. I am excited that BCTF and BCPSEA were able to reach a tentative agreement that addressed some of the issues of concern while removing concessions - for now. I have no doubt this one year agreement is just what is needed to get everyone through the summer... maybe even the Fall.

    I have no doubt this agreement will be ratified by teachers, in fact, I fear it will be too strongly voted in favour of. While I am glad there has been an agreement, I want the province to know it is a HUGE compromise (on both sides) and in my opinion, a lot of smoke and mirrors to gain allies (from both sides) "Look what we accomplished"

    And no doubt, it is a huge accomplishment. It was like a tennis ball bouncing between two brick walls for seceral months so the fact that something, anything, was agreed upon gives me hope.... if even a glimmer, it is more than I have had in months! But is it enough?

    Yes, there are no concessions, yes there are some moderate improvements from many members, but there is no reason this ratification vote should be an overwhelming yes. it will pass, but in my dream world it would be a slight yes so we can ratify it for the year, but show we are still not where we want NEED to be!

    To consider both sides I have added links to two blog posts which explain why they are voting yes or no..... I think all BCTF members need to consider the big picture before voting.

    - Why I'm Voting Yes

    - Why Im Voting No and her follow up More reasons for a no vote.

    I am not saying vote yes or vote no... just consider the whole issue and make a decision.... I am confident this will be ratified, probably easily.... but in a few short months we start again... and while this is indeed a step in the right direction, it is a little step... but we need to start somewhere... I just hope after this we can keep going in the right direction...