Thanks Discovery Education

Over the past week, I have had opportunity to reflect on what I am thankful for – and so very fortunate to have such a long list.  As I thought about some of the highlights of the school year to this point, I realized that one important item on the list is the people and services of Discovery Education.

I have been grateful to have access to Discovery Education even before my division subscribed to the services.  I can always count on DE for videos and resources to accompany Science and Social lessons.  I love using the Global News clips as they provide a concise interpretation focused on current events at a level accessible by my Grade 3 students. One of my favorite DE resources are the SOS strategies.  They provide me with some fresh ideas for approaching content based lesson.  I’ve also been able to leave SOS lessons for a substitute teacher confident that both students and my replacement would enjoy the learning experience.

But the most valuable use of Discovery Education has been in the powerful connections it has provided me and my students.  Through my role as a DEN Star, I have come into contact with people who have a passion for teaching and learning.  The experience is invigorating, and I have learned so much from the great minds of Dean Shareski, Hugh MacDonald, Karen Lirenman and more.

Where I have really seen a difference though is in the connections that my students have made.  Participating in DE events has provided us with rich, authentic learning experiences.  Our opportunity to meet author Peter Reynolds in September through a Discovery Ed Livestream event was no exception.  

For many of our students, this was the first time they had joined in an event which broke down our school walls and brought us together with other learners across North America.  I asked students to reflect on the experience and was blown away by the wisdom of their comments. What really stood out was how some of my students who face daily challenges of their own perceived the message presented by Peter.  To have a struggling writer tell us “I’m inspired to write a masterpiece” means the world.  

We shared these student reflections on our classroom blog and the kids were really proud of what they had done.  Imagine their surprise when almost two weeks later, a visitor to the school came through our door and announced that she recognized our classroom corner from that post.  She shared her impressions and the kids were so excited to know that their writing had been read by, and affected complete strangers. As she turned to go, one student said to me, “We are inspiring the world one day at a time!”


How wonderful to watch the wonderful message of author Peter Reynolds spread to, and be lived by my students.  Thank you, Discovery Education, for making it so easy and simple to just sign up and participate in these events. And thank you for organizing and presenting these opportunities for our kids to realize the power that they each have!



Love Our Whiteboard Tables!

This is the time of year when teachers’ focus turns to classroom design.  The #peelmathchat this week posed this question

At the top of my list are my whiteboard tables, and judging by the response to my tweet, there’s a lot of interest in them.

Several years ago I attended a session with Gallit Zvi and Hugh MacDonald.  Inspired by how they had used shower board from Lowes to use as whiteboard tables, I decided to do the same. I bought the boards at Lowes, got them cut to fit my 4 x 6 tables (2 free cuts meant my family members all purchased a board) and loaded them into the van. Once at school, I taped the edges with duct tape and was good to go – or so I thought.  What I had picked out was not shower board.  Although white and shiny, anything written on the boards wouldn’t erase off.

My solution was to head to Home Depot and purchase whiteboard paint.  Perfect!  Now we were ready to roll.

My students and I LOVE our whiteboard tables, and use them in all kinds of ways.  They are perfect for problem solving and calculation activities during Math.  Before beginning writing tasks, students can quickly draw a mind map of ideas, then get to work.  When kids ask how to spell a word, I just jot it on the table.  A favorite lesson this year made use of the Discovery Education Spotlight on Strategies (SOS) Paper Chat as my class tried to determine our class favorite for March Book Madness 2015.

group paper chat

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As you can see, it’s easy to capture the ideas by taking a quick photo with our class iPad, my phone or my camera.

Working on the table means it is easy to share thinking and ideas which spur conversations.  I’ve discovered that using the whiteboard tables encourages my students to be creative.  During class discussions, I will often find that individuals have created sketchnotes of the ideas covered.  Students who are reluctant to begin pen and paper tasks don’t seem to have that hesitation with the dry erase pens.  Earlier this year, a principal asked me about our use of the whiteboards, so I asked my students why they like using them. Here are a few of the responses:

draw on the table



Having the moveable boards has worked really well.  We are not allowed to paint our tables, so now I have my whiteboards while the table tops are protected. I also really appreciate their portability.  Groups can pick them up and take them to the hallway or elsewhere to use as needed.  We’ve also been able to use them to record information during Skypes, as a backdrop for photo shoots, and as scenery for plays and Reader’s Theatre (decorated by students to fit the theme).

Recording questions and answers during a Science 20 Questions Skype

Recording questions and answers during a Science 20 Questions Skype

Interested in setting up these tables in your classroom?  I’ve learned that when using the dry erase paint, you need to be sure to use a foam roller in order to have the surface smooth for writing on.  This year I discovered that there is a clear dry erase paint available, which opens up opportunities to have colored table tops that complement the classroom design.  Since buying my paint at Home Depot I’ve also seen it at Walmart and Michael’s (remember the 40% off coupon!). In a perfect world with unlimited budgets I would use Idea Paint, but am very happy with this alternative. I’ve found that on some of the boards the corners have been bent as students have bumped up against them.  It would be a good idea to round off the corners to start with.  I like to repaint my boards to begin each school year fresh and clean.  After spending a long time trying to peel off the duct tape edges once, I now have my students take some time in the last week to get the tape off and then use Goo Gone to remove any adhesive.  Then they are ready for a fresh coat of paint!

We all love our whiteboard tables, and wouldn’t give them up! I know that there are many more ideas out there for their use, and would appreciate any you have to share.

10 Picture Books That Are Simply Genius

After having my best start to the year ever in 2015, I knew that we would begin again with Genius Hour.  This list contains 10 of the picture books I will be sharing with my students in September as we start exploring their passions.

What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada

What Do You Do With An Idea?
by Kobi Yamada

This was the perfect book to begin our projects with.  We talked about the importance of taking care of our ideas and how to help them grow. As a result, students were careful to show great respect for everyone’s ideas.

The Ok Book  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

The Ok Book
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Some students struggled with choosing an idea for their project.  “The OK Book” gave us lots of examples to think about and discuss. This book was a great reminder that it can be the journey, not the destination that counts.

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

The Dot
by Peter H. Reynolds

“The Dot” is the perfect book for inspiring Genius Projects.  The theme of “make your mark and see where it takes you” became our mantra and provided encouragement when the going got tough.

Shh! We Have a Plan  by Chris Haughton

Shh! We Have a Plan
by Chris Haughton

This was probably my class’s favorite book last year and they asked for it over and over. They loved the repetition and colorful illustrations. For the remainder of the year, when anyone said “Shh”, the whole class automatically would chime in with “We have a plan!”  The story is simple, but illustrates that we need to be flexible and adapt our plan as we go along to be successful. Sometimes all we need is to be open to taking a step back and trying a new approach!

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos  by Deborah Heiligman

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos
by Deborah Heiligman

I love that every time I share this book with my class, they think differently about what Math is.  It invites them to think about Math as being more than just equations and to look more closely at their world to discover the mathematics all around them.   It also illustrates that our passions can be found in all areas.  I’ve found that when we start investigating their passions an automatic focus for students is sports. The Boy Who Loves Math opened their eyes to recognize that there is a wide variety of other areas to explore.

If I Built a Car  by Chris Van Dusen

If I Built a Car
by Chris Van Dusen

My students loved the illustrations in this book, and the fun ideas.  They laughed out loud at some of the additions, but were definitely intrigued and encouraged to dream big in their own projects. Once finished, we all knew that the sky was the limit for their ideas!

Iggy Peck, Architect  by Andrea Beaty

Iggy Peck, Architect
by Andrea Beaty

This book was a special favorite for my Lego kids, who love spending time in the maker bins in our classroom. It opened their eyes to the possibilities of their creations.  Students were quick to recognize the message to never give up, and recognize a failure is just a first attempt!

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty

Rosie Revere, Engineer
by Andrea Beaty

Everyone loved this companion book to Iggy Peck.  Its rhyming pattern made it easy to follow along, and the detailed illustrations drew students’ full attention.  They quickly recognized the importance of perseverance, and also discussed how important our reactions are in encouraging others.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
by Jennifer Berne

My students fell in love with this story of Albert Einstein and its beautiful illustrations.  Their special favorite was the depiction of Albert as a young child. I loved how they were drawn into thinking about what life would have been like for him in his early years. Sharing this book emphasized just how powerful wondering can be, and inspired us all to share our questions with each other.

The Most Magnificent Thing  by Ashley Spires

The Most Magnificent Thing
by Ashley Spires

This book was a perfect connection for the perfectionists in my class last year.  All of us could relate to the frustrations felt when that perfect idea doesn’t materialize as expected.  I loved that this book not only described the frustrations (and subsequent meltdown), but showed us that sometimes a change of scenery is all that’s needed to provide some perspective and get us started on the road to success.

I’ve already found a special spot on our bookshelves to display these gems.  I know that they will help us learn more about each other and ourselves as we begin building our community of learners for a new school year.  I’d love to hear about any other titles suitable for developing our genius and cultivating passions with our students!

Something to Celebrate

I chose the word celebrate as my one word in January for a number of reasons. It’s time to revisit my word now that we’ve passed the halfway point for the year.

In the school year, June is a natural point for celebration.  As we took time to reflect on our shared experiences, my students and I realized that we had a wealth of growth and moments to celebrate. It was truly a wonderful, memorable year with many highlights.

With the school year over, I’ve realized that while I made a point of focusing on student celebrations, I have been reluctant to focus on the work that I have done.  I think we have a natural tendency to defer our moment in the spotlight in favor of our kids.  But I also think it is important to celebrate those important teacher moments too.

When I look back at the last six months through this new lens there’s been many special moments. A definite highlight was becoming a MIEE (Microsoft Innovator Educator Expert), and the opportunity to attend the E2 conference in Redmond, Washington this past May.

Becoming an MIE is definitely something to celebrate.  It’s given me opportunities to

  • learn about new ideas, practices, strategies and products. I have a passion for learning and the program is built upon the sharing of ideas, practices, strategies and products. My introduction to Sway, a powerful medium for storytelling and presentation, is just one example.
  •  connect with amazing and inspiring teachers. I believe strongly in the power of my PLN (Personal Learning Network). Meeting and connecting with other MIEE has been inspiring and empowering.  As a result, I’ve collaborated with local teachers and schools like Sarah Platero and Christine Letwin of Monsignor Fee Otterson.  My students have also worked with others across the globe in places like Croatia (Lidia Kralj), China (Wei Wang), Singapore (Andy Ng) and South Africa (Warren Sparrow) for Project Courage.
  • preview new products and software.  Using my new Surface Pro 3 has made our classroom Skypes marvellous!  Students love the clarity of the image and the sound, and the ability to roam through the room has made our presentations easier and improved their quality. We were also very excited to be participate in the preview of Skype Translate.
  • share stories of projects that engage, excite and inspire others to try them as well.
  • form lasting relationships and friendships

Becoming an MIEE is a simple process.  if you are a teacher using technology to create authentic learning experiences for your students, simply select a project to celebrate! Our Art4Afghanistan project qualified me to also attend the E2 conference, which was a wonderful celebration of learning and educators from across the globe, and a life changing experience.
I am looking forward to participating in the Teaching and Technology (TNT) Learnathon in Edmonton August 20-21, 2015.  It will be a great way to kick off our school year as we learn, connect and design meaningful, authentic project  focused on building community.  If you are interested in becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, and celebrating the learning in your classroom, learn more here!

Get Back

How appropriate to end an amazing night and an incredible week with the Beatles song, “Get Back”. It was time to say goodbye and go back to where I once belonged.
But I go back a different person. It would be impossible to go through a week of working and learning with 300 geniuses without being changed by the experience. I have learned so much this week that at times it felt as though my brain would explode.
One of the most powerful aspects of the week was the opportunity to listen to the stories of teachers from around the world and their projects. I was honored by their willingness to share their experiences, knowledge and challenges. My eyes were opened to a whole new reality, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for the courage that these teachers demonstrate each and every day as they do their job of working with learners and making them the best they can be. I was humbled by the bravery so many showed as they struggled to express their ideas in an unfamiliar language. But what they had to share was so important that they were willing to take that risk. Going back into my classroom, I want my students to have that same passion about their skills and knowledge, and know that they too need to share their genius with the world.
I have a new perspective as I go back to where I once belonged on Monday morning. I can’t wait to share the incredible feeling of connecting with so many people. I know how important it is to give my students that same experience. I couldn’t bring them with me to Redmond, but I can bring the world to them through the power of Skype. I can’t wait to see my students’ reactions as we reach out to their counterparts in places like El Salvador, China, Croatia, Singapore, South Africa and more.
Although I have always valued connecting our classroom to the world through Skype and social media, I know now that there is an even greater importance to do so. There is so much power in knowing that you belong to a global community of learners. My students need to be aware of a much bigger picture than just our beautiful classroom with all the advantages that living in middle class Canada brings. These connections teach them so much more than just curricular outcomes. When they share in these stories, they feel what it is to be compassionate , empathetic, courageous and brave. After this week, I know it is imperative to share these experiences.
I have so many people to thank. Thank you to Microsoft for this incredible opportunity. Thanks to Ziauddin Yousafzai and Angela Maiers for their inspirational stories of bravery and courage. Thank you to Marilyn Steier for your continued support and the push!
For their support and comradery throughout the week, thanks to all our Team Canada members.

team canada

Finally, thank you to the collaborative and hardworking members of Team 1, Lidija Kralj, Andy Ng, Warren Sparrow and Wei Wang. I am so very happy to have met you, and now to continue working with you on Project Courage!


Finding Inspiration

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For several years I have used Sharon Creech’s novel “Love That Dog” as one of my first read alouds.  I love that it introduces the notion that using another person’s words and/or ideas as a springboard to your work is not “copying” but means that you were “inspired by” that person. I know from personal experience how important it is to have models to light that spark for me.

Our district uses Google Apps for Education, and I love it. This year we’ve enjoyed exploring uses for Google Classroom.   Recently I gave my students a short writing task.  I shared a Doc consisting of a class list of names and asked them to all contribute their ideas.  In the past I’ve introduced Google Docs to students by having them all work on the same Doc, but found that dealing with the many complaints (he’s in my spot, she wiped out my writing…) led to many frustrations.

This time was different.  Now that my students are very familiar with working with Google Docs, the difficulties were noticeably absent.  What was evident was that all of my students, even my most reluctant writers, were busy writing.  Why? I wondered.

What I observed was that all of the students were scrolling through all the comments.  They were busy reading each other’s work, making connections and using them as the basis for their own writing. They all found inspiration from each other. It was a very quick and successful writing activity, and so I’ve tried it again several times with equally good results. It’s so easy to keep a template of the class list, make a copy to assign through Google Classroom, and have all the students work on their contributions.  Everyone writes because they are inspired by each other!

I had another opportunity to reflect on the importance of finding inspiration this week as our staff was fortunate to be given some group planning time around the Learning and Technology Policy Framework focusing on Policy Direction 1:  Student-Centred Learning.  Each grade level met for an hour and a half for the first of three collaboration opportunities.  I was able to arrange coverage for my class for several of the meetings, and loved being part of the process.

As teachers discussed their current curriculum focus, they wanted ideas that would support those outcomes.  Having the opportunity to sit together and discuss ideas led to the sharing of

All of these ideas provided a starting point for our staff to develop projects that are student-centred, personalized and authentic learning opportunities.

Inspiration was the key element of the day. Having the opportunity to see the work done by others, and a willingness to share ideas meant we all left excited and motivated. As we move forward we want to keep this momentum, and are looking at ways to continue sharing examples and ideas.  My principal has stepped forward and volunteered to showcase some of our work on her blog, and we hope that all the staff can use these posts to keep up to date on what is happening in the school, and recognize the skill and expertise in our building.

In a busy school with a large staff, it can be difficult to find out about what the class down the hall is doing. I would love to hear about how other schools and staff are meeting this challenge  – please leave a comment to share and inspire us!

Effective Feedback

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How do we best teach students to give effective feedback? Every year I ask this same question. Certain pieces of the puzzle I know – kids need authentic experiences that result in meaningful feedback, plenty of opportunities to practice, and a variety of examples and models.

This year, I’ve found that using comments in Google Docs has really enhanced student feedback during the writing process.  As students finish a piece of writing meant for publication, they edit their own work and leave a comment identifying the strengths of the piece and any areas they feel could use assistance. Then they share their Doc with another student. This new editor reads the piece and leaves a comment with their thoughts and suggestions. Next, the author makes revisions and shares the document with another peer. Once they’ve left a comment with feedback, it’s time for a teacher conference.

This is an opportunity to work through the piece together. We start with the original self assessment comment, and begin the discussion with a focus on those strengths. Then we work through the writing. As we talk, I create a comment that documents our discussion, including the goals we set. (It’s very simple to copy and paste this comment into my anecdotal records).  The student has clear evidence of their growth, and there are no surprises when report cards roll around.

I find that the authenticity of this editing/commenting process has created a stronger independent focus on feedback with my group. When it comes time to share, students sharing their writing are also identifying and sharing comments, and how they initiated revisions. This conversation easily leads into meaningful discussions of the 6 Traits of Writing we use at my school.  Students are aware of how easily they can improve the quality of their writing when they focus on a certain trait. They are doing so in their first self edit, which means that their writing is stronger when it begins the process, and even better at the end.

These discussions have made it easy to create criteria for feedback. I love that during writing, I have students coming up and whispering in my ear, “A is really good at giving helpful advice about Word Choice,” and “S always knows her capitals and Conventions!” As we discover our feedback ‘experts’, we look at how their comments are consistently

  1. Kind
  2. Specific
  3. Helpful


To recognize and celebrate these Editors, they are given an Editor’s badge (made using As a class, we decide what area of expertise should be highlighted on the badge. I print them and laminate each. They are attached to a tear away lanyard and kept in their desk. Each day as we work on writing, the Editors proudly wear their badges.

Editor blur

The growth in writing skills continues as students are continually seeing other students’ work, which improves their writing. The comments they leave and observe improve not only their writing but also their feedback skills. The whole process is authentic and engaging, and a definite win-win.

I would be interested in hearing how you use comments with students as well!