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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!



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!

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!

Student Blogs

As we start this school year, one of my goals is to invite parents and families to participate virtually with our class activities through social media tools.  Last year I realized that while parents were very willing to provide their support, they may not have been aware of how best to do so.  I have been thinking through how I use different tools with my class as I prepare a presentation to invite them to be ‘digital volunteers’ in September.

Our Student Blogs


In addition to posting work on our class blog, students also have individual blogs for their work.  These blogs provide a space for reflection and a snapshot of their learning on any given day.

The experience of working with our class blog and their blog means that students appreciate the world wide audience they have for their work.  Having that authentic audience and knowing that their voice can be heard worldwide can be a transformational experience. Every year, I see the remarkable motivation blogging gives them to not only write, but take the time to carefully craft their pieces to ensure they are most powerful.  Once started, kids write – all the time.  They continue to write on weekends, while travelling on family holidays, and even into the summer.

I am always thrilled to see how excited students are about their writing.  We say “The more you write, the better you get and the better you get the more you write!” The opportunity blogging provides to reflect on their learning helps them clarify essential understandings as well as what they would like to explore further.

To me, the transformational piece that elevates blogging from traditional classroom writing is commenting.  Having others respond to their writing tells students that their voice is heard and that they matter. They are so excited to have their peers comment on their posts, and even more so when other students and adults from all over the world do so.   It is so incredibly powerful, as seen in this example from my class where author Peter Reynolds commented on Maddisyn’s work.

Once students have familiarized themselves with the process of posting and commenting, we practice these skills using a quadblogging community.  Our class is grouped with 3 others from anywhere in the world.  We spend a little time learning about each other’s classes, then each class has a turn being the focus group and having the others take turns commenting on their posts.  It’s wonderful to see how this process creates a community of learners and assists students in creating their own learning networks.

As the year goes on, we use student blogs to create a digital portfolio for each child. The wide variety of tech tools we use means that students might record video presentations they completed for class, or sound recordings of songs they wrote, reflections on their artwork or important moments from their lives and much more.  As Holly Clark says, when kids make their learning visible to the world, they take ownership and pride in what they’ve done.

Digital Citizenship

Student blogs provide many entry points for discussions of citizenship in a digital age.


We discuss and develop criteria for the use of images that includes

  • Students are not identifiable by name on personal or class blogs
  • Any images must be free of copyright
  • Personal images must be used with permission


All posts and comments are moderated by me, which means that I see everything before it is published. Students are encouraged to think carefully about their digital identity, and to be responsible to leave feedback that is positively phrased. Prior to students getting their blogs, we practice the blogging process using paper blogs and post it comments.  We develop criteria for comments with a positive focus.


Responsibility to Share

We know that these blogs are part of our students’ digital legacy.  This means that it is important that they think carefully about their digital footprint and legacy.  We are continually inspired in our learning by the work we find online. I feel that we also have an important responsibility to share our learning. It is always a defining moment to see the pride when students realized that their work has inspired others.

How can Families and Friends Help?

All our students love getting comments on their blog posts.  They each have a “subscribe by email” widget which makes it easy for anyone to receive notification of new posts. Please subscribe, then encourage family and friends to as well.

Please take a moment to comment on our student blogs, as it has a significant impact on their writing experience.  Feel free to share with your family and friends, as more comments mean more writing. We know that the more you write, the better you get – and the better you get, the more you write!  Consider adding feedback to other students work as well as your own child’s.

At times, I will invite the world to comment on certain student posts through the use of the #comments4kids group. Anyone is welcome to do so, and more information is available at their website. A few moments of your time on a child’s writing can have a tremendous impact, so please consider adding your time to #comments4kids!

Finally, remember to follow the criteria for comments as set out on our class blog. Your child will be happy to give you guidance!

The Power of Words and Teamwork

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Earlier this year, I volunteered my class to present at our school’s monthly Parent Council Meeting. Students were loving the few Chromebooks we had, and we hoped we might be able to sway the decisions being made about fundraising money to purchase enough for a class set.  My kids were very keen on the idea, to say the least!  As a class, we brainstormed lists of all the ways we were using Chromebooks, discussed details and then started creating a shared Google Presentation. It was a fabulous opportunity to think about persuasive writing, and students even staged a photo shoot when we realized we needed some additional pictures. Not everyone could come but a group made arrangements to be at the meeting to present the ideas on behalf of all.  They were very excited about having a chance to not only contribute to the discussion, but also to impact our school decision making.

Imagine my dismay when I opened my email the day before the meeting to see that the Council had firmly decided that no further money would be put into technology, and would only consider requests for other areas. It was tough to break the news to my class, but we focused on the positive aspects of having the opportunity to present what we’d been doing.

We were first on the agenda, and although a little nervous, the kids were also excited.  They took turns explaining each slide and answered questions like pros.  My heart was full of pride and joy as I watched the reactions of the adults move from amusement (aren’t they cute?) to amazement, not just at what we had been able to accomplish this year but at the polished, thoughtful speaking abilities of the students.  The powerful impact of our connected learning was obvious.

There were so many questions that we went slightly over our time limit, and then the meeting moved from our room back to the library.  After the kids went home, I rejoined the meeting in time for the fundraising discussion.  As I waited, I mentally rehearsed my (hopefully) convincing argument to consider putting technology items back on our wish list.

It wasn’t needed.  The chairperson looked at our principal and simply asked, “How many Chromebooks do you want?”

It was a dramatic shift, and one that reinforced several key ideas for me.  First, never underestimate the power of a child’s voice.  When given the opportunity and support to share their ideas, they can create powerful change.  I know that I could have presented the information they shared but it would not have come close to having the same effect.  Hearing the kids describe our projects, and seeing their confidence, skills and abilities sent a powerful message.  It said that what we do in our classroom is real, it is relevant, it makes a difference and it is all about the learning for kids.

Secondly, I was reminded of the importance of teamwork.  We created the presentation as a team, and we delivered it as a team.  Although not every student in the class was there, they did contribute to the shared presentation and add ideas during the rehearsal.  The presenters very clearly stated that they were representatives of the larger group.  All those voices combined together to create one very powerful message. One student shared the following reflection:

What did I learn?  The power of words and teamwork!  Words are powerful enough to change people’s minds if you use them right.  Words can change your emotion or can change your mind. Sometimes working in a team helps with making words even more powerful.

Through my teaching, I have a lot of practice facilitating this process with students.  What was reinforced for me that night is that our parents and community want to be part of that team as well. All it takes is for us to share what is happening with our classes for the support to be there.  All of the adults in the room were so enthusiastic about the experience.  They wanted to support our connected learning, and they wanted to know more about how to do so.

This year, I want to focus on ensuring that I give my parents and school community an invitation to see and be part of our connected learning. As the year begins, I want my parents to understand and appreciate the full extent to which our class is connected, and the powerful learning, connections and benefits that brings.

One way I plan to do that is to invite parents in at the beginning of the year to provide an overview of our online activities, and show them that signing the technology usage form gives students more than just permission to use technology devices in school – in our class it is the ticket to connecting with the world. As a connected class, each and every day we learn with and because of others. Our learning happens through the use of a number of tools including blogs, Twitter, back channels, video chats and other Web 2.0 tools.

As I create a presentation to share with our families, I thought I would use a series of blog posts to organize my thoughts. Stay tuned for more!