Monday, August 31, 2015

Reflective Blogging Part 3

   This post is part of the Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenghosted by Terry at Te@ch Thought. While the original challenge is a year-old already I thought it would be the perfect thing to keep me on track over the next little while.

DAY 3 - Discuss one "observation" area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation. 

     One area that I really want to improve in my classroom is fostering a learning environment where students are taking on more responsibility for their own learning. While this is something that I am conscious of and am trying to incorporate in my classroom, it is not something that is necessarily being achieved... yet!

     I recognize that this isn't an area that can be incorporated in a short amount of time; it will take time to build up a supportive environment and develop skills that students need to move towards this area. Here is a list of strategies that I've accumulated, in no particular order, that I feel can assist me in this goal:

- Provide students with choice

- Discuss the learning process and different learning styles/strategies

- Switch from focusing on the end-product to the process instead

- Build collaborative/participatory learning opportunities

- Get feedback as much as I give it

- Have high expectations of all students

- Provide open-ended learning options

- Model effective learning behaviours/attitudes 

- Encourage students to talk more than I do

- Show students that their learning has meaning 


What more would you add to this list?

Please leave a comment if you have any specific activities/suggestions to help me meet this goal!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Classroom Design WINS

     One of the hardest parts of preparing for my maternity leave, besides saying bye to all of my students, was having to un-decorate my classroom so that my coverage could prepare it to his liking. I think a lot of teachers really pour their heart and soul into their rooms, attempting to make them the perfect spot to:
- facilitate learning
- initiate creativity
- make students feel welcome
- showcase student personalities/learning
- showcase their own personalities
- etc

     If you are new to my blog, or just want a reminder, here is what my classroom looked like prior to my leaving: 2013 classroom reveal, 2014 classroom reveal (there wasn't a big change between the 2 years, just some tweaks).

     This year I have been living vicariously through all of my teacher friends as they enthusiastically post pictures of their classrooms on social media. While I don't have a classroom to go to, I have began thinking of how I want my classroom to change when I return next year. Not only am I moving from a math-focus to a history-focus (which I am THRILLED about), but I am also moving from predominantly Grade 8 to predominantly high-school.

     Of course, Pinterest has been my go-to time-waster inspiration-builder these past few weeks; here are some of the ideas I'm loving...

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Coolest Social Studies Classroom. Joe Baron Design.
I've actually shared this image before... but I still love it. I love the mash-up between the bright colours, maps, and significant people. I also think this would be an awesome opportunity for students to showcase their talents by having the art class complete the murals.

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Yard Sale Bookcase Plus Dollarstore Map. (2010). Uploaded to Vermillion Rules by Bethany. Available online at:
I have black bookcases just like this lining the back of my classroom; I love how it adds colour and class-content without being too overpowering.

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Welcome Back! (Accessed 2015). Uploaded to Mrs. Matott. Available online at:

Our school has been putting a lot of emphasis on backwards-planning or U.D.L and one component is having learning goals, essential questions, etc clearly visible for students. I have been incorporating this by providing "unit breakdowns" to students through a hand-out, but I like the visual element of this (I feel like I'd refer to it more if it was hanging on the wall like this.
I would just need to figure out how to modify this for having multiple classes using the same room.

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Guess Who American History. (2012). Uploaded to a Crafty Teacher. Available online at:
I'm a big fan of learning centers/stations and incorporate them into my math classes all the time. I LOVE this easy idea of modifying a "Guess Who" game to review significant figures and it would be a perfect learning center in a social-studies classroom.

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Integrating Tech. (Accessed 2015). Uploaded to Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom. Available online at:
If you haven't quite figured it out yet I am a big tech person, so this bulletin board idea is super cool! Not only does it incorporate a tech-feel, but it requires students to view a situation through another person's perspective; a big part of my social-studies teaching. 
One thing I would maybe change, however, is have students actually post to a class instagram account that plays on a screen in the classroom (as opposed to the static bulletin board idea).

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High School Social Studies Classroom Pin. (Accessed 2015). Uploaded to Pinterest by Katie Brennan. Available online at:
I'm a big visual person so I like the idea of tying important people/events/ideas to locations on a map. I like how detailed this bulletin board is and am thinking it could either be created throughout the unit (add new ideas as they are discussed) or created by students at the end of the unit (as part of a review).


If you'd like to see some of the other neat ideas I've found, follow me on Pinterest at:

If you have a cool idea to share please leave a comment below! I'd love to add as many ideas as possible before next year :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blogging in the Social Studies Classroom - Reflective Blogging Part 2

     This post is part of the Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenghosted by Terry at Te@ch Thought. While the original challenge is a year-old already I thought it would be the perfect thing to keep me on track over the next little while.

DAY 2 - Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year and why. You might also write about what you are hoping to see out of this edtech integration. 

     Since I am away on mat leave I can't actually write about a piece of technology that I will be implementing this year with students, but I do have some ideas that I want to work on in regards to my student blogging program. I have had my Grade 8 homeroom class explore the world of blogging during both of my years at "S-School" with various degrees of success. It gave us an opportunity to:

- learn a new tech tool (Blogger)
- discuss digital citizenship, online identity, online privacy
- familiarize ourselves with online copyright and appropriate referencing practices
- begin thinking about the idea of a P.L.N for students that stretches outside of the traditional school environment
- share what was happening in our classroom

But the process was cumbersome, many students required additional direction when it came to their writing, and it was difficult to motivate some students. While I knew what possibilities were available for my students, it was difficult to get them to see them at the start (or at all; for some of them). It made me think of the graphic below created by Bill Ferriter; while we had started, I wanted to be able to move us into the second column as much as possible.

Technology is a Tool. (2013). Uploaded to Flickr by Bill Ferriter. Available online at: 
     When I return I will have two social studies classes at the Grade 10 & 11 levels and, luckily, both of these classes will be original classes who blogged with me in their Grade 8 year. I think I will have a lot more options if I continue the blogging program with this age level because:

- they are already familiar with the program
- I can require them to have their own email address instead of using a general class one
- I can build a cross-curricular program with the English teacher so their posts can serve more than one purpose
- they will be more comfortable, to an extent, with their writing

     I would like to have a few blogging styles/prompts that students can chose from to help guide their posts. So far I have come up with:

In Today’s News
Immediately following the introduction of a new concept, topic, or idea, students are asked to write a blog post effectively summarizing the information introduced in class in their own words. Their post must contain at least two quotes of information about their topic that they found from a source online or through the school library. Their online sources may be text-based, an image/infographic, or video/audio file.

This Reminds Me Of...
When reviewing a concept, topic, or idea, students are asked to create a blog post explaining how the current concept is related to: an earlier concept in the unit, a concept from a different unit (covered in the current school year or otherwise), or a concept from a different subject area (covered in the current school year or otherwise). Their post must effectively argue why they believe the concepts are related or similar, although they can achieve this through any means of their choice (text-based, an image/infographic, or a video/audio file). 

In Another Person’s Shoes
As students are introduced to a new concept, topic, or idea, they are asked to create a blog post detailing the history behind the concept in regards to leading figures, the successes, the challenges, and how their gender, ethnicity, sociological background, etc, may have influenced their journey. Alternatively, students can create a blog post reviewing alternative perspectives towards the concept, topic, or idea that is being discussed and explore the factors that may influence someone’s opinion towards it. Students are encouraged to use social media networking to invite others to comment on their post and share their perspectives.

It is my hope that these prompts will not only help my students in regards to developing the content of their posts, but they will help us move towards more of the points on the right-hand side of the image above. While this is a starting base, I hope to develop more and, eventually, develop some with my students when I am back in the classroom. 


What blogging styles/prompts would you add to this list?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thinking About Choice

     I think that most educators can agree that providing our students with choice can be incredibly beneficial, in and out of the classroom. This level of choice can be regarding instructional set-up, groupings, seating preferences, assessment options, etc.

     How do we, as educators, balance how much choice to allow while still managing our classroom? What about our students who seem to continually make the wrong choices? What do we do with students who continually change their mind and seemingly "waste" time bouncing back and forth between different choices?

     Yesterday the TED network shared this 8-video playlist regarding the idea of choice and I played through the videos while doing housework. There are some interesting insights about choice that I think would be beneficial for educators before heading back into the classroom.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Goal Setting During Mat Leave - Reflective Blogging Part 1

     As excited as I am about being back in the blogging world, I am nervous that I will fall off the wagon again as soon as Baby Thompson arrives in 2 weeks?... 3 weeks?.... any day now?... I know I will need to maintain some semblance of focus, however, because I also resume my master's classes at the start of September. I am hoping *fingers crossed* to attempt to set aside some time every 2-3 days while baby sleeps (is that delusional thinking?) to work on my classes, blog, and attempt to maintain my sanity.
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Resourceaholic Reflects. (2014). Uploaded by Resourceaholic. Available online at:

     One thing that I found that I think will help maintain my focus is Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge hosted by Terry at Te@ch Thought. While the original challenge is a year-old already I thought it would be the perfect thing to keep me on track over the next little while.

DAY 1 - Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or as abstract as you'd like to be.

1 ) Prep for the new classes I will have when I return in September 2016
- I am so excited to be taking on more social studies and science classes (at the high school level)! I will pretty much be coming back to my dream position and while half of the classes will be ones I have taught over the past two years, half will be new to me.
- As I gather resources, I will be adding them into my new Manitoba Resources page.

2 ) Complete my master's classes with a B+ or higher
- While I maintained an A+ average in my B.Ed degree, I averaged an A- in my first year of the M.Ed program.
- Despite adjusting to a new lifestyle this year, I want to achieve a B+ or higher in my classes this year.

3 ) Continue assisting with student council and attend 2 meetings a month
- I co-supervise our school's student council with a close colleague and I'd love to continue assisting in any way I can.
- I am an extrovert who gets depressed when I don't have an outlet to socialize; I am hoping that attending the meetings will give me a trip out of the house, visit the school, and show off baby :)

4 ) Blog at least 5 times a month
- This number seems very small to me when I see it written out.... but I am trying to be realistic!


If there is anyone reading who has taken a maternity/paternity leave before, did you do anything school-related during that time or was it strictly family-time?

Are these goals at all realistic?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Why Aren't We All On The Same Page?

     As we gear up to go back to school I've seen a lot of blog posts and Twitter conversations about assessment at schools. Specifically, how do you organize your assessment vs. your colleagues/another school/another district/etc. I've read a lot of posts in this topic before and it always made me think about my own personal views of assessment and, as a result, I've changed aspects to better represent my understanding of fair and appropriate assessment.

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Unknown Title. (Accessed 2015). Uploaded by Vera Teschow. Available online at:

     Lately, however, these posts have not been making me think about my own views of assessment; they have been making me angry that we are not on the same page regarding assessment. Now, I know that the collective "we" is an immense amount of people so lets take it down to a smaller and more manageable population (for now). My school only has seven teachers who teach high school classes. Now shouldn't the seven of us be on the same page when it comes to assessment?? On a more simple note, shouldn't we at least sit down and have a conversation regarding assessment so we can begin to understand each other? It seems odd that we don't follow similar assessment practices and that a student can receive 10% of their mark from creativity/effort from one teacher while another only ever assesses curriculum outcomes.

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Education Cartoon #6470. (Accessed 2015). Uploaded to Andertoons by Mark Anderson. Available online at:

     Now don't get me wrong, its not like our school does not address assessment. We talk about formative and summative assessment, assessing a student's most recent understanding, how to best document understanding, etc but we don't talk about the specific assessment practices of each teacher. While we don't talk about it, I know our students do. Here are just some of the questions/issues/concerns I've heard from students over the past two years in regards to assessment practices:

1 ) How come you never include a spot on the rubric for creativity?

2 ) Can I do a retest?

3 ) Group work isn't fair because (insert student name here) never does anything.

4 ) I found this assignment from (month's ago) can I still hand it in?

5 ) We only have to reference work in your class.

6 ) Is this for marks? If not, do I have to do it?

7 ) Can you add on bonus marks?

     I know for a fact that these were brought up because my assessment practices didn't match what my students had seen in one of their other classes. If students are noticing a problem, why aren't we doing anything about it?

     Justin Tarte wrote two straight-forward blog posts on assessment that I thought were great for getting the conversation started:
- 10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Giving an Assessment
- 10 Questions to Help Start the Grading Conversation at Your School


Does your school have school-wide or grade-group conversations about assessment practices/policies? If so, are they helpful?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Student-Led Back To School Kick-Offs

     Last year myself and another colleague took over the supervision of our school's Student Council. After being involved in student council myself for over 9 years, at the high school and post secondary levels, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to help out our students as they made their voices heard at our school. To be honest, it was a rocky start.... positive... but rocky. Both my colleague and I were new to the school so we still unaware of many of the school traditions and schedules that the student body and staff expected of us. Furthermore, we didn't have an opportunity to have any past student council information passed down to us, which left us scrambling a bit in regards to expectations, direction, etc.

     With all of that aside, we were lucky to have an amazing group of students serving as our council last year and we got through the year with some definite highlights!
- A full dedicated council for the year
- Manitoba Student Leadership Conference trip!
- Spirit weeks in both semesters
- School clothing sale
- School decorating contests for Halloween and Christmas
- Intramural sports events and tournaments
- Prom

     While I am away on mat leave for this year I have still coordinated with my colleague to help out as much as I can with our student council for this year as well. We are very lucky to have a strong dedicated group serving as our council this year and we even had the opportunity to sit down at the end of June (they came back to school after their exams!) and tentatively plan out every month of the school year! One big change that they want to incorporate is hosting some type of back-to-school kick-off at the start of September. It may be an assembly, a fun sports tournament between staff and students, a BBQ lunch, etc.This would be a big change for our school as we don't do any type of formal back-to-school welcome, not to mention something that is planned by the students as opposed to the staff.

     So my question is, what back-to-school kick-offs have you seen? What does your school currently do to welcome students back? If you do welcoming activities, are they student-lead, staff-lead, or some type of hybrid? 

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

What If We Cared About School As Much As We Care About Sports?

Have you seen this video that debuted last week from Key & Peele & Comedy Central??

     While obviously created for comedic purposes I think this video raises a lot of good questions:

- How would our jobs change if the public was as financially and emotionally invested in education as they were in sports?

- Would the quality of education increase or decrease?

- What type of teaching methods/curriculum/resources would become the "norm" for classrooms?

- Why is education so often pushed to the back-burner for a lot of citizens?


What do you think?

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

August Currently

     If you haven't encountered a "Currently" post before, it is just a fun post at the beginning of each month that serves as a way to share what is Currently going on in your life! You can link up and share your own "Currently" post by visiting the wonderful Farley over at Oh' Boy 4th Grade.

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

Digital Literacy and the ICT Curriculum

As members of the future workforce and society, today’s students require guidance and education, in order to successfully navigate and utilize the digital world that they were born into.    Acknowledging the importance of becoming digitally literate, the provincial and territorial governments of Canada have been developing various forms of information and communication technology (ICT) curricula, which will assist students in their skill development.  School-age children have a unique set of experiences awarded to them due to the digital age in which they were born.  However, their birth date alone is not sufficient to equip them for navigating the digital world without support.  Successfully utilizing technological tools and communicating within the digital world requires that students incorporate a skill set that differs from other aspects of their life.  An ICT curricula that is implemented with purpose and support produces direct benefits for the students, such as enriched learning opportunities, ease of life, and practical post-secondary preparation.  For these various reasons, investing in the digital literacy and education of all students is important, in order to help students navigate the digital world that continues to evolve before their eyes.  

For some people, the technology knowledge of classroom teachers may seem lacklustre in comparison to the knowledge of the students in their classroom; however, classroom teachers actually rely on technology, for purposes in and out of the classroom, more than their students (Wang, Hsu, Campbell, Coster, & Longhurst, 2014, p. 656).  The relationship that many students have with technology is one centred on entertainment and communication (Wang et al., 2014, p. 656).  To illustrate, a recent survey of Canadian students found that online gaming, participating in aspects of social networking, and streaming media such as music, television programs, or movies, ranked in the top technology uses for students in grades four to ten (Steeves, 2014, pp. 25-31).  Thus, today’s students are primarily relying on only two of the eight possible digital realms: (1) rapid communication technology like mobile phones and social networking, and (2) web resources like games, videos and music (Teo, 2013, p. 392).  While students’ experiences in the digital world appear to be narrow in focus they embrace new web 2.0 skills and learn introduced programs rapidly (Wang et al., 2014, p. 656).  Furthermore, students have identified that they wish they learned more digital skills in the classroom, with identifying how to critique the validity of online information, how to stay safe while online, and the legality of certain online practices topping students’ knowledge wish lists (Steeves, 2014, pp. 25-31).  While it can be easy to assume that students have an increased knowledgebase when it comes to digital literacy, having teachers provide purposeful education and ongoing modelling that is tailored to be relevant and meaningful for their students gives students support to build their digital skill repertoire.

Addressing specific concerns regarding ICT implementation has been the subject of discussion by education and government professionals the world over.  In 1997, it was identified that traditional forms of literacy were not sufficient and that students required new skills such as searching for information through non-linear routes (Simsek & Simsek, 2013, p. 128).  Since that time, the required skill set of students has expanded to include the collection, organization, storage, and publication of information through a computer device in graphic, text, or number format (Haddadian, Majidi, Maleki, & Alipour, 2013, p. 195).  It has been assumed that a focus on ICT would result in teachers becoming unfocused with their planning as they would rely on computers to do the work they previously did, but research has concluded that the implementation of ICT lessons still requires teachers to utilize their knowledge of instructional strategies and the developing brain (Boschman, McKenney, & Voogt, 2014, p. 412). Furthermore, the addition of ICT elements into a pre-existing curriculum has been proven to extend learning opportunities and accelerate the learning rate of students (Haddadian et al., 2013, pp. 194-195).  However, with technology being a fast-changing world, educators need to resist the urge to jump at new ideas without thinking of how its implementation can be maximized, what problems may arise, and how sustainable the tool will be for students down the road (Latchem, 2013, p. 384).  These concerns need to be addressed by policy-makers and educators before and during the implementation of an ICT curriculum.

Defining the important and essential role of ICT education within the vast curricular network of public education has been the focus of recent initiatives undertaken by provincial and territorial governments within Canada.  As of 2015, 11 of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories have established ICT curricular policies that range from infusion and dispersal amongst pre-existing curriculums to structured cross-curricular models and specifically assessed benchmarks (Hoechsmann & DeWaard, 2015, pp. 15-17).  Regardless of the format in which an ICT curriculum is organized, it is essential that Canadian students increase their digital literacy skills in order to effectively participate in the new “knowledge-age work force” (Information and Communications Technology Council, 2012, p. 1).   In addition to the expanded skill set mentioned previously, students’ digital understanding needs to reach beyond basic fluency tasks and include higher-level thinking skills like digital composition and information analysis (Media Awareness Network, 2010, p. 4).  In a 2015 survey, it was identified that Canadian teachers need to educate students on the importance of utilizing digital literacy skills such as authenticating online information at all times and not just in the context of the classroom (Steeves, 2014, p. 22).   Furthermore, educators should focus on the transferability of a student’s digital literacy skills to ensure effective use on a wide range of technology tools (Steeves, 2014, 22).   Although these Canadian policies serve as a good starting point, much responsibility falls on the classroom teacher and individual school teams to ensure that appropriate implementation is occurring at the classroom level.

In Manitoba, the implementation of ICT content, including digital literacy, is outlined in the provincial document A Continuum Model for Literacy With ICT Across the Curriculum, which features a “holistic and pedagogy-focused approach” to ICT integration (Hoechsmann & DeWaard, 2015, p. 15).  This document can assist school teams and individual teachers in their planning of grade/age-appropriate ICT tasks, how to include both literacy and citizenship aspects, and how to assess where students are developmentally.  It not only identifies that students require a different set of literacies to thrive in the digital world, but also that students need to prepare to adapt to the ideas, attitudes and technologies that are ever-changing in the digital world (Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth, 2006, p. 7).  In Manitoba, the incorporation of ICT elements has helped students learn at their own pace, assisted students who do not have access to at-home supports, allowed for more one-on-one time with teaching staff, and allowed parents to stay more involved in their child’s learning (Stephenson, 2013, p. 11).  It is important to note that Manitoba does not have a separate curriculum dedicated to ICT but that it sees these skills as harmonious elements that need to be infused alongside pre-existing concepts (Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth, 2006, p. 9).  As such, it is supported by seven guiding principles: (1) inquiry-based learning, (2) constructivist approach to implementation, (3) high-level critical thinking, (4) deep understanding of concepts, (5) gradual release of responsibility, (6) digital citizenship, and (7) multiple literacies (Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth, 2006, p. 11).  By outlining ICT implementation as a continuum, Manitoba easily assists teachers in identifying students’ understanding and begin incorporation in a manner that suits their teaching style and comfort levels.

Integration of an ICT program is not only the responsibility of policy-makers and classroom teachers, but also the responsibility of the administrative team at a school- and division-level.  Teachers have identified that new technology programs and activities would be easier to implement if they could work as part of a team to support one another and exchange ideas (Stephenson, 2013, p. 11).  However, it has been found that although most school leaders have positive opinions towards technology they fall into two very different categories in regards to their approach: (1) distributed principals who work closely with their teachers and ICT teams to ensure effective implementation and, (2) formal principals who offer positive encouragement towards ICT ideas but do not personally participate in planning or training (Peterson, 2014, p. 302).  Of the two types of leaders, the schools that commit to ICT development as a team initiative and focus on collaboration and communication are more successful in their implementation than those schools who force a top-down approach with minimal support (Peterson, 2014, pp. 304-310).  In order to effectively support their teachers, school leaders need to keep up-to-date with new technology programs and tools, as well as model appropriate use for their staff (Waxman, Boriack, Lee, & MacNeil, 2013, p. 193).  Furthermore, an effective ICT implementation should be one that includes long-term planning with school leaders and addresses budgeting, hiring of necessary specialists, teacher training, and long-term maintenance plans (Peck, Mullen, Lashley, & Eldridge, 2011, p. 47).  Thus, in addition to provincial ICT policies, an effective administrative team that is committed to the purposeful implementation of an ICT program also contributes to successful implementation, which benefits both staff and students.

In conclusion, it is necessary that today’s students receive guidance and education in order for them to successfully navigate and utilize the digital world that they were born into.  In their initiatives to define the role of ICT for today’s youth, the provincial and territorial governments of Canada have also highlighted the necessity of purposeful education and skill development for all students.  Being born into the digital age is not sufficient in equipping students for the higher-level skills required for being successful in the digital world.  The different ICT applications and level of transferability that is required of students requires modelling and skills training in a variety of contexts.  An ICT curricula that is implemented with purpose and support produces direct benefits for the students, such as enriched learning opportunities, ease of life, and practical post-secondary preparation.  Therefore, in order to ensure that ICT programs are implemented successfully, and that students are prepared, it is necessary to provide education and support from all stakeholders. 

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