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.