A smiling cat

The Almighty Meme

My teenage son is obsessed with memes. I remember my friends and I at his age, randomly quoting lines from John Hughes or Monty Python movies which confounded the adults around us but my friends and I would collapse into hysterics.  I am now the confounded adult but instead of movies, the quotes are from internet memes and vines.

As a teacher I always seek to leverage whatever is important to my students in order to make language engaging and authentic.  Last year I used their interest in Snapchat and connected it to “book snaps” in order to synthesize information about what they were reading.  Over the holidays I played a game called, “What do you Meme?” which is an adult version of “Apples to Apples” but with pictures.  Although the content was rather explicit (obviously not to be used in a classroom) and more than a little embarrassing to play with my 86 year old mother, I got to thinking afterwards about the language processing that it took in order to play this game and how could I turn it into an engaging teaching opportunity.  The idea around the game itself is rather simple, choose what you consider to be the best “caption” for the meme (photo) and then another person chooses their favourite of those put forth by the  players.  The idea is to make it “relateable”.

I realized that there was a great deal of inferring going on while we were matching the statements to the pictures.    We had to read the facial cues, look for other clues in the picture and then also relate what was happening in the picture to some kind of an emotion or shared human experience.  I’ll give you an example.


“When you have beaten your big brother to the last piece of chocolate cake.”

In order to come up with that statement, I had to make some decisions.  I really had to think about the photo and determine what was happening. For me, it looked as though the cat was laughing and feeling rather satisfied with himself.  Then I had to think of something that would cause that reaction in someone to which other people might relate.  It is rather complex thinking.

In the classroom before any writing would take place I would provide many examples of popular (and appropriate) meme photos that are being used in different ways and discuss these with my students over a period of time.  What makes it funny or something with which people can relate?  What about the human experience is being shared in this meme?

Then I would provide a photo something like the one above on the Smartboard for students at the beginning of the language period. Just one at a time at the beginning so that we can take the opportunity to break down the thinking.  Students could then invent their own statement for the photo and justify their idea when they share it with others. In order to scaffold for some students, I might provide a variety of statements like the game itself and have them choose and justify their choice.  Students could also take or choose their own photo and create their own memes using apps such as Canva or Pic Collage.  This could also lead to an authentic digital citizenship opportunity with how to search and use photos that are public domain. In addition, these memes could then be shared on a class blog or social media to receive comments from others which provides feedback to students on their creations.

To take the idea of the memes further, the students could then use them as story prompts and create a narrative around the meme.  I might also ask the students to create some memes like book snaps which relate to the books that they are reading. See the example below:


“When Fudge ate Dribble.” 

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing-Judy Blume

A meme that needs an explanation isn’t a good meme, just like you shouldn’t need to explain a good joke.  There is a kind of sophistication in the thinking process involved in the creation of memes and they connect us as human beings.  Memes are this generation’s political cartoon, headline in the newspaper or funny birthday card from “The Far Side” creators; a visual paired with words that connects a shared human experience.  Know what I Meme?

Robotics and Coding in Action

Reflections and Observations from Robotics/Coding classes…

While currently working for several days on coding plus Lego robotics in three math classes: two grade 5/6s and one grade 7/8 class, I had the most interesting experience on a recent Friday.

An assumption, as the technology leader and I were planning out the lessons and build, was that many students would get a lot of satisfaction from building the robots, before coding them. So we had the whole first day where they built the Express Bot and then dismantled them so the next group could build. It was ok… but still some bickering, and such.

The next day was completely focused on learning how to code the robots.

It was like turning a switch on. The focus, engagement and successes were amazing. Not a single behavioural issues. The one class has math every day during the final hour of school. Half the time it is a challenge to manage this class. Many of the students are identified and probably more will be in the future. These students achieved as much as the other classes, and more. They were totally immersed in their tasks and goals. They were super excited to share with each other, help each other, share with the teachers and principal. They did not want to go home when the bell rang. We were basically speechless at the end of that class, due to the changes we had seen.

Other teachers were walking by to look on in amazement as the class exhibited the kind of learning skills and focused behaviour that was not usually observed. The students were collaborating and creating their own projects. Natural differentiation was created when working with these groups, especially as it was not guided instruction. Activities like this fill me with joy to see the success of many.  Today’s students,  tomorrows technology experts.

Introducing Coding without Robots

A few years ago when I started hearing about teachers doing coding and robotics in the classroom I dismissed it as a fad.  I didn’t understand the value of coding nor could I see how it tied to the curriculum.  However, I recognize as a professional learner my initial reaction to something radically new can sometimes be resistance.  I think that this is because I can’t see myself fitting “one more thing” into my classroom practice. I always have to give myself time to process, research, find the value and then finally accept it.  After I have tried a new practice with students and see the beneficial outcomes, I endorse it and then begin to share it widely with colleagues.

When I began the journey with coding and looked at code.org I tried it on my own and admittedly, understood very little. I went to more workshops and conferences but avoided the coding and robotics thinking that it just wasn’t my bag.  Then I had a colleague that dragged me in to the world of coding and robotics.  We worked together.  I’ve since become convinced that we need to teach all students how to code.  I have also figured out that you don’t need any robots to do it.  In fact, when you start-you don’t even need a computer.

coding 4         coding 2


The above picture is a coding game that I used recently with a grade one and two class.  Students placed their obstacles (rocks) on a grid.  They placed their “gemstone” or finish on a spot on the board and their “robot” (animal)  on another spot.  They wrote their code on a sticky note using arrows and then had their partner take their robot through the code to test it for “bugs”.  A big part of coding is knowing your left from your right and being able to write instructions that someone else can follow.  We started out the day coding one another to walk in a square using only: “forward” “turn left” and “turn right”.  It was amazing to see how much problem solving took place.  They were using positional language, procedural writing, clear communication, visualization and proportional reasoning.  Their thinking was exploding! The students were engaged in the learning and well on their way to being able to code something online.  From there we explored the Scratch Jr. app.  After a short look together at what the different “buttons/blocks” meant they were able to code independently.  As teachers we sometimes get bogged down in the fact that we don’t have the money to purchase the technology and shy away from trying things based on the fact that we don’t have “the stuff”.  However, laying the groundwork before introducing the technology piece to students is key.  We need to always consider the pedagogy before the technology.


Tools and Resources for Math Talks

One of the reasons that I spent so many years teaching the primary grades is that teaching math to older students terrified me.  Growing up I struggled with math.  I changed schools in the middle of my grade three year and missed a great deal of multiplication and division instruction which haunted me for the rest of my math learning.  I remember crying at the kitchen table over my homework and my father being distraught over not being able to help me.  I totally understand how a student feels when they shutdown and “can’t” get it.  That understanding along with having excellent tools and resources helped me immensely when I taught grade 4 and 5 mathematics.

Math Growth Mindset

Jo Boaler is a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University and the co-founder and faculty director of youcubed.  This fabulous website provides unique, research based instructional approaches to teaching math.  There are videos for students of different age ranges and the “Week of Inspirational Math” was what helped me to create a positive math learning environment with a growth mindset in my Junior grade classroom.  It doesn’t have to be the first week either-you can do it at any point.  Jo Boaler has also co-written a series of mathematics instructional resources called “Mindset Mathematics” for each of the junior grades.

Math Talks

Number Talks: Whole Number Computation, Gr K-5: A Multimedia Professional Learning Resource became my go-to resource when I began daily number talks with primary students and it made the transition to teaching math in the junior grades much easier.  The format of math discussion remains essentially the same no matter what grade level.  It is an expensive resource but well worth it.  If you want to give math talks a try there are some more affordable online resources that you can use as well.

Math for Love is a website that provides a number of online math talks for K-5.  EduGains gives a brief synopsis of how to develop your math learning community in your classroom.  Another great online resource for daily math talks is Which One Doesn’t Belong?  This website provides all sorts of pictures for math discussion. Eventually my students began creating pictures for other classes to use for their math talks after using the examples on the website. Math Talk Resources is a comprehensive spot for math talk information and connects you to many different math talk resource websites.

When students have the opportunity to discuss math and hear fellow student’s different perspectives, they begin to see their own entry point into every math problem.  They also begin to see the value of challenging each other’s ideas respectfully and adding to one another’s ideas. “What do you see and what do you wonder?” is a much friendlier way to open up math discussion than, “Who can give me the answer?” I am convinced that because my students engaged in respectful math talks they were able to transfer these skills into other discussion topics in our classroom.  For me, the anxious math teacher, math talks became the highlight of our daily math lessons and sometimes, the highlight of my day.


Why Coding is Important Part One

I consider myself a fairly techie teacher.  However, until recently I hadn’t really tried my hand at coding or robotics.  Well, I had, but I had lost interest as I quickly felt as though I was out of my depth.  So, I did what I always do when I really want to learn something about teaching, I go to a colleague that has the knowledge and I try it WITH the students.  Collaborative inquiry.

Until recently, I didn’t see what the big deal was or why it was important to teach coding to students.  Yeah, playing with robots is fun but what does that have to do with curriculum?  When I started working with and learning coding along side students I had a change in mindset.  There is a lot of math, strategic planning and visualization in coding. Coding may not always directly relate to curriculum content-that is true.  However, in terms of teaching students about the deep learning competencies, coding is key.  If you aren’t sure what I mean by the deep learning competencies; they are referred to as the 6 C’s.  Here is a link to the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning paper but I have extracted a summary of the 6 C’s for a quick reference:

Character: Character refers to qualities of the individual essential for being personally effective in a complex world including: grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability, and honesty.

Citizenship: Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values with genuine interest in engaging with others to solve complex problems that impact human and environmental sustainability.

Collaboration: Collaboration refers to the capacity to work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team-related skills including effective management of team dynamics, making substantive decision together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others.

Communication: Communication entails mastery of three fluencies:digital, writing and speaking tailored for a range of audiences.

Creativity: Having an ‘entrepreneurial eye’ for economic and social opportunities, asking the right questions to generate novel ideas, and demonstrating leadership to pursue those ideas into practice.

Critical Thinking: Critically evaluating information and arguments, seeing patterns and connections, constructing meaningful knowledge and applying it in the real world.

I reflected on these 6 C’s as I wrote the learning skills for my grade 4/5 students this year.  I spend the most time on my reports creating the Learning Skills for each student.  They are personal and they reflect each individual student.  As a parent, it is what I am most interested in reading about my own child.  The 6 C’s are competencies not only for school, but for life.  While students were exploring coding I had them working in pairs or small groups to give them the opportunity to communicate, collaborate and show leadership.  When the code didn’t work, they were able to go back and find the error and correct it and try it again with results right away. Sometimes they found it painstaking and I had to let them work through that and they were glad in the end when I didn’t give them the easy way out and they solved things on their own.  When they learned something in coding, they quickly wanted to share their learning with other students.  I gave basic instruction about the program to start using a youtube tutorial and then let the students go.  Students who often don’t do well in groups with “typical” academic tasks often excelled as leaders in coding because it is a divergent way of thinking and they had a self-check strategy built into the task.  It was incredible to witness the amount of learning that was taking place.

You don’t have to have robots to code.  There are online coding websites that teach kids to code such as code.org and Scratch.  The students even as young as grade 3 are easily able to use these sites to code.  Scratch Jr. is available for younger students.  The sites have great tutorial videos and somehow the students seem to just start discovering and creating things intuitively.  They begin helping each other when they see that someone has created something cool and ask the creator to show them how to do it too.

I am proud to say that I can now code a square, star and a small obstacle course using blocks and a Sphero robot.  My students discover new things every day and share them with me.  It is definitely a new age in teaching.



Flexible Classroom/Schedule a huge success!

The other day in my grade 4/5 class I decided to try a flexible schedule day where students would have the list of subjects available to them on the board with specific tasks under each subject. This is how the day unfolded.

Students entered the room after French and were confused by the fact that the schedule board was blank. Some of them right away started reading the black board and noticed the various subject headings. Under each heading it said grade four and grade five. The subject choices (which are the subjects that I teach on my one day LTO) were: social studies, music, math and library. In library, they are writing their own books right now so that was a writing choice.

I explained to my students that from 9:30 until 3:10, they would have the choice to pick whatever task they wanted and that they could move on when they wanted. If they completed a task, they could come hand it in to me or hand it in on google classroom. On the board I specified which tasks were to be done on google classroom. The only task on the board that required direct instruction was the grade five math task. When students were selecting that task, I asked them to come see me so I could explain it. This happened every so often throughout the day if students chose math.

I also put a “self regulation/independent work” challenge into the day where I told the class if I noticed them working hard and not getting off task, I would give them a green happy face in my app (which I have previously explained) called iDoceo. Before each break, they could come check in with me to ask how many happy faces they had.

At the end of the day, students were able to reflect on the entire experience. Here are the comments directly from the students.

Students comments about their flexible schedule/task day:

  • I liked the various choices of subjects
  • I liked how the option to switch when I wanted was there
  • This allowed us to get things done in our own timing
  • If you finished early with one task, you could move onto the other without asking what to do next
  • I liked the flow of free choice
  • There was no “have to” involved, I loved the flow of free choice
  • More time to finish things
  • “You are basically treating us like high school students”

Of my 25 students, all 25 raised their hand when I asked “How many of you prefer this type of schedule to the schedule we usually have?” The schedule we usually have is 60 minutes math, 80 minutes social studies, 40 minutes music..etc.

These were the students comments about the competition where they were asked to stay on task and work responsibly and they would be rewarded with a green smiley face in my app if they were working well:

  • The smiley faces made us work harder, they were good motivation
  • I loved the competition aspect of the day
  • Something to try for rather than just working
  • I liked finding out how many I had before each break
  • It reminded me of a race because you would still get smiley faces even if you didn’t win at the end of the day but you still had finished the race
  • Some people like competition so you can think about it like that or you could just work like usual
  • Makes you try different things

I really encourage all educators to try this flexible schedule thing! It was just a way of me looking for students that could handle the independent work challenge. The flexible schedule thing came to me while I was looking for a way to challenge students to stay on task and to work independently. I will definitely try this again next week as the kids LOVED it and as you can read, they loved the pressure free environment it allowed them to work in.

Deep Learning in Inquiry (Part 2)

In reading part one of my inquiry blog, one might think, “That’s all lots of fun, but building a bee house isn’t exactly something that I can write on the report card.”  You would be absolutely right.  The learning is imbedded in the exciting things.  It is intentional and it is authentic.  Connecting with a local expert, using technology for research and having hands on activities with students engaged scratches the surface of inquiry.  Our deep learning with this unit began with the types of questions that we were asking.  I noticed that when the students began asking questions on Padlet that Siri could have easily answered many of their questions with one or two word answers.  This lead to a series of lessons on “THICK” vs. “Thin” questions.  We added better questioning to our goals.


The students also noticed that I had included a lot of infographics on the Padlet.  Infographics are seen everywhere in social media to communicate information efficiently and visually.  However, students need to know how to use this information, how to synthesize it, how to put it into their own words and how to source it.  We spent a significant amount of our language periods on reading and interpreting infographics.



Our learning goals and success criteria went way beyond making houses for bees and honey tasting.  Students wanted to DO something to help bees.  We created our learning goals and criteria together:

 D9EDA370-1138-49B8-965E-051FCD44D0A4     8AB3D3E8-C7F1-4B2B-8E49-BD8E4FE8068F     CD26AF15-F831-470F-9522-D17D415D0A33

Early on in the inquiry we watched an informative YouTube video called, We Can Save the Bees Together.  Sarah Red-Laird, bee enthusiast and scientist, gave us a number of ideas of actions that we could take.  The students decided that one of the things that they wanted to do was to call for stronger legislation about mono cropping and pesticide use in farming.  They wanted to write letters to politicians and change makers.  In addition, when Susan Chan, local bee researcher visited, she “planted the seed” about creating a non-stinging bee friendly garden in our school yard.  This prompted students to write letters to local school officials to solicit assistance and guidance.  One of our students from Curve Lake First Nation decided to write the Chief and Band Council to ask them to consider building a bee friendly garden in their community. The desire for letter writing lead to a series of lessons on how to write a professional letter, how to proofread and how to edit in a meaningful and authentic learning context for students.  The students also felt that educating others about conservation of  bees was important so they are now working on developing presentations that they can take to other classes as well as media advertising to share their learning and call others to action.

In math, we had been focusing on data management.  It fit in perfectly to what we were doing with our inquiry!  There is an incredible amount of data about bees on the Statistics Canada website.  We read real graphs with information that the students cared about, we labelled the important parts of the graphs and we will be creating our own surveys and graphing the information from different areas of our inquiry.


Statistics Canada

Honestly, the best part of inquiry is when the students start to direct their own learning.  I guide them.  I provide thought provoking questions and “what if” scenarios.  They make choices and feel good about doing something that is affecting real change.  Inquiry is empowerment for students.  This students aren’t done with this inquiry yet-they have many more plans ahead!  Stay tuned.

Free Creation Apps to Show Student Thinking

I was asked to present a workshop about using technology in the Primary grades over a year ago and got into a debate with the Principal at the host school about apps.  The Principal was quite excited about the apps that he intended to purchase for his teachers to use with their students and he showed me his list.  I was surprised.  None of the apps were creation apps.  They were all “practice basic skills and keep kids quiet apps”. I showed him my list of preferred apps.  It was his turn to be surprised.

“These apps that you have chosen for the teachers are a lot like fancy worksheets for kids to practice basic skills.  Those skills are important, but doing a worksheet on an iPad might be a little more engaging, but it is still a worksheet, and an expensive one at that!  The apps that I am going to share with the staff today are all apps that students can choose from to show their thinking in a fun, engaging way that also provides opportunity for feedback and editing.” Unfortunately, he didn’t stay for the workshop.

The main difficulty that I have found with apps is finding something that you can use in schools that doesn’t cost a lot of money and isn’t just a free trial or have “in-app purchases”.  I don’t mind paying a few dollars for an app but when you get into the double digits for a school, it isn’t sustainable.  I thought I would share a few free creation apps that I have used with both the primary and junior grades.  I have also included some samples.  None of the samples are done by students, but I can assure you that each of these are quite intuitive and easy even for primary grades to use.  Each of the apps has a link to it in the App Store for further information.

Shadow Puppet EDU  The name is deceiving and the little white bunny on the app icon is too.  It basically provides a video of a slide show in which you can add voice and text.  Students can link to the already sourced for copyright pictures provided within the app or take pictures from their iPad or with the camera.  The students find this one easy to use but tricky to edit some of the text.  It uploads to Seesaw and other platforms easily.

Here is a sample of Puppet EDU:


Padlet  I have used this a lot in order to begin a new unit of inquiry on something.  It provides a place to put safe links and videos that I have sourced for the students as a starting point and reference.  In addition, the students can collaborate their thinking with sticky notes. You can share it publicly with other Padlet users, but we keep ours private at this point.  We may share our Padlets with other classes at our school through the use of the QR code and password.  The sign is uses a QR code which you can print out. We are using Padlet for our unit on the Olympics.  The students will then create their own Padlet to share with classmates on an Olympic event that they will research.  Students will be invited to provide feedback to one another.  This is a screen capture of our Olympic Padlet:


iBrainstorm  This app allows students to add sticky notes, text or hand written notes to templates like Venn Diagrams.  In addition, up to 3 other people can be invited to collaborate on the same template in real time. You can take a screen shot and save it to photos.  It also uploads to multiple platforms easily.


The Virtues of Non Fiction Reading and Writing – Part 2

Our Journey

We began by identifying the books in our book bags as fiction or nonfiction.  The students justified how they knew if a book was fiction or nonfiction.  In small groups the students compiled lists of nonfiction text features that they noticed in their stack of chosen books.  As a class we went through the Scholastic Book order and they decided which books were fiction or nonfiction and explained their choice.  The students discussed whether there was a realistic photo, the title and if there was a synopsis about the book.  We explored the “Explain Everything” app and played with it for a short period before getting into the project.  I find that a “romance period” with a new tool helps to keep them on task when they begin their work. The app was fairly new to me but the students found it to be mostly intuitive.  They were really stoked to use the feature that points to the words using a “light sabre”.  There were a few glitches with accessing text edits but eventually they got the hang of it.  We have the free trial version.  The actual app is quite expensive.

Establishing a Purpose

I explained to the students that our younger “buddies” were going to be learning about nonfiction and their teacher was looking for an engaging presentation about nonfiction text features for her students.  By setting up an authentic purpose and audience for writing, the students were engaged immediately.

These are the learning goals, success criteria, project checklist and anchor charts that we developed over a period or two.  We added and changed some things as time went on as well.

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The students really had to think about the information that a nonfiction text feature gave them as a reader.  The learning was much deeper by creating a teaching video than if they had just identified the features in texts.  Students referred to the success criteria and checklists throughout the project.  Before they came to me they had to have some peer feedback.  They put their first draft on Seesaw and I provided some feedback online.  The students edited and adjusted from peer and teacher feedback and then posted for parents to see on Seesaw.  Below the blog, I have included three different examples of projects from both grade four and five.

Assessment and Evaluation

The integration of technology with a presentation provides an opportunity to assess many different curriculum expectations in language:

-ability to critically analyze the purposes for nonfiction text features

-ability to create a piece of media for a specific purpose and audience

-ability to oral communicate coherently and expressively

-ability to write clearly using appropriate conventions and their ability to edit their work

-ability to use success criteria, anchor charts and feedback in the creative process

In the area of learning skills:

Independent Work

-adhere to timelines and guidelines

-use class time appropriately to complete a task

-monitor, assess and revise plans to meet goals


-provide appropriate feedback to peers; being considerate of the feelings of others

-have their materials ready


-find answers to questions and materials they need on their own

-find ways to make their work better


-set up their work so that the ideas are communicated and the audience understands their thinking

-prioritize what needs to be done


-uses politeness and kindness when providing feedback

-shares resources, information and expertise

Self Regulation

-asks for clarification about feedback

-uses mistakes as a learning opportunity

-provides evidence that they think about their thinking

The Virtues of Non Fiction Reading and Writing – Part 1

Many years ago at a Reading for the Love of It Conference, I listened to author and educator Tony Stead speak about the virtues of teaching non-fiction reading and writing in the elementary grades. It was an “ah-ha” moment for me as an educator. As an adult the majority of the text that we interact with each day is non-fiction. Writing a grocery list, filling out a survey, reading an advertisement, reading a blog and corresponding in an email are all examples of interacting with non-fiction text. If I read fiction it is because I choose to do so for pleasure. Yet, much of my language curriculum in the primary grades had been fiction based. I had chosen many beautiful picture books for read alouds and focused a lot of our time on narrative story writing.  Most of what I write as an adult is purposeful communication, not for pleasure. During that time I also put together that the majority of what the boys in my class were interested in reading and writing were non-fiction topics and that likely contributed to the reluctance of many of them to read and write.

Consequently, as an educator, I spend much more of my time teaching how to read non-fiction and how to write in different non-fiction genres.  Recently with my grade 4-5 class, we have been investigating non-fiction text features.  We are learning to use non-fiction text features to help us both as readers and writers.  For example, through inquiry the students learn what a diagram is, what is used for, how it helps the reader to gain new information and how we can then use it in our own writing to communicate information effectively.  The students are working towards providing a kind of instructional guide to non-fiction text features using the app Explain Everything to present to younger students in our school.  Students search for examples of non-fiction text features, take photos and using voice, text or diagrams; explain how the text features work and how they help readers and writers communicate.  Students understand that these diagrams, graphs, maps etc., in their texts can provide quick snapshots of important information and make their research interesting, richer and often more expedient.  In their writing, they understand that many features provide “proof” of the point they are trying to make for their readers.

My love of non-fiction does not exclude studies in fiction.  However, as educators it is important that we are expose our students to purposeful, rich, relatable tasks as well as good stories.  In part two of the blog, I will be sharing student work with non-fiction.  For more information about educator and author Tony Stead I have included some links below.

Tony Stead author biography

The RAN Strategy video