Fun and Fresh Friday Math

After attending the OAME  Math conference in 2020, I was able to hear many perspectives about the math classroom and how it should look. One of the speakers was Gerry Lewis (@GLewisOCT) who spoke to us about spiralling as well as what the thinking classroom looks like. He spoke about many incredible concepts, my favourite was definitely an example of his daily math activities. There were many websites Gerry talked about and he described this as a “mini spiral” where you start to introduce spiralling with your students. You could do this by introducing these activities at the beginning of each class (10-15 minutes). Here are some of the websites Gerry introduced me to:


We have been spiralling since September and my students have enjoyed the programs listed above. It also is important to review the concepts of the week and I have done that in a few creatives ways. Our favourite thing to do is to review the concepts from the week in a “fun and fresh way” on Fridays. I teach online so all of these programs work well, particularity when students have a second device available.Here are our top three quiz apps. and a review from myself as well as my students:


My review:
Knowledgehook is available as an app or on any web browser. It is a live, gameshow style quiz game where the questions are directly linked to our Ontario math curriculum. You can actually find the strand you are working on and lead students through a three question quiz. Students never know who got what answers correct, which I think shocked them at first. Some students ended up sharing how many they got correct in the chat. I enjoy this because you can review the answer afterwards and there is no rush to enter an answer. It is a quick summary of student knowledge at the end of the week and works well. You can view the results after to see where students need help.

Student review:
My students enjoyed this app but they much prefer Kahoot (and other competition based apps).  I think they find this one a little bit boring since it acts as a type of exit card. They do not complain while playing but they request other apps. Again, I think at the end they are just eager to tell each other about their results, so this is what I think they are missing with this app.


My review:
This is obviously a great tool to use when reviewing concepts from the week. I like it because students are so excited when they hear it is time for a kahoot! I also like using this as a quiz option at the end of a concept but I always remind students to email me if there were any game glitches that affected their final store. I do not enjoy that I have to make my own kahoots to get exactly the content that I want. For a quick exit card, I much prefer knowledgehook. My students have not reacted when they receive a low score this year and I am thankful for that. That is another reason we continue to use kahoot to review, play fun games and sometimes, we just enjoy a random kahoot.

Student review:
My class has some competitive students in it so they do enjoy kahoot for that reason. I think they like to show that they were paying attention during the week and they get super excited when they win. Kahoot was the most requested activity when I read my students review of term one with regards to things that they want to continue. I know kahoot will always be a favourite activity and pairing it with math (which is often not a favourite subject) makes a good combo. I know students have mentioned it is hard to toggle between tabs, so two devices work best for this.


Teacher review:
Best for last! So today was our first day using this quiz tool. This is a customizable quiz program where you can use a combination of your own questions as well as questions created by other people. You can select between multiple choice, checkbox, fill in the blank, poll and a few other options. The game format is very fun and I can see exactly how my students did during and after the games. It also shows an anonymous question review at the end to go over with your students to see how many people got each question right and wrong. All names are left out of this page. This program also allows students go through at their own pace so nobody is waiting for the entire class to answer each question. They also do not have to toggle between screens.

Student review:
I am still in shock after hearing this an hour ago but this is the favourite over kahoot. I did not think any quiz app could take its place! I just finished speaking to my students about why they prefer this over kahoot and the specifics are:

  • self paced so students can all finish at different times
  • the opportunity to 50/50 some of the questions like the millionaire show format
  • you can power up and earn some cool features you have an answer streak which may include pausing the timer, etc.
  • you can pick your own background and music during the game
  • you can also retry a question if you get it incorrect (these results will be displayed to me if a student was incorrect during their first attempt)

At first, I expected my students to be frustrated because I was throwing yet another app their way. They were actually so excited to play and ended up enjoying it more than any other app. I will be exploring another program this weekend that one my students shared with me. He explained that I would like it “even more”. I encourage you to try it as well.

I hope everyone can try out these three (or just one) fun Friday math apps! I know my students are so excited when Friday comes along because they can review the skills from the way in a fun way. I appreciate their excitement as we all know, sometimes we only get moans and groans when our students hear the word “math”.

I look forward to keeping you updated on future math quiz apps. Please share any of your experiences with me or any new apps that you have tried. Enjoy!

Remote Learning Hereos

Celebrating the Remote Learning Heroes

I wake up to teach each morning, excited to hear my students voices and to teach the lessons for the day. I love every moment with them and I think the world of these students. They really are little super heroes, but do I tell them that enough?

It was brought up at a staff meeting by multiple staff members this week how are our students are super heroes for engaging in a learning setting that we would have never imagined. Just waking up, signing in and listening is something that should be celebrated. But of course, we have to expect more from them and I am delighted by what they show me each day. My students are coming to school each day in a virtual setting, meeting deadlines and participating more than I have ever seen in my seven years of teaching. Just this week alone, they handed in their final copies of their MVP 0f 2020 essays, many of them writing five or more pages about their selected person. Six of my students even wanted to learn about MLA citations and how to format a works cited page. These are things that will help them so much in the future and I was so excited to teach them about that. They also worked hard on their financial literacy final project- coming up with a budget for an imaginary person, looking at how to buy a car and selecting between various interest rates as well as looking up how to save for local universities. Most of my 33 students handed in both of these projects this week and were so excited to celebrate afterwards.

Every week we do student shout-outs and yesterday, I made a “wordle” (mashup of student names) to celebrate each and every one of them. For showing up, but also, for doing so much more than that. I know for some students, the challenging situation we are in right now makes it hard for them to participate in daily lessons. One of my most engaged students told me the other day, “I don’t know how I am doing it. I have the whole world at my finger tips but I am expected to sit and listen to lessons each day. I have to avoid distractions with nobody on the other side of the screen to hold me accountable. I do not know how much longer I can do this.” What an honest statement from my student. My response was yes, what a challenging task! But imagine completing this year and having the skill to avoid distractions and to be responsible for your work without I suppose there isn’t anybody there to remind you to stay on task like there would be in the physical classroom. I encouraged my students to think about all of the things they will be able to accomplish in the future with this new found responsibility. That independence will take them all the way through their academic career.

It is also important for me to remember that they still need to engage with peers, so I have been making breakout rooms each day in a variety of subjects. This is great as well because they have another student to chat with. I love popping into the breakout rooms and hearing the conversations (all on task?!) with students they have never met in real life.

These students are so resilient and they truly are my heroes. I know it is easy to get frustrated with the lack of output from some students, but in the physical classroom, it may have been the same thing. In an online setting, it is just more noticeable. All we can do is continue to encourage our students and remember to celebrate their success, no matter how small. Always try to remember that as challenging as it is for us educators, it is even more challenging for our kids- the remote learning heroes.


Per / Con / In / Re – form

I am wrestling with my thoughts again. In other words, I am restless again. When this happens many questions appear soon thereafter. Is there anyone out there that feels restless too?

I can’t be the only one in questioning a lot of things right now because most days I feel like a busker at a street festival trying to juggle a bowling ball(technology), a chainsaw(lessons), and a fishtank(learners). Nothing to see here other than a fairly confident educator having a tough time with something that he’s done before – delivering lessons.

So why am I struggling to deliver my lessons? It seems like a good place to start. Right now, I am questioning everything about my professional practice, and it feels like running along a path and tripping over an imaginary object. My week long tumbles are not so much about the content I am teaching, but rather how it is being taught, how it is being received, and how it can be assessed. It is leaving me limping into the weekend? Tell me I am not alone right now.

And then it hits. How long until the realization that some of my students are not completely engaging with learning right now even though their eyes and emotionless emoticons tell me otherwise? After extended times staring at screens and thumbnail sized student/profile memes I can tell my students are becoming exhausted too despite the brave faces that I see popping up on occasion when called upon. Is this happening to anyone else teaching right now? Are your students tired too? I am. 

Why am I so tired right now? Shouldn’t getting an extra hour of sleep each night, drinking 2+ litres of water per day, reduced caffeine, reduced personal device time, reading more books, and getting more exercise than in years past be helping me out here? I have even added Tai Chi, Yoga, and Hip Hop Dance to our DPA to increase movement during class time. To top it all off, I take daily walks whether I feel like it or not. 

You see, I force myself to take a walk after each of my hyper-telepresent virtual teaching sessions. Once the goodbyes are done, it is pretty much all I can do to get out of my chair, climb the stairs, and get geared up to go out most days. Especially, when I have to pass by a very comfortable couch whose cushions scream, “Remember us?” It is very tempting, but something even better calls, my daily walks.

Regardless of the weather, these walks are my motivational carrots to keep taking the steps that get me through the many muddy moments along each day’s unpaved path. Knowing that no matter how the day goes, a walk awaits has been all it takes to see me through. Whether a lesson went well or died on the screen in front of me ceases to matter when I inhale that first breath of fresh outdoor air. The exhale feels pretty good too. 

You watch enough TV, and very soon the inside of your head has become a vast, arid plain, across which you cannot detect the passage of a thought. Harlan Ellison

So far this year, I have only missed one day of walking. In hindsight it was probably the day that I needed a it most. Instead, I ended up planted on that inviting couch with a bowl of Smartfood staring at our television. Tuned out. Achy. Sullen. Grumpy. Numb. These feelings got me thinking about screens. 

Sci-fi author Harlan Ellison referred to TV as the “glass teat”. He even wrote a couple of books about it. I see parallels to how education is being delivered right now. We need to wean our students off of their screens more and more in order to preserve their minds from numbing and tuning out. 

Somewhere along my way outside a struggle ensued about the work I am doing in front of my screen. Is it serving to numb our students over extended periods of time? Will these extended periods of online learning cause irreparable tears in our socio-academic fabric? I am not ready to believe that this is the beginning of the end for in person school and that we are heading for our isolation pods as told in E.M Forster’s The Machine Stops

We cannot continue feeding content from one glass plate after another and expecting students to grow up smart and healthy. A dear friend suggested that cutting the learning day back to 4 days might be a good idea. Allowing the 5th day for asynchronous activities such as self-directed inquiry and catching up on assignments during the day rather than in the evenings when fatigue sets in. Teachers could easily use that time for office hours, for one on one/small group support, and conferencing. Everyone wins. 

Yet to form
This is much more than having the tools to master a domain that has yet to be tamed? Virtual learning means we are virtually learning how to do this while we teach? I can tell you there are few system leaders or consultants that have as much experience as any teachers in this medium, and it has largely been gained through self-teaching and experimentation with their classes.

I worry that too much emphasis has been placed on performance and conformity without serious consideration to being fully informed of the true social, emotional, and physical costs of virtual learning. Teachers, students, and families are feeling the stress from this and without an alternative I fear that there will be problems far greater than being behind on assignments or failing a test.

There is a definite need to refine and reform how we are being asked to serve and support our students. I’d love to take a walk around the neighbourhood with those making decisions on our behalf, share some ideas, listen to one another, breath in some fresh air, and take the steps that would best support students and staff -from a safe distance of course. Maybe if we took away their screens everyone might be able to see eye to eye here about helping to change things for the better, our students. 

In the meantime, I think another walk is in order. 



Lessons From Virtual Learning

I’m going to start out by giving a shout-out to virtual teachers everywhere! Those of you that have been doing this since September, wow! You amaze me. As I’m getting used to the idea of teaching into a screen, I’m amazed by how you are able to do this day in and day out. At the end of the day, I sometimes walk away unsure as to the depth of our work; my eyes hurt; and if we didn’t have Phys. Ed. or if I haven’t had a chance to walk yet for the day, my back hurts. I was amazed by you before but experiencing this first-hand, you deserve much more credit than has been given!

In the last 4 weeks, I have learned a lot about myself and my students. In this post, I’ll share a few of the “lessons” that I have learned. While they may not be new “lessons”, they are certainly reminders for me when I head back into the classroom.  Here they are:

  1. Flexibility is fundamental;
  2. Reflection is required;
  3. Connections are crucial.

Flexibility Is Fundamental

Every day I head into our Meet or Zoom with a plan of how the day will go and almost always that plan gets completely changed around. While I know that it’s the same in the classroom, I find that so much more comes up in the virtual classroom. Our check-ins last longer. Tech issues arise. We need more or different support with a question or task since the way in which we “move around the room” is quite different. Where I thought I would be and where we actually are, are two different places and I’m learning more and more to not feel as though I’m failing my students because we can’t get to it just yet. As a teacher, I know that I can’t get to everything and for years now I’ve worked on the philosophy that my students will set the pace of where we go. However, somehow when we started in January, I found myself planning out and feeling the need to be moving along faster. I found myself getting frustrated with not being able to support my students in the same way and it has taken me some time to figure out different ways to accomplish this. Small group meetings or peer review sessions. I’m learning to be gentle with myself and understanding that flexibility is needed in my plans and where I imagined we might take an activity considering we’ve moved from in the classroom to virtual. 

Reflection Is Required

At the end of the first week, we took some time to reflect on the week and while I thought we did a great job, the feedback was brutal! In the classroom, a lot of the work and conversations are student-led with me as the facilitator. Being online, I found – and sometimes continue to find myself – in the seat of being the person who is speaking the most. Sure, we ask questions and there are discussions but it’s definitely not like it was in the classroom and the students feel it and have commented on it! As such, I’m getting over my fear of controlling the online space and my notion of making sure that it’s “safe” for all and we have ventured into breakout rooms in Zoom where I pop in from group to group as they work to solve problems, offer feedback to each other and lead workouts for Phys. Ed. It’s in these times that I have seen that they are “themselves”. That is to say that they’re the leaders I saw when we were in the classroom who are in charge of their own learning and helping their peers along with their learning. The small groups resemble the collaborative learning we’ve grown accustomed to over the past few months. They’ve asked for more opportunities to lead each other in Art activities or other areas of interest and I need to listen to their feedback and work with them to weave it into our day. Next week is another feedback/checkpoint for us and hopefully, we’ll be doing better in some areas and learn even more ways to make virtual learning more effective for my students. 

Connections Are Crucial

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague reached out to me to check-in via email. This colleague also happens to be the parent of one of my students. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated them checking in with me to see how I was doing and to also share how they felt their child was doing. It came on a day when I was actually struggling. I was frustrated with the fact that our return to school was being extended and knowing that the current way of teaching really isn’t sustainable. I’m grateful that all of my students are in everyday and learning but this really isn’t learning as we have known it. As I read the email, I started to feel very emotional. It wasn’t about what I could do better but it was sincerely thanking me for what I had been doing and for that I will forever be grateful. I share this to ask, who are you connecting with during this time? Are there friends, colleagues, or family members who are checking-in on you or with whom you can check-in? Since this colleague checked in on me, I’ve tried to pay it forward. I haven’t checked in with as many people as I have wanted to but as I connect, I realize just how crucial these connections are, as we are so isolated at this time. 

These are just some of the lessons I have learned in the last 4 weeks. While virtual learning continues for the next while, I know that more lessons will come. I’m ready to accept them and learn as I continue in my teaching practice. What lessons are you learning during this time?  How might they help you in your practice? What might you leave behind when we are back in person? What might change when we return? I hope that you are staying safe and taking care of yourself.


ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Bell Let’s Talk Day

Yesterday was Bell Let’s Talk Day which, as we know, is a great chance to engage in mental health conversations in our classroom. In my grade seven classroom, we opened up by discussing what the quote “It’s okay to not be okay” meant to everyone. Students were excited to open up and share about ideas of what they could do when they feel sad, bored, lonely, etc. Here are some coping strategies they shared with their classmates:

  • put on headphones and listen to music
  • relax in their room
  • write in a journal
  • talk to friends
  • play video games
  • spend time with a pet
  • take a break

It was great to hear so many students sharing ways they cope with a bad situation or a sad day. Some grade sevens expressed that they had never felt sad or alone which is great, but I still mentioned that these strategies will be useful if you ever happen to feel that way in the future.

During our morning discussion about Bell Let’s Talk Day, why it exists and how people donate, some students shared that they felt mental health had been swept under the rug at their homeschools. They had never discussed the importance of talking about their mental well being or felt there wasn’t room for these conversations in the past. One student even went as far to say that this is the most comfortable he has ever felt in a classroom. A classroom that is 100% virtual, taking away all challenges that a physical classroom may present. I was very relieved to hear this as being virtual since September, I often struggle with the thought that none of these students will ever feel a connection to myself or their classmates. That comment made me think otherwise. I truly think that for the first time, some of these students can be their true, authentic self.

Throughout the day, we watched the Michael Buble video that donates 5 cents to mental health initiatives, we discussed how being physically active can help with mental health issues and we also talked about how there is always someone to talk to if you are feeling sad. One of my students even shared some important phone numbers in our chat that could help if someone was feeling overwhelmed.

One of my colleagues went as far as to call Kids Help Phone with her class and her students were able to ask them some important questions. They had great discussions about how old you have to be to call, what you could do if you were feeling sad and even what to do if you call and do not know. I thought that was a great idea and I look forward to calling them next year.

Mental health is so important to discuss in our  classrooms, especially in remote setting as well as in light of the events of the past year. We need to know our students are okay and we need to let them know it’s okay if they aren’t. I don’t like that I know more about what my students know in math, science, etc. than about their mental well being. For that reason, last week I did a survey where I asked students to use one word to describe their feelings when coming to remote school each day. This was an anonymous survey so I feel that my students answered this as honestly as they could. Here were the results:
13/33- happy, excited or fabulous
4/33- tired
1/33- bored
2/33- confused
5/33- 0kay
8/33- did not respond to this question

We discussed these results as a class and students shared ideas of how to help the students who felt confused, bored, tired, etc. We talked about how it was great that so many people are happy but we should look to how to connect to the other students who are feeling something else. One of my students brought that up on her own and we had a great discussion about how we can create the best environment possible.

I want to continue doing morning check-ins to ask about their evening and how they are feeling. I will continue to create surveys where they can submit private concerns to me so that I can help them feel okay each day. I will make sure to put a higher emphasis on feeling confident, happy and comfortable next term. I have a great group of students who are excited each day to express their concerns and share their feelings. I encourage everyone who is nervous to ask these challenging questions or talk about the harder to approach topics to do so with their class. You will see how grateful your students are after these real-life discussions.

Hope everyone has someone to talk to during these challenging times.

At a loss for words

Did anyone else have a very hard time before class Thursday, January 7th?

Thinking about how to start discussing the terrorist attacks in the United States on Wednesday, January 6th? I spent the entire evening feeling sick about the whole situation. Then, an entirely new wave of anxiety came over me knowing that I would need to address it with my grade seven students.

At first I reached out to fellow intermediate educators, asking them how they were going to start this challenging discussion. They mentioned breakout groups, article readings and then discussions. Then I spoke to some friends about it who helped me come up with careful and sensitive things to say. In this profession, it is hard to speak about these topics (without being political) and to do so in a calm and professional manner. This attack was something that was devastating towards many people, especially BLM activists who were attacked with tear gas, etc. when they peacefully protesting in 2020.

The morning of January 7th arrived and class had begun. I always start the day with morning music and I found it appropriate to play the song “Where is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas. I found some of my students did not know what had happened the night before. A student in my class asked to speak on the mic and inform them about the terrorist attacks on the US Capitol. That student spoke very well and did a good job informing anyone who did not see the news, instagram, twitter or other social media platforms. I spoke about it for a while and explained the importance of positive role models/leaders in societies. Followers will always act on behalf of their leaders and this led to a discussion about positive leaders and how they have positively inspired change (Greta Thunberg, David Suzuki, etc.) Our conversation lasted about thirty minutes and was mostly student-led. Many grade sevens came on the mic to share their thoughts and they all did so in a respectful and calm way. Many students expressed their sadness for families that had children going through many things in the past year: forest fires, a pandemic, the death of Georg Floyd, the violent police response to BLM protestors, remote learning, election issues and then, this. We talked about how we are merely watching from Canada but imagine being in that city during this event, worrying about what may happen to you and your family. My favourite part of the discussion was when one of my students expressed her gratitude for talking about the situation rather than pretending it never happened and going about our day. This made me feel that the discussion had gone well and reaffirmed my thoughts about why current events cannot be swept under the rug (especially with intermediate students). We eventually went on with our day after first checking with all students, making sure that they were okay to move on from the challenging topic.

This week, we received an Emergency Alert on Thursday that informed us we are in a State of Emergency and a stay-at-home order is now in effect. This came during class time and many of my students own phones. We discussed what this means and I made sure to answer any questions students may have had. I discussed how the return to school date had been pushed back (that does not matter to us as we are always a remote class), plus the outdoor gathering size had changed to five and also, just to try their best to only leave home for important reasons. We had a great conversation about how the word “exercise” was now added as a reason to leave home. We continued a discussion about how mental health relates to exercise. This had tied in nicely to our healthy living presentations which had been going on during the week. We talked about how important it was that the government acknowledged that leaving your home for a walk or a run was an important thing to do.

After all the discussions were said and done, we did get back to our usual topics but as we know, the mental health of our students is the most important topic and we should always do our best to check in. This is especially important as we continue to learn online, with little to no face- to-face interactions with our students.

I am hoping everyone had a great start to 2021 so far and all that challenging conversations went as smoothly as they could go. I know I was extremely anxious about the conversations but I shouldn’t have been because my students prove to me time and time again their maturity and positive attitude towards their learning and overall outlook on our world.

Occasional Teaching Online (part 2 of 3): My Challenges

I will never forget my first supply day for virtual learning. Even though I am early into my teaching career, I believe this experience has changed the way I will reflect on my teaching practice for years to come – dare I say forever?

As I logged onto my first Google Meet with no idea who was greeting me on the other side, so many things raced through my mind and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. Nerves. Excitement. Fear. 

In my last post I reflected on my realization of the power of connection and children’s drive for relationships. As I continue to venture on with positivity and optimism, I cannot ignore the raw emotions I have felt, the challenges I have faced and the questions I have unanswered. 


“I don’t know”. 


In my personal and professional life this year, “I don’t know” has been part of my daily conversations with colleagues, friends and family. Last year, saying this out loud would have felt like admitting defeat, accepting failure even. As the uncertainty and the unknown continues, we are being forced to live in a world of “I don’t know”. The challenge is constantly turning the “don’t know” into “let’s try” with a smile on our faces. Of course we want to support our students, their families, and our communities. Of course we want to embrace change, challenge, and even failure. But, the reality is, we are navigating this new path in which there are no correct answers, there is no manual, and there are no instructions.  

Openly admitting what I don’t know feels uncomfortable and scary. But discomfort is required for growth and change. I share my challenges with you as a means of connection. Maybe you don’t know either – and that is okay. Additionally, admitting the unknown provides opportunities to gain insight from those who may know, those who have ideas and those who can say “I have been there, and I know how hard it can be”. 

As an OT I have felt it challenging at times to engage with students who are not turning on their microphone or camera, for whatever reason. I want to get to know them but am also mindful how vulnerable they may feel turning on their video to chat with a complete stranger. How are you supporting student engagement and providing a safe space for all? 

How are you supporting students with special needs, learning challenges and students who are working with limited resources? I once taught in a class where one of the students did not have paper or pencils. 

How are you supporting students through technical difficulties or navigating new online platforms? I have been doing a lot of screen sharing. I often share my own screen and/or ask students to share their screen if they are comfortable. I am finding this method to be extremely time consuming. Although sometimes necessary, it can also be very distracting. When students share their screen, it puts the issue they are having on display for the whole group to see. This can be helpful if someone knows how to solve the problem, or harmful under certain circumstances and can intensify feelings of helplessness for some students. 


*Holds breath* 

No correct answers.

No manual. 

No instructions. 



There is beauty in this.

It may be hidden or the view may be obstructed right now. But it is there. Together with our students and our colleagues, we are the creators, we are the inventors, we are the pioneers.

Occasional Teaching Online (part 1 of 3): My Realization

Full Remote Learning or FRL for short. 

A concept that I had never even imagined myself being a part of in the position of the teacher. Remote learning for post-secondary students was something I was familiar with. In fact, I was learning myself remotely as a Master of Professional Education student, but how would this be possible with children?

I applaud any and all people who have dedicated themselves to ensuring Ontario’s students are safe, engaged and happy during this extremely challenging school year. Educators have put in countless hours and ongoing efforts to reimagine their classrooms (whether they are virtual or face-to-face) all while keeping student’s needs at the forefront of their priorities. This pandemic has forced us all to stop and think and required us to view the world through a lens in which we never have before. Each person with their own perspectives, hardships, wins and realizations. Each person has their own narrative, each educator has a different experience. Personally, my emotions are running higher this year as I feel more nervous, uneasy, confused and overwhelmed than I ever have before. 


“The realization that life is absurd cannot be an end, but only a beginning” – Albert Camus


I am constantly reflecting on my teaching practice and how I can adapt to new changes, learn from them, grow with them and ‘realize’ from them.

In early October, I picked up my first supply call for FRL. I had no idea what to expect. How would I enter this classroom community and have a positive impact on these students? How do I ensure students are provided with chances for sharing? Collaboration? How do I ensure a safe space for students to take chances, ask questions and make mistakes in the era of ‘muting’ your microphones?

The resilience of children never ceases to amaze me. Here we are as educators feeling unsure, uncomfortable even, as students join in as though they have done this 100 times in the past. Teaching and learning online has reminded me to never underestimate the power of connection. Just a few days ago, I was teaching in an FRL grade 5 classroom where a new student had joined the class that same day. Before our scheduled ‘recess’ time, one of the students in the class asked me if he and the new student could remain online with me for a couple of minutes so he could introduce himself. When the rest of the class had left the Google Meet and the three of us remained, he said “Hey! Do you wanna be my friend?” and the conversation blossomed from there. 




It was at this moment I had a realization. It became apparent to me that we cannot stop children’s will to connect, drive for relationships and the innocence in their hearts. Nothing will stop this. Not removing them from the physical school building, not the transition to learning online, not wearing a mask, not social distancing, not a pandemic. Nothing.

Virtual Field Trips: Connecting With the World Beyond the Classroom

The pandemic has changed the ways in which we can explore the world around us. Rather than being able to sign up to go on a field trip, many educators are opting for virtual field trips. With so many options out there, how might we ensure that we use these opportunities to connect it back to the learning in the classroom and to life in general? I ask this because I’ve been guilty of giving students these links to get them to simply explore but I wonder if there is more that we might do with these incredible opportunities. In this post, I’ll share a few ideas that I have.

Zoos & Aquariums

The San Diego Zoo and Ripley’s Aquarium are 2 sites for virtual field trips related to zoos and aquariums. I have to admit, these creatures are amazing to look at and I think it’s incredible that we have the opportunity to watch them live. 

While watching, it got me thinking about a debate we had in class several years ago about zoos.  After researching a variety of animal habitats, we used found materials to create our own zoo of sorts in our classroom. Students were tasked with determining what conditions needed for their animal of choice to survive and to build their habitat. Once all of the habitats were created, we organized the animals into areas that we thought made sense based on their needs. It was pretty cool and it led us to start talking about animals in their real habitats and in zoos. 

We researched and discussed differing opinions and feelings about zoos. 

A zoo supporter might say:

  • The zoo is a fantastic place to learn about and see animals from different parts of the world.
  • Zoos help to keep animals safe so that they don’t become in danger of extinction.
  • Zoos help to take care of animals who may become sick.  In the wild, these sick animals may die.
  • Because of pollution and deforestation, animals are having a hard time finding food.  Animals in zoos are well fed and taken care of.

Someone who is against zoos may say:

  • Zoos don’t teach us much about animals because the animals there don’t act the way they would in the forest, jungle, or ocean, where they belong. We can learn more about animals by reading books or watching wildlife programs on TV.
  • Animals are not happy in zoos. They want to be free to walk, run, fly, climb, hunt, and have families. There simply isn’t enough room for them in the habitats that are created at the zoo. 
  • When a zoo doesn’t want an animal anymore, the animal gets killed or sold to another zoo and might have to travel far away by boat, truck, or plane.

After sharing these ideas, students were asked to reflect on a couple of questions, and as a part of our classroom blog, they shared their thoughts and debated their points with their peers. The questions were:

  1. What kinds of things do animals need to be happy? Do you think animals in zoos get all these things? Why or why not? 
  2. Think about the animals you’ve seen at the zoo. Do you think there is somewhere else they would rather be? Something else they would rather be doing? Why or why not?
  3. Do you support zoos? Why or why not?

There was a lot of healthy debate going back and forth as students justified their answers about whether or not they supported zoos. 

Not only might heading on these virtual field trips be a great way for students to see animals they may not have seen before, but it may also be a great start to conversations around the need for zoos and aquariums and the ethics behind them. 

Museums & Art

Art has always been of interest to me. From studying Art from a particular part of the world to understanding how art is connected to culture, so much can be said by looking at a painting or sculpture. Here are a few sites that I’ve explored with students:

  • Christi Belcourt – Christi Belcourt is a Métis artist with a deep respect for Mother Earth, the traditions, and the knowledge of her people.  In addition to her paintings, she is known as an environmentalist and advocate for the lands, waters, and Indigenous peoples
  • Tomb of Menna – Located in Luxor, the tomb of Menna is known for the colorful and well-preserved paintings that adorn the chapel walls.
  • The Canadian Museum of History – The mandate of the museum is “to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of events, experiences, people, and objects that reflect and have shaped Canada’s history and identity, and also to enhance their awareness of world history and cultures.”
  • The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology – Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the study of ancient life.
  • The Aga Khan Museum – The Aga Khan Museum presents and collects art from historically significant Muslim civilizations as well as contemporary Muslim communities and diasporas around the world.

When exploring museums and art, I’ve asked students to reflect on pieces that stand out to them and to explain why they were of particular interest. I’ve also had students consider the elements of art – line, shape, texture, form, space, colour, and value – and how the artist used the elements to evoke particular emotions or feelings. I also tend to ask students if there is a particular style that they can attribute to the artists and consider learning more about their particular style. I’ve mentioned before that art is connected to culture. Perhaps posing a question such as, “Is art shaped by culture or is culture shaped by art?”, might spark meaningful conversations around the connection between the two.


Ok…zoos and aquariums fit under this category too. Here are a couple of virtual field trips that my students enjoyed related to physical and earth sciences. 

  • Slime in Space – This is a 15-minute virtual field trip to outer space to see how slime, and water, react in a microgravity environment.
  • Hawaii’s Volcanoes – Take a trip back in time to explore the land shaped by the world’s most active volcanoes.

Everyone loves slime. Ok…well…maybe not everyone. I’ll admit. I’m not a fan. When I stumbled upon the link to Slime in Space, it got me thinking about the time I had a student teach the class how to make slime. It was an opportunity to see the connection between procedural writing for a science experiment and an exercise in problem-solving when it didn’t quite work out.  It was an experiment based on the student’s interest and it was amazing to watch them lead their peers with great enthusiasm. When thinking about student interest, last year I had a student who was so fascinated by natural disasters and when it came to exploring Hawaii’s volcanoes, he was all in. This interactive adventure allowed him to learn more about volcanoes and understand how the land was formed in a way that was more real than reading it in a book. How else might we bring student interest into the classroom through these virtual opportunities?  

The world is changing and it seems as though virtual field trips are a way to still connect us to the greater world around us. By no means is this an extensive list of what is out there in terms of virtual field trips. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas of how they can be used in the classrooms with students. Have other ideas to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments below!

From zero to one hundred, real quick!

As my online teaching journey continues, I find myself always thinking about the importance of reaching all students.

Last week, I noticed I only had about 13 out of 31 students participating daily. I wouldn’t see the other students writing in the chat, posting in the discussion section or raising their hand to speak on the mic. I started to worry if they were even in front of the screen during our calls. I started to think about solutions to this problem. I contacted every family in the class to touch base about their child’s online participation. Not even one hour later, I noticed a huge change in my entire class. I know this motivation came from a parent this time, but in the future I believe it could turn into self motivation. I received 25 out of 31 responses in math, 18 readers for our online novel, nine more short story submissions and six students speaking on the microphone for the very first time. To top it all off, this was happening on a Friday afternoon!I wondered if Friday was just going to be a one off and students would go back to their bystander ways in the future, but participation during these past two days have been better than ever. Not only that, my original 13 that participate so much (since the first day) are always encouraging everyone that is just starting to participate. The environment could not get any better!

We started off this week talking about goal setting and the importance of student participation in the classroom. Every Monday, students would set a goal that they hope to achieve by Friday. On Friday, I will ask students to type in the chat or use the microphone to share if they met that goal. If they did not, their classmates will help them brainstorm ideas for them to reach it the next time.

I know teaching new concepts is something that I can do during math, language, etc. but I love when the students get to hear from each other on that microphone or in the chat. In math, I find students teaching each other concepts before I am even quick enough to reply. In language, students are congratulating each other about their reading abilities before I even think to do so. My favourite moment of last week was in drama when a student gave away his turn because he wanted someone else to have a turn who had not participated yet. I constantly feel like crying tears of joy because of the supportive environment my class has created.

I look forward to continuing this online journey as I know I have a group of hardworking, goal oriented, passionate and kind students.  I am so fortunate to be on this learning journey and I am learning that the online environment really is turning out to be an incredible place for student growth. I cannot wait to share another great success story!