where it is

I have a hard time forgetting my first months of teacher’s college. It had its ups and downs as might be expected, but few to no negative experiences which is odd to think about. That time, moreover, made an indelible impact which continues 15 years into my career.

Having been out of school for nearly 2 decades working in the real world, teacher’s college was a daily mix of excitement, imposter syndrome, confusion, and wonder. By wonder, I mean wondering why I was there some days and in amazement at possibilities awaited at the end the others. 

Most of what was shared was so new to me. I am also prepared to admit I received the lessons differently than my younger, fresh out of university peers. It was nothing short of a life invigorating 180 degree turn to begin to learn the philosophies of education, and then combine them with inclusion, community, and curriculum. 

We started with Mazlow, Vygotsky, and Hume, and then were introduced to Freire, Piaget, and Schumacher. Reading the various passages chosen by our faculty instructors seemed more like another university course rather than a pathway to pedagogy at the time. It was the discussions however, that helped all of that theory (wisdom) become practical and purposeful.

And then there were my own experiences, mistakes, suppositions, and assumptions that needed to be reckoned with in order to make sense of this world I had all figured out already. What a misconception it can be to think that there was no more thinking to do. The revelation that I was still far from anything resembling a future educator was indeed a humbling challenge that served as a lesson and call to action.

I was now, afterall, a learner learning to become a leader of other learners. There were so many questions. Surprisingly, the answers did not come from others, but rather in those quiet times while journaling another reflective response. I shared with our dean that I was becoming more mirror than man through all of this. She laughed and quoted something I shared back, “You wouldn’t want to miss the learning.” 

She was right. I was right. We were right. I didn’t want to miss the learning whenever, whatever, however, from whoever, why ever, and wherever it was happening. This look back reminds me to continue seeking out the lessons in each of the spaces I am privileged to teach (learn). This can be difficult when it seems like there is always so much left to do, but from my own experience in doing so come many more positives such as a clearer sense of direction, resolve, validation, and purpose. 

We all need time to consolidate the what, why, how, when, and where are up to you. My advice is to take stock at different times of the year. For me, November, Feb, and May seem to find me doing this. I know that coincides with reporting times and I hope that it is only a coincidence. What I get out of taking the time to seek out “the learning” has led to some big shifts in my instructional approaches. 

The most significant shift occurred when I was in my first year as a homeroom teacher and had begun to get a little bored with the way things were going in the classroom. We were on schedule, the students were progressing well, and all seemed going according to plan, but the spark seemed to be missing. 

I decided to ask students what they would change about the class if they were in charge? At first they thought it was a trap. After all, how many students have ever had the latitude to speak their minds when asked to contribute to something as important as their own learning? Once I assured them that my intentions were good, they let me have it- respectfully.

We want;(the response)
“more independent learning” (how about Genius Hour or ISPs?)
“more art” (happy to add more art and will include this in Math too #MARTH)
“more movement”(movement breaks can be scheduled on the regular)
“more learning about real life” (consider it done throughout our different classes)
“more homework” (there’s always one kid to ask for this)

I also heard;(the response)
“less tests”(happy to shift to other less traditional types of assessment)
“less homework”(only work not finished in class except 30 minutes of reading each night)
“less note taking”(happy to provide notes and materials in digital classroom)

My add-ons
More conversations about mental health.
Time for mindfulness and quiet thought.
Snacks where food security might be an issue.
Focus on progress over perfection with a shift to praising hard work and fearlessness when it comes to making mistakes. 

Each time these convos happened served as a reminder that our students need to have opportunities to be heard in order to make their learning relevant where they are too. Whether they find their what, why, when, how and where in personal reflection, times of boredom, structured activities, sharing their voices or by accident. I have already done this a couple of times this year so far with one more big conversation to come. 

I have learned that we are on to something meaningful each time this happens as all of our attitudes as learners largely change as a result of these conversations. Now 12 years later, hearing from students, good and bad, is still where it is happening and helping me shape my work.

My class motto this year is, “Let’s fail spectacularly.” It is an odd rally cry, but seems to resonate with this year’s group of 6s. Through it we are all working to overcome our fear of getting it wrong and replacing it with a chance to take risks and make mistakes without worrying so much. 

As I consolidate all of this right now, I am putting everything where it might possibly belong in the thought boxes of my mind and hoping the voices who have shared in the past and now will continue the work that was started here, with us, where it was and is…

The Gender Gap in Technology

Quote for blog

According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of $7,000-$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

Girls Who Code Canada

National Girls Learn Code Day

Canada Learning Code


Hour of Code



*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.

Social Advocate through Children’s Story

While many are marching to show the Ford Government our thoughts about the budget cuts, I am reflecting on how we can safely ride out this storm. As a Social Advocate for equal rights and positive outcomes for our children and this world, I am with my sisters and brothers at Queens Park today in spirit and via social media. I find myself planning ways to help the education team and students get through this next tumultuous time while supporting each other and focusing on self care. #ETFOstrong

This week I was privileged to be part of an audience engaged by the “beautiful” and talented writer, Helaine Becker. http://www.helainebecker.com/abouttheauthor.html

She presented to our school community to Grades 4-8 and then to Grades K-4.  I always enjoy an inspiring hero and artist who can inform and bring all those social justice issues that I am passionate about to the forefront with the power of words and books.

I am a woman science and mathematics teacher. This book excites me. It encompasses so many issues that I am passionate about.  “Counting on Katherine” tells the story of Katherine Johnson and the societal blocks she faced through her life.  She faced racism and sexism at every turn yet never stopped believing in herself. This story brings the truth to us about how she improved the world. She is one of the many previously unknown hero’s of my time.


During the very “beautiful” and talented Helaine’s presentation, I found myself and the school population, captivated with her presentation. She spoke of so many subjects which excite me. These topics open opportunities and possibilities for the many I educate. Helaine spoke of how she wrote about feminism, racism and suppression. She included topics of mathematics, science, space, and the “power of the pen”. She introduced the dream of writing to many during her amazing and dynamic presentation of her children’s books.

Thank you, Helaine for introducing me to another hero. I will now share Katherine Johnson’s story with many for years to come.


We have been trained to watch for concerns of a child’s well being. This didn’t include cyber information. As a responsible teacher I’m drawing the attention of students to current events. During this time of sharing, my students have become more relaxed and open about their after school activities which include gaming for many.

When a child discloses information about their safety we are obligated to report this to children’s services. Write down the facts, call and make a statement, fairly straight forward.

When a child shares information about interactions in Gaming, what do you do? I make a judgement based on what the information is, then I write down the facts are that were shared, then what? I’m really not sure where we go from here. I call the family and have a conversation? I chat with the principal? I provide the student with avenues of help, help lines, internet safety….

This is a new world which effects all of our students. Access to our vulnerable young students is wide open on the internet especially with group gaming and social media. Education is a form of protection. When a child is doing something their family may not agree with, they are reluctant to share concerns and can easily become victims of online abuse. How do we help? Keep open communication lines with students and their family. We all want our children to be safe.

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.


Why Coding Is Important Part Two

In Part one of this blog post I talked about coding with relation to the deep learning competencies and learning skills.  However, there are greater implications of teaching kids to code.  I am a huge science fiction and dystopian fan.  I think I am attracted to the resourcefulness of the characters in the movies and books.  The characters that have hands-on life skills and leadership qualities are valued and survive.  Let me be clear, I do not view the classroom as a dystopian or science fiction society…well…unless we are suffering from a severe heat wave.  I think that understanding the way the technology on which we rely on a daily basis, is a skill worth exploring.  That understanding also builds an appreciation of the work of coders and others in the computer science industry.  After taking 20 minutes to code a square with a small spherical robot a student said to me, “Wow. Can you imagine how much time it took to code everything in FortNite? Every step my character takes, everything it wears or every background must be lines and lines of code.”  That was a pretty serious revelation for a 9 year old.

It isn’t science fiction that there is a huge demand for computer science programmers and developers.  According to Code.org, 71% of all new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)  jobs are in computing, yet only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science.  According to the employment website Indeed.com there are currently over 2500 full time job openings in the greater Toronto area in the field of Computer Science with annual salaries between $60,000 and $140,000.  Learning to code increases the odds of securing a lucrative STEM career, especially in a world where computing jobs are growing exponentially. Coding has quickly become a vital skill in the work world.  Elementary teachers can begin to open doors for students by exposing them to coding in a fun and interactive way.  It is safe to say that coding language will develop into something much different before our students get into the workforce.  It isn’t about the “content” or “language” of code.  It is about teaching them a new way of thinking that they could apply to any coding language or problem solving situation.  According to Code.org, many colleges and Universities are looking for experience with coding on entrance applications.  It is difficult to ignore the statistics.

With Alexa, Google, and Apple in homes, cars, pockets and on wrists we know that this our reliance on computers as a society isn’t going away soon. Exposing students to these new learning opportunities to develop their deep learning competencies is necessary for development as learners and in the end, may prove quite lucrative for their futures.


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.



Twitter EDU

Over the last few years many people have become disgusted and disenchanted with the platform of Twitter.  I agree that it can be an echo chamber for those who like to hear their own voice.  However, I also know that it can be an effective Professional Learning tool.  I have created an entire Professional Learning Network on Twitter because of the people that I chose to follow and I am diligent about blocking people who are spreading unworthy tweets.  My Twitter account posts nothing personal.  It is about my own professional learning. With Twitter colleagues challenge my thinking regularly.  Questions that I have for my educational colleagues are answered immediately and without judgment.  Global connections are made easily and then I use these connections to learn with my students.

Let me give you a few examples of how I’ve used Twitter in the classroom.  One of my students brought in a rock with a fossil on it from his backyard.  We took a photo and tweeted it out to find out if anyone could tell us what it was and the approximate age.  Within an hour we heard back from a scientist at the ROM.  He had an answer for us and was happy to help.  In fact, he told us that corresponding on social media at the ROM as a scientist IS his job! One of the students brought in a mushroom from the woods near their house.  We tweeted out to our PLN because they wanted to know whether or not it was edible.  We were answered immediately and there were many links to other sites for information that sent us on a further journey into the wonderful world of fungi.  Consequently, the advice from our Twitter contact was to never eat anything you find in the woods unless you are a scientist. In music, we were learning the words to a song by the Alternate Routes band and the students asked to tweet the band. They tweeted us back thanking us for the support and encouraging us to keep singing.  We found some great classes across Canada to Skype with through Twitter and did mystery number finds with other grade 1 and 2 classes. You get out of Twitter what you are willing to put into it.

I have gotten more out of 15 minute Twitter education chats than I have out of some day long workshops.  The educators on Twitter chats are there by choice and they are passionate about education. The questions are specific and the answers are in 140 characters. The best part is, you don’t even have to comment if you don’t feel comfortable.  You can just sit back and learn.  I have also met these Tweeters in person at IT conferences and taken their workshops.  Knowing the presenters ahead of time and having a connection is like going to a concert when you already know the newest album really well; it makes the experience richer and deeper.

Here are a few EDUTweeters that I suggest you follow to get started:

@dougpete  @peterskillen   @brendasherry    @avivalova   @mraspinall  @sylviaduckworth  @Toadmummy (that’s me)

Here are a few #hashtags to follow

#EdchatON    #edtechchat     #teacheredchat   #bfc530

Twitter may not be your thing, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it as your #PLN.  I guarantee you will find some ideas for #deeperlearning or #inquiryed.









Collaboration Amongst The Grades

Have you ever asked kindergarten students what bugs them? Well, we were on a mission to do just that and I’m pretty amazed by what they have come up with!

Over the years, my students and I have had the opportunity to work with younger students for Reading Buddies. And while it’s always great to have a chance to read to each other, I wondered if there was something more that could be done in order to foster true collaboration and maybe even a leadership role for my older students.  This year, we partnered with a kindergarten class in the hopes of seeing how we might be able to engage kindergarten students in STEM activities. From building with linking cubes to creating amazing structures with straws, my students have been growing in the area of questioning and documenting the works of their buddies. They’ve learned that kindergarten students can cut in straight lines, given a bit of guidance and that with the right questions, they can have incredibly imaginative conversations.












Using the Engineering Design Process, we are currently working on creating solutions for some of the things that bug them. We started the process with a brainstorming sheet and I should have left the bugs off of the top because it quickly became that the biggest problem were bugs themselves. I need to keep in mind that kindergarten students can be literal. After some discussion, we realized that while there were many who were bugged by bugs, some found it difficult to tie their shoes or carry their backpacks. Others found it a challenge to keep their devices out of the hands of their older siblings and still others found that the blocks in Kindergarten weren’t decorative enough and were way too big.


Our next step was to use a Design Template to really identify the specifics of the bug and then to work on designing a solution, including a list of materials. After some research with their buddies, this past week, we took some time to create paper prototypes of our solutions to ensure that what we envisioned was something that we might actually be able to bring to life. It was glorious. I asked my students to really take a step back and allow for the kindergarten students to be the lead in building with paper and they rose to the occasion. From asking for rulers to create straight lines to sharing that a cube has 6 faces, the kindergartens were really excited to share what they already knew and weren’t shy to ask for a helping hand when they needed it.

Kinder1Next week we are on to our build and learning about hand tool safety in kindergarten. It’s sure to be a new adventure and I can’t wait to see and share the actual solutions that they create.

In what ways are you collaborating with others in your building? Is there a way in which you might allow for greater student leadership through a similar partnership? I’m always wondering what educators are doing in their buildings to foster collaboration amongst staff and students. Let’s start a conversation and share ideas here.


Designated time a.k.a Genius Hour


It’s quiet in my classroom right now.
A little too quiet.

Did my students just have the most boring lesson ever?
I don’t hear snoring.

Did they all eat turkey for lunch?
Not today.

Are the students all out of the room during prep?
Nope. They are all here and engaged in something called Genius Hour.

Can You Hear the Pin Drop by Daniel CC BY NCSA 2.0
Can You Hear the Pin Drop by Daniel CC BY NCSA 2.0

Here’s what led up to this moment.

Me: Have you ever wanted to study something on your terms and wasn’t in your text book?
Them: Yes. I do. Wait what? Followed by another 6 simultaneous comments in favour.
Me: Would anyone like to do that now?
Them: Yup. YES! Me! Followed by another 6 simultaneous comments and another 6 side conversations on top. All if favour of this strange, but intriguing opportunity.
Me: Okay, but here are the rules.
Them: Oh great, now here come the rules…(I only imagined this last line).

The Rules

1. Your topic must be declared and shared with the teacher before proceeding. That way some suggestions and direction may be offered if needed. Switching topics in not encouraged. See one idea/interest through, and chase after a new one next time. Ask them if this something they really want to share? Why is this interesting to you? Explain.
2.You must work quietly on your own. Don’t annoy your peers. They’re working too – so be cool.
3. You must be on task. Independent learning sounds easy, but carries a great deal of responsibility to those who are privileged with the gift of time. Use the present(see what I did there?) wisely.
4. You may use technology or texts or whatever you can gather information from to do your research. Interviews are cool too, but may require more than the time allotted. See teacher to negotiate.
5. You may use headphones to screen videos or audio content as long as it relates to your topic.
6. You may share your new learning in the format of your choice. This can include, but is not limited to; visual presentations, works of art, a performance, video, a poem/song/rant, research paper, or TED style talks.
7. You will become the in-class expert on your topic. So enjoy discovering the knowledge that is waiting for you to find it.

The certainty of uncertainty

When students are empowered and engaged, the resulting learning is immersed in intense inquiry and thought. The room is filled with nothing other than productive silence; barely broken by keystrokes and infrequent fidgeting as grade 5s are wont to do. Students’ questions are usually met with responses of redirection that affirm their instincts rather than direct answers. I want them to develop and trust their instincts as learners by stretching beyond their comfort zones. If that means answering a question with another question, then so be it. One thing’s for sure, it will be a stretch for everyone including you.

Me: Here’s your chance to discover something that you’ve always wanted to know more about. What do you think it should be? What did you discover when you were doing your research? Have you considered…?

Then there’s the momentarily unsure. Occasionally, there are students who are really stuck when given so much latitude in the classroom. It might be a good idea to have the class share some general ideas that can be used in the case of Genius Hour Learner’s Block. Keep in mind this is new for some students as they have been conditioned to learn what is being taught without ever having time to scratch their own intellectual itches. If a learner is still stuck, keep directing them back to what they are passionate about in their lives. Feel free to share what you might study if given a chance. My students always love when I share my own passion projects in learning. Here is my latest one about the Psychology of Accents.

Handing over the learning to students is a struggle for some educators. We are so used to having everything organized, on time, and in its place. If this is you? Don’t panic. Please keep in mind that it will be messy at times. Some educators will feel compelled to assess this somehow. I get it. Perhaps for the first time, you consider only assessing the presentation skills rather than the content. If this is truly to resemble self-driven inquiry in learning, students should not be afraid to take chances because a mark is hanging over their heads.

Take it as opportunity to construct the success criteria with your students. They will not let you down. Consider having students assess one another’s work for the purposes of learning. Maybe you can make it like a gallery walk where half of the class shares and the other goes from one presentation to the next. You can also model and post some guiding questions as prompts.

One more rule

8. Have fun and celebrate all of the new learning that your students have discovered.