Engaging Students Through The Arts

I love The Arts! The arts nourish the imagination and develop a sense of creativity and appreciation of the natural beauty of the world around us. Music was that for me. I played tenor saxophone in elementary and secondary school, and I still do today. I first fell in love with music when I was a young boy growing up in rural Jamaica. Every Sunday morning we would hear the musicians from our church band, particularly the bass guitar and drums, playing with such energy and joy. That was our call to get ready for Sunday morning service. The entire community would be humming and moving to the beat of the music, as we gathered and walked to church. For me, seeing all the musicians playing with such pleasure and delight brought joy to my soul. Today, I play the tenor saxophone in a concert band and I am practising playing bass guitar. Music has turned into a beautiful part of my adult life and has opened many doors to new experiences throughout the years.

Through music, I discovered my own creativity, learned about my own identity and musical culture, and I developed a strong sense of well-being. In fact, music (and sports) kept me in school. The arts worked well with my learning styles and offered me the type of self-motivation and incentive I needed to keep me focused on my academics and to get me through elementary and secondary school. Having an appreciation for the arts has also helped me in my teaching career. I have been able to draw upon my knowledge and creativity acquired through the arts to use in my teaching practices and counselling skills. The arts have empowered me to take risks, to think critically, to be opened to many possibilities and to be resourceful. So why are the arts the first things/subjects on the chopping block when addressing budget shortfalls or when schools have to go through reorganization?

Every year, millions of dollars are cut from school budgets due to education funding cuts by the provincial government. The school boards say the cuts are necessary as a result of decreased provincial funding. However, these cuts are affecting the growth and development, as well as the  learning environment, for many students and even teachers. Funding cuts have created unequal access to arts programs across Ontario for many of our students. In some cases, the arts programs continue to thrive due to parent/community efforts and financial support. While, in other cases, the arts programs suffer due to lack of space in schools, fewer specialist teachers and school boards prioritizing their budget to meet other needs. Students in small and rural schools, schools with higher levels of poverty, and schools with lower levels of parental engagement, might be less likely to have access to equitable arts programs in the classroom.

How do we make sure that all students, no matter the income of their parents/families, are able to have equitable access to quality arts programs, have the opportunity to play in a band or even go see a performance?

We need to put all students first by putting money back into education. We need to address staffing shortages, so that we can get more specialized teachers back into the arts. We need to do better at engaging all students, especially those who are often underserved and those with special educational needs. Not only will an investment in the arts demonstrate a commitment to an investment in students, it will also help close the learning gap, the poverty gap and keep students from dropping out of school prematurely.  

ETFO has launched a new professional learning resource for teachers designed to support the arts as a core part of the curriculum in Ontario primary classrooms. According to ETFO, “Primary ETFO Arts has been created for classroom teachers to counter-balance the lack of arts funding in schools, and the over-emphasis on literacy and math being driven by standardized EQAO testing. It recognizes that the arts are critical in fostering student engagement in learning, along with unique and critical thinking.”

Check out the following ETFO websites for additional information:

First Nations, Métis and Inuit Growth Chart

The Primary ETFO Arts book offers engaging, integrated arts activities with literacy links.

Primary ETFO Arts book

Point of View

This month, we are exploring different points of view through reading and writing a variety of texts. This “big idea” has many possibilities for critical thinking and cross-curricular integration with Media Literacy, Social Studies, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama.

In my Grade 2 class, we have used point of view to explore issues of accessibility, anti-Black racism, Indigenous sovereignty and homophobia. Here are some of the texts that Kindergarten-Grade 8 educators can use when learning on-line and in class:

William’s Doll
During Gender Splendour Week, we read “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotov, to explore gender stereotypes and homophobia. We also watched a video from the movie, “Free to Be You and Me” that sings the story as a song. “William’s Doll” is about a boy who wants a doll to play with, but he is told that he cannot have a doll because he is a boy.

Young children receive powerful messages from family, media, clothing and toy stores about what is expected of “boys” and “girls.” These binaries reinforce heterosexism, and often cause harm and exclude students who do not fit into these boxes. It is important to give children the opportunity to name, question, and challenge these gender binaries, and create space for more possibilities.

Before reading “William’s Doll”, I asked students to share their ideas about what it means to be a “boy” and a “girl.” We talked about what a “stereotype” is and how these ideas might not include everyone. Students easily made connections to their own personal experiences of shopping, and described how different products are sorted and sold, (e.g., pink Kinder Eggs for girls). After reading, we used a graphic organizer to support our ideas with evidence from the text.  Then, students wrote about different points of view expressed in the text.  

Of Course They Do!
On the International Day of Pink, we continued to have courageous and critical conversations about how schools can be more inclusive, and how we can take action as allies. After reading texts such as, “Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Anything” by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol, and “10,00 Dresses” by Marcus Ewert, students talked about their experiences of being told they couldn’t do something because of their perceived gender. For example, boys with long hair shared their experiences of being challenged in the washroom. We focussed our discussion on how we might respond to questions and/or suggestions that we don’t belong. We used Drama and role-play to practice naming and responding to behaviour.

Hey, Little Ant!
“Hey, Little Ant” by Hannah Hoose and Phillip Hoose, is a story about a kid who is about to squish an ant. The story is told from two different points of view. On each page, we hear the voice of the kid and a response from the ant. The story ends with a question, which is a great prompt for discussion and writing, “What do you think that kid should do?”

This story is a great opportunity to explore empathy and compassion, and students’ relationships with animals. “Hey, Little Ant” also includes a song, which can enrich the text. After reading, students wrote about the different points of view in the story, and then wrote about their own point of view.

The Tree
“The Tree” written by Dana Lyons is written from the point of view of a tree in the Pacific Rainforest. After writing and sharing the story, the author learned from elders of the Lummi Nation, the original inhabitants of San Juan islands, that he has written the tree’s song. Every tree has a song.

We listened to “The Tree,” drew pictures and shared stories about trees that are important to us. Then, students wrote their own poem or song from the point of view of a tree. We used sentence prompts, such as: “I live….” “I hear….” “I have seen….” “My favourite season is…..” “I wonder….” “I hope…” I found a video of Dana Lyons singing the text as a birthday present for Jane Goodall. I hope we will be able to turn our text into songs!

The Council of All Beings
I am always inspired by my teacher friends! Maria Vamvalis is currently working on her PhD, and shares her learning about climate justice with Natural Curiosity as a mentor coach. We took a course together at OISE, and Maria shared how she has used “The Council of All Beings” to allow students to connect with land and speak in-role from the point of view of other life forms, including animal, plant or natural feature, (desert, forest, etc). This article written by Joanna Macy describes the process.

I am learning that the purpose of the Council is to listen and give voice to land, which includes animals, plants, air, water, soil, etc. The process honours our shared responsibilities and relationships with more-than-humans, and helps us to remember and reconnect with land. It requires guidance and thoughtful facilitation. It sounds like a powerful teaching and learning experience.

Joanna Macy explains: “The Council unfolds in three consecutive stages. First, the beings address each other, telling of the changes and hardships they have experienced.” The second stage creates space for humans to hear from the more-than human beings directly. A few students remove their mask and are invited into the centre of the Circle to listen. The third stage of the council involves the other beings offering gifts to the humans. “As ritual guide I might cue this stage by saying, “Many humans now realize the destruction they are causing; they feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the forces they have unleashed. Yet our fate is in their hands. O fellow-beings, what strengths of ours can we share with them, what powers can we lend them?” With this invitation, the beings in the Council begin spontaneously to offer their own particular qualities and capacities. After speaking, each leaves their mask and steps in the centre as humans to receive gratitude and gifts. There is opportunity for singing, dancing and release, as well as reflection and stillness.

I think “The Council of All Beings” would enrich any Earth Day celebrations, and/or National Indigenous Peoples Day. I believe it could be adapted for on-line learning, and would be a powerful collaborative and creative experience for all members of the school community, including families.

People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus Pandemic
I have a new subscription to “Rethinking Schools”, which is an excellent magazine about social justice education. In the Winter 2020-2021 issue, Caneisha Mills describes how she organized a tribunal with her Intermediate students to explore responsibility for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Some of those on trial include: Mother Nature, Racism, the HealthCare industry, Capitalism, and the U.S. government. You can read the article, “Who’s to Blame?” here.

Caneisha Mills honours student voice and engages students in a collaborative and critical process of exploring the global pandemic from different points of view.  She honours student voice, and creates a brave space for students to “grapple with profound social injustice” and imagine different possibilities. Mills explains that the “most important part of this lesson involves students writing a 10-point program — inspired by the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, adopted in 1966 — on how to prevent crises like this in the future.”

The article includes a clear teaching plan and provides information for educators who might want to implement the People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus, on or off-line. “This people’s tribunal begins with the premise that a heinous crime is being committed as tens of millions of people’s lives are in danger due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19. But who — and/or what — was responsible for this crime? Who should be held accountable for the spread of the virus and its devastating impact?”

The teacher plays the role of the prosecutor. Students are assigned different roles, and the “defendants” are supported to work in small groups to develop a defense against the charges outlined in the indictments. A jury is selected, and each group shares their arguments at the trial. There is only one rule: They may plead guilty, but they must accuse at least one other defendant of being responsible. After the jury deliberates and explains their verdict, all students are invited to reflect on the experience. Then, they use their voice to demand and create change.

The tribunal sounds like a meaningful learning opportunity for older students to explore different points of view. I am curious to think about how this might be adapted for younger students.

In your point of view, what are some powerful texts and/or dramatic conventions that you have used in the classroom and on-line?  Please add them to the Comments below.



Gender Splendour!

This year, our school community will celebrate Gender Splendour from April 6-9, 2021.  It will be our 11th year implementing arts-based curriculum that explores gender identity and equity, 2SLGBTQ+ communities, inclusive families, and disrupts homophobia and transphobia. 

Over the years, the Kindergarten-Grade 6 students have participated in several inclusive and intersectional workshops, including: Love Makes a Family, “The F-Word” (feminism), Kiki Ballroom and the History of Voguing, Toys Will Be Toys, LGBTQ+ Rights Around the World, Pronouns and Possibilities, and more! 

When I was in elementary school, my mother came out as a lesbian.  This was in the 1980’s and she told us not to tell anyone because she was afraid of losing her job.  I learned about the painful impact of fear, silence, and homophobia outside of the home.  I also learned about the power and strength of community and love, as we marched in the streets at parades and protests.  My young life as an activist and an ally has developed into a strong, on-going commitment to social justice.  When I became an educator, I was determined to break the silence and celebrate the pride and resistance of 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

All You Need is LOVE….and an ALLY:

When Shannon Greene joined the staff, I found an ally and an accomplice.  We were both creative and committed to transforming our pedagogy.  Together, we brainstormed ideas about how we might support students, families, and staff to explore and express their intersectional identities.  We gathered resources, including picture books and media texts to support these critical conversations.  We reached out to families and community members, and generated guiding questions to investigate.  We wanted to empower students to stand up to injustice and take action.  And we wanted to have fun!!   

Boas and Bowties:

We celebrate Gender Splendour during the second week of April, which includes the International Day of Pink.  This year, COVID-19 has pushed our celebration a week earlier.  In addition to wearing pink, we encourage everyone to dress-up in different ways.  These Dress-Up Days are always optional.  They are meant to be playful and fun, and create brave spaces for community members to express themselves without fear.  In the past, we have worn: Rainbow Colours, Wings and Capes, Boas and Bowties, Clothing Inside-Out, Spots and Stripes, Glitter and Glam, and Pink! 

Free to Be:

Every social movement needs a soundtrack.  Throughout the years, we have discovered several songs that make us think, and make us dance.  “True Colours” by Cyndi Lauper, is an anthem that honours how it feels to be seen.  “Same Love” by Macklemore, explores issues of homophobia and same-sex marriage.  “Stereotype” by Samsaya, invites us to stand up to injustice.  Recently, we collaborated with Freedom School Toronto, and learned about how dance can be a form of resistance.  Everyone enjoyed learning about Kiki Ballroom, and the five elements of voguing, before strutting our stuff on the runway. 

As we prepare to smash gender stereotypes and critically examine gender binary roles in our society, I am feeling reflective, grateful, and proud.  I am also looking forward to practicing my “death drop!”

Water is Life

I have been learning with, from, and about water for several years. In another blog, I shared examples of what decolonial water pedagogy might look like in a Grade 2 classroom.  Whenever possible, it is critically important to invite Indigenous artists, activists, and Earth workers to share their knowledge with students in their own voices.

Water is Life:

This fall, the Grade 2-6 students participated in a workshop with Joce Two-Crows Tremblay and Faye Mullen called “Water is Life”.  They describe the workshop as: “Wondering on water as an ancestral highway, as home, as Medicine and more, through story, song and ceremony.”  

It was a beautiful morning. We gathered in a circle and welcomed our special guests with the song, “Funga Alafia”. Archer Pechawis, a Grove parent, joined us and shared songs and drumming. We offered tobacco and gratitude for their teachings. 



Water as Home:

Joce taught us about the strong connections between language and land. We learned about the Indigenous roots of many words spoken in English. After the workshop, I asked the Grade 2 students to document their new learning on inquiry cards with the prompt, “Now I know….”.

NOW I KNOW….
…that Toronto is pronounced many different ways. SOL
…that Lake Ontario in the Indigenous language is “Lake Handsome Lake.” DEMA


Water as Relative:

After a discussion about the importance of water and who we consider to be our relatives, we learned about the relationship between salmon, people, and water. When young children see themselves in relationships with land that are rooted in reciprocity and respect, they might care for all humans and more-than-humans as family.

Water as Ancestral Highway:

In preparation for the workshop, everyone had made salmon puppets, and we re-created water using tarps and blue material. As Joce and Faye paddled up the river, singing an Anishinaabe Water song, our salmon puppets swam upstream to spawn.

NOW I KNOW….

…a song about water. GWEN
…that people sing river songs to catch up to salmon. CLEM

At the end of our journey, we learned more about how Anishinaabeg used land as tools and technology in innovative ways.

NOW I KNOW…

...how to catch salmon, and when to.  DESMOND

…people put Willows down to trap big salmon.  SVEA

Water as Medicine:

We ended our workshop with a Water Ceremony. We sat in a circle and water was poured into our cup. As we held water in our hands, Joce and Faye invited us to think about how living things can feel and absorb our energy, and that is why we must be aware and intentional about our relationship to land. We were encouraged to send greetings of love and hope and gratitude to the water. After sitting quietly and reflecting, we drank from our cup and wondered if the taste of the water was affected by our ceremony.

NOW I KNOW….
…water can hold lots of energy. LOTE
…water gives life to everything. ELLIOT

It was a powerful morning.  We learned many important lessons about land and language, connection and community, technology and teachings.  Everyone enjoyed learning outside with and from the land, through storytelling, movement and music.  Thank you to Joce, Faye and Archer for sharing your knowledge with us.

“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind….”

This term, I had the honour of working with a Master of Arts student in Child Studies and Education, in his first teaching placement. Working in collaboration as a co-learner and co-teacher is a humbling experience. It is always a lot of work, but I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my own practice, and remember what it feels like to be a new educator.

Ishai Buchbinder and I had a lot of fun creating an integrated unit about Wind for the Grade 2 students. This inquiry connects to “Air and Water in the Environment” as students “investigate, through experimentation, the characteristics of air and its uses.” (The Ontario curriculum, Grades 1-8. Toronto: Ontario, Ministry of Education, 2005.) This blog post is a documentation of our learning together.

Where Do I Begin?
Ishai asked me to describe the planning process for developing a series of lesson plans and activities that culminate in a summative assessment task. This year, I am trying to integrate Indigenous perspectives through land education and environmental inquiry. I am also trying to center stories of Black excellence and innovation throughout my pedagogy.

First, I look at the expectations in the Ontario curriculum, think about the “big ideas”, and generate a few guiding questions to support our inquiry. Then, I brainstorm several activities that might help us to explore and investigate our learning goals. Next, I gather resources, including: picture books, songs, videos, real-world examples of innovation and creativity. Then, I think about a summative task that would allow students to have choice and demonstrate their understanding in different ways. Finally, I sequence the learning activities in a way that builds on prior knowledge and connects to new learning, while also being responsive and open to following the interests, needs and questions of the students.

Who Has Seen The Wind?
We started our inquiry with an active game called “When The Big Wind Blows…” and a poem by Christina Rosetti called, “Who Has Seen the Wind?” This poem has been re-imagined as a song, which I learned from an Orff Music workshop. There is a simple ostinato that is layered underneath, and patsched on the lap: “Wind, Wind, Passing By.” We chanted and sang this song outside during our Welcoming Circle, and acknowledged the wind with gratitude.

Knowledge Building:
Ishai shared a riddle with the students: “What takes up the most space but is something that you cannot see?” After solving the riddle, the students shared what they already know about air and wind. Then, we asked the students to generate questions about what they wanted to know, using “I wonder…” inquiry cards.  These activities help to honour student voice and position all of us as co-learners,



During MSI (Math-Science Investigations), I ask students to design and build a structure that is moved by the wind. Desmond made a dragon. Ezra made an airplane. Florence made a forest. Elliot made a structure that is powered by the wind. All of these activities provided diagnostic assessment and helped to guide the next steps in our inquiry journey.



The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
We learned about the true story of William Kamkwamba, who used innovation and creativity to build a windmill out of recycled materials for his community in Wimbe, central Malawi. You can listen to “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” read aloud. You can find William telling his own story by searching his name. His brilliance has also inspired a movie. After reading the book, we made our own paper pinwheels and took them outside. Everyone loved running with the wind and making the blades spin! 

Paper Airplanes!
Ishai told us about the “Super Secret Mysteries of Flight”. We learned about thrust, lift, drag, and gravity, and their relationship to air. Then, he showed us how to make a ten-fold paper airplane. Here are the step-by-step instructions. It was challenging to listen and follow each instruction carefully. After folding our paper airplanes, we tested their flight in the school yard. We experimented by changing the thrust, and adapting the wings to make it fly straight and long. This was another active and fun activity!

Mr. W
After watching this short video, we had an interesting discussion about the main character. I asked: What do we know about this character? How does this character feel at the beginning and the end of the video? What kind of things do we see the character do? Why would they do these things? Who is this character? Why was this video made? This discussion encouraged students to think critically about media texts as part of our learning about Media Literacy.

This video also inspired us to begin writing our own Wind Stories. We used a graphic organizer to organize our ideas using time-order words, (First, Next, Then, Finally). Some students wrote from the perspective of Wind, and others described the movement and impact of wind. We used a collaborative editing and revision process to share our stories and improve our writing.

Testing our Theories:
This year, we are fortunate to be working with Doug Anderson, who is the co-author of Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Environmental Inquiry. After learning with Doug in the Rainbow Garden, several students wanted to know more about the relationship between the sun and the wind. Svea asked, “I wonder how the sun makes the wind?” 

We talked about how we might find the answers to our questions. We could: read books, look on the internet, ask someone. After reading a book called “Air”, which explained some facts, Ishai asked how we might test what we learned from the book. The students had different ideas about how we could prove that warm air rises and cold air is heavy. We went outside to find out. The students worked in small groups and used movement to demonstrate how the sun makes the wind. It was a great opportunity to use our bodies to express our understanding.



Learning Through the Arts
As we explored the movement of wind, we read the book, “When I Get Older: The story behind ‘Wavin’ Flag’” by K’naan. We learned that the song was inspired by his grandfather’s poem. K’naan’s family journey story supported many thoughtful discussions about civil war and refugees, settlement and anti-Black racism, how schools might be more welcoming to new families, and the impact of poetry and music to create community.  We listened to the song many times and went outside with fabric “flags” to wave in the wind. We are hoping to choreograph a dance and embody the lyrics, “Love is the answer”.

We also learned about two artists who have created complex wind sculptures that are moved in the wind. We watched a few videos about the work of Theo Jansen and Anthony Howe. The students were mesmerized and inspired by the movement of these beautiful sculptures.

Another song that we learned was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. This is a song that we sing every year during Peace Week and on Remembrance Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on the “big ideas” of conflict and justice. In the past, we have written messages of hope and peace on leaves that are released from the third floor window.

This year, our Visual Arts teacher, Shannon Greene, made powerful connections to Treaty Recognition Week. After learning “A Treaty Poem” by Melissa MacLennon and students, Shannon encouraged the students to write promises of peace on paper leaves to keep in the classroom. Copy of Land Acknowledgement and Dish With One Spoon Resource

Squirrel Nests:
As the leaves continued to fall, the students began to notice piles of leaves in the branches. We learned that they were nests made by squirrels, and we started to think about how animals might protect themselves from the wind. We went on a walking excursion to a local park, and Ishai challenged the students to build their own squirrel nests with leaves, sticks and air.

After building with natural materials, we did a “Gallery Walk” and visited all of the squirrel nests. Students were asked to describe one thing that they were proud of and one thing that they might do to improve their nest next time. These “GLOW” and “GROW” comments allowed us to practice self-evaluation, and provided valuable formative assessment.

Finally, it was time to test our squirrel nests. Each student was given fluffy goldenrod seeds to represent the squirrel, which was placed inside the nest. We used straws to simulate the wind, and to test the strength of each structure. Everyone had an amazing experience learning outdoors together!



Wind Machines!
As our final summative task, the students were invited to plan, build and test a structure that can be moved by the wind. Before building, students were encouraged to think about what they had learned about wind and apply their knowledge to their structure. Everyone drew a plan and labelled the materials that they would need. We spent several days in the classroom building and revising our structures, based on descriptive feedback.



On the day that we tested our wind machines, each student had an opportunity to share their structure and make predictions about how it might move. After testing, Ishai conferenced with each student to document their thoughts and ideas about how successful their wind machine had been, and how they might improve their design next time. It requires more time to connect 1:1 with students, but conferencing provides strong summative assessment data, and supports every student to feel successful about their learning.

Journey through Inquiry
Working with a Teacher Candidate was refreshing and reminded me about the importance of play, storytelling and movement in our lesson planning. Throughout our inquiry about Wind, the students were very engaged, and they had multiple opportunities to explore and demonstrate their understanding.  As an experienced educator, I am still learning about how to integrate and make connections across the curriculum in creative ways.  I am also learning that when we trust our students and follow their natural curiosity, the journey through inquiry will be deep, meaningful and fun!

Keeping it fresh.

As of the end of February, it is apparent to no one in Ontario that Spring is just around the corner. Judging by the blankets of snow and recent school bus cancellations, winter continues to disrupt and annoy us with the same creative sadism as a government hell-bent on destroying public education. Despite the stark reality of a manufactured education crisis and a real climate crisis, I know that Spring is coming soon. I saw a spider. Photograph by Will Gourley

Isn’t it wonderful? Putting ONGov’s systemic affronteries aside, my heart lept at the sight of a spider. On a normal day seeing one is something exciting to behold, but this opportunity came after nearly 3 days of snow, several white-knuckled commutes, and bone chilling winds. It was a sign of hope that most of winter’s worst weather would be over, well at least statistically.

It signified that Spring was on almost here because, in my own amateur scientific way, I have observed, over several years, that spiders usually emerge around my house again when winter is almost over. Usually. My returning guest got me energized and thinking about how to channel that into the classroom?

2020 has blessed me with a number of ups and downs in my professional life as an educator. It has brought me immense joy on a daily basis in the classroom, but also sadness and grief in light of tragic events that have happened to our learning community. You see, not all lessons and outcomes are going to be good. The opportunity to share the struggles and successes with students helps create a deeper appreciation of the learning process. By admitting when things got tough meant more to them and my colleagues than any veneer of perfection I could ever hope to put on.

My January post was meant to share my personal struggles in hopes of encouraging dialog among educators and to show the benefits of releasing some of the emotional weight that many of us carry inside. I wondered whether I could use my catharsis as a catalyst for our learning spaces? How could I make it fresh and keep it fresh for my students and self?

Never one to shy away from doing something differently, I quickly began working through new ways for students to interact with their learning, for demonstrating their understandings, to collaborate with each other, and to dig deeper into opportunities rarely afforded by traditional transmission and texts teaching.

Here’s what we worked on;

In Math, I remain committed to “no text book math lessons” as much as possible. Using YouCubedPeterLiljedahlMath RecessWaterloo POTWCEMC, and Khan Academy. My students love working on problems together, they argue, iterate, communicate, and solve problems. We make Math a social activity instead of a game of one upping each another.

Another change this year is having Wipebooks for students to use. They have added another dimension to our learning by enabling vertical approaches to Math problems. This has students out of their seats, standing, thinking, and  solving. They can also wander from group to group to see the different approaches being used to answer questions. This has led to some excellent discussions and growth.

Recently, I also started adding Quizizz tasks to our Google Classroom. These fun quizzes allow you to make memes for correct and incorrect responses. I find this format a great way to have students continue to work on concepts taught in prior months.

Becoming a strong group facilitator using Character Lab Playbooks and a co-constructed success criteria. Genius Hour – personal inquiry projects where every student becomes the class expert in their subject. I have shared this one before, but it was for a different class at the time. Besides, it’s a perrenial favourite and my students have asked to do it again already.

In Language, we remain very fond of TED Talks. I now find myself creating reading response tasks with posts from the TED Blog. Another tool that it is being brought back discussion and digital citizenship is Padlet. Our recent work focused around an assignment inspirted by my friend and colleague Tim Bradford  that read;

“In the past and present, people have always treated each other fairly.” Agree or disagree

Students had to create a 30 + word response to the statement and then respond to each other. The depth of understanding from them was very encouraging. It was also nice to see how they kept each other in check when it came to appropriate responses and use of technology. Here are 2 of their responses of the entire class who thoughtfully disagreed;

To add a lot of fun to my instructional week, is my grade 3 FI Music class where my students recently wrapped up creating their own identity raps in French, complete with backbeats from Groove Pizza. Once their shyness subsided, they were excited to present their hard work. It was also fun to see how they incorporated the lessons we had about how to beatbox from Nicole Paris and about the notes and rhythms we covered in Term 1.

In all of this, the focus was on hands on and collaborative experiences intended to engage and deliver the learning. Although much can go wrong, there is so much that can go right when you commit to keeping it fresh. I know that the next 4 months will bring more of the same and I am excited to try new things with my students. Looking forward to introducing Flipgrid, podcasting, and sketchnoting already to keep it fresh. Bring on Spring!

Have you tried something new that you would like to share? Mention it in the comment section and include a link if you can. Thanks for reading.

Our Journey In Music

Last month I blogged about Music and Identity and asked you to stay tuned because my students and I were on a mission to dig a little deeper into the power of song. Well, this month, we did just that. In my last blog, I was really excited to have the opportunity to be interviewed by Noa Daniel for the Personal Playlist Podcast and wondered how I might do something similar in my classroom with students as we were in the process of better understanding identity and the characteristics that shape who we are.

On a bright and sunny – well…maybe it really wasn’t bright or sunny – Monday morning, I shared my own Personal Playlist Podcast with students and asked them to consider their own three songs that would be considered notstalic, descriptive of their identity, and a pick me up. What made that morning bright and sunny was how eager students were to jump into it and find songs that resonated with them based on the 3 categories. As students spoke with one another, listened to song choices and read lyrics, there was a buzz in the room and it amazed me because while I know the power of music, it was evident right in that moment that students were really coming alive and energized to share about parts of themselves through song.

From songs like Brave by Sara Bareilles to This Is Me by Kesha, students were pulling out and sharing lyrics that were meaningful to them. It sparked conversations from some of my most introverted students about how they were feeling and what they were experiencing. In Brave, one student mentioned liking these lyrics:

“Innocence, your history of silence

Won’t do you any good

Did you think it would?

Let your words be anything but empty

Why don’t you tell them the truth?”

She stated that everyone should consider the power of their words, not only to bring others down but to be able to bring about change and to really stand up for who you are. This was the starting point for a discussion on when we hear something or see something that isn’t right, we should say something and not only that, make sure that you are living the words that you are speaking. It was very powerful and resonated with these lyrics from This Is Me:

“I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Look out ’cause here I come

And I’m marching on to the beat I drum

I’m not scared to be seen

I make no apologies, this is me”

The student who shared this song mentioned wanting to be brave although it is sometimes difficult because we are bruised by the words and actions of others. We spoke about marching to beat of our own drums and how it is sometimes hard because it isn’t always accepted or embraced by others. We spoke about the challenges that exist when we want to be seen and yet we are so afraid to stand out. How do we become those who make no apologies for who we are?

As if that wasn’t powerful enough, the sharing grew even deeper when our Co-op student shared her playlist which included a song that wasn’t in English. I assumed that it went without saying that students could choose songs in a different language but because I wasn’t explicit, students stuck to songs they knew in English. When she shared her choices, the room erupted with, “Well, I know this song that my mom used to play to me when I was younger. Listen to this…”. All of a sudden, students were sharing about themselves, their families and their histories through songs from different cultures and languages. Whether or not their peers understood the lyrics to the song, they understood the meaning behind it through the help of their peer. All of a sudden, it was connecting on a deeper level. Music really transcends all boundaries.

A few minutes before the bell rang for recess an announcement came on to say that it was an indoor recess due to the rain. There was no groan this time and students were eager to continue on sharing their Personal Playlist.

I have to thank Noa Daniel for the experience and connecting me back to music in a deeper way and ultimately allowing for my students to share their experiences through music. We’re in the process of writing a musical for tdsbCREATES on identity and our time spent examining our own song choices are really guiding us as we start to write our own lyrics to the songs in our musical.