Day 143: Taking our learning outside of the classroom (Denise Unrau, English teacher, Delview Secondary)

Last semester I taught Writing 12 for the first time.  Unsure of where to start with poetry, I turned to one of my favourite slam poets, Sarah Kaye, and students quickly caught on that there is a whole world of great slam poets on YouTube.  Soon we were watching a variety of poets – from Anis Moijani (“Rock Out”) to Shane Koyscan, among others.

When we began to write list poems, I was surprised to see lists that went far beyond the superficial: these students were exploring themes of loss, gender, sexuality, and ego in their own lists.  The room became charged with energy even though it was completely silent.  The students were engaged in their own creating process.

My students agreed, reluctantly, that poetry is meant to be performed, rather than read silently, and so our own small slams began in the classroom.  The first day, one student’s performance left us silent; several girls were moved to tears.  After a moment or two, comments like, “You’re beautiful” or “I know exactly what you mean” came spontaneously.  One girl commented that our class was not simply Writing 12, but Group Therapy 101 as well.  We were all learning about the power of spoken word.

Thanks to a lead from my son, I learned about one of the longest running poetry slams in North America.  Every last Monday of the month, Café Deux Soleils on Commercial Ave in Vancouver invites youth between the ages of 13 and 19 to come to perform their poetry.  The students responded enthusiastically when I suggested we go, and not long after, two of the students bravely suggested that they might want to perform.

On the night of our “stepping out”, 15 students joined me at a crowded café, three students bravely signed up to perform, and others volunteered to try their hand at judging (see the rules for Slam Poetry on Vancouver Slam Poetry’s website).  In the world of poetry slams, appreciation for a deftly worded phrase is signaled by the snapping of fingers.  I was moved to see and hear snapping fingers during Alyssa and Kathryn’s performances; they were performers for a night to a large and appreciative audience.  They were also witnesses to many other talented and innovative writers and poets.

Our debrief the following day was charged and enthusiastic.  One girl said she’d found new ideas for her own writing, while another said the evening was the first time she’d been out to Vancouver on the Skytrain.  All participants agreed that they wanted to go again.

Although we still had days in the Writing 12 classroom that felt less than inspiring, and some students still struggled to capture their ideas in writing, stepping out of the classroom and on to a real stage moved poetry out of mere rhyming couplets and anthologies to inspired works of art and word.


Day 142: My Year with an iPad Crate (Salma Jaffer Ladner Elementary Grade 3/4)

This year I was lucky enough to get the iPad crate for the entire year! What an exciting opportunity. The first thing that I had to teach the children was rules and expectation around using the iPads in the classroom. I found that the more that I used them in the classroom, they became less of a novelty and more of a tool.

Some of the apps that I have used are described below:

  • A+ Spelling Test – this is an app on which you can add spelling words, students can record themselves reading the word, they can test themselves and play unscramble games. It is great for French and English vocabulary.
  • iMovie – iMovie has a great selection of trailers that you can make that are easy and very fun to create. My students read a novel and rather than doing a traditional novel study, they created a trailer about their novel. I have created paper versions of the storyboard. Students had to create a plan and outline what they would filming. During this process they had to think about characters, setting, plot, major problems and the solution. Once I approved their plan we had a few days of filming. It was a very fun process and the students were able to learn all of the major story elements. We then showed parents their trailers at student led conferences.
  • Stop motion – As a precursor to creating the iMovie trailers we created a Stop Motion video. This app was very easy to use and my only criteria was that they had to use 3 objects to create a story line. Once done they exported that video into iMovie and added some music and sound effects. The result was awesome!
  • Doceri – I used this app to demonstrate many things because it has options to write on images. I was able to take pictures of worksheets, project them label them and use them as a tool while teaching. Doceri also has an option to change the screen to grid paper, so I used this feature when teaching area and perimeter.
  • The final thing that I used them for is documentation of learning. Students used the camera to take pictures or video of themselves describing their work, projects or activities.
  • Green Screen by Do Ink – I used this app last year but didn’t have a chance to use it this year. You can import video clips filmed in front of a green screen (green paper) and add an image as their background. I used this during my Science unit, students created a presentation about a particular planet, filmed themselves and then add that planet in the background so it seemed as though they were reporting from the planet of their choice.

Day 144: Spelling Stations (Salma Jaffer Ladner Elementary Grade 3/4)

This year I decided to revamp my spelling program. The children received a traditional spelling list on Monday and test on Friday. They also received spelling activities that they completed throughout the week. However I was looking for a more hands on approach for them to learn these words and the patterns that came along with them.

I designed four different stations that the students rotated through on Wednesday afternoon. The stations are described below:

  • Spelling activities – students completed the activities that accompanied the spelling program, a traditional worksheet activity
  •  Computers – children used the computers to create a word cloud using a website called Tagxedo. This program is very similar to popular website
  • Wordle, however I found that it is much more compatible to Mac Computers
  • Sorting – Based on the Words their Way program, Students sort words according to patterns found in the words of their week, they then find new words from books that follow the rules of their pattern
  • iPad – Students use an app called A+Spelling Test to add the words from their spelling list. They are also able to record themselves reading the words. There are options to test yourself by unscrambling them, or giving yourself a practice test

I love how well these stations are working. The students are very independent when working on them and I feel like they are getting much more exposure to the words in several different ways. They enjoy working at the stations and it is one of the ways that I have been able to use the iPad crate that I was lucky to get this year!

Day 141: The Entrepreneur Show (Queena Jiang, student at Cougar Canyon Elementary)

In partners, the grade seven students at Cougar Canyon Elementary experienced a life changing event. The entrepreneur show was a challenge for many of us, but in the end, sitting by our stands after a lot of planning and stressing, we made it, and our knowledge in this subject has definitely grown.


One of the main aspects of this project was the loads and loads of planning. All of us got a young entrepreneur booklet. Inside, were layouts of how to plan multiple things out. For example, we had to calculate how much the materials would cost, add it all up, then come up with a good price that will get your future customer’s attention, and make a good amount of money.


There were an abundant amount of steps throughout this process and advertising played a big part of it. The goal was to make a commercial that showed what our products were, why you should buy it, and of course; we had to make it interesting. However, that wasn’t the end of it. Many other students took it upon themselves to make miniature posters and put them up around the school showing off their product. Most people chose bright colours that stood out which was a great idea.


Then, after all of that, we finally got to sell our products. In the Cougar Canyon multipurpose room, over 500 students came, rotating 2 classes every 15 minutes. It got very crowded after a while which could’ve been good or bad!!! I noticed that posters did help, but it really came down to how your product was. For example, silly putty sold out because it had drawn children’s attention. Keep in mind that the Entrepreneur Show was only in its second year yet it turned out to be a very successful project. A lot of people sold out, some took orders, and others didn’t sell much. Even so, we didn’t keep all of the money to ourselves, at least 15% of our profits went to charity.

After, a long day of marketing, advertising, stress, and happiness. The grade 7 students came back into their classrooms and discussed their opinions. All of them had experienced a little bit more of the sales world.

Day 140: Mount Destiny the Land of the Dinosaurs (Jason Hodgins, Early Learning Coordinator)

On Friday April 24th parents of the Heath Kindergarten students gathered together to celebrate the learning and hard work the children had done over the past few months. At the celebration of learning parents visited “galleries” in both kindergarten classrooms. These galleries included presentation boards, dinoland, relevant books, and bulletin board.

The students had been studying various types of dinosaurs. Children were placed into focus groups based on their interest in a particular dinosaur. A teacher led each group. The groups were T-Rex, Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Velociraptor, and Triceratops. Within their groups the students creating detailed drawings, 3D models, and gathered factual information. Both Kindergarten classes would gather together in the mornings to brainstorm, research build vocabulary, learn songs and read books about the topic.


Day 139: Explore Plus Four (Rosemary Harris, Hawthorne Elementary)

A few weeks ago our Intermediate Learning Assistance teacher Mrs. Glover conducted an excellent in-service on a programmed called Explore Plus Four. The idea was to provide for greater differentiation within the math curriculum by using a variety of activities in the classroom. We were interested in the idea and had the opportunity to go and visit Mrs. Davidson’s Grade 3 classroom at Pebble Hill to observe the project in action. We came away with a plethora of ideas and a great deal of excitement as to how to implement this into our classroom.

After a few false starts and hiccups we have developed our own workable plan. What we have found that works for us is to have four groups, which rotate after the class mini lesson for the day. Group 1-Math with the Teacher-works with the teacher to review the concepts and ensure there is sufficient understanding. Group 2-Math with Myself-works on individual extension activities to expand the concepts. Group 3-Math Literacy-work individually or in pairs to explore either books on the topic being taught or sharing their learning via their Math Journal. (cleverly nicknamed Murmal by Mrs. Glover) Group 4-Math with Someone Else-works on games or other activities, which are active learning on the topic.

After doing this for a while I was still uncomfortable with the lack of differentiation for the brighter students in my class. It seemed to me that this piece was missing. While they were working through the other tasks and gaining skill I was not sure that this was enough challenge for them. So we introduced a fifth group which we called the Focus Group. This group would be provided with a different approach as needed throughout the unit. We began with pretesting their understanding of concepts and they compacted their curriculum. This way we were ensuring that they had the ideas and could move on to higher-level activities to enrich their learning.

It has been a few weeks now and it is working more fluidly. I had my doubts when we started. However, seeing the excitement and interest from students who were previously not that keen on Math period I am now converted to the concept. I also feel quite comfortable that we are providing for all the needs in the classroom. The process allows for reteaching, reinforcement, scaffolding, and enriching of students depending upon the topic and activities being taught. Another element, which was comforting, was that as a teacher I was able to get to all the children in a period to ensure that I knew where they were at in their understanding of the material.

When conducting the workshop Mrs. Glover did say to stick with it for at least a week. She said it would be hard and it would be different but it would be worth it. She was right! It was frustrating and I was ready to throw in the towel a few times along the way. However, now I am glad I heeded her words of wisdom as it has been well worth it.

Day 138: Congratulations to the 2015 Secondary School Apprenticeship (SSA) Scholarship recipients


Congratulations to the 2015 Secondary School Apprenticeship (SSA) Scholarship recipients:

Dylan Addison, Burnsview Secondary, Diesel Engine Mechanic, employer Big Wheel Truck

Alexander Arnicans, Seaquam, Professional Cook, employer White Spot

Thomas Donaldson, Delta Secondary, Plumbing, employer Brighter Mechanical Ltd

Tanner Ducommun, South Delta Secondary, Professional Cook, employer Vagellis Taverna Ltd

Justin Harrison, Sands Secondary, Plumbing, employer Core Plumbing & Heating Ltd

Cody McGill, Delta Secondary, Machinist, employer Ideal Gear Machine Works

Scott McKeen, Delta Secondary, Plumbing, employer Brighter Mechanical Ltd

Jared McMillan, South Delta Secondary, Auto Service Tech, employer Brian’s General Auto Service

Justin Raats, Burnsview Secondary, Plumbing, employer Sure Heating Services

Michael Smith, Delta Secondary, Construction Electrician, employer Comtower Services Inc


Student comments:

“As students and young adults, we have such an abundance of choice that it often leaves us standing in the same place we began – confused – rather than helping us take a leap forward into the world of work. Together, the “SSA” and “ACE IT” programs translated my passion for home cooking and desire to find a career path into a reality.”

“The SSA program has given me the opportunity to jump start my career as a machinist. The program’s flexibility allowed me to attend school full time and work part time while earning accreditation towards my apprenticeship.”

“The opportunities the SSA program offered me got my apprenticeship started a year ahead of most. I have loved every moment of it. I am presently working out of town on communications towers around BC. I see myself finishing my apprenticeship as an electrician, then pursuing my career as a fire man while owning my own electrical business.”  

“I am so lucky to have found the career for me at such a young age. I have met so many new people who have taught me the tips and tricks of the trade to become a better plumber. I know I’m going to be a plumber for the rest of my life, because I love the work we do and the people who do it.”


If you would like to find out more about the Secondary School Apprenticeship program please contact your school’s career staff or at


Day 137: First Days with Chromebooks and Google Docs (Jennifer Wilson, Holly Elementary)

Our grade 4 and 5 students have been learning about digital citizenship and we have recently started the process of learning how to share docs during partner work. Here is what the kids have to say about Chromebooks and Google Docs.

NOTE: It took us no more than 5 minutes to generate this document. Every student on Chromebooks at the time was able to share their thoughts – the outgoing and the shy alike.

How do you like the Chromebooks and Google Docs?

  • They are helpful and fun so if someone is sick you can still type with them!
  • They are helpful because it is easy to type on them since they are small. You can share a doc with anyone so you could work together.  Overall they are awesome!
  • They are very good, because  you can share with people even if they’re home sick
  • They are just sooo great!!!!!!
  • Awesome!  I get work done. Google docs are awesome because you can choose anyone you want.
  • They are really helpful, useful, easy to type on and easy to use at home because I can access my documents on my ipad mini if I’m connected to wifi!
  • I think that they are very useful because we can share all the documents we created. I like how they work. They are really helpful. I like the operating system of Chromebook
  • They are awesome because you can do all your work anywhere!!
  • AWESOME because I get work done and it’s easy to type.
  • They are awesome because you can do anything you can imagine on them and they are new technology. You can work together with your friends even if you are at home.
  • I think they’re great because they are easier than Mac Books these are just ours and another class’s. They’re cleaner. You get to socialize with friends.
  • They’re awesome because they are helpful for school work.
  • They’re awesome because you can do projects easily.
  • They are awesome because they are fun. You can do anything you want and it is easy to type with.

What have you created using Google Docs and Chrome?

  • I have made a wordsearch about the book Alvin Ho.
  • We created a Word Search. We have also done a bully paragraph and talked to our friends.
  • I have learned how to take a snapshot and do a word search and I learned how to share with other people.  I also wrote my bully paragraph.
  • I have made a Word Seach for my Reading.
  • I have created a Word search on Chrome and started a Greatest Canadians Project
  • I have started to create a word search for my partner reading, typed my bully paragraph, learned how to do many thing and started typing my vocab list.
  • I’ve been able to work on soooooo many different projects, and most recently been able to work with my partner who was home sick and I was able to make a word search
  • I made a word search and a bully story and a bunch of other things, we are now doing another project about Greatest Canadians. I’m doing Steve Nash and I will have to research things about him.
  • Soon to create a word search.
  • I have made a bully paragraph, a word search and more!!!!!
  • We wrote a bully story and we are making a book quiz and stuff for our novels and we can do a lot of stuff.
  • Half the class reads their novels while the other half works on the reading activities using the Chromebooks.

Day 136: Genius Hour Reflections (Rosemary Harris & Lindsay Smid, Hawthorne Elementary)

cautionmindsatworkIt is never too late to learn something new. As educators we espouse this saying with frequency, but how often do we do it ourselves? I was fortunate enough to have this happen for me this year. In discussion with my student teacher who is current on a lot of the new processes and practices I was asked, “Have you heard of genius hour?” I had to admit that I had not but was intrigued.

Following some sleuthing and googling I discovered that genius hour was very similar to what we as educators are referring to as “passion projects”. Intrigued I read blogs, watched Ted talks, and combed wikis for further instruction, suggestions, and ways to implement the idea.

After gaining a bit of an understanding as to what was involved I decided to engage the audience for which the process was designed-the students. We sat down in a class meeting and watched the introduction to genius hour video. I then asked them the question, “How would you like to work on a project of your choice?” “If you could study anything what would it be?” I was not prepared for the outpouring of enthusiasm and excitement. Though I should know that this would be a predictable element as research repeatedly indicates that when children are engaged in topics of choice and guide their own learning that their learning skyrockets and the gains are incredible.

So began the genius hour process in our Grade 3 class. Every
Thursday for a term we met for an hour for what we referred to as “genius hour” where our “passions came alive”. With 18 individual and small group projects we needed help to guide our process. This came in the form of a request for parental assistance. It was truly an amazing response from parents. Over a term we had those who consistently came and assisted with whatever was required and did not just work with their own child but anyone who needed their help. We also had parents who while limited by working hours chose to take a day from work to help. It was an amazing hour of learning for me to see something different and unique working so well.

Lindsay Smid, our student teacher, was also impressed with the process. As she said, “it was of special interest to me as a student-teacher because it helped to give structure to the broad theory of differentiated instruction (DI). This was an area of interest for me because of the challenges of addressing diversity in the classroom. DI formed the foundation for my inquiry project at UBC and helped me understand the complexity involved in meeting the needs of every student well. As I began looking more deeply into the theory and practice I saw how well Genius Hour addressed its complexity.”

The three core areas of DI, process, content and product, were all adapted to challenge each individual student. Process included giving students choice within parameters with how they researched their question. Students were provided a starting point with several child-friendly search engines, such as, ideas for books and informational videos from YouTube such as BBC Planet Earth to begin their research. In addition, the content that each student researched was self-generated and matched with individual passions. This ensured that students held a sustained interest in their projects. Finally, the product is a work in progress. Students have had the opportunity to explore many different applications and avenues of presenting their information. One exercise, for example allowed students to test and explore new applications in a variety of styles. This was an attempt to encourage students to move beyond PowerPoint and iMovie and challenge themselves with something new and creative. “

When we returned from Spring Break we moved towards closing the research components of the project and revisit how this newfound knowledge would be shared in their genius hour presentations. Using a model of applications they could students experimented with ways in which they could intrigue and provide visuals for their audience to be engaged. We then worked with the technology to see if it met the criteria for an effective visual or digital component.

So began the process of putting it all together bit by bit piece by piece. Over the last three weeks we have been streamlining criteria for the Passion Projects Day. Providing the students with appropriate guidance as to what makes an effective presentation, the students began to prepare for sharing day. It was easy to tie this into oral language by conducting a few lessons on what makes an effective oral presentation. Challenging again my own standard teaching I found a new way to engage students in the use of effective strategies such as appropriate volume, pace, gestures etc. by using silent ted talks featuring Bill Gates and others to note how these elements can make or break a presentation. It was very interesting to note the responses that came out of a discussion of eight year olds comparing the presentation styles of Bill Gates, Bjorn Lundstrom, and Jamie Oliver.

Now we are entering the final leg of this exploration and working on the final copies of our presentations. Our plan is to hold a Genius Hour presentation afternoon (A Thursday of course) in late May to share our new learning. We thought it would be most effective to run it as a set of small workshops for other kids to sign up for and attend what interests them. When this has happened we will take time to gather some authentic assessment and determine what gains students made with the chance to work on long-term project of this type. We will interview the students and this will help to guide the use and implementation of the concept in the years ahead. As we said earlier, it is never too late to try something new and 21 grade 3 students have shown us both-a beginning teacher and a seasoned teacher-that when you can study something you love-
you have the creative capacity to shoot for the stars.

Please visit our blog in June to see how our Genius Hour presentations turned out. We have so much to share and it all grew out of a simple question.

Day 135: iPad Reflections (Christine Rennie, Chalmers Elementary)

At Chalmers Elementary School, the ELL team has been actively using the iPads.  Having five extra iPads in addition to our PCs have allowed us to have many kids on Raz Kids and Lexia at the same time.  The only disadvantage is that the Lexia app can only be uploaded to one iPad (or pay to purchase other licenses).   We also used the iPads to research animals and countries for our compare and contrast animal and country projects.  Since the iPad is such a portable device, students were able to share links, research, and pictures very quickly with others.  Students were engaged and excited, and told their enrolling classroom teachers about their experience with iPads.

An interesting spin-off is that other teachers have been interested in integrating iPads in their classroom from various discussions about them.  One teacher new to our school decided to integrate the iPads in her Daily Five practice, using another set of iPads in our school.

Another student who is a struggling reader and writer has enjoyed seeing his speech turn to writing on Dragon Dictation, and it has motivated him to write.  Some ideas I will try with him this semester are:

  • Use video on the iPad to record him reading a book of his choice.  Then he can access his video to help him reread during silent reading.
  • Have him create a reader response using Haiku Deck and Doceri.

After finishing Talking Tables at the end of this month, our ELL group has decided to focus on building vocabulary through role play and themes, and alphabet knowledge.  I would like to use Puppet Pals HD and Puppet Pals 2 to engage kindergarten students in role playing and telling stories.  A lot of rich vocabulary can be developed around locations, music, characters, and sequencing.  I am considering buying the Puppet Pals HD app since it has more characters and allows us to take pictures of students to incorporate them in the story.  I will use the ABC app for printing and sounding out letters.

Some questions I have are:

  • Has anyone used Book Creator?  I believe it is $5.00 to purchase.  I have had students create a book online on the PC, but am curious about this app.
  • My Word Press app will not allow me to put in the school’s ID.  I’m not sure what is going on.
  • I would like to investigate apps that the LST iPad cohort has recommended such as iWord, TypoHD, iCoWriter, and iReadWrite.