Saturday, 28 March 2015

Role of a Teacher

I have been having a great discussion on the use of coding in the classroom with some amazing g educators (Aviva Dunsiger, Brian Asinall and Enzo Ciardelli  ). The conversation has been about using coding in the classroom and the reasons why and how we use it. You can read some blogs here.

Today Brian posted this

The conversation has been amazing so much so that I cannot keep my thoughts to 70 characters with everyone involved. So I thought I would state them here. 

In this conversation I stated that a teacher can change the outcome of a task. I have also stated in other blog posts that the role of the teacher is critical to the learning of students and the speed of their growth.

I see many things in our education releam as really cool things to do. We have iPads, Minecraft, inquiry, problem based learning and coding. The problem is that these are just cool things, if I can dumb it down to that (and please do not take me for saying that these things are not important. In fact I think they are all highly important).  What I am trying to argue is that without good teaching a task is a task and even if it's the newest thing or an important thing with out good teaching it is useless and can hurt student development.

What is good teaching?

We have numerous ideas as to what that is but for me a good teacher does:

1) Puts students first: I know this is suppose to be obvious but a good teacher knows ther students, is able to understand them and is able to meet their needs.

2) anticipates problems: there is a lot that goes into planning a lesson but one thing is that a good teacher knows how to foresee problems and misconceptions because they have anticipated these problems

3) uses contexts for deep learning: A good teacher is always thinking about the context in which students are learning in and from.

4) able to guide and redirect the learning through questions: A good teacher has a bank of effective questions that will facilitate good rich discussions. They also know how to ask questions that will scaffold student thinking and move them along a continuum of learning.

5) understands both content and curriculum really well.

6) makes mistakes, acknowledges mistakes and is always learning

Now why is this important? Because a good teacher, through these qualities, can turn any task into an engaging, thoughtful and amazing lesson. Because they have a good understanding of student development, content and curriculum they are able to turn a basic plan into one of rich discussion. It is these lessons that we are striving for.

So when we argue that Brian's task may be a task card or a list of checks and skills a good teacher can turn that activity card into an amazing lesson where students are creating, checking, reflecting and then discussing the curriculum links to what is there. Yes you can take it at its face value and see a list of skills but you can also see a lot of learning goals both in curriculum and in soft learning skills. It transcends the application of coding.

I would also suggest that even though coding is not in our curriculum a good teacher recognizes that there are many important skills that students need to learn outside of our stated curriculum. Yes our curriculum is important, yes it must be taught but a good teacher knows how to manipulate it so it's not a series of checks but deep conceptual learning. They know how to incorporate the necessary skills of the future into a lesson not because it says we have to but because kids need to learn it.

To me the curriculum is important but it's not the end all that we make it out to be. Learning is! Now we cannot forget the development of that learning and the curriculum does provide that nicely for us but we should be looking at the learning. Coding provides that opportunity to learn and learn about learning.  Students are engaged in problem solving, rethinking, being creative, being mathematicians, etc. Yes it is not the end all to be all and yes it is something that I wouldn't spend all of my time on but I think it is still something that must be taught and should be taught.

I guess in the end what I am saying is that an effective teacher knows how to manipulate the curriculum so that students are always engaged in rich contextual lessons no matter what that may be. A good teacher can make all the difference to any task.

I am not too sure if I am making a local argue net but I would love to hear your thoughts:

1) what do you think makes a good teacher?
2) what is the role of the curriculum and how should we use it?
3) what of soft skills?
4) what about these "fun" things like coding, minecraft, iPads, etc? what do they have to offer?

Friday, 27 March 2015

Teaching through Inquiry

There has been a lot said about Inquiry in the classroom and you can take whatever side you want. However, for me it is such a fundamental component of any primary classroom.  This is because in my opinion when we are first learning a new skill it is through inquiry that we learn it. Very rarely is it through a lecture. In fact even as an adult when acquiring new skills do we do it through lectures but through mentor-ship and research.

For me teaching is all about the inquiry process. And teaching through inquiry allows you to meet all the minds in the classroom.

Now before I get too far in my post maybe I should articulate what I mean by inquiry, as I know there are many variations of the process out there.

Throughout my teaching career my journey through inquiry has undergone a lot of changes. When I first started teaching I thought what I did was inquiry. I would plan lessons that were hands-on, engaging, thought provoking and had plenty of talk built in. Students would often be engaged with problems, experiments or activities that required them to think, problem solve and then discuss.  Now I know many of you are thinking but isn't that inquiry and you are correct.

According to Google, inquiry is:

  1. an act of asking for information.

However, what I was realizing was that I was the one doing the inquiring. I was the one that set the stage for student learning, I was the one that debriefed and discussed the learning.  I felt that this type if inquiry was more about me and less about the students. So I changed. I changed my thinking to be more student driven. My units often start with provocations, which then lead to questions, which then in turn lead to students recommending further learning. I still insert my thoughts but now they are developed through asking questions and using student talk to deliver the observations and learning.

Now why do I love inquiry so much:

The first is that I love it engages the students in the learning. They feel situated and invested. They want to learn because they like to learn. I even have students going home and asking their parents to go to the library or go and research because they want to find more things out about the topic they learn in school. I don't know about you but this is truly amazing to hear.

Second through inquiry you really understand the nature of your students learning. Because I am not lecturing and then asking students to complete a test where they regurgitate the information I just spewed out at them they have to rely on their own thinking and schemas. You also get to question them and conference more on a regular bases and because of this you see their growth and understanding. Assessment is a breeze because you have almost too many observations and conversations to choose from.

Finally, I look at this world around us and I think that the jobs I am preparing my students for don't even exist yet. Now you are right some jobs will exist put for the most part the skills that these students need will not. However, what will is the ability to problem-solve, be adaptable, creative, and flexible thinkers.

I recently came upon this:

I love the fact that the first three skills are soft skills, one that you really cannot learn from reading a textbook or listening to someone tell you things. They are skills that take time to develop and through multiple experiences and situations. In my opinion inquiry does this. 

Now these are just my opinions but ones that have been grounded in my practise. They are observations of my growth and reflection. Would love to hear your thoughts?

What do you think of inquiry?

Do you like it? If so why?

What are the benefits? Drawbacks?

I would love to hear your opinions.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Coding and Math

Coding has been a hot topic in education lately and rightly so. It is an important subject. I was recently talking to a friend of mine who has to learn how to code because her job now requires it. More and more coding is becoming essential to any job of the future. The saying is so true we are training students for jobs that don't even exist yet.

Now it has taken me a while to get into the coding wave, per-say. The reason is that I have had a hard time figuring out how to fit coding into the curriculum. You see for me curriculum is and should the foundation for all of our learning and teaching. However, now that I have had some better understanding of coding I think I feel more comfortable incorporating it into my classroom. 

I am writing this post to share some of my learning and to share some of my big ahas.

Why Code?

If you haven't tried coding once then you may not see the potential that coding has for your classroom. Coding is amazing, I have always thought this. Coding is a built in problem. The very essence of coding is creating something from nothing. The Code that you write ends up creating endless possibilities. You are only confined by your imagination. So why code? Because it teaches students to problem solve, to be at a disequilibrium, to be collaborative and engaged with the 21st century learning (yes I know that many of you may not like that term). 

What programs are there for me to play with?

There are a lot of programs to play and learn how to code. First and foremost I would suggest going to as this is an amazing website dedicated to coding.  I would also suggest connecting with Brian Aspinall (@mraspinall) and Lisa Ann Flyod (@lisanneflyod). 

There are also some great iPad apps: 

Scratch Jr has an app too. 

There are also many computer programs out there but one that I love is scratch.

So how did I start?

To be honest I just thought I would jump in but then had to rethink that plan as I really had no idea what I was doing. So the first step was coming up with an idea. At the moment we are studying measurement. I thought this would be a cool way to introduce coding and measuring concepts, especially non-standardize measuring. 

So my assignment was: Measure the span of your hand.

Step 1: I allowed the students to explore the program of scratch. I think that it is important for students to explore the programs they are using, as they will do this anyways may as well give them time to do so. 

Step 2: Gave them a set of challenges:  (import a picture, draw a line, make a scratch move, and add a sprite)

Step 3: Write a program that would measure the span of your hand. (first test) (second attempt)

This process was amazing; however, it wasn't until I tweeted our first program to a friend (Lisa and Brian) of mine that we started to see where we went wrong. This is also where I learned about adding variables to my code would help to improve it. To be honest I had no idea what variables meant.

This is the amazing part of sharing your ideas. Lisa offered us great advice and my students took the learning opportunity. Hear is what they did:


My Learning:

1) Students can do remarkable things: 

Don't hold back because you don't have a good understanding of coding. You will be surprised at what students can accomplish. 

2) Learn with the students and then share your learning:

Often through this process I was learning and working on the problem along with my students. As the students or I made a finding we stopped the class and talked about it. We even shared the links and had students remix the code. 

3) Plan the curriculum expectations before hand: 

Now make sure you have a plan of the big ideas in your mind. I often hear that these types of plans do not go well because the kids went wild or off task. If you don't have a plan they will. Keep the curriculum in mind.

4) If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again.

Coding is worth it. It is such a rich task with high possibilities. I have made a lot of mistakes with coding in the classroom but to be honest even those mistakes the kids learned a lot both curriculum and with coding. 

Overall, adding coding to my classroom was a lot of fun and so worth the struggles. The students are so engaged in the lesson and learned a lot. In fact without thinking about it my students learned about the relationships between adding and subtracting, coordinate grids, negative numbers, Cartesian planes, what a pixel was, and how to find the distance of a line. AMAZING!!! 

I hope that you attempt some coding in the classroom and if you do I would love to see and hear what you have done. 

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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

My Ideal Classroom

There has been a lot of talk lately on "the classroom space."  Seeing all these fantastic posts has me thinking about what my ideal classroom would look like, sound like and act like ( You can't tell that I am a primary teacher :)).  I would like to think that my classroom at the moment is very close but there is always that aim for perfection.

A lot has changed since I was in school. I can still remember most of my classrooms in rows with the teacher at the front of the classroom and us the students copying, practising or doing school work.  I also can remember very little about these experiences. In fact the two strongest memories that I have of my school career was my grade three and four classrooms. I remember my grade three teacher because of the amazing stories that she would tell of her childhood. She was a fantastic story teller and really tried to connect with us as students. My fourth grade classroom memory is of a space unit. I remember this because I was basically told, "Jonathan, go as far as you want with this!" and I did.

In many ways it is sad that I only have two really great memories of school.  Some one once asked me that if you went back in time 50 years would the classroom look any different?  The sad reality is no it wouldn't. However, that doesn't mean it shouldn't.

I think back to even how my classroom has undergone some dramatic changes since I started teaching.  I will start by saying that I have always felt my classroom was a place of inquiry. Since the beginning of teaching I have been an admirer of Piaget and Vygotsky. However, my classroom space continues to evolve into more of my ideal space.

Maybe I should have started with this but here is my vision. My ideal classroom is a classroom where all are contributors. Each student has a voice that is respected by peers and teachers. As a teacher I am not the wise sage that I grew up listening too but one who sets the conditions for the learning and asks questions along the way. My ideal space has places for all types of learners, not just particular sets of minds but places for all to feel comfortable in learning. This may mean quiet zones, maker spaces, work spaces (both collaboration and single desk spaces), and a carpet space. I want the classroom space to also be a positive space, where ALL are welcomed and appreciated.

I think when I first started teaching I knew kind of what I wanted but not really how to get there. My first classroom was a POD. It was amazing to see no walls and four classrooms. I think if I could I would go back to this type of open space. It was amazing to see such a big space for learning. However, I think that even though I wanted a classroom where I didn't talk too much, I think I did. It was still a place of inquiry but it was my inquiry and not the students. As my career developed so did my ability to bring students inquiry ideas into real authentic learning.

Presently the my classroom is probably the closest it as ever been to my vision. My students are amazing thinkers and learners. I have amazing group collaborative spaces and singular spaces. My students don't really see a table as their table spaces but places to work. They are on the floor, the carpet or at tables, where ever they seem to work best. At times because of the noise I even flow out to the hallway. At the same time my students feel like they can ask any question to anyone, as well as, answer questions without waiting for me to answer. Now this space did not happen over night. In fact I remember coming home in August ( I teach in a balance calendar) wondering if I would ever reach the ideal learning space. But with a lot of work both on my part and the students, I think we are well on our way of achieving it.

I would love to hear your ideas of what an ideal Classroom is?  
How did you achieve it? 
What is the most important part of your classroom?

Before I finish this post thought I would share some of my space with you.

My Classroom in Action:

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Being Part of a Tribe

I have just finished Seth Godin's Book Tribes. It is a fabulous book and if you have not read it then you must. The book discusses how to create a tribe and being part of one.  I gravitated to this book because of Seth's ideas of being a leader and starting your own tribe.  I will admit that have never been happy with the status quo (shocking I know). I personally feel that there is always room for improvement. Society must keep evolving in order to survive. We cannot keep in the same rut, day in and day out. I especially feel this way about education.

Education has to be at the forefront of change because we are raising the leaders of tomorrow. If we want our students to become these amazing people then we must demand that of ourselves. We cannot expect a student to be patient problem solvers, critical thinkers, creative, and innovative unless we are willing to do this. And how can we be these things if all we do is the same thing that has been working for the past ten years of our career. Now I know that some things do not need changing but all things can be improved.

Recently I have been a part of a really big change in my school board. A group of us has been leading the charge to bring GAFE to teachers. I won't say it has been easy but it has gone smoother that I thought.  

I couldn't have finished reading Seth's book at a more timely moment in my life.  I have come to realize that we are a tribe. We are a tribe that is unified in the belief that Google Apps for Education is great for student success. However, we are also a tribe because we all trust one another. No one in our group is thinking negative about others. The comments an ideas that are shared are meant to improve the group not hinder progress. When questions arise all ideas are heard and honoured. In addition, the group makes the decisions not just one person with a vision. It has been amazing to think of a small vision that you may have had but when combined with the potential of 9 other visions, it is truly remarkable. I must admit that it is tough to be always evolving. It is hard hearing, "you need to slow down!" "Why bother?" "that is not how we have done it."  It is hard to get your hand slap for asking questions or commenting on why policies are in place.  However, I take heart in knowing that I have my tribe next to me. I take heart in knowing that together we are a unified force that is guided by our common believes and faith.   It has been amazing to see what power a small unified force can have. Who would have thought that 10 teachers from various backgrounds could get a movement together and plan a conference (it just isn't the way things are done).  However, is that an acceptable line. Is it okay to say, "that is not how things are done?" or should we be asking why isn't it done that way and how can we improve it?

However, what I do know is that because I am part of this tribe: I am far happier, more motivated and willing to do whatever is needed to keep this vision rolling. I also know that everyone of us feels the exact same thing. Being part of something big is thrilling.

We are all parts of tribes everyday. We have our work tribe, family tribe and our own interest tribes. Being part of one is what makes us human. Most of us crave that connection with others.  However, not all tribes are the same or feel the same? My big questions are:

1) How do we replicate that great feeling of being part of a great tribe, with the tribes that you don't feel so great about?
2) How do you build trust while pushing forward with innovation and creativity?
3) How do you build your own tribe?
4) How do you sustain your tribe or the tribe?
5) How do we honour our innovators and changers in the classroom? 
6) How do we foster innovators and changers in our classroom?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Edmettle: An Amazing Reflective Online Program

So a couple of weeks ago I was ask to pilot Brian Aspinall's new and amazing online program called edmettle.  I told Brian that I would write a review as soon as I was able to do so. Here is that review:

Now I have been blogging about assessment lately and it has been a topic that I have really been thinking hard about. I really believe that success in general is tied student reflection and independence in learning.  I know that this may seem radical but I think back to my own school career and I know that I didn't start learning till I wanted to learn. I think that most students are exactly the same. Now, I also think that as a teacher it is our job as teachers to model and facilitate this process. Students need to learn how to reflect, how to learn and how to think about improving themselves in an education setting.

This is where Edmettle comes in. Edmettle is a great platform that allows students to endorse themselves and others on the "soft skills" of education. I did put those in quotations because I believe that they are not so much "soft skills" but critical skills. These skills include, in Ontario our learning skills (independent work, collaboration, initiative, responsibility, Organization, and self-regulation). However, you can also add your own skills; for our school environment I added our Covey Habits.

Once these skills are put into the system all the student has to do is go to their profile and click on endorse.

There is a couple of great attributes to these endorsements.

1) Brian has added video links so that students can look up what these terms mean. I found this really helpful in Primary because the students can independently research these terms and internalize them through video representation.

2) The endorsements are on the page for as long as the page exist. This is an amazing reflective practise because the students can look back and see how they have progressed from the beginning to the end. It also is a great way to add comments to our own report card system. No longer do you have to remember or look through your notes on how students have been behaving or what they have done but now they are online in one spot.

3) You can have students endorse each other.  Now I like this feature and I don't. I think before you use it there has to be a lot of discussion around what is appropriate to say and what is not. This isn't a bad thing as it also allows you to discuss digital citizenship and learning at the same time.

4) Not only can students add endorsement but the classroom teacher and rotary teachers can as well. This is an amazing feature because it brings a lot of the hallway discussion into a reality for the children.

Concluding Thoughts:

There is a lot of research out there on how reflection yields higher success but reflection also needs to be internalized by the students. I know personally, when I was growing up reflections meant nothing to me. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized the importance of this. However, if I made my goals, and reflections public I wonder if I would have achieved them sooner. I know that lately since I have been more reflective and public these goals have become realities a lot faster.

Edmettle does just this.  While writing online students make their learning and reflection public for the classroom to see. They see instant evaluation on these skills from teachers, themselves and their peers (if you allow), which in turn makes the student more accountable for their reflections.  Combining this with feedback, success criteria and co-constructed criteria, students are able to gauge how their learning is developing.  In addition, I think that it acts like a perfect bridge between those who are using paper portfolios to those who are trying to go digital. Edmettle allows a classroom or school to have a smaller jump into digital portfolios while still allowing them to host their work in a paper format. Edmettle, through the use of reflection allows students to set goals, reflect on skills and become a better more successful student.

Overall, I am enthralled with this program and looking forward to using it more and more in the classroom.  If you would like to get in on this amazing program go to and ask for an invite.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

10 Greatest Things of 2014!

I know that we are three weeks into 2015 but I was recently challenged by a great friend and colleague Brian Aspinall  about reflecting on the 10 best things of 2014.  I loved that in his blog and in many others that they mention how great it is to share their success and how it also is amazing to be reminded of all the positives that have happened.

I think that it is very easy as people to get bogged down with the negatives in your life that we loose site of all the great things that have happened. If you have not done so I highly recommend that you take up this challenge and share with the world what success you have had.  That being said without further discussion here are my 10 greatest things of 2014, hope that I can do this.

1) My son was born, July 7, 2014:  This has been the signal most important thing that happened in 2014. It has been amazing to see him grow and see the interaction between my daughter and him. When all is wrong with my day all it takes is a smile from both of them when I enter the door to make you think about what is really important in the world.

2) I finished my Masters' of Education: Yet another amazing achievement in my life. It took some time but four years well worth it. If you have not done so I really recommend that you do, and go the thesis route not the course. The course route can be quicker but the learning in your own research is amazing. At times I wanted to throw it out the door but it has also allowed me to be a better educator.

3) Presented at the Ontario, GAFE Summit: Being pushed by my other great friend Rolland Chidiac into presenting at this conference was a blessing in disguise. I was already using GAFE in the classroom without knowing it but after going to this conference my eyes were blown open.  GAFE goes well beyond the bells and whistles of amazing tech, it has sound pedagogical learning and enhances student success.   Because of this I started my own admin for my school and implemented it fully into the classroom. I was also able to network with truly amazing educators: Julie Millan, Michelle Cordym, and Scott Mohanan.

From these connection I have been able to meet other amazing educators like Sharon Moskovitz.

4) Met amazing educators: This was also the year that I continued to build amazing relationships with amazing people. These educators have become great friends and colleagues. I will list some but there are so many:

1) Matthew Oldridge
2) Helen Chapman
3) Brian Aspinall
4) Shivonne Lewis-Young
5) Aviva Dunsiger

There have been so many more and just want to say thank-you to all who I have talked to. It has been an amazing journey.

5) Year of presentations: Wow, this year has been filled with amazing opportunities to share and learn from wonderful people. I was able to present at the NFO leadership conference, Bit14, OAME14, GAFE summit, TDSB google Camp and was invited to Waterloo for a numbers talk presentation.

6) TLLP project:  For those not familiar with the TLLP it stands for teaching leadership and learning program. It is a government funded project that gives leadership to teachers to run their own PD. Last year my project was chosen and it was amazing. Not only that but from it came an opportunity of a life time. Ann Lieberman, who is the head researcher and professor at Standford University, asked me and my great friend Michelle Cordym (mentioned above) to go to China with her. Truly a blessing.

7) Started working with amazing group of educators in Peel on our first Google Camp: Now I know this camp is happening in 2015 but it all started in 2014. I am lucky to work in a board full of amazing people and educators. We are not the largest board in Ontario but pretty close and it is full of diverse thinkers and people but that is what makes it special. Peel is an amazing place to work. This group is no different. It has been an amazing journey planning this conference. And a lot of learning too.

8) I maintained my goal of two blog posts a month (except July and December but I was on break)
Now I know this may not seem like a big accomplishment but blogging has been a major goal of mine. I am not the best writer in the world. It is very hard for me to communicate in writing and get my ideas clearly on paper. It often takes me many revisions and even then it still is laden with mistakes. But it is also a lot of fun and very therapeutic.  Maintaining this goal was a big accomplishment for me and one that I stuck with.

9)  My Daughter Started Kindergarten: During my first year of teaching I was told that my teaching would change when I had kids. I didn't believe them and you know what it didn't; however, it did change when my daughter went to school this year.  I have included this in my accomplishments because it made me a better teacher. For the first time in my career I realized what it was like to be on the other side of the table. I was that parent who wanted to ask, "how are they doing?" and it made me realize the power that a great parent relationship has to a child's success.

10) I continue to work with amazing people everyday: I am truly blessed with the school that I am at. We started the journey at Ray Lawson two years ago, built the school from the ground up (not literally but educationally). It has been an amazing journey to be on and one that is so well worth the ride. It has made me a better teacher, a better person and a better leader.

Thank you for reading my top 10 things of 2014. Thank you Brian for challenging me to think and reflect.  It is truly amazing to keep the positives going in our life. If I mentioned you above I for sure want to hear your success and I challenge all of you reading this to do the same. Here is to 2015!! Keep the positives going!