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!

What does it mean to be a Teacher?

I came across this quote last week:

Teaching is...
“inspiring students to discover on their own, to challenge if they don’t agree, to look for alternatives if they think there are better ones, to work through the great achievements of the past and try to master them on their own because they’re interested in them” (sorry cannot remember who said it).

I also received a personal message from a previous student's mother. In a nut shell she told me her son said that he missed me as a teacher. He said that he remembered my crazy antics and that he missed the learning and fun we had. She further stated that it made her realize the impact of a great teacher on a student.

These two statements got me thinking about teaching in general. More specifically, why I got into teaching and what teaching means.

It is very easy to forget how we can impact, for better or worse, a student in our class. We see them for the year but then off they go.  If we are lucky we see them in the halls or they talk to you as you go by but off they go into the yellow sunset to live their lives.   Every now and then we hear stories, read success stories or get a quick email that makes us think of the times we had in the classroom.

These moments in time make me think about why I became an educator. For me it wasn't a story of I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher from childhood. In fact I wanted to be a musician but my Dad told me that that was no way to live. I went to school to be an accountant but soon realized that I was doing this for all the wrong reasons. I volunteered at a local school and fell in love with teaching.

It was the light bulbs that did it for me. To see the mind work, explore, invent and be creative was truly inspiring. Not only that but to think that I had a small hand in that is really surreal.

Seeing this light bulb is one of the most important part of teaching for me. But how do we create that light bulb?
What got you into teaching?
What is teaching mean to you?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Revolutionist or Forward thinking: Thoughts on Assessment

Today I had a very interesting conversation on Twitter. Now I want to preface this with, this type of conversation has been happening for quite some time and it is a conversation that will continue. But today's conversation made me think.

The conversation was on Assessment practise and it actually stemmed from a recent article in the globe and Mail.
I read this article earlier on in the day and have been stewing over this thought for quite some time. This led me to tweet this in response:

P.S: I did mean to type Write instead of right.

Well this sparked an interesting conversation with John Walkup, based on his twitter profile a professor of Cognitive Rigor ( I apologize John if I messed that up). See the full conversation here on my storify:

The conversation was quite amazing and sparked many thoughts about self assessment and assessment as a whole.  Would love to hear your thoughts on the debate?

Overall, the themes (in my opinion [not trying to be bias here]) was that John was questioning me using student self reflection as the final mark in the reporting system.

To me reports is a task that I have to do as a teacher. In fact I hate them. I think they serve no purpose (in their present state) except to inform parents about the progress that their child made during the term. What I find even more redundant is that many parents don't even read the comments that teachers write because all they look at is the grades. Now let's tie it back to the globe and mail article. They suggested that grades hinder learning. And with this I agree. 

Learning is a process. When all we are consumed about is a letter at the end of the class we are not worrying about what we are learning just the outcome. If we focus solely on the learning then so will students. This is why I suggested letting my students write their own reports. Now of course I wouldn't be handing in that as the final assessment, as first of all I don't think my principal or school board would let me but also their needs to a some sort of evaluation from the teacher but what is wrong with incorporating their thinking into the reports.  How meaningful would that be? How engaging would it be to see their thoughts and reflections incorporated with my comments? How many parents would spend more time reading the comments because its their child's work?

These are all important questions we need to be asking.

Now as I have said before this is a topic that I have been thinking hard about for the past couple of years. I recently wrote a blog post about it called: Reflection on Assessment.  This year my daughter started school. It has been a very interesting ride.  It has made me really reflect as a teacher on how I am communicating to my students and to my parents. Assessment has been one of those key areas.

For me assessment is about the learning process. Children, like adults, learn at different rates and stages. Learning is not linear but it still is learning. When we impose certain milestones on children there is a sense of failure that goes with it for not meeting those standards. Yes failure is good but losing self esteem over it is not. At the same time it is fine to have standards as long as children know how they learn and that they will achieve those standards eventually. For this to happen, students need to be taught self reflection. It is a very hard thing for students and adults to learn. It starts with being honest with yourself and those around you. Yes as John pointed out their will be bias in a reflection but if we are honest with ourselves then the bias is limited. Students need to see that reflecting allows you to set goals, make plans to reach those goals and then finally obtain them.

In my classroom assessment is ongoing. We have daily conferences with students as they learn, every center and lesson has a reflecting piece that students do through Vlogs or ticket out the door activities. Students have created online portfolios that they share their work and treat it like a resume of learning. Also at the end of every term, we have a sharing session with our parents. Here parents are invited to see their child's work and learn together with them. We play math games, do lessons and the students share their portfolios.  With the help of GAFE (google apps for education) rubrics and success criteria are shared with parents and students. Their assignments are marked with feedback and comments and the students reflect right on the assignment back to me. As I said it is about the learning.

Now the reason why this talk resonated with me so much is John's final statement to me:

So I guess my question is:

1) Is this revolutionary talk? or just forward thinking?
2) Am I out in left field to think that assessment practises and how we report our progress needs to change?
3) How do we make these changes so that they don't seem so radical?
4) What are your assessment practise? 

As always would love to hear your thoughts.