Cards and Cookies, Challenge Based Learning

Recently I was very fortunate to attend a session at Apple Canada about Challenge Based Learning.  To say that I was inspired is a huge understatement.  There was so much in-depth information shared.  It would be impossible to do it justice in a blog post, so here is the web page:   It is an incredible resource, I would strongly encourage you to join the community and download the classroom guide.

The structure that I took from the session is:

Big idea, essential question, challenge

So when I thought about how I could incorporate this learning into my teaching practice I decided to give it a try by tweaking a project that I have done in the past.  Every year we give back at Christmas.  We plan a service project as part of our classroom “Winter Extravaganza” that we do the last week of classes before the break.  (Our Winter Extravaganza also includes making gingerbread houses, a swimming field trip on a bus, many, many crafts and usually a food and games afternoon on the last day)

So this year we started planning with the following question:

“How can we make someone’s holiday brighter?”

We talked in general terms as a group about what that might mean (giving background/context knowledge)

IMG_0825Then we broke into self selected groups and brainstormed ideas of what that could look like:




IMG_0824Here is a sample of what they came up with:


The groups shared their ideas.  We discussed our ideas as a class and found out that Ms. Lorrie Felbel (our fantastic EA) was part of a community group that has been collecting coats, hats, gloves and socks to take to people living on the street.  They were going to give out lunches when they delivered the care packages.  We added that idea to our group brain storm as well as Children’s Hospital which the class knows is my favourite charity:


Next we considered some essential questions of: who, what, when, where and then extended our thinking to What do we need to know? and How are we going to do this?

These two essential questions are from the presentation on project based learning by Shelley Wright that I attended the day after the Apple Canada session as part of our Innovative Learning Designs dinner meeting series.  Shelley is an amazing and inspirational speaker.  (Check out her blog by clicking on her name above.)

We let it rest and roll around in our brains over the weekend.  I asked the students to write a note in their planners to talk about the project ideas with their families.  When we were back together on Wednesday we had another look at our project and narrowed it down to one idea that came up in some form from all the groups: making cards and cookies for people living on the street.

We began our planning by looking at the two essential questions again:

What do we need to know?

-we found out that Ms. Felbel will be delivering 150 lunches on December 8th

How are we going to do this?

-we talked about how we were going to get the cookies: where will the dough come from, who will make them, what the finished product would look like (baggies, cards attached)

-we decided to ask for parents to help by donating cookie dough that was either pre made at home or pre made from the grocery store.  A lot of students said they would use their own money to buy cookie dough.

We set a goal of two cookies per bag, or 300 cookies with a home made card for each person.

-we planned to bake on Wednesday and Thursday of the following week and to assemble the packages on Friday so Ms. Felbel could take them with her on Friday afternoon.

-I sent home a notice explaining our project to parents.  I was hopeful that we might have a few families donate cookie dough, however given that our school was inner-city and that a lot of our families are under-resourced, Lorrie and I decided that we would bring in enough dough for at least 200 cookies on Wednesday and then see what we needed for Thursday.

To finish the week, we made 156 cards on Friday.  The students really enjoyed making the cards 🙂

IMG_0870 IMG_0869 IMG_0868 IMG_0867 IMG_0866 IMG_0865 IMG_1171

I returned to work on Wednesday with bags of Pilsbury cookie dough, cookie sheets and tinfoil in hand ready to start cooking.  We baked and baked…

IMG_0905 IMG_0906

and baked…



And by Thursday afternoon all of the cookie dough had been turned into yummy cookies.  We were absolutely stunned at the response from the students.  They had donated a mountain of cookie dough.

Give a child a challenge, embrace their ideas and support them and they will rise to the occasion.

Our students are superstars!  Our goal of 2 cookies per bag was blown out of the water.  We had 796 cookies. (We actually made more than that but the class decided that the broken ones weren’t suitable for the project.  They were sent to the staff room)  We made enough cookies to fill 150 bags with 5 cookies per bag.  So we got to work filling bags!


And then we did some math 🙂IMG_0013

After we filled all the bags with cookies we finished the inside of the cards with messages to brighten the day of someone living on the street.  Ms. Dalzell, our fantastic preservice teacher, shared with the class about her experiences taking part in a “Night in a Box” project where she spent the night on the street to raise awareness for homelessness.

Over the past few weeks we have been having discussions about homelessness.  I can safely say that our students will not be using the terms “Hobo” and “Bum” again.  They have a new compassion for others and are very empathetic young people.  Some of our discussions included how to make positive decisions, how to refuse harmful substances and the importance of thinking for yourself, setting goals and finding supportive people.  (This is the core of our Health and Career curriculum).  We also covered math, social studies and language arts.


I am amazed at how the spelling on each card was perfect and that the students used their best printing.  This is real life writing.  The kids were passionate about their project and took extra care to get it right.


Finally, we stapled the cards onto the bags of cookies and Lorrie took them home with her on Friday and delivered them on Sunday.  I plan to write a follow up post with a few photos of the delivery trucks and some of the volunteers who delivered the care packages as well as some video I took of the students thoughts as they were doing the project.  The students will be blogging about it sometime next week on their Kidblog site.


I want to say a huge thank-you to Lorrie for all her hard work!  Not only on this project, but over the 5 years we have worked together in our room.  I absolutely adore her.  She is an amazing woman!

And my darling grade 3’s…you will be having the best Winter Extravaganza in Bear Creek history 🙂 Thank you for reminding me why I love to teach.

Lead up to Identity Day 2012

This summer our staff at Bear Creek had the privilege of working with George Couros for our pro-d day.  We are very grateful to our Director of Instruction, Elisa Carlson (@EMSCarlson on Twitter) for bringing George Couros to our District and for helping us to have George speak at our school.   George (@gcouros on twitter) shared many, many ideas and new ways of thinking about innovation and learning with us.  One project that he shared with us was called Identity Day.

Our Principal, Carrie Burton (@CMBurtonsd36 on Twitter) and I talked at length about how fantastic this project is and how it would be a wonderful way to further build our community and understanding of each other at Bear Creek.  After consulting with staff , Bear Creek decided that we would try to do our own Identity Day early in the school year.  We chose November 21st, 2012.  Upon reflection, it is probably a better idea to do Identity Day after report cards are done, but our staff has been fantastic and supportive in spite of how busy the days are right now!

We launched ID Day at an assembly in October using this video from Chris Wejr (@chriswejr on Twitter).  His school did their own Identity Day project last year and are planning their second year event next month.  At Chris’ suggestion, we will be tweeting to the hashtag #Identityday12.  There is also lots of great information on his blog about Kent Elementary’s Identity Day project.

One week ago we sent home a quick reminder notice and ideas for those students who may be struggling with what to do for their project.  Our staff has been fantastic about putting reminders in planner messages and talking about the event with their students.

As for the nitty gritty of the actual day, here is the organizational information and map that we distributed to staff at the beginning of this week:

Identity Day2 -Staff Info

Room Usage 2012

We have struggled with how to best have each student view and be viewed because we are a large school with 20 divisions.  The plan we have isn’t perfect and we already have ideas for next year if the staff is interested in doing the project again.  (We would likely split it into two days; primary and intermediate to allow for more viewing time and for parents to come and view as well).  We are learning together and will be looking forward to hearing suggestions and feedback from our staff and parents/school community.

I am grateful to my Vice Principal  Tia Henriksen (@tiahenriksen on Twitter) for sharing her Identity Day project on photography (view it here) with everyone on her blog.  She encouraged me to use the same platform: Animoto is a quick and painless way to make videos!  Here is my project: Identity Day 2012.

Post Script:

Our Identity Day was a huge success!  Here is the link to Tia’s video about Bear Creek’s Identity Day:

Bear Creek Identity Day 2012 (click to view)

Random Acts of Kindness: “Warm Fuzzies”

This loveable funny little critter is a warm fuzzy 🙂
Who doesn’t need a boost from time to time?  This week our class started a group project that we hope to grow and develop for the school year.  We have embarked on a “Random Acts of Kindness”  project to support our learning about citizenship for Health and Career.

We started off with a fantastic lesson with our student teacher, Ms. Dalzell about citizenship.  You can read Sarah Dalzell’s blog post here .  From there we developed the project to show our citizenship within the school by doing random nice things (random acts of kindness) for people.  We call it RAK ing 🙂  The class started writing their drafts thanking the office staff for all they do for others.  We let the drafts rest and moved onto the fuzzy part of the plan…

Later in the day we got started making these goofy little fuzz balls.  What an afternoon of fun with our grade 6 buddy class who were very good sports about helping wind wool, tie and cut the loops.  Sounds simple, but when you have that much yarn and kids its bound to get a little messy!

Our fantastic CCW Jen is in the background helping with the madness 🙂  Thanks Jen!   And a big thanks to Ms. Iwagami, my wonderful friend and colleague (we have been buddy classes for many, many years) for manning the hot glue gun station and getting all the googly eyes glued on with no major first aid emergencies!

Thursday morning after watching this video we moved on to the good copy of the writing portion.  The students wrote and decorated little notes and did not sign them.  It was at this point they really understood that they were not going to keep the little fuzzies that they had now named and grown quite attached to.  But there was no question of keeping them when it came time to put them into the bin to go with their notes.  I was very proud of my young students, this was the real learning moment for them.


While everyone was at an assembly the notes and fuzz balls were delivered…Here is Pat, our AMAZING head secretary with a big smile 🙂

And Carrie, our fearless leader who is one of the most amazing, genuine and true leaders I have ever worked with…

…we won’t talk about how my class flat out denied any involvement when she came to thank our class 🙂  They even said, “check with ms….’s class, it was probably them!”   Yikes!

And my dear friend, powerful supporter, leader and encourager Tia…

You can read  Tia Henriksen’s blog post here

And she reminded us in her blog post that World Kindness Week is November 13-17.  So how are you going to make someone’s day  a bit brighter?  What random act of kindness will you do… just because?

Skyping with Mr. Mattea’s Class

On Friday I had my first Skype…ever!  Sounds terrible, I know…It’s been on my list for a while, but I hadn’t mustered the courage to try it until now.  There are a lot of things that can go wrong-technology/hardware issues, interruptions, my lack of understanding of how to prepare the students to name a few.  I had heard such great things about Skyping from my 10-year old piano student Hannah, that I finally decided to give it a try.

I decided to float the idea past my fantastic preservice teacher, Sarah.  She was very excited and promptly got me signed into an account and explained how it all worked.  She used examples of how she Skyped with her family when she went to Europe and was very animated when she spoke.  I was hopeful that this enthusiasm would be contagious to our class.  We did a “practice” Skype with Sarah in the hall with her cell phone.  The class was immediately hooked and so was I.

The way the scheduling went, Sarah couldn’t be there on Friday, so we were very fortunate that our VP Tia came by with her iPad and videotaped the Skype.  Not only could we share our Skype with Ms. Dalzell, we could review it and reflect on how we could improve for next time.

Here is a highlight video of the Skype:

Skype with Mr. Mattea’s class

As you can see from the photo and video, we had a speaker’s chair in front of the laptop and a list of questions prepared with the speaker’s name next to each question:

When I e-mailed Trevor to set up the Skype time he was very helpful with advice for our first Skype.  He said to use Google Earth and  Wikipedia to research the city/area and to prep a list of questions and a speaker’s list.  We found this advice very helpful, especially to give my students some background knowledge about California and SanFrancisco before talking to our new friends.

The Skype went really well, with students engaged and eager to participate.  We reflected on the experience after and came up with a strategy to keep the conversation going:

We decided that if we give information and then ask a question we would be able to keep the conversation going better than if we asked close-ended questions.  It was such an authentic way to develop our communication skills with a real life application.  I feel that my students saw the relevancy of clear communication so much more than if we had done an artificial roll-play or (god forbid) an icky worksheet on how to ask questions!

We are looking forward to chatting with Room2 in November and developing our speaking skills even more.

A big shout out and thank you to Trevor Mattea, Sarah Dalzell and Tia Henriksen for your help and support-such a great experience for our students and their language development.  Thanks!

Leadership2.0 Session #4

Last Tuesday I participated in week 4 of the Leadership2.0 MOOC.  I have enjoyed all of the sessions so far and this one had some great connections to work that I am interested in as a learner and teacher.

Leadership2.0 Session #4 with Jonathan E Martin (a MOOC developed by George Couros, link can be found here)


Jonathan covered many topics-(too many to list, you really should go view the link above) but one of the fundamental things he said is you need to read.  Read books and read blogs.

I am always looking for a good book to read and the following book is next on my list:

Mindset-The New Psychology of Success by Carol S Dweck

I am looking forward to this reading because in the chat at the side of the session it said that there is a section that relates nicely to formative assessment and descriptive feedback, something I am always looking for more research on.  I know that descriptive feedback works because I can see how it affects the work of my students, but somehow I always feel that I have to justify what I know with “data”, test scores, etc because that is how I went through school.  Hopefully this read will help me connect what I know and feel with “accredited research”.

Participants shared their blogs with the group, so I thought I would compile a reading list of the blogs.

Blogs listed: (click on Principals’s blog link)

If I have missed a blog, my apologies!  Please send me a link and I will update the list.

Love Notes

This morning as my students were moving from planner check to centres, I noticed one of my students sitting at his desk alone.  “Unusual”, I thought to myself, best check in with him.  I knelt down and put my arms on his desktop and quietly asked him if everything was OK.  He looked up with huge tears welling up in his eyes and whispered, “my grandpa died last night”.

To save him from being seen crying in front of the other boys, I put my arm around his shoulder and steered him into the hall.  We talked about how hard it was to say goodbye to someone you love and I asked him if he wanted to go home and he said that he wanted to stay.  After a big hug I asked him what he wanted to do and he said that he wanted to read at his desk.   Once he was composed he returned to class.  My amazing EA gave me a look and I promptly walked myself back out the door.

And burst into tears.  Yesterday I received the gutting news that my cousin was not likely to live more than two weeks.

I composed myself, put on my best teacher smile and got on with the day.  I made sure that my little student got support from the counsellor, we reviewed and practiced some of the Daily 5 strategies that we have been working on, built stamina for “read to someone”, read aloud from my favourite book, had snacks and off the class went for recess break.  I thought I had done a pretty good job of “keeping it together”.  I did my usual running around at recess and went back to my desk to grab something to eat.

On my desk I found these:
Which was really sweet 🙂  I have darling kids in my class.  I assumed that they made these at the art centre at the beginning of the day.  I smiled to myself and casually flipped one over and saw this:

And had to sit down.  These beautiful little notes, the tender hearts of children.

The recess bell went and I walked over to the door to let the class in out of the rain.  With teary eyes I asked them to join me at the gathering spot.  The little one who had lost his grandfather was still with the counsellor, so I chose this as a good time to talk.

As best I could, I told the group that one of our classmates was very sad today and that made me very sad.  You could hear a pin drop.  We talked about how sometimes we don’t understand why things happen and that it was good to talk about things that make us sad.  The hands started to go up and almost all of the kids had a story to share about someone they knew who had died.  Nobody interrupted, heads nodded…it was profound.  I let them know that our classmate probably didn’t want to talk about it right now, but might later and would probably love to have his friends to hang out with right now to keep his bucket full.

We wrapped it up and carried on with our day-did our KenKens in math, had lunch, used Google Earth to research where our Skype class was from, got words of advice about skyping from our Grade 6 Buddies and even did a little dancing to that cute fuzzy critter from Ice Age 4.  I gave hugs, high5’s or handshakes at the door and the day was done.  Gave a workshop to my colleagues about Kidblog and then headed home.

When I got home I learned that Ben passed this afternoon.   The most amazing dad I have ever seen, husband of an epic love story, my childhood hero and first little girl crush.  A dear friend.

I will keep these little love notes in my pocket tomorrow and know that there is good in this world and I know that would make Ben very happy.

Daily 5 (part 2)

Our Daily 5 made it’s first milestone last week.  We “Read to Self” for over 30 minutes!  Our fantastic admin team came down to help us celebrate.  Here is a photo of one of the students sharing the stopwatch time with the Principal and Vice Principal.

Of course we celebrated with cupcakes!

And now…”read to someone”!  The students have been asking about the next of the “5” in Daily5 and were so excited to learn how to do “read to someone”.  It was easy to convince this group that reading to someone else is fun and helps you to become a better reader.  After a quick lesson on EEKK (elbow, elbow, knee, knee) the students were chomping at the bit to try.  I had to stop them before they were ready to stop.  Everyone was engaged and reading.  It was beautiful to see them enjoy reading so much:

Finally, I thought I would include a photo of how I introduce the CAFE strategy cards to our strategy board.  I always make sure that I pick a book (fiction or nonfiction) that clearly demonstrates the strategy.  FOr example, I used a nonfiction book about working dogs to show the strategy “connect to prior knowledge” because most kids relate really well with dogs and have a pretty good background knowledge base to draw from.  I have the most fun picking books to demonstrate a strategy because I just love to read aloud with my class 🙂

We will continue to build stamina for “read to someone” and hope to celebrate soon.  Check back for the next post on “work on writing” and how I use ongoing journal, poetry and blogging to engage my young writers.

Report Cards…what if?

I hate report cards.  There.  I said it.  Not because they take so long to write, not because I agonize over every comment, every check box.  Because they don’t really help.

The kids who do well get the positive they would get anyway, and the kids who don’t… does it really make a difference?  Does it change their effort?  Make them want to work harder?  Doubtful.  I have seen it become a relationship breaker between a student and a teacher-even a parent and child.  Who does that help?

And since how we are teaching and learning is changing, why are we still using an ancient reporting system?  There has been lots of discussion about no percentages, no letter grades etc.  To me, it seems like we are just renovating an old house that is long past its prime.

What if we threw the whole mess out the window and started over?

What if we asked instead, “What does the parent need to know about his/her child?”  How can we work together to move this little person to be a better thinker and learner?

How about we develop a growth plan for each child and work with parents to help them grow?  It would put the onus on the teacher to really know the student and understand his/her learning style and abilities, it would take time, and it would certainly look different than what we do now.

What if we developed a series of questions that were process and socially based and answered those instead?  What would they be?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if report cards were authentic and based on the needs of the individual?  After all, we are reporting on the growth and development of a human being here.  I think it is worth the effort.

Pulled apart

For the last few weeks I have been pushed to reflect, reflect, reflect…make my learning visible…share my learning.  So here is the nitty gritty of being a teacher and the things I am pondering right now.  I wanted to reflect a little on the Professional Day last Friday.

Earlier this year I wrote about trying to find focus.  This past Friday I did something a little different for pro-d.  Usually I go to a conference and learn new things.  This one I stayed at my own school.

My intention was to work on fine tuning my Daily 5 Pensive, write some blog posts about Daily 5 (which everyone has been bugging me to do), put together some resources for the teachers on staff who have been wanting to get started with Kidblog, work on my Weebly class webpage so that my teaching partner can access and post blog posts about our class, spend some time on my Innovative Learning Designs grant project and get together with my wonderful Principal and nail down some details for our Identity Day.  A lot, I know.  Too much.

Besides meeting with Carrie, I had planned to spend the whole day quietly at my desk working and maybe check in with a few colleagues over lunch.  Over the course of a week, my dream Pro-d changed completely.  You see, I have gotten into a bad habit of saying yes more than I say no.  The problem is that I am constantly putting my work last and what ends up happening is I spend those precious hours from when my kids go to bed until when I finally crash, working on my own work.  I am slowly running myself into the ground.

I am finding that being connected is a difficult balance.  Right now I am finding this new way of teaching and learning making life harder, not easier-but the problem is that it is so much better than what I was doing before so I just can’t give it up.  My own learning curve has been steep, and when I see colleagues with that excitement wanting to change and try new things, I can’t say no.  I feel partly responsible for this wonderful innovation tsunami that is building on our staff because of the Pro-D I pushed for in the summer, and with that privilege comes the responsibility  to support others.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy helping.  Its like teaching my own students -when they get that “aha” moment, there is nothing better in the world.  I want to support colleagues, but am being pulled apart, “Diana, can you help me…” “Diana, I was wondering if you could show me…”  I want to help, so I do.  And then little pieces of my day just disappear.

So, meanwhile…the things that I want to do, ILD project, collaborating with my teaching partner and grade three team are drifting along, getting the little pieces of me that are left.  My friends wait patiently for me to come back to them.

Last week I participated in the Leadership 2.0 series with Chris Smeaton (@cdsmeation) presenting and there was some really honest conversation about finding balance.  Then main thing that stuck with me are the words, “balance has to be your balance” and “ultimately if you’re happy and the people you love are happy”.  Am I happy?   Are the people around me happy?  Where is that balance?

I need to find a new way of doing things.  Very soon I have an amazing young woman coming to do her 2-week practicum with me and I need to be mentally and emotionally available to support and encourage her.  Something has to change, and quickly…I just don’t know what.

Daily 5 Part One

I have been asked by many people to blog about how I do Daily 5 in my room.  This is a first post in a series 🙂

It is worth noting that I have adapted the program to suit my class.  The way I do it is a little different from the book in some areas.  It is different each year depending on the needs of the students. Some groups need a much slower pace to become independent, while others seem to take it quite quickly.  This year I have a strong “buy-in” by my students and it is moving at a faster pace than other groups.

Daily 5 is a literacy framework that allows children to develop their skills as readers and writers and at the same time allows the teacher to conference with individual students and small groups.  The Daily 5 book can be found here and the companion book, The Daily Cafe can be found here.  I use Sharon Taberski’s Book, On Solid Ground for conferencing which can be found here.  I have also recommended the Daily 5 for Dummies book (Thanks a lot, Tia) which gives a day-by-day lesson plan to use for Daily 5/Cafe which can be found here.

I started off the year by introducing our D5 program by asking the class, “What do you do during silent reading time?” Some kids said “read”, but I caught a boy with a smirk on his face and immediately asked him.  He smiled and said, “I played in my desk”.  I couldn’t help but laugh and thanked him for his honesty.  The rest of the class laughed too, and some said things like, “I wrote notes” and “I cut up my erasers”.  The honesty of 8 year olds is hilarious, so often the filter hasn’t been developed yet.

My whole point of the conversation was that we understood that silent reading is a hard thing to do for a long time.  I explained to them that we were going to learn together how to get better at reading by building our stamina.  We talked about why and how, and the lightbulbs began to come on.  It was that moment when we made becoming a great reader part of our classroom culture.

Begin by introducing “read to self” and develop an “I” (independence) chart with the class:
And begin building stamina for “read to self”.  I use a stopwatch and record our times and post the time chart on our reading strategy board:

We had a breakthrough in our stamina after we did a lesson on “IPICK”.  We found that we made a big jump when we were reading books that were “good fit” books:

We have up to 10 good fit books in our book bins to sustain us for the whole “read to self” time, which can be seen in the background of this photo:

So, read the two books, download the PDF and get started!  You will be glad you did 🙂