Cousins, cell phones and connected kids

This weekend we celebrated my cousin’s wedding.  It was a fun filled weekend with family and friends.  We have a lot to celebrate because this year has been remarkably difficult for my family.  It started off with my Grandmother falling and breaking her hip, a few weeks later my grandfather had a stroke and then, incredibly, my aunt (who is not much older than me) suffered a massive brain aneurism.  Happily, everyone is on the mend and in various states of recovery.  It was amazing to have all of the family together to celebrate my cousin and her new husband.  If you had told me in March that we would all be together celebrating in October I would have thought it highly unlikely.

When I finished university I lived with my Aunt and Uncle in a small town and began my teaching career, working in two school districts.  They were there to support me with a warm home to come home to, hot meals and lots of laughs.  My aunt and I have always been close, but a new bond formed when I moved in with my aunt and her husband.  I learned how to drive a tractor, shoot a handgun and so many other life lessons.  Perhaps the greatest gift they gave me was teaching me how to think for myself.  It was a coming of age for me, a time I will remember fondly and a gesture of kindness that I will never be able to repay.  So when my Aunt was airlifted to Vancouver General with a massive brain aneurism, it was without hesitation that I became an instant stand-in mom to two more kids; my two cousins aged 13, 11 (in addition to my two boys aged 3 and 1.)

Over the course of our time together this spring we had many conversations about many topics, lots of laughs and lots of tears. I was honoured to be a able to give them guidance and support during a very difficult time.  The best part of this weekend was being able to carry on from where we left off after they returned home to their parents.

My 13 year old cousin had a lot of questions about the recent heart-wrenching story of Amanda Todd.  She spent a lot of time on her iPod texting back and forth to her friends.  She was becoming quite upset (understandably) about a girl that she had never met.  It was a big wake up call for me to see how connected young people are today.  How a girl in Coquitlam can be instantly connected to my cousin who lives miles away.  We talked a lot about safety on the internet and how choices you make now can impact your future.  But we also talked about how things that happen don’t have to define who you are, and that mistakes do happen.  We often forget that even though kids look old enough to handle difficult situations and stories, at the age of 13 they are still  children with very little life experience and tender hearts.  It was difficult to find the right words to say and how much to tell her, but with the help of her parents I think we were able to give her some guidance.

On a lighter note, a funny theme of the weekend was the “I really want a cell phone” rant from my cousin.  I think she thought that I would be on her side 🙂  He dad and I both agree that she is way too young to have a cel phone (she has an iPod and a laptop, so she is connected) but we were unable to give her an answer as to how old she should be before she gets one.   What age is a good age to have one?  I think it would be important to have a cell when she starts driving on her own.  Are there other reasons that a young person should have a cell phone?

 Here is another photo from the weekend that I can’t help but share.  I think it is hilarious!  My dad took it just after the JP announced Sonia and Kevin were officially “husband and wife.”

Open House Night

Tonight was Open House Night at our school.  I had 17 out of 21 families attend.  Great!

Really?  I don’t think so.

Every year I look forward to meeting the families of the children I teach.  It is such a great way to connect home to school to meet face to face.  I get to see my students in an entirely different light-as a parent’s pride and joy.  My heart is filled with joy when I see the way parents look at their children when I tell them that their son/daughter is a fantastic kid and that I am thrilled that their son/daughter is in my class and can’t wait to help them with their learning.  It is watching love.

But tonight I didn’t see four families.  I can’t help but feel failure.  This year, like every year, I phoned each family and invited them to come, gave times and dates etc.  I left several different notes in the planners in the days leading up to the event.  And every year I have a couple of families who don’t attend.  The worst part is that this year these families are ones I have never met.  I understand that people are busy, after school events, work-everything gets in the way…but how could you not meet the person (in my case people, my teaching partner and I) who are spending 35+ hours a week with their child?  It breaks my heart.

So I am sitting here tonight wracking my brain for ideas of how to get those four families into our school.  I will send home the web address of our class website (if they have internet) and hope that they are able to navigate/access the site.  I will make a phone call home to tell them something that their son/daughter has done well this week,  write a note in the planner…continue with what I do anyway.  But I need some new ideas.  There has to be a way to connect with these families and show them that we want them to be a part of our school and community.  Maybe I will have the class put on some kind of performance…I don’t know.  Any ideas?

September Start-up

We have been very busy in Division 11 over the past two weeks!  Here are a few photos and captions to show our learning…

We met our buddies this week!  Everyone was excited to interview his/her buddy and have their photos taken.

We watched our “Dot Day” video and then worked on our first art display: portraits of each other.  Mrs. Iwagami and Mrs. Williams are so happy to be together as buddy classes again this year, this is our 5th year together!   It is really neat that some of our “big” buddies were once “little buddies” in Mrs. Williams class.  It is so nice to be together again!

Our buddies enjoyed looking at our monster art showing our wishes for the year and dreams for the future.

We are working on our stamina for Daily 5!  I have been really impressed at the commitment that Div. 11 has shown to becoming better readers.  They are excited to be in charge of their own learning, and I am very proud of their efforts.  Our stamina made a huge leap, check it out:

Thats 15 minutes of absolutely quiet, focused, wiggle/distraction free reading.  Wow, am I ever impressed!  I can’t wait to start individual reading conferences with the students!

This is our “I” (for independence) chart for read to self.  For each session there is a story and strategy before we practice building stamina for read to self.  We had two lessons with two very different books.  The strategy was “tune into interesting words”.  Here are some of the “juicy” words we found:

Our first poem of the year is from “Score One for the SLOTHS”, one of Mrs. Williams’ favourites 🙂

We also finished our shields and put them on permanent display in our class.

In addition, we have been working on our word lists for our Individual Spelling Program, (which I will describe in a future post), addition/subtraction review and personal inventories for Health and Career.  Students are working hard at using their planners as a communication tool and are showing how responsible they are by getting the planner signed each night.  It has been a wonderful start to the year with a fantastic group of kids 🙂


I have been thinking a lot about classroom climate.  At a recent inservice I attended, there was a rather thought provoking question about classroom management that made me take a closer look at what I do with students.  The question was, “do you like to be “managed” in your job?  (me: no)  Why then, do we “manage” students?”

Kind of a big idea.  A completely different way of thinking about teaching and learning than what I was trained in.

I gave it some careful thought over the summer and decided that it was something that I would take a lot of time developing with my students (instead of telling them the “rules/routines” at the beginning of the year and expecting students to comply simply because I asked them).  I needed to allow my students to be in charge of themselves, to develop into productive individuals that contribute to a group.  To foster skills and knowledge that will serve them beyond my year with them.  We needed to start with a big idea, something great and then work together toward it.

So we started with a bit of a mystery to get the kids wondering…

When the class came in our first morning together, a wrapped box was sitting on the rocking chair.  They were very curious!  I told them that we would just have to wonder and wait until I read them a very special story:

I love this story.  In précis, the principal welcomes the students to school and asks each student to make a wish.  There is a school wide singing of “Happy School Year to us…” (to the tune of “Happy Birthday”).  It even touches on the different feelings that students experience returning to school, which I think helps to connect all students, not just the ones that are happy to be back at school.

I really hooked into the “making a wish for the school year” with the class as we read the story.  We paused and thought about what our wishes for the school year would be.  After we finished reading together, I had the class return to their seats and write down their wishes.

They were so serious when thinking about their wishes 🙂

After the students wrote down their wishes on coloured paper (in the shape of “think” bubbles) we returned to the gathering place and I read the wishes to the class.  They were just darling with each other and very positive and encouraging.  A bright spark asked about the present after we had shared all the wishes and I had to tell them that we would have to wait until after recess!

After the recess break the students were anxious to return to the gathering place and get into that wrapped box.  Well, what is a back to school party without a gift?

I told them it was a gift to the class and was for everyone.  We would take turns opening it, but it ultimately belongs to the whole class.  We used the “sticks of destiny!” (popcycle sticks in a shallow jar with each students’ name on it) to choose who would go first.

Inside the box were 5 glass balls.  (I love blown glass). I told them that they are dream keepers.  I asked a student to hold it and tell me what it was made of.  She answered “glass and it’s really breakable”.  I asked her what would happen if I dropped it on the floor.  She looked horrified and said, “it would smash to pieces.”  I told the class that dreams are just like these glass balls.  They need to be held carefully and that some dreams are really hard, if not impossible to put back together if they are hurt, made fun of, or stepped on.

We passed the glass balls around and the students were so careful.  I had no doubt in my mind that they would be careful and that none would be broken.

I asked the students to return to their desks again, but this time to write what their dreams for the future were.  It was absolutely silent in the room, and each student was focused and did his/her very best work.

Before we took a break for lunch we shared what the dreams were.  I told the class that now that we knew what each others’ dreams were, we were responsible to cherish those dreams and help each other along the way.

Next we developed the idea of how to help each other with our dreams.  How we would like our classroom to look and feel like so we could work toward our dreams.  I put two headings on the board; Respect Yourself, Respect Others (Thanks again for that Tweet, George) and we brainstormed together:

I was thrilled at the ideas that the students came up with.  Obviously we have been doing a good job as a school talking about these ideas.  The next step was to put the ideas into smaller phrases that the students could access easily:

From there we took the phrases and put them on the back bulletin boards and each student wrote the ideas that he/she contributed to the brainstorm and we put them under each category.  The neat thing is that it shows visually the areas that we could do more work on:

We will continue to work on these ideas in the coming weeks.  We have begun to build our class’ shared history, our group identity.  My room has morning sun, and each morning when I open the shutters there are comments about the glass balls and how beautiful they are.  Each morning I have said, “just like your dreams are beautiful!”

The big one will be to develop a “class dream”.  I am hoping it will be a service project, or creating something to make our world a better place.  I’m still working on that one.

We also worked on an art project to display our wishes for the school year and our dreams for the future.  We made aliens 🙂  (The students already think I am from Mars…wonder where they got that idea???)  🙂  I love all creatures that are different and unique.  I love how the students’ aliens reflect each students’ personality.  Here is some of our work in progress:

This has been such a gentle way to start the year.  I have allowed myself the time and mindset to connect with each student before making any requests of them.  I am allowing our group to evolve and the class to grow together.  An unintended result of the wishes and dreams writing is that I can also glean ideas for the daily 5 book bins.

I only wish I had brought in cupcakes on that first day!

What is your wish for the school year, and your dream for the  future?

A new partner in crime…converted another one!

Just thought I would share this phone message I received tonight from my friend Lil.  I used audio boo, so the link below requires flash player (which means it can’t be viewed/heard on an iPad…so grab your laptop!)  The best part is at the very end.

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Make your mark. Dot Day!




I was sifting through my home feed on Twitter the other night and was taken by this project.

It looked like a simple way to add collaboration to my classroom and do some meaningful work during the first week where we have kids but no classes are set.  So I decided to have all the grade three students participate in this really cool idea.  Off to my local bookseller to find the book and we were set!

There was lots of lively discussion in response to the book, but the best part was when one of the boys said, “I wish we could do that…”  I wish you could have seen the size of his eyes and his huge grin when I said, “OK, let’s do that!”

First I showed them a video invitation to the project.  They were shocked that we were going to use the iPads to make our dots!

I chose the app Art Box because it is very close to actually using real media.  I like that there is no undo button, because when we are creating with paint or other media you can’t just undo what you put on the paper.  The app is very intuitive and required just a quick (2 minutes) walk through demonstration with the iPad hooked up to the projector.  The result is very realistic.

Of course I had them sign their first name (it’s in the book) and save to photos on the iPad.  I hooked the iPad up to my laptop and downloaded it to my photos.  From there I uploaded all of the grade 3 photos (49 of them) to Flikr and voila! we are participating in the Dot Day video project for Dot Day on Saturday, September 15th.


My personal “Aha” moment was when I was looking at all the dots my students had created.  They are all different and really show the personality of the student who created it.  The more I know about my students, the better- and this is a great start!

If you want to participate in this project, click on the link above and sign up on the google doc.  The deadline for submissions is Wednesday.  I can’t wait to see the final product and hope you join us!




Here is the finished video!

Dots Around the World Collaborative Project (Click on title to view)

Trying to find focus…


With the start of each new school year I’ve always picked one curriculum area or focus for my professional growth.  Call it a new year resolution of sorts.  In the past it has been science or math or classroom climate…an area to grow on.

Problem is, this year my ability to focus in on just one area has gone a bit haywire.  As I’m starting to think about September and trying to narrow my focus down to just one area, I’m finding that I just can’t do it.  Kind of like the picture of my darling James above.  It’s almost in focus.  Not my best photography to be sure, but I just can’t bring myself to delete the photo.  Just like my planning for this year.  Can’t quite nail it down.

Is it going to be literacy?  Blogging?  Daily 5?  The Sharon Taberski book that I keep reading and rereading?  Global citizenship?  Leadership?  Health and Career?

The trouble is, they are all connected.  Teaching has changed.  We no longer deliver one curricular are, or integrate a few-technology has allowed us to pull everything together from all over and bring it to one place, one presentation or summation of learning.

So how do we teach that to kids?  Project based learning? Or is it simply teaching kids to think?  I’ve always thought if you teach a child to create quality writing, you teach them to think too.  But reading and writing are the mirror of each other…and round I go again, no closer to a focus.

Maybe we will just sing.

Is anyone else feeling this way too??

Marshmallows, a fat free food


Yummmm….nothing quite like a roasted marshmallow…

This summer we camped.  (Apparently its what one is supposed to do when one has children…who knew?)  So, we roasted marshmallows, of course!

Any guesses as to what marshmallows do to a couple of three year olds?  Well, it ain’t pretty.  They may be fat free, but they are full of SUGAR, and that is bad news just before bedtime.


Marcus and Matthew in marshmallow bliss…and then we proceeded to have “dog-pile” “extreme chase” and “crash and burn”.  Imagine WWE for three-year-olds…highly entertaining, but you don’t get to go home after the show!

So what is the point of this post?  Well, remember the bag said, “a fat-free food”?  What does sugar turn into?  FAT.

As adults, we had a giggle and left the rest of the marshmallows on the picnic table (the racoons stole them later that night, but that is a whole other highly entertaining story…) and the conversation turned to, “is that honest advertising?”  I guess it is true in a sense, but what of the big picture?

It just reminded me how important our role is as educators to help our students see the big picture and to ask questions.  I think I will have to bring back the tree octopus early in the year this coming year.  Critical thinking never goes out of style…and neither do marshmallows!

Reflections by a campfire


So here we sit by the campfire and you just can’t help but reflect…on the year, on life and on the future.  One thing is for certain, it is nice to have a break.  Here are a few thoughts

On the year…

I returned to work from maternity leave in January this year.  It wasn’t easy to balance work and home now that I have two little ones waiting for me at the end of the day.  I had to find ways to be more efficient in how I ran my classroom so that I wasn’t spending hours at home with school work and basically running myself into the ground.  (I don’t do any work when my own kids are awake, so I end up staying up very late to get things done).

I marked less at home and gave more feedback at school, in the moment, with the students.  It was so much better for me AND the students.  I had students give peer feedback, do more carousel walks and comment on each other’s work -and we did a lot of self reflection.  Not only did I have less to do at midnight, students were thinking about their work.

I still went to the staffroom at lunch.  I think it is so important to talk to colleagues and friends and have down time, so I had student leaders help with the time consuming “busy” work like cutting paper and prepping crafts in the morning before school starts.  They were grateful to get out of the rain, and I was grateful for the help.  And interestingly enough, I really go to know the kids.  We chatted as we worked and built our classroom community.

I was given an iPad and was told to innovate.  I have to say, it has energized my career in more ways that I even know.  One of the best things about having the iPad handy is that discussions in class can travel on their paths so easily with a quick visit to google or youtube.  We can have discussions about all kinds of things and the students can share what they know or are working on at home so easily with the iPad and projector.  We are going to have open wireless in the school very soon, which will make this even easier!  I’m not at the innovate stage yet, but I feel like I am getting to a place where the technology is feeling less about how to use the ipad and more about what can I dream up that also happens to use technology.

Speaking of innovate, I got the class blogging.  We blogged using  It was so easy to set up the class and to manage the posts.  We blogged about class events, field trips and even published our ongoing journals (which was super cool!)  I wish my students were able to get more comments from outside the school community. I made many pleas on twitter, but to no avail.  I will keep trying now that my network is growing.

For me, the best part of kidblog is that it is safe.  Less risk=more sleep, and that is good!  I do think I have to be much more direct in teaching students how to write a blog post (but that is just good teaching-voice, audience, conventions and the like) and how how to make meaningful comments.  I took a “lets give it a try and see what happens” approach and now I have a few things to work on with the new group in September.

I think that is enough about the year that has closed.  Stay tuned for a post on what the future plans are!

This is how we do it…

My son Marcus is a determined child.  He knows what he wants and finds ways to get what he wants.  He loves to play with coins (yeah, we all love money!).  The problem is his little brother, James.  James is also a very determined little guy (and he has red hair, complete with temper) and loves to put things in his mouth.  So, sufficed to say, 16 month old and coins, no-go.

You will notice that there is a lock on Marcus’ piggy bank…and it is still locked.

But Marcus has found a way around that annoying problem.  He opened the metal tabs on the back of the bank!  So, while I was putting James down for a nap, he was happily sorting his coins and making towers.

What does this have to do with teaching?  Well, a week ago I got a fantastic brand-new MacBook Pro.  I love it and am grateful for the opportunity to use innovation in my classroom.  Problem is, it is imaged with the district’s standard image (not that there is anything really wrong with that).  I  quickly became frustrated that I couldn’t make it “mine” (couldn’t even change the trackpad settings, download Twitter, Evernote etc.)  (I know it sounds silly to care about track pad settings, but after so many years of piano performance, my hands and wrists aren’t as agreeable as they once were, so clicking or tapping makes a difference to me!) I had no permissions.  Just like poor little Marcus.

The interesting thing is that after I got over my “mom outrage” I realized that Marcus was quite clever, and we proceeded to play, sort, count and stack for over an hour.

He learned so much, was engaged and asked all sorts of questions.  To think I almost missed that moment by thinking I had to teach him about following the rules (we had that talk later…)

So back to the MacBook problem.  How do I make it mine and still follow the rules?  (I could hack it, but that is against my ethics).  I think it is time to ask.  “If you don’t ask, you can’t complain about it” was a phrase that stuck in my head when I attended a professional learning day with George Couros last week.  So I asked.  We will see where that goes.  I’m sure I am not the only one who would like permission to personalize my laptop, so I am optimistic.

Where this really gets interesting, is how many times have I stopped a learning opportunity in my classroom because the child wasn’t “following the rules”?  Are there rules that must always be followed?  When is it OK to break the rules?  Should there really be rules in the first place?

I am thinking I need to re-evaluate what rules are about.  Perhaps a better solution is to foster independence and teach students to think critically and make thoughtful choices.  Make my classroom a place where we say yes more than we say no.

After all, Marcus knew enough to wait until James was in bed before opening his piggy bank, and he didn’t try to hide it from me…that shows he is thinking, and tonight, that is good enough for me!

What do you think about rules?