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Teaching Symposium 2017

As the final capstone to our Teacher Education program at the University of Ottawa, we had the opportunity to choose from a selection of workshops over the course of a two-day Teaching Symposium. This conference allowed teacher candidates to learn from educators in the field, leading researchers in education, and community partners supporting education through different programs and initiatives across Canada. Below, you will find a description of the top three workshops (among many!) that I attended during the conference.


TRIBES: A Way of Learning and Being Together

During this workshop, Donna Bennett and Michael Eveleigh walked us through an introduction and overview of the TRIBES training program. This training offers teachers the strategies for: building a positive classroom and school environment; teaching specific skills for collaboration; using reflection to support learning; and much more. It is a democratic process that results in “a positive environment that promotes human growth and learning.” For example, the framework for a TRIBES Learning Community involves the use of TRIBES Community Agreements, which are summarized in the graphic below.

Tribes Community Agreements

It is important to note that the TRIBES training is:

  • Not a curriculum!
  • A research-based process
  • Useful in building a school-wide learning community
  • Applicable for K-12 students

I’m curious to learn more about this training program, and I will definitely be looking into this approach in further detail! In short, the TRIBES Trail can be summarized by the following quote and image:

“Someone to walk with and somewhere to walk to.”

The TRIBES Trail

Kirpans and Peanut Butter: Why and How We Teach Critical Thinking for Social Justice

During this workshop, trained lawyer and Education Coordinator for the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust Miatta Gorvie led a fascinating discussion on the topic of fostering critical thinking in schools for social justice. Through dissecting and analyzing various case studies (e.g. Kirpans, Peanut Butter), we explored the different components of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (e.g. Freedom of expression, Freedom of religion, Right to peaceful assembly, Right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure) and how they impact our role as teachers.

As professionals who will be interacting with students in a school setting, one question was at the core of every discussion: how do we agree on what is a reasonable limit to people’s rights? Miatta suggested the “Acorn Test” for thinking critically about the measures we impose on our students to keep them safe. The Acorn Test includes the following questions:

Acorn Test

  1. Why? What is the purpose for the limit?
  2. Will it work? Will the measure benefit the student body and make the school a safer place?
  3. What else will it do? What are the costs and/or side effects of the measure?

This Prezi is a great summary of the Acorn test as presented by the Canadian Civil Liberties Education Trust.

In summary, she highlighted three key messages that we need to keep in mind as educators:

  1. There are no right answers: every situation is unique and there is no blanket solution to every situation.
  2. Conflict is a good thing: we often think about conflict as a negative thing, but respectful conflict and disagreement can be a good thing. This fosters independent thinking in our students so they can think for themselves.
  3. As teachers we are lawmakers: every day in every way we are lawmakers, through every decision we make (e.g. homework, bathroom, latex) and in every situation. As teachers, we thus need to embody ideas about democracy and societal values through our daily decisions.

Inspiring Global Citizens

Last but not least, my favourite workshop of the conference was facilitated by representatives from the Aga Khan Foundation Canada. Through various discussions and group activities, we explored ways that we, as educators, can integrate global citizenship and international development in our teaching and learning practices. We touched on five key messages during the workshop, which I have summarized below.

  • Quality of Life: What is quality of life? This is an important question to explore! One definition states that a person with good quality of life is “a person whose basic needs are met, who can act effectively and meaningfully in pursuit of his or her goals, and feels satisfied with life” (Aga Khan Development Network). In short, people with a good quality of life are able to reach their full potential.
  • Global Goals for Sustainable Development: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals are supported by the United Nations Development Programme in order to end poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. Not only do they provide guidelines and targets for countries, they address the root causes of these interconnected global issues.
Sustainable Development Goals
  • Global Citizenship: while discussing this topic, we referred to an increased sense of connectedness, responsibility, and respect for people around the world. Fostering global citizenship should be a goal in every classroom in order to increase our students’ awareness of the disparities in quality of life from country to country.
  • Six Pillars of Sustainable Development: What does sustainable development mean? This question reminds us that we need to support people attain the knowledge and tools necessary to improve the quality of life in their own communities over the long term. According to the Aga Khan Foundation, sustainable development is characterized by the following six pillars:
  1. Embrace Complexity
  2. Build self-reliance
  3. Invest in the long term
  4. Work in partnership
  5. Foster gender equality
  6. Promote pluralism

For example, we used the following video as a starting point to discuss these six pillars of sustainable development. By drawing on specific aspects of the SESEA program, we were able to see how a successful sustainable development initiative makes a real difference.

  • Making a Difference: Now what? We wrapped up our discussion by emphasizing the importance of empowering our students to become agents of change through individual and collective action, whether big or small. The end goal, after all, is to help improve people’s quality of life and increase our connection with others across the globe.

Click here for the Inspiring Global Citizens: An Educator’s Guide in English, or here for French. I highly recommend you check out this guide! The Aga Khan Foundation Canada has also curated a list of excellent teacher resources, that you can find here.


Thank you to the Annual Student Teacher Conference Committee (ASTCC) for organizing this event. It’s hard to believe that this marks the end of my two years in the Teacher Education program, but I am excited to see what opportunities lie ahead for me!

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OCSB Learning Technologies SummIT 2017

Today, I had the chance to participate in the OCSB Learning Tech Department’s 2017 SummIT. As we congregated in the Learning Commons of Immaculata High School for the morning welcome, I was struck by the energy and enthusiasm of the teachers in the room. In addition, all of the presenters for the day were classroom teachers who use or have used the technologies that they were sharing in their own teaching practice. It was a great start to the weekend and I took away something new from every session I attended, as summarized below.


Session 1: Descriptive Feedback, Learning Journals and SeeSaw App

After hearing great things from a parent who is engaged with her child’s learning through the SeeSaw App, I decided to attend this session to get an idea of what it’s all about. Simply put, the SeeSaw App is a digital portfolio that can be used in the classroom to document student learning, facilitate descriptive feedback, and enhance parent communication. It is an efficient way to keep everything organized in one place for assessment and future parent conferencing. I definitely see this app as a potential tool for building and maintaining a strong school-home connection!

Check out the video below for an overview of how the SeeSaw App can be used as a comprehensive learning journal for students.

Although there are MANY cool features, these are a few of my favourite things about the SeeSaw App:

  • Students can upload new learning in practically any form (picture, video, drawing, link, audio recording, document, etc.)
  • The app works across devices- phone, tablet, laptop
  • It is not accessible to the public/web
  • You can use folders to organize class work by subject, assignment, etc.
  • Students can provide meaningful peer feedback
  • New items and comments are vetted and approved by the teacher
  • Parents can only view their child’s learning journal
  • Parents receive notifications when their child adds an item to their SeeSaw learning journal

Session 2: Using Technology to Enhance Social Emotional Learning

Self-regulation is at the heart of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and refers to energy expended when we respond to a stress and then recover. When we talk about self-regulation in schools, zones of regulation are often used to identify the student’s state of arousal (asleep, drowsy, hypoalert, calmly focused, hyperalert or flooded). The goal, of course, is to get back to a calmly focused state in order to successfully complete the task at hand. In the classroom, teachers aim to help their students develop self-awareness and to listen to their bodies in order to develop strategies to get back to that calm state. In order to enhance self-regulation, the following steps can be very useful:

5 Steps to Enhance SEL

  1. Read the signs of stress behaviour and reframe
  2. Recognize stressors
  3. Reduce stressors
  4. Reflect- help others identify what it feels like to be calm vs. dysregulated (see Apps)
  5. Respond- help others to learn strategies to return to calm (see Apps)

For a more detailed description of how our brain responds to stress, check out the clip below which describes the Hand Model of the Brain. Through his explanation, Dr. Siegel provides a model and the language for enhancing our emotional communication with students.

While our students may be currently using strategies that work for them, teachers often need to explicitly share strategies that will help students return to a calm state. This is where we can leverage digital technologies (apps!) to help our students develop their social emotional learning skills. Here are some key apps that were presented during the session:

Go-to Apps to Enhance SEL

  • Zones of Regulation: while there is a cost associated, this app helps students to identify and decipher emotions that are associated with the different zones of regulation through an engaging game format.
  • Healthy Minds: created by The Royal Ottawa, this amazing app is geared towards older students (Grade 6+) to help them understand the challenges they may face throughout their day and how they can respond appropriately to them. It includes a tracking component that they can use to identify how they’re feeling, connect their feelings to antecedent events or stresses, and pick a strategy to cope with their feelings. This allows students to see patterns and draw connections between situations in their daily lives and reflect on how they deal with them.
  • MindMasters 2: this is a free resource developed by CHEO that is designed to help K-3 students master emotional regulation. It incorporates mindfulness techniques through various activities that help students tune into their emotional states.

And finally, both teachers and students (and parents!) could benefit from watching the movie Inside Out. While we can’t necessarily tell what states other people are in, this movie demonstrates how we can work to identify certain indicators in order to connect with our students.


Session 3: Who is the expert? Exploring and Connecting Students with Real World Projects

The final session I attended was a whirlwind discussion led by Rola Tibshirani that introduced me to a wide variety of resources and ideas for connecting students to real-world projects and experts outside the classroom. The opportunities truly are endless with this approach to learning and I will need to spend lots of time exploring how to meaningfully leverage it for learning in the classroom. Yet, it is immediately clear that building these types of global connections sparks student engagement, provokes student inquiry, helps students develop problem-solving skills and guides them in appreciating and respecting diverse world views. This is summarized through the “KWHLAQ” chart below, which represents the 21st century version of the classic KWL chart.

Who is the expert?

As part of the session, we had the opportunity to virtually connect with Leigh Cassell using Google Hangout (so cool!). Working as a teacher in Western Ontario at a rural-based school board, Leigh recognized the lack of real-world connections between her students and wider, global communities. As the costs of field trips were astronomical, she started to explore video conferencing as a means of facilitating connections-based learning with her students.  After connecting with numerous experts and becoming “addicted” to this type of learning, Leigh founded the Digital Human Library in 2011 to connect Canadian teachers and students in rural or remote communities with experts around the world. This Digital Human Library gives access to hundreds of experts in all curriculum areas (K-12) and all you have to do is register as a teacher. Once your account is approved, you can search the library for experts based on who your students would like to connect with. It is designed to readily support student inquiry and, accordingly, 95% of the experts offer their connections for free. If you’re looking for other classes to connect with worldwide, check out Leigh’s list of global learning partners. She certainly inspired me to start thinking about how I could bring the field trip experience into the classroom, and it was a treat to be able to hangout with her from Ottawa!

Where do I find the experts?

As a starting point, here are some links to check out for fostering global citizenship in your classroom by connecting with experts around the world. There is a lot out there, so I would suggest picking one resource to start with and taking your time by exploring it in detail.


Wrap-Up

All in all, it was a jam-packed day of inspiring workshops and I am excited to further investigate how to leverage these digital tools to enhance student learning in my classroom. It was awesome to see so many educators show up on a Saturday to share, learn and reflect on learning technologies. Thanks OCSB, I had a blast!

Blog, Forest School

Ottawa Forest & Nature School

For my final three-week placement in the Teacher Education program, I had the opportunity to work with the teachers and students at Forest and Nature School in Ottawa’s Greenbelt. This program is offered through the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, which supports educators in developing play-based learning in nature as part of their practice, and also builds a youth nature leadership program. The Ottawa Forest and Nature School is located on NCC land (currently leased by the Wesley Clover Foundation) and was established in 2014 as an early childhood education option that connects students with nature.

This location offers various programs, including:

  • Half-Day Forest Preschool: for children aged 2.5 to 4, this program offers an early opportunity for kids to wonder, question and experience the marvels of the forest. Students improve their strength, coordination and self-confidence, and definitely develop grit as they adventure through the woods in all weather conditions.
  • Full Day Forest School: the full day program is for students aged 4-12 and allows for a deeper exploration into the mysteries of the paths, rocks, trees, and creatures at Forest School.
  • Parent and Child Nature Mornings: this is a two-hour drop-in option for parents and caregivers to connect with their children, the outdoors, and other like-minded parents and educators. It is an awesome opportunity for families to get a feel for Forest School, and many take advantage of these mornings as a fun way to get outside on a weekly basis!
  • OCDSB Partnership: the Ottawa Forest and Nature School has a partnership with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) to support public school students in discovering play-based learning outdoors once weekly for 6 consecutive weeks. Some of these school groups complete their 6-week experience at the Forest School site, while other Forest School staff travel to schools and bring a class to a nearby-nature location.
  • PD Days, Summer Camps: while I did not participate in these program offerings, the Forest School does offer programming for OCDSB PD Days for children aged 4 to 10 years old. You can also register your child for a week-long summer day camp at Forest School, although the wait list is already full for this summer!

While I got to experience many of these programs during my placement at Ottawa Forest School, every day was different and I feel like I only got a taste of everything that this type of learning has to offer! I would be keen to experience similar programming during other seasons (e.g. winter) in order to learn how to handle other challenges and mitigate risks. For example, some students had to really push themselves to deal with the wet, muddy conditions of spring- I would be interested to see how they would respond to a similar day outside in the dead of winter, when there is snow on the ground and frost on your eyelashes. Having said that, I felt so fortunate to be able to engage with the inspiring educators at Forest School and observe their philosophy of education in practice. It was a unique and thought-provoking experience that will influence my future practice as a teacher.

Blog, Forest School

Top Tips for Play-Based Learning in Nature

The best advice I got from a seasoned Forest School educator was to continually ask myself: what is the reason behind what I’m doing or saying? This is a pivotal question for teaching in general, as it forces us to reflect on our role as teachers. Learning when to step in and when to take a back seat is the essence of teaching, whether inside or outside of the classroom, and I know this will take time and experience to develop! However, I did learn a few key tips for facilitating play-based learning in nature during my time at Forest School…

  1. Assess the risk: there are many potential risks associated with Forest School, and a successful outdoor learning plan needs to include a daily risk assessment. Potential risks or hazards could include: access to site; boundaries; other people; animals; canopy, shrub, field and ground layers; structures; weather conditions; group issues and activities; etc. You can find several sample risk assessment templates here. For a more general discussion of embracing risk, check out this blog post from a Forest School in New Brunswick. I found that the most important factor was to ensure that all adults and children on site are aware of the risks and the controls that are in place to mitigate them.
  2. Three pairs of socks: there is no bad weather, only bad gear! It is not only crucial to make sure that you have the appropriate gear to keep yourself warm and dry, you will also need to be cognizant of the type of gear that your students have access to for playing outdoors. For example, at Forest School in April we had many students that arrived in the morning with full-piece rain suits, waterproof boots and two spare sets of clothing. This level of preparedness may not necessarily be the case for your group of students, so make sure you consider and stay prepared for the moment when the weather (inevitably) turns on you. Hint: plastic bags in boots will become a go-to strategy during soggy spring conditions!
  3. Follow your students’ interests: As teachers, we often feel the tugging need to direct, to probe, or to guide our students towards certain learning objectives that we feel are important or valuable. However, the kids we are working with may or may not agree! Rather than dictating a task or proposing an activity, see what happens when you take a step back and let your students discover the forest around them: the rocks, the moss, the trees, the bark, the sounds, the sights, the creatures… there is a LOT to discover, and you will probably embark on a learning experience that you never could have planned!
  4. Get lost: another category of risk when it comes to outdoor play is the danger of children getting lost. Whether through hide and seek or venturing into unknown territory, playing where students can get temporarily “lost” is an important component of outdoor risky play. It allows them to experience thrilling feelings of risk and danger associated with exploration, which is a major part of children’s play. Check out this article for an interesting evolutionary perspective on risky play as an important part of child development.
  5. Reflect, reflect, reflect: reflection was a key strategy that was particularly useful when working with public school students to consolidate the learning that occurred during their time in the forest. “Sit spots” were one tool that we used for this type of reflection. As you might guess, this quite simply requires students to find a forested spot to sit for an extended period of time and observe their immediate and distant surroundings. We started with 8 minutes in our sit spots, but more experienced forest school participants could no doubt stay engaged for longer. We had a circle to share the things we saw, felt, heard, and felt during sit spots. Students could also use a Forest School Journal to communicate their reflections through writing or drawing. And finally, one of my favourite projects was when the students collaboratively created a map of our forest school site on a large piece of cloth. It’s not quite finished, but see below for a picture of the map in progress!

At the end of the day, our children and students are capable of more than we sometimes allow them to show us- you’d be amazed at what happens when there is a little freedom for them to explore, imagine and create!