Blog, Grade 6 LTO, Teacher as Professional

Differentiation in the Classroom Using Hapara Workspace

Hapara workspace is a technology tool that works wonders in terms of providing opportunities for differentiation in the classroom. Hapara workspaces are online collaborative learning environments where students can work at their own pace through a wide variety of learning tasks. Students are able to review learning goals, access resources, complete individual learning tasks, collaborate with peers, check their learning, submit evidence of learning, and receive feedback. Below, I have highlighted some of the awesome functions of Hapara workspaces that address the principles of differentiated instruction.

A Hapara Workspace for a grade 6 planet inquiry project.

1.Differences in how students learn have a significant impact on achievement

One of the great features of the Hapara workspace is the column for “Learning Goals,” where the teacher can clearly communicate learning goals and curriculum expectations related to the workspace. After using Hapara workspaces for a couple different science inquiry projects so far this year, I’ve found that it really allows the teacher to present a variety of resources (in different formats), which the students can then navigate and explore to find the information that is most useful and relevant to their learning. As the workspace is so student-directed, it also frees up the teacher to spend more one-on-one and small group time conferencing with those students who need more guidance. This ensures that each student receives the support necessary to achieve success!

2. Learning begins from a student’s point of readiness.

In Hapara workspaces, you can create groups of learners. This is an amazing function, as you can create groups of students based on level of readiness/needs. Each student will have access to materials that are released to his or her group, as well as materials released individually and to the whole class. The workspace allows the teacher to add documents, video tutorials, and other resource links depending on the student’s level of readiness. For example, if one group of students want to present their learning using Prezi but have never used it before, the teacher can easily add links to their Hapara workspaces that will give an overview of Prezi (e.g. video tutorials, screencast, etc.).

3. A safe, non-threatening and respectful learning environment is vital to student achievement.

As each student is working on their own individual workspace, they are able to access differentiated material and work at their own pace through the learning tasks. I have found that this reduces stress for students who worry about being last to finish their work, or who have anxiety about the level that they are working at for course content. Students are also able to immediately access their workspace and don’t need instruction from the teacher to get started on their work. Hapara workspaces set students up for access by allowing them to go above and beyond: the teacher can easily incorporate extension activities and extra challenges for early finishers.

4. High expectations of success by all are matched by tasks that provide a high degree of challenge for the individual.

The Hapara workspace system allows the teacher to assign different tasks to different students (or to different groups of students). This enables the teacher to challenge each individual student based on his or her level of readiness. For example, if students are working on a Hapara workspace about the Sun, the teacher could link different versions of the same article based on the reading level of the student (Newsela is a great resource for this).

5. Essential concepts can be effectively presented in a variety of forms.

Hapara workspace allows many different types of resources to be curated in one spot. For example, I am able to upload files to Hapara workspace from my computer or Google Drive. I can provide links to websites or resources for students to use. When uploading a Google Doc, Google Slides, Google Form, Google Drawing, etc., there are options to upload as “view only” OR to upload as a “copy per student” (so that when each student clicks on the file, it opens their own copy). The file is saved in the student’s Google Drive. You can also add files as “copy per group,” which allows students to work together collaboratively on a task. The best part is that Hapara organizes all my students’ work in my Google Drive, so I don’t have to collect anything- it’s all right there, ready for me to assess!

For a video overview of these concepts, I highly recommend checking out this video. The narrator does a great job of highlighting some of Hapara’s many features that simplify differentiation in the classroom!





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!

Teacher as Professional

Building Futures

Today, the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education hosted the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “Building Futures,” which consisted of a selection of workshops for Year 2 teacher candidates. These workshops provided the opportunity to learn through exploration and facilitated discussion, with the goal of helping teacher candidates to become more familiar with Ministry priorities, initiatives and policies (see video below: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2017).

While I had to choose only 2 of the 6 workshops being offered,  I was impressed by the clarity and engaging nature of both of the workshops I attended. Below, I have documented my main take-aways from each session.

Session #1: Navigating those Difficult Situations and Conversations

It is no secret that the teaching profession can involve some intense and potentially negative interactions with students, parents, colleagues, or administration. To remain professional and manage emotions appropriately in these situations requires a well-developed emotional intelligence, and there are  many strategies associated with emotional intelligence that can help us to become better leaders in the classroom. Some practical tips that we discussed during the workshop include:

  • Take notes during a difficult conversation- this communicates that you are listening carefully and prompts the other person to slow down
  • Try asking questions rather than communicating through statements
  • Be present and mindful (e.g. notice new things in your everyday interactions)
  • Master a range of emotional leadership styles for different situations (e.g. from authoritative to coaching to democratic)
  • Practice gratitude (gratitude and anxiety can’t happen at the same time!)

For more detailed information, check out the Ideas Into Action Bulletin #7 (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014), which outlines ten strategies for success in perceiving and managing emotions.

Session #2: Promoting Well-Being: Developing Positive Conditions for Learning

While cognitive development is one aspect of student learning, the Ministry is also emphasizing  the physical, emotional and social elements that contribute to positive learning conditions.  In other words, promoting student well-being or a positive sense of self is being recognized as crucial to student success.

During this workshop, we worked collaboratively in small groups to develop a visual representation of well-being as it relates to both teachers and students. As you can see from the final product below, there are many different elements of developing well-being that are a shared experience in education, and it is always a balancing act to meet the cognitive, physical, emotional and social needs of diverse learners in the classroom!

Well-being teeter-totter
A collaborative brainstorming session – thanks to awesome colleagues for sharing your ideas and artistic talent!

To provide your own feedback regarding Ontario’ strategy for supporting and promoting well-being in education, check out their Engagement Portal.

Teacher as Professional

EdInnovation 2016: Ottawa Bilingual Summit

In an effort to support teacher candidates in their commitment as innovators in education, the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education sponsored several registrations for this year’s EdInnovation 2016 Ottawa Bilingual Summit. I was fortunate enough to be chosen to attend, and what a weekend it was! Below I’ve documented some of the highlights  in an effort to share my learning with fellow teacher candidates and educators.


“Impossible things happen as a result of a huge and crazy dream, and a huge amount of work.” Commander Chris Hadfield


Top Tech Take-Aways

1.  Explain Everything: this app can be used to document student learning for assessment and evaluation. It is an efficient way to organize many different sources of evidence and pedagogical documentation in one spot, and you can easily create a new “project” for each student so that you can continue to add to it throughout the year.

Explain everything

2. Plickers:  this was an incredibly fun app that I was introduced to at the summit! Plickers can easily be used as a quick formative assessment data-collection tool that doesn’t require students to have devices (only the teacher needs a device). The teacher simply creates questions and answer choices within their Plicker account and projects them to the class, then students hold up their unique Plicker card (see below) to display their answer. After scanning the students’ answers,  the teacher immediately has real-time student results!


3. Google Expeditions using Google Cardboard: this is a fully immersive virtual reality experience that requires a device and cardboard virtual reality viewers (Google Cardboard). The video below gives a taste of the infinite possibilities this tool could have for students – like visiting the International Space Station from the EdInnovation 2016 Summit!

And if you want to see exactly how Google Cardboard works, check out this video for a 5-minute explanation 🙂

4. Google My Maps: you can import geographically-specific information from a variety of formats (e.g. google form) and My Maps will create a custom map that you can organize with layers to show different types of content. A fantastic way to visualize data!

5. Soundtrap: this creation app records music and allows learners to compose and collaboratively create audio recordings (like a union between Garage Band and Google Docs). It is highly accessible from various device types and for all learners- kids at any entry level can record their voice or musical creation (podcast, songs, audio responses, etc.). One neat application: the teacher could ask a question and every student could record their voice answer to create one class track which students could refer back to later.

Honourable Mentions

1.Google Screencastify: this is an extension for Google Chrome that can be used to make your  students’  thinking visible. It’s a screencast recorder that records screen activity as a video. This allows you to add an audio file to a certain tab’s content or to screencast while you’re creating. Pretty neat!

2. Planboard: this is available online and as an app, and is essentially a digital daybook. It allows you to plan lessons online and access them from anywhere, as well as organize your schedule and calendar in one spot. My favourite feature was the ability to add and track curriculum expectations directly to your lesson plan from an easy-to-use drop-down menu. Monitor lesson progression, quickly refer to previous years, share with colleagues- Planboard really allows you to do it all!

3. uOttawa Maker MobileI had a brief experience with the uOttawa Maker Mobile when they came to my host practicum school last year (see post here), but I was itching to learn more! This workshop was a taster of all that the Maker Mobile has to offer- we worked on Ardublock coding and programmed lights to do different things.

Keynote Speaker

Perhaps the most memorable session, however, was listening to keynote speaker Commander Chris Hadfield talk about inspiring students to push the limits of human possibility. A summary would not do justice to his passionate speech, so instead here is a collection of some of his words of wisdom:

  • On blast-off in a rocket: With 800 million horsepower, you are going somewhere for sure (hopefully both rockets work)…I really recommend you take a ride like that!
  • On the arts in space: It wasn’t just science, and engineering, and experience, and experiments- it was using the arts to communicate the common experience of being human. When we really want to communicate with people, we use art- that gets to people in a way that nothing else does.
  • On failure: Failure is normal- things always go wrong. Early success is a terrible teacher. Failure is an important and vital process in the way to becoming successful.
  • On his experience: It was hard, but it was magnificent.
P.S. I am very excited about my signed copy of “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life” and I can’t wait to read more about Commander Hadfield’s journey.
Teacher as Professional

Learning skills and work habits

Clear communication between parents and teachers is critical for student success. One common question from parents (and teachers!) in Ontario is:

Why are learning skills and work habits assessed and evaluated?

Well, to be successful, students will require a number of competencies in addition to mastery of curriculum content. Learning skills and work habits outline key elements aside from the curriculum that studies have shown help our students to be successful in post-secondary and work contexts (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). While these skills are assessed, evaluated and reported separately from curriculum expectations,  they are closely tied to student success and achievement of curriculum expectations in all subject areas (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).

Knowing the content of the curriculum is very important and it is certainly one of our goals in the classroom to make sure that our students have a solid understanding of the overall expectations, but positive learning skills and work habits will help our students to take ownership over their learning and become more effective learners, critical thinkers, and responsible citizens (OCDSB, 2014). By working on their learning skills, students are developing habits (see below) that have been identified as very important to employers, such as personal management skills, teamwork skills, and using tools interactively, for example (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).

learning skills sample behaviours
Sample Behaviours for Learning Skills and Work Habits from Growing Success (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010)

In addition, they tie in well with the concept of growth mindset, which is the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems (Dweck, 2014). By providing a dedicated section on the report card for learning skills, we are emphasizing the importance of students’ development of their own self-awareness and a personal responsibility for their own learning. This will create a learning environment of more fully engaged students that are exploring their own interests and passions and becoming inspired to learn and ‘grow their brains.’


Dweck, C. (2014). “The power of believing that you can improve.” TEDxNorrkoping. 

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing success: Assessment, evaluation and reporting in Ontario schools. Toronto, ON. 

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB). (2014). Parent Guide to Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting: Kindergarten to Grade 8