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!






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.


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!

Grade 8 Practicum

Power of PowToon

Looking for a simple tool to help you create engaging animated videos and presentations? Search no further! PowToon is a presentation tool that offers awesome comic-style graphics that are easy to create and manipulate in order to communicate content in a captivating way. With various styles to choose from (ranging from professional to cartoon), PowToon emphasizes the creation process as building a story or narrative and makes it super easy to navigate by setting up the user interface as a storyboard. Powtoon could be used by students and teachers (and administrators!) in an educational setting for a variety of purposes, such as …


  • Creatively communicating their learning;
  • Presenting research findings;
  • Consolidating information in the form of an infographic;
  • Pitching new initiatives;
  • Getting their peers excited about an idea;
  • Exploring digital story creation…


  • Inspiring and engaging students;
  • Eliciting curiosity (i.e. ‘Hooking’ students in);
  • Introducing a new topic;
  • Differentiating learning process or product;
  • Bringing curriculum content to life;
  • Reviewing big ideas;
  • Celebrating achievements;
  • Presenting new initiatives (e.g. in the classroom, at staff meetings)…

These are just a few ideas illustrating how PowToon could be used in the classroom, but the options really are endless!

Strategy in practice

For example, on the last day of my grade 8 practicum, I wanted to celebrate the achievements of my students and thank them for all their hard work (and patience!) during my time in their classroom. Since I wanted to avoid the risk of getting too emotional, I thought an animated video would be a short and sweet way of showing them my appreciation (you can view the finished product below).

*Make sure you watch the video with sound, the music is the best part! 

The students loved the personalized messages and we shared a few laughs as we bopped along to the video’s music.  It was quite meaningful for us (myself included!) to take a look back and review all the things we had accomplished during our six weeks together.  As teachers, sometimes we get so wrapped up in moving on to the next lesson/topic/unit that we forget to recognize all the hard work our students are putting into their education on a daily basis. For something that took me a short time to create and 1 minute to show in class, videos like this one are a powerful reminder to our students that they are, indeed, AWESOME. I will definitely be adding this tool to my teaching toolbox! 🙂

Grade 8 Practicum, Inquiry-Based Math

QR Code Treasure Hunt

During my practicum in a grade 8 classroom, my associate teacher shared various techniques for increasing student engagement during math problem-solving. One such technique allowed students to use their own devices to scan QR codes that were posted around the classroom and hallways. By scanning the QR codes, students were able to access multiple different questions and work through them at their own pace. The order of the questions didn’t matter, so students (working in pairs) could disperse and travel freely to the question locations.

While they were working on solving math problems, the simple act of getting students out of their desks and moving between different locations kept them engaged and motivated to work diligently with their partner. *Side note: this class was used to working with visually random groupings, and we often used playing cards to determine groups of 2, 3, or 4 for different activities. 

This “QR Code Treasure Hunt” functioned best when guidelines were clearly communicated to students before the activity began. For instance, consider the following:

  • Devices to be used (classroom devices? student devices?)
  • Availability of QR code reader (app already downloaded on devices?)
  • Groupings (individual? pairs? small groups? visually random groupings?)
  • Range in difficulty of questions (simple to increasingly difficult? similar in difficulty?)
  • Number of questions (length of working time?)
  • Materials to bring (clipboards/paper/pencil?)
  • Teacher supervision (monitoring throughout halls?)
  • Consolidation techniques (select examples? group sharing?)

To create your QR codes and associated questions, check out this awesome tool- the QR Code Treasure Hunt Generator.

Overall, the students seemed to appreciate this break from routine and their level of engagement noticeably increased (which was especially obvious during this 8:00- 8:55 AM period)! I will definitely be adding this strategy to my teaching toolbox 🙂

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

Grade 8 Practicum

Learning about students and their learning

After reading, discussing and analyzing the trends in practicum observations among colleagues, I have identified several useful strategies to gather information about students and their learning before a new unit, term or school year.

From an academic standpoint, many teachers used diagnostic or before-instruction assessments to gauge students’ prior knowledge and learning styles. For example, math and reading assessments were frequently mentioned, as well as “What I did last summer” writing assignments. While these assessments can be very useful to the teacher and can inform instruction practices, it is important to remind students that they are for planning purposes and should not be viewed as tests. They should be supplemented or triangulated by observations and student-teacher interactions as well (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).

For example, in Learning for All (2013), the Ontario Ministry of Education identifies personalization – education that puts learner at the centre – as a key component of effective assessment and instruction. With this element in mind, it is crucial for teachers to have a strategy for getting to know their learners early on. Many of my peers shared “get-to-know-you” or “all about me” activities that they used to get a more complete picture of their students’ home life, social skills, interests outside of school, circle of friends and behavioural characteristics. Some examples included:

  • “All About Me” or “My Amazing Life” posters
  • “Facebook profile” worksheets
  • “Bag of 5” activity, where all learners (including the teacher) present 5 items that represent something about themselves.

You can find some great ideas for getting to know your students (and introducing your subject) at Teach Hub.

One of my colleagues described a particularly unique strategy and I would add her “My Brain” activity to my toolkit for practice. She explained that the teacher conducted a basic lesson on the areas of the brain and then instructed students to draw their own personalized brain. I would extend this activity to include a discussion of growth mindset, described by Carol Dweck (2014) as the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems. This brain activity would reveal the personalities and various interests/hobbies of each student (e.g. the teacher could circulate and have informal interactions with students), as students label their “brain” drawing with the different components of their lives and areas of their brain that they hope to “grow” over the year. I believe this would not only communicate the shared belief that all students can succeed (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013), but would also recognize the unique starting points and patterns of learning for each student. Armed with this insight into the students’ preferences and interests, I (as teacher) would be better prepared to differentiate instruction accordingly.

At a deeper level, I would add to my toolkit a strategy that strives to foster a safe, healthy and supportive learning community in the classroom. One such strategy mentioned by a colleague described an open-ended “class banner” activity for the start of the school year. By providing students with the opportunity to come together and decide how they would represent their learning community in banner form (e.g. flags of students’ countries of origin, digital or print format), the teacher transfers ownership of planning (and subsequent learning) to the students. This activity sets the tone for a learning environment that is student-driven, collaborative and inclusive. It would also provide a valuable opportunity for the teacher to make observations about the socio-affective and interpersonal characteristics of students, which could contribute to the creation of a class profile (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). While the class profile is a living document, it can be used to inform planning, instruction and assessment for all students.

I think these types of activities go a long way in helping a teacher to become acquainted with the learners in his or her classroom at a personal level. Furthermore, they help students to understand each other better and they work to create a learning community characterized by mutual respect and support. As emphasized in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Learning for All (2013) document, every student has unique learning and motivational needs, and the teacher has a responsibility to put the learner at the centre of assessment and instruction practices.


Inquiry-Based Math, Summer Numeracy Program

Lego robotics

One morning during our summer numeracy camp, we had a special visitor from the board who led the Mathletes in an exploration of lego robotics. These are my three main take-aways from observing this experience:

  1. Let the students explore on their own first and provide guidance (if necessary) only after they have tinkered with the technology.
  2. The room will be chaotic, and you must learn to be okay with this 🙂
  3. Everybody- young and old-  was engaged while learning with lego!


Check out my previous post on the ‘hour of code’ and lego robotics initiatives that were implemented at my practicum placement school during my first year of teacher’s college. This exposure to technology and coding offers students the chance to explore and develop a specialized set of skills that will be useful to them as they seek employment in the digital age- in addition, it is LOTS of fun!

Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts


As part of the ‘Maker Movement,’ Makerspaces (or hackerspaces) are physical spaces where students can come together to share, create, invent, network, build and learn. These community environments provide tools that could range from hardware supplies to a 3D printer. While they are often associated with fields such as engineering and computer science, this collaborative space’s primary purpose is learning through hands-on, self-directed exploration- however that may occur.

Makerspaces can be implemented in many different ways within the school environment. They may find a home in a computer lab, shop, or conference room, but in reality they represent the combination of all three spaces. In education, makerspaces provide students with the physical space and materials required for multidisciplinary, inquiry-based learning. Here are some tips when developing your school makerspace:

  • Guide students in developing metacognitive skills necessary to move beyond temporary failures
  • Create specific lessons and units that are project-based and align with curriculum
  • Ask the school community for donations of old electronics, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, balloons, toy cars, wire cutters, balls, adhesive, tools, cleaning supplies, safety equipment, etc.
  • Design your makerspace to accommodate many different activities, including: cardboard construction, woodworking, electronics, robotics, digital fabrication, building machines, sewing, metal working, etc.

While my host school during practicum was still developing their makerspace, students did get to experience a visit from the University of Ottawa’s ‘Maker Mobile,’ which is essentially a makerspace on wheels. The Maker Mobile visited grade 4 and 5 immersion students in early February and brought equipment such as a 3D printer and scanner, laser cutters, and Arduino microcontrollers. This makerspace connected the curriculum to programming and coding, and encouraged students to expand their learning goals. The Maker Mobile was an effective teaching strategy, as students were exposed to cutting-edge technologies and developed their creativity and problem-solving skills. Thanks to grade 4 and 5 teachers for the pictures!

Educause Learning Initiative. (April 2013). 7 things you should know about: Makerspaces.

Edutopia. (July 16 2015). Starting a school makerspace from scratch.

Edutopia. (March 21 2016). Makerspaces lead to school and community successes.

Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts

Hour of code

The 21st century workplace will require coding knowledge, which is regarded as a new type of literacy. Through coding, students not only learn problem solving and critical thinking skills, but also feel empowered by this tool for self-expression. ‘Hour of code’ is an initiative to actively teach coding skills to students of all ages.

There are numerous coding games and apps that can be used to teach computer science and coding. The following tools are recommended for teaching coding to students over the age of 8:

  • Hopscotch: free iPad app that allows students to make their own games and share them for others to play.
  • Scratch: used or downloaded online, this is a programming game suitable for beginners.
  • Lightbot: free online puzzle game that lasts an hour.
  • Alice: a programming environment that blends games with storytelling to keep students engaged.
  • CodeCombat: free to play (at the basic level) online multiplayer coding game (9 and up).

These are a few of many tools that exist to help students learn coding. The teacher’s focus should be on cultivating an environment where students are encouraged to take risks and fail safely. Coding requires learning through collaboration and a strong growth mindset!

At my placement school, the  “hour of code” session was implemented as an introduction to the language and uses of computer science. Students used apps such as Scratch and Kodable to explore the concepts of coding. Students were also given the opportunity to further explore coding at the school’s ‘Innovation Club’ meetings, where they could tinker with Dash and Dot robots as well as Lego Robotics. Many students thrived on the chance to learn the basics of programming and robotics, creating complicated series of movements and tasks for the robots. The students were learning a new language while simultaneously turning their ideas into reality through coding!

Edutopia. (December 4 2013). 15+ Ways of Teaching Student to Code (Even Without a Computer).

Grade 6 Practicum, Science Shorts

Genius hour

Genius Hour involves giving students one hour (or one class) a week to become experts in whatever they choose. Google employees, who are given 20% of their work time to explore a pet project that excites them, may have inspired this strategy. This is a student-centered approach and not only allows for more personalized education, but also encourages student creativity and innovation.

This strategy could be used with any grade level, but it is important that the teacher prepares all pieces of technology in advance (e.g. collected and charged). The teacher should provide guidance to those who need it, but also encourage students to turn to their classmates for ideas.

Some ideas for Genius Hour include:

  • Have your students pitch their project using a video
  • Collaborate with classes in other schools using social media, Google chat, Skype, etc.
  • Brainstorm with classmates using Schoology
  • Present projects in TED-talk format
  • Reflect on the process through student blogs or websites

 I was lucky to be able to observe genius hour in action during practicum. Our grade 6 class paired with a grade 4/5 class regularly for a Genius Hour session. Groups were formed by students and included a mix of grade levels. One example of a task students were given was to research something that the group was interested in or passionate about and present it to the class using some form of technology. Topics ranged from precious gemstones to medieval armour, and covered everything in between!  Groups used videos, Google slideshows, picture collages, and more to present their research and explain their varied topics. This Genius Hour allowed students to explore the use of technology (Chromebooks, iPads) in a stress-free environment, gave older students the opportunity to teach computer skills to younger students, and provided a creative outlet for individualized learning!

Edutopia. (August 4 2014). Genius Hour and the 6 Essentials of Personalized Education