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!






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!


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!

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.

Inclusive Classrooms

A new perspective

During today’s class,  some fellow teacher education students delivered a  workshop exploring how to support blind and low vision students in inclusive classrooms. A variety of resources were provided, and I’ve shared some of the highlights below.

What Do Blind People See?

Imagining a life from a blind or low vision perspective can be challenging for people who have always had sight. The video below gives a glimpse into how a blind person might experience their surroundings, and reminds us that there are many different ways for people to “see” the world!


Revisualizing art

Art is one subject that may be intimidating for teachers to tackle when considering the needs of blind and low vision students. The key message of the workshop was to re-imagine your art program for all students- not just blind and low vision students. One example would be to use physical models (e.g. C-3PO) and ask your students to recreate the model using plasticine and their sense of touch. This can be a powerful exercise in exploring the role of our other senses (e.g. touch)  in creative arts. Check out this post for some other considerations for making art accessible to all your students.

Revisualizing art

A beautiful resource

This book was provided as an exemplary resource that uses raised illustrations and Braille letters to help students imagine living (and reading) without the use of one’s eyes.  It would be a valuable addition to any teacher’s library!

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria
The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria

For more information on what the assessment data and specialized education plan might look like for a blind/low vision elementary student in Ontario, check out this sample Individual Education Plan (IEP) provided by EduGAINS. While this may not be a challenge faced in every classroom, teachers must be aware of how to support every learner and foster a climate of inclusion throughout the school community.

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.
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!

Summer Numeracy Program

Boats that float!

During the last week of math camp, we challenged our Mathletes to use the construction and math skills that they had been practicing to individually and economically build a boat that would float. The parameters of the challenge were simple:


  • Using the materials from the list below, design and construct the least expensive boat possible that will float and carry plastic people on it.


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Steps of boat construction:

  1. Design and sketch your boat
  2. Decide which materials you will need
  3. Estimate how much you will need of each material
  4. Calculate the approximate cost of your boat materials
  5. Construct boat and adjust cost estimate according to materials actually used

As this was the third week of Math Camp and the students had completed various STEM-based challenges already, they were becoming more efficient at planning, designing and carrying out the process of construction. The added challenge of calculating the cost of their boat was a great differentiation tool, which engaged the older students in particular to minimize their use of resources through unique design. The boat challenge was completed individually, which revealed each Mathlete’s strengths and areas of opportunity more clearly. For example, some students initially constructed ‘rafts’ (i.e. no mast, sail, hull). While this was an economical option, we challenged them to adjust their design so it more closely resembled a boat.

Throughout the various steps of their boat construction, students faced many hurdles with regards to design, use of materials, calculation of cost, etc. Yet, the most striking observation from this task was the resiliency and grit demonstrated by our Mathletes as they adopted the ‘Keep Moving Forward‘ mindset and persevered with the task. There was a large variety in the finished products, and many students added colour, decorations and a personal touch that demonstrated immense pride in their boats.

They were very keen to test their creations, so we decided to spend time as a large group  floating their boats. One by one, each student placed their boat in the water (they all floated!) and added plastic people figurines until it sank. As a connection to our previous work on patterning, they added people according to the Fibonacci sequence (i.e. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8…) and we recorded how many people each boat held.  While some students were initially hesitant to test their boats to the point of sinking, the fun atmosphere and support of their classmates encouraged them to give it a go! We discussed the strengths of their designs and the purpose of minimizing cost (i.e. minimizing use of non-renewable resources). It was a fantastic celebration of their hard work, and each Mathlete received a ‘Boat Building Award’ in recognition of their success!