Reflecting on My Transformed Learning Space

In November 2016, I posted a blog on how I have slowly, over 20 years, transformed my classroom on a minimal budget. The blog and 360 degree video has received a lot of attention; Doug Peterson featured it in This Week in Ontario EduBlogs which resulted in the #ourlearningspace challenge and I chose this topic to present on for #MADPD.

As teachers start heading back into their classrooms in preparation for the new school year, I’m sure the set up of their classrooms are at the forefronts of their minds. It is the place where their students will spend approximately 1000 hours this school year. It’s a daunting feeling! They want it to be comfortable, safe and happy while at the same time efficient and effective. There has been much written lately about classroom designs and “dos and don’ts”. To that I say: You are the expert in the classroom and you know your students best. Do what works for you and your students. There is no one size fits all when it comes to classroom design. Get a plan in place and change it according to the needs of your kids. Perhaps, most importantly, have your students provide input into the setup of their classroom.

To help reflect on my own classroom set up and to prepare for the coming school year, I have cut and pasted my original post below and my reflections are in red.  Feel free to take some ideas, if you think they will work for you and your students. Also consider sharing your learning space using the #ourlearningpace hashtag. Share your pictures, questions, ideas and “ahhas”! Best wishes for a great school year!

Above is a 360 degree tour of my learning environment. After 20 years in the same classroom I have changed and transformed it into the space it is today. I am finally satisfied with it because it is an efficient and effective environment where my students seem content, relaxed, happy and eager to explore, create, question and learn.

Let me break it down for you:

Mantra Our Class mantra “Wildcats are Making a Difference” is the focus of learning. We
work to make a difference for ourselves, our peers, our family, our community, our environment and our world.

This mantra will continue! My current class tackled many M.A.D projects this year. I believe the most important thing we can teach our kids is that they can make a difference. My students added their hand prints to the banner at the end of the year.

Clotheslines I have hung “clotheslines” to hang anchor charts, learning goals and success criteria, student work and exemplars. This allows for efficiency and flow within my classroom.

It’s incredible how effective our class clotheslines are. They will stay.

Laptop I know a teacher laptop is common place in classrooms today but for my first 13 years of teaching a laptop was unheard of. My resources were limited to textbooks and unit plans in binders. Today, a textbook is rarely found in my classroom. Learning materials are authentic,”real” and relevant to my students.

This one isn’t going anywhere. I’m excited to continue to leverage tech to enrich and improve my teaching. Check out Mr.C’sSharesEase for some of my best ideas, lessons and resources.

Doc Cam I honestly don’t know how I taught without the ability to project. A doc cam (Photo Booth gives teachers almost the same functionality) allows me to share student exemplars immediately. This makes modelling and giving feedback incredibly easy and efficient. Students are able to get immediate feedback and see exemplars in a very timely manner. In math students can effectively share strategies with their peers. Gone are the days of photocopying student exemplars onto transparencies after the fact and after the real opportunity for learning is lost.

The ability to efficiently project student exemplars is a must to provide timely modelling and feedback. A document camera is great, but remember a computer or phone camera works as a cheap alternative.

iPads and Laptops Portable technology has been a classroom game changer. The world is literally at our students finger tips. I am passionate about teaching my students how to use these powerful tools for good. We must model the positive use of technology and teach them how to begin to build their own digital tattoo.

For technology integration to be effective in the classroom, it needs to be running efficiently. This must be a priority, otherwise our students’ learning will be compromised.

Whiteboards Thanks to a product called “Idea Paint” I have transformed some of my old chalk boards (I hate chalk) and classroom walls into whiteboards. This allow my students to brainstorm and share their thinking through yet another medium.

I love my new “whiteboards”, thanks to Idea Paint. What was one wasted space (the space between my windows) has now become word walls, mind maps, thinking spaces, etc.

Wall of Fame This wall, found directly at the front of our classroom, is filled with letters from dignitaries that past and present classes have received. It also includes quotes and words of wisdom from past and present students. This wall serves as a reminder that kids have a powerful voice and when used positively, anything is possible.

It is amazing how often our wall of fame is referred to. We added many new items to it this year.

SMART Board My interactive SMART Board does just what it suggests, it gives my students the ability to interact with the content they are learning about. This has proved to be another game changer in my classroom. Student engagement has gone through the room. SMART Notebook, in my opinion, is the most powerful teacher software available. Learn how to use it and your teaching methodology will be forever changed.

Many schools and boards are considering foregoing SMART Boards for cheaper options. I still say the SMART Board is the most effective and I couldn’t be without mine. SMART Notebook continues to be my “go to” for teacher software.

Stand Up Desk The stand up desk by Ergotron has been a fantastic addition to my classroom, both for my students and myself. Sometimes we just need to get out of our seats and stand and/or move! No child should be forced to sit for 5-6 hours a day. Get kids moving, standing, sitting and even laying while learning and behaviour issues will diminish and productivity will increase.

I like my stand up desk, but I find that the students use it more than I do. When I’m moving about the classroom to listen, observe or provide feedback, I need to be at the student’s level, weather they are sitting, standing, kneeling. My stand up desk works for me when I need a desk space.

Stationary Bike This has been a great addition to my classroom and provides another opportunity for my students to get moving while working and learning. Students self monitor the use of the bike. They have come up with a “sign up system” that works for everyone. I enjoy a few spins or two every day as well!

Since the original post, the novelty of the bike has worn off. Kids used it, but not as frequently as I expected. I did not allow for the use of it when I was teaching or a student was presenting, it was just too distracting. It got the most use during independent reading time. I’ll be revisiting the use of the bike this year. Perhaps we need an odometer and create a 1000 km challenge!

Flexible Seating Flexible seating has proven to be an absolute game changer in my classroom. This happened through much trial and error with my class. We have gotten to the point where students enter the classroom and go to their “home base” desks (determined by me). This is where they keep their bucket full of supplies, books,etc. This is also where they keep their indoor shoes. After opening exercises, I give my students full freedom of choice, allowing them to find a learning space that works for them based on what they’ll be working on and how they are feeling. The kids have learned to self regulate and make positive choices. I find they are more focused and collaborate well together. Using all of the space within our learning environment  has proved invaluable!

The “homebase” was a must for me. “Flexible” seating comes with much trial and error and modelling. I do not like a chaotic room. It simply doesn’t work for me or my students. For me, effective “flexible” seating took time and patience. Slowly, over time, my students were able to make good choices based on their learning needs. The effective, thoughtful use of space within my classroom created a calm, relaxed, effective and efficient learning environment.

Buckets I call the “buckets” student “lockers”. By having my students keep all their supplies and books in their lockers, students are able to carry everything with them as they find their learning space within our classroom. Gone are the days of messy desks and lost supplies. My students’ ” lockers” are always neat and orderly which allows for increased efficiency.

I thought my students would take their buckets with them as they moved throughout the room to work. However, I found that the kids typically would just take the supplies they need to work and leave their buckets at their homebase. All kids organized their buckets differently, but they all tended to find a system (some more effective than others!). I loved the use of buckets as it made finding items much more efficient Gone are the days of messy desks! 

Stand Up Work Area My back counter has become a place where students go to stand up while working. We know that many students love to stand (and move) while working. Stand up desks are not a feasible option in most classes, but countertops are found in almost all classrooms!

Standing up, sitting down, kneeling, laying down…. the more opportunity for working in different positions the better. Think about how you work. Do you always sit in your seat, back straight, at your desk? Could you do it for 300 minutes a day?

Long White Boards The long, skinny walls between my bulletin boards and windows have been transformed to whiteboards, allowing students to share their thinking and ideas or for us to create math, language, science, etc. word walls.

Love them!

Board Games Board games are quickly becoming integral parts of my classroom. The opportunities for learning, problem solving and collaborating are incredible. I am currently working on a project with a colleague that leverages the playing of board games in the classroom to act as spring boards to social studies inquiries. We are excited to soon share our project, based on the grade4-6 revised Social Studies curriculum.

Game changer! Can’t wait to start the year off with board games in my classroom! See our finished project: Developing Global Citizens for all our resources.

KCups K Cups 4 Classrooms have become an absolute game changer in my classroom. For more information, visit the webpage!

Best math manip and “maker” item ever. Will continue to use them.

Stand up Desk I was fortunate to acquire a desk that I changed into a multi-tiered stand up desk. Mats, bean bag chairs, a variety of different chairs and desk arrangements have allowed for a wide variety of learning spaces.

Standing up to work is much better than sitting.

Other Game Changers

Google Hangouts and National Geographic Explorer Classrooms Google Hangouts have allowed me to tear down my classroom walls and take my students to incredible places from all over the world to meet amazing scientists, conservationists, explorers and adventurers. This video will give you a glimpse of some of the places I’ve taken my students. Here’s a link to Explorer Classrooms and information to find more about the World’s Best Ed Travel Agent!

I have travelled with my wife and child all over the world. Google Hangouts via Explorer Classrooms and Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants allows me to do “virtually” the same thing with my students. I had my students keep digital Adventure Logs this year. Perhaps they’ll keep them and add to them as they continue to explore, adventure and learn!

National Geographic Education

The resources and ideas at National Geographic Education are simply mind boggling. Visit the site and see for yourself!

Simply one of the most important and useful resources that I use. I highly suggest you check out the National Geographic Educator Community!

Mindfulness My students and I practise mindfulness every day in our classroom. Students love this opportunity to give themselves the gift of relaxation and quiet. Check out to bring calm to your class.

Didn’t end up doing Mindfulness everyday, but perhaps 3 times a week. It is great! Note: has a classroom version for free. I love the many different calm scenes  and accompanying sounds that can be played during quiet work time or independent reading.

Body Breaks Everyone needs a body break. Throughout the course of each day, my students do crunches, push ups, squats, planks and jumping jacks. We also get our body moving using Go Noodle and Just Dance.

EVERYBODY needs body breaks! Sometimes a ten minute body break is all that a class requires to refocus and/or reenergize.

Google Apps for Education The whole suite of apps have provided a great platform for learning. Google Classroom allows for a great way for a teacher to create assignments and provide feedback.

There’s just so much you can do with GAFE! I spent much time creating many Google Forms that allow for instant and effective feedback based on the Ontario Curriculum expectations.

Blog My class blog has proven to be invaluable in many ways. Together my students and I write blogs about the learning that happens in our classroom and we share student work, ideas, lessons and resources. This gives my students a powerful voice that reaches far beyond our classroom walls. As well, through the creation of a “Parent’s Page”, the most important stakeholders in my students’ education get a glimpse into their children’s classroom and feel connected to it.

Blogging allows me to model and provide voice for students. It opens our classroom to the world. I’m considering having a “blogger of the week” this year.

Remind The “Remind App” has become a quick and effective way for me to connect with my students’ parents.

I will continue to use Remind. The feedback that I’ve received from parents has been nothing but positive. The key here is to not OVERUSE it. 2-3 notifications per week worked best for me. 

Twitter Twitter is one of my most powerful teacher tools. Visit Mr.C’s SharesEase  for a variety of examples of how I use Twitter in my classroom.

Wondering if I should create a class Twitter account. I use my account to mode the thoughtful, powerful use of social media to our kids. I always sends home a permission form to allow kids’ work to be shared. I make it a practice to only include hands and first names only. I always ask a student if they wish for their work to be shared and talk about implications and wording of a tweet before hitting “tweet”.

That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the tour through my classroom. I’d love your input and suggestions. Feel free to share a comment about your own classroom. How has it evolved? What do you like best about your learning environment? What would you change? Would love to hear from you!

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As a teacher, how would you plan to start your second last Monday of the school year? A few brave Ontario teachers, along with two special guests agreed to join my class for a virtual #Shuttheboxchallenge this morning. It wasn’t your normal Monday morning!

The idea came together a few days ago when my students and I shared our ‘Shut the Box’ Game and a challenge via our ‘Playing Games’ blog post. A few teachers jumped on board right away. Doug Peterson shared our post on This Week in Ontario EduBlogs and on Stephen Hurley’s VoicED radio, so we invited them as well. A lot of leg work was done establishing a suitable time, collecting email addresses, insuring all classes understood the rules and had the necessary resources.  I sent out the following email after returning from our son’s soccer tournament in Minneapolis late Sunday evening:

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The stage was set for a great morning of some collaborative math learning!

I have to say the two espressos I had for breakfast hadn’t quite kicked in when I walked into my classroom only to find the back up projector (the bulb for my main project is blown) missing. Deep breath! A quick scramble about the school and a fast announcement turned it up. I still had time to hit the staffroom for my traditional (and coveted)  last coffee of the day… a dark roast French Press always prepared by my beloved colleagues who arrive to school a bit earlier than myself. There was none! We had depleted our coffee and no more would be purchased due to a depleted coffee fund. We had arrived at the BYOC time of year. BIG sigh!

I returned to my classroom, quickly set up the spare projector, forwarded the email to a last minute class wanting to participate and was in the midst of creating the link for our Google Hangout when the bell rang at 9:05. GULP! Ten minutes to GO TIME! My kids came bounding into our room excited to share the many things they had done over the weekend and wanting to know about mine. Permission forms were being shoved on my stand up desk when I realized I hadn’t handed out our game sheets. I glanced at the clock, it was 9:12. My students were raring to go! I quickly reminded my students of the importance of fair play, courtesy and online etiquette, finished creating the link, had my kids take their places in the room, while Grace took her position at the computer as she would be reviewing the challenge on behalf our class and Justin, our dice roller, tested the digital dice.  It was 9:18 as I hit the send button share our Google Hangout link. Although, I had done many Google Hangouts with my students prior to this one, they seemed extra excited today!

Our guests started to appear on the screen and Grace began her introduction and review of the rules, importance of fair play and having fun. We shared our screen so the other classes could see our digital dice, our dice roller, Justin took his place and the game began!  I helped to commentate to insure the other classes were getting the jest of the game.  A pair of threes were rolled. I stated that I saw that some of my students chose to cross off the 9 since the product of 3×3=9. Others crossed off the 6 because the sum of 3+3=6. However, I stated, you wouldn’t chose to pick the quotient because 3÷3=0.  REALLY? Did I just say that? A quick recovery and the game continued. Around this time our secretary buzzed into my room reminding me to do the morning attendance. A quick scramble to my other computer, attendance completed and another fire put out. The game continued with us sharing our screen and commentary from Grace. At this point I realized I had forgotten to have the classes introduce themselves! YIKES! As the first game concluded I decided this would be an opportune time to do the introductions.


I went to stop sharing our screen and EVERYONE WAS GONE! BIG, BIG GULP. I went into a techno blitz trying to recover what I had lost. My kids were quiet and patient, they had experienced moments like this in my class before and I sensed their quiet confidence in me. After a few moments and an obvious impasse, my kids began making MANY suggestions. I entertained their good ideas but to no fruition. It was time for me to make a decision. I had to break it to my kids, and somehow to the rest of the classes and our guests, that the game would have to end. A few quick emails and a tweet or two resulted in a “Plan B”. Each class would continue with their own games and tweet or email their class averages.

It was now time to regroup my own class; not always an easy task at any particular time during the last two weeks of school!  It wasn’t time for me to attempt to continue with the game right away. We sat and discussed what they had learned from the experience. They collected their thoughts and began to jot down their ideas…

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After we regrouped and refocused we continued our game and were happy to see that the rest of our participants had done the same and had shared their results to our #Shuttheboxchallenge hashtag!

My students were hungry and needed a break. So did I. I walked into the staffroom and checked a recent message from my wife…

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I had forgotten my lunch at home. It was clearly one of THOSE days!


I often wonder why I do what I do when it comes to teaching. Wouldn’t it just be easier to take the path of least resistance? Show up for school, teach my class, mark my papers, assign homework, take up and repeat?

Why do I blog, share on Twitter, maintain a website and seek ways to collaborate with teachers and classes throughout the world?

I believe once you start breaking down the walls of your classroom, there’s really no turning back. It becomes a way of thinking and teaching. It becomes a mindset. Our PLNs, combined with social media and the positive use of technology have become incredibly powerful resources for teachers. We are no longer teaching in the silos of our classrooms. We share for the benefit of all our students, not just the ones sitting in front of us, in our classrooms. We are better together, for our students, our future.

When students are part of “connected” classrooms, they see teachers working, learning and sharing together. Students witness their teachers using technology in powerfully productive ways. They see that their teachers care about them and will support one another to bring great ideas to their classrooms. Students also see their teachers collaborating, innovating and taking risks for a common good… for them.  I’m confident that when we model this type of behaviour and mindset to our students it will pay off in great dividends…. even on the days when their teachers “fail” and have one of THOSE days!



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Playing Games.

My students have been playing a lot of games this year.


With board games and puzzles, the opportunities for learning and curricular connections are endless. Here are some things I’ve noticed while observing and playing the games with my students:

  • Students reading and following instructions.
  • Problem solving  to understand multistep directions.
  • Collaboration and inclusion.
  • Math talk.
  • Community building.
  • Innovating to add variations to games.
  • Respectful dialogue.
  • Honesty.
  • Willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes.
  • Strategic thinking.
  • Fun and laughter.
  • Cooperation.
  • Stronger sense of their place in the world.
  • Deep thinking and learning.
  • Springboards to inquiry and further learning.
  • A stronger sense of concepts and information learned.

We have added a wide variety of puzzles and games to our classroom this year. Some are “low organizational” (Shut the Box, Yahtzee, Connect 4, Qwirkle, Scrabble, Jenga, Labyrinth, Spot It, Farkle) while others are “subject specific” games with a focus on Social Studies (Explore Canada, Explore the World and World Geo Puzzles). They really have been “game changers” in many different ways.


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One of our new favourite games that we’ve adapted for our whole class to enjoy is a variation of an old seafaring game called “Shut the Box”. The kids love it because it’s fast, fun and very strategic. I love the game because it allows me to listen to my kids “talk math”. Every move that that a player makes in Shut the Box is based on math strategies. Here’s how it’s played: Our game requires dice, paper and a pencil. The students write the numbers from one to twelve (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12) on a piece of paper. The object of the game is to eliminate as many numbers as possible, ending up with the lowest possible score. The dice are rolled. Say a 6 and 2 are rolled. The student may multiply the numbers together and cross off the 12. The student may divide the numbers and cross off the 3. The student may subtract the numbers and cross off the 4. Finally, the student may add the two numbers together and cross off the 8 OR any two numbers that make the sum of 8 (1 and 7, 2 and 6, 3 and 5). Once a decision is made play continues and the dice are rolled again. Play continues until the player can no longer eliminate a number. Once this happens the child adds to find the sum of the left over numbers. The child with the lowest total score “wins”.  (Watch for a video tutorial coming soon.)

The game can be played as a whole class, in groups, pairs or individually. It can also be modified to accommodate for the varying math abilities in your class. I simply LOVE this game because there is so much math involved and the kids naturally think out loud when playing this game. I always encourage my students to use math terminology (sum, difference, product, quotient, theoretical probability, etc) and to explain their reasoning to a partner.

While writing this blog, my students suggested that perhaps we could invite others classes throughout the world to join us in a big global game of Shut the Box. I like their out of the box/text/classroom thinking! Let us know if you’re interested!


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Taking the Classroom Outside

This past weekend my three good friends and I took our kids fishing. The night beforeScreen Shot 2017-05-31 at 2.56.39 PM the trip Kai and I predicted how many fish each person would catch and how many fish in total would be caught. We talked about how big the largest fish would be and which species of fish we’d catch. On the ride up the kids wonder how long the trip would take and at what time we’d arrive at our island. Collectively, they worked to solve the problem. The kids also tallied the different number of mammals they saw and marvelled at a beautiful cow moose they spotted. The kids read the odometer, speedometer, compass and clock.  On the boat ride over to our island Kai and I talked about what causes a reflection on the water and tried to identify some of the different types of trees. The incidental learning continued all weekend long.

I love the outdoors and the opportunity to adventure. I believe some of my greatestScreen Shot 2017-05-31 at 2.56.54 PM lessons learned in life were in the outdoors. Many of my students don’t have the same opportunity to experience their natural environment as my son or I do. I’m passionate about presenting my them with as many unique opportunities for learning as possible to help them realize their own passions. I want my students to realize that learning does not start and end in the classroom. In fact, the world is their classroom.  I always look for opportunities to take the learning outside our classroom. For example, I have taken my students to volunteer at our local Shelter House, visit our local dump, and to visitFort William Historical Park. Technology has also allowed me to “take” my students on virtual field trip throughout the world, and on some adventures of my own. For example, I’ve taken my students up the Gunflint Trail to watch a lynx in pursuit of a rabbit and to Niagara Falls to do some real math.

Are you passionate about taking the learning outside? Have some great ideas? Want to learn how to connect the outdoors to your curriculum? Join us the #ONedchat Team TONIGHT at 8:30 for our Twitter chat!



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Preparing for THE TEST!

I’ve been working hard to prepare my students for THE TEST all year. Here’s a check list that I created for myself in August while planning and looking forward to the new school year and the TEST I’m responsible for preparing them for.


___ Teach kids the value of school. Get them excited about coming to school EVERY day.

___ Get kids curious about learning. Teach them how to ask questions that will challenge their thinking and mine.

___ Teach kids how to fail forward, to make mistakes, learn from them and to become even  better people.

___ Get the kids outside to enjoy and appreciate their natural surroundings.

___ Get kids active. Show them the value of daily physical activity.

___ Teach kids how to think, not necessarily what to think.

___ Teach kids how to problem solve, not just in math, but in life.

___ Challenge kids to think outside the box/book/text/test.

___ Model to kids the positive power of social media.

___ Have kids understand how they can leverage tech to have a positive impact on their lives.

___ Show students the value and wonder of the arts. 

___ Create opportunities for students to learn mindfulness techniques.

___ Provide opportunities for self reflection and goal setting.

___ Provide rich opportunities for kids to gain a deep understanding of the many global issues our world is faced with. 

___ Empower my students to be agents of change.

___ Encourage rich dialogue which spark debate and differences of opinion.

___ Read! Provide time for self selected independent reading everyday. Show kids that books can take them anywhere.

___ Create a sense of adventure and risk taking in the classroom.

___ Break down the walls of my classroom and “take” students on trips that span the globe.

___ Connect with parents. Continue our learning beyond the classroom. Have the students bring their learning  home.

___ Have kids understand that math is all around them. 

___ Connect with people and invite them to speak with kids about their jobs.

___ Give students a voice that permeates beyond our classroom walls.

___ Have kids understand who their most important connections are.

___ Teach kids how to make informed choices when selecting the tool(s) they will leverage to demonstrate their learning.

___ Teach kids how to be difference makers! Give students many opportunities to make positive differences for themselves, their peers, family members, their environment, their community and the world!

___ Teach kids that they can do anything they put their mind to. 

I think my “kids” are prepared. I’m confident that I’ve done my job to the best of my ability and I feel good knowing that I’ve done my part in helping to effectively prepare my students for THE TEST!

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#MADPD What’s Next?

WOW! #MADPD far exceeded our wildest hopes and expectations! Thanks to the 60
Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 7.22.42 PMincredible presenters
and hundreds of participants from around the globe our vision to make a difference for teachers and students across the globe became a reality! Together we learned, shared, challenged and supported one another. On May 7th we watched the #MADPD hashtag trend to as high as number two in Canada and by the end of the day there had been well over 2000 collective views of the videos.


  1. We will be working to make the MADPD website more user friendly, compiling the videos according to themes. You can still navigate to all the incredible videos on the landing page.
  2. We hope that people will continue to dig into all of the incredibly valuable videos that have been created. There are over 60 recordings of educators sharing their best ideas that make a difference for both themselves and their students. I have only watched 3 to date, I plan on viewing 2 to 3 each week and then blog about and/or share them via Twitter using the #MADPD hashtag. It would be great if others did the same.
  3.  When you have one of those “AH HA” moments, make a break through, find an incredible resource or learn a powerful tool, please SHARE! You can do this simply by tweeting or creating a YouTube Live video to share! Better yet, invite a few educators to share your MAD idea with by having them join your YouTube Live event!
  4. We anticipate a #MADPDchat on a monthly (or semi monthly) basis.
  5. Of course, we will host our second annual #MADPD Event in 2018. If this is just the beginning we can’t wait to see what next year brings!

We would love to continue to collect your feedback and ideas. Please take a moment to fill in the short presenter’s survey and/or the participants survey.

Also, enjoy reading the blogs about the #MADPD event: Victoria Woelders,  Noa Daniel and Catherine Tang.

Again, thanks for all that YOU do to make a difference!

Pete and Derek

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“Bang for the Buck” Math

How much math learning can come from one bucket of money? How many  rich, complex and relevant questions can be asked? How many expectations and strands can be covered? How many different solutions can be shared?

On Friday, April 21st my students along with Mrs. Shaughnessy’s class held a M.A.D (Make A Difference) Yard Sale  to help support then many local, national and global issues we have been studying in Social Studies. All the proceeds will be divided equally between our 45 difference makers and they, in turn, will donate the proceeds to a NGO or charity of their choice to help make a difference.

We had one large bucket full of money to count! First, we estimated the amount of money we had in bills.

While we worked on our reasonable estimates an opportunity to review fractions, decimals, percents and ratio presented itself

We also had to manage all the data, which led opportunities for selecting and creating appropriate graphs. A discussion about range, mean, median and mode ensued and interesting an opportunity to discuss multiples came up as well.

Making a reasonable prediction of the amount of change proved to be a bit more difficult so we decided to take three “test” piles.

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We totalled the exact amounts in each pile. We were amazed to find that the 3 “test” piles had following money amounts: $28.80, $29.80 and $30.80. This led to a discussion about mean and median. These numbers sure made our job easy! We decided it was fair to say that an average of $30.00 would be in each of my handfuls.

Mr. C was pleased to hear many students naturally starting to ponder how many of his handfuls would be needed to empty the buckets of money! This would lead them to make a reasonable estimate! This new data led to many more rich cross strand math  discussions.

It also lead to an authentic opportunity to read numbers with decimals. After much discussion and this “mistake” below, students were able to solidify their understanding of decimal amounts.

We tallied allow of our “coin estimates” and discussed “range”. We also figured out the amounts rounded to the nearest hundred.

We were finally ready to make very reasonable estimates of the TOTAL amount of money we raised.

Everyone was excited and ready to help to begin counting ALL the money. Mr.C sat back and observed the students take on a variety of roles; some counted, some stacked, others grouped, other tallied, a few calculated and others double checked.

While totalling all of the money amounts we worked on multiplying multi digit numbers with decimals. The students used a variety of strategies based on the numbers and their combinations. When all was said and done, we figured that we had raised $1891.92! It was great fun comparing our estimates to the actual totals.

Now it was time to figure out how much money each group would receive to donate to their specific charity. Between our class and Mrs. Shaughnessy’s  There were 24 groups. The kids were anxious to start figuring out approximately how much money they would receive so they could begin their emails to the charities they had selected as part of their M.A.D Project!

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Many students have already received thank you emails

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Our kids are now incredibly excited to share their M.A.D Projects at our M.A.D Fair on May 2 so our entire St. Elizabeth School Community can learn how each one of them helped to make a difference. Below is a video of our 2016 M.A.D Fair

If you class would like to start a M.A.D Project of their own, I have shared all my Make a Difference resources on my website.


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Test time…stress time?


It’s that time of year again. A time that many of us know all too well. Test time. Assessment time. Call it what you want.

Stress time.

Believe me, you are not alone in feeling the pressures of the provincial test.  As I read blog posts, chat with colleagues and connect with my PLN, I feel the tension of the EQAO test. You are struggling with how to cover all of the strands in a condensed amount of time. You are struggling with how to get your naturally collaborative working class to get used to working independently.  You are struggling with how you will not give feedback and support when that is what is naturally ingrained in what you do as a teacher. You are struggling to not leave anyone behind while being pushed ahead by the pressures of the test. You are struggling to focus on the child when so much emphasis and focus is placed on “the test”.

I have been teaching grade 5/6 since the inception of the EQAO assessment and I share your same struggles. Throughout the years, my students have scored all over the map on the provincial assessment; extremely high, low, and everywhere in between.  Experience has taught me a valuable lesson. I now refuse to “teach to the test” and allow my students and myself to become a slave to it. I teach to my kids and to their individual learning needs. I have stopped focusing on the test and the results. In fact, I believe “the test” has become an inhibitor to quality instruction, particularly in math. How much time are teachers spending using EQAO practice booklets, multiple choice questions and worksheets? Is this not robbing our students and teachers of the opportunity for developing and working or rich, complex and relevant questions?

I am committed to doing what is best for my kids; to make them want to get up and come to school everyday, excited to learn, share, explore, be challenged, ask questions and solve real problems to real world questions. I want them to learn and understand how to use the multitude of tools that they have available to them make a difference for themselves, others and their future. This kind of learning doesn’t result from being “test focused” it is the result of being “kid focused”. And do you know what? I am confident my students will be well prepared for any type of test that life has to throw at them!

Perhaps it’s not that teachers need to change; in fact I’d argue that we are always innovating and evolving for the good of our students. Perhaps it’s EQAO that needs to be innovative in how they assess our kids . WHAT IF students could submit ePortfolios, podcasts, videos and screencasts to demonstrate their learning? Better yet, WHAT IF EQAO could send PEOPLE to our schools, to spend time, sitting and listening to our students? If that’s not possible, WHAT if each of our students had the opportunity to demonstrate their learning via a Skype call or a Google Hangout? If this were the case, how much different would the learning look in our classrooms? Would the results be different?

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Not another Twitter Chat!

I appreciate a good twitter chat. I also appreciate being part of the @ONedchat team. This week, I’ll be moderating the #ONedchat with guest moderator Lee Araoz, coordinator of Instructional Technology, staff developer and coach. Lee is an online course creator & student-directed learning evangelist. He resides in Long Island, New York

Lee and I will be running a fairly traditional Twitter chat  on Genius Hour and PBL on Wednesday, April 19 from 8:30 to 9:30 EST.hMLKeiVs

Here’s where it’ll get a little different. From 8:00-8:30 EST, right before our Twitter chat, Lee and I will be hosting a YOUTube Live event where we’ll be sharing our best Genius Hour/PBL idea/resource that make a difference in our teaching practice. We will follow with a quick Q and A and then continue the conversation with our Twitter chat. If you’d like to join us live, on-air to engage with us, please fill in the form. Otherwise follow this link to watch the live event.

We look forward to sharing and learning with you!

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Put Your City on the Map!

We have used descriptive writing, our research skills, visualizing, visual arts and a combination of tech tools to put our city on the map. Each student picked one of their favourite places unique to our city; Thunder Bay. Their task was to write a descriptive paragraph about their place, capture it using a variety of media forms and then literally put their place on an interactive map of Thunder Bay .

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 Below is our interactive map with each of our favourite places! Click on “enlarge icon” in the upper right corner then click each of the pins or subtitles to take you to a link to each student’s descriptive paragraphs and artwork. ***We’d LOVE to from you! Please take a moment to sign our digital guest book!

We are looking forward to sharing our map with our pen pals from the United Kingdom to help them get to know our city a little better.

Why stop there? Perhaps classes throughout the world would like to join us and put their city on the map as well!

So, let’s get started! You can access our ‘Put Your City on the Map’ Google slides and begin. *Please feel free to modify to suit the needs, wants and vision of your own class! Tweet us updates to @cherandpete and include the hashtag #ourcityourmap If you’d like editing rights to slide deck message us and we’d be happy to provide them to allow you to customize.

If you plan on joining us to put your city on the map please fill in this short form to let us know where in the world you are from!

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