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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Visiting our Past

Our St. Elizabeth School students recently travelled back in time to 1816. We experienced our wonderful past at Fort William Historical Park! The many sights and sounds remind us of our rich history and the influence they had on shaping the Canada we love today. The video below captures our journey….

Can you identify the objects that you see? Do you know what they we used for? Who benefited from these objects? Where did each object originate? What object could you not do without? What objects were a necessity? What objects were used for leisure? How did these objects play a role in shaping Canada?



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