Developing a Sense of Exploration, Wonder, Curiosity and Adventure in your Classrooms

I am privileged to have been a mentor for the National Geographic Educator Certification program for the past five years. Each quarter, I have the amazing opportunity to meet, learn with, mentor and guide educators from around the world who are both inspiring and courageous. They are outside of the box thinkers who are truly passionate about about developing attitudes, knowledge and skills in both themselves and their students to empower them to be difference makers in our world.

This morning I posted the following message on the Discussion Board within the Nat Geo Education Certification Community:

Hi Everyone!

I am inspired by all of your teaching missions! Common words I am reading are “exploration”, “wonder”, “curiosity” and “adventure”.

I agree wholeheartedly that the best learning happens through “real” and “authentic” learning opportunities. Often times, as with any adventure, the best learning is unplanned and happens “in the moment”.

My advice to you is to allow room for adventure in your classroom. Don’t become so tied to the curriculum and constrained by the textbook that great learning opportunities pass you by. Be flexible, be creative, be innovative and be courageous! Make the curriculum fit the learning. Stray from the text, the schedule, the lesson plans, the tests and the classroom walls; you will be amazed by the learning adventures that await.

***I think I’m going to turn this into a blog post and share examples of how doing the above brought upon some incredibly powerful and impactful learning opportunities to both my students and myself.

Enjoy the course everyone! You are in for a wonderful learning adventure 🙂

I’d love to get your input! How do YOU allow for adventure in your classroom?


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GO Explore! Developing an Explorer Mindset in Yourself and Your Students

This blog post was written as part of my National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions Teacher Fellowship. It is a “Strategy Share” in hopes of giving teachers a few ideas as to how they can develop an Explorer Mindset in their students. The ideas, strategies and resources can be used with students regardless of teaching modality (Face to Face, Hybrid or Remote). Thank you to Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic for helping me to continue to develop my explorer mindset!

Start Local

Thunder Bay is pretty much smack dab in the middle of nowhere but opportunities to explore are everywhere.  Growing up, my world was small, usually limited to a 10 kilometer radius of my house, but the area I was limited to provided ample opportunities for adventure. I grew up fishing, hiking and playing along the small rivers that flow through our town. On occasion my dad and I would venture a bit beyond our city limits and travel to Cedar Creek, The Pearl and  Black Sturgeon Rivers and occasionally, the famous Nipigon. Coming from a family of fly fishermen, the rivers connected me to father, the land, and the outdoors. I loved exploring and didn’t have to go far to do it.

I fondly remember watching the film “Paddle to the Sea” in grade school. It was the first medium that transported me to a world beyond my city limits. The story took me back to the 1940’s and allowed me to travel in a small birch bark canoe with a young Anishinaabe boy for an incredible adventure through the five Great Lakes and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean.  My “Explorer Mindset” was sparked and a desire to see the world that lay beyond Thunder Bay slowly began to grow. 

However, I was still very much limited to travel, as my primary modes of transportation were my feet and a set of wheels…my bike. Books, my atlas and the occasional tv show would become the conduits to the world I desired to explore. At sixteen, a car allowed me to venture further beyond Thunder Bay but it wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I boarded a plane.

Fast forward to today, where I’m now reflecting on all of the places in the world I’ve had the great privilege of exploring, including a two week expedition through the Inside Passage aboard the National Geographic Quest as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. My biggest fear is that my students would see my accomplishments as an explorer as unattainable. It was because of this fear that I always remind them that opportunities to explore are literally all around them and that my explorations began very close to home. I work to bring a sense of adventure and exploration to my classroom every single day; to get them outside often and explore places within our school and city boundaries. I also work to have my students understand that the process of learning is, in fact, exploring, thus helping to develop an “Explorer Mindset” in each of my students. 

The video above was created upon returning from my expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. It highlights my expedition through the Inside Passage aboard “The National Geographic Quest” but importantly shares how my adventures began, at a very young age, close to home. The video also features other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows sharing how their adventurous spirits and “Explorer Mindsets” were sparked at very young ages, close to home.

My “GO Explore” initiative encourages kids to get outside and explore a natural setting close to home, to capture it using a variety of mediums and share their explorations with the rest of the world using the power of technology! 

When all Face to Face learning ceased in March of 2020 due to the global pandemic, I was determined to continue to develop an “Explorer Mindset” within my students. Even though they were limited in their ability to physically explore, I leveraged the power of technology to spark their curiosity and help them to continue to explore virtually, both close to home and far away. Since they were learning and exploring from home they could also invite their parents and siblings to join them! The video below explains the idea and highlights some of the adventures I sent my students on during the lockdown. All resources referenced in the video can be found here

Go Global

The film Paddle to the Sea was the conduit that opened my eyes and heart to exploration beyond my city back in 1980. Today, we can literally put the world in our students’ hands when we leverage the power of technology in our classrooms.  

Below you’ll find some of my favourite ways to develop an Explorer Mindset in students. All ideas can be used in any classroom setting (face to face, hybrid or remote). I’ll share each idea in the form of a short “blurb”, however if you wish to dig deeper, click on the links provided for student exemplars and resources. 

Start an “Adventure Log” with your Students

Have your students keep an “Adventure Log” to record all of their learning adventures throughout the school year. My students have kept a combination of paper and pencil and digital Adventure Logs. They have become incredible documentations of my students’ learning and a great keepsake for my young explorers. Many students have told me they continue to add to them long after they have left my class. 

Take the Learning Outside!

Opportunities to learn outside of the classroom are endless. Consider the many places within your city that your students can explore. This type of experiential learning is difficult to replicate within the confines of a classroom or a textbook. The opportunities for cross curricular learning are vast. Many of my best math lessons come from our adventures!  

Don’t Forget Your Camera!

Since I recognize that opportunities to learn are literally all around us, I often wish my students were with me when I’m out on my own adventures. But, I don’t despair! I often have a camera in my pocket to capture the moment, allowing me to bring the learning to my students. Check out how  I use photos to create math challenges for my students while helping them understand that math certainly is required in the “real world”. Sometimes I get really ambitious and put together videos to take my students on full on math and other learning adventures

Novels Are Gateways to Adventure!

Everyone loves a good novel, but kids often read them passively. Try a read aloud reading from a first person perspective. I read “Paddle to the Sea” to my students as if each of them are the main characters paddling through the Great Lakes, experiencing all the awe and wonder of an incredible canoe adventure. To add to the excitement of the adventure we invited classes from across North America to join us! Check out one of my student’s Adventure Logs! Not only can we travel to incredible places through novels, we can also meet some pretty cool people! When I read “Wonder” to my class, my students literally believed that August, the main character, was a real person who would be joining our class! You can read all about the incredible adventure in my blog post, “Introducing Wonder”. “The Secret Path” allowed me to invite Chanie Wenjack to my class and walk with him on a very difficult, but important, journey. While reading “Fatty Legs”, we connected with the author and wrote letters to the main character, Margret.  

Virtual Field Trips to Anywhere in the World

Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants and National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom have allowed me to virtually transport my students to meet and interact with amazing people located in some of the most incredible places in the world. 

Snow Kidding!

In my part of the world it snows often. Snow creates ample opportunity for exploration, learning and adventure. I have my students plan and build snow forts which then become the setting for adventure stories. They have snow tower building challenges and then measure, compare and graph their tower heights. Students craft rectangular prisms from snow and work to figure out the surface area and volume while also drawing the nets of each prism. One year a single snowflake launched my students on an eight day learning journey

Google Earth: Bring the World to Your Classroom

I cannot begin to tell you how much Google Earth has played an important role in helping to establish an “Explorer’s Mindset” in my students. Google Earth literally puts the world in my students’ hands.

Launch Earth Having Google Earth “at the ready” allows my students to “go anywhere” to explore. My students have followed Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, searched for a variety of 3D shapes in the “real world” during a Geometry unit, followed the journeys of explorers and even travelled to outlet space. Put Google Earth in your students hands and let their adventures begin!

Be a Voyager Google Earth Voyager stories have allowed my students to venture on a plethora guided thematic learning journeys! I cannot begin to tell you the quality of learning opportunities that Voyager stories presents. My of my students’ favourites are: “Explorers:Vikings”, “Planetary Exploration on the Earth”, “Searching for Sharks in Streetview”, “Indigenous Cultural Heritage”, “Van Gogh at Night” and “Blue Gold:Our Lakes. Our Lives” (a Voyager story that I had the honour of co-authoring). 

Create Your Own Adventure! Did you know that anyone can now create their Google Earth stories? My students have created adventure stories of their voyages around Lake Superior,  we’ve collaborated with classes from around the world through our Junior Water Walkers initiative and shared our water walks and I used Google Earth to have my students follow my  adventures as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow.  The world is in our children’s hands…

When we create an Explorer Mindest in our students we open up a world of possibility to them.  They become naturally curious and see learning not as something they have to do. They will want to continually learn and…explore. When children are truly engaged in their learning they see the world in a different light.  They take responsibility for it and feel a sense of empowerment knowing that they have the ability to positively impact their world

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Getting High

I’m going to come right out and say it.

I’m an addict.

I can’t get enough of it.

It makes me feel so damn good.

My family is hooked too.

Normally we don’t have to travel more than a minute up our road to get our fix, but our side of town hasn’t received a good supply of the white stuff yet.

Luckily there’s a decent supply on the northside. So Kai, Cheryl and I load up our SUV and travel a good half hour two to three times a week to get our fix. Yesterday morning was no exception. With coffee and hot chocolate in hand, we travelled in our warm and cozy vehicle, each of us lost in our own thoughts.

Finally, we reach our destination. The supply is good and it comes as no surprise that many others are out to get their fix as well.

Kai finds his group and away he is swept. Cheryl meets a friend and off they go to get their fix. I’m going it alone today.

It doesn’t take long.

As soon as I start moving I feel it.

There it is.

My fix:




Being in the moment.

That’s it.

I come to the realization that I’m not just addicted to cross country skiing, I’m addicted to moving outside, breathing and being in the moment.

On the drive to our destination yesterday morning, when lost in my own thoughts, I couldn’t help but feeling a pange of guilt. The same guilty feeling I often feel that comes with living a life of privilege. I’m acutely aware of my privilege and know my son is incredibly lucky to have opportunity far beyond the reach of many. I’m trying to make him realize that too.

All kids need an escape.

All kids need a release.

All kids need to feel good.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, particularly in my new role as a school guidance counsellor.

How can we help all kids “get high” regardless of circumstance?

What if walking became the new gateway drug for kids?

What if all children were taught to practice a daily routine of walking every day…one that was as familiar and important as brushing their teeth?

What would the impacts be?

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Catching Up

Whoa! It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged! It’s not that I haven’t thought about it or had things to write about, it’s simply finding the time! The last time I blogged was when we first “pivoted” to Emergency Distance Learning. A LOT has transpired since then!

In an effort to “catch up” I recently sent an email to a friend at National Geographic Education. Because one of the reasons I blog is to document my learning journey for my own personal reflection I figured I’d include my email below…

Great to hear from you!

It is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. We are enjoying some beautiful weather, the outdoors and some good food!

How are you? Are you enjoying your new role? What’s keeping you busy/adventurous/active?

Thought I’d take a moment to catch you on some exciting developments in my life/teaching career since my National Geographic/Lindblad Teacher Fellow expedition in May 2019! 

In September 2019 my school board invited me to share a report on my expedition with them at their Board meeting. My presentation was well received. I compiled my presentation into a photo/video blog to share with the greater education community.

It was at the Board meeting where I also introduced my “GO Explore” Initiative which was to be my deliverable for my class for the 2019/20 school year. I invited classes from throughout the world to join the “GO Explore” initiative. The idea was to share my deliverable and encourage not only my students, but students from around the world to GO Explore their local environments and share their adventures with others. 

In the early fall Lakehead University asked me to speak at their annual “Report to the Community Dinner” in early January.  I worked and prepared a great deal for this important opportunity to share my GTF experience with my community and this was the talk I delivered.  A highlight was having my Kai and Cheryl present, as well as my two sisters and mom and dad!! My talk allowed me to share how adventure and exploration in and around my own local community at a young age instilled in me  an adventurous spirit that encouraged me to seek adventure throughout my life and most importantly, bring a sense of adventure and exploration to my students.

My presentation led Lakehead University to share my GTF experience and how I bring a sense of adventure to my students in two of their publications; Journeys  and “The Education Exchange” newsletter. 

During the early part of the school year, I took my students on an exploration of our 5 Great Lakes via the book “Paddle to the Sea” and a wide range of technologies including Google Earth. Our class invited other classes to join our “Go Explore Lake Superior”. Together, close to 20 classes travelled around the Great Lakes together! My students recorded their explorations in an “Adventure Log”.

Upon completion of our journey around the 5 Great Lakes, I had my students set out on their own “GO Explore” adventures. Here’s my assignment. Using Google Earth, students travelled virtually around Lake Superior and documented their adventures using Google Earth creation tools. Here’s an example of one student’s journey. 

I was very much looking forward to the spring of last year as I was planning to have my students complete their “GO Explore” (my planned GTF deliverable). The project would encourage students to Get Outside and explore a natural wonder close to home. When the students went fully online and to Emergency Distance Learning I re-imaged the project and came up with a hybrid of virtual and natural environment activities. The project turned out to be a resounding success. Students didn’t “GO Explore” because they had to but because they wanted to!  I also re-imaged the Junior Water Walkers project, which allowed water walks to continue, except virtually! 

This summer brought a well needed rest and an opportunity for Kai, Cheryl and I to explore the many natural wonders close to home.

In late August, when preparing to return to my grade 5/6 classroom for the 24th year another adventure presented itself. I applied to a Guidance Teacher position at a neighbouring senior elementary school. I’m blessed to continue to be able to make a difference in students’ lives in a different way. I absolutely LOVE my new ROLE and, of course, am seeking new ways to bring adventure to it! I’ve recently applied for the Nat Geo Ed Emergency Grant for Educators to grow and expand the Junior Water Walkers and GO Explore projects to students regardless of school circumstance.

Finally, on Saturday, while walking along a favourite river I received an exciting call! I will be able to share more information in November!

Well… that’s it! You’re caught up. It has been quite a year! I am forever grateful to my National Geographic Education family. I couldn’t dream of being part of a community more supportive of teachers! Please share my thanks and gratitude!

Hope you and yours are well. Looking forward to hearing from you!


How are YOU doing? What have YOU been up to? How have you been weathering the Covid storm? I hope you are well!


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It isn’t a pivot, it’s a giant leap

There has been no other time in my career that I have been more proud to be a teacher.

Collectively, teachers from around the world have joined hands and taken a giant leap into the unknown waters of “Emergency Distance Learning”.

It wasn’t something we wanted to do. We had to do it. Covid19 left us with no choice.

We did not gracefully pivot (implies a simple, natural step), we all lept.


Thankfully social media and other means of communication have allowed us to support one another from a distance. Our PLN’s have become our “life preservers”, so to speak, helping to keep us afloat.

Thankfully, Covid19 happened at a time in the school year when relationships had already been established. Through close daily interactions and learning together throughout the year, most teachers already knew their students well and were aware of their individual learning styles and needs. I couldn’t imagine trying to navigate Emergency Distance Learning without having already established relationships with my students.

Teachers would much rather be face to face, in their classrooms, with their students, doing what they skillfully, naturally and instinctively do. Being in the classroom setting allows teachers to interact and engage with their students; knowing when to push and when to pull back, when to help and when to stand by, when to talk and when to listen, when to question. They just know.

And so, here we are, continuing to try to figure out this beast as we go. The scary thing is the unknown. We are missing the human interaction. The human connection. Teachers are spending their days grappling with how best to interact and connect with their students. Not only do we have 30 kids who we are trying to connect with, and teach from a distance, we are also doing our best to work in partnership with their parents to help them best support their child. Teaching our class from a distance, while at the same time, differentiating for and connecting with each of our students, their parents and upwards of sixty different households, during a most extraordinarily stressful time in the history of the world is an overwhelming and daunting task.

But we’ve got this. And we’ve got each other. Reach out to your close personal colleagues and friends. But don’t forget there are teachers freely and openly sharing on social media platforms and in education communities. Now may be the time to start building your PLN.

We can’t do this alone. But, together we will.


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Her Story

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How do you use story telling to inspire?

I’ve used children’s books to tell the story of environmental activists to inspire my students.

BUT, I’ve also gone further and was fortunate to invite the author and main character of The Water Walker to visit our classroom.

To say the least, building and forming a relationship with Joanne Roberston (author) and Josephine Mandamin (main character) took our learning so much further and deeper.

It actually resulted in a life altering experience for both my students and myself.

They took up the main character’s  life work and initiated the Junior Water Walkers movement.

I’ve tried to document the journey.

It started with the blog about how I “found” Nokomis. The title is Nibi, which means water in Ojibwe.  It’s the story about how water connected me to Nokomis and how it brought her to my class.

Blue Gold shares the full story of our meeting and how Google Earth managed to capture it.

Updates: Nokomis and the Junior Water Walkers provides an update on the Junior Water Walkers in its infancy, speaks to Nokomis’ failing health and plans for our first walk.

For Nokomis documents my two minute talk that I was invited to share about Nokomis and the Junior Water Walkers at National Geographic in December 2018.

On February 22, 2018 we lost our dear friend and water protector.

For Water, Learn. Adopt. Protect. Walk. captures my students’ learning journey as Junior Water Walkers and plans for our first water walk.

Water Walking  shares the story of our first St. Elizabeth School water walk.

The Junior Water Walks  takes you on a journey, via Google Earth to experience 20 other Junior Water Walks from across North America.

Nokomis Josephine Mandamin passed away a year ago yesterday but her legacy, work and water walking and protecting carries on.

Sharing one person’s story and connecting with them can create ripple effects that can turn into a wave of action and change.

The world was incredibly fortunate to have Nokomis. Her story lives on.


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Let’s Paddle to the Sea Together!

Learning is a journey.  The sharing of stories is probably the greatest source of traditional learning.  Story telling comes in many forms; oral, written and video. Today, the ability to share stories has never been easier, thus the opportunities for learning are endless!

As a young student, I fondly remember watching the National Film Board’s Paddle to the Sea. It’s a story about a young Anishinaabe  boy who carves a wooden replica of himself paddling a canoe. The story follows the journey of the little canoe through the Great Lakes to its eventual destination; the Atlantic Ocean. The video connected me to the Great Lakes and opened my eyes to a world beyond Thunder Bay and Lake Superior. I loved the film, but couldn’t access it beyond the one day we watched it at school. Over time, I forgot about the story.


Fast forward almost 40 years to a gift shop across Lake Superior from Thunder Bay to Wisconsin and  Big Bay State Park, This is where I rediscovered “Paddle to the Sea” and an unbelievable learning journey was  set in motion. I shared the book with my young son and eventually, with people I was connected with throughout the world. Read more about the incredible journey in a recent blog post “Blue Gold”.

Incredibly, water also connected me to Nokomis Josephine Maddamin and the Junior Water Walkers was conceived. If you’re interested check out the webpage!!

So, the point of this post? Let’s Paddle to the Sea together!  On November 4th, join our class as we journey back in time to journey with Paddle down the Great Lakes to the Atlantic ocean. Along the way we’ll meet many incredible people and visit some amazing places! There are many cross curricular connections and you just never know where our learning will take us! Even if you don’t have access to the book the National Film Board’s video will allow you to travel with us!

In this shared doc you’ll find many ideas and resources that I like to use while reading Paddle to the Sea. Please feel free to share yours! If you’re on Twitter, share your class learning using the hashtag #Paddletothesea 

If you’re interested in joining us, add your class to this form so we can add your pin to the map and connect with you!

We’re looking forward to paddling with you!

Mr. C and TheMADClass

GO Explore Lake Superior!

I will update the above with information about how our “Paddle to the Sea” adventure went ASAP. But, I wanted to share our next adventure, which was a spin off of our Paddle to the Sea journey. Our GO Explore Lake Superior journey is outlined below. If you’d like to make a copy of the doc, you can access it here. Customize it to create your own “GO Explore___________”. Have fun and please share your journey with us!

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Our Kids’ Spelling is Atrocious.

I recently had a text conversation with a friend. It’s a conversation that certainly isn’t exclusive to her child. In fact, I might argue that my own ten year old son’s spelling is atrocious as well. I know when I was in grade 5 my mom had a conversation with my teacher about my inability to spell. As a teacher, the subject of spelling is one that I’ve often struggled with.  With my friend’s permission, I’m sharing our conversation in hopes of gaining some insights from others. 

Below is our conversation.

Hey Pete, do you have any websites/online games or apps for _____ to help with his spelling? It is atrocious and I think it has more to do with being lazy and not taking his time but I still want to see if technology can help him as he is so drawn to it. 

Great question and not one that is exclusive to ______.  I don’t actually have a formalized spelling program or a website to suggest. Spelling is a part of writing; to make kids better writers they simply need to read and develop a love of reading.   The more kids read, the more examples they see of good writing. They will see words being used in context and thus develop a strong vocabulary and the spelling will come.   

In my experience, teaching spelling in isolation (at this age…10) isn’t of much benefit. Kids memorize and forget. Then there’s the technology factor. Apart from school, people are using paper and pencil far more infrequently. With tech we have voice to text options, auto correct and spell check. I’d suggest, perhaps having _____ keep a journal using a google doc. If you’re not familiar with the extension Google Read and Write check it out. Let _____ write rite using voice to text or word predict. Encourage him to elaborate on his ideas and assist with correct sentence structure .  In short, establish a love of reading, then writing and spelling will come. If it doesn’t, he’ll be a strong writer and, well the tech will take care of the spelling.

BTW my mom brought your same concern to my grade 5 teacher. His response: Establish a love of reading he’ll learn to spell. My mom wasn’t overly pleased with his answer. Now I blog, my writing has been published and I can spell 🙂

Lol that’s hilarious. So the interesting thing is that he is a crazy reader and consumes books like crazy. And he is actually reading and comprehending, not just flying through it. They said he is at a level above his grade for reading and when I ask him to look at the words he spells, he tells me which ones are wrong and which ones are correct. Then when I ask him to take his time and imagine the word in a sentence or on a page in a book, he often gets it right. So maybe it’s just patience and time he needs more than anything.


I know he’s a good writer I see the books he reads.

Perhaps when he writes he just wants to get his ideas down quickly.  Be careful not to over focus on spelling as some kids just default to using simpler, less powerful words.

Yes, thats something to consider for sure. Luckily his teacher says she’s not worried at all but is making spelling a focus in her class by doing all sorts of techniques. I think I’ll just try a few things on my own with him when he’s relaxed and we’re alone and not rushed. Make it fun instead of cramming it down his throat. Hehehe.

Thanks Pete!!

No problem!! If he was a weak reader I’d be concerned. Weak speller… not so much.  Fact that you’re a parent who is supporting and helping him is a bonus. 

Do you mind if I create a blog post out of our conversation and share with other teachers? It may prove helpful to get other opinions and perspectives.

Yes of course, that would be very cool. Then let me add that I don’t think it’s healthy to rely on technology to solve or take care of children’s and ‘soon to be adults’ spelling issues or spelling in general. To me it’s like music, it affects the brain and cognitive ability to know how to see words and spelling them in our minds. Unless there is a true underlying cause, like dyslexia, for a child’s inability to read and thus write, then I think it is developmentally crucial for kids and adults to spell. It goes beyond basic spelling, it affects how we communicate with others and see the world, see and learn other languages, even how we relate and interact in society. In essence, I believe there is so much more to knowing how to spell than simply writing out the letters in the correct sequence.

Interesting points! Question: Does _____ write with good detail and elaboration? Is his sentence structure ok? What type of word is he misspelling? Are you seeing a pattern?

Yes to first questions and I’ll send you photo of his last tests. I’m not sure if there is a pattern or specific words. It more like a disconnect between what he says and sequence of letters. 

Ah! The ol’ dictations! Kai did dictations during some of his school years. We’d spend 15-20 minutes 3 nights a week memorizing the words. He’d always get perfect on the dictation. 

BUT guess how he’d do when I gave him a smattering of his dictation words a month later?  He’d get 50-70%. I also found the same when I used to do dictations with my students

I don’t do dictations anymore and encourage reading every night instead. 

What are your experiences with teaching and learning spelling? What worked for you? What works for your students? What would your response to my friend be?

Note: I also reached out to my PLN on Twitter and the response was great (see below). Thank you to all who contributed to the conversation with their thoughts, resources and ideas. Keep them coming!


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My Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship Journey

I was recently asked to deliver a presentation to my School Board about my Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship experience aboard the National Geographic Quest.

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I figured I’d share my presentation in case others might be interested in knowing how a grade 5/6 teacher from Thunder Bay, Ontario managed to travel with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic from Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska via the Inside Passage for a two week trip of a lifetime!

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My love of the outdoors and quest for adventure was instilled in me at a very young age exploring nature’s wonders in and around Thunder Bay.  

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As I grew older, travel allowed me to explore the world with my wife and eventually our son. I believe it’s through adventure that I learned some of my life’s greatest lessons and I was able to pass on those lessons to my own son. 

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During the first half of my career, with the limited resources I had available to me, I tried to bring a sense of adventure to my students. I wanted to get them excited about coming to school every day to learn and explore.

Before being connected was really even “a thing”, I strove to establish a connected classroom. I taught my students the importance of knowing themselves and connecting with their peers, their family, our community, the environment and, with God.

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At almost exactly the halfway point of my career (about 10 years ago), technology allowed me to connect my students to the world in ways I never dreamed possible.  Every new school day would bring seemingly endless opportunities for exploration and adventure.

Being connected allowed my students to initiate many collaborative projects such as The Give 4 Christmas Challenge, The MAD Project and K Cups 4 Classrooms.  

Being connected allowed us to learn about local Anishinaabe Water Walker Nokomis Josephine Mandamin and invite her to our classroom. 

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It’s what allowed us to start the Junior Water Walkers movement, a quest to follow in her footsteps.

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This led Google Earth to send a documentary team from their headquarters to Thunder Bay and St.Elizabeth school to capture the journey.

My work as a connected educator led National Geographic to feature me as Spotlight Educator.

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And this connection led me to the National Geographic Educator program and an incredible community of like minded educators.

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And shortly after I became their Canadian ambassador for National Geographic Education and a mentor for others taking the certification. Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 8.54.14 PM

My connection with National Geographic created opportunities for me to travel to Google in Chicago, Seattle and Mountainview to work with Google Earth Outreach to develop content using Google Earth as a learning platform.  I am a Google Earth Education Expert and a Trusted Tester.

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I was encouraged to apply for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship; an opportunity for teachers to travel with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic to bring their experience and learning back to kids.

In February of last year I found out I was accepted and a whirlwind of learning and adventure ensued.  

First, the 45 Teacher Fellows met at National Geographic in Washington in April where we received a week of intensive training

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from National Geographic’s best photographers, videographers, naturalists, scientists writers and story tellers.

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And, as I always do when I travel, I had my students help prepare for my trip and stayed connected with them while I was away.Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 8.55.17 PM

My expedition to Alaska was one of the longest ones offered and the itinerary was incredibly expansive. So I called on my students for help. They became my travel guides, with 14 pairs of students becoming experts on the different places I’d be travelling.

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My students built a Google Tour and as they informed one another and myself about where I’d be travelling the excitement mounted.

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Although I couldn’t take my students (or my son or wife, Cheryl) with me, I was determined to help them experience my adventure as close to the real thing as possible. So they all travelled virtually with me via a variety of digital tools on my “Passage to Sitka”,  and most of their learning for the next two weeks revolved around my expedition.  

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Although my expedition to Alaska has come to an end, my Fellowship still continues. It’s my responsibility to continue to share my experiences. I want kids to understand that nothing is out of their reach and opportunities to explore are all around them.

My “GO! Explore” initiative is a global project aimed at having students from around the world explore their own local natural environments and share their favourite places with one another. The official webpage is coming soon!


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GO! Explore!


Part of my commitment as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow is to bring my experience back to my classroom. I spent a lot of time reflecting on how I could best leverage my experience to encourage kids to find their own “inner explorer”. While working on my draft plan, I thought I’d reach out to my PLN to see if they may be interested in joining my students in the experience, so I tweeted the following:

Within a few days I was overwhelmed with the response and excited about the potential for the idea!

I happened to be on the road traveling and exploring with my family during the month of July but continued to work on the draft for my plan to be submitted to National Geographic by the end of the month. I managed to secure enough wifi to complete and submit and received positive feedback from my peers and the National Geographic Education Community. I also insured those who had expressed interest in joining the project that more info was to follow. Though I have not officially built the webpage (due to another busy month of exploring close to home in Thunder Bay), I wanted to share my draft with those interested in joining our Go! Explore! Project. Below is the draft. If you are interested in joining us (to any degree) please fill out this form and I’ll be in touch ASAP with the finalized webpage and more information!

Thanks for your interest in working together to build an “Explorer’s Mindset” with our students.


Project Title: GO! (Get Outside) Explore.
I want to leverage my Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship experience to encourage
both my students and students from around the world to be explorers. I want to use my
experience aboard the National Geographic Quest to inspire kids to explore, but have them realize that my beginnings as an explorer started in my own backyard.
GO! Explore. encourages kids to be explorers in their own community and in their own classroom. It also uses the power of technology to allow kids to explore and share experiences beyond the walls of their classrooms and to make a difference together.
Highlighting my GTF expedition aboard The National Geographic Quest as well as my experience exploring my own community. Including messages from 2019 Teacher Fellows.
Recommended Age(s)/Grade(s):
All Grades (K-12)
Time Needed
– Preparation: Preparation and execution will be dependent on the extent to
which a teacher participates in the project. It can vary from a day or two to a full year.
Time Needed
– Execution:
Preparation and execution will be dependent on the extent to which
a teacher participates in the project. It can vary from a day or two to a full year.
Standards (optional):
By the end of this project, students will:
-understand what it means to explore
-identify natural environments in their community
-explore local natural environment(s) with class
-understand the significance of local natural environments on humans, animals and plants and how they are all interconnected
-use a variety of means (text, photos, videos, art, etc) to describe the local natural environment(s) visited with class.
-visit a favourite local natural environment with a family member and use a variety of means (text, photos,videos, art, etc) to describe it.
-keep an online “Explorer’s Log” to record their many learning adventures.
-Create a Google My Map to share our favourite local environments with others
-use social media to encourage other classes to feature their favourite local natural
environment(s) on a shared map which will allow students to learn about other places
throughout the world and further develop an “explorers mindset” within children.
-plan and carry out an action project which will help to protect/preserve a local natural
-become naturally curious, instilling in students a desire to explore their own communities and
-become globally conscious citizens who will want to make a difference in their world
Materials and Preparation Needed:
-“Explorer Mindset” website created by GTF Kelly Koller
-Books and websites with exploration themes such as “Paddle to the Sea”, Nat Geo Explorer Classrooms, ExploringBy the Seat of Your Pants, Google Earth Voyageur stories, etc
-shared Google My Map
-Google form to have others join project
-GO! Explore webpage
-Determine class locations to explore locally (can be one or more)
-Letter to parents and permission forms.
-reach out to local conservation authority, etc to partner with and/or guide on excursion to natural environment.
-iPods for taking photos/shooting video
-Notebooks for sketching and making observations.
-Computers/tablets for composing their shareable piece for My Map and individual “Adventure Logs”
-Planning of field trips
-Information for parents in regards family excursion to a favourite natural place
This project can be done as number of lessons throughout the course of the school year, with the end goal of having students become naturally curious; instilling in them a desire to explore their own communities and beyond. In turn, they will become globally conscious citizens who will want to make a difference in their world.
-At the beginning of the school year, I will have students brainstorm what the word “explore” means.
-After using the “Explorer Mindset” website (Kelly Koller) and Nat Geo Education Website (Nat Geo Learning Framework) we will develop a shared definition of the word “explore”.
-I will share the video “Find Your Inner Explorer” that I created after my expedition as a GFT to the Inside Passage. It features the highlights of my expedition but also speaks to the fact that I never had the opportunity to explore much beyond the borders of my community until I was an adult. The second part of the video features the natural places I love to explore in and around Thunder Bay and encourages students to GO! Explore. their own community. The third part of the video features a number of 2019 GTFs sharing how they started to explore as a child; mostly places that were close to home.
-I will set our whole year up to be one of exploration and adventure having my students realize that you don’t have to travel far to explore.
-We will begin our explorations by exploring our own school yard as well as by beginning to read the book “Paddle to the Sea”. This will begin to instill an “Explorers Mindset” in the students and have them understand that you don’t have to go far to explore; opportunities are all around us!
-We will plan a shot excursion to our closest local park (Vickers Park). We will learn about the history of the park before we visit it. We will walk to our local park and bring our notebooks to record our observations while exploring. We will also take photos and video.
-Upon returning to the school we will work to collectively write a piece to share our learning about Vickers with others. We will include information from our observations as well as opinion pieces, artistic renderings, photos and possible videos will be included.
-A Google My Map will be created to share our learning about our local park with others
(parents, local schools and schools throughout the world). It is hoped that this will encourage other classes to explore a natural environment close to their school and share and compare their learning with others.
-Students will use Google Maps and other resources to learn about other natural environments in and around our community (such as conservation areas) and research areas to possibly visit.
-A visit to a natural environment will be made as a class. Students will make notes and
observations in their notebooks about the various flora and fauna as well as any other learning. Students will compile their information into a shared doc which will be shared on our My Map.
-Again, we will use social media to invite other classes to “visit” our Map and explore the natural environment that we have provided information on. Other classes will be encouraged to continue to GO! Explore! and share their learning on the global shared map.
-In the late Fall or Early spring a note will be sent home encouraging families to
GO, Explore! a natural place of their choice.
-Students use a variety of means (text, photos, video, art) to tell their peers and others involved in theGo, Explore! initiative about one of their favourite natural places in or around their community and pin their information with location to our My Map.
-Students will explore each others’ favourite places via our My Map and continue to establish an “Explorers Mindset”, hopefully instilling a desire to want to explore one another’s place with family and friends.
-A specific effort will be made by our class to connect with our Northern Aboriginal Communities as well as ones on the Pacific West Coast that Mr. Cameron established connections with while on his GTF expedition along the Inside Passage, particularly Alert Bay and Barnoff Island.
-As we begin to reach out and learn about natural places beyond our community via our shared My Map, we will also explore places virtually using the Nat Geo Explorer Classroom, Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants, Google Earth Voyageur stories and also follow Lindblad expeditions.
-As we explore, students will add to their inline virtual journal (Explorer’s Log) to record their learning and observations of all the different places in the world we have “visited”.
-Our class will share our growing My Map of Thunder Bay’s favourite natural spaces with other classes and encourage them to continue to add to their map and share. In essence, kids from around the world will collaborate to create a “Kids Travel Guild of Favourite Places”.
-Based on class and individual explorations of Natural Places in our community, we will
determine a focus for our Make A Difference Project, which may be done as a whole class, as individuals or in groups. Our Junior Water Walker initiative would be a natural tie into our action project.
-Our exploration theme will carry over into all subject areas. For example, students will an “Explorers Mindset in science, during their study of Space, as they become astronauts and explore the Solar System or scientists while exploring the Human Body. In Art, students will become travelers to virtual museums all over the world and be inspired by the worlds of Van Gough, Pacasso, etc. In Social Studies, students will become time travelers and travel back in time to explore the different Native Cultures of Canada, pre and post European contact. The opportunities to establish an “Explorers Mindset” across all subject are endless
New vocabulary will arise as the project progresses but the word explore
will be the central theme and focus.
Scales and Perspectives, Human and Natural World Connections:
This project is intentionally focused to start local and is scaffolded to go global. The
GO! Explore project will encourage students to get outside and explore their own community and understand the interconnections between their natural and human world. They will record their learning in their “Explorer’s Logs” which will help to reinforce the learning that took place on each exploration. By sharing their learning with others, students will have the opportunity to learn about and explore other natural environments throughout their region, province, country and even throughout the world. This opportunity to connect and learn with others will make students more globally connected, conscious and aware citizens who will be inspired to continue to
explore their world and make it a better place.
Learning Framework Connections:
Since the focus of the Go! Explore project is to instill an “Explorer’s Mindset” in students, I believe connections to all areas of the Learning Framework are easily achievable.
Curiosity- through exploring natural environments in their local community, students will become naturally curious to learn about the flora and fauna that are observed. Through connecting and sharing with other classes students will become curious to learn about and explore natural environments beyond their local communities.
(Youth initiate and participate in adventures with little supervision or structure.)
Responsibility– by personally visiting and exploring natural places in their own community, students will feel stewardship towards these places and take responsibility to protect and preserve them.
(Youth identify injustices in the world and problem-solve social and environmental problems)
Empowerment– by sharing their natural places via a My Map with other students throughout the world, students will be empowered knowing they are sharing their learning far beyond their own classroom and essentially putting their community “on the map”.
(Youth openly share their opinions with peers and adults, and they listen to and celebrate others’ opinions.)
Observation– students will observe the many different flora and fauna during their explorations to natural environments in and around their community.
(Youth use geographic tools to observe and analyze relationships between people, places, and Earth systems.)
Communication- students will communicate their learning in the field notebooks while exploring and after their explorations, in their online Explorer’s Logs.
(Youth create and publish content across a diverse range of media, and select the format best suited for project goals.)
Collaboration- students will work together to create a My Map to share their favourite natural places in Thunder Bay with other classes. Students will collaborate with other classes to encourage them to share information about natural environments in their local communities.
(Youth participate in collaborative work (e.g, projects, discussions.) with diverse participants on issues or problems outside of the classroom—in the community or in the larger world.)
Problem Solving- students will work together to understand how natural environments in their local communities might be at risk and identify ways in which they might make a difference.
(Youth plan and take action, and they evaluate the results of actions.)
Human Journey– by working collaboratively within our own class and with other classes
throughout the world students will come to better understand our own community and the communities of others. Students will recognize similarities in both the human and natural world and understand that we are all connected.
(Youth focus on the role that cities play in our human story.)
Changing Planet– through our cumulating Make a Difference action project, students will have a better understanding of the physical world. The tie in with the Junior Water Walkers project will allow children to understand the importance of water and what we can do to preserve and protect it. (Youth understand major Earth systems, especially the water cycle and the role it plays in shaping the Earth and its weather.)
Wildlife and Wild Place- students will problem solve to work together to preserve and protect the natural spaces they have explored throughout the year.
(Youth are able to propose possible solutions to problems related to the protection of critical
Taking Action:
At the end of the school year, after exploring many natural spaces within our community, students will work as a whole class, in groups or individually on Make A Difference projects which will focus on protecting and preserving one or more of the natural places our class (or a family) has visited. Students will share the work of their Make A Difference project at a M.A.D Fair, where our school community will be invited during the showcasing of the projects.
Students will draw on the learning gained throughout the course of the school year to determine how they will compete their Make a Difference projects. For example, students may use technology, art work, photographs, videos and/or text on their displays for the M.A.D Fair.
The shared My Map encouraging others to share favourite natural environments in their local communities could be far reaching, allowing students to come together throughout the world to learn and share with one another.
There are many facets to the GO! Explore. project and many areas that will be assessed. I will use a wide variety of assessments including checklists, rubrics, portfolios and peer and self evaluation.
Opportunities for Modifications and Extensions:
The Go! Explore. project can be modified to meet the needs of any teacher wishing to bring it to his/her classroom. A teacher may wish to do one activity from the project, many or all. Below are a few suggested means to modify.
Teachers of younger students may wish to only do one excursion to a local natural environment and share their learning through illustrations. Teachers may not wish to have their students participate in the family component of the Go! Explore. project.
Teachers can have students share the local natural places using a variety of means.
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