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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Find Your Inner Explorer

In my lifetime I have travelled across Canada, hiked for three weeks in Yukon and Alaska, backpacked across Ecuador, explored the beaches of  Hawaii, lived amongst the locals in Newfoundland, visited countless incredible cities in Canada and the United States and called Europe home for five summers.

Travelling, adventure and exploration is in my blood; it makes me who I am. I believe it has made me a better person; a better husband, dad, son and teacher.

When I heard of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions, there was absolutely no question that I would apply! THIS was a professional development opportunity of a lifetime!

I’ll never forget the day when my principal walked into The Cottage (it’s what we call my portable classroom) and told me I had to take a phone call in his office. National Geographic was calling to tell me that I’d be travelling from Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska aboard The Quest via The Inside Passage for a two week adventure of a lifetime.

In March I travelled to National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, DC where myself, forty-four other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows and National Geographic and Lindblad staff would meet for a week of invaluable learning. Not only did I glean invaluable knowledge and skills in photography, videography, public speaking and leadership, I gained an incredible network of like-minded educators. Through a National Geographic online community and a more informal What’s Apps conversation we keep in touch  on a daily basis to share and support one another in the classroom and follow along in one another’s adventures.

In early May, myself, Alisha Lindsay and Kerry Hynes were the second group of Teacher Fellows to embark on our expedition. The first group had just returned from The British Isles.  Since our return, other Grosvenor Teacher Fellows have headed to, or are waiting to go to the High Arctic,  Central America, Antarctica and the Galápagos Islands.

The intent of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship is to allow teachers to travel to remote regions of the earth and then bring their learning back to their classrooms. It’s a responsibility and opportunity that none of us take lightly. In the two weeks leading up to my expedition I had my students become my travel agents. I gave them my itinerary and each student picked a place that they would become an “expert” on. The built presentations on the various places I’d be visiting such as Victoria, Petersburg, Misty Fjords and Glacier National Park. They reported to their classmates and myself what I might expect to see and experience, any environmental issues associated with the location and “big” questions they might have. They built their learning into a Google Tour and called it Mr.C’s Voyage. Passage to Sitka! My travel agents did a great job preparing me for my expedition.

While aboard The Quest my students followed my journey carefully and virtually learned along side me. It was my turn to build a Google Tour; “Passage to Sitka” which allowed my students (and family) to join me through pictures, video and text. I also attempted to blog and provide updates through my Twitter feed.  An unexpected role that I took on was that of a teacher ambassador. I had countless discussions with staff and guests aboard The Quest about education today and how both teaching and learning has changed and evolved. I had the opportunity to do an evening talk on my “Connected Classroom” which was well received and created further conversation and inquiries. I’m happy to have remained connected with many of the staff and guests and have even brought some of them into my learning environment upon my return.

Speaking of my return. My colleagues were anxious to have their students learn about my travels as well and asked if I might share my expedition with the school community. It was an opportunity I was pleased to accept but also one that I didn’t take lightly. This was a chance for me to impress upon my whole school community. What message did I want to get across? What did I want them to learn? How would I take a half an hour on the second last day of school and turn into something that would be of value to our kindergarten to grade 6 students? I didn’t just want to entertain them with pictures and videos of whales, sea lions and bears. I wanted to inspire them.

I decided that I wanted to encourage each of them to find their own Inner Explorer. I didn’t want them look at my expedition aboard The Quest and see exploration as out of their reach. I wanted my school community to realize that I first boarded an airplane when I was thirteen and not again until I was twenty-seven. I wanted the kids to understand that my explorations began as a young child in my own backyard. I wanted them to know they didn’t need to board a plane or boat or travel in a car to explore. They had their feet and likely a set of wheels to seek adventure. Opportunities to explore are simply all around them and their wonderful city of Thunder Bay and surrounding area is a great place to start. I also wanted this message to come from others as well, so I asked my fellow Grosvenor Teacher friends to share stories of their first adventures.

On Thursday, June 27th at 2 pm I shared the following video with my school community.

I’m hoping every one of our students will find opportunities to explore this summer and I look forward to hearing about their adventures in the fall.

I’d love to hear how you create a sense of adventure and exploration in your classroom and how you encourage your students to explore.

Happy summer!


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A Day (or three) in the Life of this Grosvenor Teacher Fellow

I’m still trying to comprehend this opportunity that has been bestowed upon me. You see, I’m currently traveling aboard the National Geographic Quest with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Alisha LindseyKerry Hynes and myself are in the midst of our expedition from Seattle Washington to Sitka, Alaska via the Inside Passage. I could never have dreamed of a more powerful professional development opportunity that will tremendously impact both my students and myself. In fact, the impact has been immediate.

To help prepare for my expedition, my students became my tour guides. They were responsible for becoming the expert on one of the fourteen locations I’d be visiting on my expedition and presenting their findings to their classmates and I. My students were excited to take on this role and dove into their learning. We created a Google Tour of everyone’s presentations and my students began sketchnoting their learning.

Though they were sad to see me leave for two weeks, my class knew they’d have many opportunities to follow along and learn with me on my journey.

And, now I’m here, one week into my two week expedition and my learning has been tremendous.

This morning, after breakfast and a beautiful black bear sighting, James, one of the many incredible naturalists, gave an extensive presentation titled “The Miracle Turned Monster- Ocean Plastics”. In the afternoon we joined him on a zodiac tour to look for and sample sea plastics, in the Klewnuggit Inlet. This evening he’ll share our findings with the rest of the guests.

Yesterday, the day started with Dall’s porpoises swimming off the bow of the ship and naturalist, Jill filling us in with invaluable pieces of information as watched and listened intently. Eric, Lindblad naturalist and photographer, shared a short presentation on how to make the most of our cameras on our smart phones. After breakfast Steve, another incredibly knowledgeable naturalist, taught guests about  bear behaviour, identification and safety.  We were then able to put our new knowledge into action with the sighting of three grizzlies off the bow of the boat!

After a hearty lunch, naturalist Jill shared an incredibly informative and engaging presentation on Inside Passage Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).  Guests then took part in two afternoon activities which included bushwacking through the British Columbia rainforest, sea kayaking or zodiac cruising. I went with the bushwack and followed with a self guided kayak tour. I learned an incredible wealth of information while tramping through the rainforest with  Eric, our naturalist, while on my kayak, I simply slowed right down and took in the beautiful scenery.


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After dinner  we were treated to a wonderful video presentation titled “Whale Windows” by renowned National Geographic whale photographer Flip Nicklin. Just as the sun started to set a pair of Fin whales graced us with their presence to cap off an incredibly wonderful day.


The day before last, I was invited to write the Daily Expedition report.

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I’m trying to soak it all in, to be present in the moment and absorb it all. At the same time, I feel a great desire and responsibility to share my experience with my family,  students and friends.  I wish they could be here with me. Luckily, the power of technology is helping me stay connected with them. My students are following along with daily updates to Mr.C’s Passage to Sitka Tour and my Twitter feed and I just got off the phone with family. Though they can’t be here with me, I’m doing my best to bring them along.

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Water Walking


There’s something special about walking by water.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent the better part of my life in, on or around water. Living inThunder Bay, at the head of Lake Superior, provides ample opportunity to experience water at its finest. Cascading over large slabs of granite, tumbling over waterfalls, trickling through a moss lined creek or lapping at a sandy shore, water does something for my soul. My understanding and respect for water came from my upbringing. My dad comes from a family of Scottish fly fisherman and for me, fishing was a religion and the water was my church.  It was at the water where I acquired a love and appreciation for our natural word.

And then, one year ago Nokomis walked into my life. On five occasions I was blessed with the opportunity to learn from her. She was an incredible woman, an Anishnaabe grandmother and a water walker. She walked 25 000 kilometers around the Great Lakes bringing awareness of the need to love, respect and pray for nibi.  Nokomis had such a deeper understanding and connection to water; one that we all can learn from. She was one of my  greatest teachers and I feel incredibly blessed that water connected us.

She inspired my class to become Junior Water Walkers, and, in turn 180 classes from around the Great Lakes, across North America and throughout the world are following in her footsteps.

Throughout the year Junior Water Walker classes have been learning about, protecting and adopting bodies of water in their areas.  You can check out the #JuniorWaterWalkers hashtag to see what many classes have done for water. I’ve also blogged about our learning here.

On Fridays in May, classes are now planning their water walk. Many classes have reached out to their Indigenous Knowledge Keepers to join and guide them on their walks.

Through Nokomis’ husband Andrew, I met three wonderful women, Sheila, Leanna and Kim who were mentored by Nokomis. In fact, I have come to realize that the last time I met Nokomis was the first time I crossed paths with Sheila and Leanna.

These beautiful women are the “For Love of Rivers Water Walkers” who are water walking to bring healing to our local rivers, where seven Aninashaabe teens have died. They will be walking on June 15 and I am honoured to join them. Together, I truly hope we can find healing.

In preparation for our school wide water walk, my teaching partner Melinda Shaughnessy, our principal, Tony Rizzo and our Junior Water Walker leaders learned so much from our new friends. Together, with guidance from Tesa Fiddler, our Native Resource Teacher and Joanne Robertson, author of The Water Walker,  we planned a walk that was incredibly meaningful and powerful while also respecting and preserving traditions, ceremonies and protocols.

It was a wonderful day where the For the Lover of Rivers Water Walkers” led our Junior Water Walker leaders, who in turn led the youngest of our Junior Water Walkers.  So much learning took place. There’s still so much more to do.


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Miigwech, Nokomis for teaching us all.

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For Water: Learn. Adopt. Protect. Walk.

Just a little less than a year ago water connected my class and I to Josephine Mandamin.

As of today, one hundred and ninety-three classes from around the Great Lakes, across Canada and throughout the world have committed to learning about, adopting, protecting and walking for a body of water in honour of Nokomis, the original Water Walker.

Classes who have joined the Junior Water Walkers have taken up their own water inquiries and, like Josephine always suggested, are “going with the flow” as they let the the four pillars: learn, adopt, protect and walk guide them in their inquiries. Since Josephine was Anishnaabe and followed many sacred customs, traditions and ceremonies around water walking, Junior Water Walker classes are also connecting with and establishing relationships with their Indigenous community knowledge keepers as we work to protect water and honour Josephine, who recently passed away at age 77.

For World Water Day, I wanted to share our Junior Water Walker journey, resources and ideas and invite other classes to join us.


This pillar simply encourages people to learn about water; how it is the giver of life and the one thing that connects us all. Through the inquiry process, students will come to understand that water is precious and needs to be protected. 

Paddle to the Sea At the beginning of the school year, I read Paddle to the Sea to my students. It’s a book written in 1942, about an Indigenous boy who carves a small wooden replica of himself in a canoe and sets in in the headwaters of Lake Superior. The books follows the path the canoe takes, through the five Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence, to its eventual destination, the Atlantic Ocean. This books gives students a historical reference to the Great Lakes and helps them understand just how important the lakes are. We also did a collaborative book study with other classes living on the Great Lakes. As well, the National Film Board’s classic film is another great resource.

The Water Walker A full length documentary film by naturalist, artist and film maker Bill Mason takes students on a canoe trip through the many rivers and lakes of Ontario’s wilderness. Mason also pays respect to and recognizes how the Anishnaabe people, who lived along the Great Lakes thousands of years before the European explorers arrived, keep their waters clean and pristine.   

Blue Gold I use this Google Earth Voyageur Story which allows my students to take a virtual, current day trip through the Great Lakes to have the realize just how great the Great Lakes are but  also to understand that they are at risk.

Google Earth Google Earth is also a great resource to help students explore any body of water from a global to local perspective. This incredible tool gives students a chance to explore water ways virtually.

Fort William Historical Park I took may students on a field trip to our local Fort William Historical Park to learn how important the Anishnaabe people were in the fur trade and about many of their traditions and customs. My students also understood the importance of the Great Lakes as the trading highway for the fur trade and the development of Canada.

Anishnaabe Scrapbook My students learned about the various Native cultures throughout Canada but taking the perspective of an Anishnaabe choild living on their land prior to European contact. As they created their digital scrapbooks, students also gained a strong understanding of how water and their relation to it had an impact on the Anishnaabe people.

The Story of Us  In Canada, Truth and Reconciliation has become an important and integral part of our curriculum that can be woven through many different subject areas. The Story of Us, school friendly versions (view at your own discretion), has helped me tell the story of Canada, how water brought the Europeans to Turtle Island (North America) and forever changed its people. 

Jill Heinerth Visit  Our school community had the privilege of welcoming Canadian Geographic in Residence Explorer, Jill Heinerth to our school. She shared her experience as a world renowned cave diver and her concerns about water. My students also viewed her documentary “We are Water” and explored her website, full of incredible learning resources. 

The UN’s Global Goals  The UN’s Global Goals are an invaluable resource and one that every teacher should be familiar with. Goal 6,  Clean Water and Sanitation and Goal 14, Life Below Water  have been incredibly useful in our learning.

The Water Walker Book After all of our learning about water, in early December, I was fortunate to have Joanne Robertson, author of the Water Walker, visit my class again. Through Joanne and her children’s book “The Water Walker”, my students in this year’s class we introduced to Josephine Mandamin.

Unfortunately, due to Josephine’s failing health, she was not able to visit my class with Joanne. However, prior to the visit, at sunrise, I met Josephine, her husband Andrew, Joanne and Tesa Fiddler (our Board’s Native Resource Teacher) at Mission Marsh conservation area where Josephine held a short water ceremony. She smudged our copper bucket and drew water from Lake Superior to pass onto my class as they committed to becoming Junior Water Walkers. I am so grateful for that morning spent with Josephine. Under her direction, the water was carefully transported back to back to my class in the copper bucket and is now frozen in my freezer in mason jars awaiting of water walk in May.

Our Whole School Becomes Junior Water Walkers!  With so much “water talk” and learning going on in our two oldest grades the younger classes and teachers became interested in joining the Junior Water Walkers initiative! Our older students made presentations to the younger ones to tell them all about Josephine Mandamin and what it means to be a Junior Water Walker. This has prompted every class in our school to undertaken their own water inquiries!

Water Life Sadly, Nokomis Josephine Mandamin passed away on February 22, 2019. Primitive Entertainment made “Water Life”, a water documentary featuring Josephine available for free for all to view learn about water, the need to protect it and the incredible Water Walker we know as Nokomis.

Connecting with a Water Walker I have been in contact with Andrew Mandamin, Josephine’s husband and he has recommended a local water walker. I will be making contact with her to have her help us make decisions about our water walk in May.


This pillar encourages classes to decide on a body of water in their community that they will adopt, help to protect in some way and eventually walk at during our water walks on Fridays in May.

Our school community is still deciding on the body of water we would like to adopt and help protect. We are thinking that we’d like to have our two original Junior Water Walker classes in grades 5/6 and 6 research possible water ways in our community to adopt. The thought is that we’d have the older students do persuasive presentations to the rest of the school community and have the kids vote on the body of water which we’ll adopt, thus giving them a voice and ownership.  With that said, I need to insure the water that I have frozen in my freezer from Nokomis is honoured and returned to an appropriate water source. I’m not sure if it needs to be returned to Mission Marsh on Lake Superior or if it can be return to a river or smaller lake. There’s still so much to learn!


The idea of this pillar is to have kids understand how they can help to protect their adopted body of water which will lead to the protection of water in general.

Eco Superior Visit Our school community invited Eco Superior, a local community partner to help teach every student in our school about water conservation and protection.

M.A.D for Water Fair Our grade 5/6 and 6 classes have a tradition of hosting a M.A.D (Make A Difference) Fair in the spring each year. Our older students showcase their Make A Difference Projects science fair style, to share what they’ve done to make a difference from the local to international level. This year, their will be a water focused theme, where our oldest students will focus on making a difference for water. Many details are still being ironed out but the intent to have our eldest students inspire our youngest ones to become water stewards and protect water.


On one of the five Fridays in May, Junior Water Walker classes will walk together at their adopted body of water. Going to the water source is meant to be impactful and meaningful. As with every pillar, Junior Water Walker classes are encouraged to connect with Indigenous knowledge Keepers.

Our Walk On May 3 our entire school community will walk at our adopted body of water. We still are not sure which body of water we’ll adopt or the details of our walk. What has been established is that Joanne Robertson, author of “The Water Walker” and Josephine’s close friend will join us. As well, we will be reaching out to a local Water Walker for guidance. Tesa Fiddler, our Native Resource Teacher will also join and guide us as she always has. Eco Superior has also expressed interest in joining us on May 3.

***Update: Our Water Walk was a resounding success on May 3rd! Read about our walk titled “Water Walking”.

So there you have it! Although not a complete list of the steps and resources in our Water journey, I think it’s helpful to share and have other classes interested in, or already involved in the Junior Water Walkers know that each journey will be different, as it should be. What Josephine has told me is: “If it’s for the water, it’s for good”, “Go with the flow” and “Just do it.”

Thanks to each and every class out there for join us in honouring the incredible woman we have all come to know as Nokomis and for protecting the resource that connects us all…. Nibi….Water.

Happy #WorldWaterDay

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