“Deep” Learning?

DSC02856 (1)

Thanks Jen Hegna for tagging me in your recent blog post “Reflections of Deeper Learning PD”. (We are looking forward to having her share at our #MADPD Day on May 7th). It was a very timely post for me as I’ve recently been reflecting on the term “deep learning”. Below are my comments left on Jen’s post. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Jen, I LOVE how you are leading to redesign and redefine PD. My two big “ahhas” were:

1. “Making the invisible – visible (student artifacts, teachers sharing)”. YES!!! We need to see many more examples of student work in professional development sessions. I would love to see more students actually sharing their work and voice at teacher PD sessions, but logistically that is difficult, though not impossible. From a classroom teacher’s point of view, when teachers are given opportunities to share, my learning goes deeper.

2. “If we believe deeper learning can benefit students – we should model deeper learning strategies in PD.” Exactly. Teachers model all the time. It’s how we get the desired results in our classrooms. If we model our vision of learning and create an environment where deeper learning can thrive, it will happen. Deeper learning comes from deeper questions.

“Deep learning” has quickly become a new catch phrase in education. How is it defined? How is it evaluated? How do we know it’s happening? Sometimes the results of deep learning happen long after the project is done. Sometimes the results of deep learning are not visible at all. Deep learning isn’t a “one off”… it’s simply becomes a way that we learn and think about things. I’m not sure anyone can look at a project from a distance and say “yes” that’s deep learning or no it isn’t. If you want to determine if deep learning (however that is defined) is happening, visit classrooms…not for an hour or even a a day… visit them often and talk to kids and listen to them talk and share. Listen to how they talk, how they think and how they question and you’ll then understand how they learn.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Minecraft Selfie and the power a Simple SHARE!

Last Monday, my teaching partner Melinda Shaughnessy offered to share her Minecraft selfie idea with me. Since I was just introducing transformational geometry to my students, I thought this would be a great way start. I left my supply teacher instructions to have my students self direct their learning; to research transformations, watch instructional videos and read webpages that they found relevant and met their learning needs. They took jot notes as they researched and then conquered the Minecraft selfie to demonstrate their understanding of what they had learned.

When I returned the following day, I took a video of a few exemplars and tweeted it which allowed me to share some good examplars with my students. I also share our learning with my students’ parents and included the tweet in our weekly blog.

The tweet received a lot of attention from the greater education community:

Many teachers asked for more information and said that they’d like to try the activity with their class. So, in the spirit of sharing, I’ve compiled a PDF that will help get teachers get started. My class would LOVE to see how your Minecraft selfies turn out. Please tag us in a tweet!

I’d also like to share an extension idea. A past student, Karli Bender, has recently stated teaching in the UK. She contacted me hoping to start a “pen pal friendship” between my class and hers. Of course, I’m all over it and my kids are beyond excited. Here’s my idea: I’m going to have my kids create another Minecraft selfie, this time with the goal of representing themselves as accurately as possible on a larger sized grid paper. They will then write with the body of their letter including three paragraphs; the first on their appearance, the second on their personality and the last on personal facts. We’ll send the letters with the Minecraft selfies included. Karli’s class will be tasked with reading the letters and trying to match the selfies to the writer. If time permits, I’ll have my kids voice record (podcast their letters as well).

Karli has recently written to ask if I know of another class who may be interested in becoming pen pals with her other class. I’m pretty sure I do…. I’ll be asking Mrs. Shaughnessey if her class would like to share in the fun!

Thanks Melinda for sharing your Minecraft selfie activity.

There truly is power in sharing!



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We are ALL Difference Makers

Jose would be arriving in my class in three weeks, I was told. His family was migrating from Venezuela to Thunder Bay. He’d be attending St. Elizabeth School. In my class. He screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-1-06-58-pmcouldn’t speak English. Not a word. Gulp. How could I help? What would I do? How could I make a difference for Jose?

We had access to iPads. I researched translator apps and found “Translator Pro“. My kids learned to speak Spanish. When Jose arrived on his first day at St.Elizabeth school he looked sad, nervous and scared. So did his mom and dad. I approached his family and said, “Welcome Jose, you are going to love your new school and classmates. We are happy to have you in our class!” Blank stares. From behind my back I produced the iPad. I had Jose push a magical button and the iPad translated my greeting into Spanish and spoke,Bienvenido Jose, vas a amar a tu nueva escuela y compañeros de clase. Estamos felices de tenerte en nuestra class!” A huge smile lit up Jose’s face. His dad shook my hand. His mom cried. Tears of joy. 

We walked to our class. My students greeted and conversed with our new friend in Spanish. Jose excelled. He learned a thousand English words by the end of the school year. He was conversing with his classmates in English and was teaching them more Spanish. He taught his peers incredible soccer moves and became our track star. Jose was happy.

Teachers have so many incredible tools at their finger tips to help make a difference for their students. In turn by modelling creative, thoughtful, innovative use of technology we are demonstrating to our children how they can make a positive difference in their lives and the lives of others.

Innovating is looking beyond “what is” and asking “what could be?” In early April I’ll be presenting a Keynote titled “We are ALL Difference Makers” where I’ll be sharing many different examples of how I’ve innovated to make a difference for myself, as a teacher, my students, my community and even the world.  I’m hoping that many teachers will help contribute to my keynote by sharing one example of how they’ve  innovated to make a difference. **Please note, an innovative idea might have nothing to do with using technology. By sharing our innovative ideas we will collectively make a difference for our global community of learners. If you are willing to contribute please take a moment to fill in this Google form:  We are ALL Difference Makers.

Thank YOU for making a difference!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Over the past three weeks my students and I walked the Secret Path with Chanie Wenjack, a young 12 year old boy who ran away from the Cecilia Residential Residential School in Kenora, Ontario in 1966. Our journey with Chanie can be read in our blog post: ‘Walking the Secret Path’. My students are now impassioned with making a difference for Chanie, to help remember him and his story (see all their ideas in our original post).


When Chanie ran away from the residential school he managed to walk 60 kilometres of the 600  he needed to cover to reach his home at Ogokji Post.  One group of students suggested we walk 60 kilometres together as a class. Our goal is to walk one kilometre a day for 60 days. If 9 other classes joined our walk, together we’d cover the 600 kilometres that Chanie needed get back home.

If you’d like to join us in our #WalkwithChanie please let us know by tweeting to the hashtag!

We will not forget you Chanie.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Walking the Secret Path


When I first watched Gord Downie’s Secret Path I was moved beyond words. I knew I had to invite Chanie into my class but I wasn’t sure how. I reached out to our Native Resource Teacher, Mrs. Fiddler for advice, guidance and support.

Part One- Monday and Tuesday- A Journey to Canada’s Past


Over the past two days Mrs. Fiddler has taken us on a journey…into Canada’s past. She took my class to places I never could have. She shared stories that I didn’t even know existed. She brought authentic artifacts that my students could hold, feel and smell.  Mrs. Fiddler brought us back in time and  helped us to learn, understand and question.

As my students travelled, they took “field notes” in their Adventure Logs. Their notes reflected their learning and understanding. They also listed many questions. Some were answered and many remain unanswered. This morning we debriefed to share our learning and our questions. I pushed my students to reflect on their journey and to dig deep and share their take aways.

We also added our learning from our journey to Canada’s Past with Mrs. Fiddler to our Digital Adventure Logs. Below are a few examples.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the end of the day I told my students that I was anxious for them to meet a young boy who I had recently met.  Chanie would be visiting our class the next day.  They were ready to walk his Secret Path….

Part Two- Wednesday to Friday- Walking With Chanie


It’s Friday and I finally have a chance to reflect on and share where we’ve travelled over the last three days. It has been a very emotional journey. I am so proud of my students for honouring Chanie and becoming so impassioned with his story. I’m also grateful for having Tesa Fiddler as our guide.

On Wednesday my students came to school with mixed emotions about travelling back in time to 1966 to meet Chaine at the Cecilia Residential Residential School in Kenora, Ontario. They were excited, anxious and nervous all at the same time. So was I. Mrs. Fiddler arrived back in our classroom with a warm smile and a comfortable disposition. We were all in good hands. She set the stage for our journey by sharing her own family’s personal experience with residential schools and a discussion ensued about some of the lasting impacts. Tesa went on to talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how Canada is trying to right past mistakes. She introduced my class to Gord Downie and many “light bulbs” went on when she mentioned his band, The Tragically Hip. Many of their parents were fans and by default, so were my students. Mrs. Fiddler played a clip from Gord’s last concert singing New Orleans is Sinking (one of my favourites) and then shared the part of the concert where he addressed our Prime Minister.

With our guide leading the way, Mrs. Fiddler handed out the Secret Path novels and copies of the lyrics. With our adventure logs in hand and the video cued on the SMART Board, our journey began. My students walked with Chanie away from his residential school and along the railway tracks from Kenora in his quest to reach his home at Ogoki Post some 400 kilometers away.  Chanie never completed his journey. However, Gord Downie’s lyrics and Jeff Lemire’s illustrations  have allowed us to  walk with Chanie, to learn, feel, question and…understand. Chaine, you have taught us more than you will ever know.

We will never forget you.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My students spent Thursday and Friday continuing to reflect on their journey. They compiled all of their learning as a chapter in their Digital Adventure Logs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Part 3- Secret Math Path

As well, we embarked on a Secret Path Math Journey. Feel free take on the math challenges with your students.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My students were inspired to do something to honour Chaine and keep his spirit, memory and story alive. I challenged them to take on their own M.A.D Projects. I was touched by my students’ ideas. Watch for updates as they put their ideas into ACTION!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Part 5- #WalkwithChanie

Today we started an art project inspired by Chanie. My direction to my students was to create an art piece that fit the title #WalkwithChanie. My students chose the medium and how they wished to create their piece. Most used the iPads to view and listen to the Secret Path again. Many of my students sang along with the lyrics. Join our ‘Walk with Chanie!

Please visit

The 1967 McClean’s story of Chanie  Wenjack: The Lonely Death of Chanie Wenjack

The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments


I just finished applying for the National Geographic Educator program. I was recently named a National Geographic Educator of the Week and am very proud and excited to be connected with such an amazing group of people. In December I was thrilled to be asked to work in cooperation with National Geographic Education, Google and 20 amazing educators from across North America on a very exciting project (more to come…)!

For those of you who know me, know that I love to travel, adventure and explore. I believe some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my life have come through adventure. Isn’t learning just that…. AN ADVENTURE? My Capstone project combines my passion for breaking down classroom walls, teaching outside of the text and empowering students to recognize their tremendous potential to make a difference. I am sharing my lesson (project) plan and my video…. “IMAGINE”. If you are interested or have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

First Podcast: Success, Failure and Climbing Mountains!

Recently Derek Rhodenizer invited me onto his podcast to discuss PBL. We never got that far, we couldn’t get off the topic of failure! Derek asked me point blank what failure was and after a bit of thinking I responded that it was an opportunity to learn. From there the podcast simply unfolded and a great discussion ensued. It seems that Derek and I can talk forever! The conversation spilled over to our mutual Twitter PLN and Derek wisely started the hashtag #whatisfailure to archive the great conversation.

And then it happened….with the conversation still fresh on my mind and with many ideas still spinning in my head, my students and I googled: “Inspiring poems on courage for kids”. What transpired was simply one of those crazy “AH HA”  moments we all love to experience as teachers. I wanted to blog about it to get my ideas down as soon as possible. The problem was, I couldn’t. I simply didn’t have enough time. So took a deep breathe and attempted my first podcast. It’s raw, unedited and certainly not perfect. But I make no apologies. The purpose of the podcast was to allow me to get my  thoughts down, reflect and learn. I’m happy to share them with you and as always, appreciate your input.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Want to improve student achievement?


Together we can do it!


Do *REAL (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lasting) work.

Create opportunities for students to make a difference.

Allow students to explore passions and interests.

Connect with your students’ parents.

Read with your students every day.

Less lectures, more field trips.

Create more, consume less.

More feedback, less grades.

Learn with your students.

More choice and voice.

Encourage questions.

Move more, sit less.

Celebrate failure.

Laugh more.


Laugh more.

Celebrate failure.

Move more, sit less.

Encourage questions.

More choice and voice.

Learn with your children.

Talk/share more, text less.

Create more, consume less.

Less lectures, more field trips.

Read with your children everyday.

Connect with your children’s teachers.

Encourage your children to explore passions/interests.

Create opportunities for your children to make a difference.

Model life long learning that’s REAL (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lasting ).


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teaching math? Get REAL!

A total shift in my math teaching mindset occurred a few years ago after straying from the math textbook, as I traditionally did once a year at Christmas during our annual fundraising efforts for our local Shelter House. As tradition has it, my students raise money via a yard sale and then go shopping to a local grocery store where they purchase food for the less fortunate and finally hand deliver the food (a truck full) to the Shelter. Math, during this time, becomes relevant and “real” to my students.  They work with the money we raise and figure out totals, percentages, budgets, unit pricing and manage and analyze the data. For me, teaching math this way proved incredibly rewarding and easy. My students really seemed to”get” the concepts we were discussing.

However, upon returning to school in January, after Christmas Break, I would reluctantly return to the math textbook and math once again, felt mundane and teaching it often felt like pulling teeth. One day, in the middle of January, after returning from recess I asked my students to take out their math texts and turn to their new unit on Geometry. As my kids extracted their texts from their desks, I once again felt more like a dentist than a teacher, I was back to pulling teeth! It was at that pivotal moment that Erin let out I sigh and implored, “Mr. C, when are we going to do some real math again?” Her question stopped me in my tracks. I felt the same way and so did the rest of my class. However, I also felt conflicted. I knew the text like the back of my hand. The questions, assignments, black line masters  and unit tests were all laid out for me. The path was familiar and easy to follow and navigate.  But at the same time my students wanted more. The text didn’t provide the same opportunities for learning math that they desired. They wanted to do real math.

So I took a deep breathe, told my students to put their math textbooks away and put their outdoor clothing back on. Once outside I instructed them get into teams of two and construct a rectangular prism out of snow. The math talk and problem solving immediately began. I brought out the camera and took pictures and video of their learning. We brought all the prisms back inside and I challenged them to find the perimeter and area of the base of their snow cubes. From there we worked on the volume and I figured, while we’re at it, I could introduce surface area. The kids decided they could draw nets to IMG_2590help them find the surface area. The students were completely engrossed in their math and really seemed to be getting it. Their computations were based on something that was relevant, tangible and real to them. We decided that the following day we would compare our prisms, work out the mean and medium and graph and analyze the  data collected. As their rectangular snow prisms began to melt and my students prepared to leave for the day, Erin approached me with a huge smile on her face and thanked me for returning to real math. I thanked her for the challenge and for having the courage to speak up. As the kids walked out the door, I reflected on the number of expectations I had covered in one single lesson because we weren’t  confined and limited to the content of the text. We had the freedom to explore many different math concepts, traveling down some familiar paths, as well as new and unexpected ones.

Over the course of the following years I slowly strayed further and further from the math text to the point where I am today; the math text collects dust on shelves in the back of my room. Finding content is easy! Math is all around us and we have tools at our finger tips to bring real math to our students!  My favourite tools are a camera, SMART Notebook, iMovie, QuickTime GarageBand, Photo Booth and Explain Everything. I’ve also found that students are much more excited and confident to share their math thinking when they have ownership of the content. My students have also become creators of math content for one another and they are excited to know that I’ll share their problems with my future students. As well, by using Twitter and our class blog to share my students’ math thinking and challenges  my students (and their parents!) have become active, involved and engaged learners in our math journeys.

Where are you in your math teaching journey? What works? What doesn’t? Have you become a slave to the text? Or does the text work for you? Have you found a balance between your own math problems and textbook problems? What are you still struggling with? One thing I know for sure: Teaching math doesn’t have to feel like pulling teeth! Would love to hear your thoughts!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What teaching has taught me.


Kids always come first.

Students learn best from asking questions.

Kids can’t sit all day.

Math is best taught with “real world” questions.

It’s never going to be perfect.

Admit your mistakes.

Greet each child with a smile regardless of when they show up for  class.

Relationships matter.

Laughter creates a positive work environment.

We’re supposed to makes mistakes, that’s how we learn.

The best lessons never come from a textbook.

In life, there’s just some hoops we have to jump through.

Volunteering with a class will forever change it.

Practice makes progress.

Time heals.

When kids respect you they don’t want to disappoint you.

Change is good.

You don’t always get what you want… thank God!

A simple compliment can change a life.

Make time for reflection everyday.

The most important test I need to prepare my students for is LIFE.

Rest if you must but never quit.

If you’re nervous it means you care.

The more you give the more you get.

Wait time is the key involvement.

Parents are the most important stakeholders in students’ education. Involve them.

Kids want to change the world.

Sometimes you gotta wing it.

Ask kids what they want to learn.

Praise is a natural remedy.

All kids want to learn, they just learn differently.

I want to teach kids how to think, not what to think.

When you believe in kids they believe in themselves.





Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment