WHAT IF we #TeachLikeGord?

Gord Downie’s music has simply been ever present in my life from my teenage years and onward. His music makes me happy, it makes me think, it makes me reminiscent…. it makes me proud to be Canadian. But Gord also makes me want to be better and to do better. Last year Gord helped me tell the story of Chaine Wenjack to my students and to my own child. It wasn’t an easy story to tell but it was an important one. In fact, it was arguably the most important story Gordie ever told. By Walking the Secret Path, my students changed, they became better people, and so did I. Gord changed lives by telling stories… Canadian stories.


(Vision: Isaac Moore and Josh Geddis Artwork: Steve Dawe)

Gord Downie was a teacher. He wanted to educate his students about the past and present, both good and bad, to help make a better future. He used his position as a musician to captivate his audience; to teach, motivate, question, inspire and empower.

Gord’s lyrics live in the heads and hearts of many. Anyone who grew up in Canada in the 80’s and 90’s in Canada probably knew Gord and the Tragically Hip well. Our generation was his students. But what will come of Gord’s music; Gord’s teachings? Will they slowly fade away?

I find it interesting that Gord’s last work was accompanied by a graphic novel and lyrics that were quite easier to follow and understand. Was Gord writing The Secret Path for a different audience than his typical followers? Was he singing for our children, the ones with the potential to make the greatest difference? If, in fact, the answer is yes then we can help Gord in his cause and with his vision for a greater, better Canada.

Teachers welcome an eager audience of children to their classrooms everyday. They don’t stand on a stage, but they do stand amongst children who are ready and willing to learn. They are capable of changing the world; of making it a better place. WHAT IF we all #teachlikegord, not just for a day, a week or even a month? WHAT IF Gord’s spirit became part of the fabric of the Canadian educator?  What if teachers didn’t just teach about Gordon Downie but LIKE him? WHAT IF we understood our undeniable ability to make a difference with the people in front of whom we stand every day? WHAT IF we not only listened to and told Gord’s stories, but sought to tell our own stories as well? WHAT IF we took up causes that were meaningful, significant and challenged the status quo? What if we celebrated our country for all its greatness but sought ways to make it an even greater (“cooler” in Gord’s words) Canada? What if we lived our lives with a sense of urgency, to do good, to do better?

To honour Gordon Downie and to insure his dream for a better Canada comes true, let’s all #teachlikegord together, everyday.


I encourage you to check out the #teachlikegord hashtag (created by educators Isaac Moore and Josh Geddis) to be inspired and to gain and share ideas. You may also come to realize that you already are teaching like Gord, but didn’t even realize it. Gord thought it would take one hundred years to create the Canada he envisioned. Together, as Canadian teachers, I believe we can help make his dream a reality in much less time.


Here are some of the initiatives I do (or have started to do) with my students to #teachlikegord

Gord greeted his friends with a hug and a kiss. I am now greeting my students every morning with a smile and high five.

Gord loved Canada and celebrated its rich history by telling great stories. I read the Canadian classic novel “Paddle to the Sea” with my class. It chronicles the path that a canoe, hand carved by a young Ojibwe boy in Nipigon country, takes through the great lakes in its journey to the Atlantic. Along the way Paddle meets many diverse people, experiences beautiful geography and rich Canadian culture.

Because Paddle to the Sea was written in 1966 we discuss “what was, what is and what could be”. As Gordie, we celebrate Canada, but don’t deny that it could be better. The story inspires my students to make action plans to “keep our great lakes GREAT.”

Gord left us with “The Secret Path”.  Together with Gord’s music and book and my board’s Native Resource teacher, Tesa Fiddler, I introduced my students to Chaine Wenjack. The learning journey was powerful for everyone involved. My students wrote letters to Chanie, did math based on his journey down the railroad tracks, initiated a #WalkwithChanie and created a social justice project called M.A.D (Make A Difference) 4 Chanie. It should be noted that there are many sensitive issues discussed in the Secret Path and one should know the novel and their class well before introducing the book.  Two other novels, “Fatty Legs” and “A Stranger at Home” tell the story of a young girl’s experiences at residential school in the Canadian Arctic and about her difficulties when she returns home. The books are more appropriate for a younger audience.

In keeping with Gord’s story telling and honouring of our Indigenous people, this year my students and I, along with Mrs. Shaughnessay’s grade 6 class and Lila Cano are working to tell the story of Anemki Wajiw, through the arts and technology.  We are working in consultation with Native elder, Laura and Gail Bannon and have visited Anemki Wajiw. We are looking forward to further interviewing both ladies to share a story that very few people know.

My students have come to know Gordon Downie well over the past few weeks. In preparing to interview Gail and Laura, we watched Gord’s interview with Peter Mansbridge shortly after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Below my students share some things they’ve learned from Gord:

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Thank you Gordon Downie for being a great artist, a great Canadian and a great teacher.


Additional Resources and Ideas:

Downie Wenjack Fund’s Secret Path Learning Resources The video is a MUST watch!

*** Please share links to your resources!





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On Connections and Being Connected: Reflections and Takeaways

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The discussion on “connections” and “being connected” is getting richer and deeper! A couple days after my initial blog post ‘On Connections and Being Connected’ and even more reflection and input from my PLN and my students, I’ve had some “brain break throughs” and established some “takeaways”. Here’s what’s transpired after my initial post and podcast with Derek Rhodenizer.

I did a little podcasting of my own….

Derek did a follow up podcast with Brad Shreffler this past Sunday.

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I really liked how Brad added “interactions” to the mix. I also found it interesting to listen to the piece about Brad and Derek discussing connections as finite vs infinite. He articulates well what I have been grappling with; as we become more and more connected are we at risk of becoming DISconnected? Derek and Brad also go onto discuss what a “connected” educator means. I highly recommend a listen.

Stephen Hurley and Doug Peterson offered some thoughts and insights on my blog post on VoicED radio. It was cool for my students to have had the opportunity to listen to two educators talk about a piece they had helped me to write on live radio and I certainly appreciated their input as well.

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After a year or more of really grappling with  concept and the word connection, my PLN (it ranges from people who I am extremely close with, such as my wife and mother, to many whom I’ve never met), by sharing in one form or another, has helped me arrive at some takeaways.

I have interactions with hundreds of people, places and things every day but this doesn’t necessarily mean that a connection has been made.

Connections need not be reciprocal. If I am impacted by another person, place or thing a connection has been made.

A relationship is the result of a connection that is deeper and more meaningful. It is reciprocal and develops as a result of mutual respect, trust and understanding.

Love is an intimate relationship between two people. It is those people who we are closest to whom we love.

An interaction can lead to a connection which can lead to a relationship which can lead to love. One builds on the other but doesn’t necessarily have to.

Many connections are in virtual form but they need not be.

Connecting takes time. I believe that as we become more and more connected it is important to find balance, set limitations and establish priorities.

If we are not mindful of how and why we are connecting, we risk becoming DISconnected.

In our ever connected world we must have a true sense of ourselves. We must understand what is important and connect accordingly.

Being a connected teacher means we have a wealth of information, tools and resources at our fingertips to best meet the needs of our students. Connected teachers see themselves as part of a connected team where we work together to improve the lives of our students and affect a positive difference on the world. 

A connected class is close. They know themselves and one another. They see themselves as an important part of  their school community. A connected class doesn’t exist within the confines of four walls. They understand the positive power of technology and use it to learn from and with people throughout the world . They make a difference for themselves and others. 

Thanks to everyone for helping me learn, reflect and learn again. I’m glad we’re connected.

What are your thoughts on connections and being connected. I’d love to hear your ideas!

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On Connections and being Connected

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There’s been a lot of talk about connections these day. It’s the one word that has given me pause for reflection more than any other in the last few years. The term is widely used, but how are we defining it? Do we have a common understanding of what it really means to be connected? How is the term “connection” being defined in our classrooms? What/who is a connected teacher, student, or classroom?

Last year I wrote a blog post: “The Power of Connections”  and I’ve presented workshops and was a spotlight speaker at CONNECT 2016 on the very subject. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the word. However, recently Derek Rhodenizer  invited me to join he and Stephen Hurley on voicEd Radio to help break down the word as part of Derek’s #WordinProgress weekly radio show.  Our conversation can be heard here:

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After the show, and some time for reflection, a few questions were still gnawing at me. So I direct messaged Derek and Stephen on Twitter…

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I think what I am having difficulty understanding is the difference between how be define a “connection” and a “relationship”. We know that a relationship needs to be reciprocal, but does a “connection”? Can a student make a connection to a book? Can one be connected to nature? Can a parent be connected to my class? Can I say that my class in connected to our community, to the world? Is it technology that has led to the new term “connection”?

Today, I did a writing lesson with my students. I asked them to share what, in their opinion, the word “connection” meant to them. First, I simply said the word  connection and had my students write words that came to mind. Next, we did a visualization activity, using our five senses to help dig deeper into the word. I had my kids close their eyes and visualize what they “saw” in their mind’s eye when they thought of the word connection. They then recorded their thoughts. I did the same with each of the other four senses. We have done this activity many times and the kids really have become quite good at it.

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We took a break, got active with “Go Noodle”, did some mindfulness and then came back to our assignment where I had my students review all the ideas they had generated. Finally, they wrote their definitions of the word “connected”…

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Thanks to my great class for sharing your amazing and thoughtful insights! You have given us all more food for thought.

What are your thoughts on connections and relationships. We’d love to hear your thoughts!


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EQAO Test Questions

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I’ve been teaching grade 6 for 21 years and I’ve been struggling with some “EQAO Test Questions” of my own:

1. Are high test scores good indicators of effective, creative, collaborative, problem solving, innovative, powerfully connected, globally aware  students, teachers and schools?

2. If the EQAO test is just a “snapshot” why is there so much focus on it?

3. How does my student who leaves grade 6, finally walking with self confidence, feel when she settles into grade 7, at a new school, only to find out she’s a “1” or a “2”….below provincial standard?

4. Where does EQAO provide feedback and next steps?

5. How does my “exempted” student feel during the week of EQAO?

6. What will a grade 3 or 6 student remember about their year other than the test?

7. Is standardized testing inhibiting innovation and risk taking in our Ontario classrooms?

8. While preparing my students for the test, what else did I miss out on preparing them for?

9. Is there really a crisis in math education in Ontario? What data are we using to determine this? Is it relevant? Is it reliable?

10. What good comes from making EQAO test results public? What effect does this have on our most disadvantaged school communities?

11. Why do we continue to assess our 21st century learners with a 20th century tool?

12. What if EQAO allowed our students to demonstrate their learning based on curriculum based, open ended questions using 21st century tools such as ePortfolios, podcasts and videos?

13. If I am opposed, in principle, to the EQAO test, should I allow my own child to write it?

14. What if EQAO assessors visited schools and watched, listened and observed students in their natural classroom setting?

15. What if we used student and school attendance rates as benchmarks for success in Ontario schools?

16. What if half the money spent on provincial testing was reallocated to address children’s mental issues? Would this improve academic success?

This blog post has been sitting in the “Drafts” section of my blog for over three years. Recently I was encouraged to hear that Premier Kathleen Wynn is set to announce a sweeping review of how students are assessed in Ontario and that an expert panel will be established to help explore ways to more effectively assess students. I trust the panel will be made up of a large cross section of all stakeholders in the Ontario education system, including our students. I also trust the panel will be open to questions. In my class I encourage tough questions because good discussions, plans, learning, solutions and answers are often the result.

What EQAO questions have you been struggling with?

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Setting the Tone for Learning

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The first day of school is all about setting the tone. Escort your students to their new classroom. Have them find their assigned seats. Do a little icebreaker. Review and write down the classroom rules. Read the code of conduct in student hand book. Have students write a paragraph about what they did over the summer holidays. Now, time for math. Hand out worksheet with a variety of questions covering all operations. Students work independently and silently (call it a diagnostic test) so teacher can determine where students are “at”. Teacher marks worksheet and hands back the following day. Now, time to crack open the math text and turn to page 1…. The tone has been clearly established for a give and get style of teaching; one where compliance and following rules reigns. It’s the kind of learning I remember as a child and modelled as a beginning teacher.

Things have changed…. 

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The first day of school is all about setting the tone. I meet my students outside on the playground to chat and break the ice while keeping a look out for new and anxious kids. Prior to doing a roll call, I welcome all students and insure them that all the feelings they are experiencing are natural and that even I am feeling a bit are nervous. Being nervous simply means I care.

Upon arrival at their new classroom door, I encourage my students to find a “home base” where they think they’ll feel comfortable and will work well. I talk about the set up and routines of their new learning environment, where there is much freedom of movement and choice. There are no “rules” posted in my classroom. RESPECT is the only “rule” we need.  We have a discussion about what respect means. I share my “I am” statements with my new class and give kids time to reflect upon and share their own. Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 8.51.17 AMThe agenda has been replaced with a class blog and the “Remind” App to engage and inform parents and to make our learning visible.  I encourage my students to ask lots of questions and to provide me with feedback about their new classroom. At this point, I want to get the kids moving, so we head outside for an ice breaker which usually includes a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors  and time for kids to sit and chat and to learn something new about their classmates.

After Nutrition Break, I have my students self select a book of their choice and give them a chance to find a different place in their new learning space to enjoy it. During this time I play some quite nature music from Calm while I circulate around the room to chat with my kids, listen to them read and allow time for them to ask me questions or to tell me something they haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so. As the students are reading, they may also be reflecting on a single word that will guide them as their “One Word” Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 8.53.29 AMgoal for the year.  We transition to using the technology and I establish “norms” for its use. Kids find a new place in the room to work; some may sit at a variety of different desks, others will stand and others may even use a mat in our room to lay down (what)!? Kids fill in a Google Form which will allow me to get to know them even better. Upon completion of the form, kids log into Google Classroom and begin their One Word assignment. During this time I continually circulate to listen, prompt, and question. Time for a body break! Time for Go Noodle! We may begin our read aloud “Paddle to the Sea” to develop a sense of adventure and exploration and to introduce our new Social Studies unit OR we may break out a variety of board games…. I’ll let the kids dictate that, based on their energy.  More can be read about I use a variety of cross curricular resources to build a sense of connectedness and global citizenship in my classroom: ‘Building Global Citizens’.

Now, time for math! I want to hear my students talking and learning. I want to hear them questioning and explaining. I want my students to be excited about conquering math problems. I want them working on problems that are meaningful and relevant. I want them to realize that math problems are multifaceted. I want my students to understand that math problems are not confined to the pages of a math text and that math is literally all around them.

One of my favourite places to do math is in the gym. Run for a quarter of a minute. Do jumping jacks for 60% of a minute. Jog for 2 whole minutes and 3/5 of the third minute. Divide into two equal teams. Arrange the 96 beanbags into 5 equal piles….

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But I digress. Back to the first day. Perhaps I’ll get my kids thinking about how many days, minutes and seconds they’ll spend at school this year. It could lead nicely into a writing assignment or discussion about how they’ll make “Every Second Count” this year. I might jump right into my “Back to School Math” problems which helps to have my students see the relevance of the 5 math strands in their daily lives. Perhaps I’ll pull out the K Cups and challenge the kids with a few KCups4Classrooms problems.

Regardless of what I decide to do, I’ll be sure to be present in my students’ learning. I’ll work with them, ask questions, prompt, probe, redirect and support. But most importantly, I’ll be listening. Listening to each of my students “talk math”. It is in listening that I will learn. I’ll learn what they’re thinking, I’ll learn where they’re strengths lie and where they struggle. I’ll learn about their attitudes towards doing math and how each one of them “thinks math”. I’ll learn new and interesting strategies myself. And together we’ll grow.

The tone will be set and the learning will begin.

See this storify where a number of teachers have weighed in on how they “set the tone” in their math classes and Laurie Azzi shares how she does the same with her students identified with learning disabilities.

Would love to hear how you set the tone for learning in your classrooms! Please #SharesEase


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How Are You Going to Solve Your Problem?

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Are we disabling our kids without even realizing it? When a child comes to you with a problem what is your reaction? Do you solve their problem for them? In doing so what message are we sending our kids? What are we teaching them? Are we really helping them?

At the beginning of the school year I always brace myself for the “Mr. C, can you…..” questions:

Mr. C, can you open my snack? 

Mr. C, can you tie my shoe?

Mr. C, can you fix my computer?

Mr. C, can you open the iPad cart?

Mr. C, can you sharpen my pencil?

To which I answer: “Yes I can! Can YOU?” “How are you going to solve your problem?”

I also brace myself for the “Mr. C, he/she….” statements. You know the ones….

Mr. C, he budded.

Mr. C, she took my pencil.

Mr.C, he’s bugging me.

Mr. C, she took my seat.

Mr.C he cheated. 

To which I reply: “How are you going to solve your problem?”

Then there’s also the “I can’ts”:

I can’t find my book.

I can’t run.

I can’t find my pack.

I can’t log in.

I can’t do this!

To which I say: “How are you going to solve your problem?”

Don’t get me wrong it’s not that I don’t want to help my students. I truly do! I want them to learn to help themselves. I want them to be problem solvers. I want them to realize they can do anything they put their minds to.

If I solve all my kids problems what am I teaching them? My students quickly come to realize that “problems” aren’t necessarily bad things, they are simply  opportunities to learn and they understand that I am there to assist and support them in the learning process.

Slowly, over time, I begin to hear the following  in my classroom:

“I’m going to try to solve my problem by….”

“How can we solve our problem?”

“We can solve our own problem.”

“Can I help you try to solve your problem?”

“Let’s try this strategy.”

“Mr.C, can you help me solve my problem? I’ve already tried….”

“Mr. C, can you give me some feedback on how I’ve solved my problem?”

It’s music to my ears!

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Reflecting on My Transformed Learning Space

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

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

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

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

Let me break it down for you:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love them!

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

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

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

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

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

Standing up to work is much better than sitting.

Other Game Changers

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

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

National Geographic Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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Playing Games.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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Taking the Classroom Outside

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

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

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



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