Version 2

It was a cool, overcast day in late April when my son Kai and I decided to take our exchange student Renaud (from France) on a short bike ride around a small lake that connects to Lake Superior via the Current River.  We wanted him to witness our Great Lake Superior and the giant that sleeps within it.

As we were riding, we passed a woman dressed in traditional Anishinaabe clothing, carry a staff in one hand and a copper bucket in the other. I’m not sure either of the boysIMG_3366 (1) noticed her but she caught my attention for just a moment. We continued our ride, stopped atop the dam which connects Boulevard Lake to the Current River and eventually empties into Lake Superior. We showed Renaud the Sleeping Giant and tried to help him understand just how vast Lake Superior was. As we mounted our bikes and began to ride, the mysterious woman with the copper bucket appeared again. This time, as we passed, my son inquired about who she may be and what she might be doing. As we rode, I suggested that we could stop, turn around and  he could ask her the very questions that were on my mind as well. The moment passed. Opportunity lost.

As we loaded the truck and began the drive home I thought about how fitting it was that we took Renaud to Lake Superior. A walk along a body of water, whether it be to fish or simply to explore was what I often did with my own father and how my father spent time with his. It’s also what I love doing with my own son. Water has a way of connecting us.

IMG_3368 (1)Water also connects my class . We began the school year reading “Paddle to the Sea”, a book written in 1941 by Holling Clancy Holling . It’s about a young Indigenous 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 story  was one that I had forgotten about for many years. I remember watching the National Film Board of Canada’s adaptation of the book many years ago in the 1970’s! This year, while reading the book, we tracked Paddle’s journey in “real time” via Google Earth.

In March, my students represented Lake Superior, from the perspective of living in Thunder Bay, during A Kids’ Guide to Canada’s Kids Meet the Great Lakes  virtual tour of the Great Lakes.

My, how learning has changed! Technology has made our world smaller and more connected. I believe it has  given my students a greater sense of their place in the world and an understanding of how they can make a difference.

Through our learning journey, my students had gained a far better understanding of how GREAT their Great Lakes were than I ever had at their age, but what still alluded me was whether they understood that this great resource was also at risk. And then it happened! On a Saturday afternoon in mid May I opened the Ontario College of Teacher’s Professionally Speaking magazine and this is what I found….

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Could this possibly be the mysterious woman Kai, Renaud and I had seen on that day in April? I had to find out. I needed to hear her story. I needed my child to hear her story. I needed my students to hear her story. We had to connect! So I reached out…

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Within 24 hours Josephine, Joanne and I had connected and another learning journey was beginning to flow.

Nokomis Josephine Mandamin’s story is simply incredible and inspiring. Along with other women, men and young people, Nokomis has walked around all of the Great Lakes to raise awareness of our need to protect Nibi (water). Nokomis is a difference maker. Personally, I compare her to a modern day Terry Fox.

IMG_3367 (1)Ironically, Josephine is from Thunder Bay. I simply cannot explain why I have not heard her story until now. But now I know, my child knows and my students know Nokomis’ story. We have all read “The Water Walker”, written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson. Nokomis loves Nibi and she wants to bring awareness of the importance of protecting it. My students and I were so inspired by her story that me made a video to share their thoughts and feelings with her. We have also podcasted about Josephine in our M.A.D (Make A Difference) Podcast series.

The “Water Walker” ends with a question, similar to one that I often ask my students, which is…. “How are YOU going to make a difference?”

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Nokomis asks…. “What are YOU going to do about it?”

On Monday, June 11 Nokomis and Joanne will be visiting our classroom. To honour Nokomis and to help her protect Nibi my students and I an idea to become “Junior Water Walkers”. We will pick a body of water that we will “adopt” and work to help protect it.  We will figure out the details “as we go” We reached out to Joanne to see if this would be an initiative that she thought Josephine would appreciate and this was her response:

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We are truly hoping that other classes around the Great Lakes, across Canada and throughout the world will be as inspired by Nokomis’ story as we are and join us in becoming Junior Water Walkers to honour Josephine Madamin, continue her walk and protect Nibi.

To add you class to the map below simply fill in this Junior Water Walkers form!


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What was in Jeremy’s Egg?

I enjoy using the story “What Was In Jeremy’s Egg” upon returning to school after the Easter weekend. There’s so much to be learned from it! I typically share the story as a read aloud and have kids discuss and respond to the prompts. After each response, I have students share their ideas and then give them a chance to add to own ideas. This type of reading, writing, learning and sharing brings out rich and thoughtful responses. Feel free to use and or adapt any of the prompts with your class! We’d love to hear other students’ reactions to the story! Reach us on Twitter @cherandpete Also check out our M.A.D Podcast (coming soon).

Use information from the text and your own ideas to write your responses to the prompts. Remember to “dig deep” when responding.

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 9.46.33 AMIf YOU were in Jeremy’s class how would you feel? Why?  If YOU were Jeremy’s teacher, how would you feel? Why? If YOU were Jeremy, how would you feel? Why?Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 9.52.03 AMIf YOU were Jeremy’s parents, how would you feel? Why?Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 9.57.47 AMWhy do you think Miss Miller reacted to Jeremy in this manner? How else could she have reacted?Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.05.06 AMWhat did Miss Miller want the children to do? Do you think Jeremy understood what Miss Miller wanted him to do? Why? Why not?Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 10.19.42 AMScreen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.07.02 AMScreen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.12.37 AM What did the children learn about Easter and the resurrection from Miss Miller’s lesson? Had Jeremy learned anything? Why hadn’t Jeremy put anything in his egg?

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.44.35 AMWhat do you think Jeremy may have taught his classmates? What do you think Jeremy may have taught Miss Miller? What did Jeremy teach YOU? How did he make a difference?


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Math Class Reboot

Our wifi had been slow and sporadic for the past three months. Since I had recently upgraded to a higher speed, I would have expected it to have become faster and more efficient, not the opposite. Buffering and waiting was becoming the norm and I’d fallen into the trap of turning the wifi off and then back on again. We’d have some success for a while and then another device would drop the signal. Turn wifi off, turn back. REPEAT. My strategy was working but it certainly wasn’t efficient or effective. After far too long, I reached out to my network provider for help. With his advice and direction, we walked through some possible strategies to improve the wifi and get the most out of what I was paying for. He also had me do a full reboot of the modem. BINGO! Like magic, we were finally able to use our devices and our wifi network to their full capacity, with efficiency and effectiveness. I regretted waiting so long to reach out, change and improve.

Twenty-three years ago I began teaching math the best way that I knew how. I taught it the way in which I had learned it. Over the course of four or five years I had perfected the craft: Me at the front of the room. Take up a multitude of homework textbook questions from the night before (20 minutes), teach textbook driven lesson (20 minutes), assign textbook questions, students begin working silently and independently on their many questions (20 minutes). I sit at my desk and kids come to me if they have any questions; there was usually a long line (never enough time). Assign the unfinished textbook questions for homework (an hour or more). Next day…REPEAT. Throw in a few quizzes and an end of unit review and test. Mark, return test, take up test. Kids who did poorly on tests and quizzes stayed in at recess and after school to “catch up”.  Move on to next unit in the math text to “cover” the next strand. Don’t stray from the text, continue to push forward, cover everything in text by May, leaving me time to review for the Grade 6 EQAO test, which the kids would write at the end of May. Throw a grade 5/6split class into the mix! Do all of the above times 2. Teach, memorize, drill. Teach, memorize, drill. Homework. REPEAT!

Apparently, my math class routine was working because my kids would generally score at or above the “provincial standard”, and my success as a math teacher was reinforced and celebrated. But a few nagging questions still persisted. Did my students really understand math? Did they see it applicable to their everyday world? Did they see the relevance? Did they do the math because they wanted to or because the had to? Did they love math? Did they even like it? What about the kids who simply didn’t get math? Was my math program really effective? Dare I ask…. Could it be better?

Every year, in December, I strayed from the rigor and routine of my math program and  textbook. The math that we did during December was different, fresh, real and relevant. This was “Bang for the Buck math” and it kind of felt like a “reboot”.

But back to the grind and the old ways in January, when I’d try to muster up as much enthusiasm as I could and ask my kids to take out their math texts. Until one day Erin Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 10.48.58 AMgroaned and asked “Mr.C, when are we going to do some REAL math again?” Erin expressed what everyone in my class (including me) was feeling! I had a choice, continue the same ol’ routine or change. On that very day, at that exact moment, I changed. I  ditched the textbook, took my students outside and started building snow prisms. EUREKA! With her simple question, Erin forced a reboot of my math program! Her great question forced me to make ongoing reboots to my math program over the course of the following 15 years.

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Questions from the real world Today all math questions come from the world that exists around my students, not from within a textbook. My students are far more engaged by these types of questions and are able to make connect the math they are doing to their every day life. Below are just a few questions that challenged my students thinking over the past week.


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 Fewer Questions I assign my students fewer questions (I actually now call them challenges). The challenges are rich, have many entry points and a multitude of opportunities for students to extend their learning and understanding. Using questions such as the above also allow for ease of differentiation. We focus on quality opposed to quantity.  

Multi-strand Challenges In the real world, math is not compartmentalized into strands, nor is it in my classroom. Math can also be easily cross subject integrated as well. Read how a simple Snowflake led to An All Day Math Inquiry.  It must also be noted that teachers who fall into the “textbook trap” end up teaching many concepts that are not necessarily in their curriculum. Knowing your curriculum will allow you to easily blend strands, allowing you to more effectively and efficiently cover your curriculum expectations. How many expectation do you think were covered in the math challenge below?

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 12.31.00 PMTeacher in the Middle I try to spend as little time as possible at the front of the room teaching math to my students. Yes, there is a time and a place, teacher directed is important, but I find my time is much better spent being present in my students’ learning. I do, however, always start with a whole class warm up that is directly linked to the challenge for the day. Challenges such as the above allow me to circulate about the room and listen to my students’ thinking. At many points I bring in small groups to debrief and teach, at other times, students model and share and at other times a whole-class “regroup” and mini lesson is required. Every day and every class is different. 

Students Talking As alluded to above, I now spend less time talking and more time listening. Students talk and share their math learning and strategies with their peers when working on whole, small group and paired math challenges.  Talking and sharing helps them learn, understand, reinforce and question. Importantly, students are also responsible for working on challenges individually as well.  By being present in my students’ learning I am constantly assessing to understand where each of my students are at and what I need to do to move them forward. So, when I do talk it’s more focused to meet the needs of the individual students in my classroom. I have also rebooted my learning space to allow more freedom of movement which enhances the work environment and overall efficiency. Below is my transformed learning space.

Portfolios Quizzes and tests have long been replaced by portfolios. Students use their math workbooks to do their day to day math practice and also keep low tech (paper) and high tech (Google Classroom and Flipgrid) portfolios. Within their portfolios, many artifacts of  learning are filed. In addition to being present everyday in their math learning, these many artifacts become the basis for my assessment and my students’ own self assessment.

Low Tech Portfolios Simple Folders My students receive a folder with two pockets. Inside the two pockets are a total 5 smaller folders that are colour coded, one for each math strand. Students file their S.W.I.K (Show What I Know) work within the folder that hits the strand of focus. Since I spiral my math program, I have a system for tracking what expectation or concept we’ve hit and how often as well. 

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High Tech Portfolios Google Classroom With Google Classroom I can easily assign a variety of challenges to my students that are differentiated to meet their learning needs. Students have access to an unlimited use f tools to demonstrate their learning and I can watch them work in real time and provide individualized, timely feedback. On many occasions I’ve presented at workshops out of town, worked with participants to develop a real world challenge for my students, assigned them the question via Google Classroom and then watch as my students worked to solve the problem. I’ve had teachers at the workshops provide my students with prompts, feedback and next steps. This high tech portfolio is a true game changer.


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Flipgrid I use Flipgrid to have my students  share and “talk through” their math solutions. This tool allows students to quickly and efficiently share their solutions with both myself and their peers. I can listen to and watch their math thinking and record my feedback to them. Of course, because of the power of tech, I can access their Flipgrid portfolios anytime, anywhere. Just imagine the possibilities.

Feedback Focused I used to spend hours evaluating and marking homework, quizzesScreen Shot 2018-03-12 at 8.07.05 PM and tests. My marks book would be chalk full of data. Kids would receive a multitude of math marks. My “Level 4s” would celebrate, “3s” would be content and my “2s” and 1”1s’; deflated and defeated. I also struggled with the fact that by the time my students had reached grade 5 and 6, they had plateaued; it was difficult to move them forward and upward. With a focus now on feedback, usually given verbally, in the moment, my students use the information given to them to make great strides in moving forward. Feedback can come in a variety of forms and received in whole and small groups and individually. Leveraging Google Forms on my iPhone with the voice record option has allowed me to efficiently record antidotal data while in the moment. A copy of the form can be accessed here

Feedback Now The more immediate the feedback the better. Receiving it two, three days and even a week later, proved almost useless to my students. Just in time, immediate, focused feedback has been the key to success in my classroom.

Tech Leveraged As alluded to previously, technology has provided a tremendous reboot to my math program. The ability to build and differentiate math challenges has become almost effortless. Opportunities for students to build digital math portfolios has provided countless opportunities for success. Leveraging Twitter in our classroom has allowed us to learn and share our math challenges and strategies with classes from around the globe. Video has allowed another opportunity to take my students on math learning journeys, where never imagined before. Check out how I took my students to Niagara Falls and how we did math along the way! mPower has become my one “go to” online math game to help build and reinforce my students math skills. All Ontario curriculum based!

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Math Anytime, Anywhere In my classroom, math used to begin at 2pm and end at 3:15pm. Now, our eyes have been opened to learning math anytime, anywhere. The incidental math that happens allows me to spiral back (or forward), to  build and reinforce math concepts and skills. During DPA we’ll use the clock to help us learn about fractions, decimals and percent. When creating groups, the same concepts can be easily covered. We look for geometric shapes and patterns when jogging outside, we’ll manage data that we collect when playing a variety of games. We play math dice games during indoor recess and when we’re done our work. When I started thinking outside of the confines of the math block and textbook, the opportunities for learning math were endless!


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HomeSHARE You’ve heard about the type of homework I used to assign. Lots of textbook questions, lots of repetition and lots of frustration. The kids who could do two or three questions, could do ten. What was the point of wasting their valuable time at home? The students who couldn’t do two or three questions certainly couldn’t do ten! This only created a huge amount of frustration and anxiety for students and parents, if in fact, they were there to support their children while doing their homework. I’ve rebooted to HomeSHARE. One prompt for my students to discuss and share (and not always necessarily math) with their parents.  My students, their parents (and I) love it!


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Dynamic and Fluid In hindsight, teaching from a text was very rigid and structured. It also wasn’t very logical. Textbook teaching is very strand specific. It didn’t allow me to combine strands, teach concepts that went together or provide many opportunities to differentiate. Rebooting allowed me to be far more dynamic and fluid. If I want to jump  immediately into measurement after teaching decimal numbers, I do. If combining data management with measurement concepts makes sense to me and is an obvious next step, I do just that. Sometimes, my students math inquiries also dictate where we “go” with our math. Fluidity allows me to think outside the box with my students and embrace learning opportunities when they arise. For example, my students initiated a project in which we repurposed K Cups to learn math. We also created a video to show the many different ways K Cups can be used for math and we developed a webpage to share our resources.

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Click to Read more


Understanding When my focus changed from teaching math through the rote learning of multiplication facts, algorithms, concepts and rules to deep understanding, academic success improved greatly.  My students now solve math challenges through a variety of different means and strategies depending on the specific numbers with each challenge. For example when playing a game of Triple Dice, it quickly becomes evident how deeply my students understand multiplication simply by listening to them talk their way through how they would multiply the three rolled numbers together.

Mistakes Understood As a kid growing up, I was taught that mistakes were bad and that all necessary steps should be taken to avoid mistakes. This in turn, most likely, caused me to have perfectionist tendencies, which more than likely seriously impeded my learning! In my class, mistakes are seen as a natural step in the learning process. When mistakes are made, we work to understand what they were, why we made them, correct them, learn from them and grow. 

The “math mindset” in my classroom is that math is “challenging and fun” The kids will tell you this and so will I. Isn’t this what we want learning to be all about? It is my job to challenge and support each and every one of my students in my classroom. It is also my job to cover the curriculum. BUT, how I decide to do this is up to me. Thankfully, I’ve changed, evolved and “rebooted” my math program over the course of my 23 year teaching career. If I hadn’t, I think both my students and I would agree that math would seem pretty hard and boring. 

What does your math program look like? How have you evolved, changed and rebooted how you teach math? What works? What doesn’t? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions?

Want to continue the discussion? I’ll be presenting “Reboot Your Math Class” on May 6, 2018 for #MADPD  You can join me virtually, live and for free…it’s the whole idea of M.A.D(Make A Difference) PD. Send me an or tweet me to join me!

For more information on #MADPD visit Mr.C’s SharesEase-M.A.D PD

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In Ten Years….?

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Education has changed more in the past decade than in the century leading up to it.

Think of your classroom ten years ago. In 2008, mine consisted of a blackboard, desks, textbooks, novels and workbooks. It was a place where I delivered content and students absorbed and memorized. In 1998 my classroom was pretty much a mirror image of my classroom in 2008. The classrooms that I sat in as a student, starting in 1976, were similar. Arguably, classrooms in 1918 weren’t much different.

Now think of your classroom today. In the past ten years has it changed much? I’d be willing to bet it has. I know mine certainly has. What has been the impetus for such dramatic change? I would have to say the accessibility of technology to both teachers and students within classrooms has dramatically affected the way students learn and teachers teach.

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I have tools and resources available to my students and myself that I never before dreamed possible. I also have a global network of educators with whom I connect with on a daily basis to help make me a better teacher and to help reach the needs of all my learners.  I’m thankful for the tools and networks that accessible technology has provided’ because now, more than ever, I need them.

Now, think of the students in your classrooms today. Are they different than they were ten years ago? According to over one hundred Ontario teachers, the answer is yes.

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(Note: the number of people who voted “same” are as follows: Jan 14-0,  Jan 18-1, Jan 21-10,  Jan 27-5)

The above data suggests children in Ontario are coming to school less prepared and with far more mental health needs. It also suggests that students are coming to school less consistently and teachers have less support to help students who require assistance.

What has been the cause of such a dramatic change in our students over the last ten years? Does the accessibility to technology play a contributing factor?  The first four years of a child’s life are fundamentally paramount. These years are the ones that shape a child’s future. Prior to ten years ago, when technology wasn’t nearly as accessible, parents were left to traditional tools to teach and ‘entertain’ their children. Books, play, conversation and yes, tv and video games (although for the most part not portable) were the means by which children learned prior to attending school. In the past decade, readily accessible, portable technology (tablets and phones) have been added to parent’s toolkits. The question is: Are parents overusing and misusing technology which is contributing to their children being less prepared for school and, is it having a negative impact on their overall mental health?

Has wireless technology become the new pacifier for our children? Do parents believe that time spent on tablets and phones is a better option for their children than reading a book, playing or having a conversation? Human interaction is what human beings need to thrive and learn.

Technology seems to be a bit of a paradox. It can be so powerful and useful yet so damaging.

It has helped teachers give students opportunities to learn that were never before imagined. It has put tools into the hands of students, allowing teachers to break down  barriers to learning, helping students to flourish. It has provided students a means by which they can access instantaneous information, allowing them greater opportunities to learn, create, collaborate, think and solve problems. Because of accessible technology, students and teachers alike can connect with people the world over. Now more than ever, our students have incredible opportunities to learn and interact with one another.

Bringing such powerful tools into any environment comes with huge responsibility.

In a classroom, teachers must constantly reflect upon, and refine how, when and why technology (SMARTBoards, laptops, tablets, social media, blogs, podcasts, etc.) is being used.  Educators must recognize that responsibility comes with bringing technology into the classroom. A teacher should model and create opportunities to use technology in  positive, powerful and thoughtful ways. Luckily, we have a large networks of educators to rely upon to share best practices and ideas with.

Within the home, are parents recognizing the same responsibility? Are they reflecting upon and refining how, when and why technology is being used? Do parents model and create opportunities to use technology in positive, powerful and thoughtful ways? Do parents have access to networks to rely upon to share best practices and ideas for using tech within their own homes?

What other factors, other than technology are leading teachers to come to such drastic conclusions about our children compared to ten years ago?

If you are an educator, do you see the same trends in your school? What are your strategies for dealing with such an uptrend in mental health issues and the academic, social and behavioural needs within your class? How do you balance the use of technology within your classroom? How do you use technology in a meaningful way that helps to compliment the social, emotional, and academic needs of your students?

As a parent, has technology had a positive or negative impact on your children’s learning and their overall mental health and well being? What do you do to balance the use of technology within your home? How do you use technology in a meaningful way that helps to compliment the social, emotional, and academic needs of your children?

So….where do we go from here? I wonder how teachers will answer the same survey questions ten years from now.  What needs to be done to insure that teachers will respond by saying that children are coming to school far more prepared, with far fewer mental health issues, with much more consistently and receiving the support they require?

This is not time to point fingers and place blame. It is time to come together as a global community of educators (parents included) to plan and insure that we are are all doing what is best for our children, our future.

Update: Just as I was attempting to write a follow up to this blog post, my wife shared this blog post “The Silent Tragedy Affecting Todays Children (and what to do about it)” by Victoria Prooday with me. Perhaps we can all begin by reading and sharing this article.

As always your thoughts are welcome.

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Dear Neighbour

Dear neighbour,

Hello! We are a group of students in grade 5 and 6 who attend St. Elizabeth School in Thunder Bay, Ontario. We are your neighbours to the south and would love to learn more about the communities that you live in!

This year we have travelled with Paddle, by reading “Paddle to the Sea” through the great lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve also read “Fatty Legs”, met Olemun and learned about her community in Canada’s high Arctic. We also have pen pals in the United Kingdom and our “connected classroom” learns and shares with people from communities all over the world. We’ve come to the realization that we know very little about some of the communities that are closest to Thunder Bay. So we’d love to connect with YOU!

First we’d like to tell you a little bit about Thunder Bay and some of our favourite places. Last year Mr.C’s class wrote about their most favourite place in (or around) Thunder Bay. You can read about them by click on the map below. Make sure you click on each pin!

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This year our class shared our FAVOURITE PLACES, WISHES and STARS for Thunder Bay. We love our community and what it has to offer, but as difference makers, we are always looking for ways to make our community better! Click on the links to read each of our Favourite Places and WISHES and STARS

We want to learn about YOUR Community!

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We would LOVE to read about YOUR home communities! What are your FAVOURITE PLACES in your community? What are your STARS and WISHES for your community?  If you would like to connect, please send us an email at and we’ll send you a link to have your class fill out a simple form. We’ll then add your community to a Google map (it’s coming) so we can all learn and share about one another’s communities!

We are hoping to eventually take our connections a step further by starting up pen pals, and hosting Google Hangouts and podcasts.

We look forward to learning more about you!

Your friends in Mr. C’s Class, St. Elizabeth School, Thunder Bay


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Learning is a journey.

It will lead you down many different paths.

Paths straight and flat, easy to navigate.

Paths twisty-turny, with many unknowns.

Paths filled with obstacles, providing a challenge.

Paths that meet, bring things together.

Paths travelled alone require courage, provide freedom.

Paths travelled together give support and understanding.

Paths that are seemingly endless. Require will and determination.

Some paths arrive at a summit. Providing gratification, but always seeking more.

Regardless of the path you’re on….

It’s your attitude and mindset that will make the difference…

and determine where you end up.

Where will your paths lead you?

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Looking BACK to Look FORWARD.

Dear Difference Makers,

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday! I hope you had a chance to spend time with family and friends and I hope you took time to rest, relax and reflect.

Only a few short months ago you entered our classroom in September and since then we have accomplished a lot! We have learned, questioned and supported one another as a community of learners.

Our learning has taken us down many different paths. Sometimes the paths were quite straight, flat and easy to navigate. Other paths were more twisty-turny when we never really knew what was around the next corner. Some paths were full of many bumps and obstacles that made travelling down them very challenging. Some paths met and converged and others didn’t. Some of you travelled further down some paths than others, and we all found our own paths. Regardless of the path travelled, I am proud of each and everyone of you!

We have come to a cross roads of our school year. January is a good time to reflect; to look back and to look forward.

Looking Back

As you reflect on the past few months of school, what learning journeys do you remember? What did learn? How were you challenged? What are you most proud of? What did you accomplish? What do you still want to accomplish? How did you make a difference?

Take some time to reflect on the past four months of the school year. Use your Writer’s Notebook to collect your thoughts.

Below are some of my highlights from the past four months. They may help you reflect.

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What EQAO Doesn’t Know

The blog post below is one that I wrote almost a year ago when I heard news that the Ontario government was about to embark on a review of assessment practices. I was also thrilled to be able to offer my thoughts and insights when I sat on the educator panel, during the assessment review. Dr. Carol Campbell and her team completed the most comprehensive, independent review of assessment and reporting in the history of Ontario education. After Dr. Campbell and her team released their report, Ontario: A Learning Province, I had high hopes that large scale assessment practices in Ontario were about to take a step forward. It certainly was about time!

Fast forward one year and we are no further ahead. The new Ontario government seems to be ignoring Dr. Campbell’s report and have initiated a new consultation process. Dr. Steve Reid, Chief Assessment Officer for EQAO assures us they are “definitely moving forward with modernizing EQAO” while our students wait…..

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I’m encouraged by the current public consultation on the future of student assessments in Ontario which is being led by Dr. Carol Campbell. Her team’s task is monumental. I’m encouraged because the process is providing an opportunity for all stake holders in Ontario’s education to have their voices heard.

I offer my voice and experience simply as a classroom teacher. I have the unique perspective of having taught grade 6 for twenty-one years, since the inception of EQAO testing, at the same school, in the same classroom.  My teaching and assessment practices have evolved. What worked in my class 20 years ago, didn’t work 10 years ago and certainly would never work today. The only thing that really hasn’t changed during my teaching career is the Provincial Assessment. Over the years I’ve struggled with many questions about about the test and finally wrote my EQAO Test Questions that I simply don’t know the answer to.

But here’s what I do know….

I know that my assessment practices used to mirror that of EQAO. I know that I used the text and let it drive my teaching and my students’ learning. I’d teach from one lesson to the next and one unit or strand was followed by the other. Because I often taught a combined class, my math class was all about control and structure. My grade 5s would work independently on some math problems, typically following algorithms, while I took up homework with my 6s, followed by a textbook driven lesson, followed by textbook driven questions. Once I had the grade 6s working silently, I’d repeat the process with my grade 5s. My assessment was largely based on an end of unit test, a mark would be assigned and we’d move on. We HAD to move on. I had a full textbook of lessons to cover before the beginning of May so I’d have time to review everything before THE (EQAO) TEST…. the one that mattered the most! My Language lessons were similar to my math lessons; textbook driven, teacher centred, unit to unit, tests at the end.

The result of my teaching? We rocked the EQAO test! My students scored high above our board and provincial average in all areas. I was doing everything right! THE TEST confirmed and reinforced this. What EQAO didn’t know was that my first class of students to write the provincial test were conformists and rule followers. They were also a very academic group. Many had the support of their parents at home who sat down with them to do the endless hours of homework I assigned every night.

When our staff reviewed the results of our first EQAO test, we celebrated our success because the numbers looked great. Yes, 15-20% of our kids hadn’t met the provincial standard, but in general we had done great! We made some plans as to how we could improve our scores even further and dove into a new school year. This year’s group was different. I had many more level 1’s and 2’s in my class. But, I was confident, based on the “success” of last years class, that I could get them to that all important “level 3”, so our scores would once again look good. I had to push hard. I struggled and so did my kids. It was a stressful year with lots of tears, meltdowns and breakdowns.

The result of my teaching? We did pretty well on the EQAO test! We still scored above the provincial standard and even above our board average in writing. Yes, 25-30% of our kids were “Level 1 and 2’s”, but in general we had done well! What EQAO didn’t know was that I had many students with behavioural and emotional needs in my class that year. Many were not conformists and rule followers. Many did not have the support of their parents at home. Many came to school hungry and tired. I had students who had outbursts and meltdowns on a daily basis and our learning space was compromised often. I had six identified students who I struggled daily to get to; to help, assist and support. But, we had to push on, THE TEST was looming.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that three of my identified students, who were present every day  in our classroom, were exempted from the test; removed from our classroom and assigned a zero.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my students simply refused to write the test.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my student’s mom passed away two weeks before the test.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that one of my students who was identified and modified at a grade 3 level, wrote the test and did her absolute very best. She was so proud of herself and so were we. Upon leaving her school in grade 6 and entering senior elementary school, she would have received a report from the Ministry of Education stating she was a “Level 1.”

Throughout the next 7 or 8 years of my teaching career the same pattern continued. My teaching and assessment practises remained static. How and why would I change? My resources were limited to the ones on the shelves in my classroom and my “success” was reinforced by EQAO test scores that were generally quite positive. Sure there were some years that we showed big blips, but why change what wasn’t broken?

But there was a question that was constantly gnawing at me…could I do better? Not for the test or the results, but for my students? What kind of difference was I making in their lives? What was I doing to help the most vulnerable, under privileged students in my class? Were my teaching and assessment practices really HELPING kids? Was I getting kids excited about learning and coming to school?  I could do better. I HAD to do better.

Part 2

I know that slowly, over time, I stopped focusing on texts, tests and marks and started focusing on kids and presence. Let me explain.

I know that a total shift in my teaching and assessment practice occurred approximately ten 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, became 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 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.

I know that over the course of the following years I slowly strayed further and further from the text and stopped stressing about preparing my students for the EQAO test. My focus was steadfastly on my kids and teaching them that they had the power to make a difference for themselves and others. While still working within the confines of our curriculum, I used what resources I had to let my students passions drive our learning.  The data I was most interested in was my attendance rates and getting my students excited about coming to school every day.  By moving away from being test and marks focused and to being present in my students’ learning, I had the freedom to move from student to student; to listen, prompt, question, reinforce and redirect. In doing so, I gained a much clearer picture of where my students were at and where they needed to go. Assessment became a much more fluid process in my classroom. Feedback and modelling was “just in time” and usable. Students no longer were marks focused; they became learning focused. They thirsted for my feedback and that of their peers. I knew that this is what teaching and learning was all about.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that some of my students who couldn’t wait to get to school every day throughout the school year stopped coming to school during the week of the test.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that some kids who are used to getting feedback often and having their teacher present during their learning tend to shut down during provincial testing.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that kids who are encouraged to collaborate and “think out” solutions feel limited and restricted when writing THE TEST.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is kids who are normally very engaged in their learning become quite disengaged when writing the EQAO test.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students read texts that are self selected and are given much choice in their writing. Ample time is given for students to reflect on their reading and writing. Time constraints greatly inhibits the quality of student work.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students’ learning is relevant and real. There’s very little that is relevant and real about EQAO testing.  

What EQAO doesn’t know is that I also teach and model resilience and determination throughout the course of the school year and my students always try their best regardless of factors. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is that I worry deeply about my students, who, regardless of how hard they try, still “fail” the test. What impact does that have on their learning?

Part 3

I also know that I came to another cross road in my career approximately seven years ago. This road led me to a more personalized type of learning and assessment and allowed me to reach students in ways I had never dreamed possible. I know that the thoughtful integration of technology into my classroom has completely transformed my learning space.

I know that technology has provided my students with an abundance of tools that allows them to demonstrate their learning in ways I never before imagined. For example, my students use Explain Everything and QuickTime to explain their thinking in math, iMovie to turn their narrative stories into video and YouTube to share their ideas in many different subject areas. Google Classroom and GAFE tools provide endless opportunities for students to demonstrate and share their learning. Paper and pencil are still tools utilized in my classroom, however, they have become only one of an endless number of tools in my students’ toolboxes.

I know that these tools also afford me the opportunity to provide effective, meaningful, “just in time” feedback that my students seek and require to take their learning to the next level.  Technology has allowed me to be present in my students’ learning; to listen, observe, question and prompt. Google forms allow me to record my anecdotal observations and feedback immediately (I often use the voice option) and in a time sensitive manner. Technology also allows me to effectively model and share student exemplars which helps to push my students learning to the next level

I know that technology allows me powerful means by which to differentiate my instruction to most effectively meet the needs of all the learners in my classroom. Google Read & Write is an example of a multitude of tools my students access daily to meet their different learning needs and styles.

I know that technology also allows me to personalize my instruction to tap into the passions and interests of my students. Pursuits such as Genius Hour  or the ability to take my students on “math journeys” wouldn’t be possible without it.

I know that technology allows me draw upon resources I never before had access to. It allows me to tear down the walls of my classroom to give my students a voice that permeates far beyond our city and our country. Technology gives us the ability to learn from and with people all over the world.  My students are involved in projects that make a difference and matter.  They are incredibly engaged, active learners and show up to school ready and eager to learn.

Technology allows me to build an incredibly powerful network of educators to call upon, to collaborate with and share best practices. It has given me the ability and connect, to self direct my own professional learning; to become a better teacher for my students.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students demonstrate their learning everyday with tools that are real and relevant in their lives. They work on meaningful, rich tasks. They wish they could share that work with EQAO. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is that my students are uninspired by THE TEST. They work collaboratively all year in a learning environment that is rich with tools and resources. During testing week all that is stripped away.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that there are many great teachers who leave grade 3 and 6 because of the pressures they feel from “the test”. 

What EQAO doesn’t know is teachers put very little stock in the data from EQAO tests. We feel that too much time is taken up talking about data when all we really want to talk about is kids.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that teachers crave the gift of time, to collaborate and share; to talk about kids and what works for each individual student.

What EQAO doesn’t know is that regardless of all of these facts, most of my students do very well on “the test”.  But I have a difficult time celebrating this fact, because I always worry about those who don’t and the impact it has on them.

So, we are at a cross roads. It’s time to look seriously at assessment and reporting in Ontario. Based on everything we know, how can we make it better?

I have my thoughts and my ideas? What are some of yours? You are welcome to share YOUR thoughts here.

….to be continued.




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The Power of Presence

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There is no more powerful tool in the assessment for learning cycle than presence.

Let me explain.

This summer my seven year old wanted to learn how to tie his shoe. He had tried on many previous occasions but hadn’t been successful. Perhaps he just wasn’t ready or perhaps I just hadn’t given him the necessary support he need to succeed.

On the first day, we sat down together and I watched and listened to him talk out the steps to tying his shoe. He wasn’t very far along in his learning. He knew he needed to start by putting the right lace over the left and do “the pull through” but was having trouble making the loop. I sat with him and tried to explain the process and he attempted the loop again. After more careful observation and discussion, I modeled how I make the loop on my own shoe. This led to Kai being successful at making a loop but he wasn’t ready for the “wrap around”. After about 30 minutes of learning we were both done. I couldn’t push any further. I praised Kai for his success and reiterated where we were “at”. I didn’t provide him with a mark. (What was he… a level 1 or a low 2?) But he and I both knew what he needed to do next to succeed at his ultimate goal of tying his shoe. Throughout the day I observed him practicing the loop and attempting the wrap around.

The next morning, after breakfast, Kai came to me wanting to take the next step in tying his shoe.  I was quite busy at the time, but put my job on hold so I could be present in Kai’s learning. We sat down again and reiterated what we had learned and where we were at. Kai knew “the wrap around” was what he had to tackle next. He did the first three steps with more confidence and speed. The wrap around would come today, I just knew it. But it didn’t. Regardless of how hard Kai tried, he just wasn’t getting it. I modeled. I had him talk through the process again and again. There were tears and frustration. I told Kai that I was proud of his effort and determination that he was learning and learning takes time. I didn’t provide Kai with a mark. (Where was he at? Level 1 or low 2 or low 1…. he did require much assistance). He and I both knew what he needed to do next to succeed at his ultimate goal of tying his shoe. Throughout the day I didn’t observe him practicing the loop or attempting the wrap around.

On day three, Kai didn’t come to me wanting to continue to learn to tie his shoe nor did I suggest it. Perhaps he needed a break.

The following day, after breakfast, I suggested we try the wrap around again. Reluctantly, Kai went to put on his shoes, but I suggested he keep them off today as we practiced. With his shoes in front of him, Kai talked out the left over right and the pull through, the loop was made with ease and now for the wrap around and…. FAIL! What was going on? Why couldn’t he get it? I was getting frustrated, never mind Kai! Again and again we tried. Again and again I modeled. Finally, after watching one more time, I realized that when Kai was doing the wrap around his smaller fingers were slipping. A small readjustment and BINGO.

At that time, Kai’s friend Sam had come over to our trailer (we were on a six week camping trip together) for a visit. Kai was eager to show Sam everything he had learned about tying his shoes. Sam watched patiently and praised him for his work. Sam and I both knew (and I think Kai knew too) that he was close to reaching his goal of tying his shoe. Sam slowly modeled to Kai how he ties his shoe and I left the kids to their own devices.

I GOT IT! Kai soon yelled from the interior of the trailer. After some quick modeling and different feedback from his older friend Sam, Kai had moved from the “wrap around” to the “push through” and pull! When I reentered the trailer I watched Kai tie his shoe independently for the first time! By no means was it perfect, but Kai had tied his shoe! I didn’t provide him with a mark. (What was he… a high level 2 or a low 3?) He had tied his shoe, but was done with some assistance and it certainly wasn’t perfect. But he and I both knew what he needed to do next to succeed.

I watched Kai throughout the course of that day independently practicing tying his shoe. Many a passerby walked by but I’m not sure that they thought he was a very proficient shoe tier. In fact, I’d argue that most thought he couldn’t tie his shoe at all. But he was getting there. He was getting better and better with practice and little bits of help, advice and support from his mom, friend Sam and myself.

Over the next two or three days Kai continued to practice and learn how to tie his shoes. He was motivated not by the praise he received from me (and certainly not by the marks) but by the shear love of learning and the empowerment he felt as a result of it.

My role in Kai’s learning was to be present.

I believe our presence is the most powerful tool a teacher has.




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Going with the Flow: Mystery Skypes and Bucket Lists!

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Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and recognize an opportunity for learning when it presents itself. Brodie is an exchange student from Australia who has come to live with our family for 2 months. He’s only been with us for ten days but we all have learned so much from one another already.

Yesterday Brodie had some time unexpectedly freed up in his high school schedule so I invited him to join me at St. Elizabeth School for the first hour. He accepted the invitation immediately.

When my students entered their classroom a buzz of excitement filled the room. They knew who Brodie was, I had told my students about him. They giggled when they heard his accent and immediately wanted to ask him questions. It stuck me that this was probably the first time they had meet someone from a different continent. So… what t do next? I really didn’t have a plan.

After the initial excitement and introductions may kids settled into their books while listening to waves crashing on the beach. I had the technology to bring the ocean to my classroom, so I did. The tone was set.

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While Brodie was getting comfortable and check our learning space  I noticed that many of my students had chosen to read their National Geographic Almanacs and were directing each other to the pages on Australia. BINGO! Any opportunity for a real time Mystery Skype/Hangout presented itself! With their almanacs in hand and Google Earth cued on the SMART Board, we began our quest to find out where Brodie lived! (My students recognized this as another opportunity to learn through adventure. We had already travelled with Paddle through our Great Lakes while reading Paddle to the Sea” and were currently travelling with Olemaun from Banks Island  across the Beaufort Sea and down the Mackenzie River to Aklavik.)

The questions came quick. While referencing the map of Australia in the almanacs the kids asked Brodie if he lived on the coast, in a large city, in the north or south, on a peninsula and in which state. As we narrowed in on Brodie’s home city of Adelaide, each question brought forth great discussion.  Adelaide, as my students could see, was far different from Thunder Bay! The kids even marvelled at the different money that Brodie pulled out of his wallet to show them.

“Hey Brodie”, one of my students asked, “Have you tried maple syrup, persians and poutine?” “What about Tim Hortons hot chocolate?” “Have you visited the Sleeping Giant, Kakabeka Falls or the Terry Fox monument?” “Oh! What about the Escape Room and Both Hands Pizza?”

Brodie said that he had already tried persians and maple syrup and  heard of many of the places they had suggested (in fact we had planned a Christmas holiday trip to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park) and many were on his “bucket list.” As much as we wanted Brodie to stay, our hour was up and he had to head over to St.Pat’s to attend period two. As Brodie was saying his good byes someone can up with the idea of creating bucket lists for Brodie…. so that’s exactly what we did!

Our family will enjoy sharing my students’ bucket lists for Brodie this weekend and checking many of the ideas off over the course of the next two months!

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What opportunities for learning are presenting themselves to you?


This week Brodie came back to our class for another visit! We helped him fulfill another one of our “bucket list for Brodie” ideas by having him join us in a game of King’s Court. It was an intense game of good fun! Brodie made a connection with one of my students and inspired him to run (for the first time) during warm ups. He also joined the young boy at recess time and played catch with hm. During third block, Brodie spoke with my students about Australia’s Indigenous peoples and we compared and contrasted their culture to the FNMI cultures of Canada. He also spoke of Australia’s “lost generation” and we told him about what we had learned about residential schools in Canada. We had a lot to share since we had just finished reading “Fatty Legs”.

Brodie also shared a couple Australian dreamtime stories and we learned, through legend, how the kangaroo got its pouch. Finally, we learned about traditional Australian dot art and we were eager to try our hand at it!

Thanks again Brodie for visiting our class. We love learning with you!


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