Inspiration – when least expecting it.

Do yourself a favour and watch the Netflix docuseries entitled ABSTRACT.  It’s about artists, designers and typographists.  I’m not an art teacher, per se, but the approach that true creative souls take is inspiring to observe. My brain was on overdrive – how can I take the importance of a visual approach and make it classroom applicable?

I’ve been thinking a lot about visual literacy lately.  The ability to read and understand imagery is such an underrated skill, yet we see images and already make decisions before we even read the associated text.

If the point of writing is to share an idea or evaluation, it is useless if you first don’t grab an audience.  How do you grab an audience with words?  You attach imagery.

Time to get creative.  Ideas?

Imagery from community settings as backgrounds for poetry (and yes – contrast and font choice are crucial and set the mood for the audience).  Creative imagery with digitial manipulation to change how you look at ordinary objects.  Text overlay.  Finding fonts from signs on the street and thinking about typography and applying to student pieces on advertising.  Inserting yourself into settings you’ve drawn or photographed.  Then using that photo as your next greenscreen background so that a student can appear twice in the same photo.  Apply thought bubbles and twitter hashtags.  Create a written piece where font changes from line to line.  How are fonts selected to create emphasis at the right time?  Playbills!

I love the idea of addressing audience when completing a poetry, writing, media or non fiction piece.  It’s hard to get ‘just right’, but training these grade 4’s to consider impact is a cool process to dive into.  Talk about inserting student voice into literacy!

I’m so thankful I live in the world of digital photography, google drawings and piccollage.

Watch these shows and be inspired by people who don’t follow rules and create original content every single day. Their mindset is infectious.


Estimation as Self-Assessment

There are days when I feel like such a learner in math.  Sure, I feel confident in how I have students learn math concepts.  As teachers we try to keep learning as ‘real world’ as possible.  However, in the last decade the approaches to math instruction have changed so much that it seems we are re-learning this core subject regularly.

I really like that math is more visual now.  But while introducing kids to multiple ways to solve problems beyond the ‘traditional’ methods parents understand it sometimes seems like multiple methods can complicate the learning for some students who aren’t confident in their math abilities.

Often I wonder how powerful the ideas of open number lines, part/part/whole maps, math talks (decomposition, place value) and algorithms would be if I wasn’t the one (in grade 4) to be introducing strategies as a brand new idea. At this point there is not consistency in their usage from one teacher to the next so it seems like a lot of teaching and modelling the strategy vs. simply continuing the successful application of the strategy.  But this is a turning point and as teachers we are learning about the power of these ‘new’ ways to teach math. We are learners, too.  It’s a turn in the right direction.

Estimation is my secret weapon this year.  A student who quickly estimates an answer before selecting a calculation strategy is truly a math thinker. When approaching a problem I first want students to step back and figure out what is being asked of them (for example, how would the problem be represented in a part / part / whole map?).  It means that students are figuring out the WHAT   before getting lost in the HOW.  Having an estimated answer allows students to self-assess and confirm or revise the thinking around their actual calculations.

Think about the estimating we do as adults in the real world.  We are mentally rounding and adding or subtracting multiple numbers regularly.  When a total at the till doesn’t match what we thought it should be, we immediately question the total (or cashier).  It means something went ‘clunk’. That’s a great thing because it means we are actively doing math mentally.  It helps us keep things in check.

I’m a learner too, but if a classroom strategy connects with a real-world need, I think it validates my approach.

My Blogversary!

WordPress tells me that I registered a year ago and it’s our anniversary. What a first year relationship it’s been!

I think I initially started blogging because I felt like I was trying lots of new things in my classroom and felt like I needed to share my excitement somehow.  I didn’t really consider myself a writer, but something about writing a reflection seems easy and even cathartic at times.

I get a feeling of closure when I’ve documented my reflections in this blog.  It’s like I’m telling myself that I tried something, learned from it, and it’s time to move on.  Book closed.  It’s the ultimate check in a never-ending to-do list.

I tweeted recently about tracking my classroom projects using the Notes app on my phone. It’s amazing how much we accomplish as teachers in a 10 month period.  I really encourage all teachers to give it a try.  Simply list the new, out-of-the-ordinary, notable, unique, challenging tasks or projects you’ve worked on in (or out) of the classroom.  Every few months take a look back and give yourself a pat on the back.  How many things are on your list that you didn’t try last year?  Are you being adventurous in your approach? Are you taking risks?  These are cool touch points to reflect upon as you review your weekly ‘journal’.  It only takes minutes a week but is a satisfying practice.


So I encourage you to blog or track your teaching somehow.  I didn’t see the value in doing so until I just gave it a shot one day.  I sure wish someone had shared the benefits of doing so with me earlier.

Happy blogversary, WordPress.


A Kid’s Guide to Canada – Yes!

Canada’s 150th has been an umbrella capturing much of the inquiry in my room this year. It’s a once a generation kind of party.  Students from across Canada have been invited to contribute content to an online Guide that will be presented to Canada on its July 1st birthday.  I think it’s really cool that my students will have a part in the shared youth voice that is going to shape what this ‘by kids for kids’ guide will look like. What a memorable opportunity Cathy Beach has created for these young Canadians.

What does it involve:

  • registering on
  • having students create digital content, digitized (photographed) content, or videos and songs to upload to the teacher sharing space for other involved teachers from across Canada to share with their students.
  • reaching out and connecting with other Canadian classrooms via skype or hangouts to dig more into these conversations and expand the idea of ‘community’. (Optional)


  • developing your students’ appreciation and understanding of the unique piece of Canada on which they live.
  • perhaps developing an interest in the history and heritage of their community
  • developing an understanding that kids their age from across our huge country may have many elements of their identities in common. How do differences add to our nation’s diverse strengths?
  • connecting kids with kids – let the ‘I wonder’ questions begin!
  • celebrating the feeling of belonging to a great, great place to live.

img_2316                                        (Photo taken from, February 5, 2017)

What might our artifacts for sharing look like?

I think the sky is the limit.  How might students best teach a little bit about the place where they live?  Art, social studies themes, a literacy task focus, or a special project? What might the format be?  Google Site, piccollage, photo essay, photograph of art piece, digital writing app, video, song, green screen work?  I suppose the most important thing to keep in mind is the audience for the work.  I’m going to try and connect with other grade 4 classrooms, so I think I have an idea of what another student in this age range might be able to connect with.

My plan:

I am hoping to share lots of different things on the website.  I happen to be doing a community-based learning passion project this year, so we luckily have lots to share.  I’m going to list a few things I am going to upload, just in case you are looking for an idea. Keep it small to start, and see if your idea grows from there!

  • Identity maps of students from Aylmer.img_1998 We have focused on elements of identity as a way to examine ‘character’ during our literacy periods. Now it’s time to create their own. I’m thinking a piccollage with an image and text boxes sharing their specific identity details surrounding their image.
  • Aylmer heritage research / passion projects. Presented on a Spark Glideshow.  This app is a beautiful way to take text and images and create web content that can easily be scrolled through in a stunning final product.  It can be done on iPads or simply online.  It’s easy to use.  We will upload the images, interview quotes, and research elements that we’ve discovered on route to answering the ‘big idea’ question they decided upon this month (e.g., when the major hotels burned down why were they not rebuilt, what happened to all the factories and where do people work now?).  I’ll ensure that every Glideshow includes a text box that includes all the relevant citations for the images, quotes and information referenced.
  • “TED Talk” videos. Using greenscreen apps, students will select an archival photograph as a backdrop. They will then embody a Town Councillor, 30 years from now, and will identify a ‘3 point plan’ to take Aylmer to the next level.  We will focus on key areas for improvement identified in the interviews we completed with local seniors in the Town.  We will also tie in our natural resource strengths and physical features of the area we discussed in our social studies unit back in the fall.  I want the flavour of these TED Talks to be fast, fun, and dynamic (re: media, oral and writing marks…).
  • Canada 150 song. I love to create songs with my students.  We use Padlet or another virtual whiteboard app to allow all students to add their voice to the project.  We tweak the lyrics together to fit a melody line I’ve created on my guitar.  Any other teachers out there willing to share a song?
  • Seniors interview one-page, non-fiction text posters.  This is our practice piece for learning how to use quotes properly, as well as the captions that appear underneath photographs.  We’ll use the piccollage app and include 5 non-fiction text features when sharing key learnings from our interviews.

So I know that is a lot, but like I mentioned, I was doing many of these items anyways, so things are working out perfectly in providing a REAL audience for my students this year.

Start small.

I want to quickly examine how I expect my students to cite their sources.  We are using interviews, archival photography loaned from the local Museum, database and Web research, and text resources.  An age-appropriate citation for each of these sources looks different.  I sat down with the local Librarian to develop an age-appropriate format for giving credit to the authors of the content we are referencing.   It might be a bit advanced for typical grade 4 research, but I believe these are life skills and understanding that content belongs to someone else is important.

(I will upload an image of our citation practice after our field trip to the library this week.)

So please join in!  Share student voice.  Connect and reflect.  Maybe we’ll get the chance to introduce our classes to each other before July.  Have fun!