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students sharing learning.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers from Halton Catholic District School Board's St. Mary Catholic Elementary School in Oakville and their project: “Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century Collaborative Inquiry.”


Before Grade 6 teacher Maureen Asselin and her colleagues at St. Mary Catholic Elementary School set out on their 2013/2014 Teacher Learning and Leadership Program journey, they knew that in order to teach 21st Century learners, change needed to happen.


As technology changes, opportunities to support learning can change. Asselin and her team decided that instead of reacting to the change, maybe it was best to flow and create along with it. To do that, they knew they needed to learn a lot more about the technology available, how they could use it, and how it can be applied in the classroom to support learning.


The Project:

To begin their learning journey, the Grades 5-8 teachers developed their TLLP project “Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century Collaborative Inquiry.”


The goal of the project was to introduce teachers and students to a blended learning environment and increase student engagement in language and math through the use of iPads and apps.


technology quote george couros.jpgHow the Team Began:

At St. Mary, the teachers decided to use Collaborative Inquiry to start their project.


Collaborative Inquiry work is local and specific to the school. The teachers took it as an opportunity to work alongside one another and the students, and learn together within a blended learning environment.


The Collaborative Inquiry process begins with curiosity, and that curiosity shapes an inquiry question. At St. Mary, the teachers created a Collaborative Inquiry question with two prongs:

  • How will increased access to technologies and digital tools improve students' critical literacy skills and digital fluency?
  • How will increased access to new technologies and digital tools improve student engagement and learning across the curriculum?


The Project Implementation:

The team had a set of professional learning goals for the project. These were:


  • share effectiveness of collaborative learning models;
  • promote 21st century learning opportunities;
  • promote successful teamwork;
  • share successes and challenges and see them as growth opportunities;
  • share available professional learning opportunities to support learning and development;
  • use the technology to further the learning and shift from traditional front of the classroom teacher to facilitator.


The hope was that during this journey of learning, analysis and adaptation, the teachers would be armed with the knowledge and tools needed to answer their Collaborative Inquiry question and see improved engagement in their students.


In addition, this project was always guided by the idea that the teachers would be learning alongside the students, and they would adapt and change together. It would not be a linear process and there were many entry points for others to help the teachers and students meet their project goals.


The project began by focusing on the following:


  • Where the learner (both teacher & student) is now?
  • Where the learner (both teacher & student) is going?
  • What does the learner (both teacher & student) need to get there?

In September, the Grades 5-8 classes spent time discussing how they were currently using technology both inside and outside of the classroom in order to establish a starting point.  Teachers and students also co-created success criteria on the use of technology both inside and outside the classroom.


blended learning definition.jpgIn the fall, the teachers explored the a learning management system and took blended learning courses along with other Halton Catholic District School Board teachers.


All Ontario teachers and students have access to Desire2Learn Learning Suite to explore and practice blended learning.  Asselin was elated to discover how quickly her students, herself and the other teachers adapted to the platform and the use of blended learning.


Also, throughout the year, the team brought in experts to help themselves and their students learn more about how technology could help them meet their blended learning goals.


“Blended learning has transformed my teaching practice especially in regards to success criteria, on-going feedback and assessment,” says Asselin.


During parent/teacher interview nights, Asselin and her team showcased digital tools and the online classroom for the families so that parents could learn more about blended learning and how it was being practised at the school.


The Impact of Nurturing a Blended Learning Environment:


For students:


“I think it is preparing my students for more than I could have hoped for,” says Asselin. “They are thinking more critically and able to problem solve in ways I had not imagined in a grade 6 classroom. We are moving forward with students becoming digital leaders.”


imovie picture.JPGThe students have become excited about what they are learning. For instance, students attended a two-hour course on iMovie at the Apple store and quickly got to work shooting and editing their own iMovies detailing their blended learning journey. The iMovies were then submitted to the “Give Respect, Get Respect” contest run by the Halton Regional Police Service.


Students have also become more engaged presenters of their knowledge by using applications like Prezi (which also hones organizational skills in a fun way).


“The students have a purpose for their learning and it shows in all that they have created since,” Asselin says proudly.


In addition to the technical knowledge, the data proved there was an overall impact. EQAO assessment results showed a 10 percent increase in students meeting the provincial standard in reading, a 15 percent increase in students meeting the standard in writing, and a 13 percent increase of students meeting the standard in math.


The team measured student engagement by monitoring logins to the blended learning course. Many students did their work early and most were meeting their deadlines. Also, in the Junior Division, a survey showed students gave online classroom instruction an 8.5 out of 10 in terms of relevance.


The impact of the project travelled to the younger grades. Kindergarten teacher Teresa Russo-Rocha, who was using iPads and the Smartboard in her classroom, says it really enhanced student learning because students could see the learning come alive. For her, the technology was a beneficial addition to Russo-Rocha's hands-on and explorative play-based classroom.


For teachers:


students using tech.jpgAsselin and her team have continued their journey and have spread their learning throughout their board and beyond. After the project’s conclusion they:


  • shared the effectiveness of collaborative learning models.
  • attended and presented their findings at On The Rise K-12 and at CONNECT2015.
  • promoted successful teamwork within HCDSB schools and across the 4 regions (Oakville, Burlington, Milton and Halton Hills).
  • shared successes and challenges.
  • provided recommendations on professional learning and resources available to support learning.


Susan Brady, a 2013/2014 TLLP cohort and Grade 6 teacher, met Asselin's group while attending CONNECT2015. The work done at St. Mary, and that of other groups, inspired her to bring blended learning to her classroom.


"21st Century learning is about choice and being able to choose the best tools for learning," Brady says. She now has moved toward  using Google classroom and creating a classroom with alternative seating to meet a variety of learning styles and needs.


Tips for Teachers New to Blended Learning:

The journey toward a complete blended learning classroom was not without hiccups. Asselin offers these tips to overcome these hiccups for teachers wishing to explore blended learning:


  • When using blended learning and digital tools, start slow. Pick a topic you are comfortable with and start there.
  • Technology does not always cooperate. Always have a backup plan.
  • Monitor student work. Set up office hours on-line for questions and discussions.
  • Support of administration is beneficial.
  • It does not mean more work, but rather a different way of doing work. Open your eyes and hearts to the possibilities!
  • Allow time for your teachers to meet with other blended learning teachers. Working as a team brings all voices and ideas to the table.


Useful Apps and Online sources:

Here is a list of apps and online sources the teachers used during the project and continue to use:



Screencasting Apps:Blogging or Collaborative Writing:
explain everything.JPG




Video Creation Apps:Audio Creation Apps:

imovie jpeg.jpg

garage band.JPG



Annotation Apps:Animations and Stop Motion

PS express.JPG




Assessment Apps:Social Media







Online Classrooms, Learning Management Systems (LMS)





Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under: TeachOntario Talks Discussions: Blended Learning and the 21st Century Learner

Shrek_edit.jpgW.H. Morden Public School students perform in the junior stage musical production of Shrek.



In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating the last of three winners of this year's OTIP Teaching Award for Excellence sponsored by the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP) and the Ontario Teachers' Federation (OTF). Sandra Dubreuil, from the Halton District School Board, is the Beginning Teacher category winner.


Whether she’s setting up Skype jam sessions for her class with other students around the world, bringing professional musicians into the classroom or trying to captivate a reluctant student musician, teacher Sandra Dubreuil takes the job of music teacher very seriously.



Getting to know each student and what they need to succeed is a big part of what Dubreuil loves about being a teacher. “I like to figure out how they learn, how to inspire them, to help them be successful and most of all, to provide them with the opportunity to love music and make it a meaningful part of their lives,” says Dubreuil, who began teaching instrumental music for grades 5-8 at W. H. Morden Public School in Oakville last year. “That's why I love teaching. It goes so much further beyond the classroom walls. Music instills confidence, pride, determination, personal reflection, learning how to win, and how to lose. It creates community and pathways to future careers.”



Music is something that can make you feel safe, it can initiate connections with others, it can broaden your horizons, and open doors you never expected to be there, she explains.


Dubreuil came to teaching later in life than most. She started her working life in the aviation industry as a commercial pilot, delivering aircraft for an aircraft manufacturing company. Yet after three years, she returned to Ontario where she decided to ignite her love of music with something she always thought she’d love to do: teaching.


When Dubreuil sees the light go on in a child’s eyes, a child who hasn’t had much interest in music before, she says that’s her greatest reward. “There was one particular student who was able to play their instrument, but really struggled with the processing speed of reading the music,” she says. “Even though we tried many different ways to help, the student still wasn’t overly inspired to come to music." One day Dubreuil overheard the student's interest in playing another instrument in the class. "We were able to get the chords for the songs we play in class and this student is now learning the music and happily brings the instrument to class every day. It's really nice to see a smile on the student's face."


“Sandra is an incredible teacher,” adds vice principal Janice Bunn, who nominated Dubreuil for the award. “She’s a brand new teacher, yet she jumps into everything with enthusiasm and dedication. She spends many, many hours going above and beyond to create a great program for the kids in class and outside of class.”


A special insight into how kids think and operate is fundamental to her success, Bunn says. “Although we have some very talented kids here at Morden, she doesn’t just focus on the best musicians. She also helps the kids who don’t have a real interest in music and tries to help them find that love of music,” she explains. “I think that’s the key. She looks at every student individually and tries to find out ways that she can engage them.”


Dubreuil is widely loved at Morden, Bunn says, pointing to a conversation between students which Dubreuil overheard in the hallway one day. The kids were talking about their ‘dreaded’ Friday class schedules, then one boy said, 'But at least we have music today, so there’s one good thing.' “She’s so dedicated and one of the best teachers I’ve ever known,” reports W. H. Morden student Maya, 13. “She’s just so amazing. She goes above and beyond what you’d expect a teacher to do," adds Caitlin, also 13.


Dubreuil’s music class isn’t all about having a good time and connecting with the music. It's about creating respect within the environment, performance and audience etiquette in and outside the classroom, as well as challenging individual limits to be proud of their achievements, she says. The student concert band has been raking in some impressive laurels of late. The band won Gold at the Golden Horseshoe Music Festival regionals competition. That win landed them an invitation to the national competition at MusicFest, where they achieved a Bronze medal. At the end of the year, the band played for fun at Canada's Wonderland and the adjudicator said that had they played the way they did that day at the national competition, they would have easily nabbed Silver Plus or Gold, Dubreuil says. “The Gold at regionals blew our minds,” she says. “The kids worked so hard. The adjudicator congratulated them for their efforts and dedication, which was really nice to see coming from him. It meant a lot to the students in the band."


These achievements were particularly sweet for the band because they pushed themselves harder this year than ever, Dubreuil reports. “At the beginning of the year, they weren’t practicing and I just said to them, ‘do you want me to push you? If you want me to push you, I will, because I know you are capable of achieving excellence.’ They can accomplish anything if they put their minds to it, and they did. They should be so proud of themselves this year.”


Sandra_video_play.jpgAnother highlight of the year was the school’s junior musical stage production of Shrek. “Every moment of Shrek was remarkable,” Dubreuil says. “Every recess we were in rehearsals and the kids really pulled it together.” Whether she’s teaching a difficult concept or trying to inspire the students to practice their instruments at home, Dubreuil says picking music students enjoy is critical. “For instance, we’re playing Uptown Funk, arranged by Ryan Meeboer,” she explains. “I use this song as a tool to have the students learn a difficult concept, which they can apply to other genres of music. Students who were really struggling are now playing that song. Its difficulty level was on the advanced side, and I was a little worried to give it to them. But I took the risk and they just ran with it. So it’s just finding things that they like to do and letting them see what they can accomplish.”


Paul VanderHelm, principal of W. H. Morden, says Dubreuil transformed the school’s music department when she arrived. “She identified areas of improvement in the room, the instruments, the program and the students,” he says. “She then set to work to make everything better. Her tireless efforts have given students a real sense of pride in what they can accomplish.” Dubreuil created a concert choir at the school, is setting up Skype and ePal connections between her students and students in Harbour Island, Bahamas and Kenya, and co-organized an event bringing a professional singer in to talk to the students about life as a musician, he says. Dubreuil has added new instruments to the school (including the Chinese harp, violins, tuba and oboe) and encourages the use of technology, such as the song composition using various programs, such as GarageBand, Finale, iWriteMusic and Audacity, in her students.


While others are clearly impressed by her work, Dubreuil insists it’s her students who should get the top marks. “I learn so much from them even though I am their teacher,” she says. “I feel like every day I am inspired and in awe of their ideas.”


Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this teacher in Share under:

TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Student Passion Drives Success in Music